Self Guided Camping the Malerweg Painters Way Hiking Trail in Germany

Guide to Camping the Malerweg Painters’ Way in Germany

Purchases made through some links on this page may provide The Detour Effect with commissions (at no extra cost to you). Thank you!

The Malerweg “Painters’ Way” is often touted as “Germany’s most beautiful hiking trail.” This 72-mile (116-kilometer) 8-day thru-hike in Saxon Switzerland National Park and the Elbe Sandstone Mountains brings hikers through landscapes that inspired countless artists over the centuries, including Bernardo Bellotto (Canaletto), Caspar David Friedrich, Adrian Ludwig Richter, and Robert Sterl.

The trail is a playground-like obstacle course through rocky and forested terrain, with stairs, ladders, and stone-carved handholds leading you from stage to stage. Hikers are rewarded with views of towering rock formations, tabletop mesa mountains, and strolls through charming German villages. 

I couldn’t believe I’d never heard of the Malerweg before this year. I’ve hiked the Tour du Mont Blanc, West Highland Way, Kerry Way, Rim to Rim to Rim, and plenty of other long distance hiking trails, yet somehow the Malerweg evaded my notice. There are not many English-language trail reports or resources on the Malerweg, so I was not able to read as many blog posts as I normally would when conducting research. Now that I’ve completed the trail myself, I aim to solve this problem for future international trekkers – tent campers and thru-hikers especially!

Malerweg Trail Stats

Malerweg Distance

Official Mileage: 72 miles / 116 kilometers
My Mileage: 78 miles / 125.5 kilometers. This involves the extra walking required to reach campsites that are off-trail. I circled around Gohrischstein instead of ascending it on Day 6 and skipped Pfaffenstein on Day 7, but I added in detours to Kaiserkrone, Kleinstein Cave, and wandered throughout Königstein Fortress.

Malerweg Route

Starting Point: Pirna – starting trailhead here
Ending Point: Pirna – ending trailhead here

The trail is basically a loop, although technically the starting trailhead and ending trailhead are not in the exact same place, so I suppose it’s more of a horseshoe shape. You are vaguely following the Elbe River for the entire hike. From Pirna you will hike eastwards while on the north side of the river, then you’ll cross the Elbe River via ferry at Schmilka, and then you’ll make your way back west to Pirna on the opposite southern bank of the river.

I can’t think of any good reason to do the hike in reverse order. In fact, I think hiking in reverse will mean going up a lot of obstacles that are easier to descend, and descending a lot of obstacles that are easier to go up. The trail makes sense in the classic clockwise direction. 

How Many Days to Complete the Malerweg

8 days/stages is the official recommendation. Prior to my hike, I read reports from a few people who thought 8 days was too long and that it would be better to combine some of the stages. If you are carrying a day pack this might be true, but with my heavy backpack full of tent, sleeping bag, etc, 8 days was perfect and I could not imagine doing this trail in a shorter timeframe. In fact I might have preferred an extra rest day in Schmilka. The very first day from Pirna to Stadt Wehlen feels short, so this may give you a false sense of security, but each day after that is progressively harder.

Best Time of Year to Hike the Malerweg

April to October. I was initially going to hike it in April so it would be less crowded, and to time my hike with the annual Pirna Canaletto “Living Painting” Reenactment. I had to reschedule for May which is much more touristy. There are a lot of holidays in Germany in May, so things are more expensive and accommodations have less availability. However, apparently Saxon Switzerland had an extra rainy April this year, so maybe it was for the best. I only had one really rainy day in mid-May.

Typically, the rainiest and hottest months are June-August, and summer weekends can be quite crowded. People say the Malerweg is doable “year-around” but I would not want to slip on the stairs and ladders in the snow. 

Reaching the Trail

Take a train to Pirna from Prague (2.5 hours; transfer at Bad Schandau) or from from Dresden (20 minutes). If you are coming from Berlin, there is a train from Berlin with a transfer at Dresden. If you buy a physical ticket instead of an e-ticket, you may need to validate it in a ticket machine at boarding.

The starting trailhead for the Malerweg is at Liebenthaler Grund in Pirna. The morning you begin the hike, the easiest thing to do is take a bus from Pirna ZOB / Bahnhof station (the same place as the train station where you arrived from Prague or Dresden, just a 5 minute walk from Casa Hostel Pirna) to Liebenthaler Grund. The bus ride will be free with your mobile guest card provided by your pre-hike accommodation. The bus comes about every 30 minutes, at least in May when I did the hike. Check current schedules here or here.

Public Transportation on the Malerweg

There are buses, trains, and ferries all along the Malerweg. In fact, many people choose to basecamp in one location and travel to the beginning of each stage to do them as day hikes. I commonly saw buses 254 and 241 when the trail brought me near a road; here is a full list of hiker bus lines.

