Berchtesgaden Steinernes Meer Hike

Steinernes Meer in Berchtesgaden National Park
Steinernes Meer in Berchtesgaden National Park

By Vicky · Published Aug. 17th, 2022 · Updated Mar. 23rd, 2023

This three-day hike in the Berchtesgaden Alps traverses the otherworldly Steinernes Meer and includes two nights in beautifully located mountain huts.

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This hike is in the Berchtesgaden National Park in Germany and a little bit of Austria. It starts from St. Bartholomä (or Saint Bartholomew) on the edge of the Königssee. To get there, take a bus from Berchtesgaden Bahnhof and then enjoy a 30-minute boat ride on the Königssee itself. The hike ends at the Wimbachbrücke bus stop, from where it’s a 10-minute bus ride back to Berchtesgaden Bahnhof. If you arrive by car, you can park either at Königssee Parkplatz or Wimbachbrücke Parkplatz.

Tips for Berchtesgaden Steinernes Meer Hike

  • Hiking poles* are highly recommended for this hike
  • You need a sheet sleeping bag* for the huts
  • Take your passport – this hike crosses into Austria (just in case!)
  • This hike was inspired by a hike in the Walking in the Bavarian Alps Cicerone Guide*, which we also use to plan other hikes.
  • We used this map* for hiking in Berchtesgaden.
  • Offline maps app also works well for this hike and can be especially useful in poor visibility.
  • The huts can sell out on Saturdays in Summer so you must book in advance.
  • If visibility is poor, crossing Steinernes Meer is very difficult because the path will be extremely hard to see. Take the direct route from Kärlingerhaus to Ingolstädter instead.
  • Check out other great hikes on our Germany Hiking Page.

Day 1: 11 km, 1150 m up, 110 m down

Bus and Boat from Berchtesgaden Bahnhof to St Bartholomä, Königssee

We started from Berchtesgaden Bahnhof, having stayed the night before at KS Hostel Berchtesgaden* right next door. We took Bus 841 at 07:35 to Königssee (final destination Jennerbahn). From the Königssee Bus Stop it’s a 5-minute walk to the ticket office for the boats, adjacent to the jetties.

You can buy tickets online or directly at the ticket office (adults €10 one-way). We bought our tickets on-site (online you can’t pick the first boat at 8 am and you also can’t book a one-way ticket). Even though it was a Saturday in mid-summer, we just had to queue a few minutes at the ticket window and wait a few minutes for the boat. The first boat goes at 8 am in high season and then at least every 30 minutes, but in busy times they run constantly. Check the timetable in all seasons.

Boat Trip on the Königssee

Boat Trip on the Königssee
Boat Trip on the Königssee and St Bartholomä Church in Germany

The boat trip on the Königssee is a great way to start the hike. There are fantastic views and a commentary in German (apparently quite funny). Halfway through the trip the boat commentator plays the trumpet so you can hear the magnificent echo. Leave the boat at St Bartholomä, the small collection of buildings which includes St Bartholomä Church, a distinctive white church with copper-coloured cupolas.

Königssee to Kärlingerhaus Hut

We walked around the outside of the church and admired the views before heading back past the pier we arrived on, along the footpath by the edge of the lake. You’ll pass some convenient toilets at the back of the boat building.

Walking along the edge of Königssee

After passing through a field the trail leads into some woodland. You can head along little paths to the water’s edge for beautiful views. The small trail continues along the edge of the water, paralleling the main track further inland. About 1 km from the boat pier you’ll reach a stony beach, a lovely place to take some photos.

Leaving the Lake

Waterfal in Berchtesgaden National Park
Walking in the Bavarian Alps of Germany
Hiking trail in Berchtesgaden National Park

From here, follow the main path further around the lake. The climb begins gradually and then zigzags steeply upwards. You’ll pass Schrainbachfall, a lovely waterfall and a great place for a break. Eventually the zigzags stop and the path becomes temporarily flatter. The trail leads through woodland and meadows and begins to climb again as you head towards the end of the valley.

Many more zigzags lead you up and out of the valley. There are several nice places to sit, on benches and in overhangs as you head upwards. Near the top you’ll see a gap in the rocks and a cute stone path leading through. It brings you to a pleasant flower-filled meadow with lots of greenery.

Hiking in Berchtesgaden National Parks, in the Bavaria nAlps of Germany

Continue onwards along the lovely trail which continues gradually upwards and bends to the left. Keep following the signs to Kärlingerhaus and soon you’ll come to Funtenseesattel, a saddle and great lookout point over the luscious valley below. We were lucky enough to see several chamois (goat-antelopes) here, along with many marmots. Descending from the saddle, you’ll see Kärlingerhaus mountain house just around the corner.

