One of the many highlights of our time in Bavaria was a walk in Berchtesgaden National Park in winter. We took a boat across misty Königssee lake to St. Bartholomew and hiked to the ice chapel or Eiskapelle.
Berchtesgaden National Park in Winter
Berchtesgaden Park (Nationalparkverwaltung Berchtesgaden) is the only alpine national park in Germany. Although it is not very high in elevation, the change in altitude from Königssee (King Lake) to the top of Watzmann Peak (2,110 meters/6,923 feet) is dramatic.
From Schönau (near the bus stop) took the ferry across Königsee, the gorgeous lake at the center of the park. Königsee is said to be the cleanest lake in Germany, thanks to the environmental protection afforded it by being in Nationalpark Berchtesgaden.
Tip: At the ferry dock, download the park audio guide and map, aptly named “Königsee.” The ferry tour is in German, but if you have ear buds you can listen to the same thing in English. You can also pick up a tour brochure in several languages and read as you go.
It was misty along the lake, so we couldn’t see much of the steep mountains that give this emerald lake a fjord-like feel. Along the way, the boatman blew his flugelhorn, a type of trumpet, toward the rock walls and we listened to the notes bounce back to us from Echo Canyon. Then he walked through the boat with his hat out, requesting tips.
After about 30 minutes, the much-photographed baroque church of St. Bartholomä appeared and it was time for us to disembark. In summer, the boat continues 30 minutes to another dock, Salet, where there are additional trails, including a short walk to a smaller lake, Obersee.
Hiking to the Ice Chapel (Eiskapelle)
From the ferry dock, we bypassed the church and restaurants and followed the signs to the Eiskapelle. It’s about a six kilometer walk (round trip), and starts off on an easy, wide path.
Here was got amazing views of the gray and white striped Mount Watzmann and back at misty Königsee. Seeing this view is worth the ferry trip in itself. After the big meadow, the trail crosses a bridge, passes a small chapel (not the Ice Chapel) and starts to climb up the canyon.
This is where Finn started whining, but it was my birthday, so I left him with Henry and hiked ahead with Anders. Don’t worry, we stopped and let them catch up with us from time to time.
We popped out into a boulder field below the mountain and watched snow tumble down Watzmann in loud snowfalls. You should watch the video for this.
After sliding across the snow-covered boulder field in our running shoes (oops!), we finally arrived at the Ice Chapel. And it was amazing.
In spring, snow from small avalanches piles up in the corner of the valley from the east face of Watzmann. Then some of the snow melts from the bottom, a small creek forms, and you have an ice cave. I don’t know why it’s called an Eiskapelle, but maybe someone thought it looked like a chapel. More about the Ice Chapel here.
Anders and I arrived first and walked through the cave. It was smooth and shiny in places, scalloped in others, and an otherworldly blue light shone through the ice. A small creek ran through the middle and water dripped in places. We couldn’t get enough, it was beautiful.
After a standing picnic of bread and cheese, we walked back to St. Bartholomä. Everyone was in a good mood by then. Downhill walks tend to inspire happiness, or at least relief, in our youngest hiker.
Eating in St. Bartholomä
We stopped at the squat, wooden building with a small restaurant before boarding the ferry. There are two options for food: small smoked trout with bread, served on a wooden board or large smoked trout with bread served on a wooden board. In the summer, there is also a fresh trout option. The fish come from Königsee and no other fishing is allowed on the lake. We ordered beers and Sprite, but were too late for the fish, lest we miss the last ferry back. We loved the atmosphere in the this tiny place with communal seating, even if we didn’t get the traditional fish.
The restaurant in a former hunting lodge, Jadgschloss, is much larger. In summer, when the courtyard is open, it has 600 seats with views of the fantastic mountain panorama. In winter, you’ll have to sit inside. There you can order fish—trout and char, and local wild deer, among other dishes.
House of the Mountains (Haus der Berge)
This beautiful new visitor center is both an informational and educational resource. We stopped by after visiting the national park on a different day, since that’s how the timing worked out for us. It’s located in the town of Berchtesgaden, not the park, so if you are taking the bus or train, it is a separate trip.
Plan Your Own Trip
There is a large parking area near the end of Königssee.
Several buses stop at the Königssee: 839, 841, and 843; they run hourly. You can catch it from the bus stop in front of the Berchtesgaden Hauptbahnhof, or in town at the stop on Maximillianstrasse near the Kurhaus.
By bus: 840 (The Watzmann Express) leaves from the Salzburg Hauptbahnhof and the Salzburg Rathaus, and takes you to the Berchtesgaden Hauptbahnhof, a 45 minute ride.
By train: Depart from the Salzburg Hauptbahnhof, change at Freilassing, and arrive at the main station in Berchtesgaden in about one hour and 15 minutes.
From the Berchtesgaden Hauptbahnhof, take bus 839, 841 or 843 to the Königssee parking lot.
Get the DB Navigator app to figure out bus and train schedules.
From the parking lot or bus stop, there is a short, cobblestone street lined with restaurants, sporting goods stores, coffee shops, and souvenir stands that leads directly to the ferry dock in Schönau.
The boats run every day except December 24, unless the weather is bad (in storms, heavy fog, or when the lake is frozen). They only go out to Salet April through October.
In summer, it’s best to get there early to avoid some of the crowds. Even in winter, we had to wait for one ferry in both directions.
There are plenty of places to stay in the town of Berchtesgaden. Check Booking.com (link below) to find one right for you. Or stay in Salzburg and make a long day trip of your visit.
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