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A Traveler’s Guide To The Black Forest In Germany

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Tucked just off the border of Bavaria and close to the French border lies the Black Forest–a stunning German landscape of natural beauty with a unique history, dialect, and broad range of cultural experiences and activities. 

The Black Forest is rich in cultural heritage, from its unique local German dialect, Schwabian, to cattle herding traditions, special foods, and stunning natural beauty. It’s also the second-largest forest in Germany in terms of size, with around 2,300 square acres of oak, birch, fir, pine, and spruce trees. 

Where is the Black Forest in Germany?

Panoramic view lake Schluchsee and Black Forest in Germany
karp5 / Adobe Stock

The Black Forest is situated in the southwest of Germany in Baden-Württemberg. The locals call it Schwarzwald National Park, and the Upper Rhine Plain borders it to the west. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, stretching over 160 kilometers from Pforzheim to the towns of Lörrach and Waldshut-Tiengen. 

The Danube River, which flows to the Black Sea, is also understood to originate in Baden-Württemberg. However, two towns have been in contest with one another for the official title of the ‘Source of the Danube,’ namely Brigach and Breg.

Because of the unique, natural, and very old geographical makeup of Baden-Württemberg, the area is covered in lush green forests that cover almost 60 percent of its land. There’s also a complex network of well-marked hiking trails that crisscross and cut over the entire landscape, making it a great destination for hiking and more accessible flat-footed walking. 

See Related: Best Reasons To Visit Germany

Black Forest History

Aerial view of Black Forest
Funny Studio / Adobe Stock

The Black Forest was most likely formed during the Triassic and Jurassic periods and has retained much of its post-transition geographical form over the millennia. In ancient times, the forest was known as ‘Abnoba Mons’ and was named after the Celtic deity Abnoba. 

In the Ice Age, the landscape of the Black Forest and the surrounding region was covered in glaciers. These have since melted, but their evidence is visible in the region’s many glacial lakes and rivers. Aside from the Danube, some rivers and waterways include the Neckar, Rench, and Kinzig rivers.

During Roman times, and especially through the period of history where Rome was in consistent contact with the Germanic tribes, it was referred to as Silva Marciana–which translates to Black Forest. This area used to be heavily utilized for wood and mining industries, but now it’s a prime destination for recreation.

Germany’s Black Forest region is made up mostly of pines and firs, some of which are grown using the monoculture method today. Due to logging and land-use changes, the forest proper is only a fraction of the size it used to be. It has also suffered severe damage from acid rain.

In 1999, a storm named Lothar knocked down hundreds of acres of trees, including some on the area’s mountaintops. This left many of the mountains and hills bare, and to this day, only young fir trees and other shrubs can survive. This is because these species of flora don’t have the environmental protection of larger trees overhead to break wind or to anchor their root structures in. 

Flora and Fauna

Panorama landscape view over black forest Germany
Willequet Manuel / Adobe Stock

The Black Forest is home to some unique animal species that can’t be found elsewhere. There are the Black Forest cattle, the massive Lumbricus Badensis earthworm, the sturdy Black Forest horse, and the endangered Western capercaillie bird.

Tales and Legends

Black Forest Mountains in Germany
Birgit Reitz-Hofmann / Adobe Stock

The Black Forest, though it’s not considered ‘haunted,’ has been the subject of stories for hundreds and thousands of years. To this day, the forest is still known for some of its most famous tales, like the headless horseman who rides through the forest on a white steed. There are also stories of a king of the forest who abducts women and lives with them and nymphs underwater. 

Black Forest Cake

cake with cream and chocolate, black forest cake

The Black Forest cake is a chocolate cake with cherries and whipped cream. The Black Forest cake was first created in the region in the late 19th century. There are a lot of different recipes for the Black Forest cake, but they all include chocolate, cherries, and whipped cream.

The most famous version of the Black Forest cake is the Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest Cherry Cake). This version includes Kirschwasser, a cherry liqueur. It can also be made without the liqueur, depending on your preference.

