Marketed as ‘The Path of the Senses’, the Rothaarsteig mostly follows the crest of the Rothaar mountain range from Dillenburg in the Westerwald to Brilon in the Sauerland. The route varies in length from the 153km standard route following the Kammvariante (Crest-variation), to 157km via the Talvariante (Valley-variation) that passes through Schanze and Latrop. The hike can be extended to 187km if following the Westerwald-variante. Optional side journeys like the Bruchhauser Steine will also add extra kilometers, as will staying at towns and villages off the main trail.
DeWandelaar thru-hiked the Rothaarsteig in 4 nights or just over 4 days in early August 2022. It was walked in the direction Dillenburg to Brilon, and that is how it is described below. This is opposite to the direction that the route is usually promoted.
The route is a perfect, short-duration thru-hike, and a good trail to use as an introduction to thru-hiking. It is easily reached by train, and both Brilon and Dillenburg have hotels and other accommodation near the trail. Water is relatively easy to find as the route passes several springs that source some of the largest rivers in Germany. There are many shelters available at regular intervals, most of which are suitable for an overnight stay (see photos below). As the duration is short, there is little need to resupply food en-route.
Like all DeWandelaar route descriptions, please use the contact form above or comment below if there is something missed or incorrect.
The map below shows the main track (green), Kammvariante (black), Talvariante (red) and Westerwaldvariante (blue). The icons show various waypoints, click on them and the trail itself for more details. All the information below is included in the downloadable GPX files.
Elev. Range: 226m – 843m
All routes are based on walking from Dillenburg to Brilon and have approximately the same elevation range. The map and elevation chart below show the main Rothaarsteig route and Talvariante option. Waypoint pins are the shelters used when walking from Dillenburg. Clicking on and dragging over the elevation chart will zoom into that section of the map and trail.
Rothaarsteig Option: Gain / Loss (m)
Kammvariante: 4170 / 3970
Talvariante: 4338 / 4138
Westerwald Kamm: 4786 / 4592
Westerwald Tal: 4954 / 4760
As some GPS Apps can only show one GPX track at a time, DeWandelaar provides the four variations of the Rothaarsteig as separate files. The first two are the main trail with either Tal- (157km) or Kamm-variante (153km). The final two are the Westerwaldvariante with either the Tal- (187km) and Kamm-variante (183km). If you see mistakes or have any additions, please contact DeWandelar above or comment below and the files will be updated.
DeWandelaar recommends using the free GPX Viewer App for iOS which will show photos of waypoints. Maps 3D Pro is also a good App for iOS but will not show photos. If you can recommend an Android App, please contact DeWandelaar.
Route Options or Varianten
There are two sets of two options called varianten or variations. When walking in the direction Dillenburg to Brilon, the first option begins immediately in Dillenburg and is either the main trail (20km) or the Westerwaldvariante (51km) before they both meet at again near the Haubergspfad shelter.
Continuing north, the main trail proceeds 63km before reaching the Millionenbank hut, where the hiker has the choice between the Kammvariante (9km) and the Talvariante (13km). Both options rejoin the main trail near Schanze.
The Talvariante passes through Latrop and follows streams through a valley. The Kammvariante follows the ridge, passing over several peaks and nearby a hang-bridge that you might see on promotional material. The hang bridge is missed by choosing the Talvariante.
If walking the Westerwaldvariante, it will very likely extend the duration by a day and require finding a shelter. There appear to be two huts about half way along that variation, both close to the Dreilandereck border between the three regions Rhineland-Palatinate, Hessen and North Rhine-Westphalia. From Dillenburg to Brilon, the first hut is 23km along the Westerwaldvariante just before Fuchskaute and close to Waldaubach. The Ketzerstein shelter is 26km from Dillenburg near Weißenberg.
Thru-Hiking the Rothaarsteig
The first decision to make is which way around you’ll hike the Rothaarsteig. There are hotels in both Brilon and Dillenburg, however only Brilon has a popular DJH Youth Hostel that might require booking in advance. If you plan to walk immediately upon arrival, the first reasonable shelter from Brilon is near the Borbergskirchhof, about 9km into the hike. From Dillenburg, the Westerwaldblick shelter is 12km away near Rodenbach.
