Harz National Park is a mountain range located in the north-central region of Germany, not all too far south from the bustling city of Hanover. Wind your way along the steep mountain roads that seem to appear out of nowhere after endless hours of flat, and you’ll be glad that you made the trip!
We randomly discovered this not so hidden gem on our last trip around Europe in our little VW Bus, Red. The park itself is almost entirely made up of a forested reserve, and, if like us, you plan on breaking down just before the Black Forest, this will likely be the most picturesque stop on your route!
The park — all 24,700 hectares of it — is filled with hiking trails, lakes, activities and amazing views of the mountain range. The landscape is covered in gorgeous and impressively towering spruce and beech trees that will have you looking up more often than your neck can handle!
If you’re lucky, you may even get a glimpse of wild deer, boar and perhaps even a lynx or unicorn!
Most of the hikes we ventured on were in search of lakes or viewpoints looking over the national park. Luckily, there are endless parking spots along the roads with hiking trails scattered around plentifully.
Our favorite hike takes you to the highest peak of the national park, Brocken, it can be reached by hike, mountain bike or by taking the Steam Train Railway — our personal favorite, but we’ll get into that later!
The hike takes you up the mountain alongside the train tracks where you can watch (and take photos) of the Hogwarts Express style steam train as it sweeps it’s way up and down the mountain.
Take a picnic and stop for a while, take in the view, listen to the birds sing, and smell that familiar smell of a coal fire as the chug-a-lug sound creeps closer and closer; until finally, it rounds the bend and you can watch the excitable children living out their Harry Potter dreams in the most fabulous of style.
Most people start the Brocken hike from the small village of Schierke (near the Park Information Center). Overall, it’s of medium difficulty, but anyone with good hiking boot shouldn’t have an issue. The hike itself takes you roughly 5hrs and totals 15km (9mi).
At the top, there is a museum with the history of the Brocken peak. You can stop in at the Brocken herberge hotel/restaurant for something to eat and drink, although you will need cash and there is nothing vegan-friendly beyond fries (we’re vegan, hi).
Yeah, you read that right. There is a wild west themed, theme park in the middle of Harz National Park in frickin’ Germany – and it’s awesome!
As a couple who have lived in America, love America and visited the old towns around the states like Tombstone. This was a little taste of home for us. Especially for Nadia who is not only half American but also a national champion western horse rider!
You feel like you’ve been dropped in Arizona in 1865 with the occasional modern twist, and everyone speaks German!
This is no cheap reproduction either, the costumes, shows, saloons, barbers, well… everything was seriously well done – even the locals visiting had the full costume that clearly cost them a few bars of gold.
The element of surprise aside, this was genuinely one of our favorite finds in Harz. They have horse riding, shooting games, bow and arrow range, live music, magic shows, trick roping and so much more. Well worth a visit and the €18 entry fee (per adult).
This is Germany’s Hogwarts Express. It’s red, it’s steamy, and it’s winding through the countryside towards a magical castle; well that last part isn’t true, but the rest is! There are 25 steam trains which can be boarded from 48 stations within the steam train network. The full route is an impressive 140km with some insane inclines for a 60yr old locomotive.
No matter where you board the train within Harz National Park, you always end up at Brocken, the highest peak in the national park; passing by the stunning Selketal valley before reaching the summit. I can only imagine how magical this train ride must be during winter in the snow, perhaps with hot chocolate in hand!
Goslar, Wernigerode, Quedlinburg, and Thale are well known as the top four towns in the Harz National Park region. They’re all cute as a button and stacked full of history, cute shops, and restaurants. It’s like being thrown back into the past and seeing a truly untouched marvel. On the hot days, we’d set off down the cute streets in search of some ice cold sorbet to refresh ourselves after a hot drive in the bus, and on many occasions, we’d strike gold – finding an adorable establishment that left us feeling as though we were entering Flourish and Blotts down Diagon Alley!
Even if you’re not planning on seeing the towns, we recommend at least driving through a few and getting the odd photo as they are so gorgeous.
We didn’t go to the park during winter but we felt, it would be rude to not include some winter gems in this post, so you don’t have to go do some additional research yourself. So here are our top 3 picks for our dream winter in Harz.
Where there are mountains, there is snow, and when there is snow – you better believe that there’s skiing, snowboarding and of course the classic cross-country skiing.
When we came across Harz, we were amazed to find a mountain range so far north in the country, and I know if we were to brave Vanlife in the snow – snowboarding in Harz would be top of our list of things to do — on our way south to the warm sunny beaches of Italy that is!
This would also make a great warmup session if heading south to the alps.
The ski resort Wurmberg is the highest ski resort in the Harz Mountains at 970 m and opens in mid-December.
As a couple who used to live in Norway, this one is a true classic. Nothing says winter more than taking a wooden sled down a mountain at speed and bailing out before you end up crashing into a fence! I doubt there are many places in Northern Germany that offer you a ride with quite as much speed or beauty on your way down.
If you’re like us, you’re thinking “what the hell is this?!” – it looks amazing, and we cannot wait to return to the national park during winter to give it a go! Basically, you’re riding an inner-tube down a mountain in the snow… unlike sledding, you get some air time and bounce on your way down. I’m pretty sure I’ve just found my new favorite winter sport!
Harz has to be one of our favorite vanlife (and road trip) locations, there was no end to the places you could camp overnight. Every spot was in the middle of nature and meant we could wake up, have breakfast, throw on the old hiking boots, and explore without having to drive anywhere. The stars at night were incredible, and nothing beats the sound of wildlife as you try and get to sleep.
As a result, we didn’t explore many towns, saw hardly any other humans and just enjoyed a true wild camping experience. Changing location every day to see as much of the park as possible.
Harz also really gets you in the mood to drive south to the Black Forest and Alpes. The mountains were calling, and winter was coming!
Pro tip: Make sure you pack extra blankets as the altitude change brings the inevitable cold nights, even on those hot sunny days.