The Black Forest Cake is a popular dessert in Germany and across the globe. If you are visiting the Black Forest region of Germany, be sure to try some!

See Related: What is Germany Known For?

Black Forest Regions

Panoramic view of Black Forest in Germany
Aaron / Adobe Stock

The Black Forest can create an extraordinary trip with so many different regions in the area. Many of these cultural pockets have their traditions, foods, and architectural styles, too, so there is a lot you can learn from visiting each area in the Forest. 

Map of the Black Forest, Germany
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Northern Black Forest (Nordschwarzwald)

Trail near Seegraben Northern Black Forest
Leonhard Lenz / Wikimedia Commons, CC0

Driving along the Black Forest Ridge road from Baden Baden to Freudenstadt is a must-do. This road is the oldest themed road and undoubtedly the most beautiful in Schwarzwald.

As you increase in elevation during the drive, you can find gorgeous vistas of the Rhine Valley. Even better, there are only a few large towns along the 60km drive, making it a peaceful and scenic journey.

The Nordschwarzwald boasts an array of gourmet restaurants, some even awarded three and two stars by the Guide Michelin. There are also much more laid-back destinations, like Gasthaus’, which are more traditional, pub-style inns and taverns that serve local cuisine. The area is also known for having rich mineral baths and spas. 

Central Black Forest (Schwarzwald)

View of the Kinzig Valley village in Central Black Forest, Germany
Elly Miller / Adobe Stoc

The central Black Forest region makes up the area from Offenburg and Freudenstadt to Waldkirch and Furtwangen in the south and is a great stop for exploring the local culture. You can taste local traditions and handiwork, admire half-timbered houses, and check out the German clock museum in Furtwangen.

The Central region is also home to many excellent destinations for appreciating the beauty of nature in the valley. Vogtsbauernhof, the Triberg waterfalls, and valleys like Glottertal, Kinzigtal, and Simonswald are all hotspots for sightseeing. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can climb up Kandel, the highest peak in the southeastern black forest that peaks around 4,000 feet. 

Getting to the central Black Forest in a vehicle is very easy. Just hop on the A5 Autobahn (Frankfurt to Basel) that runs alongside the Rhine Valley, and you can pick up exits to nearby towns.

 If you aren’t looking to do a lot of driving, the towns are notorious for having beautiful scenic train rides with stations that connect different towns and regions. This is an affordable, excellent way to ensure you see all the corners of the Black Forest without bringing a vehicle around. It’s also a great way to explore and immerse yourself in the area’s culture.

Southern Black Forest (Süd-Schwarzwald)

View of the Titisee  Lake at Südschwarzwald or the Southern Black Forest in Germany
Ilhan Balta / Adobe Stock

The southern Black Forest is stunning! This geological region has everything from the sunny valleys in the west to charming towns and towering mountains. There’s also Freiburg im Breisgau, a busy university city with a Gothic cathedral and surrounding highlands. 

You can also hike to the area’s tallest mountains, Feldberg and Belchen. Or, you can head in the opposite direction until you reach some of the region’s most beautiful lakes, like Titisee or Schluchsee. 

These regions, collectively known as the Black Forest Foothills, are wonderful destinations for culture, sightseeing, and connecting with nature. They’re all about preserving their heritage and natural beauty, so the area has become Germany’s largest nature park. 

See Related: Things to Do in Germany | Points of Interest

Black Forest Culture

Ladies in Black Forest wearing Bollenhut
Egon / Adobe Stock

The Schwarzwald is a region that is accentuated with beautiful forests, valleys, and mountains. However, it has even more to offer.

The Black Forest is historically an area that still practices many historical crafts and arts that have since been forgotten in the surrounding areas, like clock-making and glassblowing. You can also find many museums, old mines, and other historical centers.

The famous “Bollenhut” is arguably one of the most standout features of the Forest’s culture. It’s all part of the “Gutach Tracht,” a traditional outfit reserved for the ladies of Gutach, Horberg-Reichenbach, and Wolfach-Kirnbach on special occasions. 

