The High Fens are home to one of the most unique landscapes in Europe.
When you think of the Eifel, what’s the first word that comes to mind? I’m guessing for most of you it’s something along the lines of nature, forests, or farmland. Raise your hand if you said, “bogs.” Nobody? I’m not surprised! Bogs and moors are typically not images most people associate with the Eifel. And that’s exactly why I was so intrigued when I learned about The High Fens Nature Reserve.
The High Fens: A Brief Overview
The High Fens Nature Reserve (which is also called Hohes Venn in German and Hautes Fagnes in French) is a bog and moorland that covers more than 230 square miles of land along the Belgium/Germany border. The majority of the Nature Reserve is on the Belgium side, but it does stretch across the border into Germany. It’s also part of an even bigger area called The High Fens Eifel Nature Park (or in German, Naturpark Nord Eifel, as it’s known regionally), which is so big that it actually encompasses all of the Eifel National Park as well.
The Nature Reserve on the Belgian side (which is where this walking guide covers) was established in 1957 and boasts nearly 17 square miles of land that are protected areas. The bogs that you’ll find here are close to 10,000 years old, and much of the area was formed by the last ice age. In 2008, it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It’s important to keep in mind that The High Fens Nature Reserve is not the same thing as The High Fens Eifel Nature Park. There are also hiking trails in the Nature Park, but the Boardwalk is only in the Nature Reserve.
You can read more detailed information about The High Fens Nature Reserve at their main website. Unfortunately, it’s only in German.
How to Get There & Where to Park
The High Fens Nature Reserve is very close to Monschau, and since that’s a fairly well-known city, I think it makes a good reference point.
We couldn’t find an exact address to plug in to the GPS for the parking lot we wanted, so we just set it for the center of Mützenich. This worked perfectly, and I’ll explain in a moment in more detail exactly how to find the parking lot, but if you also just use Mützenich as your destination, make sure it’s the right one. There are two cities called Mützenich, so make sure it says Mützenich-Monschau or Mützenich (Monschau).
From Spangdahlem, it’s about an hour and 40 minutes. It took us a bit longer on the way up there because the Autobahn was closed outside of Prüm, so we had to take backroads all the way. It was a beautiful drive, and I was shocked at how much the houses in Belgian villages look like the houses in Texas. They’re all red and white brick houses, and although they looked European, for sure, there was still a Texan element to them which was very cool.
I knew from my research that the parking lot was on the Belgian side of the border, heading towards Eupen. So, once we got into Mützenich, which was very small, we just got on Eupener Strasse and followed it across the Belgian border. The town is almost on the border itself, so it was just a five minute drive or so. Once you leave Mützenich, you’ll start seeing signs for the various parks, and there’s even a parking lot right there when you pass the last house. Don’t park here, though. Keep going down the street for another half-mile or so, and you’ll see a parking lot on your left. It’s called Grenzweg, and you will see signs that say Grenzweg (although, you can’t necessarily see them until you turn in to the parking lot).
If you accidentally pass the parking lot, don’t worry. About another mile or so down the road, you’ll see a parking lot on your right called Nahtsief. You could park there, too, if you wanted to, as you can access the Boardwalks from there as well. We passed the parking lot the first time around, so we turned around in Nahtsief and doubled back to the Grenzweg parking lot.
Our Route on the Boardwalks
We parked in Grenzweg, so to access the Boardwalks, we just had to walk directly across the street. There was a small entrance there, and you’ll see a flagpole with a sign that explains (in three languages, including English) that if a red flag is hoisted, the area is under a fire threat and should not be entered.
There’s only one direction you can go from that entrance, so just head down the trail, and within a few minutes, you’ll come to the first Boardwalk. They are a bit sporadic in some places, so you will have areas where you just walk on a dirt trail, but the further you get into the area, the more Boardwalks you’ll see.
Here is a map of The High Fens Nature Reserve. If you start at Mützenich and follow that road left, you’ll see the Grenzweg parking lot first, and then a bit further down, you’ll see Nahstief. The dotted red line is the Boardwalk. They make some loopty-loops, so here is what we did.
