© Frank Exss


The Malerweg Trail in the Elbe Sandstone Mountains runs through an age-old erosion landscape. What in the Cretaceous period was sea floor nowadays appears as a diverse rock world with mountains rising to up to 723 metres in height.

The Elbe Sandstone Mountains

So beautiful, so wild, so mysterious

Grown men sinking to their knees in emotion at a viewing point, eloquent lady poets turning speechless at a panoramic sight – 200 years ago you might have come across such a scene. It was after all in the time of Romanticism, the period of great emotions, when the spectacular rocky scenery southeast of Dresden was first discovered as a travel destination.

Meanwhile, geologists have uncovered the secret about the formation of this wonder of nature. An approximately 600 m thick sandstone slab was formed at the bottom of the sea over millions of years; it was raised, broken and weathered. What remains is a region as mystical as the backdrop of a fantasy film, with bizarre rocks, mysterious gorges, wildly romantic valleys and table mountains!  Nowhere in the world can examples of this curious landscape form be found as dense and as numerous as here.

All this makes hiking in the Elbe Sandstone Mountains so exciting. After first passing through dense forest, the path continues on into open countryside and up to bare cliff tops before finally winding down to an enchanted valley, where a crystal-clear brook murmurs along.

This is home for a great nature experience. Saxon and Bohemian Switzerland National Parks protect the precious retreat of rare animal and plant species.  The two parks, plus the surrounding nature reserve zone, make up a hiking paradise of more than 700 square kilometres in total.

Saxon Switzerland National Park

What would the world be without National Parks? These are the spaces where humanity has maintained its most precious natural landscapes for future generations. “Let nature be nature”, is the maxim of the world-wide National Park movement. It means: Humans should restrict themselves to their role as wondering and learning observers. National Parks are not only fascinating refuges for rare species of animals and plants. They are also idyllic recreational spaces for their visitors. This is true for Saxon Switzerland, too. It is the only non-alpine rock National Park in Germany and one of the smallest with a size of 94 square kilometres. The protected area consists of two parts on the right bank of the River Elbe. The smaller part is situated in the surroundings of Kurort Rathen. The main part stretches from Bad Schandau eastward to the Czech border where Bohemian Switzerland National Park continues.

National Parks command mindfulness. When you see the “Nationalpark Sächsische Schweiz” sign (Saxon Switzerland National Park) you should be aware that you are now entering an area with particularly sensitive natural spaces. The following rules apply here: don’t leave the paths, don’t smoke, light fires only at designated fireplaces, stay overnight outdoors only in places designated for this purpose, don’t collect any plants or animals, park your car only in parking areas, don’t fly drones, avoid noise, climb only according to the Saxon rules and only on dry rock, cycle only on designated cycle routes, keep your dog on a leash.

Respect the National Park Core Zone

Malerweg Etappe 3 Schild© Sebastian Thiel

„Kernzone“(core zone) is written on some of the boards in Saxon Switzerland National Park. They help visitors recognize particularly sensitive natural spaces. One quarter of the National Park is marked as core zone.

Hiking is allowed also in these green paradises, but hikers must remain on the paths marked as hiking trails. In addition, staying overnight outdoors is taboo. The entire core zone is within the considerably larger “non-activity zone”.

The non-activity zone makes up three quarters of the National Park’s area and allows for an increasingly independent development of natural woodland. This means that a piece of genuine Central European wilderness is developing here.

Attention: Dead spruces!

Malerweg Etappe 3 Wald© Sebastian Thiel

Bare branches, brown needles, fallen trees. There are some stretches in the National Park area where the bark beetle has been particularly active. In fact a kind of natural woodland development is in progress here, spruce cultures have died off to make room for more resistant mixed forest vegetation.

While this natural process is going on, particular precaution needs to be taken to cope with the danger of falling trees: Keep out of the forest in strong winds, heavy rain or when trees might break under snow. Don’t stop under fragile branches or treetops. Simply said, you are acting on your own risk.

Before you start your trip, please inform yourself on this homepage or ask your host for the current state of affairs.

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National Park Centre in Bad Schandau

Lilienstein© Sebastian Rose

The Bad Schandau National Park Centre is the visitor centre for the protected area.

How was this mysterious rocky world formed? Which rare animals live here? How does the forest fulfil its function as a natural habitat? The museum provides answers with numerous models in an illustrative and family-friendly way.

One of its highlights is a multivision show in the cinema hall with fabulous images of the National Park region.

>> National Park Centre


Experience Peregrine Falcons

Wanderfalke© emranashraf / istock

With some luck, hikers in the National Park region of Saxon Switzerland can hear it: the call of the fastest animal on earth, the “Cheetah of the skies”. We are talking about the peregrine falcon. It is the result of relentless efforts - and ongoing care - that his elongated “gaaaaaaahg-gaaahgaaaahg” has again become part of Saxon Switzerland’s natural soundscape.

50 years ago the species was considered to be extinct in Saxon Switzerland. Only through an elaborate reintroduction project in the 1990s has it returned. Today, Saxon Switzerland is one of the most densely populated habitats of peregrine falcons in Europe!

Every spring and early summer, the National Park administration organizes guided tours under the title “Observations at the Falcon’s Nest” including binocular views into the nurseries of these birds of prey.

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