It’s a distinctive hat marked by a large red pompom that has been worn since the 1750s. According to custom, if you see a lady wearing a hat with black pompons, she’s taken–but if it’s red, she’s single!

See Related: German Culture: Facts, Traditions, and Concepts

Tourist Attractions In The Black Forest

points of interest in black forest germany

The cities of Freiburg and Baden-Baden are popular tourist destinations on the western edge of the Black Forest. There are also beautiful and antiquated baroque-style towns in the Forest, like Bad Herrenalb, Baiersbronn, Gengenbach, Wolfac, and many more. These old towns still feature the half-timbered houses and architectural style that the region is known for. 

There are lots of museums throughout the region, including an open-air museum. The Vogtsbauernh shows the life of 16th or 17th-century farmers in the region and features multiple reconstructed Black Forest farms. 

Mummelsee Lake

Aerial view of the Mummelsee lake in Black Forest, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Germany
karlo54 / Adobe Stock

If you plan to visit the Black Forest, visit the ‘Mummelsee’ (Mummel Lake), where you can find a swarm of small shops selling traditional cuckoo clocks, Black Forest meats, souvenirs, and many more trinkets and items.

The Mummelsee Lake is over 3,000 feet above sea level. While visiting the Mummelsee, you can book a boat ride for a small fee and enjoy the beautiful Black Forest scenery, too–just remember that it can get quite cold when you’re that far above sea level. Mid-summer would probably be the peak time for this attraction, but any time will be enjoyable.

Black Forest National Park

Black forest germany

The Black Forest National Park was established on January 1st, 2014. It’s the first national park in Baden-Württemberg. It stretches from the upper Danube Valley to the High Rhine, as well as the distance spanning the Swabian Alb to the highest peaks of the Black Forest.

The park is divided into two zones, both of which have different purposes. The main area has strict laws in place to make sure it stays as untouched and natural as possible.

The second area has more relaxed regulations in place and often features festivals and other events. This national preservation area is home to some rare and endangered species, aside from ‘standard’ local fauna, such as the Eurasian lynx, the hazel grouse, and the black woodpecker.

Baden Baden

Angle sculpture and the panoramic view of the Baden Baden in Baden-Württemberg, Germany
Roman Babakin / Adobe Stock

Baden-Baden is a large resort town in Baden-Württemberg that, among many other things, is famous for its hot springs. An ancient Roman bathhouse is one of the main attractions there. It has been a popular retreat for its thermal baths since Roman times due to its location on the river Oos.

In the early 1900s, Baden-Baden became a fashionable spa town, particularly popular with the rich and famous from Russia and other parts of Europe. The city has impressive architecture, including the Kurhaus Casino, the Friedrichsbad Spa, and the Lichtentaler Abbey.

Ruins of Heidelberg Castle

Ruins of Heidelberg Castle view

The ruins of Heidelberg Castle are a set of ruined walls and the palace foundation that offers a guided tour. It is one of Europe’s most prized examples of Renaissance architecture, and there have been several attempts to repair it since its demolition in the 18th and 17th centuries during the Nine Years War.

The Neckar River flows around this peninsula and cuts it off from the Fichtelberg massif, a small range of mountains separate from other groups nearby. The city of Heidelberg is easily seen throughout Baden-Württemberg and especially from the Alp-like hills of the Odenwald, thanks to its high vantage point.

The entrance to the city of Heidelberg is about a mile away from the castle, though it may be closed depending on your route. The wait can be extended on busy days, particularly in summer with busy roads.

The Heidelberg Castle is a mix of styles from Gothic to Renaissance. The castle’s oldest part is the keep, built in the 12th century. Other castle parts were added in the 13th, 14th, and 15th centuries until a fire destroyed most of the castle in 1537.

Again, in 1803, during the Napoleonic Wars, the castle was occupied by French troops who then blew it up three years later in 1806 to keep the Austrians from using it as a stronghold. Afterward, the remains of the castle were used as a quarry for building materials for the city.

