When it comes to good destinations for landscape photography, southern part of Germany definitely does not disappoint. Between the Black Forest to the west and Berchtesgaden national park on the far east, this area is full of beautiful locations that will get any landscape photographer excited. One such place is a small town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen located right on the border with Austria next to Germany’s tallest mountain Zugspitze. In addition to its alpine meadows, magnificent mountains and deep gorges, this region is also a home to numerous gorgeous lakes. The most famous of them – lake Eibsee – might just be one of the most beautiful lakes in all Germany.
Chances are, you’ve heard of Eibsee before. It is by no means a hidden gem or well-kept secret. On the contrary, Eibsee is a thriving tourist destination and also, in my experience, one of the most Instagrammed locations in Germany. And while that’s exactly how I learned about it in the first place, it also means that it attracts an insane amount of people, something to keep in mind when planning your visit. An obvious thing to remember is that although the parking lot is huge, it can and will eventually fill up in high season or during weekends. Therefore, it might be a good idea to be there early in the morning or later in the afternoon as people start to leave. Otherwise you may find yourself parking further down the road and walking a good distance back to the lake. To give you an idea, when I visited over weekend in late April, available places were gone by 11 in the morning.
It also means that all the cafes and restaurants will be quite expensive and packed with people, so don’t count on being able to just go and grab that beer after finishing the hike around Eibsee. It might be a good idea to bring your own snacks and water instead. I also thoroughly recommend doing the hike, because in my opinion it is the best way not only to truly enjoy the views and nature, but also to get the best photographs of the lake. And it’s completely free!
The full circle around the lake is about 7 kilometers long and will require anywhere between 1.5 hours to half a day to complete depending on how often you make stops to take photos or simply chill out on the beach. It has some uphill and downhill sections but is otherwise relatively even and is easily walkable for any person of a decent physical shape.
I suggest to hike counter-clockwise, because I find the views to be better from the northern shore. But if you’re short on time or not sure you can make full circle, start counter-clockwise until you find yourself heading deeper into the forest and further away from the water. At that point go back and take the first section of the southern path, all the way to a small side lake called Frillensee. That’ll give you most views in a relatively short period of time. For the best views, though, you would still need to head all the way to the opposite side of Eibsee (to about here).
And the views really are stunning, especially on a sunny day. As photographers, we often tend to ignore the day light and only aim for the golden hour, sunrise or sunset, but I don’t think this is necessarily the case with lake Eibsee. Hopefully, my photos in this article can attest to that. All of them were taken during the day and in my opinion turned out really nicely. Part of the reason is that there’s a lot of compositions here that work really nicely without including the sky. Emerald green water of the lake itself together with the vibrant colors of the trees (especially in spring or autumn) often represent the main interest in the image that even midday sun can light up pretty beautifully.
In cases where you do need to include the sky, I highly recommend having a polarizer filter. It is invaluable in situations like this to help reduce the haze and really bring out the most colors and contrast in the image. Obviously, make sure to do some post-processing on the images as well.
If you can, by all means come to Eibsee closer to the golden hour, but keep in mind that the weather in the Alps tends to change for the worse in the afternoon as clouds start to roll in. Also, it will take at least 40 minutes to hike to the best viewpoint. If you time it properly and are lucky with light, you might witness that beautiful glow on the mountains during the early golden hour in the evening, which will definitely make for completely different images than I show here. Get there early enough though, because as soon as the sun goes behind the mountains, all the light will be soaked from the scene and it just won’t be the same.
But remember, lake Eibsee is not the only beautiful place in Garnisch-Partenkirchen. For sunrise especially, I recommend hitting the road and taking a short 30-minute drive east, towards another beautiful lake Geroldsee (also known as Wagenbrüchsee). This place is much less crowded with general public, but is widely-known and hugely popular among photographers. I can almost guarantee that even if you wake up at 3am to show up for that crazy early summer sunrise, there’s already going to be a few people there when you arrive.
It is still worth it, though. The view across Geroldsee towards the Alps in the background is truly amazing. It’s also facing almost perfectly east, so in late autumn and winter you can even get the sun into the frame. A bunch of picturesque mountain huts in the foreground complete this idyllic image.
On an overcast day or when the sun is too harsh and there’s not a cloud in the sky, I recommend exploring Partnachklamm. It’s a gorge that in many ways resembles the Narrows in the Zion national park in US, except it’s much shorter and you don’t have to walk in the actual water. Watch my YouTube video for more details on that and other destinations I mention. If you have time, take the train up the Zugspitze mountain, the views are incredible from the top. But also, always explore on your own. This region has so much more to offer that restricting yourself only to the most popular spots would be very… well, restrictive. Below is my image of a very small and off-the-beaten path lake on the outskirts of Grainau that I think illustrates the point. Just remember to look around and the beauty will reveal itself.