Brilon - Dillenburg (157km)
The Rothaarsteig is one of the most famous long-distance hiking trails in Germany and leads from Brilon in the Sauerland region to Dillenburg in Hesse.
Off to the Sauerland
Trail markings from the Rothaarsteig
The 154-kilometer-long Rothaarsteig is one of the most well-known long-distance hiking trails in Germany. It stretches across the low mountain range of the Rothaargebirge, which traverses the states of Hesse and North Rhine-Westphalia.
The old Hanseatic city of Brilon is located in the northeast of the Sauerland region at the source of the Möhne River. The proud centerpiece of the historic trading city is the marketplace, where the Rothaarsteig begins. The Brilon Town Hall is one of the historically significant town halls in Germany. The two-story plastered building was likely constructed in the 13th century as a guild house. After leaving the town behind, we soon enter the forest and tackle a short but steep ascent. Shortly thereafter, we pass the Möhnequelle (Möhne Source). From the Gudenhagener Poppenberg, the last views of Brilon unfold. Many different deciduous tree species were replanted on Poppenberg after the storm Kyrill. This led to the creation of the Brilon Citizen Forest and the Kyrill Gate.
Here we gradually leave the outskirts of the last villages and hike through a diverse wooded valley for several kilometers. After a few kilometers, we reach the ruins of Borberg’s churchyard with a fantastic view of Olsberg. An even better view awaits after another 3 km on Ginsterkopf. One of the steepest sections of the entire Rothaarsteig rewards with magnificent views over the Briloner plateau, the upper Ruhr valley, and the Bruchhauser Steine. After the “Feuereiche” (Fire Oak), a tree transformed into a work of art, we continue past the Bruchhauser Steine information center. The rock formation was created millions of years ago through tectonic shifts and erosion. The Bruchhauser Steine are predominantly composed of quartzite, a hard rock. For a small entrance fee, those who wish to climb the only National Natural Monument in North Rhine-Westphalia can do so from here.
Via the source of the Ruhr to Winterberg
From the execution site, the trail runs along the Rothaar Ridge on the border with Hesse. Along narrow paths, we reach the Langenberg (843 m), the highest mountain in North Rhine-Westphalia. The Langenberg is known for its high-heath areas, representing a special form of vegetation. After the descent, we pass the source of the Hoppecke. The trail continues over Hillekopf to the small village of Küstelberg. Starting from Küstelberg, the Rothaarsteig runs in a westerly direction, passing the former Wagenschmier quarry. Shortly before the source of the Ruhr, there are two good overnight options: the Schutz und Grillhütte at Westernau and the Hüttendorf right at the source of the Ruhr. It is officially allowed to set up a tent for one night at the Schutz und Grillhütte.
Tip: From the source to the confluence with the Rhine at Duisburg-Ruhrort, you can hike along the Ruhr on the Ruhrhöhenweg of the Sauerländischer Gebirgsverein.
Now it’s not far to the winter sports resort Winterberg. Just before reaching the center, the Rothaarsteig descends into the Helle Valley, a wonderful gorge. In the middle of Winterberg, you wouldn’t have expected such a beautiful section.
Leaving Winterberg, the Rothaarsteig runs directly towards St. Georgs-Schanze, the city’s landmark, from where an impressive view can be enjoyed in clear weather. The route to Kahlen Asten follows a picturesque path, alternating between forest and heath landscapes. With good visibility, you can see the Brocken in the Harz, the Großer Feldberg in the Taunus, and the Wasserkuppe in the Rhön.
There is a descent through the heath to the highest source in North Rhine-Westphalia, the Lenne (823m). Subsequently, a very short but steep path leads us back into the forest. Behind Heidenstock, the trail splits into a valley and ridge variant. The choice between these variants is up to the NST hiker, but most prefer the ridge variant in this section as it is less strenuous.
Info: According to legend, here at Heidenstock, the last followers of Wodan (German name for Odin) lost their lives. During the Saxon Wars of Charlemagne (772 to 804), the Saxons who resisted the missionaries were murdered. The Frankish rule was codified in Charlemagne’s war law, and the practice of pagan customs was forbidden under penalty of death. This is a place to take a moment to reflect on the brutality and ignorance with which an existing belief system was violently eradicated.
While the ridge variant passes by some sculptures of the Waldskulpturenweg (Forest Sculpture Trail) and the suspension bridge, the valley variant runs through the gorge-like Grubental to Latrop. The two variants meet again at the shelter behind the Million Bench. Continuing on the Rothaarsteig, the trail leads over Heidkopf (666m) to Jagdhaus.
