Martin Donat

Ruhr Valley Gravel – rediscover the Ruhr Area in Germany

Stephan Peters | lifeCYCLE magazine

Ruhr Valley Gravel – rediscover the Ruhr Area in Germany

Mountain Biking Collection by Martin Donat

The Ruhr Valley Cycle Path ( is one of the most popular German cycle paths. It follows the Ruhr River from its source to its mouth for about 230 kilometres (143 miles) through an exciting mix of nature and industrial heritage. However, the bike path mostly follows paved roads, sometimes including main roads through the numerous towns which lie en route. If you want a relaxed bike trip with tourist sites and leisurely coffee breaks, then this is great. However, if you are looking for an adventure that is filled with tranquil nature, then the Ruhr Valley Cycle Route is often too hectic and busy. For this reason, I left the paved paths along the Ruhr and went in search of a quiet, bumpier option. The idea: follow the Ruhr from its source to its mouth on unpaved paths that are as quiet and idyllic as possible. The result is my ‘Ruhr Valley Gravel’ route, which I present in this Collection.

Compared to the original route, the gravel variant is much more challenging. While the Ruhr Valley Cycle Path directly follows the course of the river and is therefore relatively flat, the gravel route makes repeated detours into the beautiful hills to the left and right of the river meaning you collect many metres of elevation gain, often on loose ground. You’ll be amazed by how varied the Ruhr region is.

I’ve included the original Ruhr Valley Cycle Route in this Collection so that you can compare the two alternatives and plan accordingly. You can always adapt your own route if necessary, using the original ride as a guide. For example, if you want to see a town that I’ve left out, you can switch to the Ruhr Valley Cycle Route for a section. The original route is also great if you want to pick up some speed. So, if you’re late for your returning train journey in the evening, you can make up some time.

While it is possible to ride the Ruhr Valley Cycle Route in one go if you’re fit enough, this would be very, very hard for the Ruhr Valley Gravel, although not impossible. I have divided the route into three stages, which are perfect for a long weekend but also work as individual Tours. The cool thing is that each stage ends in a town with a good train connection, so you can have a great time on your bike without a car. If you want to tackle the route as a multi-day bivouac trip, you should bear in mind that it's generally rather difficult to find a really quiet, secluded place to sleep in the Ruhr area. However, I found a few places that are suitable for a night camp and marked them in the Tours as highlights, so you can set your own stage goals and vary the length of each stage.

Basically, I tried with this route to bring across the character of the Ruhr Valley and the Ruhr area, but at the same time, I wanted to avoid all the places that are too urban and hectic for me personally. Nevertheless, it was important to me that the Ruhr remains in focus and the route does not digress too much. That's why I'll take you along sections of the Ruhr Valley Cycle Route every now and then and make stops in towns that I like or that are simply suitable as ‘refreshment stops’. In practical terms, this means you don't have to rely on stashing large food supplies in your bags. There are plenty of opportunities to shop at the bakery or supermarket along the way and stock up on whatever you need. You can ride light and fully enjoy the beautiful trails and varied scenery.

I wish you a lot of fun when you leave the tidy tourist paths and explore the ‘dirty’ backyards of the Ruhr Valley. I am sure of one thing: You’ll get to know the Ruhr area from a completely new perspective on the gravel paths from the source of the Ruhr in Winterberg to its mouth into the Rhine. I’d also be happy for any feedback! Just leave me a comment if you particularly enjoyed something or if you have a suggestion of how to improve the route.

On The Map

Tours & Highlights

    69.5 mi
    7.8 mph
    5,425 ft
    7,175 ft
    Expert mountain bike ride. Very good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary. Some portions of the Tour may require you to push your bike.