DeWandelaar arrived in Dillenburg by train at 16:30 after leaving Amsterdam at 09:00. This gives enough time to walk around town, and the Dillenburg Historic Trail is recommended to see the main sights including the Wilhelmsturm or Dillenburg Castle. DeWandelaar stayed at the Liebezeit (formerly Hotel Dillenburg) and the Hotel am Kurpark in Brilon. The latter has a pool, sauna and outside sun-chairs in the Kurpark, a nice way to relax at the end of the hike. Both hotels had excellent breakfasts included and have a restaurant on the premises. There are Lidl supermarkets in both towns, they are located close to the train stations. In Brilon there are supermarkets closer to the train station and along the trail into the town center.
Other factors that might influence your choice are the sights to be seen near either end. If you want to end on a high note, DeWandelaar suggests ending in Brilon as the Bruchhauser Steine and ruins around Borberg are nearby and it is mostly downhill from there. The Dillenburg end has more buildings, farmland and hills, while having less forest. Brilon is a bigger town with more retail shops.
Finding water is an important part of thru-hiking. Thankfully the Rothaarsteig has several natural springs at good intervals. Be careful though, in summer 2022 some of these springs like the Lennequelle were dry and others were only dripping very slowly. Use a pot or cup to accumulate water before filtering.
Because of the heat in August 2022, DeWandelaar was easily going through 2-3 or more liters of water a day including that used for breakfast and evening meal. Occasionally the weather was so hot, water was used to cool off and avoid sun stroke. This was especially necessary in the Dillenburg half of the hike where trees have been removed and there is little shade. A day after the walk an outside thermometer passed 42°C in the direct sunlight!
DeWandelaar had a 3 liter reserve bladder in the backpack which was slowly consumed and not refilled. Two bottles outside the backpack with about 2 liters were refilled when possible. Fully loaded that was 5kg of water which was heavy – a quarter of the total starting out weight – but necessary because of the heat. Supplies were managed so that all water had run out by the time Brilon was reached.
Huts, Rubbish, Toilets and Cooking
Wild camping in Germany is not permitted. There are regional exceptions, however there is also a general exception, and that is bivouacking in the Schutzhütten or the shelters along the trail. This is not luxury camping, the benches inside are usually narrow and easy to fall off if you try lying flat. Often you’re either sitting up against a wall, especially if you find yourself having to share the hut with others. If you’re lucky and you have the hut to yourself, you can sleep on the ground which can be dusty or damp and covered in small rocks and pebbles. In smaller huts there is only just enough space for one person. DeWandelaar always take a ground sheet and/or tarp if weight allows.
Don’t hammer nails or screw hooks into the Schutzhütte or modify or damage the shelter in any way. Quite often the shelter is only a roof with walls on one or two sides, which means they’re not much protection from the wind.
It’s horrible, but many people go to the toilet near the shelters and a circle of toilet paper 10m in any direction often surrounds shelters. Sometimes people do their business directly on or behind the shelter itself. Schitzhauzen! Awful! Always check how hygienic it is in places where you’re thinking of sleeping. Sad, but true.
There are hardly any toilets along the trail. Take a spade along, or, if you don’t have one, find a solid stick or branch to scrape a ditch. DeWandelaar uses a camouflage poncho to cover the backpack and hide it for a moment to head further into the bush. Dig a reasonably deep hole, far enough away from the track, a hut, picnic or rest area, and especially far from any water sources or springs. Fill and cover the hole with the soil you dug out. Bury everything when you’re finished.
As a general rule, you should carry out whatever you carry in, and you should ‘leave no trace’ of having passed through. There are occasional rubbish bins along the Rothaarsteig, sometimes at the shelter sites themselves. DeWandelaar also picks up plastic wrappers or other rubbish found along the route. Leaving it there is likely to encourage the authorities to remove even more wild-camping possibilities.
There are some grills or open fire places in or near some of the shelters. DeWandelaar uses a small, portable gas stove for cooking. Open fires are smoky and smelly and not much fun or safe to sleep around. In dry times they can be dangerous and a risk for forest fires.
Be responsible and leave the Rotharsteig in a better condition than you found it.
Rothaarsteig Route Description
As the Rothaarsteig was walked from Dillenburg to Brilon it is described in that direction. Only the main points of interest, shelters and springs essential for thru-hikers are discussed. The track itself is well signposted in both directions, and if you haven’t seen the red ‘R’ for a while, go back as you’ve probably gone wrong. Use a GPS device with GPX files like those above and check it every so often.
Dillenburg to Dietzhölztaler Shelter
Dillenburg has a strong connection with The Netherlands and The House of Orange-Nassau, and is marketed as the ‘Stadt der Oranier’. Overlooking the town is the Wilhelmsturm dating from 1872 where the original castle once stood. The town’s streets are lined with timber-framed houses, several of which are combined with examples of Baroque and Late-Baroque or Rococo buildings to create the Historic Trail. Perfect for an evening’s stroll.