If you are not able to get accommodation at the end of a stage, you could take public transportation to the next closest town and then return in the morning.

When you check in at any campsite or accommodation, the receptionist must provide you with a VVO transportation voucher called a mobile guest card. This allows you to take a bus, train, or ferry for free on the days of your stay. Even if you have no plans to use it, they still have to give this to you; it’s mandatory and has something to do with the tourist tax.

The only time you have to take some mode of public transportation is at the beginning of Day 6 when you cross the Elbe River from Schmilka on the ferry. It’s about a 2 minute crossing and I used the free mobile guest card that my Schmilka hotel gave me.

Waymarking and Navigation

The Malerweg trail is pretty well signposted. I would give it a grade of about an A- or B+ in this category. There are a few forks in the trail where there is no marking to help you decide which direction to take, or a sign might be hidden behind foliage or on the opposite side of a rock that you can’t see from the direction you’re walking, so I was glad to have a downloaded gpx track on my GAIA navigation app to help me stay on track. I used the one from HiiKER but found that it was often incorrect; when it deviated, following the signposts was the better choice. My new trail friends who were using the Komoot track said it was pretty accurate.

The marking is a black letter “M” on a white background. A red dot added to the signpost indicates that you are following the old historic route. Sometimes the trail coincides with another trail, so you will find yourself following markings for that trail. For instance, on Day 6 I sometimes followed yellow Forststeig Trail markings or signs for the Caspar-David-Friedrich-Weg. Other times I followed markings with three horizontal stripes – white, yellow (or green or red or blue), white. 

Language

In eastern Germany, many people do not speak English. At cafes or at reception desks for campsite check-ins, I often mimed or pointed to help express myself. However, I also met other hikers who spoke both German and English and when we ate meals together, they would help translate for me.

There are many informational plaques along the trail that teach you about the landscape, history, and Romantic painters, but they are mostly written in German. I’d say about 25% of them have an English translation included. I downloaded German for offline use on my Google Translate app prior to the hike and was able to use the camera function to translate the signs. 

One funny anecdote was that at breakfast one morning, the waitress asked me if I wanted to order anything special in addition to the muesli and bread buffet, such as ham or cheese, so I requested cheese. She brought it out for me separately. Later a German guest joined my table and started eating all my cheese, thinking it was part of the family-style buffet situation. I didn’t know how to tell her to back off my special cheese 😭

Currency

Germany uses the Euro and they still heavily rely on cash. Many of the campsites, restaurants, and tourist attractions you encounter along the trail will not take cards at all. I withdrew €200 before the hike and this covered me for the 8 days (I had about €20 left over), however this is taking into account that anytime a business would take cards, I would use a card. I spent about another €70 using a card. 

You could do the trail cheaper than €250 if you carry all your food or only buy the cheapest thing on the menu every time. I did carry some food, but I was so exhausted that I also went ahead and splurged on a few meals. 

If you reserve any accommodations in advance, you will probably be asked to wire the money. They rarely have an easy way to book and pay with a card via a website. I’ve started using Wise so I can more easily wire money between different currencies. Most of the campsites don’t require advanced reservations, though; I’ve noted which ones do and don’t below.

Be sure to bring some €0.50 coins with you; you will need them for coin-operated showers at Neumannmühle. 

Camping the Malerweg

Kernzone no wildcamping boofen Malerweg Saxon Switzerland Germany

Wildcamping (or “boofen”) is not allowed along the Malerweg unless you are a climber. There are paid campsites at the end of every stage, except for Day 5 in Schmilka, where you’ll need to book a bed & breakfast hotel.

Some campsites are not directly along the trail, so if you want to be a purist and tent camp as often as possible, you will need to road walk at the end of the day to reach the nearest campsite, or take a local bus. This is most relevant on Days 2, 4, and possibly 7.

On Day 2, Entenfarm Camping adds another 1.5 miles of road walking from Hohnstein. On Day 4, most hikers stay at Neumannmühle, which is a bunkhouse dorm situation right on the trail. If you want to camp at Thorwaldblick instead, you’ll take a bus there at the end of the day and then return to the trail via bus in the morning. On Day 7, there is a campsite along the trail but it doesn’t always have availability, so the next closest site involves road walking an extra 1.3 miles off-trail. I’ve gone into further detail about each campsite later in the post.

Thru hiking and camping the Malerweg with a heavy backpack

I really loved the campsites I stayed at on the Malerweg and overall enjoyed the experience of camping, however carrying a heavy backpack over all the stairs and ladders was a bitch. It is doable if you like Type 2 Fun, but my knees hate me so much. I skipped two viewpoints because I didn’t want to haul my pack up to them. With a day pack I would have had more energy to see those, plus take more detours to off-trail side hikes.

