Not every adventure needs to take you to distant lands. Sometimes, our favorite thing to do on a weekend is to locate a hiking trail a little closer to home, wherever our home may be. In Bavaria, we love the trails in the Oberpfalz, the Upper Palatinate. Slightly larger than West Virginia, Bavaria is biggest of Germany’s sixteen Länder. The Oberpfalz region lies in the Northeast corner of Bavaria. It is home to several tourist attractions, including Regensburg, Walhalla, and Kelheim. While Freistadt Bayern is probably best known for things like Oktoberfest, beer, pretzels, and Lederhosen, I will remember Bavaria for its natural beauty. The Alps in the Southern corner, the Bayrischer Wald to the East, and the hiking trails in the Oberpfalz.
The hikes in this region are perfect for families. The trails offer a challenge, but not too much of a challenge for your children. Many of the trails are near either a playground, a castle, or a Biergarten. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a combination of all three.
Bavaria is home to hundreds of castles, and deciding which ones to visit can be a bit overwhelming. One of my favorite places to look for trails is within the Landkreis Regensburg Burgensteige. This collection of trails includes 44 castles and ruins, located in the regions neighboring Regensburg. The Burgensteige trails are helpfully marked by the Ritter Wonnebold, who will help keep you on the right path.
With so many castles and ruins to explore, we haven’t really covered even the smallest fraction of them, but today, I’d like to share a few that we have enjoyed.
First up on the tour of the Burgensteige are the castle ruins in Kallmünz. Kallmünz is an adorable small town located at the confluence of the Vils and Naab Rivers. With its tiny streets, stone bridges, and cafés tucked away along the river, it is a picture perfect town, made even more so by the ruins sitting high above the quiet, peaceful streets.
There is parking available inside the city, but driving down the terrifically narrow streets makes me too nervous. Fortunately limited street side parking is available just outside the city, which is also quite conveniently the start to the trail leading to the castle ruins. On a clear day, you’ll often find paragliders out enjoying a ride from the highest portion of the hiking trail.
The trail to the castle isn’t very long or taxing, probably about 15 – 20 minutes. If you have smaller members in your group it may take you a little longer. Our little hikers are generally enthusiastic, but they are not particularly fast, and probably wouldn’t know a straight line if it was painted on the ground in front of them. It usually takes us at least an hour, and that’s on a fast day. We follow the trail the marked by Ritter Wonnebold, and first pass the outer Abschnittswall, which according to the website is a section of the remaining ramparts from the early Middle Ages. From there it’s just a short walk to the outer entrance of the castle ruins. While there is no exact date of construction, the Gothic and Romanesque features remaining, provide hints that it was built sometime in the 13th Century.
Once you’ve reached the castle, you’ll want to take some time to enjoy the magnificent views of the town in the valley below. The castle grounds are the perfect place for a picnic, and a romp around the ruins. Once you’ve finished exploring the castle, you can return down the path, or take the stairs down and explore the town below. The stairs and switchbacks leading down from the castle are a bit steep, and definitely not stroller friendly. They are quite manageable for adults and steadier children.
The stairs bring you down to a small courtyard near the Catholic Church. If you are beginning your hike here, the stairs can be a bit tricky to find. You may wonder if you’ll end up in someone’s kitchen, as the stairs cut closely between the resident’s gardens. From the church, it is a short 5 – 10 minute walk back to the trail head. If you’re hungry after your walk, stop by the café for a delicious slice of freshly baked cake.
If you’re ready for a slightly bigger meal, try the Landgasthof Birnthaler. Overlooking the river, and located just outside of Kallmünz this is the perfect place for a leisurely summer lunch. The spielplatz allows the children an opportunity to play while you relax on the patio and enjoy the scenery. It’s a popular stop for locals, bicyclists, hikers and kayakers. On weekends and sunny days, it fills up fairly early, but the fabulous local seasonal food and the terrifically friendly staff make it worth the visit.
