A Budget-Friendly Swiss Family Hike in the Clouds

Thrifty Travel Mama | A Budget Friendly Swiss Family Walk in the CloudsSomewhere along the way we became that hiking family. You know, the ones with seriously ugly boots and those weird zip-off pants. I shudder to admit this, but I now consider SPF protection and water resistance rather than style when looking to buy new clothes. Please send help.

When our family was driving back from the amazing Kaltenberg Knight’s Tournament, my husband and I tried to figure out just when this switch happened. Exactly when did we realize that hiking was our family’s “thing?” And, someone please tell me, when did our four year-old decide that he (1) was not only capable but (2) actually enjoyed walking for hours in the woods?

When planning the aforementioned trip, I asked for trail recommendations in the TripAdvisor forums. I wrote this:

We have two kids, 4 1/2 and 6 1/2 that are accustomed to hiking (max 15km, 10km is ideal).

Later in the day, the full impact of what I wrote hit me, and I had to pause. Seriously, when did hiking TEN KILOMETERS with my kids become “ideal”?!

I have no doubt there are other hiking families with little ones out there. I just don’t know any of them. Will the non-poser hiking families please stand up?

Anyway, I guess now we (mostly) just forgo fashion for natural beauty – as in rivers, trees, rocks, mountains. This is starting to sound like we’ve gone completely tree-hugger, but that’s not entirely accurate. I mean, at least I still shower. Goodness.

Plus, even if fashion is your thang, I don’t care how GQ you are – no one holds a candle to the Swiss Alps. Oh, golly do I love the Alps. In fact, I’m smitten.

And while it just feels right to snack on a sandwich at 3,000m, what I usually can’t stomach are the Swiss prices. I can only fork over so many francs in the summer hiking season.

It was, therefore, with great delight that I came across Moms : Tots : Zurich’s post about a hike in the Engelberg valley that only required a one-way cable car ticket and clocked in at a very reasonable 12 CHF per adult. For the hiking newbs, you ride the cable car up and walk back to your car. I completely understand if this sounds like torture to you.

As soon as the weather looked something like summer, we stocked up on trail mix (dear me, now we’re granola) and hit the road.

We did our usual bagel breakfast in the car, and arrived at the Fürenalp cable car just after it opened.

Unfortunately, even though the weather was warm enough to be classified as “not winter,” the skies weren’t entirely clear. In fact, the clouds changed about every twenty seconds.

As I usually do before venturing into die Schweiz, I stalked the weather forecast and webcam for days, comparing the predictions from several sites with the actual weather throughout the day from the 360° webcam. In the end, it’s always a gamble, and we decided we’d rather go to the Alps on a cloudy day than not go at all. Besides, everything in Switzerland can’t always be perfect, right?!

Well, since I know many of you aren’t hiking weirdos with convertible pants and trekking poles, I thought I’d just show you the hike in pictures rather than just yapper on and on about the trail.

Thrifty Travel Mama | A Budget Friendly Swiss Family Hike

The Fürenalp cable car is much smaller than the ones we are used to. They hold 6-8 people, and the ride only lasts a few minutes.

Thrifty Travel Mama | A Budget Friendly Swiss Family Hike

There’s a photo at the station here that shows an old version of the cable car. It basically looks like an open crate, and the photo shows two children sitting alone in it and sailing up the mountain. Yikes.

Thrifty Travel Mama | A Budget Friendly Swiss Family Hike

Thirty francs later (kids under 6 are free), we’re off!

Thrifty Travel Mama | A Budget Friendly Swiss Family Hike

Goodbye, Engelberg! This turned out to be the clearest view we had of the valley the whole day.

Thrifty Travel Mama | A Budget Friendly Swiss Family Hike

In Switzerland, there’s always a restaurant at the end of any cable car line. Note that the prices are as impressive as the views.

Thrifty Travel Mama | A Budget Friendly Swiss Family Hike

But, more importantly, there’s usually a playground at the top, too. This one did not disappoint. Not pictured: a giant trampoline to really get the altitude sickness going.

Thrifty Travel Mama | A Budget Friendly Swiss Family Hike

As we studied the trail map, Bessie and her buds moseyed up to eye the new trail meat. And yes, that strip of rocky dirt is the start of the Grotzliweg trail.

Thrifty Travel Mama | A Budget Friendly Swiss Family Hike

The kids liked the cows, but Doc Sci was a little chicken to share the trail with them so we took a parallel path. At the time I kind of ragged on him about it, but later, I read Tanya’s post about scary cows. Better leave those heifers alone.

Thrifty Travel Mama | A Budget Friendly Swiss Family Hike

Goodbye, awesome playground and potentially dangerous bovines.