Extension: Kärlingerhaus to Viehkogel Peak

Walking through the Steinernes Meer to Viehkogel Peak in Berchtesgaden National Park
Walking through the Steinernes Meer to Viehkogel Peak

After a break at Kärlingerhaus, where we left a lot of our stuff in the drying room, we decided to climb up Viehkogel Peak (2,158 m) since it was still early. From the hut you can see this peak towering above you on the right-hand side of the lake. The round trip to the top and back is 5.3 km with 425 metres climb. It took us about 3 hours – we walked quite fast and unfortunately at the top the clouds had come in somewhat. We still had some great views while walking up, and our first taste of the Steinernes Meer (Sea of Stones). The hike isn’t difficult but is quite steep walking up a grassy slope near the end.

Walking up Viehkogel Peak
View from the top of Viehkogel Peak

How difficult is the Berchtesgaden Steinernes Meer Hike?

Walking the route is fairly easy, though hiking poles* are recommended. The most difficult section is on the third day when you pass over Hundstodgatterl (gatterl is a term meaning a saddle that’s steep on both sides). There’s some very easy scrambling both on the way up and the way down – you might need to use one hand. It would be more difficult when slippery.

Navigation is easy in good weather as the route is marked with signs and red-and-white striped markings. In poor visibility, hiking across the Steinernes Meer would be very difficult because you can’t see the path on the ground – it’s only over rocks – so you have to look out for the path markings. In heavy mist you won’t be able to see the next sign. Make sure you have a physical map*, compass*, and an online mapping app on your phone such as Maps.Me.

Staying Overnight in Kärlingerhaus

Kärlingerhaus is a fairly large mountain hut for hikers situated at 1638 metres elevation in the Berchtesgaden Alps, near the Steinernes Meer. There’s a real lake, the Funtensee, in front of the hut. You can swim here – most people enter from the pebble beach on the opposite side of the lake to the hut. The temperature is about 16 degrees in summer, which remains on the slightly cold side.

Kärlingerhaus in the Berchesgaden National Park
View of Funtensee and Kärlingerhaus
View from Kärlingerhaus, Berchtesgaden National Park, Germany

The hut has a mix of proper beds in rooms or lagers. The lagers are for many people with slightly narrow mattresses arranged next to each other, while the proper beds are mostly individual bunk beds. In Kärlingerhaus most of the lagers are quite small and some have just six beds so are fairly quiet at nighttime. Pillows and rugs are provided, but you must bring a sheet sleeping bag*.

Beds are €20/40 and lager spots are €13/26 for members/non-members of the DAV. Saturdays in summer tend to completely sell out, with proper beds in particular selling out sometimes months in advance. Occasionally there are cancellations (often a week in advance else the deposit is lost) so you can check for this if you’re just a few people. Make sure to bring a headtorch* so you can find your way about when it’s dark. If you’re a light sleeper, you might want earplugs.

The DAV is the Deutscher Alpenverein (German Alps Club). You can get a yearly membership for €50-100 (depending on the section you join), with a discount for couples and families. This gives you reduced rates at mountain huts and a few other side benefits. It’s worth joining if you spend at least five nights in a mountain hut.

Our experience at Kärlingerhaus

We stayed at Kärlingerhaus in mid-August and the hut was completely full. It was cold outside in the evening, and we used our down jackets, hats and blankets borrowed from the hut. Dinner was great (lentil dahl with rice) and very filling – there was plenty of it. After eating we sat outside and watched an amazing sunset, the mountains across the lake turning firey red. Breakfast (€17.50) was ok but rather expensive for what there was – bread with ham/cheese/humous and basic muesli with milk or yoghurt, plus a hot drink.

Sunset over the lake from Kärlingerhaus Mountain Hut in the Bavarian Alps

Day 2: 12.5 km, 850 m up, 360 m down

Breakfast started at 06:30, and we woke up 15 minutes beforehand. There was a short queue for the drinks and food, but we were ready to leave around 07:15. Riemannhaus is a mountain hut roughly halfway through this day’s hike, refreshments are available. There’s an opportunity for a short extension up a peak both from Riemannhaus and from Ingolstädter Haus (the end destination).

Hiking Kärlingerhaus to Riemannhaus

It was very cold in the morning – freezing fog lay above the lake and we had to walk through this. I didn’t have any, but I wished I had packed some hiking gloves*. My hands froze while holding onto my poles. However, it was very atmospheric and really quite beautiful. Soon we were out on the other side, and hiking upwards through some forest into the sun.