The Rotharsteig starts with a moderate climb that passes the Bismarck Temple and Adolfshöhe Lookouts that both give good views of the Wilhelmsturm. The first 9km are a mix of forested hills, urban streets and farmlands.
At the outskirts of Manderbach you’ll encounter the Weitershell rest area which has tables, a wooden swinging chair, grassy areas behind it and nice views, but no shelter. The Westerwaldblick shelter with wooden hammock and a view toward the Westerwald is 3km further. Both places are quite close to populations, but are not busy.
Haubergspfad shelter is a good 8km further near Wilgersdorf. This is 21km into your hike and very near the junction with the Westerwaldvariante. The hut is quite remote and has a picnic table and grassy area around it, but no real view.
About 2km further is the Tiefenrother Höhe Lookout with views to the northwest. This area of forest had been removed in August 2022 which made for views into the distance from the walk, but made the immediate surroundings apocalyptic. With little shade and a temperature in the mid-30s at least, the going was very hot and sweaty, especially with five days of supplies still in the backpack.
Thankfully the Dillquelle was only 5km further on and became the first opportunity to refill water. The spring was only dripping and water was caught in a pot before filtering it into water bottles. The Dillquelle shelter is one of the best on the trail, has a grill and picnic tables and not a bad option to stay at the end of your first day. It is only a shame that the forest that surrounded it has been cut down leaving it standing in a wasteland.
The Haincher Höhe shelter is 1.5km further, and 5km from there is the Dietzhölztaler shelter where DeWandelaar stayed the night. The hut has short benches and is cramped inside with a table in the center, but there is a spacious rest area on the other side of the road that has reclining chairs.
Dietzhölztaler Shelter to Dreiherrenstein Shelter
Only 1.5km from the Dietzhölztaler shelter is the Ilsequelle which is probably the best spring on the entire Rotharsteig. It has a picnic table and makes a good rest area. There is a spring 4km further at Lahnhof, but the track did not pass it directly so it was not investigated. Just 2km further is the Ilmquelle which was dry and easy to miss.
A further kilometer is the Siegquelle shelter and spring. The basic Siegquelle shelter is about 100m before the spring, has a picnic table and is surrounded by a grassy area. The spring basin is cut into a large stone block and is fed water by a wooden trough.
The Ederquelle is another 5km further. It was raining when visited, however the spring appeared quite muddy and fallen trees had damaged some of the signs.
The Rothaarsteig follows the Eder 5.5km until Lützel, and 2km after a steep climb out of Lützel you reach the Gillerbergturm tower and lookout.
Less than a kilometer away is the Köhlerhutte shelter, which has a grill (not usable when visited due to fire restrictions), picnic table and some grassy area. Not a bad place to stay, however it may become popular in the evenings.
Only 500m further are the ruins of castle Ginsburg, up a moderately steep road a little way off the track. There is a toilet, vending machine and a restaurant here if arriving during the day. The Ginsburg Castle grounds are free to enter and information boards give the history of the site.
Four kilometers later is the Ferndorfquelle. The spring is a short way off the track. The Ferndorfquelle shelter is on the track, has a few picnic tables around it, and good grassy areas.
Only 3km from the Ferndorfquelle is the Dreiherrnstein shelter. Some maps show a shelter 2km further at the Wanderparkplatz Hochheide but there isn’t. There is a picnic table though, and DeWandelaar ended up staying the night there.
Dreiherrnstein Shelter to Friedensquelle
The next 30km are forested and one of DeWandelaar’s favourite sections of the Rothaarsteig. Almost 8km from the Dreiherrnstein shelter is the Rhein-Weser-Turm. A €1 fee allows you to climb the tower to the inside viewing area. The views are great and worthwhile, and before you leave the tower there are toilets (50c) where you can refill water supplies.
Somewhere along this forested section you pass a marker tell you you have 75km to go, which means you have passed half way! About 4km from the Rhein-Weser-Turm you reach the Margaretenstein shelter which has a picnic table and grassy areas surrounding it. It is also a nice spot to stay.
A little over a kilometer further is the basic Potsdammer Platz shelter, and the Sombornquelle is just 500m from there.
The Sombornquelle was only dripping when visited and you’ll need a pot or cup to gather the water before pumping and filtering it.