Even if you think you have your pack weight dialed in, still consider getting rid of any extra weight you possibly can. You can buy food so often along the trail that maybe you can skimp on carrying food and leave the backpacking stove at home. You don’t even need a water filter since you’ll have opportunities to fill up with tap water every day.

Some folks might consider hiring a luggage transport service so they don’t have to carry everything on their backs.

In May, the sunset was at 9pm and the sunrise was at 4am, complete with singing birds in the early morning hours. Your circadian rhythm will probably adjust accordingly if you are tent camping. 

Food and Resupply on the Malerweg

There are not many grocery stores directly along the Malerweg, except in Pirna at the start/end, the Netto Marken-Discount in Lohmen halfway through Day 1, and the Edeka in Königstein on Day 7. 

There are bakeries in some of the towns you’ll cross if you want to carry bread with you, such as Bäckerei Walter on Day 1 in Lohmen, Tonis Bäckerladen in Stadt Wehlen (end Day 1/begin Day 2), Mühlenbäckerei in Schmilka (end Day 5/begin Day 6), and Lauermann Gohrischer Bäcker in Gohrisch (end Day 6/begin Day 7).

There are vending machines in Stadt Wehlen (end Day 1/begin Day 2), Schöna (Day 6), and Pfaffendorf (Day 7) that have more real food items than your typical vending machine. They will typically show up as “Proviantomat” on Google Maps. 

Some of the campsites have little stores onsite, including Entenfarm (Day 2) and Ostrauer Mühle (Day 3). I wouldn’t call Hinterland’s offerings a full “store,” but they have chips/crisps, chocolate, and frozen pasta and pizza that you can heat up in their kitchen. Most campsites offer a breakfast for an additional cost.

There are cafes all along the trail. At least 2 or 3 times a day you will cross a restaurant or food stand where you can pause for a hot meal, and it will be very hearty German food perfectly suited to fuel your next miles! I often bought bockwurst for lunch. There are also biergartens and ice cream stands everywhere; you could probably have ice cream and beer every single day. Most of the campsites on this list sell beer onsite.

In Pirna, if you stay at Casa Hostel Pirna you’ll be very close to the Edeka grocery store, which is inside a shopping complex that also includes a Rossman. The Rossman has a whole wall of protein bars, trail mix, and other hiker-friendly foods, and the Edeka has real groceries. This is a great place to stock up before your hike. There is a Lidl nearby too, but they have a very limited selection. There is a small outdoor gear supply store in Pirna called Rotpunkt Weinhold if you need fuel for your camp stove or some last minute hiking clothes.

Note that things are closed in Pirna on Sundays! I arrived in Pirna on a Sunday and began my hike on a Monday. I wanted to load up on groceries Sunday evening but had to wait until Monday morning. Be sure to check holiday schedules too.

The little cafes and food stands along the trail seemed to still be open on Sundays and holidays, though. I was worried about starving on the last two days of my hike (Sunday and Monday of the Pentecost holiday) but it was not a problem.

Difficulty of the Malerweg

The main sources of difficulty on the Malerweg trail are the thousands of stairs and a few ladders. There is a lot of up-and-down elevation change and most of it is accomplished via stairs instead of sloped terrain. 

The resources I was able to find about the Malerweg greatly understated the amount of stairs that hikers must contend with every single day; they were downright lackadaisical about it. I’d say there were maybe 10,000 of them in total and I’m not exaggerating. Some steps are incorporated into the trail itself, utilizing rocks, tree roots, or wooden planks. In other places, separate metal stairs or ladder rungs were installed. Chains and handrails hammered into rock faces will help steady you in a couple places.

Malerweg road walking
Lots of road walking on the Malerweg

Some of the stairs and ladders are wedged between rock surfaces, sort of like a slot canyon. A couple of times these were so narrow that I was worried my giant backpack would get stuck. A friend I met on the trail said he did have to take his pack off and carry it through the slot at Gohrischstein. 

That said, I felt pretty safe throughout the trail. Had I read what I just wrote prior to the hike, I might have been scared and discouraged because I typically don’t enjoy technical trails. In practice, though, I found it fun, like a playground. When I encountered obstacles that appeared a little dicey at first, they ended up being ok and not as intimidating as they looked. 

I can sometimes have a fight-or-flight, panicky response when I’m on exposed ledges where the trail is very skinny next to a steep drop-off, but that didn’t happen on this trail because I always had enough space away from the cliffs, or at least felt secure because of railings. Of course, if you get in your head you could worry about falling off a ladder. Day 4 was a little sketchy in a couple places with the ladders, but thankfully it’s inconvenient to look down when you’re ascending one, and a fall would not drop you very far anyway.

