Vast juniper heathlands with bleating flocks of sheep, a mysterious stalactite cave, a valley where mammoth hunters once roamed, a deep meteorite crater, a cliff covered with shells and hugged by turquoise water – this may sound like dreamland but will become reality as you hike the Albschäferweg (Alpine Shepherd’s Trail) in the Swabian Alb.
This long-distance hiking trail leads you 160 kilometres (100 miles) in a large circuit through the entire Eastern Alb. You will roam through wonderful forests and pretty meadows, passing various rock formations which tell the tale of incredible history. You will meet shepherds and their peaceful sheep many times along the trail. But, should you miss them in real life, you will find steel sculptures of shepherds marking the Albschäfer Trail along the way. They tell stories about the everyday life of traditional shepherds.
Shepherds have been wandering with their herds through the valleys and plateaus of the Heidenheim Brenz region since the 15th century. The Albschäfer trail (Alpine Shepherd's Trail) follows the tracks of the wandering shepherds and takes you past sheep farms, juniper heaths and rocky outcrops as it winds its way through the gently hilly landscape following picturesque, near-natural paths and stopping at idyllic villages and magnificent castles en route.
The official starting point of the Albschäferweg is in Giengen an der Brenz. To get there, take the Brenztalbahn train which runs between Ulm and Aalen. Free parking is also available at the station if you decide to travel by car. Since the Fernwanderweg is a circular route, you can start at any point along the route. Heidenheim is a great alternative starting point as it also has good rail connections.
If you want to shorten the hikes, you can divide the circuit into smaller routes or try out one of the 10 circular day routes known as the ‘Albschäfer-Zeitspuren’ (Shepherd’s historical footsteps.’
Each stage of the Albschäfer Trail except one ends in a village with good overnight accommodation. Here you can choose between guesthouses, holiday rentals and hotels. Along the trails, you will also find a few places to stop and replenish your drinks and snacks. With your rucksack full of goodies, you can relax on a bench and enjoy a break in wonderful places with great views. What could be better than enjoying this together with the happily grazing sheep? This is peaceful hiking at its best.
Your first stage starts in Giengen an der Brenz. You start your hike at the train station, first follow the path along the Brenz and then cross the river to the south.Immediately you leave the small town behind and you are in peaceful nature. The Albschäferweg takes you across wide fields and along small forest areas. After a while you cross a country road on a bridge and reach the ruins of the Güssenburg on a narrow mountain spur. Here you can stroll between the old walls before you walk around the extensive juniper heaths of Hermaringen and get back to the banks of the Brenz. Treat yourself to a break in the shady pasture tent on the bank. The sparkling water has the correct Kneipp temperature.You follow the course of the river, sometimes closer to the water, sometimes a little further away and hike through Bergenweiler to Sontheim an der Brenz. The Albschäferweg takes you along the edge of Sontheim and with good visibility you can see the Alps from here.The last section to the stage goal leads you through a quiet forest and finally over some fields before you reach Stetten ob Lontal. At the end of the town, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Vogelherd Cave is embedded in a theme park. There you can get in the mood for your hike through the prehistoric Lonetal.On your first stage there is a refreshment stop in the Hermaringen sports home right on the way. You can also take a detour to Sontheim to take a break in a restaurant, please inquire about the opening times. In both places you will also find supermarkets and bakeries to top up your provisions.
After a good night's sleep, start your second day on the Albschäferweg in Stetten ob Lontal. After a few steps you have left the village and soon crosses the Lone valley and the Lone. The path leads you on the other side of the valley up into a dense forest and you walk on gentle paths towards Kaltenburg. To get here, you leave the Albschäferweg on a short stretch. The castle complex has been renovated in recent years and is now visible from afar over the valley.The Charlottenhöhle is located directly below the castle ruins. If you like, you can pay a visit to the dreamlike and large stalactite cave and take a look at the cave museum before continuing your hike.You hike on, cross the A7 federal motorway and then dive back into the forest. You reach the Falkenstein domain on easy forest trails. A sustainable farm is housed in the outer bailey of the former Falkenstein Castle. There are hardly any traces of the actual castle on an upstream rock spur, but the view of the Eselsburg valley is definitely worth a visit.Between the forest and the fields, the Albschäferweg takes you along partly curved paths down the hillside forest towards the stage destination Anhausen. Here you will find a friendly B&B where you can relax for the next day.On this stage you can either take a break before crossing the motorway at the rest area there or take a detour to Eselsburg. In Eselsburg you will find the Eselsburger Talschenk directly on the river, where you can strengthen yourself for the future. The dangling through the valley, past the legendary Stone Virgins, is also recommended if you want to spend the night in Herbrechtingen.