The next stop on the Burgensteige, also in the vicinity of Regensburg is Regenstauf. The drive from Kallmünz to Regenstauf is a pastoral one. The trail at Schlossberg Regenstauf leads to neither a ruin, nor a castle, but an observation tower, perched atop the town’s lone highpoint. Although I had a bit of trouble locating the hiking trail initially, it is a nice one and worth the search.
Parking is plentiful in the vicinity of the Vogelstation. Signs on the trail do indicate the existence of another parking area in the vicinity, but parking along the river is a nice place to begin your hike. You will also find a map posted in this area. From the Vogelstation, follow the street along the river until you cross the main highway. From here, follow the trail through a field along a small stream. At the end of the field, you’ll cross another thoroughfare to the edge of the forest. From this point on the signs clearly mark the trail. After a short hike through the woods, you’ll come to a steep set of stairs. You’ll also notice that there are signs leading in several directions, but we are heading straight up. The stairs are a steep hike, but you can pause as often as you wish along the Stations of the Cross for a moment of reflection along the way.
You’ll know that you’re nearing the top when the large cross comes into view. You may be a bit winded at this point, so take a moment and relax in the clearing. Notice the tower to your left, the same tower you saw from the parking lot. Have a seat on one of the benches and catch your breath, the kids will love playing on the castle themed playground located to your right.
Once you’re ready to move on, follow the path on the other side of the tower to the visitor’s center. The center is worth a visit, and the second playground located here will keep the children busy for quite a while. If you’re feeling a bit hungry, take a break at the Schlossberg-Gaststätte. This small Biergarten offers tasty food, and a fantastic view of the valley below. From here, you can begin your journey homeward, or continue past the restaurant to the small Marian shrine, nestled between the steep rock walls.
The last stop today is not on the Burgensteige, but the castle in nearby Burglengenfeld is definitely worth a visit.
Burglengenfeld is a beautiful little town along the Naab River, approximately 20 minutes outside of Regensburg. The cheerfully colored buildings reflecting in the river are lovely, but the highlight of the town is the functioning castle sitting high above the cobbled streets.
The castle is currently a home for individuals with special needs, and as such it is closed to the public most of the time. There are occasions where the castle is open to the public. It is worth planning a trip during these open door days to explore the castle. Early in our move to Bavaria, we took a guided tour through the castle grounds. The tour guide was delightful, and dressed the part of a typical medieval man. I’d love to give you the detailed history that I’m sure the he provided us with, but I can’t. I’m not sure if it was the accent or the dialect or a combination of the two, but we didn’t understand a word of the tour. We enjoyed ourselves nonetheless, and the view from the central tower was worth the visit.
Most days though, the castle is closed and your tour will lead you along the circular path around the castle. Parking on the Hauptsrasse is hit or miss, but there is a parking garage in the center of town, and a large parking lot at the Eislaufplatz on the edge of town. The best place to begin your tour is at the Oberpfälzer Volkskundemuseum. The stairs along the side of the museum will guide you to the trail around the castle. Once you’ve made it all the way up the stairs, follow the path around the castle. Along the way, you’re sure to come across some of the friendly goats guarding the grounds.
After circumnavigating the castle, you can either return by the same route, or head down the street and explore the charming town below. If you’re feeling a bit hungry, there are plenty of places to eat near the market square. We’d recommend trying Aroma, with its amazing Italian dishes, The Drei Kronen, with its traditional Bavarian food, The Delphi Restaurant if you’r ein the mood for delicious Greek food, Zum Jozef with wonderful dishes from the Balkan regions, or Sowieso with its tasty and plentiful Brotzeit dishes.
These are just a few of the many and varied castles and hiking trails to explore in the beautiful Oberpfalz region of Germany. Looking for some more hiking ideas? You can also read about our hikes in Kellheim, Donaustauf and the Partnachklamm.
What’s your favorite place to explore close to home?