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Hessia Rivers Tour

Hesse Rivers is a 4-day ride from Biedenkopf on the Lahn to Hanau on the Main. The tour takes you diagonally across the state of Hesse along six different river drainages or valleys. However, we do not follow the any single drainage but rather skip from one drainage to the next. We start near the source of the Lahn, then move to the Schwalm, Schlitz, Fulda, the Kinzig, and finally end on the Main. The distance is 146 miles (235 km).

Tour Overview: Map of Hesse River tourJune 2008. The Hesse Rivers tour is hilly as we ride from one drainage valley into the next. Some of the hills are gentle but long, others are downright steep and we get off and push. Strong riders need not be concerned, just lower your gear and keep on pedaling. I find it helps to stare at my front tire. Most of the route is paved but like all the other tours, sections of gravel path are not uncommon.

Signage: Signage is interesting. On this tour, you will ride on several different signed long distance routes. We follow a given route for a while and then change to another route for the next stage. The order you see routes are as follows: the Lahntal, R-2, R-4, R-1, and Rhein-Main-Kinzig R-3. Once you understand which route you are following, the signage is excellent.

Path SignsPath SignsPath Signs

Accommodations: This area has several Spa-towns (towns starting with the word “Bad” because Bad in German means bath or mineral springs but it is best translated as "spa"). Outside of these towns, Zimmer are scarce. As a choice, we like Zimmer (advertised as Zimmer Frei) but there are also Gasthäuser (Guest Houses), Pensionen (pensions or bed and breakfasts), Jugendherbergen (Youth Hostels), and hotels. For a complete discussion of the different types of accommodations and tips on reservations, see my Overnight Accommodations page.

Stops: Marburg, if you have time because it is a short way off the route we choose. Also Neustadt, Alsfeld, Bad Salzschirf, Fulda, Steinau on Strasse, and of course, Hanau. If one was to continue on to Frankfurt, the Frankfurt Old Town is also worth a visit.

Maps and Guidebooks: From Biedenkopf to Fulda we did not use a guidebook, only a 1:100,000 map of the area, which you can purchase at any bookstore. (Depending on the series, you might need two maps.) From Fulda on the Fulda River, we used the Rhine-Main-Kinzig guidebook all the way to the Main River. The title of the guidebook is Rhine-Main-Kinzig, Auf den Spuren des Spätlesereiters, 1:75,000, published by VUD Verlag. The route, also known as R-3, was charted by the ADFC or Allgemeiner Deutscher Fahrrad-Club, or General German Bicycle Club. It is a great map because of the symbols and the topography shown. Unfortunately, the map assumes people will ride upriver but down wind (unless the winds is reversed on the day you travel). We ride the guidebook backwards. However, following a guidebook backwards is not difficult, just start and the back and page toward the front. It might also help to stand on your head, pat your nose and rub your tummy.

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Day 1: Biedenkopf to Stadtallendorf

Day Overview: Except for the first hill, the rest of the path is mostly downhill or flat. Expect short stretches of well packed gravel and beautiful landscapes. When you get to the call box and arm at the railroad crossing at mile 17.1 (27.5 km), be sure to use the call box and not cross the track if the arm is down. The trains through this area travel fast and you could be in a world of trouble if you take a chance. Besides, the guy controlling the arm can see you. Look up and left to the two-story building just east of the crossing.

Mile 0 (0.0 km): We start at the Bahnhof in Biedenkopf on the Lahn River and almost immediately, we climb a 80-foot hill. The drop is nice though.

Mile 9.9 (15.9 km): Kernbach was established in 1154.