Bugs on Malerweg trail Germany Saxon Switzerland
Grateful for my bug net

I would not recommend this trail for someone who suffers from knee problems. I personally recovered from a knee injury shortly beforehand, so doing this particular trail with a heavy backpack was a weird choice. I was able to do it but I’m honestly baffled as to how. 

Another thing you will encounter on the Malerweg is bugs! There are some mosquitos but mainly tons of little gnats and flies that really want to be inside your eyeballs and mouth. I got a lot of use out of my head net. 

There is extensive road walking on the Malerweg, which long distance hikers know can be really hard on the feet. A couple times you will walk along major roads that have no shoulder for pedestrians.

There are many warning signs telling hikers to look out for falling trees. As you walk, you’ll hear the ominous creak of dead trees swaying, especially on windy days. You will probably encounter some logs or branches obstructing the path, which you’ll need to duck under or scramble over.

Best English-Language Resources about the Malerweg

The official Malerweg website is very helpful, and there is an English translation setting. I thought it was a great source for all the background information about waymarking and bus connections for each stage, but that the day-to-day trail descriptions were generic, focusing on the highlights and not providing enough information about what type of terrain or difficulties you’ll encounter. For daily trail descriptions, referencing AllTrails and Komoot trip reports was more enlightening for me. For additional campsite and accommodation options, I referenced HiiKER. *Update: I have now published my own day-by-day Malerweg trail report.

I also read “10 Tips for Hiking the Malerweg in Germany’s Beautiful Saxon Switzerland” which gave me the heads up about withdrawing cash and the rules of “boofen,” but this article is mainly about day hiking rather than thru-hiking.

The Australian Hiker Podcast interviewed hiker Mike Railton about completing the Malerweg, which was fun to listen to in advance of my trek. He completed it as a series of day hikes.

I did not use any physical guidebooks because they are mostly written in German, but this book looks like an English edition. I can’t attest to its usefulness.

Malerweg best and worst stages daily trail report

Malerweg Best Stages: Day-by-Day Trail Report

Posted on
A day-by-day Malerweg Painters’ Way thru-hiking trail report, including my opinions on the best and “worst” (or most difficult) parts of Germany’s most beautiful hiking trail.

Special Equipment for the Malerweg

I would recommend bringing a head net for bugs, some sort of portable battery pack to charge your cell phone (there will be opportunities to use a real power outlet at most campsites, but I still used my battery pack twice), trekking poles to help take some stress off your knees, and a quick-drying ultralight towel since most campsites and hiker huts don’t supply towels for your showers. As always, sunscreen, hat, rain gear, an emergency SOS device such as the Garmin InReach Mini, and the ten essentials are important.

Day-to-Day Malerweg Campsite Guide

Prior to beginning the trek, I stayed at Casa Hostel Pirna, which is the same place I stayed upon return at the end. Scroll down to Stage 8 for details about this accommodation plus alternative hostel and campsite options in Pirna.

Stage 1: Pirna to Stadt Wehlen

Official Mileage: 11.5 km / 7.15 miles || My Mileage: 11.9 km / 7.4 miles

My Campsite: Schützenhaus Wehlen Hostel & Tent Pitch (€12.50 + €2.80 tourist tax. I reserved in advance by wiring €15.30. You can cancel free of charge up to 7 days before).
Alternative Campsites/Huts: DKV-Kanu-Stationen (€12).

Schützenhaus Wehlen Hostel is run by an artist who is carrying on the tradition of painters who flock to Saxon Switzerland. Christopher Haley Simpson’s building is lined from ceiling to floor with his incredible paintings, so it’s fun to spend some time indoors even if you are pitching a tent in the yard. From the tent area there is an awesome view of the Elbe River from above.

There is not much room for tents, so it’s best to communicate with him before your trip to make sure your date will be available. You’ll have access to the kitchen, bathroom, showers, and power outlets inside, which are shared with the hostel-goers. Breakfast must be booked in advance for €5.70. There is good cell signal.

The hostel is located up on a hill in Stadt Wehlen. This only adds like 15 minutes of walking from the main town square, albeit uphill walking. Tonis Bakery at the bottom of the hill is a good spot to grab some bread or a sweet treat in the morning. The town square has many cafes, an ice cream shop, and a tourist information center. Apparently there is a vending machine inside the tourist information center which has real food like eggs, cheese, stew, etc. Some maps may show you “Naturkostladen,” which used to be a grocery store with produce but now appears to be closed except for some more vending machines.

