Berchtesgaden With Kids: Hiking Through the Almbachklamm

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking the Almbachklamm in Berchtesgaden with KidsAfter such a strenuous day hiking around the Königssee, we decided to give our tired legs a rest and take it easy.  Apparently, I define easy as one hike instead of two, one half of the day instead of the whole (!).  The destination for our last day?  The Almbachklamm (Almbach Gorge) on the outskirts of Berchtesgaden proper.

In researching hikes in the area, I discovered that the meadow used in the opening scene of The Sound of Music was located nearby in the village of Ettenberg which is just above the gorge as the crow flies.

Okay, you can throw rotten tomatoes at me if you want, but I admit I love the film, The Sound of Music.  When Doc Sci and I visited Munich in 2005 BK (before kids), I insisted that we do the hokey movie tour in Salzburg.  It was, well, one of my favorite things.  Really!

To reach Ettenberg, one can either go by car up from the main road or on foot via a trail that begins at a marble mill (Kugelmühle) and meanders through the Almbachklamm.

I don’t think I have to tell you what route we chose.  An incredibly scenic hike that ends at the Julie Andrews meadow?  Sign. me. up.

The Gorge

For the bargain price of 3 euros per adult, we were granted entry into a water wonderland.  Crystal clear falls, one right after the other, cascading into pools of jade and turquoise.  With every twist, turn, and climb, we exhaled.. wow…

Often, in helping families craft itineraries, I find myself repeating, “keep your expectations rock bottom low.”  Well, whatever expectations I had for this hike, they were completely blasted to bits.  I couldn’t shut up about how surprised I was by this place.Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking the Almbachklamm in Berchtesgaden with KidsThrifty Travel Mama | Hiking the Almbachklamm in Berchtesgaden with KidsThrifty Travel Mama | Hiking the Almbachklamm in Berchtesgaden with KidsThrifty Travel Mama | Hiking the Almbachklamm in Berchtesgaden with Kids

The Warning

Now, before you start packing your bags for Berchtesgaden, I need to tell you that this hike is tricky with tots and wild-at-heart children.  If your kids don’t sit, fetch, and roll over very well, you may very well turn into a nervous wreck on the path.

Some areas are enclosed with railings (see the title photo), but many are not.  The footpath is barely wide enough for two, and the dropoffs end in the river which just so happens to be racing intently toward a series of waterfalls.

Yikes.

But, if you can keep a leash on those whippersnappers, you’ll be rewarded with one jaw-dropping view after another.Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking the Almbachklamm in Berchtesgaden with KidsThrifty Travel Mama | Hiking the Almbachklamm in Berchtesgaden with Kids

the Julie Andrews Meadow

To get to Ettenberg, one can either leave the Almbachklamm at bridge #17 or bridge #25.  We should’ve gone with 17, but I’m an overachiever and the thought of missing something amazing, say around 23, compelled me to march the troops on. Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking the Almbachklamm in Berchtesgaden with KidsWe discovered a huge waterfall shortly after 17, but it would’ve been a better choice for our haggard limbs to simply turn around instead of continuing on.  If you want to tack on an extra hour to your hike, 25 is your number.

Climbing up from the floor of the gorge, we found ourselves in a wide open meadow surrounded by fall foliage.  Nestled in fog, we felt on top of the world. Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking the Almbachklamm in Berchtesgaden with KidsBut as picturesque as it might have been, it was, ahem, most definitely not the Julie Andrews meadow.  Just between me and you, it makes for lovely photos and is quite convincing for those not in the know.

NOT the Julie Andrews meadow.

NOT the Julie Andrews meadow.

The real meadow as seen over the hedge which just so happens to hide an electric fence.  Boo.

The real meadow as seen over the hedge which just so happens to hide an electric fence. Boo.

The real meadow is next to the white and marigold Ettenberger Chapel, and it’s guarded by an electric fence and killer cow pies.  So take your fake photos before you reach the village.  Besides, there’s no one out there to hear you belt out, “The hills are alive!”  Not that I would know anything about that…Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking the Almbachklamm in Berchtesgaden with KidsA mere ten paces from the church stands the Mesnerwirt Gasthaus where visitors can buy hot meals and cold, fresh buttermilk.  I wanted to taste the tart milk but not enough to wrangle boys around a restaurant.  The server offered to fill our water bottle, and voila!  Dairy to go.

