Germans have a genuine passion for wandern (walking), which is not surprising when you consider what is on their doorstep.
Home to 200,000km (124,274 miles) of well-signposted trails, Germany’s landscapes encompass everything from high-altitude treks in the Bavarian Alps to woodland rambles in the Black Forest and lazy Rhineland vineyard strolls.
Regional tourist offices are on hand to help hikers with maps and local insights, with the walking season running from spring through to fall. Ready to hit these outstanding walking trails when you go to Germany? Here's our pick of the country's best hikes.
Tackle the historic Lutherweg (Luther Trail) in Thuringia
16km (10 miles), 3–4 hours
The 410km (255-mile) Lutherweg pilgrimage trail winds across the central and eastern German states of Thuringia, Hesse, Bavaria and Saxony, linking together a number of Lutheran churches and monuments from the time of the Reformation. Rather than tackling the entire stretch, casual hikers might consider the largely forested, 16km (10-mile) leg between Schmalkalden, a historic town crowned by a handsome hilltop castle, and Tambach-Dietharz, which is home to a legendary water fountain that is said to heal all ailments (handy for those blisters!), as well as a convenient bus service back to town (weekdays only; check with the tourist office for times).
Photographers will love hiking Panoramaweg in Baden-Württemberg
45km (28 miles), 2 days
If you want to appreciate the northern Black Forest from its most photogenic angles, there’s no better hike than the award-winning 45km (28-mile) Panoramaweg (Panorama Trail), a high-level ridge trail weaving through orchards and thick woodland past waterfalls and amazing viewpoints.
The four-stage hike forms a circular route starting and ending in Baden-Baden's charming old town, with a suggested overnight stop at the Waldhotel Forellenhof near Oberbeuern. For a map, drop into the main Baden-Baden Tourist Office, situated 2km (1.25 miles) northwest of the center. Buses run back to town from all stage end points, meaning walkers can pick a shorter segment if running low on time (or energy).
Explore the wild gorge of Wutachschlucht in Baden-Württemberg
13km (8 miles), 3–4 hours
Wutachschlucht is a wild gorge carved out by the fast-flowing Wutach river, a tributary of the Rhine, and flanked by near-vertical rock faces. The spectacular landform is located near the town of Löffingen, close to the Swiss border and 20km (12 miles) east of Schluchsee.
The best way to experience the area’s unique microclimate – where you might spot orchids, ferns, rare butterflies and lizards – is on the 13km (8-mile) designated trail connecting Schattenmühle, an old mill turned rustic hotel, to Wutachmühle, a log cabin serving refreshments and hot meals, which leads hikers through the middle section of the gorge. Schattenmühle is a 30-minute walk south of Göschweiler, a southern district of Löffingen.
Join pilgrims on Wurmlinger Kapelle in Baden-Württemberg
12km (7.5 miles), 3 hours
Whether it be liberal students, deeply traditional Burschenschaften (fraternities) singing ditties for beloved Germania, ecowarriors, artists or punks – all seem to have a soft spot for the town of Tübingen, which boasts one of the oldest universities in Europe.
The city is also home to a great hike: the Kreuzweg (way of the cross) to Wurmlinger Kapelle, a 17th-century chapel perched atop a 475m (1558ft) hill, roughly 6km (3.7 miles) southwest of town. A footpath loops up through well-tended vineyards to the whitewashed pilgrimage chapel, from where there are long views across the Ammer and Neckar valleys that are worth a pause to appreciate, before heading back to town. The tourist office sells leaflets with more information (€1).
Take in the views from this Baumwipfelpfad in Lower Saxony
4km (2.5 miles), 1–2 hours
A short but memorable jaunt, the Harz National Park’s Baumwipfelpfad (treetop walkway) comprises 18 platforms suspended above the ancient treetops of the Kalten Valley. The trail is sprinkled with scenic viewpoints and information stations, culminating (or originating, depending on your approach) in a bubble-like observation dome.
The most popular route is to ride the Burgberg-Seilbahn cable car, accessible from the town of Bad Harzburg, to the top of Grosser Burgberg, then follow the Wanderweg zum Burgberg path to the far end of the 1km (.6-mile) elevated walkway, for a total on-foot journey of just under 4km (2.5 miles) – though you could extend this by opting to walk rather than take the cable car.
Summit the Schrammsteinaussicht in Saxony
11km (7 miles), 3 hours
The rugged Schrammsteine is the densest rock labyrinth in the Saxon Switzerland National Park. From the spa town of Bad Schandau, a moderate-to-strenuous trail leads to the fantastic Schrammsteine viewpoint, offering vistas across the jagged rock formations, as well as the surrounding Elbe Valley and national park.
The first 20 minutes up the steep Obrigensteig are tough, but then the trail levels out and leads through the otherworldly rocky landscape. No technical skills are required, although you should be fairly surefooted. On your descent, follow the Mittelweg to the Elbleitenweg back to the Obrigensteig; bank on a 3-hour round trip.