Inside tips on hiking in NRW
Scenic hikes, unusual options, group tours or hiking with a twist: the best tips for hiking in North Rhine-Westphalia
Need help to plan your ideal hiking holiday? We have inside tips on scenic hikes, unusual options, group tours and hiking with a twist.
The traditional favourites: “Top Trails of Germany” in NRW
The Hermannshöhen (Hermann Heights) Trail
The Hermannshöhen (Hermann Heights) is one of four hiking trails in NRW listed among the 15 “Top Trails of Germany”. It is actually a combination of two individual hiking trails – the Hermannsweg (Hermann Trail) and Eggeweg (Egge Trail). This network of ridge walks is steeped in a century of tradition, and its trails pass a number of interesting sights, including the Externsteine sandstone pillars near Horn-Bad Meinberg.
Eifelsteig (Eifel Trail)
The Eifelsteig Trail stands out for the sheer variety of its paths through the unique natural habitats of the Eifel. It crosses NRW’s only national park, takes in the deep-blue maars of the Volcanic Eifel and passes through the isolated Rurtal valley and the High Fens moorland. It too is one of the “Top Trails of Germany” and it has received the “premium trail” seal of quality from the German Institute of Hiking.
Rothaarsteig (Rothaar Trail)
Considered as the flagship hiking trail in Sauerland, the Rothaarsteig (Rothaar Trail) is one of the most beautiful upland trails in Europe. This “path of the senses” runs along a wide variety of natural trails. Another of the “Top Trails of Germany”, it has been awarded the “Premiumweg” seal of quality.
The fourth of NRW’s “Top Trails of Germany” which has also received the hiking seal of quality is the Rheinsteig trail. Known as the “Grand Canyon of Romanticism”, it lives up to its name with breath-taking views of the Rhine and its cultural landmarks. Some of its routes take hikers off the beaten track for a different kind of experience. This quartet of traditional trails has something for everyone, from seasoned hikers to recreational walkers and young families. All routes are well-signposted and it is easy to plan short excursions or day-trips.
Inside tips for unusual hiking routes
Viadukt Wanderweg (Viaduct Rambling Route)
The Viaduct Hiking Trail in the Paderborner Land region is not exactly new, but it is not very well-known all the same. Railway enthusiasts in particular will appreciate Altenbeken, which not only has a 044-series museum steam engine in the centre of town, but also a towering railway viaduct. At night, its arches are illuminated to transform the structure into an imposing work of lightart. The 29 kilometre-long Viaduct Hiking Trail is the best way to soak in the railway-themed atmosphere of the town. All along the route, hikers can catch amazing views of the viaduct, Europe’s largest stone railway viaduct.
Narzissenroute (Wild Daffodils Route)
Spring is the time when admirers of nature and colourful blooms should hike the “Wild Daffodils Route” in the Eifel. Each year around Easter, the wild flowers transform parts of the national park into a sea of yellow. The just under 12-kilometre circuit starts and ends in the pretty Eifel town of Monschau, which is well worth a visit in its own right
Walking among European bison at Wisent-Welt
A very special nature experience also awaits hikers on the Rothaarsteig trail in Siegerland-Wittgenstein. This is the roaming ground of European bison, the continent’s largest land mammal, which has just recently been reintroduced into the wild. They are the only animals of their species living in the wild in Western Europe. Visitors can see them up close at Wisent-Wildnis – a 20-hectare natural wilderness that is home to a small group of European bison. The remaining wild population has been roaming a 10,000 hectare area since 2013, and hikers are highly unlikely to encounter any of the animals here.
Hopping off the railbus to hike in the Ruhr Area
For a very different experience, hikers can combine their walk with a ride on the Ruhrtalbahn railbus. The journey begins on the nostalgic railway line, and hikers can hop off at different stations to explore on foot the attractions of the Ruhr Area, such as the ruins of Hardenstein Castle and the old Nachtigall (Nightingale) and Theresia mines.
Hiking with a twist
One for the ultra-fit: speed hiking
Rest and relaxation are definitely not the focus of speed hiking. This is for hikers who want to challenge their bodies to the limit – with the added bonus of enjoying nature and escaping the daily grind through exercise. Speed-hiking involves fast walking in challenging terrain with poles and a back-pack. NRW has a number of suitable routes for this sport, including the Rothaarsteig (Rothaar Trail), the Eifelsteig (Eifel Trail) and the Hermannshöhen (Hermann Heights) trail in the Teutoburg Forest.
