Scenic, varied, and truly enlightening: the “Salzalpensteig” is sure to spice up every hiker’s vita. Magnificent views over “Berchtesgadener Land” beckon outdoor fans to enjoy. Text: Christian Haas, Photos: Frank Heuer
The Delights of Hiking on the “Salzalpensteig” Trail
High-altitude trails are one thing. The mind tends to conjure up images of flat routes in a lofty location, but do not spare you the odd up and down section just because of the topography. On the “Soleleitungsweg” trail (brine pipeline) between the “Zipfhäusl” and “Söldenköpfl” mountain inns, on the other hand, horizontal straightness is guaranteed.
The salt pipeline here ran along the five-and-a-half-kilometre stretch above Ramsau until 1927. And it was allowed to be inclined exactly one degree. Otherwise, the precious commodity – dispatched in Berchtesgaden – would never have arrived in Bad Reichenhall. The fact that the route here ran halfway up the slope is shown by the occasional remains of the dykes built of spruce that can be seen in the ground. This was the name given to the hollowed-out trunks through which the “white soup” – as it was known – would slosh. You can learn this from an information board along the way. Or from Ruth Güll-Barrett.
The certified tour guide tells us even more: “Salt and wood have always been defining topics in the region.” The wood? “That’s what you needed to heat the water. After all, around four litres of water had to be evaporated for one kilo of salt.” The consequence: massive deforestation. “You can’t imagine what the landscape looked like here. At some point, there was simply no more firewood.” The solution: brine, i.e. salty water, was transported with huge pumps and a gentle gradient towards Bad Reichenhall, where the Saalach delivered the wood supply from the Pinzgau.
“Ooommmmmm” Moments on the “Balcony to God”
For good reason, the sun-drenched panoramic path is known as the “Balkon des lieben Gottes” or “Balcony of God” The view is heavenly! It’s a good thing that there are always benches where you can take your time and look out over Ramsau – awarded the title of Germany’s first mountaineering village by the DAV in 2015 – and the exciting, towering mountain ensemble opposite: the “Hochkalter” with the “Blaueis” glacier, the northernmost glacier in the Alps, and the “Watzmann” massif with the 2,713-metre-high “Mittelspitze” – simply majestic. And on into the mighty “Wimbach-Hochtal” valley between the two “Alphaberg” mountains, through which all those who have mastered the legendary Watzmann crossing traditionally return.
Legend has it that the journeyman – after whom the “Toter Mann” ("dead man") mountain enthroned on the “Soleleitungsweg” side was named – was a pioneer who clambered up the then still nameless mountain and froze to death there. In another version of history, a lady, a rival and a gun also play a role. Neither the one nor the other version is likely to please God ...
Sunny Mountain Inns, Historic Monuments
Just what panorama fans adore: the entertaining sequence of terraces offering refreshment – such as “Zipfhäusl”, “Gerstreit” and “Söldenköpfl”. At the latter, Ruth unfolds the map and sketches the meandering route of the Salzalpensteig. “On eighteen stages from Lake Chiemsee to the Dachstein, the long-distance hiking trail, which opened in 2015, brings together paths steeped in history and also passes through a piece of picture-book Upper Bavaria,” says the 63-year-old.
„The other two stages in Berchtes-gadener Land are also very beautiful“
She is not the only one who thinks that the 18.5 kilometres from Ramsau to Schönau am Königssee are among the most beautiful and varied stages ... and with around 1,150 metres uphill, also among the more athletically challenging. “Whereby,” she adds with a smile, “the other two stages in Berchtesgadener Land are also very beautiful.”
There, as everywhere along the 233-kilometre-long, certified premium hiking trail, you will find traces of the “white gold” dating back thousands of years, such as Germany’s oldest (and still active) Salt mine in Berchtesgaden (including an exhibition mine) and the “Alte Saline Bad Reichenhall” old salt works, which is one of Bavaria’s most important industrial monuments.
We realise that the Salzalpensteig is more than just a walking trail when we continue: first downhill to Engedey and then – eyes open to follow the trail logos with the three green peaks through the courtyard of a car paint shop – up again on the other side of the valley. No problem up to the Hammerstiel car park, then the Grünstein challenges you. On forest roads and/or forest paths, the average gradient is 19 per cent.
On more than one occasion, we wish for the brine pipeline path that lies behind us. And a heart rate monitor. This would be needed to correctly complete the cardiovascular test track there, which is supported by information boards.