    After the little warm-up ride from the Winterberger train station, the Ruhrtal Gravel really begins when you reach the source of the Ruhr. Here you can pause for a moment and look at the small trickle that trickles out of the ground. It's hard to believe that it will turn into a large river that gives an entire region its name! This is also where the Ruhr Valley Cycle Path begins and because it initially runs over gravel paths, you first follow it for a few kilometers.After a rapid descent and crossing the main road to Winterberg, the route bends and says goodbye to the Ruhr Valley Cycle Path for the time being. Instead, you drive up a (rather steep) gravel path. A typical "forest highway" - the Fireroad of the Sauerland! Once at the top, you have to take the right exit at a large crossroads (the "turntable") in order to reach a rest area with a wayside shrine called St. Blasius a little later. From here you drive over a picturesque trail, from which you have a wonderful view of the Sauerland 🏞️☀️🚴‍♂️.In Wiemeringhausen you cross the Ruhr for the first time, which is still a fresh mountain stream here. You drive through the Rosendorf Assinghausen and follow the regular Ruhrtal cycle path for a while. From there you have a view of the Ruhr, which meanders through the valley in many loops. After you have crossed the railroad tracks, you are back on clean gravel.Now there is an up and down over meadows, fields and through shady forests. A nice mix of farm roads, traffic-free roads and trails leads you around Olsberg to Bestwig and along the Ruhr to Meschede. The famous town in the Sauerland offers a practical opportunity for a short rest.This is followed by a somewhat challenging but beautiful section high above the Ruhr valley. A wonderful trail leads you over a ridge with partly wonderful views and later on a steep descent down to the town of Calle. It continues along a picturesque Way of the Cross and finally on the Wennetal cycle path, a former railway line, to Freienohl. Here you join the Ruhrtal cycle path for a few kilometers until you cycle over a Ruhr viaduct to Rumbeck and from there over beautiful gravel paths around the Hopfenberg. After a quick descent, you approach the urban highlight of this stage: Arnsberg. A detour to the beautiful old town and up to the castle ruins is definitely worthwhile. In good weather, you have a breathtaking view of the Sauerland and the Ruhr, which winds in a large loop around Arnsberg.The last part of the first stage is again really entertaining and there is even a bit of adventure feeling. Far away from the hustle and bustle on the main road on the other side of the Ruhr, you can enjoy an entertaining mix of nature and “backyard” flair - all on a beautiful mix of trails and country lanes. Through the Neheimer Stadtwald you finally take a course towards Wickede, where the stage ends 🚉.

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    37.1 mi
    8.2 mph
    1,100 ft
    1,250 ft
    Expert gravel ride. Good fitness required. Some portions of the Tour may require you to push your bike.

    The second stage of the Ruhrtal Gravel is characterized by the transition between the Sauerland and the "real" Ruhr area. You leave the last foothills of the Sauerland behind Fröndenberg, from now on the landscape is shaped by the Ardey Mountains, whose partly rugged slopes you take a closer look at towards the end of the tour in Herdecke and weather. This stage is relatively short and flat - so today you can take a deep breath and enjoy the beautiful meadow landscape in peace from the Ruhrtal cycle path and various gravel detours.From Wickede you first follow the route of the Ruhrtal cycle path for a while. Most of it runs along traffic-free, but paved paths. An idyllic warm-up program. The first gravel excursion awaits you before Fröndenberg. A beautiful field path leads you directly into the Ruhr meadows and through the middle of an area where numerous water birds feel comfortable. The detour to a lookout point with a view of the Kiebitzwiese nature reserve is a great opportunity for a short break. Shortly afterwards, the next rest stop awaits you: the racing bike museum is located in the middle of Fröndenberg. Since it is still in the founding phase, you should definitely contact us in advance to arrange a viewing.Now it's getting really idyllic. A dead straight gravel path leads you into the middle of the Ruhr meadows behind Fröndenberg. The wide meadow landscape ensures that you feel like you are on a journey far from civilization. At the end, the wide path turns into a narrow path, which you may even have to search a bit - a bit of adventure is also part of it.To breathe deeply, there is now another piece of Ruhrtal cycle path, from which you soon turn again: Over an enchanted bridge with rusty railing you come to the beautiful path through the Bahnwald nature reserve, which leads directly past the Hengsen reservoir. It is the first of six reservoirs along the Ruhr, which were once created to clean up the previously heavily polluted industrial river and which serve to supply the Ruhr area with drinking water. By the way: Today the Ruhr is one of the cleanest bodies of water in Germany! In any case, the gravel path through the Bahnwald is really nice.And again a piece of the Ruhr Valley cycle path follows, but it is by no means boring. Again and again you have great views of the Ruhr. In between, gardens, a canoe training route and impressive bridges provide variety before you turn back onto unpaved roads. Shortly before Herdecke you change the Ruhrufer again and enjoy the great view and the unusual perspective of the Dortmund Syburg from a gravel path.Towards the end of the stage it gets really exciting again. Allotment gardens, debris dumping areas, motorway bridges and nature reserves provide a bizarre mix and a view of the Ruhr area that you certainly did not expect. A short sliding passage takes you to the beautiful high path above the Hengsteysee, far away from the hustle and bustle of the walk directly on the shore. From here it is not far to the city of Wetter, where today's stage ends.

