Hiking is a treasured national pastime in Germany. Every Sunday you will see groups of people out in their Jack Wolfskin hiking gear on the trails, in organised hiking groups or as families or even couples on dates. There are some incredible hiking areas throughout the country, let’s look at a few of the most popular.
German hiking culture
Hiking has been a favourite activity among Germans for hundreds of years at least, and particularly celebrated by the Romantic writers and artists. The Deutschland Alpine Verein (you knew there would be a Verein) or German Alpine Club, was first formed in 1869 to share the love of hiking in the Alps. The Schwarzwaldverein was formed in 1864, to educate people about the culture of the area, and this included promoting hiking. They still maintain the impressive trail network through the region to this day.
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Hut hiking in Germany
Many of the trails mentioned here are multi-day routes which you can tackle as a holiday, or pick and choose different stages for a single day excursion. If you’re keen to tackle one of the multi-day routes, you don’t need to pack your tent on your back, but plan for a stay at one of the many Hütten in the mountains. A ‘hut’ sounds like a small shelter, but in reality these places are more like small hostels, often sleeping 100 or more people in a wood chalet-style building. Most rooms are shared, with bunk beds, and you may need to bring your own sleeping bag and towels. Hiking shoes stay outside so don’t forget your Hausschuhe! A hearty meal is also provided. A bed must be booked ahead of time, and popular areas are booked solid throughout the spring and summer. Check the DAV site to book your Hütte.
What are some of the best regions for hiking in Germany?
1. Saxon Switzerland
Sächsische-Schweiz, or Saxon Switzerland, has some incredible views along the Malersweg, or Painter’s Way. Confusingly, this region is not actually near Switzerland, but was named for feeling like Switzerland in Saxony. The Painter’s Way route was popularised by Romantic artists from the Dresden Academy of Art and their frequent trips to the area for inspiration. Today, the local tourist association has helpfully put up signage with reproductions of some of these works so you can compare them to the region. The full trail takes about eight days to complete, but there are plenty of individual day hikes, including the famous Bastei Bridge.
2. Black Forest
The Schwarzwald, or Black Forest, features the largest low mountain range in Germany, and stretches nearly the length of Baden-Württemberg. There are almost 24,000km of trails, so it’s easy to find a route that works with your skill level. There is a misconception in English guidebooks and blogs that the Brothers Grimm collected their books of fairy tales in this area, and while the houses with their windowboxes full of tumbling flowers and the dark forests feel straight out of a fairy tale, the brothers did their work further north, around Kassel. In terms of hikes, check out the Mummelsee, a perfectly round lake formed by a glacier at a high point in the mountains, and some of the famous waterfalls.
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This famous and challenging route runs from Bonn to Wiesbaden, and takes in some breathtaking scenery (and wineries) along the Rhine river. The route takes you through the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Middle Rhine Valley, full to bursting with castles, a whopping 40 in total. To do the whole route it would take anywhere from 18 to 21 days, but there are plenty of individual sections you could tackle on a day trip. Many stages start and end in one of the small towns and villages along the Rhine which is well served by Deutsche Bahn. The section covering the famous Middle Rhine is some of the most challenging, but the views are breathtaking.
4. Mudflat hiking
For something completely different, try mudflat hiking along the North Sea. First of all, you do it barefoot. Specific routes, only available at low tide, take hikers along the sucking wet shore, and some end on the nearby islands. One of the joys of hiking in this region is its changeability – wind conditions, ocean conditions, and weather all make for different experiences. This area is mostly covered by the UNESCO World Heritage Site, and they have a number of marked trails and an app to help you navigate it. Because these are tidal flats, it’s worth noting that not all trails are available at all times of day and you need to be mindful of the tides.
Enjoy your hike!