We each sipped the thick liquid, wincing at the acid and the chill.  The boys enjoyed it more than we did and almost came to blows over the remains of 400ml.Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking the Almbachklamm in Berchtesgaden with Kids

The Descent

Fortified by food and sour drink, we began our trek back to the car.  The way down the mountain from Ettenberg to the Kugelmühle (marble mill) is all steep steps and switchbacks.  Our legs quivered in protest as we descended, but soon enough we found ourselves back at the entrance to the Almbachklamm.

Hey, mama, there's our car!

Hey, mama, there’s our car!

Before piling in to the car, Doc Sci insisted we make a quick stop to see the marble mill in motion.  Remember those waterfalls at the beginning of the hike?  Well, they lead to a small, old mill.  The boys’ eyes followed the water, gurgling over the stones and leaving behind perfectly smooth spheres.

I zoned out when Doc Sci starting flinging physics terms around and meandered over to the souvenir hut.  Expert tip: Either bring loads of cash or don’t let your kids peruse the goods unless you enjoy a healthy dose of sticker shock.Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking the Almbachklamm in Berchtesgaden with KidsThrifty Travel Mama | Hiking the Almbachklamm in Berchtesgaden with KidsThrifty Travel Mama | Hiking the Almbachklamm in Berchtesgaden with Kids

The Verdict

Experiencing the Almbachklamm is both simple and beautiful.  But beyond that, it’s one of the most unique paths we’ve explored.  You won’t find it on any foreign guidebook’s top ten list, but that makes it even more special since you’ll likely have the place to yourself.  In case you need me to spell it out, do not miss this hike!Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking the Almbachklamm in Berchtesgaden with KidsOther top notch outdoor attractions in Berchtesgaden to explore with kids: the Eagle’s Nest and the Königssee.Signature-Marigold

Berchtesgaden With Kids: Lake Königssee

Thrifty Travel Mama | Berchtesgaden: Lake Koenigssee with KidsThe next stop on our Berchtesgaden natural wonder tour?  The Königssee, a deep and fjord-like lake near the Austrian border.

In addition to the stunning mountain backdrop and mirror-like water, the lake is touted as Germany’s cleanest.  For those who enjoy a good arctic chill, swimming is permitted in most areas.  However, if you prefer to stay warm and dry, the only way to cross the clear waters is via electric or row boat.

Fog covers the lake in the mornings, but lucky for us it melted away just as we set sail.

Fog covers the lake in the mornings, but lucky for us it melted away just as we set sail.

The battery-powered schooners ferry visitors to several ports: Seelände (Schönau), St. Bartholomä, Salet, and Kessel (on request).  Excellent hiking awaits the adventurous at each of these destinations; but if that’s not your thing, you can still stop off for coffee and cake or just a glass of fresh buttermilk.

Since we are wannabe hikers, we chose two paths to tackle in one day, the Ice Chapel (Eiskapelle) and the Röthbachfall (the highest waterfall in Germany.. for reals).

Spoiler alert: we definitely bit off more than we could chew.  If you’re in the company of short legs, stick to only one alpine excursion per day.

Goodbye fog, hello crystal clear.

Goodbye fog, hello crystal clear.

Boarding the boat at Schönau was a cinch, since we arrived early.  Lines increase as the day goes on, so get in early if you hate to wait.

The small electric ship putters its way to St. Bartholomä in about 45 minutes.  This is a long ride for little ones, so break out the snacks as soon as the skipper starts his speech.  Pause for a bit when he plays a tune on the trumpet to demonstrate the excellent echo present at the Königssee.  Heads up – the hat will be passed in a shameless request for tips.

The famous pilgrilms church at St. Bartholomä.

The famous pilgrimage church at St. Bartholomä.

Arriving at St. Bartholomä, it’s tempting to snap photos with the onion-domed church.  But the day is short and the hikes are long, so hit the trails first.Thrifty Travel Mama | Berchtesgaden: Lake Koenigssee with KidsThe Ice Chapel route starts out in the forest; our view that day was tinged with autumn.  Scarlet here, a hint of gold there.  Most impressive, though, was the looming presence of the Watzmann – a rugged, lavender mountain face gently kissed with lime.

The eastern face of Watzmann.

The eastern face of Watzmann.

Not far after happening upon a small white church (see photo), the “easy” blue trail turns challenging with plenty of rocks to scramble over and an incline that’ll have you huffing and puffing.  In case you’re wondering, this is not a job for Nike or Puma.

Let's name this one "NOT the Ice Chapel."

Let’s name this one “NOT the Ice Chapel.”

The Eiskapelle is formed by avalanches in the spring that pile snow in a corner of the valley.  When the weather warms, the bottom of the pile melts, leaving a giant hole in the ice that some say looks like the entrance to a chapel.  However, the entrance is all you’ll see, because extreme danger and the possibility of death are the only rewards for those who cross the threshold.