Thrifty Travel Mama | A Budget Friendly Swiss Family Hike

The trail starts out nice and easy. As Tanya mentions, you can’t take a pram here, but the terrain isn’t too rough for smallish hikers.

Thrifty Travel Mama | A Budget Friendly Swiss Family Hike

I noticed a sign pointing toward a small mirror lake (Spiegelseeli), so I left the boys on the main trail and ran up to check it out. I imagine this would be a perfect place for the kids to splash and frolic about when the temperatures oblige.

Thrifty Travel Mama | A Budget Friendly Swiss Family Hike

Had the clouds not been so annoying, here’s all the things we could’ve seen (including the more popular and MUCH more expensive Titlis). Sometimes we could see somber black mountain faces smattered with rotting streaks of snow. Other times we caught glimpses of those same streaks morphing into wild waterfalls that careened down the sheer drop-offs. And, in between, we couldn’t see anything but wispy haze that clouded the views we coveted of those majestic Alps.

Thrifty Travel Mama | A Budget Friendly Swiss Family Hike

Along the way, we passed another even smaller cable car station, a handful of dairy farms selling fresh-from-the-cow products, a few restaurants, and the same four pairs of hikers. Everyone took breaks at different times and places, passing and being passed in a funny trail dance that bordered on annoying by the time it was over.

Thrifty Travel Mama | A Budget Friendly Swiss Family Hike

Speaking of that other cable car, if you find that you’ve bit off more than you can chew with a 9km walk, you can catch a ride down on it, and that would probably cut that distance in half. But if you’re game to keep walking, the station makes a lovely picnic spot.

Thrifty Travel Mama | A Budget Friendly Swiss Family Hike

After lunch, Bravo spotted one of the biggest cowbells we have ever seen.

Thrifty Travel Mama | A Budget Friendly Swiss Family Hike

One of the highlights of the hike is the Stäuber waterfall. It’s not really a place to wade or swim or test your luck in a barrel, but this section looked okay for the kids to dip a toe or two in (under supervision, of course).

Thrifty Travel Mama | A Budget Friendly Swiss Family Hike

The waterfall isn’t particularly high, but it still had plenty of water flowing thanks to melted snow. Maybe it’s less impressive in the late summer/early fall.

Thrifty Travel Mama | A Budget Friendly Swiss Family Hike

The alpine flowers were in full bloom, and we actually saw more critters than usual (read: more than zero). We saw everything from dung flies to butterflies to a laminated frog (tractor tire?) and a silvery snake. All this in addition to the cows that, despite Doc Sci’s efforts to avoid, populated many of the paths.

Thrifty Travel Mama | A Budget Friendly Swiss Family Hike

The route back down toward Engelberg follows this river which flows from the waterfall. The flow calms down a bit further on. We saw several places to wade in the frigid water, but it was still too chilly to do that, even in mid-June.

Thrifty Travel Mama | A Budget Friendly Swiss Family Hike

Toward the end of the hike, we entered a forested area that was rather unremarkable, except for this billy and his buds.

Thrifty Travel Mama | A Budget Friendly Swiss Family Hike

Once we cleared the forest (and another herd of cows), we found ourselves in a big open field with a view of the cable car and a bit of the Engelberg valley. An impressive finish, to say the least.

Whew! We did it – 9 kilometers completed, 30 francs spent, and untold numbers of treacherous cow pies avoided.

Even though we were the only family with kids that day, we still made it down the mountain in roughly the same amount of time as everyone else. We started our hike at 10:30am, and we finished just before 3:00pm. We stopped two times for snacks as well as at the waterfall to let our jaws hang loose while we stared at the simple yet amazing power of rushing water. Yes, despite the cloudy conditions, a good day was had by all.

This post is the first of three short trips to the Swiss Alps. In order to ease you into the sticker shock, I’m starting with the cheapest. But if you’re ready to jump in and bleed as much cash as possible, you can read about our pricey (but amazing) trip to Schilthorn last summer here. Stay tuned for our next stop – Mt. Pilatus!

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Visiting Croatia in the Off-Season

Thrifty Travel Mama | Croatia with Kids - Visiting During the Off-SeasonWe’re bidding farewell to our Croatian Family Adventure today with a chat about visiting the Dalmatian Coast during the off-season.

My ideal travel destination is naturally gorgeous, affordable (okay, cheap), and away from the tourist crowds. If this is your cup of tea as well, then you may be considering visiting Croatia sometime other than the jam-packed summer months.

