Tourists are drawn to the legendary Black Forest in Germany. It inspired the Brothers Grimm, where they wrote Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel, and Sleeping Beauty. The forest gets its name from the conifer trees that block out light — hence the “black” thing — but I find it more spectacular than spooky.
Then again, I may be biased. I lived near the Black Forest for a year and hiked there regularly, so I got to know the area really well. Here’s my insider insight.
The beautiful Black Forest (Photo: Laurel Robbins/Monkeys and Mountains)
1. Pick up a map at your local tourism office
It’s weirdly difficult to obtain information about day hikes in the Black Forest. Sure, official website for the area is packed with info, but it’s all focused on popular long-distance trails, like the Westweg (West Way) or Ostweg (East Way). There are also guidebooks, but most of them are in German.
For all of these reasons, I recommend picking up a couple maps, which cost only a few euros, from a local tourism office. They may only be available in German, but even if you can’t read German, you should be able to decipher the information about trail lengths and elevations to help you choose a suitable day trail.
Spotted while hiking: A bread oven dating back from the 1500s. (Photo: Laurel Robbins/Monkeys and Mountains)
2. Bring your hiking gear with you
Of course you can purchase hiking equipment in cities and towns in and around the Black Forest, but I recommend purchasing it before you arrive. Why? Many of the stores are closed on Sundays, and if you’re in a small town, stores may also be closed on Saturday afternoons. Stores are also closed on holidays, of which there are a lot in southern Germany. So basically, the stores are often closed — meaning it’s a good idea to BYOG (bring your own gear) just in case.
3. Beware of confusing signs
Most hikes in the Black Forest are well-marked, with different-colored route markers. These markers sound easy enough to follow, and often, they are. But it’s also not uncommon for one hike to follow several different-colored route markers, so pay attention to which color you are following and when the color changes.
Another confusing catch: It’s also common to not see a route marker where you would like to see one. The Black Forest is known for this. More than once, I’ve arrived at a crossroad without a route marker in sight. Normally when this happens, I just choose a temporary path. Then, several minutes later, I come across another route marker, and then I can tell if I have chosen the right path or if I need to retrace my steps and go the other way.
When you come to a fork in the road, look for more signs. (Photo: Laurel Robbins/Monkeys and Mountains)
4. Choose a hike with a hut, but bring food with you just in case
Many hiking trails in the Black Forest have at least one hut along the way — and this experience is not to be missed! Most of them serve up a small menu of homemade local food and drinks that are really, really tasty. Some huts even offer lodging.
A hut in the Black Forest (Photo: Laurel Robbins/Monkeys and Mountains)
But be warned: Don’t depend on huts for provisions. Always bring enough food and water with you, even if you can see there’s a hut on your map. Why? On countless occasions, I’ve seen a hut on my map, only to find out that it’s closed because I arrived too late. Similar to the stores, the huts have limited hours. Many close by 4 or 5 p.m., or they close for a holiday (Remember all those local German holidays?), or the owner has the day off (most often, Mondays and Tuesdays). Once, a hut was closed because there was a church service! The lesson: Always bring plenty of food and water in case the huts are closed, or call in advance to make sure that the one where you plan to stop is open. You won’t enjoy hiking if you’re parched!
5. Combine culture and history with hiking
The Altes Schloss (Old Castle) in Baden-Baden overlooks the Black Forest. (Photo: Laurel Robbins/Monkeys and Mountains)
One of my favorite things about hiking in the Black Forest is that you can easily combine your hike with culture and history, especially when it comes to castle ruins. My favorite castle is the one in the small town Baden-Baden, to which you can either hike or drive. Naturally, I recommend hiking to it and then soaking your tired muscles in the mineral baths (yes, mineral baths!), which Baden-Baden is known for.
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I also like hiking near the medieval town of Calw. The route above the town leads you past an execution—or henker—site where women suspected of witchcraft were beheaded during medieval times. And then after the henker site, the path leads you to a beautiful castle.
The view from the Feldberg, the highest peak in the Black Forest (Photo: Laurel Robbins/Monkeys and Mountains)
And for the best view in the entire Black Forest, try the Feldberg. It’s the highest peak in the Black Forest, and on a clear day, it offers views of peaks in the German Alps, which are hundreds of miles away. It’s also easy to get to the Feldberg; just hop on public transportation from Freiberg.
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One final tip: Eat cake! I’m not just talking about any cake, though. I’m talking about Black Forest cake, of course. There’s no better place in the world to try it, especially after you’ve worked up an appetite.