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On the third stage, the quiet and secluded nature of the Swabian Jura awaits you. You leave Anhausen and follow the Albschäferweg along comfortable forest paths and along extensive pastures to Heldenfingen.Right on the edge of the path you will find the Heldenfinger Kliff, a remnant of the cliffs of an ancient sea, which was branded against the rocks here 15 million years ago.You hike on from here and soon reach the extensive Hungerbrunental. The lush valley is surrounded by forest on both sides and apart from other hikers and some sheep, nothing will remind you of civilization here. After a short crossing of the country road, you follow the beautiful, natural path and can switch off perfectly from your everyday life.Shortly before your destination in Gerstetten you can take a break at the tree-covered Egleen lakes and enjoy the magnificent view on a bench. From here it is only a short distance to the center of the town.On the third stage you will find both the Banzhaf bakery and the Ochsen country inn in Heldenfingen. The bakery provides fresh baked goods from Monday to Saturday from 5:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and from 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. The shop is closed in the afternoon only on Monday, Thursday and Saturday. The inn is open every day from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.At the end of the stage in Gerstetten, you may have to strive for an overnight stay in Gussenstadt or in the ox in Heldenfingen. The transportation there is organized by your hosts.
On the fourth day you follow the Albschäferweg through picturesque mixed forests and over narrow heath areas. With the Steinheim Basin at the end of today's stage, a unique nature experience awaits you.You start in Gerstetten, leave the Egleen lakes behind and hike past the water tower. On Sundays you can even go to the observation deck. From the top you get a nice overview of the surrounding landscape.Soon you will leave the open fields behind and hike through forest and forest paths through extensive mixed forests. Sporadically, the trees give a view of meadows and heath areas and you always have the chance to meet sheep.You pass the small Küpfendorf and after another piece of forest you reach the Steinheimer Becken. The path leads you to the castle stable rocks in Sontheim. From the highest point of the rock, the highly visible and 15 million year old meteor crater spreads out at your feet. The basin lies clearly below the surrounding Alb landscape and the crater edges can still be seen today. You hike over the crater rim and after the Knillberg you reach the Schäfhalde. On the flat elevation there is a glider airfield and right next to it you will find the Heiderose restaurant.After a well-deserved rest, it goes around the airfield and down into the Steinheim Basin.
On your fifth stage, you leave the Steinheim basin in the morning and ascend to the northern edge of the crater. With a beautiful view of the crater, you hike along the edge of the forest and soon you will reach the Wental.In the Wental there are innumerable large and small rocks and rock formations from dolomite limestone. The Albschäferweg takes you straight through the valley and its unique landscape. After you have admired all the rocks, the hiking trail leads you through a dense mixed forest towards the stage goal.As you hike along the forest paths and forest paths between the towering tribes, you will find a unique peace in the peaceful nature. Finally, happy and satisfied, you will reach the stage goal Zang.Halfway through the Wental is the Landhotel Wental with an attached restaurant. If you have no backpack vespers with you, you can take a cozy break here. The restaurant is open from Tuesday to Sunday. Otherwise, you can also easily get provisions in the supermarkets in Steinheim.
After your relaxing night in the small Albdorf Zang you stroll a few steps through the village. If you feel like it, it is worth taking a detour to the small village pond. The pond is idyllically located between the small houses.Then you leave the village to the east. The Albschäferweg takes you along the edge of the forest and after a short stretch of forest you will already reach the first houses in Königsbronn. Before you descend to the village center, you can make a detour to the rock spur of the former Herwartstein Castle. From up here you have a great view of the town and the idyllic Brenz Valley.If you like, you can leave the Albschäferweg on the descent to take a look at the Brenztopf (about a kilometer there and back). You can also stay in the valley and hike across the monastery courtyard to Itzelberger See. The rock-lined spring of Brenz is in the middle of the village, where you can also find a café and a butcher.The Albschäferweg then takes you along the banks of the Brenz to the Itzelberger See with other places to stop for a bite to eat. Here you leave the Brenz Valley and hike through a large mixed forest to the stage destination Heidenheim.This tour ends at the Wanderfreund Naturfreundehaus at Hahnenschnabel. You can stay here for a fair price. The house is located slightly above Heidenheim and is surrounded by meadows and forests. Information and reservation at naturfreundehaus-heidenheim.de/unserhaus/index.html
The seventh stage on the Albschäferweg is quite short with a distance of around nine kilometers. Therefore, a detour to Hellenstein Castle is definitely worthwhile. The detour is already included in the tour and extends the route from 9.1 kilometers to 13.4 kilometers. If you want to save yourself the detour, simply delete highlights 1 and 2 in the route planner.To get to the castle, you walk a bit through the streets of Heidenheim. The castle, the symbol of the city, sits enthroned on a rise above the houses. After a short climb you can visit the castle and the museums before continuing your hike on the Albschäferweg.Back it goes a short distance through the city before you reach the Brenzpark. It is open from March to October and costs a small entry. Nevertheless, the way through the well-designed park is worthwhile. After leaving the Brenzpark, you are back on the Albschäferweg.It goes a bit up the Brenz before you leave the city and walk up towards the disused quarry. Through the adjoining forest you can enjoy the silence and tranquility before you reach the Ramenstein cave. The cave is barred between November and April to protect the bats, but is otherwise freely accessible.It is only a short distance from the cave to the stage in Nattheim.At this stage there is no refreshment stop along the way. The best thing to do is to stock up in Heidenheim before you start your hike.