Though Paris is a beauty even in the dead of winter and Rothenburg is quiet when it rains, it’s possible to do and see almost everything even when the tour buses are absent. But Croatia? Not so much.Thrifty Travel Mama | Croatia with Kids - Visiting During the Off-Season

It’s worth sitting down and deciding what your family really wants to experience in Dalmatia before booking flights or accommodation. Below, I’ve highlighted pros and cons to visiting during the off-season, which I would categorize as anything outside June, July, and August.Thrifty Travel Mama | Croatia with Kids - Visiting During the Off-Season

Drawbacks of visiting Croatia in off-season…

  • Ferry service to the islands is limited. If you want to see more than 1 or 2 islands, I would recommend hopping from island to island instead of trying to do day trips from the mainland. This will require quite a bit of logistical planning on your part since you’ll need to see if accommodation is available (see the next bullet, below) while simultaneously checking ferry timetables and researching ground transportation options to get from the port to the hotel and back.
  • Many attractions, restaurants, and hotels are closed for the winter. Some are even closed in spring and fall.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Croatia with Kids - Visiting During the Off-Season

  • Even if you’re able to arrange accommodation and transportation to experience the islands, they’re rather deserted when it’s not high season. Don’t expect party central.
  • The weather can be downright COLD. In fact, we had the heat on in the first two apartments we rented… in April. If you were planning to lounge around on the terrace at your vacation rental, just know that you’ll be doing so bundled up. Croatia also has this freakish freezing wind known as the bura, or brrrrrrrra.
  • The water is too cold to swim and going to the beach is only for those who enjoy a slow form of torture involving said wind, sand, and sensitive corneas.
  • This one’s only for the carnivores, but the infamous road-side meat stands on the way to Plitvice Lakes and along other Croatian highways aren’t open. You won’t be able to watch a whole pig or sheep being roasted and then partake of the freshly cooked flesh (vegetarians, rejoice).

Thrifty Travel Mama | Croatia with Kids - Visiting During the Off-SeasonNow, on to the benefits of visiting during off-season..

  • Smaller crowds! This might seem insignificant, but when you’re walking the walls of Dubrovnik or hopping over waterfalls at Plitvice, you’ll be thanking your lucky stars that even though you’re freezing your bum off, you have room to breathe and appreciate what you’re seeing without constantly being elbowed and jostled.
  • Ferry tickets are plentiful. In summer, you can be stuck in long lines hoping that the particular ship you want to sail on is not sold out.
  • You can enjoy the Croatian national pastime of drinking coffee in cafes for hours with locals instead of tourists.
  • Though the availability is limited, the prices for hotels and vacation rentals are reduced and some attractions are even free.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Croatia with Kids - Visiting During the Off-Season

  • If you’re dying to see Plitvice, remember that water levels are highest in the spring after the snow melts which translates to some pretty powerful waterfalls.
  • The heat is tolerable. I remember walking the walls of Dubrovnik in April and nearly baking in the sun. It must be hotter than you-know-what up there in August, and crowded with cruise ship day-trippers to boot.
  • Traffic!! If you’re driving to Dubrovnik from Split or vice versa, you should know that the only way in and out is a two-lane highway on the edge of the sea. Traffic on this road in summer is a total beast. Also, the lines at border crossings for Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro will be much shorter during the off-season.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Croatia with Kids - Visiting During the Off-SeasonIn spite of (and also because of) all of the reasons above, I still think we would have chosen to visit Croatia during the off-season had we known all of this in advance (we didn’t).

But, when we go back, we’ll aim for September. The locals I talked to all recommended going in September because the summer crowds are gone but the water is still warm enough to swim. Just don’t tell the tour groups that…Thrifty Travel Mama | Croatia with Kids - Visiting During the Off-Season

My advice if you want to go to Croatia is to GO NOW. The country is fabulous, but it’s starting to realize this fact. And once it does, the danger to allow tacky tourism in for the sake of the income will be rather irresistible.

Ripping off foreigners in the form of outrageous admission fees for non-locals (which is the case already in places like Russia) is another potential problem for travelers. Some towns like Dubrovnik are already totally touristy which means expensive prices, questionable quality, and many “souvenirs” made in China. Thrifty Travel Mama | Croatia with Kids - Visiting During the Off-Season

But, there are still many, many places to experience authentic Croatia, and I highly recommend creating a Dalmatian family adventure of your own, posthaste!

Now that you know the pros and cons, would you visit Croatia during the off-season? Or is the warm weather and water too important for your family to miss?Signature Thrifty Travel MamaThis post is part of Our Croatian Family Adventure: Ten Days on the Dalmatian Coast series.  Click on the link to view our bucket list and recaps of each excursion!

Walking on Waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes (Plitvička Jezera)

Thrifty Travel Mama | Croatia with Kids - Walking on Waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes National ParkThe scenery at Plitvice Lakes is the kind of thing travelers’ dreams and coffee table books are made of. One of seven Croatian UNESCO World Heritage sites and eight Croatian National Parks, Plitvička Jezera deserves a spot on every traveler’s bucket list.

