An Elven landscape. The enchanting region of Saxon Switzerland – or Sächsische Schweiz in the local tongue – in the eastern corner of Germany has bewitched us with its eroded table mountains, gnarled forest paths, mysterious woods and moss-clad boulders. And the best way to immerse yourself in a landscape is to go hiking.
We spent one month in this wondrous area and hiked 17 different trails to find the 5 best, because we know that YOU don’t have a month to spend, trying to find the best trails. From Schrammsteine to Affensteine, to a phallic rock, a famous bridge and a quiet forest trail, we roamed the mountainsides to give you our Top5 hiking trails – and these made the Best Hiking Trails list! Hope you’ll enjoy them just as much as we did.
We hiked Schrammsteine many times, trying to find THE perfect hike. And this is it!
This route distinguishes itself by taking you past some of the best Schrammsteine sights in under 10 km, making it a great choice if you’re walking with children, or only have half a day to hike.
If you get cracking early, there’s a free car park waiting for you (and there are not many of those, mind you) and you can combine this with our Best Upper Affenstein Trail hike (see below) to add 9 km to this route and get that “One Trail to Rule them All” kinda route.
The trail ascends slowly at first, through Shiessgrund, taking you past impressive boulders and fairy-tale forest. When you reach Schrammtor and walk through this natural “gate” you can’t help but feeling very small and vulnerable against this awesome natural phenomena.
Then it’s time to climb, and although you’re quite safe with the ladders and handles, it’s still a challenging – but fun! – climb up. Arriving at the top, go to the left to take in the impressive views from Schrammsteinaussicht. If you’re early, this is the best place to savour that coffee from the thermos (and those chocolate croissants you bought in Lidl in Bad Schandau) and watch the fog emanate from the Elbe river.
As you continue along the both demanding and fun Gratweg, you get close and personal with the mountain. You’re now following a part of the Malerweg route. Take your time to enjoy the views along this trail.
When you reach Breite Kluft it’s time to make choice: If you want to continue your hike to Affensteine, adding another (awesome!) 9 kms and 300 vertical metres to your trail, continue on The Best Affenstein Trail described below.
If not, head down Breite Kluft with its many stairs and back via Elbreitweg, a wide forest trail where you can look up to the Schrammsteine on your right. When you reach Schrammsteintor, you can turn right, to do the whole tour again (you’ll want to!) or left to go down through Lattengrund with its moss-covered rocks, forming a tunnel to guide you on your way. When you reach the road, your car is just 400 metres up the street. Check out the trail here:
As with Schrammsteine, we hiked Affensteine many times, trying to find THE perfect hike. And this is it!
This trail will take you past some of the best sights at Affensteine in 12 kms, making it a great choice if you only have half a day to hike or are walking with children. As you reach Obere Affensteinpromenade, as it’s called in German, it is truly a promenade that meanders along the mountainside and offers one breath-taking view after another.
This half-day route begins at the (quite expensive, I’m afraid) car park at Schmilka. This makes the trail 12 km. You COULD also choose our 9 Km long Best Schrammsteine Trail as described above that begins at the free parking lot at Schiessgrund, and add this route to it. This will add 9 km and 318 vertical metres to the Best Schrammsteine Trail and make it a total of 18 km and 700 vertical metres, making THE perfect full-day hike or “One Trail to Rule them All”. Depends on your shape and time.
Schmilka is quite a cute village and will make a perfect watering hole, once you’ve finished the trail.
After a nice and steady climb the first 1,5 kms, the fun begins at Rotkelchenstiege, which makes a challenging (but not too perilous) and entertaining climb. Once you’ve arrived at Schrammsteinweg, it’s pretty much smooth sailing from there, because the trail will roughly continue in the same elevation.
The short hike to Carolafelsen is a there-and-back-again appendix, but you shouldn’t cheat yourself of these views! When you get to Bauerlochturm you can either continue along our suggested route on Upper Affenstein Trail OR take the Via Ferrata, or KletterSteig, called Obere Häntzschelstiege and continue along Langes Horn that meets Upper Affenstein Trail again after 600 metres.
As you continue to the panoramic spot at Reitsteig, take in those amazing views of Heringsgrund. You’re now in the centre of this fascinating region. Savour the views and the moment before you continue on your way down. (Or you can continue along Malerweg and do The Best SchrammSteine Trail)
Don’t worry: the descent is not as challenging (nor fun, I may add) as the ascent, but climbing down the ladder called Heilige Stiege will quickly get you down to Heringsgrund and back to Schmilka.
Remember the watering holes you eyed on your way up? Now’s the time to find your way to it and enjoy some refreshments before returning to your car. You’ve earned it! Check out the trail here:
This trail is perfect for a family hike, because there are several ice-cream stops along the way. For those with a pair of full-grown legs, this route can be completed in half a day, depending on how many ice cream stop YOU have to make.