The alternative is a canoe campsite right on the Elbe River called DKV-Kanu-Stationen. This is about a 20 minute walk from the main square of Stadt Wehlen and it will give you a bit of a jump on the second stage of the Malerweg on Day 2. There is one shower, a special camper kitchen, restrooms, and power outlets. This location was designed more with campers in mind, but the hostel location is unique (and if the weather is bad maybe you can book a bed).

Stage 2: Stadt Wehlen to Hohnstein

Official Mileage: 10.9 km / 6.77 miles || My Mileage: 15.77 km /  9.8 miles

My Campsite: Entenfarm Hohnstein Camping (€8.50/person + €6/tent, €0.80 per 3 minute shower. You will pay an extra €15 as a deposit which will be returned to you at check-out when you give back the bathroom keycard. So you’ll pay €30.30 upfront, or €29.50 without a shower, but get back €15. They do take credit cards but the deposit refund will be in cash. Their website recommends booking in advance, but I’m guessing that’s just for caravans. When I emailed they said “There’s always room for a night in a tent and no registration is required. Simply arrive during reception opening hours and check in).
Alternative Campsites/Huts: Urlaub am Ritterfelsen Hiker Hut (€30; must bring own sleeping bag), Brand-Baude Bergwirtschaft & Herberge has a bunkroom. You would need to reserve either of these in advance.

Campingplatz Entenfarm Hohnstein is shared with caravans, but there is a whole field just for tents. There is a camper kitchen, mens’ and womens’ shower blocks with multiple showers, and mens’ and womens’ toilets. At check-in you’ll be given a keycard to open the door to the restroom and shower building, and you’ll need to return this in the morning to get your deposit back. To use the showers, you’ll insert a special chip coin into a machine to start the three minute timer. 

There is also an outdoor sink for washing dishes and multiple places to fill water bottles. There is wifi, though it works best if you sit at the picnic tables near reception. There is generally pretty good cell signal throughout the campsite. There is a little convenience store selection next to the reception desk where you can buy snacks, cold drinks, beer, or ice cream.

You can reserve breakfast the evening before; depending on what kind of spread you order, it could be between €3.50-€5.50. If you don’t reserve a full breakfast you can still just buy some bread to-go in the morning.

Shortcut walking from Hohnstein campsite to Malerweg
Look for this sign on the left of the road for the shortcut from Hohnstein campsite back to Malerweg

Reaching this campsite from Hohnstein involves about 1.5 miles of extra road walking off-trail. If your feet are too pained to add the extra mileage, you could try hitchhiking. I noticed the 254 bus can take you from Hohnstein up Sebnitzer Street, but that’s not quite the right direction for the campsite; you’d still have to walk to get back to Schandauer Street so this only saves you a few minutes.

In the morning, to get back on the Malerweg I found a little shortcut that saved me some of the road walking back to Hohnstein. When you reach this junction, there is a farm road on your left that shows up on the GAIA navigation app (or in Google’s satellite layer view). You’ll see a sign that says “Hohnstein Burgstadt am Fels. Herzlich willkommen!” Take this road into a big meadow and eventually into the forest, where it meets the Malerweg.

If you decide not to camp this night for whatever reason, I’d recommend staying at the Brand-Baude Bergwirtschaft & Herberge. It’s one of the first stops you’ll make at the beginning of Day 3, and is also probably the best view on Day 3. You could get a jump on this day and enjoy the view longer if you stay there overnight at the end of Day 2. 

Stage 3: Hohnstein to Altendorf

Official Mileage: 14 km / 8.7 miles || My Mileage: 16.9 km / 10.5 miles

My Campsite: Campingplatz und Pension Ostrauer Mühle (€10/person + €5.25/tent + €3 tourist tax, €0.50 for 3 minute shower. You do not need to reserve in advance. When I asked, they emailed me, “There are plenty of free tent pitches available at this time. You can just drop by.” They do take credit cards).
Alternative Campsites/Huts: The DJH Youth Hostel Bad Schandau is off-trail. You could road walk about 2 miles / 3.3 km to reach it from Altendorf, or take the 260 bus to the 252 bus.

Ostrauer Mühle campsite is located directly on the trail at the end of Day 3 and I can’t imagine any reason you’d pick a different location. 

A 3-minute shower is €0.50. There are tons of faucet stations to fill up your water bottle. There are power outlets next to the tables at the outdoor seating area for the restaurant, which is where I charged my phone (if they don’t appear to be working, ask a waiter – they have to turn the electricity on for the outlets). There is no cell reception here

There is a restaurant onsite with a full menu, plus a convenience store kiosk with a huge selection of meats, cheeses, candy bars, chips/crisps, granola bars, yogurt, and more. You can reserve a full breakfast for €14 or just buy bread or individual items at the snack kiosk.