The Black Forest Open-Air Museum

Traditional farmhouse exterior and look of the Black Forest Open-Air Museum in Schwarzwald, Germany
Francesco Bonino/Wirestock Creators / Adobe Stock

The Black Forest Open-Air Museum is an open-air museum in the Black Forest town of Dachsbach, Germany. It’s built on a mountain slope, and the exhibition center’s 25 historic buildings depict daily life and architectural styles from the 17th to 19th centuries. 

Most buildings were moved to the site from their original locations in the Black Forest. Some of the exhibition center’s facilities include a blacksmith’s workshop, a water mill, a bakehouse, and a barn.

The Black Forest Open-Air Museum also includes an exhibition on traditional Black Forest crafts, such as wood carving and glassblowing. The center will be open in 2024 starting March 24th.

The German Clock Museum Furtwangen

German Clock Museum Furtwangen entrance

The German Clock Museum Furtwangen is a museum in the town center of Furtwangen that is dedicated to the history of clocks and the art of making them. The museum has over 1,000 clocks on display, from ancient timepieces to modern wristwatches.

The Black Forest cuckoo clock was first created in the Black Forest in the late 18th century. It’s a wooden clock that features a cuckoo bird that pops out of the top of the clock and sings.

It was originally invented by Franz Anton Ketterr, who then founded the Black Forest Clock Association in 1893. That company is still the world’s largest cuckoo clock manufacturer. Some of the pieces in the museum are over 170 years old, too! You can visit the museum every day of the week except Monday.

Lake Titisee

Colorful boats and the scenic view of Lake Titisee in Titisee-Neustadt, Germany
hjschneider / Adobe Stock

One of the most beautiful destinations in the Black Forest’s southern region, Lake Titisee, is the largest lake in the area. It was formed over 10,000 years ago, towards the end of the Ice Age.

Today, the lake is a popular destination, with a promenade and an old-town quarter surrounded by turrets and towers. You can swim on the lake’s beachfront, take motorboat cruises, or take an hour-and-a-half walk around the lake while stopping for snacks at seasonal stalls. 

Famous Hiking Trails

Black Forest skyline view and hiking trail panorama surrounded with green meadows
globetrotter1 / Adobe Stock

If you can, explore some of the Black Forest National Park trails. If you’re seeking a family-friendly option, you definitely want to choose from some of the Black Forest’s easier hiking trails.

Trails and hiking paths come in many shapes and sizes in this part of Germany, so beginner hikers or younger travelers can enjoy the beauty just as much as seasoned professionals. 

1. Edelfrauengrab Waterfalls

Close-up of the Edelfrauengrab Waterfalls in Ottenhöfen im Schwarzwald, Germany
karlo54 / Adobe Stock

One destination to stop at is the Edelfrauen waterfalls in the Karlsruher Grat nature reserve. This moderately difficult trail typically takes around 35 minutes to complete.

This hike is perfect for nature enthusiasts, especially people with pets. You can bring dogs, as long as they’re on a leash!

2. Ortenauer Sagenrundwege: Allerheiligen

Aerial view of Ortenauer Sagenrundwege Allerheiligen
cc hh / AllTrails

Discover the fantastic 2.1-mile loop trail near Ottenhöfen im Schwarzwald. This route is a favorite among hikers and takes an average of about an hour and fifteen minutes to complete. There are still plenty of peaceful, quiet places on the trail, even when it’s busy.

It’s perfect for families, although people with small children should be cautious about the gorges. For the best experience and most pleasant weather, you should try to plan your visit between April and October when it’s neither too hot nor too cold. 

3. Von Herrenwies über die Badener Höhe

Aerial view of Von Herrenwies über die Badener Höhe
I S / AllTrails

The Von Herrenwies über die Badener Höhe is a 5.2-mile hike that, while long, isn’t too intense. It takes almost 3 hours to complete but takes you right through the heart of the Black Forest.

You can find deep spruce forests on the trail, explore the Herrenwieser See nature reserve, and hike along narrow paths to reach the Badener Höhe and Seekopf summits. Along the way, you’ll find comfortable tracks and steep sections, making it more accessible. 