Unfortunately, that’s also the reason it’s often quite crowded, but more on that later. No need to start on a negative note…

Getting There

While we mostly had an enjoyable visit to Croatia, a stressful ordeal with a smarmy rental car company nearly ruined our day trip out to this amazing national park (and the next few days trying to sort it all out). Wait, I said I wasn’t going to start out on a negative note.. Fortunately, our experience with Croatian roads was better than with the sleazy sales rep!

The interstate in Croatia is very modern – smooth roads, rest stops, slick tunnels, and tolls (calculate at viaMichelin). Leaving Zadar, we found ourselves wandering through terrain that reminded me of the Burren in Ireland, rocky and desolate.

We then turned off onto another local highway that meandered though villages and fields of sheep, goats, and cows. Many of the places looked abandoned, and we noticed quite a few cemeteries, some that just seemed to be plopped in the middle of a pasture (former battlefields?). Thanks to the whatever-floats-your-boat speed limit, we found ourselves at Plitvice in no time.

Getting In

After paying the (somewhat) reduced admission fee for visiting during the off-season, we consulted the map. The park has seven outlined routes which you can browse in advance here. We chose a medium-length trail, Route C, and skipped off in the direction of the rushing water.

Notes and my thoughts on our route choice can be found in the practical tips below.Thrifty Travel Mama | Croatia with Kids - Walking on Waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes National ParkThe Lower Lakes

One of our first glimpses of the falls was this postcard-worthy photo. Sheesh, even those not that into nature would be hard pressed to not gasp at the cascading emerald waters.

We found out that the Lakes are NOT pram-friendly about five minutes into our visit when we decided to veer off from the crowd and explore some very steep, damp steps. Good thing Charlie was securely strapped into our trusty backpack carrier…

At the bottom of the steps, we realized we’d found Šupljara Cave rather by accident. Rick Steeves tells me that this site is popular with German tourists due to its use as a film location for a “Spaghetti Western” from the 60s. Thrifty Travel Mama | Croatia with Kids - Walking on Waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes National Park

Beyond the cave, it’s pure boardwalk bliss. Walking nearly on the turquoise water, this is as close as any visitor will get to taking a dip since swimming inside the park is prohibited. The wooden paths are narrow, and beware that oohing and ahhing when it’s crowded could result in a big splash and an even bigger fine. But do keep moving, though; the “big one” awaits..

My boys squealed with delight once we reached the Great Fall in the Lower Lakes because the cascading water was spitting at the visitors as it tumbled over the cliff. Kissed by the mist, we elbowed school groups in order to get thirty seconds alone for a family picture with the biggest rush in the park.

We then made our way through the rest of the Lower Lakes, fighting the urge to photograph every last little waterfall along the way. There are just SO MANY that by the end of our visit that (spoiler alert) I was suffering a bit from waterfall overload. I know, I know, first-world problem..

An electric boat shuttles visitors between the Upper and Lower Lakes. We took this opportunity to rest and refuel. Five cheese sandwiches later (that’s total, not each), we began our tour of the Upper Lakes.

The Upper Lakes

Thrifty Travel Mama | Croatia with Kids - Walking on Waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes National Park

Thrifty Travel Mama | Croatia with Kids - Walking on Waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes National ParkIn many ways, we enjoyed the Upper Lakes more than the Lower. While the wooden walkways in the Lower Lakes seemed to be right at water level, the Upper Lakes allows visitors to literally walk over waterfalls. It’s such fun to see the gurgling foam flood out beneath your feet.. provided of course that your children aren’t delighting in the obvious lack of rails along the path…

Also, the Upper Lakes are quieter. Fewer tourists make their way here since many are day trippers that only have enough time to see half of the park. The appeal of the Upper is breadth while the Lower draws the masses with height.

Plus, we spotted fluorescent green lizards along the Upper paths, but (thankfully) no other reptiles.Thrifty Travel Mama | Croatia with Kids - Walking on Waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes National Park

Thrifty Travel Mama | Croatia with Kids - Walking on Waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes National ParkThrifty Travel Mama | Croatia with Kids - Walking on Waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes National ParkAfter we’d had our fill of that soothing rushing water sound, we decided to call it quits. One could easily spend two days exploring every possible footpath in the park, but a half day was enough for us to capture the best of the best.

When I think back on our day at Plivice Lakes in late April, what I remember most is the color, the sound, and the vast variety in the waterfalls. No photo, no video could do a visit here justice. One must see it to believe the jade waters are really that shade and not just Photoshopped so. So, jot it down on your list – Plitvička Jezera is THE Croatian natural wonder to see!

Plitvice Lakes can also be visited in winter (see here). Would you rather go in spring when the waters rage or in winter to see the cascades magically frozen?