Hiking for health and vitality on VitalWanderWelt themed trails
Would-be hikers who are cautious about their health are also well catered for in NRW. The VitalWanderWelt tours in the Teutoburg Forest combine hikes on themed trails to the region’s health resorts with active, preventive or therapeutic offers. Unique in Germany, this programme is primarily suited to guests suffering from heart and circulatory problems, tinnitus or stress, or who are overweight. Participants are accompanied by physiotherapists or specially trained hiking guides, who demonstrate stretching or relaxation exercises at particularly scenic points along the route. Hikers are also linked with a doctor on the trail at all times thanks to the use of telemedicine.
Yoga-themed hiking trails
The Teutoburg Forest and other regions offer activities that combine yoga with hiking. In Bad Meinberg and its environs, for example, there are three yoga hiking trails with opportunities to practise yoga at locations with panoramic viewpoints. A board at each stop demonstrates a simple exercise for beginners. The routes also take in beautiful landscapes and interesting sights, such as the baroque spa gardens, the Norderteich bird sanctuary and nature reserve, and the moorland from which the healing Bad Meinberg sulphur mud is sourced. Those who would like to delve deeper into the world of yoga can choose from an option that is unique in Europe: Bad Meinberg is home to Haus Yoga Vidya, the largest seminar and training centre of its type outside of India. Its programme includes guided yoga-themed hikes.
Hiking in the company of animals
Animal companions can provide a great excuse to dawdle along a hiking route. Donkeys, llamas, alpacas and similar animals have a relaxing presence, and this far-from-everyday experience provides an excellent talking point later on. Several regions in NRW have special tours with animals.
Ranger-led tours in the Eifel and on the Rothaarsteig
Those who wish to know more about the nature and background of the region they are visiting can join a ranger-led tour on the Rothaarsteig (Rothaar Trail) and in the Eifel mountains. These tours are free-of-charge in the Eifel National Park; on the Rothaar Trail, children and the under 18s do not have to pay.
Companionship in groups: hiking weeks and hiking festivals
Bergische Wanderwoche hiking event
Visitors who would prefer not to hike solo have many opportunities to join up with like-minded walkers. The Bergische Wanderwoche hiking event, which was held for the first time in 2014, provides one such opportunity. Over one week in late May/early June, a number of guided hikes are organised in the Bergisches Wanderland walking region, including its two long-distance trails and the “Streifzüge” – a collection of themed wandering routes. One of the routes is designed to be fully accessible.
Frühlingswanderwoche walking event in Sauerland
The Frühlingswanderwoche springtime hiking event takes place in April in Schmallenberg, Sauerland. The local hiking inns organise one-day tours on the theme of embracing the season of growth. The hiking routes range in distance from 8 to 18 kilometres and include a rustic lunch and a convivial get-together afterwards. Visitors who want to stay the night at a member inn of the Sauerland Wandergasthöfe cooperative can make use of the all-inclusive package for the week-long springtime hiking event.
Also in Sauerland, the Latroper Wanderfestival (Latrop Hiking Festival) has been taking place on the Rothaarsteig (Rothaar Trail) since 2013. This two-day event includes guided hiking tours and an extensive fringe programme in and around the Sauerland resort. Highlights include a night-time walk with a crime thriller reading, an early-morning hike with light breakfast, and special walks with themes like herb foraging and healthy living.
Extra touches to enhance the hiking experience
Audio trails on the Rothaarsteig
Hikers who prefer to set out alone but who would still like to learn more about their surroundings can use a service provided by the biological field stations of Upper Sauerland and Siegerland-Wittgenstein. Ten Audiowege (audio trails) on the Rothaarsteig (Rothaar Trail) give visitors insight into the local natural environment. The audio files are available in German, English and Dutch.
Cyclist- and hiker-friendly railway stations in the Eifel
The Eifel region has an initiative that caters for hikers without a car. As part of the Rad- und Wanderbahnhöfe pilot project, the districts of Euskirchen and Düren have developed facilities for cyclists and hikers at 19 railway stations and halts in the North Eifel region, including information terminals, benches, bike racks and air pumps. A simple and standardised system of markers and signs has also been introduced to ensure that visitors can easily set out on an established cycle or hiking trail from a participating railway station.