As I often say, the region of Allgäu in south-western Bavaria is easily one of my favorite places in Germany. Marking the beginning of the Alps, this part of the country is an amazing place for all outdoor lovers, be that hikers, backpackers, or – that’s right – landscape photographers. In the last article, I told you about Schrecksee, Germany’s highest alpine lake hidden deep in the hills of Allgäu. Today, I would like to offer you a tour of another very famous lake in the area – lake Seealpsee.
Lake Seealpsee in… Germany?
Situated in between the two valleys, the Seeapsee of Allgäu is an incredibly photogenic mountain lake. Now, some of you might be confused – isn’t Seeaplsee a Swiss lake? You are absolutely correct, there is a gorgeous lake in the Appenzell canton in Switzerland, also called Seealpsee. Well, it turns out Germany has one of its own! Less popular perhaps, but every bit as lovely as its Swiss counterpart. As with many locations in Allgäu, Seealpsee won’t be easy to reach. But trust me when I say that it’ll take your breath away, both literally and figuratively.
The German Seealpsee is located near the village of Oberstdorf. It sits on top of the mountain ridge that separates the Oytal valley from the Seealpe valley to the north. Naturally, the only way to reach it is through one of the two valleys. No matter which direction you go, expect a long and strenuous hike. The total distance is a little longer through Oytal, at around 11 kilometers, one way. The other route, through Seealpe and the Höfatsblick mountain station, is some 3 kilometers shorter. The elevation gain is the same though, at a whopping 1000 meters, give or take. Naturally, you can combine the trails, taking one up and the other one down, for a nice 19-kilometer loop.
There is an easier option, too. The Nebelhornbahn ski lift connects Oberstdorf with the Höfatsblick mountain station, allowing you to cut most of the climb. Catch the ride up, and you’ll only have to hike downhill. Unfortunately, at the moment of writing, the lift is closed for renovation until at least Easter 2021. For now, I’m afraid, the only chance to see Seealpsee is by doing some good old hiking.
Which way up?
Since there are two routes up, you might be wondering which one to pick. As is often the case, the answer is “it depends”. The Seealpe route is shorter overall, but that doesn’t make it much easier. The path keeps going up all the time, with hardly a place to catch your breath. Luckily, most of that ascent is on the well-maintained paved road. It’s steep and hard, but you really won’t need hiking shoes to do it. This is the option I have chosen myself, and the one I will cover in this article.
I haven’t personally attempted the Oytal trail, but from I heard, it offers a more classic hiking experience. A long and mostly plain section through the valley floor is followed by an aggressive ascent to the lake. The climb is much steeper, and you will actually be hiking the narrow forest paths on your way up. If this sounds more appealing to you, there are articles on the internet that describe it in more detail.
Before we proceed, I should also mention that while the Nebelhornbahn lift is being renovated, the path to Höfatsblick is officially closed. The reason is safety considerations during construction in the mountains. The hike itself is fully intact and perfectly usable, but please bear that in mind. Whatever you do, it’s your own responsibility.
The Waterfall Galore
If you are traveling to Oberstdorf by car, look for parking close to Audi Arena. Parkplatz an der Oybele Festhalle is one decent option. The price is EUR 8.50 per day, only payable in coins. Definitely quite overpriced, but it gets you close to the start of the hike.
From here, go behind the ski jump area and look for signs towards Station Seealpe. The easiest option is to walk up the paved road (Schanzenstrasse on Google Maps). However, I suggest taking the alternative path through the forest. This route follows the river Faltenbach and is much more exciting than simply walking up the road. Right from the get-go, you see numerous waterfalls and cascades with lots of great photo opportunities. Get your tripod out and start looking for compositions. Just try not to forget that we still need to reach lake Seealpsee today!
In all seriousness, if you don’t fancy doing the entire hike, this little section is well worth a visit. It is easy to access, requires minimum physical effort, and you will come away with some really nice images. The waterfall galore ends with a big waterfall running down from a man-made wall. If water action is all you are interested in, you can turn back here.
Otherwise, proceed to Station Seealpe. You will need about an hour to reach it from the parking lot. The path goes relentlessly uphill, but this is still an easier part of the ascent. If you’re feeling out of breath, just know that there is a beer garden waiting for you at the end.
The Brutal Ascent
Once at the station, have a rest and a refreshing beer at Seealpe Gasthof. There is also a drink machine nearby in case you don’t want to stop for long. If you haven’t brought any beer with you (shame on you!), this is your last chance to stock up. A bottle goes for 2.50 EUR in the machine, payable in coins only. Once you are ready and rested, let’s head out. The difficult part is about to begin.
Your next task is to climb the cliffs surrounding the valley. That is going to be one tough nut to crack. As you leave the rest area, the ascent starts to pick up, slightly at first, but steeper by the minute. Before you know it, you’ll be huffing and puffing and sweating. The road is still paved, but the incline is unforgiving. A section with switchbacks midway to the top is especially brutal. Your legs will hurt, but just keep pushing. If you find yourself dizzy and weak, take a break and drink. It’ll get easier soon.
After about an hour and a half of relentless uphill battle, you will emerge on top of the ridge. While lake Seealpsee is still a few minutes away, you will find yourself next to the Höfatsblick station. That’s where you would arrive if you use the ski lift. I have to admit, I am quite tempted to do just that the next time (once the repairs are complete). As fun as going up was, I was pretty exhausted and completely out of breath by the end of it. And I don’t consider myself terribly out of shape!
Once you are at Höfatsblick, lake Seealpsee is literally just around the corner. Simply continue up the hill for another 10-15 minutes. Once you cross the ridge into the valley on the other side, you will see it down to your right. And what a view that is! A tiny lake with ice-blue water hidden on the edge of a cliff, the mighty Alps framing the background. Honestly, it doesn’t get much better than this!
Feel free to wander around, snapping photos as you go. Lake Seealpsee is the main attraction around here, no doubt, but there is lots more to explore. If you are courageous enough, there is a hike on the spine of the ridge you just crossed. It’s a popular Instagram adventure and seemed doable, but having my dog with me, I decided not to risk it. Feel free to go down to the lake or explore the hills behind you. You are at the heart of Allgäu, there are views all around. Honestly, I can’t wait to get back to the area and see what else it has to offer.
And if you are too exhausted after the challenging hike up, just sit down and relax, taking in the beauty. Watch the weather change, listen to the wind, drink that beer you brought, and let your mind wander. Not a terrible way to spend the afternoon!
Lake Seealpsee Fact Check
Stick around until sunset if you wish. I didn’t, as I ventured to lake Seealpsee in early October, and it was getting quite cold by the evening. I’m definitely planning to return to Allgäu next summer, so who knows what that is going to bring. For now, I’m just happy to have seen this amazing place with my own eyes. And if you are considering doing the same, here is a quick checklist for you:
- Total length of the hike: 16 km
- Total elevation gain: 1100 meters
- Duration: at least 5-6 hours
- Difficulty: very demanding, but not dangerous
- When to go: May to October, best in summer
- What to bring: water, snacks, appropriate clothes in case it gets rainy or cold, cash in coins for parking, a beer to celebrate the achievement. In summer, sunscreen
- Camera gear: camera, mid-range zoom (I recommend 24-105mm), tripod (for waterfall shots or if you plan to wait until sunset)
- Doable with a dog: yes, I did it with my papillon Rocky, and he had tremendous fun
- Total costs: EUR 8.50 for parking, EUR 2.50-3.00 for the drinks at Seealpe Gasthof, fuel to get to Oberstdorf
If you enjoyed this read, check out my article about the hike to Schrecksee. It is another beautiful hike in Allgäu, and I think you will enjoy it as well. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to get in touch. I would love to chat and help you in any way I can. And if not, roam around this blog or check out my YouTube channel. I’m sure you will find a lot of exciting stuff there.