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Rennsteig: Hiking the 700-Year-Old Trail

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The Rennsteig trail is unique in many ways. It is almost 700 years old, making it the oldest hiking trail in Germany, and it also has its own greeting catchphrase! Tradition dictates that two hikers on the Rennsteig greet each other by saying, “gut runst!” instead of the usual, “hello”.  The big while R that signposts the trails has also been given a special name, Mareile.  

When it comes to nature, the Rennsteig trail’s beauty is unparalleled. It takes hikers through virginal Thuringian forests, lush meadows and enchanting valleys in Germany. This trek is also known for its many historic sights, including medieval boundary stones (1,300 to be precise!), but also memorials that mark more recent events from German history.

Highlights

  • Exploring miles upon miles of thick, unspoiled Thuringian forest
  • Staying in rustic towns and villages and experiencing the famous Thuringian hospitality first-hand
  • Discovering more than 1,300 historic boundary stones that date back to the 16th Century
  • Walking along the former border between East and West Germany
  • Immersing yourself in the rich plant and animal life along the Green Belt

Lowlights

  • Short duration and might not be suitable for hikers who are looking for a hike of longer duration. In that case, we would recommend the Rheinsteig, Eifelsteig or Heidschnuckenweg hiking trails. 
  • The trail involves hiking uphill. It might be too straining for hikers looking for a breezier hike.

RENNSTEIG HIKE FACTS

Hike difficulty: Moderate; the trail has several steep ascents and requires at least a  basic level of fitness.
Hike duration and distance: 8 days to complete the 169 km long trail
Best season: April throughout September when the weather is warm and there is less chance of rain.
Remoteness: Not too remote, since the trail passes through many villages and towns along the way.
Maximum altitude: 973 m at Plänckners Aussicht, above the town of Suhl
Accommodation: Youth hostels and 2 to 3 star hotels
Start and end locations: Hörschel / Blankenstein
Permits: No permits required 
Eisenach is the town where Rennsteig hiking trail begins
Horschel, the starting point of the Rennsteig hiking trail, is near the town of Eisenach (pictured here)

RENNSTEIG DAY TO DAY ITINERARY

Day 1: Hörschel – Hohen Sonne, 14.3 km

The path begins in Hörschel, near the town of Eisenach. The first stretch of the trail is a steady uphill, leading through mixed woodlands and meadows. You pass through the town of Clausberg and then go down the same pass Napoleon took when he retreated from the 1813 Battle of Leipzig. This portion of the trail ends in Hohen Sonne (High Sun) at 434 m.

Day 2: Hohen Sonne – Grenzwiese, 19.6 km

The trail continues uphill, until reaching 916 m above sea level. Here, you will find the summit of Große Inselsberg. The trail ends in Grenzwiese.

Tip: If you need to take a break, you can do so at the Ruhlaer Häuschen mountain cabin.

Day 3: Grenzwiese – Grenzadler, 27.5 km

The trail continues to ascend, first towards Trockenberg Mountain (807 m), then Jagdberg Mountain (814 m). If your legs are feeling tired, you can stop at Passenroder Kreuz, where you will find a refuge hut. The trail continues through the Ebertswiese meadow, one of the most beautiful natural feats on the trail. This portion of the trail ends at Grenzadler monument in Oberhof. Winter sports enthusiasts can make a short detour to Kanzlersgrund and its ski jump hills.

Tip: At Oberhof, pop inside the Thüringer Hütte Inn for some original Thuringian sausage that is best enjoyed with a glass of the locally brewed beer.

Day 4: Grenzadler – Allzunah, 27.5 km

This part of the trail goes past the Große Beerberg, a mountain which represents the highest point of the Thuringian forest (983 m). It reaches Plänckners Aussicht, the pinnacle of Rennsteig, which rises 973 m above sea level.  The trail continues past Alte Tränke and a pristine spring where you can refill your water bottle. This portion ends in the village of Allzunah in the Frauenwald district.

Day 5: Allzunah – Friedrichshöhe, 24.2 km

The track continues along the ridge of the Thuringian Schiefergebirge mountains. Here, you will find Three Lord Stones, which speak of Rennsteig history as a border marker. The trail continues past Masserberg, after which you come across a viewing point at Rennsteigwarte. This stage of the trail ends in Friedrichshöh.

