The neighbouring mountain to Zirkelstein is called Kaiserkrone. Again, the build was the reason for the name: From the distance and northern direction the flat-top mountain looks like a crown with three peaks. The highest one is only 351 m, though :-)
Access is from Schöna, the village southeast of Bad Schandau again. For getting there see my Sports Hiking: Zirkelstein tip, please. Kaiserkrone is even closer to Schöna, the ascent starts right at the edge of the village, it's clearly marked and signposted.
The specialty here is that a famous picture of the German Romantic era is based upon the view from this mountain: "Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer" by Caspar David Friedrich. The painter spent quite some time here, created sketches and painted the picture later in his atelier in Dresden (1818). You can see the picture in the Kunsthalle Hamburg.
Anyway, you will pass and recognise the rock formation where the "Wanderer" stood in Friedrich's imagination (pic 2) on your way up to the top. Again, iron ladders and stairs are involved, it's not for those with fear of heights (pic 3). Lots of photo opportunities once your on top, pic 4 has the view of the Schrammsteine massif, pic 5 shows the view of neighbouring Zirkelstein.
Zirkelstein is a tiny flat-top sandstone mountain on the left bank of the Elbe river, southeast of Bad Schandau, which got the name from its significant build: like a compass (pic 1). Elevation is only 384 m, it doesn't tower up much above the plateau.
Starting point is the village Schöna, accessible by bus #252 from Bad Schandau or by a 30 minutes walk from the S-Bahn (S1 train, hourly from Dresden via Bad Schandau) stops Schmilka-Hirschmühle or Schöna down in the Elbe valley. If you must drive, there is a car parking (free) at the end of the village.
The trail up to the top of Zirkelstein is well marked and signposted, not to miss. Takes about 20-25 minutes from Schöna. Please note that iron ladders and stairs are involved (pic 2) and this is not for people with fear of heights. The views are fantastic - pic 3 shows the view in northwestern direction, Mt. Lilienstein on the right side. Pic 4 has the view in eastern direction of Großer Winterberg and the sandstone sandstone formations in the Czech Republic where the Pravcicka Brana sandstone arch (see Hrensko page) is - binoculars recommended. Pic 4 is the view south, Ruzova mountain in the Czech Republic dominating the scenery. The Elbe river is not visible, the canyon is too deep.
Equipment: It's almost doable in sandals, I'd say. Sports shoes are definitely sufficient, no hiking boots necessary. Binoculars recommended! Bringing food/beverages for a picnic on top is a nice idea, but there are restaurants in Schöna, too.
Another nice, short and off the beaten path cycling trip is through the Schwarzbachtal glen. Start is at the train stop Krumhermsdorf, on the minor railway line Pirna - Neustadt (-Krumhersdorf) - Sebnitz - Bad Schandau. It is a scenic rail route, you see nice villages, small towns, rolling hills, and bizarre sandstone formations. Between Neustadt and Bad Schandau the trains sadly only run bi-hourly, but the rail line is very interesting technically, too - several smaller and bigger bridges, seven tunnels. Krumhersdorf is the "culmination" point of the rail line at 415 m.
After getting off the train head toward the village, but take the small road left before actually reaching it. Cross the main road (pic 1) where a map and signposts are. The trail is marked from here. Shortly later you have a great view of the mountains in the National Park Saxon Switzerland (pic 2). Follow the trail downhill to Ulbersdorf, take the main road there right for about 1.5 km downhill. Turn left there and follow this glen - it's Schwarzbachtal. The glen is pretty famous for its former narrow gauge railway, which was sadly deconstructed after WWII and the railroads were used for the S-Bahn trains in East Berlin. You can still see the structures like bridges and tunnels (pic 3), the trail partially runs on the former railroad embankment. A club promotes the reconstruction of (parts of) the narrow gauge railway and has made some progress in the recent years. See website below.
In the lower part of the Schwarzbach glen you may want to make a short detour on foot to see the remains of the former castle Goßdorf, takes about 15-20 minutes (signposted). Shortly after you reach the valley of the small Sebnitz river where you meet the minor railway route again which you used to get to your starting point. Follow the river on the minor road (almost no traffic, pic 4)) to Porschdorf, where this river and the small Polenz river have their confluence - from here on it is called "Lachsbach" - salmon creek, for good reason as the salmons do indeed come back to the Polenz river since the water quality of the Elbe has significantly improved in the last years. To get to Bad Schandau take the road through Rathmannsdorf for 10 minutes (more traffic) and on the last leg use the Elbe cycling trail, then cross the bridge or take the ferry to get to the train station.
