Monday, 28 March 2016

Heidelberg Königstuhl Hill Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 7.8 km (4.8 miles) -- or 3.5-km with short-cut, terrain: gradual long hills, gain 250 meters

The pictures are from a day in March, but even then the woods are beautiful!

When in Heidelberg, you'll find yourself looking up at those green hills rising behind the town on both sides of the river, wondering if there are any decent running trails up there. The simple answer is: yes!
View downwards towards town from Königstuhl train station
Here's a route along that big hill behind the castle, Königstuhl (King's Seat). This 7.8-kilometer trail winds through the woods, with nature everywhere. In fact the trail has a name to match: Via Naturae.

I myself think there is no nicer run than along the trails through one of Germany's sheer endless woods. Public trails criss-cross the whole country, and it's always a joy to be out discovering the great outdoors here.

You can get to the trail-head via a few methods. The classiest way is to take the 130-year-old cable-car train, the Bergbahn. It starts just below the castle on Neue Schloßstraße. It leaves every 20 minutes and takes about 20 minutes to reach the top. The tickets include entrance to the castle, where there is a stop along the way.
In the Bergbahn
Less charming but cheaper, you can take the number 39 bus from Bismarkplatz, at the west end of the old town up to Königstuhl.

The third method is what I did: hike up the hill, taking the footway to the castle first, then -- behind the castle -- continuing on the long-distance hiking trail called Odenwald-Vogesen, with the horizontal red stripes as trail markings. I took the train back down, afterwards, feeling a bit beat.

Once you're at the hilltop, leave the train or bus and continue uphill along the paved road the 100 meters towards the two red/white radio towers. At the base of the towers, you'll find several trail waymarkers and maps.
Waymarkers at the start of the trail, with radio tower
The Via Naturae starts here, and this is its highest point, at 570 meters above sea level. From here, the trail heads gradually downhill to 320 meters before turning back again for the uphill half. If you don't want to run the whole 7.8 kilometers, there is a short-cut for a 3.5-km circuit.

So, if you're ready to discover this beautiful trail, turn south to run downhill a bit, with the kids' fairy-tale park, Märchenparadies, on the left and the parking-lot and bus stop to the right.
The fairy-tale land on a winter's day
After going past the entrance to the kids' park and its fairy-tale figures, you'll come to the wooden "Via Naturae" sign pointing the way eastwards into the woods. From now on, the path is well-marked, with a yellow "N" within a circle.
Beginning of Via Naturae
The kids' park is still on your left, and the trail is fairly flat here, with a car road nearby to the right. But soon the car-road veers off into the woods and the trail starts heading downhill at the first little circular hut, at the 1-kilometer mark. The trail is a nice, wide gravel path here, the Alter Hilsbacher Weg.
Along Alter Hilsbacher Weg
Just keep following the "N" markers as you head downhill through the woods. The trail is a nature trail, with regular signs describing the plants, animals and surroundings, in German, if you want to learn a bit of biology along the way (I like that kind of stuff).
Old tree along the way
At the 2.2-kilometer mark, you'll come to the second hut (Kraussteinhütte), where the short-cut heads off to the left. Take that if you want to run the shorter 3.5-km loop.
One of the trail huts
But for the full trail, keep running straight downhill. At an intersection of a few trails, the Via Naturae turns north to continue the last bit to the lowest point of the run. You'll cross the Kümmelbachau stream and see the hut at Linsenteicheck.

Heading uphill
From now on, you'll be heading northwards, gradually uphill again. The first 500 meters is a bit steeper, until you reach the 4-kilometer mark, but then it tapers off to a comfortable little rise.

At the 5.5-kilometer mark you'll come to the Hohlen Kästenbaum hut, where the trail turns to the left, heading southwest, then later curving westwards.
A carved table and bench along the way
During the last kilometer, there is a series of creatively carved woodwork decorating the trailside: figures, tables, bridges and other stuff.

You'll soon see the radio towers at the end, on the left, and your back. Too bad that it's over!

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