Ever since I passed it on my way to Austria last year, lake Königsee has been on my radar. And for good reason too! Situated among the majestic Bavarian Alps it’s an incredibly beautiful lake. In fact, the whole surrounding area known as Berchtesgaden National Park is quite fabulous. As I didn’t have the opportunity to visit it back then, I made a mental note and moved on. In the year that followed, images of Königsee and its sister lake Obersee with its boathouses kept periodically appearing in my Instagram feed and in some of the Youtube channels that I watch, until I finally gave in. It was time to see it with my own eyes.
As a landscape photographer, I was mostly interested in the famous boathouses that constantly make an appearance on social media. Chances are you have seen these images – rustic boathouse surrounded by magnificent mountains reflected beautifully in the calm water. As it turned out though, getting to these huts is not very straightforward. The huts are located not on Königsee itself, but rather on the neighboring little lake Obersee. To reach them, you would need to cross Königsee by boat and then hike to Obersee.
Depending on the season, the boats run from earliest 08:00 and until latest 18:10 (you can check the timetable here). The journey takes about an hour and the hike to the nearest boathouse another 20 minutes or so. Unfortunately, this means that it is next to impossible to be at Obersee at sunrise or sunset, which is when we as photographers want to be there the most. Staying overnight is hardly an option either, as free camping is not permitted in Germany. If you do so, you probably won’t be caught, but that’s a different matter.
The only remaining alternative, therefore, is getting there during tourist hours. I strongly encourage you to take the earliest trip possible (in summer that’s at 08:00). That way you can still have a bit of decent morning light before it becomes too bright and uninteresting. More importantly, though, Königsee is a crazy popular tourist destination that becomes much more crowded later in the day. Going with the first boat gives you a chance to experience a brief moment of serenity and enjoy nature in peace before the hoards of spectators arrive. Also, the water is generally calmer in the morning. This often gives better reflections (though personally, I haven’t seen much difference in the afternoon).
I recommend buying tickets online, as it allows you to skip the queue to the ticket booth as you arrive. There is a huge parking lot in the village Schönau am Königsee where you can leave your car prior to departure.
There are a few stops along the way, but to reach Obersee you need to go all the way to the last station at Salet Alm. If you have time, by all means, explore the other stations as well. St Bartholomew’s Church, in particular, looks very interesting. There are several hikes around, one of which even leads to an ice cave. We spent an entire day at Obersee, so keep that in mind. Whatever you do, I suggest starting with the most interesting location first and only exploring others if time permits.
The first boathouse is an easy and even 15-20 minute hike away from where you disembark, so tourists overrun it pretty quickly. Just be patient, it may take a few minutes to come up with a clean shot. I also advise thinking about the composition a bit, before starting to shoot. I personally found the scene a bit challenging to work with. There are lots of beautiful elements to it, but arranging them in a shot that works is quite difficult. You have the water, the boathouse, the reflections, the mountains, and the waterfall. I suggest thinking about what is really important and concentrating on that. Gear-wise I recommend a wide zoom lens and a polarizer to handle reflections.
The second boathouse is located on the opposite side of Obersee. You can actually see it from where you photograph the first one. It’s another half an hour hike along the lakeshore that is definitely worth it. The path is quite scenic and there’s a beer garden awaiting at the end, so you can enjoy a refreshing pint for all your hard efforts.
This boathouse is smaller and doesn’t attract nearly as much attention as the first one. This means it is easier to photograph without being constantly distracted by other people. Unfortunately, there is a rock protruding into the water right where I feel would otherwise have been a perfect spot to place the tripod. So for those who don’t fancy getting their feet wet, it’s going to be a bit of a balancing exercise.
After taking the image, this is the perfect spot to make a little pause, have a cold one (or two!) in the beer garden, or eat a snack while sitting on the shore and enjoying the surrounding beauty. If you’re short on time or want to explore the other boat stops, it’s a great place to turn around. However, if you’d rather stay a bit longer and do some more hiking, continuing the trail past the beer garden and towards the Röthbachfall waterfall is an excellent option.
The path leads through an idyllic alpine landscape with tall mountains, green meadows, and cows ringing their ever-present bells. Yes, that sounds like a cliche we’ve seen a thousand times in the commercials. But let me assure you – that’s exactly how it looks! Absolutely beautiful and serene. The best part though is that most tourists are too lazy to ever go here and prefer chilling in the beer garden. Because of it, this turned out to be my favorite part of the hike. Save for a few people, it felt like we had this entire gorgeous place all for ourselves.
The last section of the trail, after it enters the forest, is pretty rough. It involves some steep rocky slope climbing. Good hiking shoes and an overall sense of balance would help immensely. It is absolutely doable, just be careful and don’t take unnecessary risks. Twisting an ankle that far from civilization would be a miserable end to an otherwise pleasant day.
The view of Röthbachfall from the top is definitely worth all the puffing and sweating required to get there. That’s as close as you can get to the tallest waterfall in Germany, and it looks absolutely amazing! Especially if it has been raining recently. Chill out at the top, take a selfie, and pat yourself on the back for a job well done. Just be careful – falling from the rocks here can actually be deadly.
A couple more tips before I wrap up. I recommend arriving in the morning and staying till late afternoon. The area is gorgeous and there’s plenty to occupy yourself with. This will also give you a chance to experiment with different light and weather conditions. When I was there, it was overcast in the morning but cleared in the afternoon. I got both moody and sunny shots, both of which are great. Just don’t miss the last boat!
If you have a drone, leave it at home, as you’ll simply end up lugging it around for no reason. Königsee and Obersee are both part of Berchtesgaden National Park so you cannot fly here. As a drone owner myself, I realize perfectly well how frustrating it is, but these are the rules, so don’t go breaking them.
Finally, if you really want to witness the sunrise or sunset here, there is actually a way to do that. You’ll have to spend the night in Wasseralm mountain hut and hike to or from the lake in the darkness. If that’s something that appeals to you, keep in mind that accommodation there is very scarce and sells out quickly, so book in advance.
As always, check out my YouTube video about the area and if you have any questions, leave them down below!