Mile 19.1 (30.7 km): At this point just north of the town of Colbe, we leave the Lahntal Radweg, which continues on to Marburg. However, we continue to follow the R-2 signs toward Kirchhain. If, as I suggest in the “Stops” above, you opt to spend some sightseeing time in Marburg, you would leave the R-2 path now and ride south on the Lahntal Radweg for about 5 to 7 kilometers into downtown Marburg. Maxa and I have an aunt, Tante Erna, who lives in Marburg so we have visited the beautiful, and historic university town many times.Amoeneburg hilltop castle near Kirchain

Kirchain RathausMile 26.6 (42.8 km): We dip into Kirchhain for a break and snap a photograph of their Rathaus or Town Hall. Given the time of day, we consider staying here in Kirchhain but we are not tired enough yet so we continue on to Stadtallendorf and look there.

Mile 32.1 (51.6 km): In the center of Stadtallendorf we talk to the tourist information office and identify our hotel for the evening. It is Milano and is owned by T. H. Stevanodic, Niederrheinische Str. 7, 35260 Stadtallendorf, telephone 06428/1229, fax 06428/2319. The cost is €60 per night for two people. The rooms are newly renovated and the outside is being painted as we visit. Milano serves Italian food when open but today it is not open. We can recommend Restaurant Poseidon, a Greek Restaurant with classic German food too. Many Greek, Italian, and even Turkish restaurants serve classic German food along with their specialty. After all, they have to cater to their customers.

I Googled Stadtallendorf and find it has a history. Apparently, during WWII, the town had a large munitions factory and a slave labor camp to help produce munitions. There is some controversy over whether that fact was known to the Allies during the war or not. In any event, the town did not suffer much damage as it would have if the Allies had known about the munitions factory.

Day 2: Stadtallendorf to Grossenlüder-Bimbach

Day Overview: Although the path is mostly paved, today is hilly. There are six “noticeable” hills but only one steep enough to push up. They are gradual but long and high.

Mile 0 (0 km): After resetting my odometer at the Bahnhof in Stadtallendorf, we search for an R-2 bike path sign and get back on the trail. We head into the forest on a gravel path that climbs gently over a watershed divide between the Lahn drainage and the Schwalm drainage. At about 5 km, we come upon a multiple track railroad crossing with the guard arm down and a yellow call box alongside. I push the button and a disembodied feminine voice tells us that trains are coming and to wait. There are two trains in quick succession and then a third but still the arm does not rise. Then five minutes later, one more train whizzes by at a high rate of speed. The box squawks to ask if we are still there. “Ja, wir sind immer noch hier,” I say into it. The arm lifts and she instructs us to tell her when we are across. There is a call box on both sides of the tracks.

Rathaus in NeustadtAcross the tracks, we find ourselves in the middle of a troop training exercise. We see soldiers wearing gas masks, carrying full combat packs, and weapons going about their business and pretending that two civilians on bicycles do not exist. They grunt a greeting as they jog down our forest road. They look serious, as if there is a war they might be sent to; Afghanistan perhaps.

NeustadtNeustadtMile 7.1 (11.5 km):We leave the forest and enter Neustadt. To get here we climbed over a 150-foot hill on packed gravel forest road then coasted down gently into Neustadt. This is one of the quaint German towns that you see on travel posters. Check out the pictures of the half-timbered Rathaus (town hall) and the Junker-Hansen-Tower, built in 1480 as the southwest tower on the old town wall. This is touted as the world’s largest half-timbered rotunda. The masonry walls are four meters thick.NeustadtJunker-Hansen-Tower, built in 1480

Mile 9.9 (16.0 km): This is the top of a 270-foot the hill between Neustadt and Willingshausen. It is mostly downhill into Willingshausen from the top of that hill.

Mile 11.5 (18.5 km): In Willingshausen, we turn right on low traffic roads toward Alsfeld by way of Bernsburg and Ruhlkirchen.

RuhlcirchenMile 16.3 (26.2 km): This is Ruhlkirchen. The terrain has been rolling but nothing like the hill going into Willingshausen.

Bench with crucifix overlooking Seibelsdorf Mile 17.1 (27.5 km): The bench and crucifix is on a small hill overlooking Seibelsdorf. We see many of these little monuments, some of which have benches like this one. They make great lunch spots. The cattle photo was taken on the outskirts of Seibelsdorf.

