Germany’s National Parks: Harz National Park

Almost as long as Germany has been inhabited, the area now known as Harz National Park has loomed large as a place of imagined – and very real – wilderness. Virtually uninhabited even today, the park contains mist-shrouded peaks, bogs, heath, primeval forests, and glacial peak winds that can make you feel like you started in Germany and ended up in Iceland during a winter hike. Boasting Northern Germany’s tallest peak, a Hogwarts Express-style steam train, and all the nature you can handle, Harz National Park makes for an amazing four-season visit.

One of Germany’s best nature experiences

Even if you haven’t been in Germany for long, you’ve probably noticed how densely populated the country is. Drive down almost any road outside a major city, and a village will pop up every few kilometers – sometimes even in places like the Pfalz Forest or the Black Forest. It’s understandable: that’s what happens when you pack 84 million people into a country that’s slightly smaller than Montana.

Which makes Harz National Park all the more magical. It’s kind of like a blank spot on the German map, at least in terms of being populated. Consequently, the nature experience at the park is one-of-a-kind. The forests are deep and tranquil. Clear streams meander along lush verdant valleys. Trails stretch for miles and miles. Waterfalls appear. If you’re seeking a wild frontier in Germany, this may well be where to find it.

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Sunset in the Harz mountains on Mount Brocken, Harz National Park, Saxony-Anhalt, Germany. Fabled granite rock formations called Teufelskanzel and Hexenaltar.

The Brocken – Hiking to the summit

The Brocken is northern Germany’s highest peak, and is a brilliant destination for adventurers and day hikers alike. Though it’s only 3,700 feet (1,141 meters) high, don’t let the numbers fool you. The Brocken is imposing, with a peak that is covered in snow from September to May. Every season but summer (and often during the summer, too), glacial north winds can rock the top of the mountain.

For hikers, the Brocken can be a wonderland. First off, there are many paths to the top of it. One of the best routes, the Goethe Trail, starts from the TorfHaus Visitor Center (which offers ample parking, free admission, and some cool exhibits, including a virtual hike to Brocken peak, just in case you’re there on a rainy day and don’t have good gear). This 10-mile (5 miles there, 5 miles back) trail follows (more or less) the path taken by the great German writer Johann Goethe, when he summited the Brocken in the early 18th century. If he can do it, you can too! Before you start, make sure you pick up a map and useful tips at the visitor center.

Harz National Park’s epic steam train

If bagging German peaks on foot isn’t quite your thing, you could always take the Hogwarts Express, er, that is to say, the Harz narrow gauge train that leads to the Brocken summit. This steam train is, simply put, a fantastic way to experience the park and the mountain.

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The best route for getting there is to leave from Drei Annen Hohne, a little village with a train station about 10 kilometers south of Wernigerode (where you can also pick up the train to Brocken). From Drei Annen Hohne, the hour-long ride winds through gorgeous forest before the train spirals its way up the mountain and ultimately puts you on top of that part of the world.

Tickets can be a little pricy (more than €40 per person, round trip, depending on where you depart), but they are well worth it. This is one of the most amazing ways to experience Germany. Advance reservations are required, and tickets can be purchased online at

An excellent place to wander

Last, but certainly not least, Harz National Park offers freedom in a way that can sometimes be hard to find in Germany. Which is to say, you can get there and just start wandering. There are multiple walking and cycling paths, all of them well-posted, that start from or near any of the five free-of-charge visitor centers sprinkled around the park. Check out the park’s website ( before you go, and pick the experience that best suits your needs.

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For families (for whom wandering can sometimes mean catastrophe), there are also fantastic focused options, including an amazing kid-tested, parents-approved Dandelion Discovery Path, as well as a fun and informative Nature Myths Path. Whatever you need from nature, you can find it at Harz National Park.

Getting to Harz National Park

By car, the TorfHaus Visitor Center is 4.5 hours from Kaiserslautern, 3.5 hours from Wiesbaden, and 5.5 hours from Stuttgart. Check with DeutscheBahn for train options to Wernigerode or nearby Bad Harzburg.

Categories: Biking, Kid Friendly, Newbie Tips, Rest of Germany, Rest of Germany, Rest of Germany, Road Trips, Travel, Walking