Practical Tips & FAQ’s for Your Visit to Plitvice Lakes:

  • Parking is available in two lots, P1 and P2, but both may not be open year-round. We parked in P2 because it was the first one we reached when we drove up from Zadar. The attendant told me that the parking lots aren’t much different if you want to see the whole park. If youw ant to see the Lower Lakes only, park at P1. At the time of our visit, parking cost 7kn/hour.
  • The national park’s website offers seven route choices. We chose C. It appears that this is the same route as H, just reversed. Rick Steves recommends this route (C) because you encounter the falls head on. However, it is all uphill; go with H if you’d rather walk downhill.
  • You can bring your own picnic to the park or you can grab lunch at one of the cafes or restaurants. Check opening times though, because they’re not all open all year. We took advantage of the wait times for trains and the boat and ate then. Not exactly the most scenic, but efficient if you’re trying to cut down your total visit time.
  • A note on weather… We visited in April and were threatened with rain all day. However, this was a blessing because the cloud cover meant we were shielded from the blazing sun. I’d guess Plitvice is a sweltering mess in the summer with 10,000 tourists and intense heat. Bring sunscreen and a waterproof jacket in case of unexpected rain.
  • A bonus of visiting in the spring – powerful waterfalls from melting snow and spring rains. I’ve read elsewhere that visiting in late summer can be rather disappointing if the waterfalls are merely trickling. Winter at Plitvice is a totally different experience. See my note in italics above for a link to winter photos.
  • Beware the crowds in summer! If you visit during the high season, you may not be able to double back on the platforms (cheat on the routes as mentioned above) or easily pass slower groups.
  • Take note of where the bathrooms are. There’s a map on your ticket, and the potties are marked on it. Pay close attention! Across the lake from P1 at the start of P2, there’s no bathroom, so be sure to make a pit stop before you cross over and begin walking the Upper Lakes. There aren’t ANY bathrooms until you read the train station at the end of the Upper Lake path. The bathroom in the parking lot (P2) was a squatty potty, but the others we visited had proper toilets.
  • What time of day should one visit? We arrived at noon, which ended up being perfect. Most of the morning day trippers had already cleared out and we only had a few student groups to contend with on the narrow boardwalks.
  • Can I take a pram or stroller? No, you definitely cannot/should not. The pathways are uneven, rustic wooden slats. There are also stairs, and we experienced muddy paths in some places. We did not see any babies or toddlers under 3 the whole day. However, we did see tons of families with children (mostly Germans – ha!).
  • Does Route C really take 4-6 hours? Well, that depends. We cheated on a few parts of the route by doubling back and cutting off a loop here and there. Our whole walk took only 3 hours. I suppose if you walked every bit of the route and stopped a lot for breaks, a picnic lunch, etc., it might take that long.
  • Is the route strenuous? In our opinion, no. We saw many elderly people and families with children, none of whom were complaining. As I mentioned above, we did visit for 3 hours, but some of that time was spent on trains/boats and waiting. It’s more of a walk than a hike, but the route from the Lower to Upper Lakes is uphill.
  • Is it safe for kids to visit? As I mentioned, we saw tons of families with children. But, please know that the paths are without railings. I think two things helped our visit: first, we emphasized the “no swimming in the park” rule in advance, and second, the park wasn’t crowded so I didn’t need to worry about the kids being accidentally or “accidentally” pushed in the water.

 

Signature Thrifty Travel MamaThis post is part of Our Croatian Family Adventure: Ten Days on the Dalmatian Coast series.  Click on the link to view our bucket list and recaps of each excursion!

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

Hiking with Kids: The Ravennaschulucht

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking with Kids: RavennaschluchtI see looooooads of hiking in our family’s future.  Exploring nature – hopping over streams, listening to rushing rivers, searching for perfect walking sticks – is something every one of us enjoys.. well, except Big Foot.

He’s generally grumpy because he has to be bolted into a backpack whenever we wander about.  But I have hope that he’ll come ’round when his legs are strong enough to carry him and his will is soft enough to decide that listening and following directions really wouldn’t be so. incredibly. awful.

We’re rather fortunate to find ourselves within an easy drive of the Black Forest  in Germany which just so happens to be chock full of trails and adventures suitable for little ones.  My friend Nancy (hi, Nancy!) lent me an ADAC book on hiking in the Schwarzwald with kids (this one, if you’re interested) and insisted we take on the Ravennaschlucht.

The Ravennaschlucht is a wild and romantic gorge with a stream and several waterfalls chasing through it.  As if that wasn’t enough of a draw, the ADAC itinerary tacks on other attractions including several saw mills and a glass blowing studio… all in less than 8km.Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking with Kids: RavennaschluchtFancy a go at the gorge yourself?  Well, grab your trusty boots, and come along!