What makes this trail our favourite is because it also goes through the mystical and fairytale-like Wehlener Grund and Höllengrund instead of “just” taking a loop around Bastei and Schwedenlöcher. AND you end the hike in style with a sunny, 3-kilometre stroll along the Elbe promenade.
The trail starts at Stadt Wehlen, at any of the parking spots that are available and takes you on quiet asphalt roads and nice, wide forest trails through Wehlener Grund and Höllengrund, that looks like something from Lord of the Rings. You walk through a beautiful forest before reaching Bastei.
Take your time here and enjoy the many views (wait, did somesay “ice cream”?) or a tour on Felsenburg Neurathen that’ll set you back 2,5€ per adult. When you’re ready, head back a little and then turn right towards Schwedenlöcher. They’re named so because the locals hid here from Swedish soldiers during the Thirty Years’ War, and they’re indeed a great place to hide or get lost. Mystical and magical.
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When you reach Amselgrund you can go left up to see the (OK, a bit pitiful I must admit) waterfall Amselfall. As you walk down again, towards Kurort Rathen, you reach Amselsee, where you can rent a rowing boat or water paddler to explore the small lake.
From here, it’s just one kilometre to Kurort Rathen where lunch or another ice cream awaits. I must warn you that it gets pretty crowded in the summer months and October. If you can’t find any free tables, there’s nothing else to do than walk the 3 kilometres back to Stadt Wehlen, where you hopefully have better luck.
The 3 kilometre and pleasant stroll along the Elbe river is probably a warm and sunny one. Remember sunscreen and water. Check out the trail here:
In less than 3 hours, and with less than 400 vertical metres of climbing, you can immerse yourself in a “Lord of the Rings” landscape, climb a maze-like mountain and eye the largest phallic rock in Saxon Switzerland!
The trail is perfect for a half-day hike or hike with kids and begins at the gravel road car park from where you follow the long-distance trail Malerweg towards the eroded table mountain of Quirl.
Quirl looks only like a dense forest from outside, but as you walk past the tree line, you see how it really is an ancient mountain, eroded and aged into its current shape. The so-called Quirlpromenade is a trail that leads you around this decayed table mountain.
As you’ve circled around the Quirl, you head south towards Pfaffenstein, still following Malerweg. The Pfaffenstein with its 428 m is among the most interesting of the table mountains of Saxon Switzerland, as it offers a variety of historic and natural sights. As you meet the imposing wall of Jäckelfels, turn right to go up via Bequemer Weg (Comfortable Way) and enter this maze-like mountain. Turn right to follow the signs towards Barbarine and enter the southern part of Pfaffenstein – only accesible through a narrow passage.
Remove your backpack before entering – or you may get stuck!
Explore this plateau and the amazing views it offers of Saxon Switzerland to the east and south. Look for the small passageway to the east to get a good look at Barbarine. As you can see from the photos, this is also a beautiful place to catch a sunrise over Saxon Switzerland.
When you’re done exploring, wriggle yourself back through the narrow passageway to explore the northern part of Pfaffenstein. You can tank up or take in at a small restaurant or climb an observation tower for a small fee. Explore the nooks and crannies on the top of this table mountain and enjoy the many magnificent views.
You can climb Teufelskessel and Bundelsfels before continuing along the Malerweg trail through the narrow passage of “Nadelöhr” (bottleneck) and the many stairs leading you down the mountain. As you walk back to your car, you can look onto Festung Königstein that commands another table mountain above the river Elbe. Check out the trail here:
If you’re looking for something away from the tourist trails: a route that will take you to a medieval bandit’s fortress with amazing views, across Grosser Winterberg and along the absolutely wonderful Goldsteig, meandering along the mountainside, deep into the forest, this is it! As we hiked the trail, all alone with only the birds as company, a huge stag came trampling down along the mountainside. We felt so fortunate to be in a place where that could happen. It can happen to you too!
If you get up early, you may be lucky to snatch of those few, free parking spots near Buschmühle, where we began our hike. Otherwise there’s a payable car park at Neumannmühle.
You begin the hike with a bit of a climb up the many stairs in direction of Lorenzsteine. The trail then opens out into an open plain where you have great views to the surrounding mountains of Saxon Switzerland.
Next destination is Winterstein, or Hinteres Raubschloss, where the adventurous hiker can climb the iron ladder to the upper plateau for THE best views. As you head further into Saxon Switzerland, you get deeper into the forest. Ascending Grosser Winterberg unfortunately doesn’t grant any winning views, but you may acquire a cup of coffee.
The trail really gets interesting when you enter Goldsteig. Just like Obere Affensteinpromenade, this trail follows the mountainside, and meanders around those ancient rocks through the quiet forest. As the forest path leads onto the gravel road of Roßsteig, you only have 900 metres to the inn Altes Zeughaus, where there’s a beverage waiting just for you. From there on, it’s a pretty straightforward way back to your car.
We think this trail has all the qualities that makes Saxon Switzerland so magical: medieval history, adventurous climbs, a mountain and a meandering trail through the quiet forest, where you can really feel the magic of Saxon Switzerland. Check out the trail here: