Palatinate Woodland Trail: On the Trail of the Unusual
Kleins Wanderreisen GmbH
The approx. 143 kilometre Pfälzer Waldpfad trail has quite an unusual starting point: The central train station in Kaiserslautern, aka the Gateway to the Palatine Forest. The Pfälzer Waldpfad trail therefore is the only quality-approved hiking trail in Germany offering a direct ICE rail connection. Spectacular rocks, ruined fortresses, deep valleys, narrow trails and the silence of an ancient forest - every detail of the countless attractions the Palatine Forest has to offer can be sampled right here on this magical trail.
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Best time of year
16,9 km | 4:45 h | 426 m | 391 m | Difficulty: medium
11,7 km | 3:45 h | 265 m | 65 m | Difficulty: medium
14,9 km | 4:05 h | 322 m | 350 m | Difficulty: medium
17,7 km | 5:15 h | 453 m | 426 m | Difficulty: medium
Kaiserslautern central station
DestinationDeutsches Weintor Schweigen-Rechtenbach
Stage 1: Kaiserslautern to Finsterbrunnertal
The first stage of the Pfälzer Waldpfad trail begins at Kaiserslautern central train station and it's not far from here to the southern outskirts of the city. We hike from here through thick forest uphill to the Humberg Tower. The tower is almost 36m high and was built in 1900. It offers a fantastic view of the northern Palatine Forest, the city of Kaiserslautern with the impressive Fritz-Walter stadium and the Donnersberg, the highest mountain in the Palatinate. The trail continues through the forest to 'Rote Hohl', with an old crossroads at the top of the pass between Kaiserslautern and the Aschbach Valley. After reaching the outskirts of Dansenberg, we descend into the Aschbach Valley and pass the Jagdhausweiher lake. The route leads us past the Alte Schmelz riding centre and guest house to the Blaukopf plateau and finally down into the Moosalbe Valley. The end point of this stage, the ‘Naturfreundehaus Finsterbrunnertal’ guest house lies at the entrance to a small side valley.
Stage 2: Finsterbrunnertal to Johanniskreuz
From the Naturfreundehaus Finsterbrunnertal we follow the Moosalbe upstream, passing various monuments of the former ironwork industry in the Palatinate, including the three former production facilities at Oberhammer, Mittelhammer and Unterhammer. Today there is a café at Unterhammer, in whose idyllic surroundings we can pause for a moment. You can also stop at the Klug’sche Mühle Restaurant/Café, which we pass shortly after leaving Unterhammer. At Mittelhammer we follow the Moosalbe into the imposing Karlstal ravine where a small river, with rapids and waterfalls, flows past huge rocks and steep red sandstone cliffs. At the top of the ravine is Oberhammer and we walk on through the now wider and more gentle valley. We take a small forest path to reach the 'Moosalbsprung' springs, where we can stop for a moment to enjoy the water. At the end of the valley we climb the forest paths to Johanniskreuz, where our hike ends at the Haus der Nachhaltigkeit – Centre for Sustainable Living. You can also stay overnight in Johanniskreuz and enjoy the local cuisine.
Stage 3: Johanniskreuz to Heltersberg
The Pfälzer Waldpfad trail leads us back into the forest from the large car park of the Centre for Sustainable Living, past the 'Hindenburgkiefer' natural monument. We hike down to the Schwarzbach Valley and take the easy paths to the Burgalbweiher pond. The trail then follows the right side of the valley, over the Schwarzbach River. We climb over a hill to reach the catchment area of the Hahnenseybach River, and, rather than descending, we follow the slope to the Molkenbrunnen springs. It's worth resting here for a moment before continuing on past mossy green rocks to the Kieselweiher lake. After another ascent, we follow a service road over the hill, before crossing the Hundsbächel Valley and making the final ascent to Heltersberg. The Heltersberg Naturfreundehaus guest house, restaurant and visitor centre at the edge of the forest offers a chance to have something to eat and to rest. From here, the end point of this stage of the trail, the bus stop in Heltersberg town centre, is only a few hundred metres away.
Stage 4: Heltersberg to Rodalben
The fourth stage of our hike takes us out of Heltersberg and across the fields past Weststrichhof into the forest. From there, we have a fairly long hike over the hill before reaching the impressive Seelen rocks high over the Schwarzbach Valley. We follow the trail past these rocks into a small side valley and then up to the remains of a Roman castle named ‘Heidelsburg’, which once served as a defence against Germanic invasions. The trail then leads us through the Schwarzbach Valley to a former smithy. We leave the valley here and hike over the hill through meadows and fields to the place of pilgrimage at Maria Rosenberg, with its pilgrim church and Virgin Mary grotto. A short ascent from here brings us to Donsieders. Leaving the church of this small hamlet behind us, we follow the Höhgasse out of the hamlet and continue uphill to the Orleberg plateau. Here you can admire an imposing red sandstone monolith, surrounded by fields and accompanied by a plaque with a poem about the legend of Donsieders. The trail continues through the forest past some distinctive rock features to the outskirts of Rodalben, where we arrive at the Hilschberghaus rest stop. This hut, managed by the PWV (Pfälzerwaldverein – local association), is open from 12pm Monday - Saturday and from 10am on Sundays and holidays.
Stage 5: Rodalben to Merzalben
Stealing a final view of Rodalben from the terrace of the Hilschberghaus (PWV, opening hours: Mon-Sat from 12pm/Sundays and holidays from 10.00am), we then continue on curving paths on the slopes above the town, until the descent into the Rodalbe Valley. We reach the farmstead of the old Birkwieserhof farm by following the river through a small side valley. The last section of this stage brings us along more curving forest paths to Merzalben. We pass the church, which stands on the left of the main road, and arrive at our final destination at the Zimmerbergstraße junction.
