The case for backpacking in the Bavarian Alps almost makes itself, “Spend your days trekking steep trails and meeting random people.” Fill up on dramatic scenery while swapping stories about hiking and life with other adventurers. Check into a communal hut before dinner is served—“and then you’re drinking beer and schnapps, and then you’re fumbling through languages and life tales, and then, by lights out, you’re hugging and toasting and laughing and crying.” That was my experience in late June when I spent a few days in Berchtesgaden National Park, right on the Austrian border. I was an American traveling alone, which didn’t turn out to be a problem. In fact, it “made for a good conversation starter.”
For hikers, it’s easiest to enter Berchtesgaden from the north end of the Königssee, an “impossibly turquoise” lake where boats ferry sightseers to a nearby church and waterfall and a cable car carries them to the restaurant atop 6,200-foot Jenner mountain. The town of Schönau is “a tourist mess,” but quiet trails lie just a 15- minute walk away. The trails aren’t fully maintained, but they’re well marked, with signs indicating estimated hiking times. “Once I realized that the times were conservative, I worried less about making it to my destination and instead hiked in mesmerized awe.” On my first night, a hailstorm lashed the hut where I’d reserved a bed. But in the morning, I climbed up above the clouds to the 7,467-foot summit of Schneibstein. “The reward was the majesty of the Bavarian Alps.”
Following a heavy rainfall, some trails and bridges were submerged, which made me appreciate that each hut has a dedicated boot-drying room. Eventually, I made it to Kärlingerhaus am Funtensee, a lodge that sits on a lake ringed by ridges that “caught the morning’s sun like facets on a gem.” A goatlike Alpine chamois scrambled past me on my way back down to the Königssee, and the lake looked so inviting when I reached the shore that I followed the lead of some older German men who showed up, disrobed, and dove into the sparkling waters. “Wouldn’t you?” Reservations for the huts in Berchtesgaden can be made through the German Alpine Club (dav-berchtesgaden.de) and Huetten Holiday (huetten-holiday.com).