Iconic hikes through the Berchtesgadener Land

Iconic hikes through the Berchtesgadener Land

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe

Of all the stunningly scenic corners of the Alps, the Berchtesgadener Land gives all its rivals in beauty a good run for their money. With assets including a lake said to be the cleanest in all Germany, the nation’s highest peak completely within its borders and places of great historical significance in both the long and not-so-distant past, it’s a great vacation option, particularly for those still feeling hesitant about flights and border crossings.

Once the area’s main draws including the Eagle’s Nest, salt mine and spa culture have been taken in, it’s time to embrace the great outdoors, and what better way than on a hike perfectly in sync with your group’s ability level? Here are three to tackle next time you find yourself in this astoundingly attractive corner of the world:

Easy: Röthbachfall waterfall

With its 1,542 foot drop, the Röthbachfall is the highest waterfall in Germany. Reaching it is an adventure in itself, as first you’ll need to cross the crystal-clear Königssee by means of a boat. Park at the “Königssee Seelände” lot in the town of Schönau am Königssee and make way to the ticket office, where you’ll need to purchase a ticket for a ride to Salet on the south side of the lake. Following the stunning crossing, you’ll disembark, pass the restaurant and follow along the trail toward the Obersee, a much smaller lake flanked by a sheer rock wall. From here, another mile or so along the lake leads to a fantastic viewpoint of the waterfall.

Allow plenty of time for the trip, and be sure not to miss the last boat back, which departs around 5:10 p.m. in the low season and 5:40 p.m. in the high season. The boat ride costs 23 euros round-trip for adults and half that for ages 6-17; those ages five and under ride for free. Bear in mind boat service is only available between the months of April and October.

Intermediate: Almbachklamm

With its 29 bridges, 320 stone steps and a tunnel, the Almbach Gorge is a wildly scenic option. This hike should only be attempted between May and October. Your starting point is the parking lot next to the Kugelmühle near Marktschellenberg, which is located just off the B305, the main road between Berchtesgaden and Salzburg. After parking, take a quick detour into the mill that’s been shaping stones into balls since it was founded back in 1683. To enter the gorge, pay the cash-only entry fee of 6 euros for adults and 4 euros for ages 6-18. If you’re staying locally, show your guest card for a slight discount.

The trail leads steadily upwards through a maze of alternately roaring waterfalls and translucent pools. Sharp-eyed hikers may be lucky enough to spot a fire salamander. You’ll note that the bridges bear numbers, a form of trail marking. For an easy hike, walk as far as bridge 19 and double back the way you came; this is a 1.5 hour option. Should you have more time and energy, instead turn right at bridge 17 and follow the steep uphill trail to Ettenberg; to the mountain and back will take you some 2.5 hours.

For a bigger challenge, from Ettenberg, follow the path leading to Hintergern by way of the Theresienklause, an old dam that formed part of a logging operation. Continue on to Maria Gern and its stunning pilgrimage church. From there, a short bus ride or an additional 2.5 miles of walking gets you to the town of Berchtesgaden. If planning the long hike, consider taking bus 840 to the hike’s starting point. For details, see this pdf brochure about the Almbach Gorge. 

Advanced: Watzmannhaus

In the shadow of Germany’s third-largest mountain stands the Watzmann Hut, one of the largest serviced huts of the German Alpine Club. First built in 1888, the structure has been expanded many times since in order to accommodate the many hikers who flock here from June to September. Expert hikers use it as the staging point for the dangerous Watzmann passage; those less seasoned can use it as their end goal.

While it’s possible to ascend from the Königssee, an alternative is to begin from the Wimbachbrücke parking area in Ramsau. As a hike up to the hut and back down on the same day takes up to ten hours to complete, an early start is essential. Follow the hiking path leading up from the small bridge to the right. At the junction, turn right in the direction of signage pointing towards Stubenalm - Mitterkaseralm – Watzmannhaus.  Once the Watzmannhaus has been reached, carry on to the Hocheck summit and then descend via Falzsteig down to Kührointhütte and then back to the parking area.

Better yet, plan in advance and book yourself a bed for the night at the famous hut. Enjoy a hearty warm meal and a bracing shot of schnapps before hitting your pillow. And don’t forget your earplugs, as there’s bound to a loud snorer or two amongst the other exhausted hikers you’ll be sharing space with. The hills are alive, with the sound of music and so much more!    


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