Equipment: mountain bike recommended but any touring bike will do. Helmet highly recommended. Check the light on your bike - the one longer tunnel is quite dark. Restaurants along the way in Ulbersdorf, Rathmannsdorf and Bad Schandau - the tour is only two, max three hours long.
Another worthwhile cycling trip, but on trails far from the masses, starts in Rosenthal close to the Czech border west of Bad Schandau. To get there you take a bus from Pirna or Königstein (# 242/245) which has a carriage for bicycles on weekends/holidays (on weekdays better call ahead and make a reservation - see website below. The final stop (pic 1) is "Fußweg zum Schneeberg" - which means this is the trailhead for the hike to the Snieznik/Schneeberg mountain in the Czech Republic, just a few km beyond the border. Unload your bike, follow "Fuchsbachstraße", a gravel road through the vast forest, slowly downhill in a valley, to the cute village Cunnersdorf (max. 1 hour, pic 2)). Along the way you'll pass a pond called "Fuchsteich", created in the 16th century for timber rafting. There is a nice public outdoor bath and also a good restaurant in Cunnersdorf if you need a break and refreshment.
We took the minor road (almost no traffic) toward Kleingießhübel, but turned left after reaching the plateau and took the gravel road through the farmland (for better views, pic 3) instead of cycling down to Kleingießhübel. We soon reached Papstdorf, another nice village with a sandstone flat-top mountain of the same name and a church worth seeing (pic 4), then headed to Kleinhennersdorf, from where we had a panoramic view of the Schrammsteine sandstone massif (pic 5), then down to Krippen where we finished the tour (plus another 1:30 or 2 hours) with coffee and cake in the "Ziegelscheune" (see restaurant tip) and finally hopped on the train back home. You can easily continue to Bad Schandau, about 2 km more, or take the ferry to Bad Schandau.
Equipment: Mountain bike recommended, but touring bicycle will do. No racing bicycles on the gravel roads! Definitely wear a helmet and sunglasses.
Cycling is another very popular activity in the region. You can either do the little strenuous option and follow the valleys or use the more challenging trails in the mountains. One of the most popular cycling trails in Germany (and the Czech Republic) is the Elbe cycling trail which follows the valley of the river of the same name.
On a sunny day end of April in 2012 (Easter holiday) my parents and I got out the bikes, hopped on a train to a small place in a side valley near Bad Schandau (Goßdorf-Kohlmühle) and started our cycling trip via Bad Schandau to Decin, the first town upstream in the Czech Republic. The cycling trail is in excellent condition, albeit a bit narrow, thus you need to be careful because of the crowds on weekends and holidays. We took the ferry from Bad Schandau to Krippen, saved us a few kilometers :-) From there the trail runs through the lovely valley, the impressive sandstone formations towering up mostly at the opposite side of the river. It is a very scenic ride. There are a few options for getting a snack along the way, but not many - better bring your own picnic. The trail is flat, you hardly notice it's upstream, but the wind can be a challenge - unfortunately it was not in our favour :( Anyway, we reached Decin after about 22 km and 2 hours (from Krippen), visited the castle and spent some time in the old town, too. The ride back went faster (wind support :-)) and we made it right in time for coffee and cake in a cafe in Bad Schandau.
Equipment: Any bikes are fine, the trail is in excellent condition. Bring your own or rent from one of the places in Bad Schandau - no shortage, you can rent at the train station or in town. E-bikes available but for this easy, flat trip not necessary. Better bring food and water, the snack places in the Czech Republic along the trail didn't look too inviting.
If the weather co-operates you can do fantastic hikes in winter, too. The advantage vs. summer hikes is that even on gorgeous winter days with fresh snow and blue sky you'll almost be alone on the hiking trails. Be prepared that outside the villages/towns snack places/huts are closed on workdays, only a few are open on weekends (like Großer Winterberg, Papststein, Pfaffenstein e.g.) The trails are not groomed or so, thus good hiking boots are a *must*.
In mid March 2013 we had one of those gorgeous days. I hopped on a train to Bad Schandau, took the ferry to the town and walked to the Kirnitzschtal tram stop (pic 1). Yep, it does run in winter, too, but on a reduced schedule (every 70 minutes). The tram ride ended at Lichtenhain waterfall, a nice sight with the ice (pic 2). Along the hiking trail up to Kuhstall I passed several interesting rock formations, with fresh snow and sunshine the light was stunning, the structure of the rocks even better visible than in summer (pic 3).
The hike up took about 30 minutes. The views from the Kuhstall sandstone arch were amazing (pics 4 and 5). Calculate about 10 minutes for taking pictures, then 25 minutes for the hike down, so you'll arrive right in time to catch the next tram.
More pictures in the travelogue.
