The Schwarzwaldhochstraße, or Black Forest High Road, is a beautiful driving route through Germany’s Black Forest region that takes you over the ridges of the low mountains in southwestern Baden-Württemberg.
The road runs from the spa town Baden-Baden in the north to Freudenstadt in the south, taking in all sorts of little sights and viewpoints along the way. We chose to make this a full Black Forest weekend break, but you could definitely do it in a day if you are not as keen on stopping all the time. We had the incredible bad luck to do most of this drive in rain and fog, so we missed out on most of the gorgeous views. However, the Black Forest lives up to it’s name in that weather, and I was sure we were going to run into an old witch from the fairy tales at any moment, so maybe it wasn’t a bad thing at all!
This route was formalized in the 1930s as holiday car trips began to be a popular way to spend holidays. The Black Forest itself has always been a popular hiking destination – with a local milliner opening up one of the first ever tourist offices and publishing hiking maps in the late 19th century. If you stop for a little walk on the many trails, you will see the very old trail signposts, many still dating from this period. The Black Forest itself takes its name from the Roman legionaries tasked with exploring it, and their experiences in the unfamiliar towering trees, as well as the habit of the local tribes of leaping out and attacking out of nowhere. The Brothers Grimm added to the mystique by publishing their books of fairy tales, generally researched from the local people throughout the region. Every time we set foot in the Black Forest it feels like the beginning of a fairy tale, I have to say!
Where to stop on the Black Forest High Road
This beautiful little spa town reminds me of Bath, in England, and for good reason. Like Bath, it was originally built around tourists coming to ‘take the waters’ to cure everything from the hysterics to a bit of melancholy. Gambling became a lucrative second industry for the town, as the French liked to nip over the border for a spot of legal game-playing. The rumour is Dostoyevsky learned how to gamble at the tables in Baden-Baden. If you’re traveling with kids, you’ll probably skip the casino, as we have.
A wander down the picturesque high street is plenty, with a pit stop at the cute Buchhandlung Straß book and toy shop. We had dinner at the sprawling Löwenbrau outpost around the corner, which is a Bavarian brewpub. It sounds strange, not being in Bavaria, but there’s lots of room and their location here is a riot of flowerboxes and has a gorgeous patio complete with a mini carousel. The kids can have a plate of tender spätzle (egg noodles) and you can have a giant Maß of beer (those comedy 1L beer servings) if you so choose. If you’re only passing through for lunch, I highly recommend the Peters Gute Backstube. It looks like just a bakery from the outside, but they have a nice lunch menu including schnitzel, pasta and sandwiches. We had an excellent lunch here, and my son’s spinach ravioli with cream sauce was incredible. Be prepared to point and gesture a lot if you don’t speak any German, though the staff was lovely, friendly, and helpful.
Just above Baden-Baden are the ruins of the Hohenbaden castle. There’s quite a bit to clamber around on here, and it’s free to visit. When we stopped by, there was one other couple just leaving, so we had the place to ourselves. You can climb into one of the ruined towers and look out over the valley below. I love these ruins, where there’s enough to imagine where things were, but not so much that you’re not allowed to touch anything. It’s a good place to stop and let small people run around and blow off some steam before another stint in the car.
You may have seen the viral videos going around the socials of various trips down these bobsleigh tracks. I can tell you, it’s so fun. There are a few in the Black Forest, but the Mehliskopf is the only one actually on the Black Forest High Road. It’s part of a larger recreation area, but you can choose to just do the ‘Bobbahn’ if you like. You get on a structured cart with seatbelts, with a seat in the front for kids on the same cart, and it tows you to the top of a loooooong hill. Once you start going down, you can control your speed with a handbrake, and you zip in and out of the trees on your way down. It’s super fun, pretty cheap – two of you can go down for under €10 a go. There’s a cafe on site as well. Do check the website ahead of time, as they are not open everyday.
As you come up to one of the highest elevations, you’ll suddenly find a hotel and a little lake. This is the Mummelsee – mummel means water lily, and see means lake. It is nearly perfectly round, and of course there’s a perfectly gory myth to go along with it. Apparently, water sprites live in a beautiful castle at the bottom of the lake, and they come out during the day to help the surrounding farmers with their chores and look after children while the mothers work (where are these sprites and can they come to my house?!), but of course one fell in love with a local lad, stayed out too late, and then the king of the water sprites killed her. Lovely! Anyway, there is a nice playground, rental boats, cafe, and many little tourist shops here. It makes a good place to break your journey.
A picture perfect German half-timbered town
Schlitach, which is a bit out of your way but well worth a stop, is one of those perfect little half-timbered German villages. It’s situated on a hill, and the Black Forest rises up beyond it, and you can imagine any number of fairy tales beginning in the little market square. An hour or so here is really all you need, but do get out of the car for a little walk around. It’s been a town since the 11th century, generally used as a central meeting place for the surrounding farmers, and as a stopping point for travellers coming through the Black Forest.
Black Forest hotel experience
If you’re used to travelling in bigger cities, you’ll have to get used to the Gasthaus experience. This is the small-town German set up of a restaurant with rooms upstairs. Often there is no front desk, you just enter through the restaurant and the staff will give you a key. We lucked out with a lovely place in Mühelnbach, deep in the Black Forest. The Gasthaus Ochsen is a bit like the King’s Head or the Red Lion in England, there is one in every town. Regardless, we checked in, had a lovely meal downstairs with local wine, a huge plate of buttered spätzle for our son, and a dish of salmon, chanterelles and pasta I still dream about. The breakfast was lovely and traditional – think proper Black Forest ham, boiled eggs, endless types of bread, müsli, and the best hotel coffee I’ve had in awhile. The little canal beside the Gasthaus was rushing like a major river after all the rain, and the church bells from across the road made for a beautiful wake up call.