As northern Germany’s green lung and main range of proper hills, the Harz has been well-developed for all the most common outdoor activities. And some first-class spa and sauna complexes provide the perfect counterbalance.
The rolling hills, low peaks and dark valleys of the Harz offer easy terrain for a huge network of well-signposted trails, while maps are readily available. Recommended are the inexpensive waterproof and tear-proof ones published by Publicpress – with a logo of a sun wearing sunglasses – which cover a number of areas of the Harz at different scales; the 1:50,000 ones are most useful for hiking. With navigation very straightforward and terrain relatively undemanding, it’s easy to forget that the Harz is a highly changeable mountain environment, so be prepared for storms and sharp temperature changes.
With good trails everywhere there’s no single best base for hiking the Harz, though Thale by the Bode Valley, and Schierke on the slopes of the Brocken, are particular hotspots.
Cycling and mountain biking
Cycling the Harz is a pleasure if you’re reasonably fit, though many of the roads have tight corners and fast traffic, so it’s worth planning routes along the many even and fairly smooth forestry trails that crisscross the range. Again, these are well marked on Publicpress maps, who have a range of cycling maps at a more useful smaller scale. Mountain-bikers will find the network, expertly documented in the book Der Harz für Mountainbiker (€13.60; available from most tourist offices), a bit tame, so adventurous riders should try visiting the main ski areas in summer for their ski-lift-accessed trails. Best are Braunlage and Hahnenklee (bike-park-hahnenklee.de), 16km southeast of Goslar; Thale’s Rosstrappe also has a single reasonable trail (see Thale).
When snowfall cooperates, skiing and snowboarding are possible throughout the Harz and many towns are geared up for winter sports, making equipment rental easy and inexpensive. Tobogganing is very popular, with special runs in many places and the cross-country skiing trail network well developed.
The main downhill centres are at Braunlage and St Andreasberg in the central Harz and Hahnenklee in the north, but there are half a dozen smaller spots too. Braunlage often has the best conditions and offers a good selection of runs to keep most skiers and boarders happy for a long weekend. Check harz-ski.de for conditions throughout the range.
Braunlage is also home to the ice hockey team Harzer Wölfe (harzer-woelfe.de), a reasonably talented, and fairly rabidly supported, outfit who play in the stadium in the centre of town. Catching a game can be good fun for the atmosphere and chants alone.
The finest spas and saunas in the Harz are in some of its smallest towns, where good signposting generally means they’re easy to find; enquire at a local tourist office for bus connections if you don’t have your own transport.
Bodetal Therme Parkstr. 4, Thale,0170 528 55 66. The newest spa in the Harz, with a lovely selection of saunas and steam rooms and the crowning glory of some terrific views. 4hr for €12. Mon–Wed & Sun 10am–10pm, Thurs–Sat 10am–11pm.
Heisser Brocken Karl-Reinecke-Weg 35, Altenau, 05328 91 15 70, kristalltherme-altenau.de. Relatively new and well-designed sauna complex, 20km northwest of Braunlage, with excellent views over wooded hills from several outdoor pools (one with a waterfall). Three hours: €10.80. Mon–Thurs & Sun 9am–10pm, Fri & Sat 9am–11pm.
Sole-Therme Nordhäuser Str. 2a, Bad Harzburg, 05322 753 60, sole-therme-bad-harzburg.de. Rambling pool and sauna complex with many different heated outdoor pools, saunas and steam rooms, including one in which you rub salt into your body. Day-ticket €12. Mon–Sat 8am–9pm, Sun 8am–7pm.
Vitamar Masttal 1, Bad Lauterberg 05524 85 06 65, vitamar.de. Large family-friendly pool and small swank sauna complex, 18km southwest of Braunlage. Three hours: €9.60. Mon–Fri 10am–10pm, Sat & Sun 10am–9pm.