At the latest when you have experienced the swaying suspension bridge and the monumental sculptures in the middle of the forest between the trees, you understand why the Rothaarsteig has the nickname 'Path of the Senses' quite rightly.
Rothaar' in the name of the mountain has nothing to do with the color red or even with hair. Rather, it means 'cleared forest mountains', which, however, is misleading in view of the large forest areas. The Rothaarsteig, as a high trail of the Rothaargebirge, connects the panoramic mountains and scenically most beautiful mountain heaths of North Rhine-Westphalia in the 'Land of 1000 Mountains' as well as the sources of the Möhne, Ruhr, Netphen, Sieg, Lahn, Eder and Dill. From Brilon, the air and Kneipp health resort in the eastern Sauerland, it leads over the Kahler Asten and through the forests of the Rothaar ridge to the Orange town of Dillenburg in the Dill valley in Hesse.
In 2001 the Rothaarsteig was opened as the first modern hiking trail of this length in Germany. Under the slogan 'Weg der Sinne' (path of the senses), the hiking trail puts the focus on closeness to nature. Experience stations make nature conservation, forestry and tourism tangible, including art experience stations such as the forest sculpture trail with monumental sculptures in the middle of the forest. Even the seating furniture there was designed as experience stations: They have the shape of a lying curved Rothaarsteig-' R' and are so comfortable that many a hiker has fallen asleep peacefully on them, accompanied by the sound of the forest. Within a very short time, the Rothaarsteig has become the most popular long-distance hiking trail in Germany.
The Rothaarsteig begins in Brilon. The outstanding view of the valley of the young Ruhr from the archaeological site of Borbergs Kirchhof, the 'Friedensberg' of the Sauerland, as well as the changing views of the Bruchhauser Steine, whose natural fortress character is most impressively seen from the perspective on the slope of the Ginsterkopf, are among the highlights of the first stage. If you are sure-footed, choose the steep 'climbing variant' over the Ginsterkopf ridge when visibility is clear; it impresses with the primitiveness of the ridge path as well as with unique views.
From the village Bruchhausen the Rothaarsteig swings up into the highest mountain region of Westphalia: the Langenberg (843 m) on the Westphalian-Hessian border is the highest elevation in North Rhine-Westphalia and the Sauerland. It towers 18 cm above the Hegekopf (843 m) on the Hessian side of the Rothaargebirge. An improvised 'summit pyramid' marks this highest point on the Rothaarsteig. Continue on to the Neuen Hagen, the largest mountain heath in western Germany. The 74 hectare nature reserve is located at an altitude of about 800 m far away from settlements on a southern foothill of the Langenberg massif. The largest heath complex in North Rhine-Westphalia is a biotope network of flat-wavy heath areas, hillside spring bogs, small sedge meadows, springs and bristly grassland. The vegetation consists mainly of mountain heath plants, stunted pines, birches, rowan trees and trembling poplars; low beech trees with hemispherical to conical crowns grow in the east.
The Bald Asten (842 m) is the panorama, excursion and winter sports mountain of the Sauerland. From the Astenturm, which functions as an observation tower, restaurant and the highest weather station in North Rhine-Westphalia, and the Berghotel "Kahler Asten" on the Rothaarsteig, hiking trails radiate out in all directions. The Rothaarsteig leads through the mountain heath on the summit plateau with panoramic views over the Hochsauerland. At the edge of this heath rises the Lenne, a tributary of the Ruhr and the main water artery of the Hochsauerland. The Astenberg owes its name to the Lenne: 'a-sten' means 'water-stone'. From the Middle Ages on, the mountain farmers drove their cows, goats and sheep to the Astenberg, which was then covered with copper beech trees. The browsing of the young trees by the cattle stopped the natural forest regeneration, the Asten became 'bare'. Since 1965, the Asten Heath has been under nature protection - a plant and view paradise at its best. Even today, the high heath is grazed at least once a year by a herd of heidschnucken: The sheep bite down on approaching trees and keep the heath open.
The red hair ridge determines the further route of the Rothaarsteig. The ridge, which is almost entirely forested and largely free of settlements, steeply sloping on both sides, culminates in the 756 m high Härdler and has formed an important border since the beginning of historical tradition: dialect, architecture of the farms, district borders, historical Schnadesteine (boundary stones) and remains of demarcation lines such as the Kölsche Heck, Catholic houses of worship north and Protestant south of the ridge bear witness to this to this day.
A good entry point to the Rothaarsteig for families is the hamlet of Kühhude on the Rothaar ridge: just a few minutes' walk away is the the suspension bridge, the most famous adventure station of the Rothaarsteig. At the Westerberg near the Rhine-Weser Tower, the Rothaar ridge swings south; there, the Dreiherrenstein marks a three-country corner where the territories of the lords of Kurköln, Nassau-Siegen and Wittgenstein met. The Rhine-Weser Tower offers a panoramic view of the southern Sauerland and Siegerland mountains. The route continues to Ginsburg Castle, the source of the Lahn River and then behind Wilgersdorf either directly or on the western variant over the Fuchkaute (656 m) to Dillenburg.
Cover picture: The Bruchhauser Steine am are the most important rock ensemble and the most massive prehistoric fortress complex in the Rothaargebirge. Like the towers of a gigantic castle, the four highest of these volcanic rocks rise up to 92 m above a valley from the forests of the Istenberg. At the foot of the rocks, remains of a refuge castle from the Middle Iron Age (6th to 3rd century B.C.) were found © Tobias Arhelger / Shutterstock
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