High level hiking on the Rheinsteig in Germany
A few weeks ago I made my first trip of the year to Germany. I’m in fact a big fan of Germany because there are numerous great hiking trails and you barely ever run into people when hiking them. A few months ago I hiked a part of the Saar-Hunsrück Steig and this time I headed out on the Rheinsteig. This 320 kilometer lang walk is one of the Top Trails of Germany and is known for its large gain in elevation, which makes it a perfect training for my hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. My hiking buddy for this weekend was Rianne, whom I know through a travelwebsite we both used to write for and we met at a travel trade show where we decided it was about time we’d hike somewhere together for a long weekend. And so we set a date and went hiking on the Rheinsteig.
You can’t really hike some 320 kilometer in a weekend so we decided to hike just a section of the Rheinsteig, from Kamp Bornhofen to Kaub, which covers about 50 kilometers. Whenever hiking a longer trek, it can be a bit tricky to get back to your car at the starting point, but since a railroad runs through the Rhine Valley, you can easily get back to the start by train.
So our hike starts at Kamp Bornhofen. In all honesty, the place doesn’t look very attractive. We are traveling in pre-season which means most restaurants and hotels are closed and basically, the town looks pretty deserted. The organiser of this weekend had already warned us for this so we have gathered a load of food and beverages to carry with us for the weekend. We park the car at the station and hike up towards the Rheinsteig, which actually passes the village from above.
The nickname of the Rheinsteig is ‘High Level Hiking’ which is quite right because the majority of the hike takes you along the ridge of the mountains, or better said hills that surround the Rhine valley. This part of the Rhine has lots of castles along the banks and this causes it to get fairly crowded in summer and spring. It’s dull by no means though since the trail can get quite challenging at some parts. For today we have planned to hike some 9 kilometers which is more than enough, since we still had to drive in from home that morning.
And so our hike starts with a climb towards the Rheinsteig. From the village we take a steep trail upwards and this sets the standard for this weekend. Why did I even thinkg of wearing a jeans? Soon after departure I’m taking off my jacket as I’m carrying a heavy pack and I’m sweating in no-time. My calves are burning but after ascending upwards in a swift pace, we’re up at the Rheinsteig in some fifteen minutes. Not much later we get to the first viewpoint, showing us the Rhine and Burg Liebenstein.
Eventually we descend back to the river and back up once again. We find out we have picked up the wrong trail somewhere, adding another 5 kilometers to the trail today. We hike the last part of the day with the turbo on because we don’t really feel like hiking in the dark. Eventually we reach some 14 km that day once we arrive a Hotel Krone in Kestert, where we are staying overnight.
The next day we have a fairly strenuous day ahead, leading us from Kestert to Sankt Goarshausen-Heide, which is some 19 kilometers and 1.000 meters of altitude gain. A hike of this length and altitude gain could easily be graded as an alpine tour, especially because it also includes a small bit of Klettersteig / Via Ferrata.
Today the weather is a bit better than yesterday and we start hiking in good spirits. From the village it’s up straight away again, making up for the steepest climb of the weekend. The muscles haven’t really warmed up yet and the backpack is quite heavy once again, as we will not really run into resupply spots today. We know we have some 1.000 meters in altitude to cover so we are well prepared. The sun is shining so we can easily take off our jackets, a bonus since it’s only the beginning of March yet. We hike along several steep passages and have stunning views of the Rhine Valley continuously. There are various castles nestled along the hills but all of them are closed, unfortunately. Some will reopen later this season, others seem to be permanently closed. Just before Sankt Goarshausen we reach the Rabenacksteig, a small bit of Klettersteig / Ferrata, or ‘a trail with Alpine character’ as the sign indicates.
We decide to just go for it, a while ago I also hiked the Calmont Klettersteig in the Moselle region which was a lot of fun. As well as the Calmont Klettersteig, the Rabenacksteig turns out to be a lot of fun. Dragging yourself across rocks, climbing on tiny ladders and hiking on tiny ridges is just about my idea of a lot of fun, although I would not recommend this for people who have a fear of heights. You need to be ‘trittsicher’ as it’s called in German, meaning you should be pretty steady on your feet. This stretch is about 500 meters and it took us about half an hour, including time to take pictures. Luckily there was nobody else, yet I can imagine it will be quite busy in high season, meaning you will probably have to wait for a bit here and there. You don’t need a special equipment other than sturdy hiking shoes. Those who don’t want to hike this section, can just follow the regular route of the Rheinsteig.
From here it’s about another hour and a half to Hotel Christian in Sankt Goarshausen, where we are spending the night. We arrive here quite exhausted, just before the rain starts falling. We have done more than 20 kilometers of hiking today and gained 1.040 meters in altitude. Add a 10 kilo backpack and I think that you may call this a nice alpine day. I think we did quite okay. Girlpowerrrr!
On our last day we hike onwards to Kaub. We come across the famous Loreley rock, the narrowest part of the Rhine. Ships occasionally get into trouble here as the turns are super narrow and the currents are quite strong. Legend goes that a women was combing her golden hair on top of the rock and sang her songs, distracting the sailors from their jobs and causing them to run unto the rocks. You will find a Visitors Information Center here but as we were pretty early in the day, it was still closed. There was a lot of construction work going on which made it a little sad looking place. It was however nice to have seen the Loreley in person and it’s a nice place to visit as the views over the Rhine are gorgeous from here!
After a few rays of sunlight, the weather turns for the worst. It’s getting dark soon and we decide to pick up a swift pace. Today we also have various climbs ahead of us, one with a pair of steel cables, leading us towards an amazing panorama on Kaub and Oberwesel on the other side of the Rhine. We take a short break for lunch but right then it starts pouring with rain. Just before Kaub there’s a little steep section above the wineries but you can also take an easy route from here. Just before our arrival in Kaub, the sun is shining again. Not much later we have reached the village, marking the end of our hike along the Rheinsteig.
Using information for hiking the Rheinsteig
– The complete Rheinsteig is 320 kilometers and runs from Bonn to Wiesbaden. On the Rheinsteig website you will find everything you need to know about possible routes and sections.
– As mentioned earlier, there’s a train running along the major section of the hike, making it easy to return to your car. Times and schedules can be found on the website of Deutsche Bahn.
– The days vary in length but our advise would be not to hike more than 20 kilometers a day, also because there is quite a bit of altitude gain to be considered.
– On the website of the Rheinsteig you can find a list of partner hotels that have special services for those hiking the Rheinsteig, such as a chance to buy a packed lunch, a room to dry your gear and luggage transport.
– Camping on the trail is limited. We have only seen a handful of campsites and wilderness camping is not allowed in Germany. We saw some wilderness huts where camping was allowed, but not a whole lot.
– We hiked this trail in the low season, meaning that most hotels and restaurants were still closed. The major advantage of this is that we had most of the trail to ourselves. I’ve been told it can get quite busy on hiking th Rheinsteig in spring and summer. My personal experience is that it’s usually busy in long weekends when the weather is good. Your best bet to avoid the crowds would be to hike during weekdays and start early!
– You don’t necessarily need a hiking map. The trail is very well marked and getting lost is nearly impossible.
– Are you a geocacher? So is Rianne so we tried to find some caches along the way. It slowed us down a bit though, so that’s something to consider.
I also made a short movie by the way:
Want to read more about how to enjoy German Nature? You may also like the following posts:
– Hiking Calmont Klettersteig – testing your alpine skills in Germany
– Winter hiking in Sauerland
– The best places in Germany for hiking this fall
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Thanks for sharing!
[I was invited on this trip by Top Trails of Germany. All opinions are of course my own.]