Unfortunately, we must have missed the glory days of the 2013 snow church.  After crossing the most challenging terrain of the hike (the path switches to red once you reach the valley), we realized that only a rotten patch of snow remained where the chapel should have been.

Ah, well, it was still a splendid place for a picnic, if I do say so myself.

That white speck to the right is what remained of the Eiskapelle.

That white speck to the right is what remained of the Eiskapelle.

My mountain man.

Doc Sci, my mountain man.  Btw, this little rock is taller than he is.. and there’s a baby on his back.

Saying goodbye to St. Bartholomä.

Saying goodbye to St. Bartholomä.

We picked our way back over the rocks and down the mountain trail to the dock where we waited only 10 minutes for the next boat to Salet.  It’s only possible to visit Salet from the end of April to mid-October, and I highly recommend timing your trip to occur between these months.

The cows at Salet.

The cows at Salet.

Upon arriving at Salet, the last stop on the Königssee boat route, an alpine fairy tale awaits.  The air is quiet, crisp.  The mountains keep a stern watch over the glassy sea.  Cows amble about as they graze, their tinkling bells breaking the silence.

But your dream world comes crashing down all around you once you realize those aren’t mounds of mud your kids are stepping in…

Cow chips the size of dinner plates.

Cow chips the size of dinner plates.

Seriously, watch the poop.  It’s somethin’ fierce.

Once in Salet, anyone and everyone strolls past the cafe and hokey souvenir hut and on toward the picturesque Obersee.  This small lake will have you oohing and ahhing at how the water mirrors the majestic jewel tones of the surrounding peaks.

Don’t be fooled by the guidebooks that tell you the Obersee is a quiet respite.  Since the path is so easy (prams are ok), those picture perfect photographs will be crowded with fellow tourists.

Obersee looking toward the Fischunkelalm.

Obersee looking toward the Fischunkelalm.

Gorgeous mirror lake.

Gorgeous mirror lake.

To reach the second destination of the day (Röthbachfall on the far side of the Obersee), follow the signs to Fischunkelalm.  The route seems easy enough at first, but check your pram at the livestock gate because things are about to get seriously steep.

Step by step, we scaled the rock stairs but with bated breath.  With each slippery stone, I fretted about falling, but it was too late to turn back.  We were halfway up, and turning around would be difficult with two-way foot traffic on the narrow, chiseled path.

In hindsight, we should’ve just admired the Obersee and ditched our record-breaking waterfall aspirations.  It was the end of the day: feet tired, legs sore, protests a plenty.  But, we really didn’t think.  We just put one foot in front of the other.

The refreshment hut at Fischunkelalm.  Only stop here if you fancy spending 20 minutes in line only to find out when you order that they're out of everything you had any desire to order.  I'm not bitter... really..

The refreshment hut at Fischunkelalm. Only stop here if you fancy spending 20 minutes in line only to find out when you order that they’re out of everything you had any desire to order. I’m not bitter… really..

I'm not sure I want fresh milk from this rustic kitchen anyway...

I’m not sure I want fresh milk from this rustic kitchen anyway…  Is that Schnapps on the counter?!

Once we reached the little hut at Fischunkelalm, we still had to cross another meadow teeming with gaseous bovines and steaming landmines.  But, suddenly the towering rock face appeared and, wait, oh, yep, sure enough, that pathetic trickle that’s barely more than a leaky faucet is the Röthbachfall.

Yeehaw.

The totally-not-at-all famous Röthbachfall.

The totally-not-at-all famous Röthbachfall.

As I’m sure is blaringly obvious to you, these two hikes were more than our boys could really handle in one day.  Going in, I thought with enough food, breaks, and “boy stuff” (sticks, boats, cows, mounds of poo) we could make it happen.  In all honesty, we should’ve picked a favorite and gone with only one strenuous hike. 

Aye, but there’s the rub.  Choosing a favorite.  Perhaps if I had known in advance that the Ice Chapel had evaporated into thin air or that the highest waterfall in Germany was a dribble instead of a downpour… Eh, if I could do it over again, I really don’t know what we would’ve changed.

Okay, the tantrums.  I would’ve erased those.  But the rest of the day was.. epic.

Just one more shot...

