Welcome to Fairytale Land : Gimbelhof 4 Castle Hike
What better way to understand the history and life of this border region of France and Germany than to hike between its romantic medieval castles on one border criss-crossing hike?
Leaf carpeted trails, tiny villages of half timbered cottages with flower draped windows and romantic medieval castle ruins embedded atop red sandstone mountaintops make this lesser-known destination perfect for a holiday weekend mini-adventure for history lovers and families.
TL;DR: Family friendly hike with 4 amazing castle ruins in an easy 4 mile loop with great stops for local food and drinks.
Gimbelhof 4 Castle to Castle Hike
4 Castle to Castle Hike Gimbelhof : in Germany & France
Distance: 4.08 miles, 6.5 km
Elevation: 750 feet up/down
Duration: 2.5 hours
GPS: Komoot 4 Castle to Castle Loop guide
Where to Stay: Best Luxury – Source des Sens
Best for Families Exploring Nature – Du Cheval Blanc, Best Budget – Le Cleebourg
This is part of Palatinate Hiking series exploring the region of northern France and western Germany.
While walking on the 4 Castles Trail you’ll pass between France and Germany multiple times.
What’s interesting about this destination is that you can climb onto and inside the castle ruins to really feel the history and capture mountaintop views of the cone shaped forest of the Palatinate – Northern Vosges UNESCO world biosphere reserve.
With 1000s of kilometers of hiking, mountain biking and strolling paths it’s for people of all ability levels this forest invites people to enjoy Nature and history in the same experience.
The rocky outcroppings and steep hills of the Palatinate and Vosges du Nord made for the perfect for defensive fortresses
This forested borderland between France and Germany has switched hands innumerable times, and the borders are not so clear.
Walk with me on the hike in October’s Fall splendour.
This guide is for history lovers who want to merge in a little Nature on their travels.
It includes step-by-step directions on how to walk to 4 historic castles on a gorgeous 4 mile loop and other non-hiking tours to go beyond the typical cities of Strasbourg and Colmar to learn about the tasty and charming Alsace region.
Read until the end where you can find a secluded spa hotel with it’s own 2 Michelin starred restaurant that rewards your day of hiking with upscale delicious cuisine.
How this French & German Castle Hike is Organized
When You Can Hike the Gimbelhof 4 Castles Trail
It’s possible all year, but the best time is in October where you can have the trail to yourself and the restaurants are still open.
This hiking area is located in the single largest forest in Europe. It spans the French and German borders. In Germany it’s called the Palatinate forrest and in France it is called the Vosges.
However, it’s really the same continuous forest dotted with dozens of castles and distinctive red stone spires atop cone shaped small mountains.
You can hike year round, but many huts and restaurants will close at the beginning of November and reopen in April or May depending upon weather.
Gimbelhof 4 Castles Hiking Map
Google map – Like a Hiking Guide in your pocket.
This post links to products and services I love, which I may make a small commission from, at no extra cost to you. If you click and buy through these links, this is how I can continue to make Sustainable Outdoor Travel Guides!!
Gimbelhof 4 Castle to Castle Hike : Trail Report
This simple loop spans the border between France and Germany. It’s part of a larger 33 kilometer trail that gets to many more castle ruins, but this section hits the highlights in a short distance.
Distance: 4.08 miles, 6.5 km
Elevation: 750 feet up/down
Duration: 2.5 hours
GPS: Komoot 4 Castle to Castle Loop guide
Kid-friendly: yes, 3+. Playground at start. Smaller children will likely need to be carried in packs.
Dog-friendly: Yes, most hotels and restaurants huts here accept dogs, contact them directly to ask.
Fees: None. No hiking pass needed. Free parking.
Behind the Scenes Stories: Web Stories ******Gimbelhof********
HexaTrek: Parts of this trail walk along the newly formed Hexatrek, a long distance trail that goes from the Atlantic border of France in the southwest all the way to Germany here in the Vosges in the northeast.
If you come to this hike from Germany you’ll cross the French border and the road turns into what seems like a large bike path. Don’t worry you can drive on it legally. You’ll enter the Sickingen” forest. That’s right, the same Sickingen that is the bloody baron of Landstuhl.
Mobile service is poor here so just follow the ample signs toward “Gimbelhof”. It’s just 2-3 km past the border and you’ll see the parking lot next to the hotel and restaurant.
Here you can get expansive views of Château de Fleckenstein.
The hiking loop starts by going through the charming playground next to the Gimbelhof parking lot. Take your first left along the fence and get right into the wooded single track filled with dappled forest light.
Keep an eye out to the left for amazing views of Castle Fleckenstein. Make your way up to Col Hohenburg at 475 meters. It’s a crossroads of many trails. Pass tree with sign and then take a right at the 3 forks – take most right fork. You’ll come onto a wide logging road and then immediately take a single track uphill toward Löwenstein. Do the Krappenfels another time.
The ruin will surprise you!
This castle ruin has a large ladder that is unsuitable for dogs but great views from the top with railings.
Next along the tour is Château de Hohenbourg just a few hundred meters up the trail. It’s perfect for spooky photos.
Once past this ruin you’ll walk toward the Maidenbrunnen (of the White Lady lore) and Germany. You’ll notice the signs shift quickly and you’ll walk past your typical square German jagdhütte. There’s 2 sets of impressive “fels” or rocks on your left, including one with a hidden shrine.
Straight in front will be the Castle Ruin Wegelnburg. This is a photographer’s dream with no railings and gorgeous 360 deg views perfect for sunrise and sunset.
I repeat, no railings!