At the trail’s end, there’s a refreshment area and even a 145-step staircase, the Friedrichsturm, where you can catch a beautiful, panoramic view of the surrounding area.

Accommodations near the Black Forest

Gästehaus Ursula accommodation in Black Forest
Gästehaus Ursula / Booking.com

The Black Forest is a stunning area with many different regions, dialects, traditions, and an excellent variety of food culture. As a site that makes up roughly 30% of Germany’s annual tourists (with over 35 million visitors to the Black Forest alone), there are a number of resorts and hotels to stay at in the area. 

  • Gästehaus Ursula – Ursula KammererIf you’re searching for a place to stay that feels like a warm embrace, then Gästehaus Ursula – Ursula Kammerer is the perfect pick. It’s a cozy, very German, cottage-community experience in a beautiful valley. 
  • Hotel Petra BoutiqueHotel Petra Boutique is an excellent choice for people who want to explore the rugged Black Forest while staying in a luxurious accommodation. The hotel features 21 furnished rooms and a minimalist, sleek feel. It’s only a few miles from destinations like Reichenbach Abbey and other attractions.
  • B&B Hotel Rust-EttenheimThe B&B Hotel Rust-Ettenheim is a colorful, charming bed and breakfast that offers a comfortable stay for people who want a hassle-free accommodation experience. It’s also quite affordable. 

Getting To The Black Forest

Train Running Through the Middle of the Black Forest, Germany
julianpictures / Adobe Stock

Thanks to Germany’s fast and efficient railway system, it’s very easy to reach the Black Forest. InterCity Express (ICE) trains make stops in Baden-Baden, Offenburg, and Freiburg, depending on where you’re starting from. 

Some more tucked-away parts of the Black Forest will be hard to reach using public transport, but overall, the options are pretty good. If you want to explore every corner of this beautiful region and make the most of your trip, driving alone is the way to go.

You can use the A-5 Autobahn, which runs parallel to the mountain ranges along the Rhine Valley. It has a lot of exits to choose from, so you have the most flexibility when it comes to the places you want to see.

Black Forest Weather

Beautiful Black Forest Landscape in Summertime
Hofmann / Adobe Stock

Planning for the weather is an important part of every trip since it often helps us decide what activities and experiences we can participate in. However, accurately predicting the weather in Germany, especially in the Black Forest, can be tricky. 

Generally speaking, the northern part of the Black Forest tends to receive more rainfall, coming in at about double the square footage of rainfall than the southern and western parts of the forest. 

Germany’s western slopes and Rhine Valley have the best climate in the area, with tons of sunshine. The summers in the mountains are enjoyable, with lukewarm temperatures and crisp, refreshing air. Even in winter, the frost is pretty moderate, and it’s common to see snow for around 100 days. 

But what’s cool is that high-pressure systems cause “inversion weather,” where you can enjoy the sunshine on top of the mountains while the valleys are filled with fog and cooler temperatures. Just make sure to pack some warm clothes if you’re crafting the ultimate Black Forest itinerary in winter or even during summer evenings.

See Related: Is Germany A Good Place to Live? What You Need to Know

FAQs

What is traditional Black Forest cuisine?

Definitely! The cuisine in the Black Forest is renowned for being hearty and mouth-watering. You’ll have the chance to indulge in delicacies such as Black Forest ham, Black Forest trout, wholesome stews, and the famous Black Forest Cake.

What is the best way to explore the Black Forest?

The best way to explore the Black Forest comes down to the type of trip you want to have, what you want to see, and how much time you’ve got to do it! 
For instance, if you want to see nature primarily, taking scenic trains can be an excellent option. It’s affordable, and you can touch all the Black Forest regions.

However, driving by car is our pick for the best way to see the Black Forest. 
This way, you have ultimate control over everywhere you go, and you can get out and stop wherever you please. There are also a bunch of off-the-beaten-path destinations and attractions that you may want to check out that the scenic trains will pass by.

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