About the Author, Melanie Alvarado: I have been a lifelong avid hiker. After growing up in southern Germany, I moved to the US at the age of 19. I work as a Nurse Practitioner and currently live in Central California with my boyfriend and 3 dogs. My favorite activity is hiking. Recently, my most frequent hiking destination is the High Sierra.
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As an avid hiker as well as a German who has been living in the US for the last thirteen years, returning to Germany in October 2018 to visit my family and hike the Eifelsteig was a very special treat. The Eifeltsteig is a 313km/194 miles long distance trail in the northwest of Germany that passes through the Eifel, a low mountain range near the border to Belgium and Luxembourg.
It was important to me during this trip to also explore some areas I had never previously been to in Germany, and to set aside some alone time and hiking time besides family and social time. Hiking is big in Germany and there are many long-distance trails. I picked the Eifelsteig partly because its distance fit well with the remainder of my itinerary, and I was curious about that part of the country. Germany does not have vast stretches of wilderness like the US, maybe with exception of the Alps I grew up in. Consequently, long-distances trails in Germany typically lead through numerous towns, and resupply options and accommodations are generally easy to find. In my initial planning stages, the idea of spending all my nights in towns seemed somehow anti-climactic, maybe too easy and not adventurous enough. It is true that people thru hike this trail with a tent, but wilderness camping is illegal in most of Germany, and I prefer to respect the rules of the land I’m exploring. Staying at developed campgrounds along the way may have been an option for at least some of the nights, but knowing how unpredictable the weather can be in October and how short the days get, I eventually chose to book Airbnbs and guestrooms instead. Some of the campgrounds would already have been closed this late in the year, besides my intention was to only fly with my backpack as a carry-on, so adding a tent and other backpacking gear would not have allowed me that.
The high moors typical for the northern Eifel region
Despite my initial doubts, I ended up very happy with my sleeping arrangements. They allowed for a variety of good conversations and added a social and cultural component. I also ended up loving the usually big and delicious breakfasts that were frequently part of the accommodation. While the Eifelsteig has beautiful and peaceful trails, it wasn’t a true wilderness experience, since I was never more than a day hike away from civilization. Even though I grew up in Germany, it was new and interesting to me to learn about the Eifel region, including the German speaking part of Belgium beyond the border.
After spending some time with family members in other parts of the country, I took a train to the former imperial city of Aachen where my adventure would begin. I spent the evening exploring downtown Aachen and spent the night in a hostel. I had allotted a full fifteen days for this hike, which allowed me plenty of time to add mileage off the main trail and follow side trails and additional loops if I wished. So even though the trail officially starts in Kornelimünster, south of Aachen, I started my hike directly from my hostel’s doorstep in Aachen.
Here is a brief day-to-day overview of my hike:
I started my hike in perfect golden fall conditions
Day 1: From Aachen to the small town of Rötgen, the “gate to the Eifel”: I started before sunrise and was glad to leave the city behind, crossing through some forests on trails that were covered in autumn leaves. I also understood why Aachen was nicknamed “horse city,” as I passed by numerous horse stables and pastures.
Day 2: From Rötgen to the picturesque town Monschau: This is the only section of the Eifelsteig where the trail crosses over into Belgium. In fact, I followed some side trails and found myself repeatedly crossing back and forth along the German/Belgian border through forests and through the high moors of the Hohe Venn. Some of the time I wasn’t even sure which country I was currently in as the border is essentially invisible. The wooden walkways through the moors were among my favorite sections of the entire Eifelsteig. The medieval town of Monschau is a busy tourist destination, but was a worthwhile stop along the way. I enjoyed walking through the quaint cobblestone roads, past the timber-framed houses, and exploring the Monschau castle. Then I continued the last few kilometers to the accommodation I had booked, where a very neat elderly landlady treated me to a beer, homemade pie, and herbal bath and told me I could be her granddaughter.
Day 3: From Monschau to Dedenborn: This section leads into the National Park Eifel. However, the German concept of a National Park clearly differs from the US. Except for signs telling me I was entering the National Park, I would not have known. Even as a German I have to admit I’m not quite understanding the German concept of a National Park, even after discussing it with several of my hosts. Maybe in that regard I’m too Americanized, since the US National Park are one of my favorite things about the US.
Day 4: From Dedenborn to Gemünd: A gloomy, rainy day, fitting the somewhat depressing historic places I hiked through that now lie within the National Park Eifel – including the German ghost town Wollseifen, now place of silence, where the abandoned church provided me shelter from the rain. Then came the former Nazi training site Ordensburg Vogelsang. Signs strongly warn not to leave the marked trail due to explosives remaining in the area… I waited out some of the rain by exploring the former Nazi estate that now serves as a visitor center, educational site, and museum with a cafeteria and bookstore. I was reminded what an exceptional job Germany has done educating about its darker past and moving on. After thirteen years abroad, I credit my German education with instilling in me a strong suspiciousness and awareness of groupthink, blindly following anything, and extremist propaganda of various colors and flavors.
