Outdoors, nearby: Four excellent day trips

Summer in northern Europe is pretty incredible. Greenery abounds. The weather generally behaves itself, especially compared to what you find in many parts of the U.S. And, crucially, there is so much to do – especially outdoors. Even COVID can’t stop access to all the natural awesomeness that Germany has to offer.

Speaking of nature, the area surrounding the KMC is absolutely loaded. If you like walking, hiking, biking, or even just sort of milling around aimlessly in outdoor spaces, then you can’t miss here. To get your summer started, here are four excellent (and nearby – most are less than an hour away from the KMC) spots.

Palatinate Forest

Palatinate Forest.

Located mostly south and east of Kaiserslautern, the Palatinate Forest offers massive opportunities for hikers and bikers. One of Germany’s largest and most beautiful stretches of wilderness, the forest is packed with towering trees and beautiful curving roads. It also has lots and lots of trails.

So grab your trail map (or smartphone) and head toward Johanniskreuz, Elmstein, Frankenstein or Hardenburg. Go by car or motorcycle. But once you feel fully immersed in the forest, then stop. Get out of your car and disappear into the woods. Wander until you feel peaceful or irritatingly tired. Then return to the car for the well-earned sense of victory.

As a bonus, the Palatinate Forest is beautiful year-round, and particularly so in late summer and autumn.

Germany/France castle trail

The German/French Castle Trail (known locally as the Deutsch-französischer Burgweg) makes for a fantastic day trip. At roughly 30 kilometers long with lots of semi-strenuous ups and downs, this loop trail isn’t something that most hikers will finish in one day. In fact, part of the fun is that it makes for an awesome repeat-visit destination.

Start in Schönau (an hour south of Kaiserslautern), and make the short hike up to the Pfaffenfelsen, which is an overlook that requires a ladder climb up a near vertical column of rock. You’ll have a major feeling of accomplishment and a reason to celebrate when you get done.

You could also hike to Wegelnburg Castle. Sitting at over 500 meters above sea level, this is almost the best place north of the Alps for good views in Germany. On a clear day, you can see to Strasbourg, France, 60 kilometers to the south.

View of the Palatinate Forest from Wegelnburg Castle, morning mood in Nothweiler, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany.

Speaking of France…as long as COVID restrictions don’t apply, you should also experience one of the fundamental fun points of this hike and step into France. Hikers can tackle the French Fleckenstein and German Wegelnburg Castles in a round-trip loop that takes about 4-5 hours.

Falkenstein to Donnersberg

This one features two castle ruins, one nature reserve, and a whole lot of wilderness. Start in the little village of Falkenstein, which is about 45 minutes northeast of Kaiserslautern. There, you’ll find Falkenstein Castle, which is cool but which is also most useful as a jumping-off point into an excellent stretch of forest to the east of the village.

Once you’re in the woods, you’ve got a ton of options for exploring. You can wind your way into the center and visit the valleys and peaks of the Spendel-Wildenstein Nature Reserve. Or you can make your way through the forest to Donnersberg, a nearly 700-meter-high peak (which is really high for this part of Germany) that offers another battered castle. Again, the ruins are nice. But it’s the views and the outdoor time that make this trip so memorable.

Mehlinger Heide

Mehlinger Heide (Mehlingen Heath) is one of the biggest heath (which is generally a large wilderness area characterized by vegetation like scrub grass, heather and gorse) areas in the KMC and a place of pure beauty.

In the past, the heath was used as a training ground for French army tanks, and no trespassing was allowed. It was not until 2001 that it was turned into a natural reserve.

You’ll give thanks now that the tanks are gone. The most attractive time to visit is in late summer, when the heath is in full bloom. You will be reminded how miraculous nature can be. Just 20 minutes east of downtown Kaiserslautern, it’s also wonderfully accessible.