Harz is Hard
73 Mi.(117 KM)
% Rideable (time)
Technical Difficulty: 3•
Physical Demand: 5•
Matteo was born in Venice, but has been living in Berlin for a few years. The adventurous spirit of the sailor has never abandoned him, and you can find him riding his bicycle seeing new horizons unknown to him. In the moments when he is not riding a bicycle, you can find him in Berlin on long walks taking photographs together with his dog Pluto. You can see some of his shots here @ehi.matteo
The route forms a loop of around 120 kilometres with 2,300 metres of elevation gain in the Harz National Park, a nature reserve recently established through the merger of two parks in the Lower Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt federal states of Germany. The trail follows the tracks of The Gravel Fest, a gravel event in the Harz Mountains. The route is highly varied, and you will cross long forested sections with scenic views of lakes such as the Okerstausee and Granetalsperre. You’ll also find all kinds of surfaces, from asphalt (it will be your friend on the ascent to the Bocken) to compacted gravel. Most of the time, you’ll be riding on unpaved surfaces.
Starting from the town of Goslar, the route heads southwest towards Harz. After about 60 or 70 kilometres, we recommend an overnight stay in Kapitelsberg, where you will find the charming Kapitelsberg Hütte, from where you can watch the sunset in total peace. The following day, the focus is entirely on climbing the mythical (and mystical) Brocken ‘Blocksberg’, the highest peak in the national park and in the whole of northern Germany with an altitude of 1,142 metres above sea level. You will not be bored at all on this route, where, along with exhausting but thrilling ascents, you will also enjoy long and exciting descents into the heart of the national park.
The trip can be completed in two days, and to be lighter, it is advisable not to pack a tent, as there are plenty of opportunities to find bivouacs where you can sleep for the night. For a more relaxing experience, you can tackle the route over three days.
The route as a whole is rated as a 4 out of 10. You could start anywhere since it’s a loop, but there are few options to get there without a car. There is a good amount of climbing, and sometimes pushing your bike is required. There are limited food resupply opportunities on the route itself, but with some extra miles, it is possible to reach some towns to get food and water. Generally speaking, it is not so technical, but it requires some gravel/MTB skills.
The route was inspired by the tracks offered by The Gravel Fest, a gravel event in the heart of the Harz. The Gravel Fest offers various route lengths from 20 to 150 kilometres, and this route combines parts of them.
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- The course pampers and slaps you at the same time. When you are climbing a hill, it demands all your commitment. When you are descending, it demands all your concentration.
- The town of Goslar is an excellent starting point. It’s a historic German town that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its millenium-long testimony to the history of ore mining and its political importance to the Holy Roman Empire and Hanseatic League.
- Brocken Mountain is simply fantastic and captivating. Despite its low height, it tends to be covered by snow from October to May, and mist and fog envelop it for almost 300 days a year. Its microclimate is reminiscent of that of mountains closer to 2,000 meters above sea level.
- The mountains of the Harz are a fairy-tale place, with medieval villages, soaring spires, romantic lakes, and mysterious forests that, under a sprinkling of snow, seem straight out of the Brothers Grimm’s imagination.
- We also find a beautiful steam train, the Brockenbahn, trudging up to the summit of the Brocken (1,142 metres), the highest peak in the range, where witches used to hold their sabbaths, and which was used as an observatory by the Soviets during the Cold War
- When you reach the top of the Brocken, a stop at the bar for a beer (non-alcoholic for the hardcore cyclists) or a radler, all accompanied by chips and/or a currywurst, is mandatory.
- The scent of morning dew that gives you emotions you cannot find elsewhere
- When to go: June-September. Earlier or later, it could be difficult to ride due to the rainy season.
- Logistics: There are no permits required to enter the park.
- Unfortunately, there are not many options to reach the starting point with public transportation.
- It’s a nature reserve, so be respectful of wild animals. There were none encountered on my trip.
- A gravel bike with tyres larger than 40mm is recommended to ride comfortably on the varied terrain.
- The first part of the route is the most relaxing and enjoyable. I recommend taking it slowly and letting yourself be surprised by every kilometre.
- The second part of the route is a little more technical and requires more concentration.
- Wild camping is forbidden in Germany. However, alongside the route it’s easy to find “Hütte” where you can sleep inside in complete safety.
- Kapitelsber Hütte is the most scenic spot where you can stay overnight. The Hütte accommodates about 7 to 8 people. There is also the possibility of lighting a fire if it has not rained. The Hütte is clean and should remain so.
- Alternatively, there are many points off the route where you can find a BnB to stay overnight, but the advice is to fully enjoy the experience in a German Hütte.
- You can stock up on food either just before the start of the route at a small supermarket in Goslar or halfway along the route in the small town of Benneckenstein. Fill up with water at the start as it is difficult to find drinking fountains or refreshment points.
- Halfway along the route, before spending the night in the Hutte, you can stop in the small town of Benneckenstein (there’s pizza!).
- In the second part of the route, it is easier to encounter refreshment points such as bars or Biergarten. I recommend a few stops to refresh your palate, especially after the heroic climb to the Brocken.
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