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Climbing Brocken – the highest peak in the Harz Mountains
Brocken measures 1.141 meters above sea level and is the highest mountain in the Harz region as well as the highest mountain in northern Germany. During your trip to the Harz Mountains you can visit this special place, you certainly shouldn’t not miss it. You can climb Brocken on foot (my favorite!), with the famous Brockenbahn steamtrain or by bike.
Since the 17th century, the Harz was seen as the place in Germany where the witches gathered. In Goethe’s “Faust” he brings the witches together at Brocken. The fact that Goethe once visited this place has also contributed to the popularity of Brocken.
I visited Brocken twice in recent years. The first time during my hiking trip on the Harzer Hexenstieg and the second time during my weekend trip in the Harz Mountains. Both times I hiked up, but I also took a ride on the Brockenbahn. In this article I will tell you everything about my experiences. At the end you will also find my overnight tips for the Harz Mountains and other fun things you can do. Enjoy reading!
[This article first appeared in May 2015 and was fully updated after my most recent visit in the fall of 2018.]
Climbing Brocken from Torfhaus
You can climb the Brocken from various starting points. In 2015 I did this with my then partner from Torfhaus. This is the visitor center of the Harz National Park where you can park your car and view various beautiful exhibitions. Here is the story of our climb:
“From Torfhaus, we plan on climbing Brocken, with its 1.141 meters this is the highest point in the Harz. From Torfhaus we can already see it in the distance. Our plan is to hike to the top, which will be about 9 kilometers one way. The trail will lead us along the Goetheweg for the first part, also the easier part of the hike. This path takes us through the (mostly) pine-woods on a wide and well-marked trail. During the first hour we don’t see anybody and it’s just us and some birds whistling their songs. Even though the parking lot at Torfhaus was almost full, none of those tourists seem to be hiking where we are.
After a while we arrive at the Harzer Hexenstieg, the main reason of our visit to this area. This 94 km long hiking trail was developed some 12 years ago by the Harzer Turismusverband and the Harz Wanderklub and it belongs to the Top Trails of Germany. The name, which means “Witch Trail in the Harz”, was given to this trail because of the regions’ strong connection with witchcraft. Ever since the 17th century, the Harz has been the main gathering place for witches from all over Germany. In Goethes famous “Faust” he brings the witches together at Brocken, which leads to fame and stardom of this mountain. Nowadays it’s a favorite place to visit for tourists, which is also thought to be because Goethe visited Brocken himself.
After about an hour and a half we make a steep ascent and gather with the Brockenbahn railroad that takes visitors who don’t want to walk, to the top of Brocken. And as if it’s planned, the steamtrain just passes by and its passengers are waving at us. It turns out we’ve gained quite some altitude and we get the first magnificent views over the area. Unfortunately it’s pretty cloudy so we can’t see as far as we hoped for, yet the views are stunning nonetheless. From here, it’s another sturdy uphill walk that takes us at least another hour. Eventually we reach the top about 3 hours after we started hiking, a bit later than planned but there were so many nice pictures to capture along the way…
Brocken is not really a mountain with a peak, instead it’s more a sort of plateau where you can walk around on the various trails. You can also opt to visit sites such as the museum and their garden. The railroad track ends here and there are even a weather station and hotel on the top. We have a snack (carried all the way up) and some tea, before it’s time to make our way down again. As we are rather short on time, we decide to head back the same way instead of taking a much longer detour. Just about 2 km before the end of the trail, we reach a fork where we decide to take the short tour back to Torfhaus. This turns out to be a great choice because the trail is stunning and more impressive than the trail we took on the way out. It leads us along small waterways and quite a big moor area. When the sun starts to shine and the sky breaks open, we can make even better pictures, the landscape shows itself in its full glory. Along the way we meet some elderly people who take it slowly with their walking poles. We have a little chat with them and they explain to us how they love coming to this area year after year …
Upon return to the car it’s nearly 19.00 hrs and we realize it’s time to head over to our hotel, where we are expected for dinner only 30 minutes later. We leave the national park behind and say goodbye to Brocken with stunning views in our rearview mirror. “Hello Harz, it was great meeting you today!”
Climbing Brocken from Schierke
Who wants to climb the Brocken in combination with a ride on the Brockenbahn can do this best from Schierke. Schierke is the last stop on the route to reach the summit of Brocken and the walking distance is about six kilometers. Note: the last part of the route is straight up and is therefore not for unfit hikers. Below you’ll find my story about climbing Brocken from Schierke:
“I’m leaving the train and so does a group of about 30 school children. I’m not very happy with the crowds, but who knows they will not be climbing Brocken at all and I will have the hiking trail to myself again in a very short time. I’m indeed lucky because after about ten minutes of walking, they take a turn and I have lost them. The peace and quiet returns to the trail. The first few kilometers lead me along a wide gravel path and are not too hard. While the sun is poking through the trees here and there, I notice that it is slowly warming up. The world around me seems to come to life a little more by the minute.
