Visiting a region as vast as Saxon Switzerland in Germany can easily be quite overwhelming. To help we put togehter a simple beginner friendly guide with our most favorite hiking spots within the area.
Saxon Switzerland is a hilly climbing area and a protected national park around the Elbe river south-east of the city Dresden. Together with Bohemian Switzerland in the Czech Republic it forms the Elbe Sandstone Mountains. The area alone has more than 1,000 climbing peaks as well as several hollows. There are climbing and trekking options for all skill levels, from beninngers up to experienced free-solo climbers.
How to get to the Saxon Switzerland Germany
The area is best reached via Dresden, the capital city of Saxony. Dresden has an airport as well as internationally connected train stations. Here you can rent a car or take public transport such as regional trains, ferries or buses to your starting point within the Saxon Switzerland. We advice to look for connections via public transport as the area is very good connected to Dresden. Parking lots are usually getting very crowded and driving can become quite a stressful exercise.
Prepare for your hike accordingly. Check before departure what kind of gear you need. Most hikes are easy to moderate but for some areas you might need additional climbing gear. Get accustomed with the climbing rules of the Saxon Switzerland as some are rather peculiar and rarely found in other climbing regions. If you are travelling with public transport make sure to check the latest departure of your train, ferry or bus. Make sure to take enough food and water with you for the day and do not leave anything behind which could harm the nature. It is possible to get food and drinks also in the few Baudes (small Bistros) on the way but we would not recommend to count on it as they sometimes have quite odd opening hours.
Discover the Bastei
The most famous site of Saxon Switzerland Germany and our number one spot to see. The Bastei has been a tourist spot for already over 200 years. Near the Bastei rock formation sit the ruin of Neurather Castle. This castle was once the largest rock castle in the region. Today only the rooms carved out of the rock, passages, the cistern and rebates for the timber have survived. You can reach the ruins and the museum via the impressive Bastei bridge.
The Bastei is a spectacular sight. Especially during sunrise or in winter when the site is completely empty. Several hiking routes are leading through the Bastei. However it is also possible to just visit the Bastei for a coffee or mould wine in the winter as there is a hotel build close to the site. The easiest way to reach the Bastei is via car. You find two parking spots one being 2.5 km away and the other being only 500 m away. It is also possible to reach the Bastei via bus 237 from Pirna via Rathenwalde in only 30 minutes.
Climb the Häntzschelstiege
The Häntzschelstiege is the most popular via ferrata in the Saxon Switzerland Germany. Trying the Häntzschelstiege is a very good way to find out if going further into climbing is your cup of tea. The level is fairly easy, however the first part and especially the entry into the via ferrata at a hight of 300 m is tricky. You need some gear to do the climbing, however it is also possible to do it without gear if you feel safe on hights.
First you climb a passage with iron bolts for hands and feet embedded into the rock (level B). The second passage is the famous “chimney” a very narrow and steep passage leading to the top (level A). Here again iron bolts are leading your way up and you have a great view down the rock crevice. As soon as you are on top dare to take a short jump over two rocks to the right to see a beautiful view over the landscape.
Please notice that via ferrate are usually one way streets. There is no possibility of turning back as soon as you are on the climb. It is quite dangerous to climb in opposite direction as there is only space for one person at a time. Same on the Häntzschelstiege: as soon as on the climb there is no way back so you need to push through to the top.
Stroll around Castle Hohnstein
Caste Hohnstein was built around 1200 and is one of the last preserved castles in the Saxon Switzerland area. Today the castle is a youth hostel and you can book a room if you fall into the relevant age group. The whole ensamble is very beautiful with several half timbered houses and tiny restaurants sitting at the feet of the castle. From the Castle Hohnstein you can take the Malerweg for a beautiful hike of 5 km to the Bastei. On the way make sure to take the slightly longer way via the mysterious rock formations called Schwedenlöcher (“Swedish Holes”). During the 30 Years’ War people from the surrounding villages fled into the rock formations searching for cover from the attacking Swedish soldiers. You are going to enjoy the walk through the misty rock formation and the slightly mystical gorge.
Hike up to the Idagrotte
The Idagrotte, or translated – Ida Cave is a very large cave in the Saxon Switzerland area. The cave is located at the east side of the Frienstein and is a bit hard to find. To reach the Idagrotte you need to aim for Kleiner Winterberg first and then aim towards Frienstein. The hotspot Idagrotte is not named on the signs within the national park for unkonwn reason.
To reach the Idagrotte you need to pass a very narrow passage close to a very steep abyss. Luckily there are metal rings in the mountain to give you guidance in case you feel dizzy. However the passage looks scarier than it actually is. This part of the path is vey short and with only a few steps you are through. The Idagrotte was used as housing during the Middle Ages. Today you can still spot some of the traces of that left inside the cave.
Top recommendation: Most beautiful hike in Saxon Switzerland Germany
Our most loved and often used hike in Saxon Germany is running through the following sites: Kuhstall (“cowshed”) – Kleiner Winterberg (“Small Winter Mountain”) – Idagrotte – Wilde Hölle. This 10 km round trip hike leads you through the top venues of the Saxon Switzerland Germany. You hike through beautiful forest and along side breathtaking rock formations. Start the hike at the parking lot Lichtenhainer Wasserfall. As an alternative to the car you can reach the parking lot via the Kirnitzschtalbahn from Bad Schandau. Lichtenhainer Wasserfall would be the last spot on the train ride. Fun fact is that the Kirnitzschtalbahn is already moving hikers to the Saxon Switzerland from as early as 1898.
Lichtenhainer Wasserfall to Kuhstall
From the parking lot take the Malerweg in the direction Kuhstall. The way is easy and after 30 minutes you reach the view point Kuhstall. The Kuhstall, or literally translated “cowshed” is a big natural stone arch. No one really knows why this location is called cowshed. Different theories suggest that either cows where hidden here during the 30 Years’ War or people from the nearby located former Castle Wildenstein used the arch as a cowshed. You can reach the remains of the Castle Wildenstein through the Kuhlstall. There is a steep stairway (Himmelsleiter or Stairway to heaven) on the left hand side inside the arch. Don’t miss it!
Kuhstall to Kleiner Winterberg
From Kuhstall take the steps behind the restaurant down to the hiking path towards Kleiner Winterberg. In order to get on the Kleiner Winterberg you need to conquer some steps. The Kleiner Winterberg itself is not very impressive, however the view is breathtaking!
Kleiner Winterberg to Frienstein and Idagrotte
If in a rush you can also skip the Kleiner Winterberg and directly continue to Frienstein from Kuhstall. For some reason the spot Idagrotte is not visible on the signs so you need to aim for the location Frienstein instead. Continue all the way and keep to the left. You will notice the world “Idagrotte” written on the wall and you need to continue all the way through the stones. At the end you will come to somewhat what looks a dead end at first. However you need to continue on the narrow passage around the Friendstein and you reach the Idagrotte behind.
Idagrotte through Wilde Hölle back to Lichtenhainer Wasserfall
In order to arrive back at the parking lot you need to head towards the direction of Beuthenfall. The way leads you to one of our most favorite spots of the Saxon Switzerland Germany, the Wilde Hölle or Wild Hell. The Wild Hell is quite a challenging parth if you are not a regular hiker. Luckily if you follow the route described above you will trek the Wilde Hölle down. The path itself is just a big playground. There are rocks to climb over. One or two challenging passages with iron rings and ladders giving you stability and something to grab to. Overall it is one of the most fun and exciting paths we have been to in Saxon Switzerland so far.