Wet and happy hiking fun

Gorge tour

Narrow places, water: the Drachenschlucht gorge south of Eisenach is one of the most exciting geological monuments in Thuringia. Over millions of years, stream water has carved its way into the rocks below Wartburg Castle. The hiking adventure is rounded off with the nearby Landgrave Gorge and some scenic passages on the hill.

Before Margit Stephan sets off with a group, she wants to know a few things. Should it be one or two hours or half a day? Do you prefer to walk up or down first? Do you bring a baby carriage? Just like bikes, they are not allowed in the Dragon Gorge. Once you've reached the narrowest part of the gorge, it doesn't take much imagination to understand the designation of the nature reserve. Speaking of which. The gorge tour begins at the "Phantasie" hiking parking lot on the southern edge of Eisenach, which is also easily accessible by bus. Goodbye historic villa colony and hello nature! We follow the stream as it meanders beautifully through a meadow forest to the Königskreuzung crossing. Where does the name come from? The tour and nature guide from the Eisenach tour guide association directs our gaze to a hill on which an XL memorial stone pays homage to Gottlob König. "He is regarded," says the 57-year-old, "as one of the most important figures in forestry and forestry science of the 19th century, who, true to his motto 'The forests are the highest adornment of the land', achieved many things." Including making a path through the Dragon Gorge, which was long considered impassable, accessible to the public. But more on that later.

After all, we have the longer tour in mind, so from Mariental we head not to the right, but to the left to the no less interesting Landgrafenschucht. The following is reported about it: "Frederik the Bitten, who was bitten by his mother, ..." is said to have hidden here with his men in order to capture the nearby Wartburg castle or to claim his inheritance." While Stephan, who is also a historical guide, tells and retells, we pass copper and hornbeam trees, maples and lime trees. Some have fallen over and now serve as a natural work of art above the gurgling stream, along the banks of which a pretty path leads, with many wet spots. A number of mini streams, which are now rushing down the increasingly steep slope, provide a supply of water and repeatedly create very mossy areas. "In summer, it's wonderfully pleasant in the gorges," says Stephan, "but every season has its own charm." Many people succumb to these charms, from solo hikers to families and groups.

The most famous castle and the most popular hiking trail in Germany

Big eyes. And the all-clear straight away: "Don't worry about overcrowding, it usually spreads out well." After all, there are hundreds of kilometers of hiking trails in the region, especially the legendary Rennsteig. We reach it after a long climb. Strictly speaking, we're still on the historic wagon trail, once "the highway of the Middle Ages".Today, we have the "Marienblick" viewpoint of Wartburg Castle, Germany's most famous castle thanks to Luther's translation of the Testament and other major events, all to ourselves. The view elsewhere is also worthwhile. On the forest floor, you can spot bluish woad and white wood anemones, and to the east, the Hörsel mountains, which play a role in Wagner's Tannhäuser. Stephan's tip: The view from the Großer Drachenstein is even more sublime, as it is only a few minutes' walk up the hill ...

Following the Wagenweg southwards, we are soon clearly walking on the Rennsteig. There are signs along the B19 street to be crossed, including information about a planned four-star wellness hotel next to the "Hohe Sonne". Where does the name of the former hunting lodge, which has long been a cult restaurant, come from? From the iron sun emblem, at the foot of which the sandwiches brought along are now eaten at one of the snack tables. A good opportunity to talk about Germany's most popular long-distance hiking trail, which began here in GDR times. In the 1990s, a few more kilometers were added from the former restricted area. The traditional starting point is now (once again) Hörschel on the Werra.

Climbing rocks, fallen giant trees

But we turn off first, down the slope into the Dragon Gorge. People used to believe that a lindworm lived here. The hype surrounding the dragon slayer Georg, the patron saint of the town of Eisenach, did the rest. And in terms of marketing, the name is attractive anyway, as many parents can certainly tell you - and that doesn't mean the ubiquitous Rennsteiglied.

But now to the facts: The gorge overcomes a height difference of almost 200 meters over a length of 2.6 kilometers. In the middle section, which is also around 200 meters long, the rock faces come as close as 68 centimeters. Don´t drink too much Eisenach beer or eat Thuringian dumplings and sausages! By now at the latest, the ban on baby carriages really makes sense to everyone ...

What is not yet clear: Why are there so many gorges in the area? We read the answer on an information board: "Around 280 million years ago, the weathered debris of the Thuringian Mountains solidified in the Eisenach Mulde and formed the 'Rotliegende', a resistant conglomerate rock. In the millions of years that followed, debris and surface material was eroded by watercourses and carried down into the valley." So that's how the deep gorges and steep rocky slopes of the region were formed. A geological treasure like this needs to be protected, hence its classification as a nature reserve, which was only extended to almost 800 hectares in 2015. Good news for flora and fauna too. Giant trees are allowed to remain even after they have fallen, which contributes to the mystical impression of nature. They also serve as a habitat for ferns and imposing mushroom consoles, as well as providing shelter for the many species of woodpecker and bats. And then we come back to the lindworm. "There are even a few dragon offsprings here: Fire salamanders and the rare crested newt," says Stephan with a grin.

Everything in the green zone

After wooden planks, the path increasingly leads over plastic grids made from recycled fiberglass - directly above the stream. Exciting. It gurgles a lot, which is amplified by the precariously close rock faces. Dolby Surround! A pleasant side effect: the nearby main road can't be heard over the roar and can't be seen anyway. Instead, there are mosses, ferns and greenery in all shades. And it drips and runs everywhere. Now you understand what Stephan said earlier: "You always get dirt on the gorge tour - and wet shoes." Not so much from the inside, but from the outside. White sneakers or heels? Definitely not a good idea. However, with normal running shoes and a bit of stamina, you can manage the three to four-hour tour, which is almost twelve kilometers long.

Extra tours
An insider tip for all those who want to walk further is the Ludwigsklamm gorge. It can be reached easily from the "Phantasie" hiking parking lot via Herzogseiche. This geological natural monument is not quite as spectacular as the other two gorges, but the towering rocks, a large waterfall and Ludwig's Grotto will still put a smile on your face.


Header Picture: ©Dominik Ketz, Regionalverbund Thüringer Wald e.V.


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