Set in a tiny nook in southeast Bavaria, nearly surrounded by Austria, Berchtesgaden just might be Germany’s most beautiful national park. The park summons so many superlatives: majestic, breathtaking, raw, sublime, incredible. Here’s another one: action-packed. Indeed, visitors will never lack for something to do – during any season. As you start planning your trip, here are five ideas for making the most of Berchtesgaden National Park.
1. Go skiing (or snowboarding, or sledding, or snowshoeing, or…)
Berchtesgaden is an all-season joy when it comes to outdoor activities. But it shines in winter. The park and its surroundings offer an absolute smorgasboard of awesome places. There are six ski resorts in the vicinity, including the Jenner ski area, with guaranteed snow throughout the winter, near Schönau am Königsee.
The area is also fantastic for cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and snow hiking. Berchtesgaden offers more than 100 kilometers of groomed trails for cross country skiers, including high-altitude ones. Snowshoeing is even more fun. Because Berchtesgaden offers so much wilderness, winter explorers can strap on snowshoes and hike…basically wherever they’d like.
But the best time of all just might be sledding. For any American who grew up sledding during the winter (and even for those of you you didn’t), sledding in the Bavarian Alps is almost as good as it gets. There are dedicated sled runs in Berchtesgaden (the Obersalzberg run – talk about amazing scenery) and nearby Ramsau (the Hirscheckblitz run). Lots of little towns nearby have sled runs, too…be on the lookout for them!
2. Visit Eagle’s Nest (but not during winter)
The Eagle’s Nest is one of Germany’s top tourist destinations, and for good reason. Perched more than 6,000 feet up on Mt. Kehlstein, it offers views that are among some of the most spectacular in the world.
It also has a rather infamous history. The Eagle’s Nest was built for Hitler to commemorate his 50th birthday, included a golden brass elevator that cut through the heart of the mountain on which it stands, and was completed in 1938, just before World War II began.
Generally, the Eagle’s Nest is open between May and October. Visitors are required to take a bus to reach it. Purchasing tickets online in advance is highly recommended.
3. Take a Königsee boat tour
Even if some mountain peaks are a little too gnarly to tackle during winter, visitors can always find bliss on Lake Königsee. One of Germany’s most beautiful lakes (and its deepest…more than 600 feet deep, in some places), boat tours are offered year-round.
The trip is well worth it. Königsee’s iconic green color (caused by lime particles dissolving in the water), location at the foot of massive Mount Watzmann, and forested, mountainous surroundings make it a photographer’s dream.
4. Go hut-to-hut hiking
For outdoor enthusiasts, Europe offers one of the best mountain experiences in the world: hut-to-hut hiking. This allows hikers to get into the mountains and stay there for an extended period of time.
Berchtesgaden excels at this. The national park has five mountain huts, all of which are open during warmer months (usually May to October, but check to make sure before going). If you’ve never tried hut-to-hut hiking, you should. The food (and beer, and water) is always hearty, the company is grand (you’ll make friends from all over the world), and the views are unbeatable.
5. Check out the Visitor’s Center
This may seem like an obvious one, especially for American national park aficianados, where visitor center stops are more or less required. But in Germany, where national parks are free, you can go wherever you’d like most of the time.
That said, be sure to check out the Berchtesgaden National Park Center, which offers one of the best national park experiences out there. It’s got a fabulous information center, a theater, lots to do outdoors, and fun activities for the whole family. As a bonus, the views are – just like the park – superlative.
By car, Berchtesgaden National Park is 6 hours from Kaiserslautern or Wiesbaden, and 4 hours from Stuttgart. Check Deutsche Bahn for train information.