Morning fog in the Bavarian Alps, Germany
Walking signpost in Berchtesgaden National Park

The path leaves the forest and continues through an open valley before heading up a stony wall at the valley’s end. After this point, the Steinernes Meer (Sea of Stones) really begins. It’s obvious how the area got its name – grey rocks as far as you can see. You’ll hardly see any colour from now until near the end of this hike. The rocks here are limestone and full of calcium carbonate. This is dissolved by the slightly acidic rain, forming the typical karst landscape full of groves, sinkholes, caves and depressions.

Hiking through the Steinernes Meer in Berchtesgaden National Park
Hiking to Riemannhaus in Berchtesgaden National Park

There isn’t a lot of life on this desolate yet beautiful plateau. Take a minute to stand completely still and listen to the silence. You’ll hear only the sound of flies and your own heartbeat. In the distance you’ll see the prominent Schönfeldspitze (2,653 m). If you look closely you’ll see the face and headdress of an Egyptian pharaoh near the top. If you look less closely you’ll see an Egyptian pyramid.

The path continues through the rocky ground and upwards into Austria. Eventually you’ll reach a high point and Riemannhaus plus a fabulous view will appear before you. The hut is located at the edge of a gap between two prominent peaks – Sommerstein (2,306 m) and Breithorn (2,504 m – this is the Austrian Breithorn, not the more famous and much higher Swiss Breithorn).

Extension: Riemannhaus to Sommerstein Peak

Views from Sommerstein Peak in Steinernes Meer
Views from Sommerstein Peak

This short extension (1 km with 120 m climb, 45-60 minutes) gives you great views over the Austrian Alps. We left our rucksacks in the drying room at Riemannhaus so we didn’t have to carry them up and down again. We debated climbing up Breithorn instead of Sommerstein but figured the views from Sommerstein would be similar and it saved us 200 metres of climb.

Hiking Riemannhaus to Ingolstädter Haus

Make sure to take the correct path from Riemannhaus to Ingolstädter Haus. We stood looking at the signpost, but even then we managed to go the wrong way – back towards where we’d come from! After a minute we passed people who I recognised from the night before, and it suddenly twigged we must be going wrong. Luckily we hadn’t gone far, backtracked to the sign, and this time went the correct way. The trail is rocky and it’s not obvious, but the rest of the route is well-marked and we had no other route-finding difficulties.

Fossils in the limestone of the Hiking through the Steinernes Meer, Germany
Hiking through the Steinernes Meer in Berchtesgaden National Park
The Steinernes Meer in Berchtesgaden National Park

This section of the hike continues through the Steinernes Meer of Berchtesgaden National Park. It’s quite long and rocky and has many ups and downs. The views are very grey but very impressive. You’ll see Ingolstädter Haus from quite a distance, slightly camouflaged as it’s also grey. Look out for the fossil shells in the limestone – the remains of sea creatures from over 200 million years ago.

Eventually you’ll reach Ingolstädter Haus. Behind Ingolstädter Haus is the large blob of Großer Hundstod (Bigger Dog’s Death, 2593 metres high), with the lower, gentler Kleiner Hundstod to its left. We were surprised to see some people climbing Großer Hundstod with two dogs. Let’s hope both the bigger and smaller one survived. We had a refreshing Apfelschorle (fizzy apple juice) and an apple strudel while surveying the mountains.

Extension: Ingolstädter Haus to Kleiner Hundstod

Hiking to the top of Kleiner Hundstod Peak in Austria
Views from Kleiner Hundstod Peak

We decided to walk up Kleiner Hundstod, a roundtrip of 2.1 km with 115 metres climb. It took about an hour, including a long break at the top admiring the views. There are a few very minor scrambles on the way but nothing serious. If you have a lot of energy and a head for heights, you could hike up Gross Hundstod (roundtrip 3.5 km with 440 metres climb). There’s some scrambling and it’s slightly exposed nearer the top.

Shortening the 3-Day Hike

If the weather is bad on your second day, instead of walking to Ingolstädter Haus via Riemannhaus, you can head there directly from Kärlingerhaus. This route would be 5.6 km with 590 m climb instead of 12.5 km with 850 m climb. In poor visibility, this is highly recommended.

If the weather forecast is very bad for the next two days, you can head directly from Ingolstädter Haus down to Wimbachbrücke Bus Stop to make only a 2-day hike. This route is 18 km with 500 m up and 1500 m down of fairly easy walking, of which the last 10 km and 850 m down are very easy walking along a broad trail.