Ascent 2403 Meter
Descent 2209 Meter
Ginsburg and Gillerberg
After Jagdhaus, we reach the Sombornquelle, whose drinking water is of high quality. With the Sombornquelle nearby, the hut “am Potsdamer Platz” is a suitable place for an overnight stay. At the Margaretenstein, a historic border stone, the Rothaarsteig then reaches the Rhein-Weser-Turm on the Westerberg. The tower, built in 1932 on the Rhein-Weser watershed, offers an excellent panoramic view. For an overnight option, there are rooms in an annex of the tower. Passing by the PanoramaPark Wildpark Sauerland, the route goes through the Schwarzbachtal nature reserve. The Dreiherrnstein, where the borders of three former territories met, marks the territorial boundaries of Nassau, Westphalia, and Kurköln. Continuing over the Oberndorfer Höhe, we reach the source of the Ferndorf, a 24 km long tributary of the Sieg. After crossing the Ginsberger Heide, a detour to the restored Ginsburg is worthwhile, providing a magnificent panoramic view in all directions. There is also a restaurant and accommodation options here. From here, the Rothaarsteig leads to the Giller, where you’ll find the steel Gillerberg tower. The tower is 18 meters high and offers a splendid panoramic view, reaching as far as the Siebengebirge on a clear day.
Day of the springs
From the Hilchenbacher district of Lützel, we follow the valley of the young Eder upstream through the Eicherwald nature reserve. The path passes through moorland landscapes along the Eder to the source of the Eder. We then continue the route on the Kohlenstraße to reach Benfe. After passing Benfe and Großenbach, we reach the source of the Sieg. The Sieg, giving its name to the Siegerland, flows into the Rhine after a distance of 155 km. Here, a small forest adventure trail begins, presenting the theme of the forest in several stations. After about three and a half kilometers, we reach the next famous source, the Lahnquelle. Similar to the Sieg, the Lahn flows to the Rhine, but only after a course of 246 km. The NST now leads directly to the Ilsequelle, which is known not for its size but for its mysterious healing powers. Here, there is a wonderful opportunity to enjoy the refreshing spring water on-site and take a short break. The journey continues over the Jagdberg. Here begins a sad section. Due to climate change and monocultures, the path now leads almost 60 kilometers through completely deforested and destroyed landscapes. This is also part of a cultural-historical hiking trail: becoming aware of the tremendous damage humanity inflicts on nature. During the initial exploration of the NST, this area was still covered in dense forest. However, it is heartening to observe how quickly nature recovers. At the distinctive “Kaffeebuche,” from which you can enjoy a beautiful view of the Johannland, the Rothaarsteig stays on the ridge and continues southward. And we’re already at the next famous source: The Dill is a 55 km long tributary of the Lahn and forms the natural border between the Hessian Westerwald and the Lahn-Dill-Bergland.
After the Tiefenrother Höhe, at the crossroads “Kalteiche,” the Rothaarsteig splits again, to the right for the Westerwald variant and to the left for the Dill variant. We naturally stay on the main variant towards Dillenburg. Since the North-South Trail soon follows the Westerwaldsteig anyway, this variant would make little sense. At this point, the trail gradually bids farewell to the Rothaargebirge and turns southeast towards the Lahn-Dill-Bergland.
You walk to an impressive natural monument, the Lucaseiche, estimated to be around 220 years old. With its height of 27.5 m and a trunk circumference of 3.85 m, it offers an imposing sight. We now pass Dillbrecht and Fellerdilln, and with that, we have left the largest forested areas behind and hike through open meadow landscapes. After descending to Rodenbach, which we also pass through, we slowly enter the outskirts of Dillenburg at Galgenberg. After a short urban stretch and crossing a busy road, the path leads to the Bismarck Temple on the eastern outskirts of Dillenburg. From this vantage point, there is an impressive panoramic view over the entire city to the opposite Wilhelmsturm on the Schloßberg.
At the Bismarck Temple, the North-South Trail separates from the Rothaarsteig. From here, we follow the Lahn-Dill-Berglandpfad to Herborn. Naturally, exploring the city of Dillenburg or staying overnight there is an option.
Dillenburg is particularly known as the birthplace of William of Orange, also known as William the Silent. William of Orange played a key role in the Dutch Revolt against Spanish rule in the 16th century and is often considered an ancestor of the Dutch royal family and other European noble families. The old town of Dillenburg is charming with narrow streets, historic half-timbered houses, and picturesque squares. Here, you’ll find traditional shops, cafes, and restaurants.
Conclusion: Despite its significant destruction and a considerable proportion of economic and gravel roads, the Rothaarsteig is enjoyable! It offers hikers a mix of natural paths, expansive plateaus, dense forests, and picturesque valleys. A trail of springs, many of the most famous rivers originate here. The Ruhr, Eder, Sieg, Lahn, and the Dill, we will encounter them all on the way. What this premium hiking trail lacks are legal trekking sites for long-distance hikers and thru-hikers.