This lush landscape of sandstone peaks and gentle green hills, running east of Dresden along the Elbe river valley, is the perfect place for cosy fall camping.
Set up camp
Head to the northwest corner of the national park, which serves as a good base for casual hikers with a handful of campsites to choose from. We booked at Ostrauer Mühle, a sprawling complex hugged by the Kirnitzsch river with a laissez-faire style and all camping essentials provided (chocolate bars and beer). The campsite feeds directly into multiple trails and is also served by the tiny, retro Kirnitzschtalbahn tram, which chugs leisurely back and forth between the spa town of Bad Schandau and the Lichtenhain waterfall.
Hit the trails
The most well-known trail in Saxon Switzerland is also the longest. The Malerweg (Painter’s Way) is a 116km route named for its masterpiece-inspiring views. It runs past almost all of the park’s top sights, including the Schrammsteine, a long line of splintered sandstone formations that jut out into the forest. Hikers can benefit from that folksy hospitality of the former East as they pass through small towns, where locals leave out fruit from their trees and hang signs offering spare rooms to long-distance trekkers.
Bagging the whole trail would take several days, so opt for a few can’t-miss sections instead. The Wilde Hölle (Wild Hell), is more fun than it sounds. It tricks you with its gentle start through a leafy gorge before sending you up a dizzying set of stone and metal steps, a sweaty and vigorous climb framed on either side by weathered rock. The hike to the Schrammsteine from the Lichtenhain waterfall will take you past the Kuhstall (Cow Shed), a large natural-stone archway with a damp, cave-like underbelly. Wide forest paths along the way are lined with tall trees that let in bands of light, and the area’s trademark stone towers give climbers plenty of opportunities for scrambling. Less energetic visitors can hang back and examine decades’ worth of graffiti chiselled into the stone.
Wind down and warm up
Camping in September and October means the nights cool down faster and the sun sets earlier, but thankfully many campsites in the area will let you light a fire. Ostrauer Mühle has standing fire pits for rent and firewood for sale, so you can lend the evenings that cosy, last-days-of-summer-camp feel as you chat and roast marshmallows. Just don’t spoil it when you go to bed – we recommend an insulated sleeping mat and a sleeping bag with a comfort rating of at least 100c (50c would be best).
Getting there and getting around
From Berlin, get a direct train to Bad Schandau (a little under two and a half hours) and then grab a bus from there to reach your campsite. If you’re travelling by car, it’s about a three-and-a-half-hour drive to reach the centre of the park. The park itself is fairly well served by public transport, with buses and the Kirnitzschtalbahn running regularly between camping grounds, villages and trailheads. But be warned: One of Saxon Switzerland’s most popular spots, the Bastei Bridge, is difficult to access by public transportation from the Bad Schandau area. Still, you shouldn’t miss this epic stone walkway, which overlooks the snaking Elbe and gives off very Game of Thrones vibes, so it’s best to drive or cycle to the nearby village of Rathen and hike up after a brief ferry ride.
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