Dense forests, ridges covered with heathland, and the sources of the Ruhr, Sieg, and Lahn rivers – the Rothaarsteig hiking trail leads from the small town of Brilon in the Hochsauerlandregion southwards to Dillenburg in Central Hesse.
The trail guides you 154 kilometres (95 miles) over a total of almost 4,000 metres (13,123 feet) in altitude across eight daily stages. Hiking along the main ridge of the Rothaar Mountains means you are also always moving along a border. The trail leads from the Sauerland over the Wittgensteiner Bergland and Siegerland to the Lahn-Dill-Bergland in Hesse.
You hike back and forth in the border region between North Rhine-Westphalia and Hesse, following the Rhine-Weser watershed that runs across the Rothaar Mountains. Some areas along the Rothaarsteig are so remote and unspoiled that bison have been reintroduced and now roam freely through the forests.
However, even in the seemingly very remote regions along the Rothaarsteig, you come across traces of human activity from time to time. You pass ridges with railway tunnels cut into the rock and aqueducts built at the beginning of the 20th century. For a few kilometres, the Rothaarsteig runs along the historic Iron Road which was used to transport iron in the Middle Ages. On the way, cosy huts tempt you to take a break from the path and enjoy life to the full, especially around holiday regions such as Winterberg.
Well signposted, not far from the centre of Germany and with largely gentle ascents and descents, the Rothaarsteig is an ideal trail for anyone looking for unspoiled nature or simply wanting to try out whether they enjoy long-distance hiking.
The Rothaarsteig starts at the historic town hall on the market square in the old town of Brilon. From there the official route first leads to Drübel with a beautiful view of the city and the provost church of St. Petrus and Andreas. The hike through the Drübel nature reserve can also be shortened by simply walking along the Möhne through the spa gardens.In any case, after two to three kilometers you will pass the Möhne spring, the first of the 11 springs on the Rothaarsteig. From there it goes through meadows and forests to the Gudenhagener Poppenberg. The path then continues in a south-easterly direction past the Hiebammenhütte to Borberg with its beautiful chapel and a great view. From there you go, mostly through the forest, about two kilometers to the east and around the mountain Schusterknapp.After you have passed the Schusterknapp, the path runs back south on the ridge of the Rothaargebierges. Habberg and Ginsterkopf follow on the summit path with wonderful views of the Upper Ruhr Valley and the Bruchhauser Steine. After passing the gorse head, the path always leads through forests past the fire oak, below the Bruchhauser stones and above the small village of Bruchhausen. With a view of the privately inhabited Bruchhausen Castle, a detour to the Gutscafé with its attached flower garden is worthwhile. If your feet hurt, you can end the first stage here. From Bruchhausen it goes steadily up to the place of execution. To get to Willingen, continue from here on the yellow-black marked access path down to the village.
Today it goes high! After starting in Willingen, the path leads through wooded area up to the 843 meter high Langenberg, the highest point of the Rothaargebirge, the Sauerland and all of North Rhine-Westphalia.The ascent to the summit always offers very beautiful views of the Hochsauerland, the summit itself is forested and the view from there is therefore relatively unspectacular. The area in the next few kilometers after the Langenberg is then determined by the rare natural landscape of the Niedersfelder Hochheide. You can stop off at the Hochheide hut in the area of the Neuer Hagen nature reserve. This is already south of the winter sports resort Willingen (Upland).After about 13 kilometers through forests and heaths, you finally reach the village of Küstelberg, which is surrounded by fields. From here it goes another nine kilometers - and past the Ruhrquelle - to the stage destination in Winterberg.
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From the center of Winterberg the path leads past the St. Georgs ski jump and the ski mountains Poppenberg and Bremberg with their lifts up to the unwooded panoramic mountain Kahler Asten, which you reach after about six kilometers. With more than 840 meters and a wonderful panoramic view, it is the highest point of this stage.A few hundred meters on the Kahler Asten and through the heather area, you will then pass the Lenne spring. Then it goes mainly through meadows to the village of Langewiese. From here the path then leads up to the Albrechtsberg, which you reach after 14 kilometers of the stage with some wonderful viewpoints.About two kilometers after the Albrechtsberg, the Rothaarsteig divides into a valley and a ridge variant. Here you can decide whether you want to follow the ridge variant over the Rothaarsteig suspension bridge (don't worry, we will pass there on stage 4) and the small hamlet of Kühhude, or whether you turn onto the valley variant and spend the night in Schanze two and a half kilometers away want to take advantage of - which corresponds to our route suggestion.