Tip: While there, try to visit the exhibition on the Thuringian Forest Nature Park, which is held in the former school.

Day 6: Friedrichshöhe – Spechtsbrunn, 23.3 km

The trail leaves Friedrichshöhe and continues until reaching Three River Stone, marking Rennsteig as the watershed between the Rhine, Elbe and Weser rivers. You walk through sand meadows until reaching Neuhaus am Rennweg, a town with the highest position on the Rennsteig. The trail then continues to the Ernstthal railway station and ends in Spechtsbrunn.

Tip: Visit the charming baroque church that dates back to 18th century in Spechtsbrunn.

Day 7: Spechtsbrunn to Brennersgrün, 19 km

This section of the trail goes through the Kalte Küche, a historic pass crossing. You will also come across the Weidmannsheil Forest House, where Rennsteig Society was formed in 1982. The trail continues along the border between Thuringia and Bavaria. The trail then runs parallel to Schönwappenweg, one of the most stunning stretches of the trek. This portion of the trail ends in Brennersgrün. This is where the first Rennsteig hike of the united Germany started back in 1990.

Day 8: Brennersgrün – Blankenstein, 20.6 km

The trail sets off from Brennersgrün and crosses the former border between divided Germany twice. Today, this historic frontier represents Green Belt, a strip that houses exquisite species of flora and fauna. The trail moves through Grumbach, Rodacherbrunn and Schlege until it finally reaches Blankenstein.

Tip: Reward yourself by unwinding with a cup of coffee in one of Blankenstein’s cafés or inns!

Forest near Eisenach on the Rennsteig
Dusk as seen from a forest near Eisenach
Landscape on the Rennsteig hiking trail
Day 1 on the Rennsteig starts with a mix of woodlands and open meadows
Oberhof is a stop in the Rennsteig hiking trail known for its food
Thuringian sausage is best enjoyed with a glass of locally brewed beer.
Meadow on the Rennsteig hiking trail in Germany
Rennsteig features the greenery of the Thuringian forests and lush meadows

ALTERNATE HIKING ROUTES AND VARIATIONS

Alternative hiking routes along the Rennsteig are marked with a blue letter “R”. One of the more popular ones runs south of Neuhaus am Rennweg, forming a beautiful, 11-kilometer-long nature trail.

If you are looking for a similar and equally stunning trail, then the Rheinsteig would be a good choice. If you want a more relaxed hiking trail with less ascent, then the Heidschnuckenweg is for you. For a diverse hiking trail, do look into the Eifelsteig that features volcanic lakes, castles, abbeys and waterfalls.

Rheinsteig hiking trails passes through many villages in Germany
View from a rest point in St. Goarshausen on the Rheinsteig
The three volcanic lakes in Daun are the crown jewels of Eifelsteig
 The three volcanic lakes of Daun is the 'crown jewel' of the Eifelsteig
Heidschnuckenweg is known to be full of spectacular views

Heidschnuckenweg provides spectacular views of Germany in 13 days

HOW TO GET TO THE TRAILHEAD

If arriving from abroad, the closest airport to the Rennsteig is the Leipzig/Halle Airport. From Leipzig Central Station, you can catch a high-speed train to Erfurt, then another one to Eisenach.

From Eisenach, board the R6 train to get to Hörschel, where the trail begins. The Rennsteig trail is a marked with wooden signs bearing a white letter “R”.

The Leipzig/Halle Airport is the closest airport to Rennsteig
Leipzig/Halle Airport terminal

WHAT TO BRING AND WEAR

  • Comfortable hiking boots are a must.
  • If you plan on hiking during peak summer months (July and August), make sure to protect yourself from the sun with sunglasses, a hat and high-SPF sunscreen.
  • Be sure to pack plenty of water bottles and snacks, lest you end up feeling peckish while in the middle of a forest.

SAFETY TIP

Since this trail involves stretches of uphill hiking, make sure you are in good physical condition before setting off to conquer the mighty Rennsteig.

So, what are you waiting for? Pick up your hiking boots and get going! Serene nature, local brews mixed in with generous servings of history — the Rennsteig hiking trail will both entertain and educate you. Besides, you will be hiking a trail that is centuries old, how awesome is that? 

For more exciting information, check out the top tourist attractions and the best cities to visit in Germany. Looking for the perfect holidays to Germany? we recommend these 12 vacation packages

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