We followed the route set forth in the guide, starting out at Hinterzarten.  I balked at paying for parking at the train station, so we drove a bit further along Alpersbacher Str. where we discovered a free parking lot.Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking with Kids: RavennaschluchtThrifty Travel Mama | Hiking with Kids: RavennaschluchtThrifty Travel Mama | Hiking with Kids: Ravennaschlucht

As you walk along Löffeltalweg, you won’t be able to ignore the swelling sound of rushing water.  The Rotbach stream was used to power several saw mills located along the footpath.  My boys were in awe of the gigantic blades and completely confused as to how prickly, uneven logs turned into perfectly flat boards despite Doc Sci’s best efforts to explain.Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking with Kids: RavennaschluchtLeaving the mills, you’ll be treated to a series of waterfalls, several close enough to touch.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking with Kids: RavennaschluchtSoon you’ll have to make a choice – continue on or face the B31.  I wasn’t sure how we’d cross three lanes of whizzing traffic on the “Hell’s Valley” highway.  Fortunately, my worries were needless – a tunnel for hikers and bikers had been constructed underneath the road.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking with Kids: RavennaschluchtThrifty Travel Mama | Hiking with Kids: RavennaschluchtNext stop – the Hofgut Sternen, a small village composed of a hotel, restaurant, a large glockenspiel, and a glass blowing studio (with a gift shop, of course).  Scarf down a snack or two here, because the path through the gorge doesn’t offer many places for pit stops.Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking with Kids: RavennaschluchtAfter everyone is fully hydrated, have a look at the artist fashioning everything from vases to earrings to wine glasses to Christmas ornaments from the blazing hot and stringy glass.  I should mention that only well-behaved or independently wealthy children should enter the shop… Everything is within reach of the curious and clumsy.Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking with Kids: RavennaschluchtMake your way to the Ravennaviadukt, an imposing railway bridge that marks the entrance to the gorge.

Once you climb up the first set of steps, you’re in hand-holding territory.  Though I never felt unsafe, some parts of the path can be rather dicey with steep drop-offs and thinly railed bridges.Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking with Kids: RavennaschluchtThrifty Travel Mama | Hiking with Kids: Ravennaschlucht

As we hiked higher and higher, I couldn’t help but wonder when the gorge was going to end.  I don’t like being lost, and the ADAC guide only mentioned that the path would end.  Not when or how or where.

When the trail finally did terminate, I was even more surprised at the lack of information.  You’ll know you’re at the end of the gorge when a lovely biergarten with a playground appears.  I guess this is so German that the writer didn’t think to include it!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking with Kids: RavennaschluchtCarrying on, we made our way back to the ferocious B31 and, again, crossed underneath it.  We found ourselves in the company of some lovely cows on the grounds of the Birklehof boarding school.  Once you see the onion dome, take a quick detour around the back of the building.  There you’ll find a fantastic playground and fire pit.

We ended the day with cookies in the car as a reward for excellent little boy behavior.  Hooray!

If you’d like to hike Ravennaschlucht yourself, I’d like to suggest a few variations from the ADAC itinerary:

  • If you have a car, park at the Hofgut Sternen and start your hike from there.  You won’t have to pay for parking near the Hinterzarten train station, and more lunch options will be available in town.
  • If you only want to hike the gorge, I’d again recommend parking at the Hofgut Sternen.  Keep in mind that you will have to double back.  This would be a good option for the littlest of legs.
  • However, if public transportation is how you’ll be traveling, then the only option is to begin and end at the train station.
  • Consider hiking the reverse of the order I’ve mentioned here.  You’ll be walking downhill instead of uphill through the steepest part of the gorge.  The slope near the saw mills is rather gentle in comparison.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking with Kids: RavennaschluchtMore family-friendly places to explore in the Schwarzwald area of Germany – Triberg, Kastelburg, Staufen, Steinwasen Park and Schauinsland (from our first month here – four years ago!).

How about you?  Been on any good hikes lately?  Are they within driving distance of southwest Germany? 🙂Signature-Marigold

Rhein Falls with Kids

Thrifty Travel Mama - Rhein FallsI have to admit, I’ve never been one to go gaga over rushing water.  The sight of water falling doesn’t thrill me as much as, say, castle ruins.  Victoria Falls is on my lifetime bucket list, but Niagara strikes me as total kitsch.  But, after checking out the Rhein Falls in Switzerland, I think I may have changed my mind.  There’s something elusive, even alluring about the formidable power of an imposing waterfall.

Just south of Schaffhausen in northern Switzerland lies Neuhasen, the closest city to the falls.  The Rhein Falls are an easy drive from Stein am Rhein, Hohentwiel, Konstanz, Mainau, or even Basel or Zurich.