There are caravan sites and indoor accommodations in addition to tent pitches. Tents can pitch in sections A, B, or E. If you arrive when reception is closed, pitch a tent in one of these sections and then check-in and pay once reception opens. Sections A and B are right next to a creek, but also next to a road, so there may be some traffic noise. A trolley runs along this road during the day.

Stage 4: Altendorf to Neumannmühle

Official Mileage: 18.3 km / 11.4 miles || My Mileage: 17.54 km / 10.9 miles

My Campsite: Neumannmühle Hiker Hut – no camping (€27/person + €2.50 tourist tax. Breakfast included! If you don’t have a sleeping bag/blanket you could rent one for €5. Use a €0.50 coin for a 5 minute shower. You should reserve in advance, but you will pay in cash upon arrival).
Alternative Campsites/Huts: Camping Thorwaldblick Hinterhermsdorf – must take bus to reach it (€8/person + €4/tent + €2.50 tourist tax, shower included).

Neumannmühle is a hiker hut similar to the refuges you’d see on the Tour du Mont Blanc. There is a big dorm room with lots of beds side-by-side, where you’ll use your own sleeping bag or rent one since linens are not included. There were not a ton of power outlets in the bunkroom, so I’m glad I was one of the first hikers to arrive and I could choose a bed right next to a wall with a power outlet. There is not much cell signal here, but there is wifi.

There is a historic mill and a little museum onsite. There is also a restaurant with a full menu. A nice breakfast spread is included in the cost of your stay, with meats, cheeses, yogurt, muesli, cereal, bread rolls with jam, nutella, and honey, and of course coffee and tea.

There are private rooms on the lower floors if you would prefer to pay more to avoid the bunkroom. The building with all the sleeping quarters has its own bathroom facilities; day hikers or other folks passing through who only stop at the restaurant and don’t stay overnight would need to pay to use toilets in a separate building. 

Neumannmühle is directly along the trail. If you want to camp at Thorwaldblick, you’d need to hop on the 241 bus from the Kirnitzschtal Neumannmühle stop and get off at the Hinterhermsdorf Zeltplatz stop. It’s only about a 10 minute ordeal on the bus, but if you road walked that distance, it’s 5 kilometers/3 miles. This bus runs about once an hour, the first at 8:57am and the last at 5:57pm, depending on the day of the week and season (be sure to check the latest schedules). In the morning you’ll take the bus back again to begin Day 5.

Stage 5: Neumannmühle to Schmilka

Official Mileage: 13.6 km / 8.5 miles || My Mileage: 14.8 km / 9.2 miles

My Accommodation: Pension Alpenrose/Haus Bergfriede – there is no camping in Schmilka (€78 + €3 tourist tax. Breakfast included! If you book on Booking.com, you can cancel with no charge up to the day before. You should reserve in advance though because Schmilka really books up).
Alternative Accommodations: There are many B&Bs in Schmilka, but most are expensive or require a multi-night stay. If everything is booked up you could try the town of Schöna, just across the river. To reach Schöna you’d take the ferry at the end of Day 5 instead of the morning of Day 6.

There is nowhere to camp in Schmilka, and the other problem is that most B&Bs in town require a multi-night stay and are rather expensive to boot, potentially €140+ per night. The only exception I could find was Pension Alpenrose or Haus Bergfriede, which are two different apartments on the same property and operated by the same landlord. When I arrived and had the chance to speak with Robin, he said he took over the business from his father, and his father was always adamant that they continue to allow one-night stays in order to accommodate Malerweg thru-hikers. They have a special understanding of hikers’ needs, whereas other business owners in the area seem to be more interested in holidaymakers. 

That said, if you are going to have a rest day halfway through your hike, Schmilka is a great place to do it since it’s a more built-up town than the remote area where Neumannmühle is located. You could end up electing to stay here for multiple nights if you’re not on a time crunch.

My private room was spacious and the building included a kitchen and bathroom, which were shared with the upstairs guests. There were ice packs in the freezer which was awesome for my swollen knees! Towels were included, which was welcome after a few days of using my ultralight hiker towel. There is wifi and good cell signal.

The breakfast spread at Pension Alpenrose was probably the most elaborate of my whole hike. Most places offered bread, coffee, and maybe yogurt or cheese, but Alpenrose also included a hardboiled egg, orange juice, and other extras. Breakfast is family-style at one long table and you’ll get to meet the other guests.

The Mill & Bakery in Schmilka is kind of a big deal and worth a stop for a bite to eat. Since breakfast is included with your stay at Pension Alpenrose, you could swing by the Mühlenbäckerei for dinner. The bread that comes with the soups and other dishes is legit!

Wherever you end up staying at the end of Day 5, they should give you the mobile guest pass that will allow you to take the ferry across the Elbe River in the morning to begin Day 6.

