Saxon Switzerland is located in the German area of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains, while the part in the Czech Republic is called Bohemian Switzerland. As the name suggests, it is a low mountain range, mainly made of sandstone. The landscape is shaped by towering rocks and deeply cut valleys. Mighty table mountains and individual volcanic cones rise from the green forests. These rock formations along the Elbe offer visitors an amazing natural spectacle. Therefore, hiking, climbing and mountain biking are popular activities in this German national park. The Bastei Bridge is world-famous, attracts 1.5 million visitors every year and is the most visited vantage point within all German national parks.
I don’t want to deprive you of this sight in Germany. Therefore, I present you in this blog post a great hike to the Bastei in Saxon Switzerland. The hiking trail leads from Hohnstein Castle over the huge Gautsch grotto and several great viewpoints to the Bastei. Then the path continues over the mystical Schwedenlöcher and the Amselgrund to the idyllic village of Rathewalde. A bus will take you back to Hohnstein. I have marked the route and individual highlights on the map. You can find more information about the national park on my page of Saxon Switzerland. Nice that you came across my travel blog. Have fun reading my travelogue about Germany.
↑ 729 m ↓ 713 m
Easily accessible, many stairs, steep descent
Circular hike, includes bus ride
How to get to Saxon Switzerland
Getting there by car
The easiest way to travel to Hohnstein, the starting point of the hike, is by car. Coming from Dresden, the street S165 leads from Pirna directly to Hohnstein. The drive from Dresden to Hohnstein takes about 45 minutes. On this route you will also pass the descent to the Bastei. However, we stayed at Hohnstein Castle back then. But more on that later.
By train to Saxon Switzerland
The village of Hohnstein can also be reached by bus and train. Take the train to Pirna and then take the bus line 236 or 237 to Sebnitz. The bus stops at the Hohnstein, Markt station. You can find timetables and tickets on the website of the Transport Association or Deutsche Bahn* My tip: Use the cheap DB regional day tickets* (Sachsen-Ticket).
If you want to learn more about traveling by car or public transportation in Germany, check out my travel blog about Germany and Saxony.
Hike from fairytale Hohnstein castle to the enchanted Gautschgrotto
Our hike in Saxon Switzerland starts in the morning at Hohnstein Castle. The blue hour has just started, but the air is icy. While we are walking across the small market square, it is still quiet in the village and we don’t meet anyone. We follow the Bärengarten hiking trail, which quickly leads us into a forest below the castle. After about 200 meters we keep left on the green marked route. A nature trail begins here. We are slowly leaving the castle behind. The rock on which it is enthroned is much higher than we thought. A few minutes later we reach a junction that should lead to the Gautsch grotto. We are curious and follow the wet, slippery path into the unknown. At the end of the path, we suddenly see a huge grotto formed by overhanging rock walls. At the upper edge, water drips into the depth, which collects at the bottom. The plants thrive here particularly well, so that the surroundings shine in a lush green. Fascinated by this natural spectacle, we explore the Gautsch grotto more closely. It’s quiet inside. Our own voice echoes through the rock walls while a drop of drops can be heard every few seconds. The damp walls radiate cold and give the room a musty smell. An unexpected sight in Saxon Switzerland.
Heavenly views over Saxon Switzerland
We continue our hike on the Halbenweg. Mighty rocks of Saxon Switzerland tower up to the left, while on the other side we look down into a gorge. The trail winds through a forest whose trees are bare due to the season. Dew shimmers on the ground in the morning sun. The frozen leaves crack and crackle under our hiking shoes. After 2 kilometers we come to a small cave with a fireplace in front. The hiking trail continues downhill and the leaves on the ground are thrown up by our uncontrolled steps. At the end of this paths we have to hike down a stairs before we reach the red signposted Neuweg.
Short Facts for your Trip
As Saxon Switzerland is a popular travel destination in Germany the national park is particularly crowded in the summer and holiday season. If you like it quieter, come in April/May or September/October. Especially in the golden autumn the landscape offers a wonderful blaze of colors. On the following website you will find climate tables for the whole year.
The strange names in the village of Rathen
The Neuweg leads through a dark forest area with conifers. We hike downwards along a stream until we have to cross an old bridge. Finally, we reach the Waltersdorfer Mühle, where snacks and drinks can be bought. The further course of the route runs over the Füllhölzelweg through a forest to the health resort Rathen. As we suspect many tourists in town, we turn right at the entrance to the town. We walk across an extensive meadow and see mighty rocks in the distance, called the Little and Big Goose. A bit strange because we don’t recognize a shape of geese here. At the end of the narrow path, we reach the Lake Amsel, which at this time of year seems to have been pumped empty. But this area of Saxon Switzerland is also a sight in winter. When crossing a dam, we see an imposing rock formation. A visitor board informs us about the names of the individual rocks, which were named after their shape. Locomotive, beehive, stork’s nest, and lamb. Either those in charge had a vigorous imagination or too much herbal liqueur intus. But decide for yourself what you see in the picture.
Ascent to the Bastei and its famous Bastei Bridge
We notice that we are getting closer to the Bastei, because suddenly we meet many other tourists. A long staircase leads uphill. In front of us is a Chinese tour group with stylish shoes, coats, and fine cloth trousers. The white sneakers turn brown from the muddy path. Every step is documented with the mobile phone. In addition, more and more people are sharing the challenging path to the top. There are several viewpoints over Saxon Switzerland at the top of the Bastei. We look far over the idyllic landscape of Germany. On the horizon we see a group of picturesque table mountains. Below the Elbe flows calmly past Rathen. The icy wind whistles around our ears up here. We move on. Suddenly the crowds build up because everyone wants to take a picture of the Bastei bridge. We also snap a few photos on the impressive bridge. Mighty rocks tower up in the background. The people on the viewing platforms of the Bastei look like dwarfs. A look down is dizzying.
If you prefer to travel in a group, there is a possibility to join a guided tour. You don’t have to worry about transportation, excursion planning, or food, but you can completely focus on the beauty of Saxon Switzerland. I recommend booking a tour through Get Your Guide portal, where countless activities around the world can be booked easily and safely.
Exploring the Bastei in Saxon Switzerland
We turn off in the direction of the viewing platform. The paths are stony and secured with fences. People crowd through the narrow paths, hoping for a good view. In fact, from here we have a magical view of the Bastei bridge. For decades, countless visitors have come to the Bastei to see the natural spectacle. No wonder that the Bastei bridge was only built for tourist purposes. Today the Bastei is the most visited viewpoints of all German national parks. Over 1.5 million visitors come to this sight every year. Accordingly, we even find a restaurant and a hotel on the west side. This is also where an asphalt road ends, which carries comfortable tourists to the top. Personally, I like the feeling of reward of such a breathtaking view that I get after a strenuous hike better.
If you need more details or are looking for further hikes in the Elbe Sandstone Mountains, then take a look at this book. I personally like this series of hiking guides very much. The book is small and handy, offers useful information about hiking and detailed descriptions of the hikes. It has already enabled me to discover great hikes that I would not have found without these books. The book is in German, but I think the hiking routes are understandable even without knowledge of German.
Hike from the Bastei to the Schwedenlöcher
We leave the attraction Bastei behind. Shortly before the parking lot we keep to the right and then follow the Gansweg towards Amselgrund. Soon we reach great rocks again. A kilometer-long path leads downhill through a narrow gorge over concrete stairs and walkways. The rugged rock walls, which are littered with moss and green plants, are within your grasp. In fact, the trail is sometimes less than a meter wide. No matter where we look, we only look at steep rock faces. A fascinating but also oppressive feeling spreads. Once again, we become aware of the superiority of nature. However, these deeply cut passages are known as the Schwedenlöcher (Sweden holes). During the Thirty Years War, the inhabitants of the area fled from the Swedish soldiers into the deep gorges. Here they held out until the danger was over. In the course of history, the Schwedenlöcher were to serve as protection for the locals of Saxon Switzerland more often.
The idyllic German town of Rathewalde
At the end of the hiking path, we turn left towards Rathewalde. The route runs along a stream. Finally, we reach the Amselfallbaude, which is unfortunately closed due to construction work. Usually, you can order drinks and snacks here. Behind the restaurant is a waterfall, the Amselfall, but it hardly has any water. Therefore, we continue our hike and after a few kilometers stand at the entrance to Rathewalde. Here are old wooden houses located that were built on the rocks and create a picturesque atmosphere. We stroll through the town for a while before we find the right bus stop. From here we take bus 237 back to Hohnstein. You can find timetables for Saxon Switzerland on the website of the transport association or Deutsche Bahn* The bus stations in Rathewalde and Hohnstein are marked on the map.
Overnight stay in Hohnstein Castle
As already mentioned, we spend the night in Hohnstein Castle* (Booking-Link). In the past, it served as a youth hostel. The rooms are correspondingly simple. The two of us share a room with two bunk beds, i.e. four beds. Exhausted, we throw ourselves on the bed, open a beer and study the countless doodles on the bed frame. “Lisa was here”, “graduating class 2001″, “Text me at ICQ” and countless penises adorn the frames. We were all young at times. For me, the length of the bed is just enough. But everyone who is over 185 cm should book something else. It’s getting late; from the window we can watch a wonderful sunset. A small restaurant in the castle, that closes early, provides us with dinner, although half of the food is sold out. In the next morning there is a simple, but plentiful and inclusive breakfast buffet. The overnight stay is cheap and simple, but clean and the staff is friendly. Do not expect too much. However, having stayed at a castle was a great experience for us. So, Hohnstein Castle* is a recommendation for anyone looking for something simple to stay overnight in Saxon Switzerland.
My conclusion on the Bastei and the presented hike through Saxony
Overall, the almost 14-kilometer hike is easy to master. The ascent to the Bastei bridge is strenuous, but it is definitely worth it. We hiked between the holidays in December. Accordingly, it was full on the Bastei. Although I don’t really like crowds like that, the crowds didn’t really bother me. I was too fascinated by this magical place. The rest of the route was not very busy, so we hardly met other people. In addition, our hike was very varied. We saw incredible rock formations, had great views of the area, and hiked through deep gorges. We were also able to visit a fascinating grotto and see historical buildings in Hohnstein and Rathewalde. We were deeply impressed by this unique nature and I can highly recommend visiting Saxon Switzerland. Take a look at my post about another hike in the national park. There I will show you the impressive surroundings of Bad Schandau. Do you have an insider tip for Saxon Switzerland? I’m curious. Let me know in the comments.
I hope you enjoyed my travelogue about Germany’s best national park. On my Saxony Blog I show you other beautiful travel destinations in Saxony and share valuable tips and experiences for your trip to Saxony. Did you like my blog post? Was I able to help you? Then I would be happy if you recommend my travel blog, leave a comment, or follow me on Instagram. Thanks for reading and have fun on your vacation in Germany.
If you are looking for more destinations and places to see in Saxony or Germany, check out these books. These travel guides will show you the beauty of Germany and give you valuable information for your trip to this region of Germany.
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