Just one last look…

The looming peaks, the glassy water, the luscious meadows, the golden leaves, the enchanting fog.. the Königssee is one of the most impressive natural spectacles I have ever seen.  Whether you muscle your way up the trails or just mosey along around the ports of St. Bartholomä and Salet, an excursion the Königssee is guaranteed to knock your socks off.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Berchtesgaden: Lake Koenigssee with KidsPractical Tips for visiting the Königssee with kids:

  • Do NOT forget your camera!!  The area is gorgeous, even in the rain and fog.
  • If you’re staying at a Berchtesgaden area hotel, don’t forget your guest card!  It’s good for public transportation in the area as well as discounts on parking at the Königssee / Jennerbahn lot and on tickets for the Königssee boat.
  • A quick note about Jennerbahn… the view from the top is almost the same view as from the Eagle’s Nest / Kehlsteinhaus, so do one or the other (although there are trails around Jennerbahn that will obviously give you different views).
  • Decide in advance if you want to go to Salet or just St. Bartholomä.  It’s not possible to extend your ticket to Salet once you’ve reached St. Bartholomä.
  • Sit on the right hand side of the boat next to a window that slides open for the best photographs.
  • Prams are possible on the boat and at the area around the church at St. Bartholomä.  You can also push a pram from Salet to the Obersee.  Anything beyond that requires a backpack carrier.
  • Public restrooms and fresh water fountains can be found at both of the ports.
  • If you don’t want to take the boat, follow the signs from the docks at Seelände to Malerwinkel, a family-friendly trail with excellent views of the lake.

More Berchtesgaden!  The Eagle’s Nest and the Almbachklamm gorge.

Signature-Marigold

Berchtesgaden With Kids: The Eagle’s Nest (Kehlsteinhaus)

Thrifty Travel Mama | Berchtesgaden with Kids - The Eagle's NestWe took advantage of a long, holiday weekend to go somewhere that’s been on my bucket list for many, many years – Berchtesgaden National Park.  This area of Germany is nothing short of incredible, and such beauty deserves to be seen first hand.

Well, if it’s so amazing, why did we wait so long to visit?  For starters, it’s clear on the other side of the country, and there’s no easy way to get from A to B by car or by train.  Also, because it’s almost a six hour drive one way to Berchtesgaden, we really should stay a minimum of two nights to make the trip worthwhile.  On any given weekend, we usually don’t have that kind of time (or money) to spare.

But, I know I would’ve regretted it deeply had we moved on from Germany before exploring this gorgeous outdoor playground of sorts.  So, I said a quick prayer and jumped into hotel research.

I couldn’t believe my good fortune when I discovered the Hölbinger Alm holiday apartments.  You can read my full review on TripAdvisor (just look for the shoes!).  Though the property ended up being a tad further from Berchtesgaden than I would’ve preferred, the two-bedroom apartment was an excellent value at only 60 euros/night.

Sunrise at the Hoelbinger Alm.

Sunrise at the Hoelbinger Alm.

With accommodation booked, I tackled another formidable task – whittling down my “must-see” list into a realistic, don’t-go-crazy-trying-to-see-everything-with-three-kids-in-three-days itinerary.

Sheesh.

We chose only one attraction per day – The Eagle’s Nest, Lake Königssee, and the Almbachklamm gorge.  I’ll cover Hitler’s lair today, and the other two natural beauties will star in their own subsequent posts.

If you’re not already familiar with the Eagle’s Nest, check out this clip from the HBO Mini-Series Band of Brothers as a quick introduction.

The Eagle's Nest as seen from the Hintereck bus station and parking area.

The Eagle’s Nest as seen from the Hintereck bus station and parking area.

The Kehlsteinhaus, as it’s known in German, was built on a sliver of rock high in the Obersalzberg mountain area.  The purpose of the house was to entertain and impress visiting dignitaries, and it was presented to Hitler on the occasion of his 50th birthday.  The building is now a not-for-profit restaurant (more history with an obviously negative bias here).

Today, the only way to access the Eagle’s Nest is via bus.  The road leading up to the house is so steep and dangerous that only trained drivers are allowed to ferry passengers on it.  You can read more about this engineering marvel and how the road is safely maintained here.Thrifty Travel Mama | Berchtesgaden with Kids - The Eagle's NestThrifty Travel Mama | Berchtesgaden with Kids - The Eagle's NestThrifty Travel Mama | Berchtesgaden with Kids - The Eagle's NestOnce the bus reaches the top of the mountain, it’s time to ride up that exquisite brass elevator you’ve likely seen in movies.  Wait times for the lift can be ridiculous, but the only other option is a steep (though paved) trail.

If we would’ve known that we’d be making our way to the elevator inch by inch, I think we would’ve tried to make it up the trail.  However, I still think it was worth it to ride in the brass box at least once just to say we’ve done it.