Stage 6: Schmilka to Kurort Gohrisch

Official Mileage: 17.3 km / 10.8 miles || My Mileage: 16.25 km / 10.1 miles

My Campsite: Eisert Family “Alte Gärtnerei” Bivouac (€10 in cash. No need to book in advance unless you want the hut instead of a tent pitch).
Alternative Campsites/Huts: Camping Sächsische Schweiz doesn’t like to take backpackers, only RVs/caravans. 4Lions Hostel appears to be closed; I never got any response from my attempts to contact them.

I really loved the Alte Gärtnerei campsite, which is directly along the trail. The family who owns the property have converted a greenhouse into a tent pitch, creating a beautiful environment for camping. There is no check-in reception desk; you’ll fill out a form, put it alongside €10 into an envelope, and put the envelope in a dropbox. 

There are picnic tables, clotheslines to hang wet gear, a faucet with a sink-like tub, and a compost toilet. I didn’t see a shower or power outlets. There is no wifi, but there’s good cell signal. I enjoyed meeting another hiker who was completing the Forststeig trail; this campsite accepts Forststeig tickets in place of Euros (as a sidenote, the Forststeig trail is a much more remote, wilderness-esque hiking trail in Germany). 

There is a hiker hut onsite too, which campers can kind of hang out in for shelter if nobody has booked the beds, but you’ll need to skedaddle if they do arrive.

There is no food for purchase onsite, but there is a bakery nearby called Lauermann Gohrischer Bäcker.

Another site called Camping Sächsische Schweiz is listed on a lot of resources about the Malerweg, but they were a bit rude to me when I inquired, curtly saying “we’re full” even though I asked months in advance. A new friend I made on the trail attempted to stay there day-of and was also turned away. We concluded that they prefer RVs and campervans and don’t want dirty backpackers. 

Stage 7: Kurort Gohrisch to Weißig

Official Mileage: 16.6 km / 10.31 miles || My Mileage: 15.93 km / 9.9 miles

My Campsite: Hinterland Hostel & Tent Pitch (€16.50/tent for one person, €9.50 for each additional person in the same tent. Breakfast must be reserved the night before for €6. They do take cards).
Alternative Campsites/Huts: Herberge auf dem Kulm hostel and campsite (€12 tent or €14 bed, €0.75 tourist tax). Caravanplatz zum Liliensteinblick is not for tents. If you shorten this stage, you could camp at Camping Königstein or Campingplatz am Treidlerweg. If you lengthen this stage, you could go all the way to Camping-Stellplatz Struppen.

I had contacted Herberge auf dem Kulm months in advance to ask if reserving a tent spot is necessary. They told me, “No problem, just come by, but consider that there is no shop in Weißig. You have to buy food in a supermarket in Königstein on your way to us.”

However, I told someone I met on the trail about this campsite, and when they arrived there a couple hours before me, they were turned away because the site was “full.” It had been entirely booked by a family. When my friend texted me the news, it was upsetting because this is the closest campsite to the trail. All of the other options add mileage and I was extremely tired at this late stage in the trip! I am guessing this happened because it was a holiday weekend, and when I emailed I didn’t indicate (or know) that I’d be arriving on a holiday weekend.

Luckily Hinterland Hostel & Tent Pitch is also in Weißig, though walking there adds another 1.3 miles on a rocky downhill road, followed by a long flat paved walk on a popular bicycle path called the Elbweg. My knees were angry at this, but the cute hostel made up for it. 

The yard for the tent pitches is right next to a big barn with ambient string lights where campers can shelter from the weather, use the kitchen, free showers, power outlets, or toilets, sit at picnic tables, and even play foosball! Outside there is a clothesline hanger with clips so you can dry out wet gear. This was helpful in the morning with all the condensation on my tent. There is good cell signal.

Inside the hostel at the reception desk you can buy chocolate, chips/crisps, a noodle packet you can cook in the barn, or frozen pizza which you can heat in the oven in the barn. I was so grateful after a long day and went straight for the pizza! The employee at the check-in desk was nice enough to help me figure out the oven, since I never know what’s going on with appliances in other countries. 

You can sign up for the €6 breakfast if you let staff know the prior night. The breakfast included various muesli options, cereal, and yogurt. Coffee was an extra charge (€2 for an americano or more for a cappuccino, latte, etc).

While walking to Hinterland you will pass a place called Caravanplatz zum Liliensteinblick, but don’t get too excited – this is only for campervans and RVs.

My friend who had been turned away from Herberge auf dem Kulm ended up walking all the way to Struppen and staying at Camping-Stellplatz Struppen. This added another 5 km (3 miles) and gave him a huge jump on Day 8’s hike – he completed the climb up Rauenstein at the end of Day 7. I would not have had the energy, but if you are feeling strong you could go for it, or you could skip Rauenstein altogether and road walk from Thurmsdorf to Struppen, cutting off part of the Malerweg. Rauenstein has awesome views though.