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  • Difficult
    59.9 mi
    7.9 mph
    3,875 ft
    4,125 ft
    Expert mountain bike ride. Very good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary. Some portions of the Tour may require you to push your bike.

    Die dritte Etappe meines Ruhrtal Gravels ist nochmal ein ganz schönes Brett ⛰️🤪🚴. Doch ich finde, dass die Zeit unterwegs wie im Fluge vergeht, auch wenn die Route etwas fordernd ist. Denn diese Tour mitten durch den Pott ist unglaublich abwechslungsreich. Wenn du das Ruhrgebiet nicht kennst, wirst du überrascht sein, wie grün und wie hügelig es hier sein kann!Die erste Lektion in Sachen Ruhrpott-Hügel beginnt direkt nach dem Start in Wetter. Vorbei am geheimnisvollen ehemaligen Verwaltungssitz des großen Kranherstellers Demag, fährst du über Schleichwege durch ein Wohngebiet und rein in den schönen Wald. Hier führt ein hübscher Weg recht steil rauf auf den Ruhrhöhenweg. Bei gutem Wetter genießt du oben eine tolle Aussicht ins Ruhrtal – definitiv mal eine andere Perspektive als vom Ruhrtal Radweg aus.Weiter geht’s: Nachdem du durchs gemütliche Zentrum von Wengern mit vielen kleinen Fachwerkhäusern gerollt bist, bringt dich die neue Elbschetal Trasse zurück ans Ufer der Ruhr. Du folgst für ein paar Kilometer dem Ruhrtal-Radweg, der hier wunderschön gelegen über einen Schotterweg entlang der Ruhraue führt und dich direkt in die Wiege des Ruhrgebiet-Bergbaus bringt: ins Muttental. Die Zeche Nachtigall ist hier unbedingt einen Blick wert. Aber auch sonst solltest du deine Augen offen halten: Hier und da kannst du zwischen den Felsen die Eingänge alter Stollen entdecken. Kurz vor der Burgruine Hardenstein hast du die Möglichkeit, mit einer kleinen Fähre die Ruhr zu überqueren und dem Ruhrtal-Radweg zu folgen – nur für den Fall, dass du gern ein paar Höhenmeter sparen und um den Kemnader See in Bochum radeln willst.Meine Route führt stattdessen wieder eine Weile bergauf und bringt dich ins herrlich abgelegene Kamperbachtal und von dort aus nach Witten Herbede, wo du kurz nach rechts abbiegen kannst, falls du dir beim Bäcker Proviant besorgen willst (ganz in der Nähe vom Bäcker befindet sich der Radladen Metal Motion, nur für den Fall...). Wenn nicht, geht es direkt weiter: Du überquerst nun das Stauwehr des Kemnader Sees und folgst eine Weile dem Verlauf der Ruhr bis zu einem besonderen Highlight. Ein Stück original erhaltener Leinpfad wird dich ordentlich durchrütteln. Früher haben über solche Wege Pferde kleine Lastschiffe flussaufwärts gezogen 🐎⛴️🏋. Jetzt verlässt du für eine Weile die Ruhraue. Ein kleiner Abstecher ins Weitmarer und ins Hörster Holz vor den Toren von Bochum sorgt für hügelige Abwechslung. Auch hier entdeckst du allerlei Relikte des Bergbaus. Vor allem aber genießt du richtig schöne Wege mitten im Wald, bevor die Route wieder für ein paar Kilometer dem Ruhrtal-Radweg folgt, der in Essen Steele und durch die Heisinger Ruhraue wirklich schön verläuft.Statt dem Radweg entlang des Baldeneysees zu folgen, biegt die Route nun wieder ab: Schöne, teils steile Schotterwege durch den Schellenberger und den Kruppwald bringen dich ins Schwitzen. Hier und da genießt du grandiose Ausblicke auf die Ruhr, den Baldeneysee und die Villa Hügel – den prunkvollen, ehemaligen Wohnsitz der Industriellenfamilie Krupp. Ein schöner Trail führt zurück ans Ufer der Ruhr, wo du das Stauwehr des Baldeneysees überquerst. Da du hier ohnehin schieben solltest, kannst du kurz durchatmen. Aus Werden geht es steil hinauf, bis du schließlich von einem wunderschönen Wiesenweg aus einen tollen Blick zurück auf den Essener Stadtteil werfen kannst. Über einen abwechslungsreichen Mix aus Wirtschafts-, Waldwegen und Trails fährst du nun oberhalb vom Ruhrtal bis nach Essen Kettwig. In der wunderschönen Altstadt bietet sich eine Pause an. Hier gibt es Kaffee, Kuchen und Eis – also alles, was hungrige RadfahrerInnen wieder munter macht. Langsam beginnt der „Endspurt“ des Ruhrtal Gravels. Wenn du die Mintarder Brücke siehst, wird der letzte Abschnitt eingeläutet. Ein schöner Abstecher in den Wald wartet aber noch auf dich: Durch das Wambachtal führen schöne Wege bis zur Styrumer Ruhraue, wo du schon fast den Duisburger Hafen sehen kannst. Dieser Abstecher ist die deutlich ruhigere Alternative zur Fahrt durch Mülheim, die mir persönlich einfach zu hektisch ist – auch wenn die Route gar nicht so schlecht ist. Wenn du lieber eine weitere Ruhrpottstadt kennenlernen willst, lässt du einfach den letzten Gravel-Schlenker aus und folgst stattdessen dem asphaltierten Ruhrtal-Radweg. Der letzte Abschnitt entspricht fast vollständig der Originalroute des Ruhrtal-Radwegs, die über weite Teile wie fürs Gravelbike geschaffen ist. Sie führt dich mitten durchs Hafengelände zwischen Ruhr und Rhein-Herne-Kanal und das bis kurz vorm Ziel ganz ohne Autoverkehr. Nachdem du den Ruhrdeich überquerst hast, folgt der Radweg ganz kurz der Straße, bis er sich wieder dem Verlauf der Ruhr anschließt. Und dann siehst du sie schon: Die Rheinorange, die das Ende des Ruhrtal Gravels sowie den Start beziehungsweise das Ziel des Ruhrtal-Radwegs markiert. Hier mündet die Ruhr nach 219,3 Kilometern in den Rhein. Für dich endet eine abwechslungsreiche Fahrt mit viel Gravel, tollen Eindrücken und ganz neuen Perspektiven auf das Ruhrgebiet 🤸‍♂️🎆🚀💪.

    145 mi
    10.1 mph
    2,875 ft
    4,950 ft
    Expert bike ride. Very good fitness required. Mostly paved surfaces. Suitable for all skill levels. The Tour includes a crossing by ferry.

    The original route of the Ruhr Valley Cycle Path: It starts at the source in Winterberg and leads to the confluence with the Rhine and follows the Ruhr at every turn.This cycle route was created primarily with a view to “tourist” cycling. Accordingly, it leads over simple, paved and mostly paved paths and is easily accessible with any type of bicycle (except perhaps in some places with a racing bike). The route is mostly flat and leads you through many cities along the Ruhr. This results in an often quite urban character and there are also some passages along busy roads. Nonetheless, the Ruhr Valley Cycle Path is a very beautiful river-side cycle path. Due to its “brisk” route, it is also very suitable as a one-day challenge for fit drivers. Around 230 kilometers from the source to the mouth is of course a challenge.In the context of my Ruhrtal Gravel, the original route is always a great "backup" if your plan changes. Because to come across the Ruhr Valley Cycle Path, you basically only have to drive downhill in the direction of the Ruhr - at some point you will automatically “hit” it. The path itself is much faster than my gravel variant. If the battery of your smartphone or navigation system is empty, the weather changes or you absolutely have to get the last train home quickly: just take the Ruhrtal-Radweg 😎🚴‍♂️💪.

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Collection Stats

  • Tours
  • Distance
    312 mi
  • Duration
    35:24 h
  • Elevation
    13,275 ft

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Martin Donat

Ruhr Valley Gravel – rediscover the Ruhr Area in Germany