After spending the night in Schanze, you can choose between the ridge and valley variants of the Rothaarsteig. If you choose the valley variant, you walk in a south-westerly direction through the ravine-like Grubental and over the village of Latrop to the so-called million bank, where the two variants unite again. If you want to continue on the main path, the ridge variant, you start in a southeastern direction past the Kyrill path towards the hamlet of Kühhude. On your way towards Kühhude you will pass some sculptures on the WaldSkulpturenWeg. After about three and a half kilometers you will come across the 40 meter long suspension bridge, which you can simply hike around if you get wobbly knees.The Rothaarsteig-Grenzweg then leads through dense forests and on ridges to the million dollar bank, where the ridge and valley variants reunite. In the forests around the million bank it is not entirely uncommon to come across wild bison. The bison are used to hikers on the trails, but a certain respectful distance should be kept - especially if you are out with dogs or if you meet mother animals.After a total of about 13 kilometers (main variant) you will reach the small village of Jagdhaus, where the wisent path branches off to the Wisent-Welt Wittgenstein nature experience center. In the bison world, a bison herd can be observed relatively well in a demarcated area. If you stay on the suggested route, you will reach the Somborn spring after a total of sixteen kilometers. Up to the Rhein-Weser Tower, the stage destination with a wonderful panoramic view, it is another five kilometers from the Somborn spring.
The fifth stage begins high up on the Rhein-Weser Tower. From here the path leads into the romantic and densely wooded Schwarzbachtal. After about six and a half kilometers you will hike through the landscape of the Heinsberger Hochheide. A sporty detour down to the Heinsberg aqueduct and a walled-up railway tunnel, which has been closed since 1945, can be of particular interest to those interested in the railway.A short distance after you have visited the Heinsberg aqueduct (or left it on the right), you come to the Dreiherrenstein, and after three and a half more kilometers you reach the Ferndorfquelle. From the source, the Rothaarsteig leads a good four kilometers to the Ginsburg ruins, from whose tower you have a wonderful view and where you can stop. From the Ginsburg it is about three kilometers to the center of Lützel. The way there leads over the Giller ski mountain with the famous Gillerberg tower.
The stage from Lützel to Lahnhof takes you through the headwaters of the Eder, Sieg and Lahn rivers. The path is mainly determined by forests and heathland. From Lützel, it's about two kilometers to the southeast. Then the path follows the Eder for six kilometers to its headwaters in a moor. Then a gravel path, the Kohlenstraße, leads east to the small town of Waldheim and from there mostly through forest around two and a half kilometers to the Siegquelle with refreshment stops. From there it's another six and a half kilometers to the source of the Lahn and the Lahnhof, the destination of this stage.
From the Lahnhof, the Rothaarsteig leads on the penultimate stage for around four kilometers in a southeast direction to the Ilsequelle. From there you continue on the Eisenstrasse, a medieval trade route, through forests, heathland and on ridges, always in a south-west direction. Much of the route follows the border between North Rhine-Westphalia and Hesse. You reach the source of the Dill after about twelve kilometers, after a further six kilometers you come to the Tiefenrother Höhe, which offers a wonderful view over the southern Siegerland from the viewing platform "Nase im Wind". From there it is another three kilometers to the penultimate stage destination Wilgersdorf.
If you start from the town center in Wilgersdorf, the last stage begins like the penultimate one ended: You walk around two kilometers back the way you came and then continue your tour on the Rothaarsteig in a southeastern direction. After a kilometer on new paths and through forest and heathland, you come to Kalteiche, where the Rothaarsteig in the border area between North Rhine-Westphalia and Hesse is divided into the dill variant and the Westerwald variant. Both paths ultimately lead to Dillenburg, but the Westerwald variant over the Fuchskaute is more than 50 kilometers longer. On the suggested route, the dill variant, it is about 20 kilometers to Dillenburg. The closer you get to Dillenburg, the more the landscape of the Rothaargebirge merges into that of the Lahn-Dill-Bergland.At the latest after you have reached Manderbach after 12 kilometers, you will come to a more densely populated area and the forests are increasingly giving way to fields and settlements. After you have left the Lören on the right, you enter more or less urban area around Dillenburg. With the new, now official variant of the Rothaarsteig, you initially hike around Dillenburg in a north-westerly direction - which is the more scenic, but also longer route. You will pass the Bismarktempel with a beautiful view of Dillenburg in the forest near the city. On the shorter variant, which is drawn in here, you initially move a little along the busy B 253 in the urban area and then go up to the Wilhelmsturm, the landmark of Dillenburg. The old town northwest of the Wilhelmsturm is also nice to look at. From there you walk through the Hofgarten to the Dillenburg train station - the official end of the Rothaarsteig. Regional trains take around 60 minutes to get to Frankfurt / Main from Dillenburg station.