Stage 8: Weißig to Pirna

Official Mileage: 13.8 km / 8.6 miles || My Mileage: 16.9 km / 10.5 miles

My Accommodation: I stayed at Casa Hostel Pirna instead of camping (€29 per night, shared room. Complimentary cereal/muesli at breakfast and coffee/tea. I reserved in advance by wiring payment, however note that you cannot reserve more than a month in advance because priority goes to private groups).
Alternative Campsites/Huts: Camping Pirna (€9.60/tent/night + €9.50/person/night + €3 tourist tax + €0.90 environment fee. Showers included), Wasserplatz Pirna (€6/tent/night + €7/person/night + €3 tourist tax. Showers included), Jugendgästehaus Liebethal (€27 per night, shared room. €8.50 for breakfast).

I chose to stay at a hostel before and after my hike because they allowed me to leave some extra luggage with them while I was gone. Casa Hostel Pirna is so cozy, welcoming, and clean, and Helena was extremely accommodating and helpful to me. She even let me do some post-hike laundry onsite for €5 so I wouldn’t have to haul everything down to the nearest laundromat. There is good cell signal and wifi, although the wifi is best if you sit in the common area and not in the bunkrooms.

This hostel is centrally located right next to the train station you will arrive at from Prague or Dresden, which is also the bus station you’ll need to use to reach the trailhead on the first morning. It is very near the historic square of Pirna in case you have some extra days to explore in town. There are grocery stores, ATMs, pharmacies, and restaurants within walking distance.

At the end of my hike, I just walked straight to the hostel. It was not necessary to take a bus or do anything extra. 

All that said, you could also opt to stay at Jugendgästehaus Liebethal before or after your trek. This youth hostel is located right at the starting trailhead for Stage 1 of the Malerweg, so you wouldn’t need to catch a bus on the first morning. It’s not close to the Pirna train station, though, so you still need to take the bus to/from town at some point. 

If you are wanting to tent camp in Pirna, there’s Camping Pirna or Wasserplatz Pirna. Wasserplatz is closer to the historic square, the train station, and the ending trailhead. Camping Pirna is closer to the starting trailhead, though it’s still probably better to take a bus since it’s about 45 minutes of walking.

🏨 Find budget hostels in Dresden, Prague, or Berlin for before/after your hike. I stayed at the Women’s Only Hostel in Prague beforehand, and the Czech Inn afterwards.
✈️ Coming to Germany from further afield? Use an Airalo eSIM for affordable international cell data and don’t forget to protect your investment with travel insurance.


The Malerweg, or Painters’ Way, was one of the more challenging thru-hikes I have ever embarked on with a heavy backpack because of the insane maze of stairs, but the unique geology, charming villages, friendly people, and delicious food really warmed my heart. I’m inspired to return to Saxon Switzerland and Bohemian Switzerland to explore more hiking trails – probably via day hikes next time! I’d also love to dive further into the history of the region. If anyone can recommend some good English-language reading materials for me, I’d love to hear about it!

If you’ve tent camped and thru-hiked the Malerweg, what was your experience like? Did the fun campsites and affordable tent pitch costs outweigh the strenuous nature of attacking this trail with a heavy pack?

Related:
GERMANY Saxony Switzerland National Park and Malerweg Trail hiking maps
Germany Saxon Switzerland National Park and Malerweg Trail hiking maps
Malerweg Elbsandstein Mountains German Edition
Malerweg Elbsandstein Mountains (German Edition)
Malerweg Elbsandsteingebirge in der Sachsischen Schweiz Beeindruckende Rundtour im Elbsandsteingebirge in der Sachsischen Schweiz
Malerweg Elbsandsteingebirge in der Sächsischen Schweiz: Beeindruckende Rundtour
Caspar David Friedrich 1774 1840 The Painter of Stillness
Caspar David Friedrich: 1774-1840: The Painter of Stillness
Beer Hiking Bavaria
Beer Hiking Bavaria: The most refreshing way to discover Bavaria
Sea to Summit bug head net
Sea to Summit head net
Pin It:
Guide to Camping the Malerweg Painters Way in Germany

SUBSCRIBE TO NEWSLETTER

Sign up to receive the Monthly Location Independence Newsletter! Once a month I interview a "Pin Pal" about their adventures and share tips on living nomadically (visas, vanlife, remote work, and more).

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

My dream is to write travel and hiking content full-time. All of my guides and itineraries are free and my travels are self-funded. If you enjoy my site and would like to support, you can donate any amount to my Ko-fi page. Thank you!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *