It is not an understatement to say that hiking helped me maintain a certain level of sanity when the pandemic hit Germany early last year up until the recent easing of rules. Since January 2020, I’ve gone on nearly 30 hikes – most of them in Bavaria as I’m based in Munich.
An avid hiker even before the pandemic, my appreciation for hiking elevated to a new level during a time that I was cooped up in my flat working from my dining table each day. Being in nature on the weekends became a form of meditation.
Like many others, I found the international travel restrictions difficult to deal with. But looking back, it meant I was able to see local sights and explore areas of the Alps in Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg I wouldn’t otherwise have seen.
Though very tricky to narrow it down, here are 10 of the hikes I embarked on during weekend day trips which I would recommend (in no particular order). They range from easy to fairly difficult, and none of them require special gear beyond a sturdy pair of hiking boots.
Note that if you plan on travelling by public transport, some of the hiking spots I recommend may be too far for a day trip from Munich. But now that hotels and B&Bs are open again, it could be an option to stay overnight at your destination.
The first time I hiked all the way around Schliersee, a lake in the Bavarian district of Miesbach, was in January 2020. My partner and I had just planned to take a wee stroll as it was already getting dark when we set off, but we ended up continuing on the trail.
As the trail was relatively easy and flat, it took about two hours to hike all the way around it. It was my first time ever going on a hike after sundown, and I don’t regret it, as I discovered Schliersee really is magical at night.
Today, Schliersee remains one of my favorite lakes in Bavaria, probably because it left such an impression on me at a time when I was still rather new to Munich. I even completed a 10K run around Schliersee in September last year.
My most memorable hike over the past year and a half is hands down the hike I did on Wendelstein in the Bayrischzell region of Bavaria. I remember seeing only a handful of other hikers on the trail, as it was in March 2020 when the pandemic had just begun to affect life in Germany.
There was something strange, satisfying, and also humbling, about reaching a lookout point with such magnificent, sweeping views (Wendelsteinhaus at 1724m) and being able to enjoy it with less than a handful of other people at the top.
It was a difficult hike, however. From our starting point, a parking lot where you can now alternatively take the cable car up to Wendelsteinhaus, the hike took five hours round-trip – half of which was snowy, uphill slog.
It’s the hard hikes like these that I’m especially grateful for, as they allowed me to focus on nothing else but taking one step up at a time – literally. These moments really helped get my mind off the pandemic at a time when a lot was still uncertain about the virus.
The Moos-Rundweg is an easy yet fun 12km hike along a track which takes you all around Murnauer Moos, one of the largest nature reserves in Central Europe that’s located just south of the city of Murnau am Staffelsee.
The track takes roughly three hours to complete and though fairly flat, it offers incredible, unique views – from the moor area’s swamps to the mountain ranges in the distance which belong to the region of Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
When I hiked the Moos-Rundweg in late winter last year, it was a cloudy, grey day and the nearby mountains were still topped with a bit of snow – this felt somehow appropriate for the general mood at the time.
The longest (and arguably the hardest) hike in this list is the out-and-back 19km hike to Schrecksee (1813m), which I completed against all odds in November 2020.
First things first: Schrecksee is not a directly accessible lake. Nestled within the Allgäu High Alps at the border with Austria, the trail to Germany’s highest Alpine lake starts at Parkplatz ‘Auf der Höh’ in Hinterstein. From there it’s a three hour uphill hike – and that’s just one-way.
If you plan on driving, it is highly recommended to arrive early, as the ‘Auf der Höh’ parking lot was full when we arrived at around 11am. This meant we had to park further up the street which added another 30min to the hike. As there were licence plates from all over Germany in the parking lots, I wondered where all the visitors were staying as hotels were closed nationwide at the time.
While I was sceptical prior to the hike, now that I’ve experienced it for myself it I can admit Schrecksee does live up to the hype (i.e. the exhaustion was worth it). I’ve already decided I need to do this hike again in the summer so I can actually swim in the lake and hang out at the island in the middle of it!
Eibsee is included on this list because let’s face it: the lake’s shimmering, turquoise waters against the towering backdrop of Zugspitze, Germany’s highest mountain, is truly a sight to behold. Having been to Zugspitze before and seen Eibsee from high up, it was pretty cool to finally get up close and personal with it.
The Eibsee-Rundweg is popular among tourists, however, so if being around lots of people gives you anxiety right now (perfectly understandable as we’re still in a pandemic), this is not the hike for you.
There were a decent amount of day-trippers when I hiked around Eibsee in winter last year. Without any breaks, it’s an easy 1.5hour circular path where you’ll pass through a forest and spot several pretty little islands in the lake.
Heiglkopf is the ideal destination for Münchner late-risers, as it’s less than an hour’s drive from the Bavarian capital. So even if you sleep in on a Saturday, you’d still be able to manage this hike and get rewarded with a stellar view.
I did this hike sometime in November 2020, the day after I’d done a really intense and long hike, so I was thankful it didn’t demand too much of me. At the peak, a group of friends were merrily celebrating their achievement and goofing off; this made me smile and I felt compelled to take a photo of them.
It sounds cheesy but at a time when restrictions on daily life were being enforced yet again, moments like these stand out in my memory. I also saw snow for the first time during the hike, which made me giddy as it was the first snow I’d seen that season.
Sylvensteinsee (Faller Rundweg)
At a time when international travel was restricted and I couldn’t fly back to my home city of Toronto – not even for a short visit – this hike was a lifesaver. From the pine trees to the lake views, it reminded me so much of Canada, which is very likely why it remains vivid in my mind.
Along a 9km circular track which loops around Rosskopf, this three hour moderate hike offers superb views of Sylvensteinsee (which by the way is worth seeing each season of the year, from when it’s frozen over in winter to when the swimmers are out in summer).
Malerwinkel am Königsee
Here comes yet another popular hike which I can’t promise won’t be teeming with tourists when you’re there, but I recommend it nevertheless. Looking back, I’m grateful I had the chance to experience it on a day when it was empty.
To get to Malerwinkel at Lake Königsee in Berchtesgaden National Park, it’s only a short 20min walk from the Königsee car park. From the aptly-named Malerwinkel, you’ll get a magnificent view of the lake.
Tip #1: There are few benches at this lookout point, so if you want to sit down and chill somewhere, keep walking for a few more minutes down toward the edge of the lake. When you’re ready to head back, you can continue along the trail which goes through a forested area before winding back to the car park.
Tip #2: Hintersee is another beautiful lake worth checking out if you’re already at Königsee, as it’s only a 20min drive away. If you’re able to and up for it, I’d suggest doing a hike around Hintersee as well! It’s worth it if anything for the view of Watzmann.
Reit im Winkl (Klausenbergalm)
If you’ve never heard of Reit im Winkl, maybe it’s a good time to get to know it. The quaint Bavarian village is known for its ski resorts and heavy snowfall in winter, though it also caters to mountain bikers and hikers – with numerous trails to choose from.
On one of the weekends in April this year, I did a simple search for the best hikes in the Chiemsee Alps, and ended up stumbling upon this one through Klausenbergalm. I’m glad I did, because this hike is probably the most underrated one on this list.
Imagine being able to take in the beauty of a gorge and alpine pastures in peace and quiet and being one with nature. That’s what I was lucky enough to experience during this three hour hike, as we had the trail and its sights practically to ourselves.
Last but not least on this list is Herzogstand (1731m), which is a well-known mountain in the vicinity of Munich at just over an hour’s drive south of the Bavarian capital.
I made my way up to Herzogstand in April 2021, having had all four wisdom teeth taken out a few weeks prior. Though I was still recovering from the operation, I was dying to get a hike in as the lockdown restrictions had started to really take a toll on me.
Starting from a parking lot up a hill in the village of Urfeld, I slowly embarked on a hike where each step was more of a mental challenge than a physical one, as my gums were still so sensitive. I focused on getting to the peak, no matter how long it took me.
In the end it was worth it, as it always is. I was rewarded with views of not one but two lakes: Walchensee to the south against a backdrop of rugged peaks including Karwendel, and views of Kochelsee among the lowlands to the north.