Visitors can access the falls on both sides of the river either through Schloss Laufen or Schlössli Wörth The Schloss Laufen side charges 5 CHF per adult for admission, but parking is free.  Schlössli Wörth, on the other hand, does not levy entrance fees but the car park costs 6 CHF for 2 hours.  We voted Schloss Laufen; well, okay, the GPS chose for us.

Schloss Laufen - not much to see in this castle except the inside of your empty wallet.

Schloss Laufen – not much to see in this castle except the inside of your empty wallet.

View old photographs of the falls while walking through Schloss Laufen.

View old artistic interpretations of the falls.

Part with your Swiss francs or euros at the ticket office.  Take advantage of the free, clean bathrooms around the corner.  Gaggle at the exorbitant food prices as you make your way to the castle.  A cinnamon sugar crepe for 6 CHF ($6.50) or a bratwurst for 7 CHF ($7.50) anyone?  Hey, at least parking is free!Thrifty Travel Mama - Rhein FallsSpeaking of free, cheapskates should know that it’s impossible to see anything from the castle without an entrance ticket.  However, Doc Sci and I theorized that it is entirely probable that one could take advantage of a decent view from the boat ramp.

From Schloss Laufen, follow the signs for the train/boat.  Walk all the way out on the dock, but don’t board.  You should be able to catch a glimpse of the falls from there… but you didn’t hear that from me!

A stained glass turret at the beginning of the descent.

A stained glass turret at the beginning of the descent.

After scanning our tickets and walking through the turnstile, we descended via stairs to the first of several platformsWikipedia described the way as “steep and narrow.”  In my experience, they were neither… at least not to the point of annoyance.

Screech kept saying wow, wow, wow.

Screech kept saying wow, wow, wow.

However, families with babies will find the steps a point of contention.  Though an elevator exists, it does little good for those who wish to experience the various platform views.  I noticed one or two parents with prams.  Frustrated, they had folded up their strollers and were lugging them around while the children walked.

Psssst!  If you haven’t caught on by now, I’m a huge fan of backpack carriers for little ones!

The elevator - all visitors exit the falls this way, but those with wheelchairs or strollers can enter here, too.

The elevator – all visitors exit the falls this way, but those with wheelchairs or strollers can enter here, too.

As you climb lower, the falls’ force and your fascination increases.  At one point, the water seems to be rushing straight at your face.  In a small cave near the bottom, you can even stick your hand in the stream.Thrifty Travel Mama - Rhein FallsThrifty Travel Mama - Rhein Falls

Thrifty Travel Mama - Rhein FallsThrifty Travel Mama - Rhein FallsFor serious thrill seekers, a boat ferries visitors from the Schlössli Wörth shore to an observation platform sticking straight up from the center of the falls.  Hats off to the skippers who must maneuver the torrid waters several times per hour.  I personally wouldn’t take small children on this excursion; but, if you’re interested, more information can be found here.

That yellow thing is the boat that takes visitors to the rock in the middle of the falls.  The only thing between you and the water is a thin, metal railing!

That yellow thing is the boat that takes visitors to the rock in the middle of the falls. The only thing between you and the water is a thin, metal railing!

Thrifty Travel Mama - Rhein FallsAfter you’ve had your fill observing the force of nature, head back up to the schloss and have a look around.  Kids can amuse themselves for a few minutes on the small playground; parents can decide if they’d like to splurge on an expensive fancy meal at the restaurant.

I can’t say I’ve been converted to a waterfall chaser, but I will admit that my interest in them has somewhat increased.  One thing Doc Sci and I have come to learn about ourselves in this expat experiment is that we love exploring all that the natural world has to offer.  So whether it be water or wind or forest or fjord, you can bet we’ll investigate anything once.. kids in tow.

Taking the family to Switzerland?  Check our adventures in Stein am Rhein and Schilthorn with kids!Signature-Marigold

Triberg – Towering Waterfalls & Black Forest Kitsch

Thrifty Travel Mama | Triberg, Germany - Towering Waterfalls and Black Forest KitschOne thing we haven’t done much of yet is explore the Black Forest (Schwarzwald).  Train connections can be problematic, and our experience driving in Florida is hardly preparation for braving twisty mountain roads.  But, we’re driving to Italy in less than a month, so we need to buck up.  To the forest we go!  Er, went…Thrifty Travel Mama | Triberg, Germany - Towering Waterfalls and Black Forest KitschTriberg is nestled in the thick of the Black Forest, and its claim to fame rests in the waterfalls, touted as “Germany’s highest.”  To be sure, they’re impressive.  But, exactly three minutes prior to writing this post, our good friend Wikipedia informed me that these are actually the second highest in Deutschland.  Doh!

Lies!!

Lies!!  It should say Germany’s highest waterfall that’s easily accessible.

Speaking of lies, I thought about telling you this was the Triberg waterfall since it is water falling in Triberg, but I didn't think you'd fall for it.