The prospect of delicious Kaiserschmarrn at the “Grünsteinhütte” drives us on. The 1,304-metre-high summit has more to offer, says the waitress. And indeed: a clear view of Jenner with the new mountain railway built in 2019, the “Hoher Göll” and the “Kehlstein” – including the historic “Kehlsteinhaus”. We also catch sight of a piece of Königssee. We see more of it at the end of the trail down to Schönau, but actually only when we are standing right on the lakeshore ...
Royal Echo Chamber
If we were to continue along the Salzalpensteig the next day, we would arrive in Berchtesgaden and Bad Dürrnberg near Hallein in Salzburg. But there are spontaneous tickets for a Königssee boat trip in the morning – so it’s time to hit the water! Aside from the fact that SUP boards, dinghies and kayaks are not allowed, and the fjord-like scenery does not allow for any shore paths, the magic of the shimmering emerald green, eight-kilometre-long Königssee is sure to leave you mesmerised, be it from a rented rowing boat or – even better – on board one of the quiet flat boats you’ll find here.
SUP boards, dinghies and kayaks are not allowed on the Königssee
After the sea voyage, we leave the boat at St. Bartholomä, idyllically situated on a headland, where we go straight to the beer garden that boasts excellent smoked fish. Another sight worth seeing is the so-called “Wallfahrtskapelle”, which can be reached on foot, next to the red-domed pilgrimage chapel, a dome-like ice vault that does not thaw even in summer. But the absolute star of the day: the mighty and mountainous backdrop of the “Watzmann-Ostwand”. At 1,800 metres, the longest continuous rock face in the Eastern Alps is one of the most imposing things that Upper Bavaria has to offer.
The fact is: anyone who wants to climb up to the Watzmann summit from here needs a lot of experience and even more stamina. Since three attempts to build gondolas have failed, the mountain – even on the easier route via the “Watzmannhaus” in the north – is reserved for experts. Ruth thinks that’s good: “From today’s perspective, it’s lucky that it never worked out with a railway. And so the sublimity remains.”
A Cool Bridge Design
Heads-up: here it comes, thundering into the Wimbachklamm gorge on the west side of the Watzmann: here, this torrent rises to the surface with a roar and plunges into the rocky gorge in waterfalls. You can experience all this up close on a short but intense stretch, thanks to some cool bridges and footbridges that lead over the gurgling water. Wonderful, this natural air-conditioning, which easily lowers the air temperature by a good five degrees and increases the humidity enormously in return!
There is no swimming, however; “Hintersee” is suitable for that. But don’t plan on splashing around for hours on end. We are talking about 16 degrees as the maximum temperature. After a sweaty day of hiking, however, this guarantees the perfect refreshment!
More Enjoyable Hikes in the Region
Through the "Klausenbachtal" valley
14 km, 4 hours, medium
The “Klausbachtal” valley, one of the core valleys of the Berchtesgaden National Park, framed by magnificent mountain scenery, is wonderful to hike through. At first, the trail meanders gently uphill over pastures and through sparse mixed forest, before becoming steeper later on through dense coniferous forests. Highlights: a suspension bridge and the listed “Bindalm”. The “Almerlebnis” bus service chauffeurs hikers back to “Hintersee”.
"Malerwinkel" circular trail
4 km, 1.5 hours, easy
The “Malerwinkel” is the name given to places that were particularly popular with Romantic artists because of their idyllic landscape. Accordingly, Königssee has often been immortalised on canvases. The preferred location is easy to walk to from the car park. First to the lakeside, then past the boat huts and “Café Malerwinkel” until you reach the vantage point with a view of the pilgrimage church of St. Bartholomä. The circular trail then leads in two wide hairpin bends to a second vantage point.
15.5 km, 5.5 hours, medium
From the centre of Ramsau, the circular trail leads to the “glacier springs”. The springs fed by meltwater from the “Blaueis” glacier on the “Hochkalter” emerge at this point 1,500 metres below the glacier. The next highlight is the wild waters of the “Marxenklamm” gorge, where the “Ramsauer Ache” river has cut particularly deep into the bedrock. A stimulating nature trail awaits you in the enchanted forest, leading over bridges and footbridges to the shore of “Hintersee”. After enjoying a walk around, why not take the “Schattseit” path to “Wimbach” bridge and from there back to the starting point