Stage 6: Merzalben to Hauenstein
The so-called 'King's stage' of the Pfälzer Waldpfad trail begins in the centre of Merzalben, on the corner of the Hauptstraße/Zimmerbergstraße streets. It then leads us into the forest and after a short ascent to the ruins of Gräfenstein Castle, which dates from the era of the Swabian dynasty in the Middle Ages. Equipped with the torches we have brought with us, we can explore the castle's seven-cornered keep and enjoy the view over Merzalben and, in the distance, the rolling green hills of the Palatinate Forest. We leave the castle and return to the car park, where we can begin our ascent to Winschertkopf. This mighty red sandstone rock stands on a hill and towers high over the Merzalbe Valley. After enjoying the magnificent views once again, we continue through the forest on gently undulating paths and gradually ascend to the top of the Weißenberg. At 607m above sea level, this is the highest point on the Pfälzer Waldpfad trail. We can enjoy another magnificent view from the Luitpold Tower, this time of the largest continuously forested area in Germany. We then descend to the hamlet of Hermersbergerhof and from there past the ruins of Falkenburg castle and into the Queich Valley. We can make a quick detour to visit Wilgartswiesen, with its twin-towered sandstone church, before reaching our final destination of Hauenstein.
Stage 7: Hauenstein to Dahn
At the start of the stage we hike past some rocks to the Felsentor, the northernmost entrance to Hauenstein, where the road (Bahnhofstraße) runs through two steeply rising rock walls. The trail then brings us along the slopes above Hauenstein to Paddelweiher lake, and then follows the Queich upstream to its source. We can refresh our tired feet with a quick walk through the newly-added wading pool or sit down on the conveniently placed benches nearby. The next ascent should be a bit easier after this refreshing rest stop. At the end of the ascent we are rewarded with the Dicke Eiche (PWV) rest stop and restaurant (opening hours: weekends and holidays 9am - 6pm, from May - October also on Wednesdays 10am - 6pm, closed 25.12, 26.12 and 01.01). Enjoy some typical Palatine cuisine accompanied by a glass of wine or a beer straight from the tap. Duly refreshed and ready to go again, we pass the namesake of the Dicke Eiche – a large oak tree which was vandalised many years ago and now stands as a stump on the edge of the clearing where it once stood in all its glory. Our next stop is the Winterkirchel – a little chapel in the forest. The trail brings us down the valley to the outskirts of Erfweiler and then along the slopes of the Wölmersberg mountain to the outskirts of Dahn. We then tackle the considerable ascent up to the Lachberg. Following the rock ridge, we eventually reach the Jungfernsprung, a high rocky outcrop which is a landmark of the nearby town of Dahn. From here we descend to Dahn town centre, where the seventh stage comes to an end.
Stage 8: Dahn to Erlenbach
From Dahn we follow the Pfälzer Waldpfad trail to the Ehren cemetery, with its St Michael Chapel and its picturesque location directly underneath the rock massif of the Hochstein mountain. The trail then leads us through the woods over the hill to the castles of Altdahn, Grafendahn and Tanstein. The ruins of these three castles are perched high above Dahn on a red sandstone rocky crag. We then descend to Erfweiler, walking through the village and through the woods to the viewing point on the opposite slope of the Kahlenberg mountain, on the edges of a pine forest flooded with light. After passing another viewing point on the summit of the Kahlenberg, the trail brings us down to the outskirts of Schindhard and further through the woods to Busenberg. From there we can walk to the ruins of Drachenfels Castle, which stands, like the castles at Dahn, on a massive red sandstone rock. Not far from the ruins is the Drachenfels Hut (run by PWV, a local association) where we can enjoy something to eat before our last descent, which brings us to Erlenbach. The Drachenfels Hut is open all year round (except for Christmas and New Year), Wednesdays from 11am, Saturdays from 12pm and Sundays and holidays from 9am.
Stage 9: Erlenbach to Schweigen-Rechtenbach
The final stage of the Pfälzer Waldpfad trail brings us from Erlenbach to Berwartstein Castle, the only castle of the Wasgau area still inhabited today. Next we pass the Seehof-Weiher, great for swimming during hot weather, and follow the Portzbach downstream to just before it flows into the Wieslauter. The trail now leads us through the forest on curving paths on the slopes north of the Wieslauter to the St Germanshof inn, which lies directly on the German-French border. A little later we reach French territory. Shortly after reaching the edge of the forest, there is an amazing view to our right of the North Alsace town of Wissembourg. In clear conditions, this view can extend as far as the Hornisgrinde mountain in the Black Forest. We hike through the vineyards and back into German territory over an actual green border (an international border in the countryside) and down the slope to Schweigen, at the foot of the hills. Here we reach the German Wine Gate which marks both the end of the German Wine Route and our hike. A walk around the historical old town of Wissembourg is highly recommended. And of course you shouldn't miss the opportunity to finish your trip with a visit to a winemaker. If you still haven't had enough of hiking, the wine tasting session can serve as a prelude to the Pfälzer Weinsteig trail.
A63 or A6 to Mainz-Kaiserslautern junction or Kaiserslautern-West exit
At Kaiserslautern central station
Train to Kaiserslautern (ICE stop)
Palatinate Woodland Trail: On the Trail of the Unusual
Kleins Wanderreisen GmbH