Less than a kilometer further is the very basic Paul Ermecke Platz shelter, and 2.5km further is the village of Jagdhaus.
The Rothaarsteig does a loop around the north of the village over the Heidkopf hill, before heading east to the Millionenbank shelter, about 2km from Jagdhaus. The Millionenbank shelter is solidly built but was damp on the inside despite it being a very dry summer. It is placed at the intersection of the Tal- and Kamm-variante tracks.
This variation drops down into the valley through dense bush for about 4km before you reach Latrop. On this section a tick was discovered, and later that day, yet another. Thankfully tick tweezers and a small mirror have been packed in a First Aid kit. DeWandelaar recommends a quick look for ticks each rest stop you take and a thorough examination before you set up and get into your sleeping bag at night.
The Rothaarsteig Talvariante follows the Grubensiepen stream for about 500m before it passes the Latrop shelter, which might belong to a club and was packed full of furniture and other things.
The large tree Dicke Eiche is 1.5km further, a small shelter is at the same spot. The track starts to climb out of the valley, passing the Altarstein before reaching Schanze, about 7km from Latrop. It then passes through forest heading southwest from Schanze, and after 2.5km you reach the intersection with the Kammvariante.
About 4km from the Millionenbank hut is the Zinses Eck shelter which looks like it has a picnic table and some space around it.
A hang bridge is found about 2.5km further. This bridge is shown on a lot of promotional material, and you will miss it if you walk the Talvariante. About 400m from the hang bridge, the Rothaarsteig Kammvariante joins the WaldSkulpturenWeg at the sculpture called ‘Stone Age Man’ (Stein Zeit Mensch). This is followed 1.5km later with the art-piece ‘No Easy Game’ (Kein leichtes Speil). The Kammvariante ends about 750m after this art-piece and joins the northern section of the Rothaarsteig. You bypass Schanze if walking this variation.
Friedensquelle to Homberg Shelter
Heading northwest from where the Tal- and Kamm-varianten rejoin, after about 1km there is a sign pointing to the Friedensquelle. The Friedensquelle shelter, although a basic, has a picnic table and a fantastic view. The spring being close (down a steep incline) is a bonus and DeWandelaar stayed the night. It is recommended to use this spring as the Somborn- (16km) and Ruhr-quelle (19km) are the closest in either direction.
The Auf der Höhe shelter near Langewiese is about 4.5km further from the Friedensquelle. Although a large shelter with clear views, it is very exposed to the weather and close to the village which does not make it very private.
It is about 5km between Langewiese and Kahler Asten, and you will pass by the Sauerlandhütte, Astenberg, and Kahler Asten shelters on the way. They are all directly on the road. Of the three, the Kahler Asten shelter does have some clear space around it.
Less than a kilometer away is the Lennequelle. When visited in early August 2022, the Lennequelle was dry.
Just 300m further is the summit of the Kahler Asten (841m) which gives some good views from the ground. You can climb the tower. There is a gate or door that will open on depositing €1 that allows you to climb to the top. The tower is open from 09:00 until 18:00 during Spring, Summer and Autumn, and between 11:00 and 16:00 in November to January.
After a walk around the Hochheide Kahler Asten, the track descends and makes it way along and through the ski fields and chairlifts. It passes the Brembergkopf and Bremberg shelters which have little privacy.
After about 4.5km from Kahler Asten you ascend past the Schanze Wirbel and Herrloh Blitz rodelbahns and reach the St Georg-Sprung Schanze. There is a lookout tower here, accessible after paying €1 to get through a revolving gate. Only 1.5km from here is the Marktplatz of Winterberg which you reach after walking through town.
There is a surprisingly pleasant stroll through a forested gully called ‘In der Helle’ just north of Winterberg, and you quickly leave the town behind. After 3km you reach the Ruhrkopf hut, which is sturdy and has some flat areas around it.
Just 1.5km past the hut is the Ruhrquelle where it is also possible to refill water supplies. It may be essential to refill here, there not many springs on the track itself before you reach Brilon which is still 40km away. The actual Ruhrquelle is about 10 meters above the monument. Use a pot or cup to gather the water before pumping and filtering it.
The village of Küstelberg is a 4.5km hike from the Ruhrquelle. This point to Brilon has a lot of forest forest and has some interesting features, which is why you might consider finishing the Rothaarsteig at this end.
Just 2.5km from Küstelberg is the Hillekopf shelter which is a nice spot with a picnic table and flat areas. Another very good shelter, Am Streit, can be found 3km further on. It is only open on one side, and quite large, has good flat areas around it and several picnic tables.
