As I hopped off to push my rental Corratec X-Vert Motion up yet another hill, I quickly came to realize that mountain biking in Southern Germany is not exactly the same as mountain biking in San Francisco. Located in the heart of the Bavarian Alps, the small metropolis of Garmisch-Partenkirchen sits beneath the Zugspitze Massif, the highest mountain in Germany at 2962 m or 9718 ft above sea level. Most trails rise quickly and steeply out of the valley, and with a less than ideal bike to match the conditions, I needed to veer my expectations towards maximum fun factor not maximum distance or vert.
I had come to Garmisch to spend a weekend riding ahead of a hiking trip with Gore-Tex the following week. Just over an hour by train outside of Munich, Garmisch is one of my favorite places in Germany, during both winter and summer. Most Germans come here to ski during the winter, then enjoy hiking, biking, climbing, paragliding, kayaking, and you name it in the mountains during the summer.
In general, the trails are not overly technical (although you will stumble upon some quite rocky sections), but they are steep (24% grade anyone?). Particularly so when you are riding a poorly geared hardtail that weighs well over 30 lbs. You will find no lift access trail riding here, everything starts from the valley floor. So if you are willing to accept quite a bit of hike a bike, or better yet-bring your own bike for better performance, the endless miles of well maintained trails with killer views and hut access are an absolute delight.
The first day I set out towards one of my favorite summer spots in the region—the Eibsee. Lying roughly 10 km west of town at the base of the Zugspitze cable car, the Eibsee is a large alpine lake with inviting emerald green waters, easily accessed from Garmisch by a network of bike paths. You can cruise around the lake, dodging hikers, dogs, and playing children, then pedal up into the mountains on either side to visit a hut for lunch and gain a birds eye view. Spring was in full effect, with endless fields of yellow, purple, pink, and white wildflowers in bloom, farmers working hard to bring in their hay, piles of wood already stacked for winter, and cows. Plenty of cows.
On the ride back, I stopped in the tiny village of Obergrainau to enjoy a beer and a snack with a bunch of fellow cyclists. They were on a two week bike tour, exploring Southern Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. This is one thing that parts of Western Europe, and Germany in particular, sure got right—with over 200 different long distance cycle routes covering 70,000 km and spanning a wide variety of regions across the country, you are spoiled for choice on safe and fun bike tour options.
The second day, my goal was to ride up into the mountains, explore some castles, and then drop into Mittenwald, another beautiful mountain town close to the Austrian border. Many great mountain bike rides start in Mittenwald, so this scenic village offers another potential spot to base yourself for a trip to the region. After first getting lost along the valley floor, which actually made for some super fun off-roading adventures, my plans were eventually foiled by a large screw in the front tire. A couple of hours of hiking my heavy and now lame bike back to the Bike Center later, it was clear my riding day was done. Time to hit the biergarten instead.
Mountainbiken rund um Garmisch-Partenkirchen:I purchased this guide from a local bookstore when I first arrived in Garmisch—it highlights 20 great rides ranging in distance from 13 km-70 km. Yes, it’s all in German. But each ride features a map, elevation profile including distance and expected ride time, plus turn by turn directions printed out on small flashcards. Bonus—you get access to the German Bike website where you can download the GPX file for each route.
Gapa.de: Probably one of the best resources for cycling and mountain biking, as well as a wealth of other information about the region, is the Garmisch-Partenkirchen tourist website. The tour planner can help you plan a variety of mountain bike, cycling, or hiking trips, and suggests a number of popular routes with detailed information on length, difficulty, elevation profile, and expected ride time. You can either print out the routes or download the GPX file to follow on your bike computer.
Kompass Mountainbikekarte: Also useful are the regional Kompass maps that highlight mountain bike trails. These waterproof topo maps are always nice to have in your pack just in case you should find yourself lost.
I rented my mountain bike from the Bike Center in Partenkirchen, and while I didn’t have the best experience, that doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t fare better. Numerous spots around both Garmisch and Partenkirchen (these two towns meld into each other) appear to rent bikes and the Gapa website lists the details of a few.
Where to stay:
I have visited Garmisch many times now and always stay at the Hotel Wittelsbacher Hof close to the pedestrian area and a short walk from the train station.