Staying Overnight in Ingolstädter Haus

Ingolstädter Haus (2,119 m) is in Austria, perched on some rocks overlooking a large portion of the Steinernes Meer in the middle of Berchtesgaden National Park. There are terraces on either side of the hut, both with great views. Even during the day in the shade it’s slightly chilly, while in the sun it can be way too hot. When evening arrives it can get quite cold, but it wasn’t as cold as Kärlingerhaus where the air was damp.

Ingolstädter Haus, in the middle of the Steinernes Meer and Berchtesgaden National Park
Sunset from Ingolstädter Haus

Beds are €25/39 and lager spots are €15/30 for members/non-members of the DAV. We stayed in a ‘lager’, but it had only separate beds so I’m not sure how it differed from the rooms with proper beds that are more expensive, apart from having more people (our lager had 10 people).

Breakfast here was €16, and apparently you can’t make a reservation here without also buying breakfast (unlike Kärlingerhaus where breakfast was optional). However, the breakfast was much better here. There were more options and higher quality ingredients and the bread was delicious. My only complaint would be that breakfast only starts at 7 am, which I thought was slightly late.

Day 3: 16.5 km, 225 m up, 1700 m down

There was a bit of a queue for breakfast at 7 am, but we managed to set off by 7:45 am on a slightly cloudy morning.

Ingolstädter Haus to Wimbachshutte

Hiking in the Steinernes Meer
Hiking in the Steinernes Meer in Berchtesgaden National Park
Beautiful views in the Bavadian Alps

The route descends gradually over a rocky slope, contours around a half-bowl and reaches a junction. Turn left here to go up and over the Hundstodgatterl. This is the most difficult section of the hike, but still not very difficult. You might have to use one hand every now and again on some easy scrambling sections.

It seems a long time to the top, but from there the route is almost all downhill. Hiking down the other side of the gatterl (saddle) you’ll have great views of Watzmann, the highest peak in the Berchtesgaden National Park at 2,713 m high. The path has some steep sections until finally you reach a flat path through some grass and bushes. This then heads slightly uphill and down again to Trischübel, a meeting of paths near the disused Trischübel hunting hut.

A beautiful valley in the berchtesgaden National Park

From here the path continues downwards along a nice path towards Wimbachgrieshütte. Through the trees, you reach a bench and suddenly a viewpoint over a wild, desolate valley below. It looks just like Canada, with dark green pine trees below, grey scree slopes and rocky mountains towering above.

The path contours along and down again to the valley floor. The path is then fairly flat and over dry riverbeds until around the corner, in a few kilometres, you reach Wimbachgrieshütte.

Wimbachgrieshütte to Wimbachsbrucke Bus Stop

From Wimbachgrieshütte down to the bus stop, the path is wide, easy and well-developed. It’s about 2 hours with no stops down to the bottom road. There are many benches along the way with scenic views and a couple of shelter huts.

A scenic bench hiking down the path down from Wimbachgrieshütte in Berchtesgaden National Park
A scenic bench on the path down from Wimbachgrieshütte
Geology of the Steinernes Meer in Berchtesgaden National Park
Layered limestone on the left, fault centre-right, dolomite far right

Halfway down you’ll pass Wimbachschloss. Like Wimbachgrieshütte, this hut also offers food and accommodation. Heading further down, you’ll reach a path coming up from a gorge called Wimbachklamm. If you want to enter the gorge, the ticket machine is further down the path and entry is €3 per adult. Going through the gorge and back down again is 1.2 km with 60 metres climb.

The track turns into a road and you’ll reach a large car park. There are toilets on the right-hand side near the bridge across to the main road. Just on the other side of the bridge, also on the right, is the Wimbachbrücke bus stop. We caught Bus 846 at 14:05 (there’s a bus roughly every hour), arriving at Berchtesgaden train station at 14:18. We caught a train 15 minutes later to Freilassing and onwards towards Munich.

Guidebooks for Hiking in the Alps

If you enjoyed this hike, check out the overnight hike up Großer Krottenkopf or the day walk up Säuling Peak.

FAQS for Berchtesgaden Steinernes Meer Hike

Why is the Steinernes Meer called the Steinernes Meer?

The Steinernes Meer means Sea of Stones, and when you see it, it’s obvious why it’s called that. The area is a karst plateau covered in rocks, with barely any plant life or any other colour than grey. The rock is limestone from 200-250 million years ago and in places you can see fossil shells. You can also see typical features of limestone terrain such as erosion channels, sinkholes, caves and deep holes.

Where is the Steinernes Meer?

The Steinernes Meer is a high rocky plateau in the Alps located in Berchtesgaden National Park in Germany and across the border in Austria. It is reachable by hiking from either the German or Austrian side.

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