Just 300m away is the Hoppeckequelle which is more of a pond. The Hoppeckequelle is on the eastern edge of the Naturschutzgebiet Neuer Hagen. In August the heath (heide) was in full bloom, the landscape was purple and the hot weather made the perfume hang heavy in the air. Glorious! There are benches where you can enjoy the view or close your eyes and inhale it for a moment.
Only 1.5km from the Hoppeckequelle is the Neuer Clemensberg lookout. From here you can see the quarry below and good views into the distance. Less than 1km further is the Hochheide Hütte café.
The highest point of North Rhine-Westphalia, the Langenburg (843m), is 3km further. It is on the border of Hesse, and is enclosed by forest so their are no views. Instead there is a cross, picnic table and a wooden hammock where you can take a break. The ‘Der Richtplatz’ rest area is a further 2km. This has a monument and picnic tables, and is where a side track leads to Willingen.
The track descends quite steeply through forest from here, and after a little over 2km you reach the Homberg shelter. The shelter is small and up a short but steep bank, there is little space in it or around it. DeWandelaar arrived in the late afternoon and stayed the night here to be able to visit the Bruchhauser Steine at sunrise.
Bruchhauser Steine to Brilon
The Bruchhauser Steine information center is about 3.5km from the Homberg shelter. DeWandelaar arrived very early and took the Kreuzweg instead of the main Rothaarsteig route. The information center was closed that early, but there is a track up to the Feldstein via the Ewige Quelle. This spring is a good source of water.
The view from the top of the Feldstein is magnificent, especially at around sunrise. There is a trail going past the remaining two Bruchhauser Steine, the Goldstein and Bornstein, before a side track rejoins the Rothaarsteig to the north, near the Lutkenstein.
If coming from the Bruchhauser Steine information center, about 2.5km along the trail is an artwork called the Fire Oak (Feuereiche). The track then begins a series of climbs over three or four hills.
Less than 1km from the Feuereiche is the Ginsterkopf shelter, which is actually two shelters and a picnic table with some clear space around it that slopes slightly. This hut is about 15km from Brilon, so might make a suitable hut to walk to from that direction before visiting the Bruchhauser Steine on day two of your hike.
There is a very nice lookout with some chairs on the Klockliet hill just 400m past the Ginsterkopf hut, and another 2km further you pass the Schusterknapp shelter which is small and on a slope.
The St Antonius shelter is another 1.5km further, and is more of a covering for a monument with a bench. Less than 300m away is the A-frame Borberg shelter, which has enough space on the ground for a bivouac and not much else.
The Borbergkirchhof is just 1.5km further. Here you’ll find the Borbergkapelle and the lookout behind it for some nice views. Nearby are the early middle age ruins of a church from the 1300s and some walls that date back even earlier.
A few hundred meters from here is the Borbergerkirchhof A-frame shelter which doesn’t have much room inside but is one of the closest to Brilon (9km) .
There is another A-frame shelter 2km closer to Brilon, directly on the carpark of the Hiebammen Hütte, but this is so exposed and without privacy.
From the Hiebammen Hütte it is 1.5km to the Kyrill-Tor art piece that resembles a gate, and then only another kilometer to the Möhnequelle which is in very near Brilon itself.
On the final stretch you will walk alongside the Kurpark. DeWandelaar stayed at the Hotel am Kurpark which is located here. A little further is the DJH Youth Hostel of Brilon. The Rothaarsteig does a good job of staying in as much nature as possible as it gets close to the town center, passing over the Drübel hill before entering the built-up areas of town.
As you near the end you will see the Propsteikirche St. Petrus und Andreas before ending the hike outside the Rathaus on the Brilon Markt. Well done!
For those section-hiking the Rothaarsteig and staying in paid accommodation, there are 8 to 9 sections. Each section ends at a town or village that is on, or very near to the trail itself. The most common section hike stages are:
- Brilon – Willingen 25km
- Willingen – Winterburg 24km
- Winterburg – Schanze 19km
- Schanze – Rhein-Weser-Turm 24km
- Rhein-Weser-Turm – Lützel 18km
- Lützel – Lahnhof 15km
- Lahnhof – Wilgersdorf 19km
- Wilgersdorf – Dillenburg 23km
- Wilgersdorf – Fuchskaute (Westerwaldvariante) 29km
- Fuchskaute – Dillenburg (Westerwaldvariante) 25km