The Bavarian region of Allgäu is without a doubt a treasure trove of incredible landscape photography locations. Just imagine small picturesque villages on the shores of the beautiful crystal-clear lakes, mountains towering above it all – and you’ll get an idea. Some of you probably know it by the famous Neuschwanstein castle, but Allgäu is much more than that. Over the years, this part of Germany has become one of my favorite hunting grounds for the new vistas. So today I would like to tell you about a place in Allgäu that is well concealed, less known, and harder to reach, but will definitely be worth your while. Join me on a hike to lake Schrecksee.
What Is Lake Schrecksee?
Chances are, you never heard of lake Schrecksee. Well, it is said to be Germany’s highest alpine lake with an island. And while I couldn’t quite verify that claim (nor disprove it, for that matter), it sure sounds believable. Schrecksee is located at an astounding altitude of 1813 m (5949 ft) in the southernmost corner of Germany, just 300 meters away from the German-Austrian border. It is surrounded by the rolling hills of the Allgäu Alps and is an incredibly stunning mountain lake.
But, there’s a catch. The only way to access lake Schrecksee is through a long and strenuous hiking trail. And I mean it – this 7.7 kilometers route with an elevation gain of 1000m (one way) is a real deal. Overnight camping is not allowed at the lake (enforced by police), so expect to be hiking for good 7-8 hours. You will also need a decent physical shape, good shoes, plenty of water, and a strong resolve to beat the hike. But if you’re up for a challenge, let me assure you – the reward will be well worth it. Think you’ve got what it takes? Great, grab your camera, and let’s head to the town of Hinterstein, where the adventure begins.
First, Let’s Talk Parking
The hike to lake Schrecksee begins in the village of Hinterstein. When arriving by car, keep driving through town until you reach the end of the public road. There, you will find a large parking lot to leave the vehicle. The price is 10 EUR per day but as you only pay between 8 am and 6 pm, the actual amount might be lower, depending on the time of the visit.
From what I’ve read, the parking lot tends to fill up quickly during the summer months. We arrived later in the day, around 3 pm, and were lucky enough to quickly find a spot. However, judging by the number of cars parked on the curbs, I can totally see that being difficult sometimes.
By the way, don’t park like that. The place is run by some very strict (or greedy?) owners who will make sure to give you a ticket. The cars parked against the rules all had a note on the windshield. And while we’re at it, overnight parking is not allowed either. Yes, they do check for that too. We stayed at lake Schrecksee till darkness and it was well past midnight when we finally made it back. Well, guess what – a ticket was already waiting for us.
I do find the penalty unjustified, as we paid for the parking and didn’t really leave the car there for the entire night. But in the end, it was easier to pay a 15 EUR fine than to try and prove our point. Not ideal, and definitely something to be aware of if you plan to hike for sunrise or sunset. On an off-chance that authorities ever read this article – you really need to be friendlier to the tourists that come to the area. But then again, it’s Germany…
The Easy Part
Anyways, back to the hike. The trail starts off deceivingly easy. The first three kilometers follow a paved or a well-maintained gravel road with little to no incline. It’s a very enjoyable walk that takes you through serene meadows and forests and offers some nice views.
I wholeheartedly recommend this section of the hike to anyone looking for a pleasant stress-free stroll through the beautiful Allgäu nature. You’ll have plenty of fresh air, get to see some cows and spend a lovely day outside. It might not be much in terms of epic vistas, but there are still interesting things to see and photograph.
The beginning of the second, much harder, half of the trail is marked by a white power plant building. Located right at the side of the road, it is impossible to miss. Immediately past it, you’ll see a sign and a steep narrow path will branch off to the left. That’s the trail that will eventually take us to lake Schrecksee. But brace yourselves, the easy stuff is over, from now on the things are about to get real.
The Brutal Part
The brutal part is 4.5 kilometers of a relentless uphill climb. Unlike other long hikes where steep sections often mix with easier ones, this one is a tough battle all the way through. There is an area in the middle where it eases up for a bit, but not for long. Have a look at the route profile and see for yourself.
Initially, the path enters the forest where you walk on what looks like a dry riverbed. It’s pretty steep and there are lots of pebbles. Proper hiking shoes with a good grip are a must, especially on the way back.
After about an hour you will pass a small pond and soon after the forest gives way to a wide alpine meadow. This is where the ascent eases up a little, giving you some much-needed relief before the final push. Take some time to regain the strength and snap a few images of the cows roaming the meadow while you’re at it.
You will now need to climb the ridge that surrounds the meadow. It might not look like much when seen from below, but trust me, it’s long and steep and difficult. You’ll be out of breath in no time. At least I was. But at this stage, we’re too far in to turn back. So stop to rest if you need to, drink water, and keep pushing. Lake Schrecksee is not far now.
Disappointing as it may sound, there’s no big reveal awaiting you at the top of the ridge. There is no lake in sight anywhere either. Instead, there’s just… more hills. Don’t worry though, lake Schrecksee is only 15-20 minutes away and we’ll get there soon enough. For now, though, take a moment and enjoy the sheer beauty of the surrounding landscape. This area is one of my favorite parts of the entire trail. There are rolling hills everywhere, almost reminiscent of Tuscany if only Tuscany had mountains. It is absolutely stunning and if you’re here during the golden hour, you’ll surely capture some amazing photos.
Keep walking through the hills and soon enough you’ll get the first glimpse of lake Schrecksee. It might not look super impressive from this lower vantage point, but before we go searching for a better viewpoint, why not have a break, take in the view, drink a beer (I sure hope you brought some?), and plunge into the lake. The water will be refreshing for sure. But really, how often do you get a chance to swim in the highest alpine lake?
Landscape Photography Tips
The best view of lake Schrecksee is arguably from the hills to the east, right at the Austrian border. From there, you get a nice panoramic view of lake Schrecksee and the surrounding landscape. And if you turn around, you can even peek into the valley on the Austrian side, which I thought was pretty cool.
For the best photos, my recommendation would be to visit lake Schrecksee in the late afternoon. Of course, being there at sunset implies having to hike back in the darkness. Though it is actually not that difficult (just make sure you have a headlamp), it might not be to everyone’s taste. In that case, early morning, while the light is still soft, is also a good choice. But honestly, it is such a lovely place that you will capture nice photos there any time of the day.
Still, if you can, stick around until the golden hour. That’s when the setting sun softly illuminates the surrounding hills, creating a true spectacle of light and color. The day hikers will all be gone by then and the entire show will play out for you alone. It’ll truly be an experience to remember. And as a last bit of advice – don’t just shoot the lake itself. There’s plenty of other fantastic compositions around. Have fun!
I hope you enjoyed this little trip to the region of Allgäu and the highest alpine lake in Germany. If you have any questions or comments, don’t hesitate to leave them down below or hit me up directly. If not, feel free to read other articles on this blog and I’ll see you around!