The Urf Dam in the Rur Eifel I passed through on my 4th day
Day 5: Gemünd to the monastery Steinfeld: I had left the National Park again as uneventfully as I had entered it. Upon arriving at the monastery and exploring it a bit, I added a bunch of bonus miles away from my main trail this day, as I had booked an Airbnb at a considerable distance from the trail.
Day 6: Monastery Steinfeld to Blankenheim: A rainy strenuous day with some wrong turns, adding significant mileage, followed by a cozy night in a wooden wine barrel on a dairy farm. The trail is extremely well marked and the turns I missed were on my way from the Airbnb back to the trail. The trail eventually leads through Blankenheim, another picturesque town. However, my accommodation was again several more kilometers from the trail. During a longish hike, not every day is equally pleasant. Sometimes you just keep hiking because it’s what you do and what you’ve made up your mind to do, and because you still can’t come up with anything you’d rather be doing.
Day 7: From Blankenheim to Mirbach: Another nice hiking day, starting with fresh cow milk for breakfast and saying bye to the farm dog I had made friends with the previous evening. This section lead me through a very pretty and enjoyable part of the Eifel.
Day 8: Mirbach to Hillesheim: This section passed some waterfalls, lots of sheep, and yet another castle. Germany certainly has an abundance of castles. Hillesheim is a small town, somewhat peculiarly themed around criminal fiction. It seems to work for attracting some tourism, but I didn’t spend much time in the town and soon continued to the neighboring town where I spent the night. Here, I stayed in the house of an old lady whose neighbor kids eagerly helped bring me breakfast and decorate the guestroom.
Day 9: From Hillesheim to Gerolstein: Another beautiful, mostly cloudy and chilly day, with another castle and a lot of solitude. Whereas in the beginning of my hike I had still quite regularly seen other hikers, I found myself increasingly alone on the trail as temperatures decreased and rainy weather set in. After having spent the last thirteen years in hot regions of the US in Texas, North Carolina, and Central California, I welcomed the cool weather and didn’t mind the solitude on the trail.
Day 10: From Gerolstein to Daun: This section includes the highest elevation on this low elevation trail at the Nerother Kopf with 647 meters/2123 feet. In my opinion, it was not the most spectacular section of this trail, though. I spent the night in a hostel where I was the only guest in the whole building and I was told guests are uncommon that time of the year in the rainy and chilly fall weather.
Day 11: From Daun to Manderscheid: A very pretty section, passing several of the maars (volcanic lakes) that are characteristic for the volcanic Eifel I was now in. I had a cloudy day, but not at all a bad day for hiking.
Day 12: From Manderscheid to the monastery Himmerod: I had been hoping for snow and now I got it, although mostly a wet, slushy version. I actually managed to miss a turn on this exceptionally well-marked trail. I remember looking at a snow covered sign, so happy about the snow that I forgot to pay attention to what the sign was saying. So to avoid backtracking a significant distance once I realized my mistake, I found a slightly different way to the monastery. My cold toes thanked me for it.
Day 13: From monastery Himmerod to Zemmer: I spent two nights with a couple that offered a shuttle service away from the trail. I only used their shuttle service the first night and the next morning to get back to the trail where I had previously left off. This couple had previously hiked the Camino de Santiago from their doorstep in Germany through France and on to Spain. After their return, they opened a small hostel geared specifically towards hikers and pilgrims in a town named Speicher, which is near a US Air Force Base (Spangdahlem Air Base). During my hike I could hear some of the aircrafts overhead. I learnt that the American soldiers and their families are a big economic force in the area. In the evening I joined my hosts for dinner at an Italian restaurant.
Day 14: From Zemmer to Kordel: I left from Speicher, hiked back to Zemmer and the relatively short distance to Kordel, then circled back around and made a big loop back to Speicher. So mostly I just did some hiking away from the trail, through forests and along a nice river, before I would start the final section the next day. After all, I had plenty of time and was in no hurry to end this experience.
Approaching my end point Trier
Day 15: From Kordel to Trier: This was my longest one with close to 30 miles. It was a bit rainy and misty again. I especially enjoyed what felt like a rather long stretch of approaching Trier from a hill while overlooking the city and the ships on the river Mosel. I explored the city a bit and spent the night in Trier. Of note, in Trier the Eifelsteig seamlessly connects to the Moselsteig, another long-distance trail that starts south of Trier in Perl and leads northeast to Koblenz via another 365 km/227 miles.
Taking into account all the mileage I added on away from the trail, my low estimate is that I hiked about 285 miles / 455 km over those fifteen days. It wasn’t a spectacular trail the way I’d say the High Sierra, the Grand Canyon, the Peruvian Andes, and also the Bavarian Alps are spectacular, but it was everything I needed it to be: full of amazing hospitality and kindness, lots of solitude, some frustrations and pleasant surprises, random aches and pains, and plenty of time for new thoughts, ideas, and plans.