Equipment: Good hiking boots are a *must*. A map is helpful, but not really necessary as the trails are well marked and signposted. Definitely check the schedules for the tram. There is a bus, too, but it only runs a couple of times per day in winter.
Since both the restaurant "Lichtenhainer Wasserfall" and the snack place at Kuhstall are closed in winter you better bring a snack and something hot to drink - or you're sure you survive without until you reach Bad Schandau again (that's what I did, stopped in the Elbterrasse restaurant afterward).
The hike to Kuhstall is relatively short and easy to organise, perfect for a half day. Starting and ending point is the lovely Kirnitzschtal valley. From Bad Schandau you take either bus #241 or the historic tram to Lichtenhainer Wasserfall (a restaurant from the 19th century next to a small waterfall). Please note that the flood in 2010 damaged the road and the trams end about 500 m before this stop at Beuthenfall - at least until spring 2011 when the road works are planned to be completed.
The hike up to Kuhstall is not too strenuous on a wide path, clearly marked and not to miss. Kuhstall itself is a sandstone arch where - as the legend goes - the locals hid their cows (Kuh = cow) in the 30years war from the Swedish troops. See pic #1! To get on top of the sandstone arch you take the so called "Himmelsleiter" (pic #2), iron stairs in a crevice of the sandstone massif (one way - only up). That's not for anyone claustrophobic or with fear of heights! These folks better use the regular ascent over sandstone steps that is usually used for the descent.
The view from the top is very beautiful. At one side you see the sandstone formations and forests, to the other side are rolling hills with woods, fields and cute villages.
Right next to the Kuhstall is a self-service restaurant where you might have a snack or a beer or so. Don't miss the short detour to the so called "Schneiderloch" (pics ##3, 4), a cave in a sandstone formation nearby where you have other beautiful views but also can climb in and up - fun for kids (and adults as you can see on the pic :-)).
You can add a longer hike or go back the same path to Lichtenhainer Wasserfall. We opted for a short detour, first toward Kleiner Winterberg, then taking the so called "Zeughausstraße" to Beuthenfall where we caught the historic tram back to Bad Schandau.
Equipment: The whole trip is in the National Park, special rules apply. Don't leave the marked paths. Don't leave garbage there.
Solid shoewear is recommended, hiking boots not necessarily.
Mt. Lilienstein (415 m/1360 ft) is probably the most fascinating of the plateau mountains in the region. As it rises about 200 m /650 ft above the surrounding plain and even more above the Elbe river valley it is visible from most of the viewing points in the Saxon Switzerland region, even from Dresden's towers (weather co-operating, of course)! It is also featured on the official sign of the National Park with the river winding around the mountain.
Access to Mt. Lilienstein is from either Königstein (commuter train S1, bus 241, paddle steamers, then ferry across the river) or Waltersdorf - which is only infrequently served by bus from Bad Schandau, you better have a car for that one. The hike up from Königstein takes about 1:30 hours, from the parking lot at the foot of the mountain (via Waltersdorf) it is hardly more than 30 minutes. Caution, though: the ascent (and descent) via iron ladders and stairs, you must be free of fear of heights.
Once on top the views are spectacular: Fortress Königstein vis-a-vis across the river in the southwest, Kurort Rathen with the Bastei in western direction with Dresden in the distance - sometimes you can even see the towers of the cathedral of Meißen. In the southeast the Elbe river with Bad Schandau, the Schrammsteine and Großer Winterberg massif and in the distance the Czech mountains.
The plateau is quite large with paths and iron bridges leading to viewing points on the edges. There are two sandstone columns there, one commemorating the visit of Elector Duke and King of Poland, August the Strong, the other reminding of the 800th anniversary of the Wettin dynasty in Saxony in 1889. The restaurant on top is pretty good, had a yummy piece of cake and cappuccino there.
Großer Winterberg is the highest mountain on the Eastern bank of the Elbe river and in the National Park - 552 m (1810 ft). But no, there are better viewing points in the region. In fact, the Winterberg massif consists of granite, not sandstone, thus is rather compact and hardly shows any interesting rock formations. It is completely wooded (beautiful old beech trees!) also which makes for wonderful foliage in fall but hardly allows any panoramic views. Now the good news: The slopes of the massif, especially to the river, have some excellent places for scenic views. And on top of Großer Winterberg is a mountain hut with a viewing tower (free).
There are several options for hikes. Shortest is the ascent from Schmilka, right by the Elbe river and with a commuter train station (cross the river by ferry). Several trails and even an asphalt road (only for cars with special permit, hardly more than one or two cars per hour) lead up.
