Cuckoo Clockwork in the Black Forest

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The multi-award winning Wutach trail may be a trifle remote but is ultimately easy to reach – thanks to the ruthless efficiency of the local transport system

No offense to all the places where we have recently been hiking: thank you Greece, thank you Tuscany, thank you Gran Canaria, you were wonderful and we had a lovely time, but the fact remains that hiking in Germany is something rather special and unique. This comes down largely to two reasons.

"hiking in Germany is like Cuckoo Clockwork in the Black Forest"

First of all: Germany makes hiking so easy.

The Wutachschlucht on the eastern slopes of the Black Forest is relatively remote by German standards, and from Freiburg, the nearest city, you have to take two trains and one or two buses to get there, but these are all synchronized with one another, and we never waited for more than a few minutes on any of the interim stops. Within 90 minutes we were at the trailhead. This is a magnificent piece of engineering, in its own way as formidable as a BMW or one of those fancy German dishwashers.

Secondly, there is the nature of the landscape.

On German hiking trails, mountains can be high, but never so much that they will dizzy you, forests are dense but never scary, the countryside is lush, green and inviting, with farms and villages never far away.

Everything has been conceived on a human scale, and you never feel like an unwanted intruder while Nature plays out one of her Grand Dramas.

German landscapes rarely hit the high notes of sublimity, admittedly, but they make the best of what they have – with trails that are not designed to stun and frighten you but to put you at ease.

Award-winning trail on the Black Forest

The Wutach trail itself has won many prizes and regularly features among the top five of the annual “best trails in Germany” polls (this will give you an idea how seriously they take their hiking in Germany – as seriously as the US takes its movies and Britain its pop music).

I had wanted to go for years, held back mainly by the nagging feeling that it could only disappoint. I should not have worried.

The Wutach trail establishes its leitmotif early on: the river Wutach is on one side, a cliff on the other …

  "Hiking the Wutach trail like Cuckoo Clockwork in the Black Forest"

… but as soon as you have worked that out, the trail begins to play with your expectations, running its motive through a seemingly inexhaustible number of variations. The trail switches from one side of the river to the other, crossing bridges both small …

"hiking the Wutach trail like Cuckoo Clockwork in the Black Forest"

… and big …

"an abandoned bridge over the river on the Wutach trail in the Black Forest"

… taking you on ascents …

"stairway to a bridge over a river on the Wutach trail on the Black Forest"

… and descents in quick succession…

"down a bridge on the Wutach trail of the Black Forest"

… changing between the low road, right where the river flows …

"river bed on the Wutach trail of the Black Forest"

… and the high road, making you watch the Wutach as though you were standing on top of a 20-storey skyscraper …

"a river along the Wutach trail of the Black Forest seen from a bridge"

… and in one place, there is not one river to follow but two and then even three, the Wutach splitting up into several branches that spread out and flow on different levels before, eventually, reuniting.

"Wutach river forking along the trail in the Black Forest"

The Wutach trail has won many prizes in the past and I am sure it was a worthy winner. It may be a little remote, but do not let that discourage you: in the end, it is relatively easy to reach.

Getting there

Just take the train from Freiburg to Neustadt (half-hourly service) and change – across the platform – to take the train to Löffingen where the “Hiking Bus” (the Wanderbus, line no. 7259) will already be waiting to pick up hikers.

Note, however, that this bus only circulates on Saturdays and Sundays from May to mid October. On other days and outside the hiking season, transport is a little more difficult to arrange.

Leave the bus at the Schattenmühle stop and look for the trail in the direction of Wutachmühle. The trail is about 14 km long but overall rather easy, so you should be able to do it – short breaks included – in roughly 5 hours.

From the Wutachmühle, another Wanderbus (line 7344) will take you back to Schattenmühle – where the 7259 will soon arrive to take you back to Löffingen train station. All functioning, as they say,  like cuckoo clockwork in the Black Forest.

One last tip: buy yourself a RegioCard – a local transport pass – in Freiburg. That will cover all your trips by train. You will need to pay a small extra charge (€ 3.20 p.p.) for a Wanderbus day pass, however.

Have you hiked in the Black Forest? Share your tips and experiences with us!

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18 comments to Cuckoo Clockwork in the Black Forest

  • Thanks for dropping by, MQ. Here are some tips:

    The less time you have, the more important it is not to lose any on your way to and from the trailhead. So make sure than you can get conveniently from your accommodation to the trail of your choice, and also check the travel times to and from your point of arrival (airport or train station). That’s really the most important advice anybody can give you.

    Train beats bus anytime, so if you are planning to make day trips from a “base”, I would always go for somewhere with a train station. Gengenbach looks okay in this respect. (Although if “not touristy” is high on your list of preferences, Freiburg would be a better choice.)