It’s said that the Princess here has to be kissed as a snake and then a toad. I wonder if this is the origin of the princess and the frog legend.
You’ll have to walk slightly downhill along the hexatrek to get back to France and the final stop, Château de Fleckenstein. This one has a great cafe and chill out area in front, but the actual castle ruin is gated and there are multiple fake knights.
Can you feel the difference between France and Germany?
You’ll have to pay an entrance fee to climb onto it. The route ambles back to Gimbelhof along a soft wooded trail.
Gimbelhof & Alsace France Trail Travel Guide
How to Get to Gimbelhof
Welcome to the Alsace of eastern France. It’s known for stunning red pinnacle spire mountains, impossibly cute villages, castles and delicious foods like flammkuchen (a type of white pizza), quiches and sauerkraut.
The easiest way to reach this hiking and cultural area is by car. It is good to pair with an overnight trip that includes time spent in nearby Colmar or Strasbourg. The famous Alsatian wine route is in this Vosges mountain region and tours of the medieval über cute villages like Hunawihr, Riquewihr, Eguisheim, and Kaysersberg.
- KMC to Gimbelhof : About 1 hour drive
- Stuttgart/Wiesbaden to Gimbelhof : 2 hours drive
- Strasbourg to Gimbelhof: 1 hour drive
Dolomites in the Summer : Best things to do including hiking the Alta Via 1 Hut to Hut trail in the Italian Dolomites
St Wendel Germany : This small town in nearby Germany offers great ambiance and playgrounds for the kids to enjoy the hikes too.
Where to Stay : Hotel Guide Gimbelhof
The Gimbelhof Hotel has capacity for 20 people. Contact them directly for rates but room start at 50 euros. However, if the hotel is full these hotels nearby offer a similar Nature experience.
Best for Families Exploring Nature
A stay at L’auberge Du Cheval Blanc offers an indoor pool and spa, a 2 star Michelin starred restaurant, aesthetician treatments and gorgeous rooms. Some of the Auberge Du Cheval Blanc’s guest rooms have an individual spa, with a balneo bath, sauna and Feng-Shui design. Kids and dogs are welcome.
Best for Eco-Friendly Luxury
Book at the La Source du Sens Spa hotel for a true getaway and sensory experience. It is adults only and full of luxurious touches. Beautiful, spacious and quiet.
The Hotel Restaurant le Cleebourg offers a comfortable stay including a children’s playground and a sauna. It has a paid breakfast service.
Super Budget : Car Mattress
Summer can be challenging to get accommodations if you don’t plan early! If you’re out of luck finding a room, try getting a mattress for the back of your SUV as it’s totally legal to sleep one night in your car in France. There’s nothing like waking up to Vosge forest in the morning.
Hütten : Huts
Various mountain huts line these forests that are seasonally open with community bunk beds and restaurants. Check their website for more information on booking.
Where to Eat : Restaurant Gimbelhof
Do not go without a reservation to the main restaurant in Gimbelhof as you’ll likely be turned away. However there is a cafeteria serving all kinds of traditional snacks, hot foods and drinks if you cannot get a table.
The Fleckenstein castle also has a cafe near the entrance that serves up really great and inexpensive wine and quiches.
➡️ For a really cool experience book a table at the 2 star Michelin starred restaurant Au Cheval Blanc Niedersteinbach. It is a 12 minute drive from the hiking trailhead. That’s a perfect day!!
What to Do:
Iron Mines of Nothweiler
Swimming Pool in Dahn
Hoeffler of Lobsann Distillery
Cleebourg Wine Cellar
Castle of Challenges Family Adventure at Castle Fleckenstein
6 Best Things to do Beyond Hiking in the Alsace
⤴ 🇫🇷 Get the Pass Alsace and enjoy free entry to almost 60 tourist sites, including wildlife parks, fortified castles, museums, and more fun activities and discounts in Alsace.
🇫🇷 Alsatian medieval village tour. Visit three medieval villages: Kayserberg, Hunawihr, and Riquewihr in a van with small group.
🏰 Half day Safari Castle and wine route tour. Go to the Visit Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg and Château de Kaysersberg and do some wine tastings in a private Alsace cellar.
🎯 Full Day Alsace Wine tasting tour. You’ll stop at Hunawihr, Riquewihr, Eguisheim, and Kaysersberg, with a potential stop at the Haut-Koenigsbourg Castle
📸 👟 Walking photography tour with a local from Colmar. Go beyond landscape photography and enter into the street photography scene aided by a local photographer.
🍫 Chocolate museum visit and chocolate making workshop in Colmar. Spend 45 minutes with a chocolatier and learn how to decorate your very own chocolate bar.
What to Bring on the Hike
This hike is not especially technical and a good pair of walking or running shoes or sandals will work just fine. Make sure to bring along sun protection for your eyes and a water bottle.
There are 2 stop along this trail for drinks and food.
When is the 4 castles trail open?
It’s open year round. Fleckenstein castle has opening hours of 10 – 5:30 daily.
Is there a Christmas Market nearby?
Yes, and it’s absolutely medieval magical. Here’s an Alsace Christmas market tour based out of Strasbourg.
How much time do you need for the 4 Castles hike?
2.5 – 3 hours for the loop and time to take photos of the 4 castles.
How long is 4 Castles hike?
There are many hiking trails around Gimbelhof and its parking area. The easiest trail has an elevation gain of about 750 feet and is about 4 miles long. It takes about 2 – 2.5 hours to do the loop.
Thanks for reading! Please share your stories of your awesome outdoor adventures or ask questions from the community over on our facebook group Untold Outdoor Europe Travel Planning.
With 💞 , Crave the Planet