After a few kilometers and several beautiful views, I arrive at a crossroad where there are more people. From the village of Schierke (a little further into the valley than Schierke Bahnhof) a hiking trail also departs and this is clearly the popular part of the hike. From now on, I no longer have the trail to myself, but that does not bother me, since it is a sunny late summer day at the weekend, so with me, many people will have taken the idea of going up the Brocken.
From here the wide gravel path changes into a narrow and steep mountain trail. This is where the play starts for the real walkers. Or those with a large portion of perseverance. As I slowly climb step by step over rocks, the first drops of sweat begin to form on my forehead and in my neck. After a good 45 minutes, the steep part of the climb is over and I have arrived at the asphalt road. From here it is still a bit further up and the top of Brocken has been reached!”
Things to do on the Brocken summit
Once on summit of Brocken it is busy. I have a fairly tight schedule because I want to take the train back to Wernigerode, where I started my journey earlier that day. I decide to opt for a typical German lunch, a bratwurst with bread. Instead of sitting on the full outdoor terrace, I take my food to a bunch of rocks where I take a seat and work my way through this blissful bit of grease.
On top of Brocken you will find a huge mast that is used as a television channel because of its perfect location. On one of the older masts you will find a radar installation for German air traffic control and a weather station has been installed here as well. If you have enough time, I recommend a visit to Brockenhaus, where you will find information about the region and the history of this area. The access for this is 6 euros for adults and 3 euros for children between 6-16.
It is a bit touristy, but a ride with the Brockenbahn is really a must-do if you are visiting the Harz Mountains. The Brockenbahn is a historic narrow-gauge train and is one of the most beautiful train journeys in Germany. The train journey by old steam train takes about an hour and a half each way and stops on the way in Drei Annen Hohne and Schierke.
The Brockenbahn runs several times a day and has a summer and winter timetable. You can find the times here. The rate for a single ticket in 2019 is € 29 for a single ticket and € 45 for a return ticket (subject to changes). There are also various offers for special rates on the Brockenbahn, such as the afternoon fare. Go here for a complete overview of the Brockenbahn fares. You are advised to book in advance or to be present well before departure because it is a popular attraction and can be very busy.
TIP: Like me, take the first train from Wernigerode (it went at 8.55 in 2018) – many people are still having breakfast at their hotel. It was not very busy at the time, unlike the return trip, which I made halfway through the day.
Brocken by car
Unfortunately, it is not allowed to drive up the Brocken by car unless you have a special permission. You can park your car in Schierke and from here up with the Brockenbahn, on foot or at certain times of the year by horse and carriage. Cycling is also possible, but you have to bring it yourself from home or rent it on the spot in the Harz.
Brocken in wintertime
Brocken has an alpine climate partly due to its location and there is an average of 176 days of snow per year. So keep this in mind during your visit. In winter you can walk to Brocken on foot (depending on the snowfall with snowshoes) or also ride the Brockenbahn. Please note that they have a special winter timetable for the winter. When you go to the summit of Brocken, always bring warm clothing, even on a sunny day in the summer it can be chilly at the top.
Hotels near Brocken
When you plan to visit Brocken you can do this best from Wernigerode. This cozy and historic place offers countless nice hotels, cafés with fine cakes and a historic center where you can stroll through. I spent the night during my most recent visit at the centrally located Hotel Am Anger and had a wonderful view of Wernigerode Castle from my room. Every morning a delicious breakfast was waiting for me and the hotel has its own parking spaces, which is just perfect because most parking spots in town are paid only.
What else to do in the Harz Mountains?
The Harz Mountains are one of the most diverse regions of Germany. You can wander for hours through historic towns such as Wernigerode and Quedlinburg, experience adventure during the MegaZipline and the Titan Suspension Bridge – the longest suspension bridge in Germany. You will also find countless hiking trails that offer you the most amazing views over and over again. My complete article with the best things to do in the Harz Mountains can be found here.
Conclusion and Disclaimer
Hopefully you found this article about climbing Brocken useful and found all the information you were looking for. If you have any questions, please leave a message below. This article was created in collaboration with Top Trails of Germany and the German Tourism Board. All opinions given are of course only mine. In this article you will find affiliate links. This means that when you make a reservation or purchase through one of these links, I will receive a modest commission at no extra cost to you.