Berchtesgaden National Park is nestled in the far south-east corner of Bavaria and, by extension, Germany. It contains a number of big draws, including the beautiful lakes of Königssee and Obersee, the former SS HQ at Hotel Zum Türken (referred to as 'Eagle's Nest' by the Americans during the war) and Watzmann, Germany's second highest mountain. The Watzmanntour is a four-day trek which begins with a summit of the mountain's second highest peak (or to the highest with climbing gear) and then completes an anticlockwise tour, taking in some of the most beautiful scenery in the park and offering varied and challenging hiking.
I caught an early flight from London to Munich airport, where my friend picked me up by car. The drive to the town of Königssee takes around 2/2.5 hours depending on traffic (we were traveling on a German public holiday so took the full 2.5 hours). There is a fairly inexpensive car park right near the lake, and you can pick up any last-minute provisions from town. After quickly stopping off at the touristy lake shore we started hiking at 2pm, which gave us just enough time to hike to the viewpoint at Grünstein and then on to Watzmannhaus in time for dinner at the hut. At the end-point of the trek, we took the boat from the far end of Königssee back to town (cost around €10, allow at least 30/40 minutes for the trip). There was no shortage of boats and it's a very pleasant ride.
There are no campsites in the park and wild camping is not permitted. There are, however, numerous huts which can (and strictly should) be reserved in advance. The huts we stayed in were friendly, comfortable (if a little snug in the dorms) and provided fantastic breakfast and dinner (and schnapps!). The huts had only just opened for the season when we were hiking and we had not made any reservations. This was not a problem for Wazmannhaus or Kärlinger Haus but when we arrived at Wimbachgrieshütte we were initially told that they had no space for us. While we were planning our next move (which would have involved a 3-hour hike back to the nearest village after a 12-hour day) the manager relented and opened an extra room for us to stay in. We did meet two people, however, who had been turned away earlier in the day and chose to sleep outside in the freezing overnight temperatures (not recommended!).
We really lucked out on the weather over the weekend, with beautiful sunny skies from the second day onward. If anything, it was too hot - the experience of hiking through miles of snow in 30-degree heat was quite surreal, and exhausting - but the good weather was certainly not unwelcome. It is not usual for that level of heat in May and the area can get plenty of rain, so be prepared for anything. If hiking early in the reason, it is worth checking the webcam at Wazmannhaus for snow cover: when we were hiking it had snowed just a month before and some hikers chose not to traverse certain sections due to the heavy snow (in particular the ascent of Wazmann and the path between Wimbachgrieshütte and Kärlinger Haus, which was completely snow-covered). Another thing to bear in mind is that there are not many places to fill up on water so you should ensure you take enough water for the whole day.
In terms of terrain, the route involves some steep ascents and, more notably, some very long descents. The second leg makes for a particularly long and tiring day, with a total descent of 2,000 metres (yes, you read that right) after completing the 700 metres ascent to the top of Wazmann. Even without the snow, it makes for a pretty gruelling hike.
Final tip - there is a fantastic restaurant at Wimbachschloss, half-way along the Wimbach valley. Perfect for a late afternoon slice of cake!
The Watzmanntour is a leafleted route but there are possible variations from and extensions to the suggested itinerary. On the ascent to Watzmannhaus we took a short detour to the viewpoint at Grünstein. On the last day, it's possible to head either north from Kärlinger Haus to St Bartholomä or head north-east to Obersee (you can catch the boat back to town from either end-point). We chose to do the latter, adding a short detour to the viewpoint of Halsköpfl before descending to the lake. Obersee is known as one of the most beautiful lakes in Germany and we thought a very worthy variation - we also had a swim in the lake to celebrate our finish and cool down, much to the entertainment of the tourists gathered at the lake shore.
Day 1: Königssee to Wazmannhaus via Grünstein (5.5 hours)
Day 2: Wazmannhaus to Wimbachgrieshütte via Wazmann Hocheck (12 hours)
Day 3: Wimbachgrieshütte to Kärlinger Haus (7 hours)
Day 4: Kärlinger Haus to Obersee via Halsköpfl (5 hours)
A map of the route (with German explanations), can be found here: http://www.alpenverein.de/chameleon/public/7b304d4c-4ad0-415b-f30a-5b0856fbc3db/Watzmann-Tour_19339.pdf
View from Watzmannhaus with Kleine Watzmann on the left and the route to the Watzmann summit on the right.
Ascending Watzmann, with Kleine Watzmann in the centre and the Watzmann 'children' to the right.
Königssee to the left and Obersee on the right. The boats leave from the jetty in the centre.