On the eighth stage on the Albschäferweg you hike across the plateaus of the Härtsfeld. The Härtsfeld has a much stony subsoil than other regions in the Ostalb and therefore the agricultural yields used to be considerably lower. This made the landscape particularly popular with the shepherds. With today's knowledge, good results can also be achieved in agriculture here and the flocks of sheep are becoming increasingly rare.You leave Nattheim and hike past fields and meadows towards a dense forest. You cross the forest on easy paths and then pass the towns of Fleinheim and Auernheim. With a great view, you hike above the fields and meadows along the edge of the forest towards Neresheim, today's stage destination. Long before you reach the place, you can already see the famous monastery towering over the plateau.On the eighth stage you will not find any refreshments on the Albschäferweg. Ideally, you equip yourself with a backpack vespers and just take a break according to your own needs. On the heath between Fleinheim and Auernheim and shortly after Auernheim you will find a nice resting place.
The penultimate and ninth stage on the Albschäferweg leads you to three historic buildings.Just a few minutes from your starting point in Neresheim you can reach the mighty Benedictine monastery complex in Neresheim. Today there are only ten monks left in the large buildings, but you can take courses here and spend the night in the monastery. A special highlight is the huge abbey church with its radiant interior.The next stop is the Katzenstein Castle. The well-preserved fortress complex can be visited from March to December and the cozy castle tavern is perfect for a cozy break.You hike across the wide fields of the Swabian Alb to Härtsfeldsee. In summer you can cool your feet in the water and have a nice rest. The reservoir is not designated for official swimming.You follow the Albschäferweg further to Dischingen, where the impressive parish church awaits you. Then you follow the course of the Egau to the stage goal Ballmertshofen.Note on this tour that the castle tavern in Katzenstein Castle is closed in January and February, and is only partially open in November and December. Incidentally, a consumption voucher is included in the admission price to the castle. If you go on your hike in these months, you should provide yourself with sufficient provisions in advance.A tip: The Café-Stüble Sofa in Dischingen is open on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday between 2 and 6 p.m. You will find it at Torstraße 7, just a short distance from the path.
The last stage of the Albschäferweg is also the longest tour of this long-distance hike. So you have enough time before you have to say goodbye to her.You leave Ballmertshofen in a westerly direction and soon reach the Bavarian border. The Albschäferweg meanders through dense forest and meadows past the small town of Zöschingen. Above Zöschingen at the small chapel there is a nice rest area with Kneipp facilities. Shortly after the place you will find another at a natural pond. In the adjoining forest you will meet the giants of wind energy.Today short patches of forest alternate with fields and heathland and after nine days you quickly found your rhythm again. Satisfied and full of energy, you continue to hike and cross the border to Baden-Württemberg again.Soon you will leave the forest completely and the wide meadows and heaths of the Ostalb spread out in front of you. Enjoy this last section with wide views over the gentle barren hills of the Alb before you have to say goodbye to it.It is leisurely with a fantastic view down to Giengen. Before you reach the city center, a detour to the pavilion is worthwhile. From the small viewing platform you can have a last look at Margarete Steiff's birthplace.The last stage unfortunately does not offer you a stop for refreshments along the route. A detour (about 3 kilometers there and back) to Oggenhausen would be worthwhile. Two companies offer traditional Swabian dishes at lunchtime. Otherwise you should stock up on provisions in Ballmertshofen at breakfast.