Havel Wetland Wander
105 Mi.(169 KM)
% Rideable (time)
Joshua Meissner is a young human living in Berlin, Germany. Sleeping outside helps him reflect and slow down, sentiments he hopes to transmit in his writing. When not bikepacking through Germany, you might find him wandering through Berlin with a camera in hand. He prefers to keep it simple with a photoblog at JoshuaMeissner.de and plain email. He shares street photography and porridge breakfasts on his Instagram @joshm.de.
Contrary to the impressions you may have from riding near Berlin, surrounding Brandenburg is not all uniform sandy pine forests. Wander further west, and you enter a unique patchwork of wetlands, lakes, and tributaries shaped by the gentle Havel River. The Havel Wetland Wander is an accessible 170-kilometer mixed-surface loop that brings you in close contact with the subtle natural wonders and quaint rural towns in Westhavelland. Over two to three days, you get to explore the distinct sights and sounds of these teeming wetlands. Along the route, life of all shapes and sizes – from the dense clouds of flies colliding with your arms at sunset, to deer prancing along in the high grass, to the large waterfowl and birds of prey circling overhead – will be your constant companion. Bird lovers, bring binoculars! Even if you don’t read the German info signs, you’ll be sure to get a personal lesson in the ecology of this sensitive and valuable landscape. The sparse human population that enables nature to flourish also means the nights are some of the darkest in all of Central Europe. If the serenading frogs keep you up at night, at least you’ll have all the stars in the Milky Way to count.
The pancake-flat Havelland is an ideal destination for a first bikepacking tour, so long as you respect the varying terrain. One moment your shins are high-fiving the sea of grass, the next you might be skidding through deep sand in the forest, then jostling along over the ubiquitous concrete slab access roads. The forests feel empty and big skies abound, but most of the time you can spy a church steeple peeking over the treetops somewhere on the horizon–a welcome sign of a nearby water source on a hot, dusty day. The route is intended as an encouragement to roam freely, as the well-marked cycle paths, many paved diversions, and two possible campsites make it safe and easy to draw your own path through the wetlands. So, go with the flow and write your own story, at your own pace, in beautiful Westhavelland.
Route Difficulty: Predictable access to food and water – Resupply: 3/10. Flat, but with lots of sand paths, concrete slab, and cobblestone roads – Technical difficulty: 4/10. Physical demand: 4/10. Total rating: 4/10.
- You’re sure to encounter lots of wildlife in all shapes and sizes living in wetlands. In summer, count the majestic white storks you encounter (the current route record is 19).
- The Gülper See at the northern apex of the route hosts tens of thousands of migratory waterfowl in spring and fall, which can be observed from the birdwatching tower on the southern shore.
- Stargaze in the dark nights of this official Dark Sky Reserve. On a cloudless new moon, you can easily see the Milky Way stretch all the way across the sky.
- Look forward to the excellent infrastructure with cheap bivouac sites on the river and well-marked cycle routes.
- Slurp a typical East-German Softeis soft-serve ice cream in the historic town center of Brandenburg an der Havel.
- Lose yourself in the big skies over the endless concrete roads through the wetlands toward Gülpe.
- Where paved roads cannot be avoided, the route makes use of low-traffic access roads and cycle paths for an almost car-free riding experience.
- Respect the sensitive wetlands by obeying the posted protective measures and regulations. Do not feed animals. Leave No Trace applies, as always.
- The land may be flat, but the surfaces are challenging. In summer, the forest tracks devolve into sand traps, while the concrete and cobblestone roads can be punishing for those not used to the rhythmic strain. Plan extra time for pushing and plenty of breaks. While any cyclocross, gravel, or touring bike with tires 35mm range will work if you’re prepared to push your bike at times, tires in the 50mm range are highly recommended for the sandy sections and concrete roads.
- Access to start/end in Brandenburg: Havelradweg from Potsdam, Regio RE4 from Berlin Central Station. There are also direct regional trains to and from Rathenow, for a shorter loop.
- Check the forest fire risk here. Open fire is prohibited in and near forests due to the dry conditions in summer.
- The route (and the official Havelradweg cycle route) passes through a training area of the German Military. If nobody stops you, you can assume you’re free to pass. If units are training in the area, posted guards will certainly alert you. A short detour on the road is possible.
- Wild camping is prohibited in the ecologically sensitive nature preserves you’ll traverse on this route.
- Look forward to pitching your tent at the excellent campsites (marked on the map) along the river and enjoy a good night’s sleep on the flat grass. At around 3-4€ per night, the cost is well worth the access to the picnic benches and outhouse.
- In spring, summer, and fall, drinking water is available at churches in each town along the route. These are shut off during winter to prevent freezing in the pipes, so plan accordingly by bringing extra water.
- The only major grocery stores after Brandenburg an der Havel are the REWE in Rathenow and Edeka/NP in Rhinow.
- The route is intended as a flexible suggestion and can be tailored in length to suit different preferences and comfort levels. The loop is equally well suited for one or two nights out, as the two bivouac sites conveniently sit at the 1/3 and 2/3 marks of the route. The main part of the route between the two bivouac sites in Gülpe an Grütz can be a solid day’s ride (75 kilometers), with the remainder of the loop saved for the third day.
- If you get a late start or just want a shorter trip, it’s possible to take the train from Berlin straight to Rathenow, resupply there and then cruise the last 20 kilometers to the first campsite. Or, you might decide to shorten your second day and take the train home from Rathenow after circumnavigating Gülper See.
- The loop can be extended by by cycling directly from or back to Berlin. You can reach the start and end of the Havel Wetland Wander loop in Brandenburg an der Havel from Potsdam via the paved Havelradweg cycleway that wends along the southern shore of the Havel. Alternatively, you may find your own mixed-surface route to Brandenbrug an der Havel north of the Havel river.
- The Havel Wetland Wander route makes partial use of the official Havelradweg and Havellandradweg cycle routes.
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