Speaking of lies, I thought about telling you this was the Triberg waterfall since it is water falling in Triberg, but I didn’t think you’d be so gullible.

As I put together the graphic for this post, I double-checked the tourist brochure that assured me, “Germany’s highest waterfalls are a splendid spectacle of nature.”   I guess touting them as the second highest doesn’t exactly do wonders for ticket sales.

While we’re talking tickets, adults admission costs 3,50 euro and children under 8 are free.  Entrance includes the use of patchily paved pathways and a printed pamphlet.  Whoop – de – doo.  Oh, right, and you get to see the falsely advertised waterfalls.

The falls from the first platform.

The falls from the first platform.

This is the first platform, seen from above.

This is the first platform, seen from above.

Highest or second highest, I still enjoyed listening to the furious roar of the foaming falls, feeling the wayward water droplets surprise my skin, and gazing out over the thickly forested valley.  False pretenses may have drawn me here, but the scenery was still worth the drive.

The Triberg Waterfalls don’t go straight down.  This might be a downer to some, but actually I appreciated the walkways built at various intervals in the falls that allowed for a unique perspective.  When was the last time you walked over the middle of a waterfall?

A view of the second platform.

Looking at the second platform.

Down, down, down!

Down, down, down!

My boys are usually game for whatever adventures I cook up.  Unfortunately, this week they were exhausted from swimming and skipping naps, and they whined about everything, including the elevation gain.

Looking at the falls from the third platform.

Looking at the falls from the third platform.

The ADAC (like AAA) guide to Hiking with Kids in the Black Forest lists this as an “easy” and “pram-friendly” hike.  Ha!  In terms of length, sure, it wasn’t too bad.  But the path did go straight up for most of the way.  I saw several families with children in strollers; they must be crazy.  It’s much easier to strap a kid on your back than it is to force a buggy straight up the side of a mountain, even if the walkway is paved.

Carry the kiddos if you must; you need to make it to the top!  A fantastic panorama of the dense Black Forest and Triberg valley waits as your reward.

Yeah, buddy, this is what it's all about!

Yeah, buddy, this is what it’s all about!

After you’ve taken it all in, what next?  Follow the signs to explore one of three trails (Cascade, Culture, or Nature) that should take between 45 and 90 minutes to complete.  The most kid-friendly is the red route (Culture).  We explored half of the green route (Nature).  Crazy people with strollers – the red route is the one for you.

Pick a path and follow the signs, distinguished by color.

Pick a path and follow the signs, distinguished by color.

The Culture Trail meanders out to a playground next to a small lake and a beautiful baroque church.  It then runs parallel to the main road in Triberg, parading right past a handful of souvenir shops hawking Black Forest wares including cuckoo clocks for which this area is known.

This is part of the green route - rocks and roots galore so don't even think about taking Graco along.

This is part of the green route – rocks and roots galore so don’t even think about taking Graco along.

We found some wacky stuff on the trails - this tree stump looks like a hand fused to a giant rock.

We found some wacky stuff on the trails – this tree stump looks like a wooden hand fused to a giant rock.

And this tree was literally growing out of a rock!

And this tree was literally growing out of a rock!

My T-Rex is obsessed with climbing.  He didn't even blink when I suggested he climb this boulder.

My T-Rex is obsessed with climbing. He didn’t even blink when I suggested he climb this boulder.

This playground waits at the far end of the red route.

This playground waits at the far end of the red route.

The Schwarzwald Museum, which my friend says is actually fun for kids.  I might have to come back in winter and give it a try.

The Schwarzwald Museum, which my friend says is actually fun for kids. I might have to come back in winter and give it a try.

Continuing on, the main street is completely overrun with tourist traps.  Fill your shopping bag with Dirndls, Lederhosen, Black Forest Bollenhut hats, beer steins, and cuckoo clocks.  Then fill your belly with Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte.  If you’re looking for one town that exemplifies Black Forest kitsch, Triberg is it.

By the way, if you’re super into cuckoo clocks, the world’s biggest one is only a few kilometers outside Triberg.

Hey there, cuckoo clocks.

Hey there, cuckoo clocks.

You can find these funky statues that look like a cross between Easter Island and the Black Forest right near the parking lots across from the falls.

You can find these funky statues that look like a cross between Easter Island and the Black Forest right near the parking lot across from the falls.

Bye, bye, Triberg!

Bye, bye, Triberg!

Though the town was a bit much for me, we really did like the fibbing falls.  In winter, the whole area is frozen.  Since neither Doc Sci nor I have seen a gigantic shards of ice jutting out of mountain rocks, we just might need to make another trip up to the kitschy capital of the Black Forest.

What do you think – should we return when the falls are frozen?  Would you pay to see the waterfalls even though they’re falsely advertised?   Signature-Marigold