    If you are in good shape, walking up the Feldberg (the highest peak of the Black Forest) might be an interesting challenge. I have not done this yet, but the respective stage of the Westweg is generally considered the “heartpiece of the trail” and is apparently not too difficult technically, although a trifle long at approx. 25 km. It leads you from Hinterzarten (which you can reach by train) to the Wiedener Eck from where buses take you to Titisee train station.

    Check all your transport connections on Die Bahn website (they have an English language service, too) before you decide where you want to go. Particularly if you are planning to leave soon, because there is a railway strike in Germany right now which is causing all sorts of problems.

    Have a great time,

  • MQ

    Hi Michael, I chanced upon your website while doing some research on hiking trails in the black forest. You have evidently spent quite some time in the area and I was wondering if you could give me some advice? My friend and I have 2 nights in the black forest and would like to do some hiking. We do not have much hiking experience but are young and fit (we both do cardio exercise 3-4 times a week) and would like to do a couple of 7-20 km hikes. We were wondering where would be a good place to base ourselves – we were thinking Gengenbach as it looks like a nice town and it is actually in the black forest. Freiburg sounds good too although we thought Gengenbach would have a more village atmosphere and be less touristy. Would you have some suggestions on hiking trails too? Happy for you to contact me by email. Many thanks in advance.

  • It does not look very far from Titisee, but I don’t know how to get there since I have not done it myself. This piece was a guest post.
    At any rate, Laurel, the author, provided a rather detailed description on how to get there.

  • Haya

    Thanks, I didn’t know how to reply to your comment ,

    I will arrive Freiburg Station at 12:20, and i think i can leave my luggage and take train immediately to hike point, so if the distance to Wutach trail is far, and as you said their is no way to take any transportation back at evening (even is more expensive) then i think i have to take another trail, while this one looks so interesting :( ,

    Thank you so much Michael

  • Haya, if you want to go to the Wutach trail, you will have to go to Freiburg central station first. Considering the location of your accommodation (and I looked it up on the map), there is no shortcut for you.

    If I understand you right, you are considering to go there on a Friday afternoon at 2 pm. That, I am afraid, is not a good idea. You will have to leave Freiburg as early as you can in the morning since the hike alone will take you about 4 hours, plus you will need to get to the trailhead, too – and will probably also want to go home in the evening rather than spend a night in the forest. (There are, if I remember this right, no buses after 6:30 or so).

    On the days when the hiking buses do not operate, you can, in theory, take an ordinary public bus. I did not write down the details, but I remember that I thought: this is so complicated and awkward that nobody in his right mind would want to do this, so I won’t have to mention it at all.

    Ask the local tourism office for details, but practically speaking, you should only consider this on a weekend in summer when the Wanderbus operates. On other days, try some other hike on the Westweg or so, the entire area is full of interesting hiking opportunities.

    I hope you have a good time!

  • Haya Al Mousa

    Sorry another question

    if the hiking buses operates only Saturdays& Sundays , what is my alternative if i am coming on Friday 10 Sep.2014

    Thanks !

  • Haya Al Mousa

    Hello Michael,I will be staying in a motel in (Weingarte- Feiburg (Bugginger Straße 37)can you please tell me if this is far from Loffinegen and so far from the Wuatch trail?? if so what is the recomended area of accomodation to be close to this trail as i will arrive Freiburg Train station around 12:00 , so how much time i need to arrive to Wuatch? and if i started arould 14:00 is this ok???

    Thank you so much

  • I like these pics. I was never in the Black Forest or in Red River Gorge in Kentucky.

  • Hahaha, Michael, I didn’t know where Wutach was but as soon as I read “ruthless efficiency,” I knew it was in Germany.
    There’s a comfort though in knowing there will be no surprises, that you’ll be able to do this hike without feeling like you have to be Superman/woman.

  • For me the Black Forest represents the birth place of so many of my favorite fairy tales. Love the pics. I hope one day to get there myself.

  • Looks beautiful and reminds me Red River Gorge in Kentucky. Seems like you have it all on this trail with river, forests, cliffs, and hills.

  • You’re absolutely on the right track on that one, Agata!

  • Jack

    beautiful black forest in Germany!

    never hiked in black forest before, but will definitely give a try next time, thanks for sharing Michael

  • I have modest experience in trekking in Germany but the one I have follows the pattern: well prepared and easily accessed. This sort of thing foster my own stereotype of the German way of thinking ;-)

  • The Wutach Trail looks amazing, love the pictures. I went on a hiking holiday once in the Black Forest and it turned out to be one of my favorite hiking holidays. Such a beautiful place.

  • If Germany has given the hiking trail an award, it must be good! Lovely pics of the Black Forest!

  • That would be just great, Jeff. I’m sure an opportunity would come.

  • One day, I want to hike through Germany with the both of you!! These walks must be invigorating, all the natural beauty of the German countryside!! Wonderful article and pics too!

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