We started right there at Grenzweg and followed the Boardwalks until they came to that split. We turned right. That actually brought us out of the Boardwalk area, as you’ll see it dead ends into that green line that says GRAE. I would recommend you do the same, and here’s why. When we came out of the Boardwalk area, the path was different. It was more like a road that had been made by a car driving through the tall grass. We stopped to look at the map (same as above), and a very nice German man came by with his dog. He was probably in his 70s, and he heard my husband and I talking about which way we should go. He came over, apologized for interrupting us, and then said that he grew up in the area and knew the whole reserve like the back of his hand. So, he made recommendations to us about the paths. He knew I was American, and he told me that if I was interested in history, I might want to stay on that bigger road (the green line in the map that says GRAE) because he said it was actually made by the American troops during WWII. He told us that they had used that route to move their tanks across the area so that they could be parallel to the main road out of Mützenich but not actually on the main road.
We took his advice and walked that way. It was very quiet, and we were the only two people there after the older gentlemen went his way. It was so peaceful, and I found myself looking at that beautiful scenery and thinking about the guys who drove through there on those tanks. The man said that they had established the “road” in 1945, just before the end of the war. I wondered what those soldiers were thinking about as they drove that road, looking at the same trees, creeks, and skies that I was looking at. It was a poignant walk, I have to say.
When the road came to an intersection, we turned left back into the Boardwalk area. At the split, we stayed right, and followed the signs for the Nahtsief parking lot. Once we got to the parking lot, we crossed that main road again, and explored the Boardwalks on that side. You can see that, on that side of the road, it’s basically just one big loop. Right when you cross the street from the Nahtsief parking lot, you’ll see a Boardwalk going to your left, into the forest, and then a bigger Boardwalk straight in front of you. Go straight. This will take you around the loop, and when you’re done, you’ll come back out to that same spot, and then take the other Boardwalk through the forest to the Grenzweg parking lot.
All in all, we walked 5.5 miles in about 3.5 hours. It’s not a demanding walk, though – you can really take your time and go at a leisurely pace.
World War II Memorial
If you’re interested in seeing a WWII memorial, there is one in the area, but it’s not in the Boardwalk area. We didn’t see it because I didn’t know it was there until the day after our hike, so I can’t give you directions to it. But, this website has coordinates and a description of the area it’s in. Apparently, two US aircrafts collided over The High Fens in April of 1945 because the fog was too thick to see, and all eight men died.
Know Before You Go
Wear long pants. Although you stay on the Boardwalk, there are lots of places where the grass and brush are overgrown, and there is no way to avoid getting smacked in the legs. Maybe the plants won’t hurt you, but you never know about bugs.
You’re not supposed to step off of the Boardwalks because all of that land is protected, plus it’s a bog, so there’s water under everything. That can make it a tiny bit problematic when you come across people walking the opposite direction. You have to turn sideways and carefully pass each other. It works fine, but just so you’re prepared.
Dogs are not allowed in the protected areas. You can have them outside of the Boardwalk area, but they are absolutely not allowed in the actual Boardwalk area.
Parking is free.
The walk isn’t demanding, but it is long. Like I said, we walked 5.5 miles.
The area is super kid-friendly. There were lots of families there (but it was not crowded at all), and the kids seemed to all have fun walking on the Boardwalks. It’s definitely not stroller friendly, though.
Some of the boards are a little wobbly. While you don’t need to focus on the Boardwalk the whole time, you do need to test your footing on any boards that look a little weak. Some boards were a little muddy, and some were even partially submerged in water, so waterproof shoes wouldn’t be a bad idea either.
You are not allowed to touch any of the plants or animals. And don’t eat the berries! A German lady saw my husband taking pictures of a particular berry bush and asked him why he was doing that. He told her he just thought they were pretty, and she explained that these are Rauschbeeren (which, by the way, translates to Bog Bilberries – how fun is that name?!) Apparently, you can get “high” from eating them. Or they can poison you. You know – one of the two.
All in all, it’s a really interesting area that makes for a nice day trip. It was cool to see such a different part of the Eifel, and the Boardwalks were a lot of fun. It was like spending the afternoon on an adventure course.
Definitely head out there if you get the chance! And if you’ve already been, share your thoughts with us below!