Much more rewarding is a crossing of the mountain starting from the Kirnitzsch valley and ending in Schmilka in the Elbe river valley. I personally have done a couple of variations of this hike: First you take a bus from Bad Schandau to Neumannmühle or Nasser Grund in the Kirnitzsch valley, then you hike up through one of the side valleys until you reach the base of the mountains: farther east the ascent is on steep trails, farther west it's through canyons with (iron) ladders, more challenging. Once you reach the plateau enjoy the views back. Then you have a nice walk ahead of you, slightly ascending, until you reach the top of Großer Winterberg. Have a rest, climb up the tower and enjoy the 360 degree view. Descent is on one of the trails leading to Schmilka, along the way stop at Kipphorn viewpoint for the scenic view.
All in all the hike is quite long (4 hours minimum) and if you pick the options farther west you need some experience with the ladders, no fear of heights, please, in this case!
My first recommendation for a hiking tour is very popular among both locals and tourists: the path to the top and along the crest of the so called "Schrammsteine", a massif of sandstone rocks parallel to the Elbe river.
Starting point is either Bad Schandau, or closer, the restaurant "Schrammsteinbaude" (walking distance almost an hour). From the restaurant (also bus stop) the hike starts with a passage of a narrow and humid glen called "Lattengrund". Soon you approach a bizarre sandstone formation called "Grosses Schrammtor". Pass right through this "gateway", a couple of minutes later the ascent (wooden and iron stairs/ladders) to the top of the "Schrammsteine" begins. Soon you reach the great viewing point "Schrammsteinaussicht", offering fantastic panoramic views. Follow the signposted and marked path along the crest until you reach the descent (again stairs) called "Heilige Stiege" which you take down to the village Schmilka (Or shorten the hike by going down the first descent back to "Grosses Schrammtor").
The hike takes about 3 hours from the restaurant, excluding stops for photos and picnic.
In Schmilka take the ferry across the Elbe and then the train (every 30 minutes) back to Bad Schandau.
I had to learn the hard way that what I call a relatively easy hike can be very challenging for other people - especially if they are suffering from fear of heights. Thus the warning: Not only the views from the top might be uncomfortable for those people, what's even worse is that the iron ladders sometimes are (almost) insurmountable barriers. Mea culpa!
This hike is rather a walk - very easy, almost no elevation difference and not longer than 3 hours incl. some photo stops.
The panoramic trail was created a few years ago. It leads from the village Lichtenhain via Mittelndorf to Altendorf - all the time on a hillside with beautiful views of the bizarre sandstone formations vis-a-vis. Don't forget to pay attention to the cute villages as well - Lichtenhain has a nice little Baroque church and Mittelndorf is one of the most beautiful villages around.
The best time is late afternoon (best light for pictures). Restaurants in the villages, no picnic needed this time :-)
Grosser (Big) and Kleiner (Small) Zschirnstein are located on the left bank of the Elbe. This region is less frequented than the right bank.
Grosser Zschirnstein is with an elevation of 560 m the highest "mountain" in Saxon Switzerland. In spite of its relatively low elevation it has an impressive shape and is a landmark, well visible from far distance. Grosser Zschirnstein offers excellent panoramic view southwards, far into the Czech Republic in particular, while Kleiner Zschirnstein offers views to the North.
The best starting point for the hike is Kleingiesshübel, a small village on the northern foot (15 minutes by car or bus from Bad Schandau).
The elevation difference to the top of Grosser Zschirnstein is about 300 m, the hike (round trip) takes about 2 hours. You cannot get lost, take the Hirschgrundweg from the upper end of the village upwards and hike back via the eastern side of the Zschirnsteine (Wiesenweg).
Hiking is No. 1 activity in the area. There are more than 1100 km of marked and well maintained hiking paths around Bad Schandau!
You can do easy and short, or long and exhausting hikes. My favourite hikes lead far away from the easily accessible parts, I prefer such hikes where you start at one place and finish somewhere else. Since public transportation is sufficient you can do such "crossing" hiking tours.
Scenery is what encourages folks to do hiking here. To get to excellent viewing points you must get up of course, so a certain fitness is a must. Elevation differences are not too big, only 200 - 400 m at once, but the paths use to go up and down, and up and down ...
Let me take you on some hiking tours in the next tips.
Equipment: Good hiking boots are a must. Sneakers/jogging sport shoes are alright for the easy and plain tours. But if you go hiking in the areas with sandstone rock formations you definitely need excellent hiking boots.
Restaurants in the remote parts of the National Park are rare. I usually bring my own food and make a picnic at a viewing point. Bring enough water (or what you like to drink) because there are only very few creeks with drinking water available (due to the sandstone!).
Another must is a good map. Especially for the remoter parts of the National Park. It will also help you to identify the impressive rock formations here and there :-) and the mountains in the distance.