South of Freiburg the Southern Black Forest gradually rises into a series of rounded and densely forested mountains that begins with the Schauinsland peak and includes the ski resorts of Todtnau and the Feldberg, the highest peak in the area. Only smaller settlements dot their slopes or huddle at the valley bottoms. The more densely wooded hills just south of here are also thinly populated, with the modest lakeside resort towns of Titisee, Schluchsee and small spa resort of St Blasien among the few exceptions. To the east of the area on the fringes of the Black Forest lies the Wutachschlucht, a deep overgrown gorge that’s popular for hiking; while to the west, where the land flattens around the Rhine and the French border, the prim spa-town of Badenweiler is a draw, as is the idyllic cluster of vineyard-draped hills called the Kaiserstuhl, sticking out in what’s an otherwise clear run up to the impressive Vosges mountains on the horizon.
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The quiet little mountain town of TODTNAU, 32km southeast of Freiburg and 25km beyond the Schauinslandbahn, bustles with activity in winter when it becomes a gateway to a network of ski lifts around the Feldberg.
A ski lift up the Hasenhorn carries toboggans in winter and continues to attract a steady trickle of visitors in summer thanks to the presence of a 2.9km roller-coaster-cum-bobsleigh track and a couple of excellent downhill mountain-bike trails aimed at experienced riders who can buy or rent any equipment they need at the base-station shop.
Aside from skiing, Todtnau’s other great draw is a 97m-tall waterfall that cascades over several craggy rocks on the opposite (northern) side of the valley. To get there from town hike the signposted 2km trail from the church at the centre of Todtnau, or simply follow the much shorter trail from the car park on the hairpin of the L126 en route to Freiburg and Kirchzarten. The falls freeze in the winter to magical effect, but beware the slippery trails.
On the southeastern fringes of the Black Forest and hidden from view in the rolling landscape of farms and pastures lies the 33km-long Wutachschlucht, a deep gorge that’s been fed and shaped by the waters of the Titisee. The thickly forested and overgrown chasm with its stretches of craggy cliffs, churning waters and unspoilt, ancient forests has become a popular hike. Given that the walk is too long to do in a day, local buses operate to pick up and drop off hikers along the gorge route for a flat rate of €3 per day.
Several communities act as gateways to the valley, with the most practical being Löffingen – which is on the railway network (from Freiburg hourly; 1hr) – to the north of the Wutachschlucht and Bonndorf – an easy bus ride from Schluchsee – to the south. A popular quick taster of the canyon landscape is the feeder valley of the Lotenbachklamm, along which an easy and attractive hour-long, round-trip walk runs to the Schattenmühle, an old watermill and inn in the Wutach Valley. The Shattenmühle is also the ideal place to start a hike of the most stunning stretch of the Wutachschlucht. Take bus #7259 from Löffingen or #7344 from Bonndorf, to the Schattenmühle, or park there, then walk five hours east along the gorge to Wutachmühle, and take bus #7344 back to the start (9am–6pm hourly; 25min) or to Bonndorf.
At 1493m the Feldberg is the Black Forest’s highest summit, but it’s hardly a soaring peak. Instead its huge bulk rears into a bald, rather flat, treeless dome. Nevertheless, the area is protected as a nature reserve where wild flowers flourish as do unusual fauna like mountain hens and goat-like chamois. The scattered presence of traditional Black Forest farmhouses and the occasional alpine hut add to the charm. But most villages in the area exist to provide for the major regional downhill-skiing centre. The most convenient is the slope-side village of FELDBERG, little more than a group of roadside houses on a 1234m-high pass, but given its general lack of services and nightlife you might prefer to stay in the more well-rounded village of Altglashütten, in the valley 8km away.
Haus der Natur
In summer the main focus on the Feldberg is on the Haus der Natur visitor centre, which has various displays on natural history in German and is the start point for various hikes including the Feldberg-Steig, a highly recommended 12km loop that links five alpine huts around the upper reaches of the Feldberg. Much of it passes over open ground, offering open vistas which many other Black Forest hikes lack. In winter a good portion of this and other local trails form popular cross-country skiing routes.
A short walk from the Haus der Natur lies the Feldbergbahn which, in winter, is part of a network of 28 ski lifts and covered by a day-pass. In summer it offers the chance of great views over the Alps without any legwork.