At the start of this fabulous adventure, you pick up a stone that will accompany you on the entire Rennsteig. There is an old hiking tradition to fish a stone out of the Werra River in Hörschel, the beginning of the Rennsteig, and to stow it in your pocket. According to legend, your Rennsteig adventure is only considered a success when you throw it into the Selbitz River at the finish in Blankenstein.
Take good care of your stone as you follow the Rennsteig Cycle Path through the unique heights of the Thuringian Forest, the Thuringian Slate Mountains and the Franconian Forest. Over three days, you can expect endless forests, great views, delicious Thuringian specialities and many places steeped in history.
The route is waymarked with the green ‘R’ and mostly stays off the popular Rennsteig Hiking Trail. Only about 25 kilometres (15.5 miles) are completely identical to the hiking route, which is signposted with a white ‘R’. The Rennsteig Cycle Path avoids particularly crunchy root passages and steep climbs by following lonely forest paths and asphalt side roads. A gravel bike or a mountain bike with minimal suspension would be your perfect companion. A touring bike will still make it along the Rennsteig Cycle Path though. No matter which bike you take, you will only be able to enjoy the constant ups and downs of the trails if you are in good shape.
On the official Rennsteig website, you can find lots of important information, for example, if you spontaneously decide on a different stage destination or if the accommodation I suggested is already fully booked.
After passing numerous picturesque villages and the former inner-German border, you search for the legendary stone in Blankenstein. Here, after 195 demanding kilometres (121 miles) and about 3,300 metres (10,826 feet) of altitude, the official Rennsteig Cycle Path, and thus your gravel adventure, come to an end.
You can reach the starting point in Eisenach in just over three hours by train. As some places are not well connected from Blankenstein, you can alternatively cycle 30 kilometres (18.6 miles) on the directly adjacent Saale Cycle Route to Hof. Here, you have a lot more trains to choose from to return home, hopefully without a stone in your bike bags.
You start at the main train station in Eisenach and roll comfortably the first ten kilometers to the official start of the Rennsteig in Hörschel. Here you get a small pebble from the Werra or from the specially set up bowl to carry it over the Rennsteig and to throw it back into a river at the destination in Blankenstein. This hiking tradition should bring luck and be a guarantee for fond memories.From now on it’s really going uphill. Thanks to the picturesque route, the first section of the route is very entertaining. Again and again you catch glimpses of the imposing Wartburg, where Martin Luther translated the New Testament of the Bible into German.The route leads through extensive mixed and coniferous forests, which are repeatedly interrupted by beautiful mountain meadows. When you arrive at the granite rock on the Glöckner, you have already completed more than half of the stage. Time for a break to enjoy the beautiful view of the Thuringian Forest.On the way you will come across so-called relaxation, where you can rest and recharge your batteries. There are also sources of drinking water at some of these comfortable resting places, such as the Hirschbalz recreation area.One kilometer before the enchanting mountain lake Ebertswiese you will reach your accommodation of the same name. Here you can put your luggage and move into your room, and then end the day at the mountain lake with a dip in the cool water.You can find information about your accommodation here: rennsteig.de/berghotel-ebertswiese
After a delicious breakfast, you start the second stage with a long climb up to the famous ski resort Oberhof. At the Schmücke weather station at an altitude of 942 meters, you will reach the highest point of the Rennsteig cycle path a short time later. The sun terrace of the rustic Suhler Hütte beckons in the immediate vicinity.You continue via the Rennsteig train station to Frauenwald, where you can immerse yourself in the history of the GDR in the bunker museum. If you feel a hole in your stomach here, I recommend you try the delicious Thuringian dumplings right next door in the Waldhotel Rennsteighöhe restaurant. Well strengthened, the constant ups and downs can now continue.Shortly after you have completed half of today's stage, you will reach the center of the Rennsteig at the Großer Dreiherrenstein. From here you roll on until you arrive in the popular climatic health resort of Masserberg after a long uphill stretch. Here you will find the "Café Daheim" with an extensive range of cakes in one of the old, stylish spa buildings. If you can still stow it somewhere, you can simply take the cake with you to the Eisfelder Ausspanne, which comes shortly after the Werra spring. This beautiful rest area is ideal for gathering energy for the last few kilometers.The end of today's stage is in Neuhaus am Rennweg. The Rennsteighaus is only 300 meters away from the Rennsteig, where you can spend the night cheaply, park your bike safely and, if necessary, carry out repairs.You can find information about the Rennsteighaus in Neuhaus am Rennweg here: neuhaus-am-rennweg.de/verzeichnis/objekt.php?mandat=146157
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The third and last stage is again scenic and steeped in history. After 16 kilometers you will cross the former inner-German border. A memorial here commemorates the victims of the Berlin Wall who lost their lives in this section of the border.Thoughtfully we continue in the direction of Lehesten. Here you pass the old slate quarry, in which the so-called blue gold was mined for seven centuries until 1999. No wonder there are so many pretty slate-roofed houses here.Only ten kilometers later, the next highlight awaits you, the imposing Altvaterturm. On the 35 meter high tower you can enjoy a wonderful view of the Rennsteig before you continue pedaling via Brennersgrün to Blankenstein on mostly paved side streets.When you arrive in Blankenstein, you will look for pebbles from the Werra in every corner of your pocket. Now you just have to throw it into the Selbitz and the Rennsteig adventure is over.Before you can take the train back to the starting point in Eisenach in around three hours, happy and satisfied, you can fortify yourself with a delicious Thuringian grilled sausage. Right near the end of the Rennsteig you will find a recommended stand where you can buy the culinary "must-have".If you can't find good train connections home from Blankenstein, you can continue cycling upstream on the Saale Cycle Path. After about 30 kilometers you will pass Hof, where there are many good train connections.