To get to the elevator, you walk through this creepy, dimly lit tunnel.

To get to the elevator, you walk through this creepy, dimly lit tunnel.

The brass elevator.

The brass elevator.

If you can handle heights, you’ll be rewarded with an absolutely stunning landscape from the terrace of the Eagle’s Nest.  On a clear day (check the weather first!), you can easily get an eyeful of the Berchtesgaden area (including the Königssee) as well as Salzburg and its surroundings. No wonder this place was built to impress!

Why hello there, gorgeous.

Why hello there, gorgeous.

And g'day to you, Koenigsee.

And g’day to you, Koenigsee.

Unless you’re into serious hiking, the only thing to do on top of the world is drink – beer, coffee, views, etc.  Prices at the cafe were high, but not insane.  We brought our lunch, so I can’t comment on the quality of the food or friendliness of the staff.  Visitors are served on the patio; eating inside the dining room is by reservation only.

A sign on the restaurant door admonishes visitors not to pop into the dining room because it disturbs the other guests.  But, since we happened to be hanging out at the end of the day and the grounds were nearly deserted, we decided to, well, um, not follow directions.

I hate to break the news to you, but the interior is rather unimpressive.  Snap a photo of the marble fireplace (a gift from Mussolini), and move on.

The dining room.

The dining room.

The fireplace.

The fireplace.  You can see how the marble was chipped by soldiers taking souvenirs.

It’s possible to walk a little further up on the rocks behind to the Kehlsteinhaus for even more magnificent views.  However, use extreme caution with children as some of the footing is quite slippery.

This kid is always climbing on something.

This kid is always climbing on something.

Let's just say this is the LAST trip I'll take without proper German footwear.  Boots are already on order!

Let’s just say this is the LAST trip I’ll take without proper German footwear. Boots are already on order!

Both Doc Sci and I were quite surprised that almost every other person we encountered was American.  English conversations swarmed around us, and it became clear that this is an attraction marketed to tourists from across the pond.  The Germans that visited the Eagle’s Nest were there for the hiking, not the house or its history.

Speaking of history, I wish we would’ve had more time to visit the Obersalzberg Documentation Center which is chock full of interesting tidbits about the area’s infamous residents and offers patrons the possibility of exploring the secret bunkers.  Ooooo…

But, realistically, I don’t think we could’ve had a successful go at the exhibits with our young boys.  I hope to return when they’re older and actually care more about the story of the world than the adventures of Thomas the Train.

Between the view and the intrigue, the Eagle’s Nest was definitely a bucket list item that lived up to its hype.  The irony that our visit occurred on German Unity Day was not lost on me.  For history buffs, hikers, and everyone in between, I highly recommend the Kehlsteinhaus.Thrifty Travel Mama | Berchtesgaden with Kids - The Eagle's NestA few practical tips for your visit:

  • Getting to the Eagle’s Nest must be done in two parts.  First, you must get to the Hintereck parking area at Obersalzberg either by car or by bus.
  • If you arrive by car, keep in mind that parking can be difficult later in the day.  Get in early or be prepared to walk a ways if lots are full.  Keep your eyes peeled for the German name (Kehlsteinhaus) because you won’t see any signs for “The Eagle’s Nest” until you’re at the parking lot itself.  Parking costs 3 euros/day.
  • The second piece of the journey is taken on special buses that leave from the Hintereck station.  Purchase tickets, and board the bus that corresponds with the number on your ticket.  Unfortunately, you won’t know how full your bus is and you could be stuck going uphill, riding backwards (ugh).
  • Admission to the house itself is technically free; however, you cannot reach it without a valid bus ticket (or a few hours of strenuous hiking).
  • The recommended length of stay is 2 hours, but we opted for 2 1/2hrs.  If you plan to eat a meal in the restaurant, I’d suggest a minimum of 3 hours.
  • The house was nearly deserted at 4pm, so you could go later in the day, pop up for the view, and get back down on the last bus of the day (450pm) since the elevator lines would be nonexistent.
  • No matter how long you stay, you’ll need to decide in advance because it’s highly recommended to make a reservation for your return bus time once you reach the top.  Select a time, and get your ticket stamped before proceeding to the elevator.
  • Bathrooms are located at the base of the elevator and in the house itself.  I noticed  changing tables in the Hintereck bus station restrooms.
  • You could take a pram up on the bus, but there’s really no place to push it once you reach the top.  Use a baby carrier instead.
  • The souvenir shops are all super lame and overpriced.  ‘Nuff said.

Signature-Marigold