Highlander cattle near SeibelsdorfMile 18.4 (29.6 km): The small reservoir is Antriftsee. Leaving Angerod (31.4 km) we climb a 50-foot hill on a busy road before arriving in the village of Leusel (34 km). We could have avoided this busy road if we had ignored our map and stayed on the path around the reservoir. That path comes out in Leusel.Antriftsee resevoir

Mile 22.7 (36.6 km): AlsfeldAlsfeldLocals call this a hugh "candle" of Schlitz We are in Alsfeld, close to the center of town. Two bike paths split at this point and we want the left branch. Alsfeld is gorgeous with its half-timbered buildings. I photographed the Fuldertor, which is the last of the town wall towers from 1386AD. The locals call the tower the Stork Nest because there is a nest on the top but this year it is unoccupied. That happens when the storks do not return from their winter vacation. Sometimes other storks move in but the stork population is declining and some nests remain unused for many years.

AlsfeldAlsfeldLocals call this a hugh "candle" of Schlitz Mile 35.1 (56.5 km): Passing the Auerhahn Schlitz Bauerei (brewery), we stop for a pint of the local suds. Lauterbach beer is not to my taste but on a hot day, anything cooler than our water bottles is welcome. We consider stopping here in Lauterbach but it is still early in the day so we decide to bike to the next town with overnight accommodations, Grossenlüder. Our waitress helps by giving us the name and number of a place where we can make a reservation. That way it will not matter how long we take getting there; we will still have a place to stay. The path signage is good, just follow the R-2 signs out of town.

Mile 41.4 (66.6 km): SchlitzGrossenlüderThis is downtown Bad Salzschirf. We got here following the path signs, not the map. The map would take us a bit more directly but this is a nice little spa town and it has many places to stay overnight.

Mile 45.5 (73.3 km): After a nice drop, we ride arrive in downtown Grossenlüder.

Pension zum LüdertalChurch x from Rathaus GrossenlüderMile 47.7 (76.8 km): In Bimbach just past Grossenlüder, we stop for the evening at Pension zum Luedertal, Fuldaer Strasse 13, 36137 Grossenlüder-Bimbach. Telephone 06648/61918, fax 06648/62378, email address is zum-luedertal@t-online.de, Internet is www.zum-luedertal.de. The cost is €60 for two people per night. This is a wonderful place to stay, with large rooms and inside bicycle storage. The restaurant is high quality and has reasonable prices. It is right on the bike path. We also are treated to a good breakfast in the morning.

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Day 3: Grossenlüder-Bimbach to Bad Soden-Salmünster

Day Overview: Most of the path is paved until late afternoon. Today is a little less hilly than yesterday but that is not saying much. From Bimbach to the rim of the Fulda Valley, there are three hills. In Neuhof, we encounter a hill as we leave the town. Also, south of Neuhof, there is a pusher of a steep hill but the reward is the great drop into Flieden. Then we climb up and down several more hills before dropping into Schlüchtern.

Mile 2.6 (4.2 km): After climbing over the three hills mentioned, we look down into the Fulda River Valley and the city of Fulda. We have a nice 200-foot drop through Maberzell and into the outskirts of Fulda. We join the R-1 at the bottom of the hill. The R-1 is the Fulda Valley Long Distance Bike Path (Hessischer Radfernweg R1) that starts in Gersfeld passes through Fulda, Bad Hersfeld, Kassel, and Hann. Münden, to end in Bad Karlshafen on the Weser.

FuldaFuldaFuldaFuldaFuldaMaxa in FuldaFuldaFulda Fulda palace guardhouseSt. Boniface Memorial

Mile 6.2 (10 km): We arrive at the Fulda Cathedral (Dom). I took several pictures of the Dom both outside and inside. The church next door, which is St. Michaels. One picture is of the relics of St. Boniface who died in 754 CE. He is the patron saint to the Germans. St. Boniface was a colorful fellow and well worth reading about in Wikipedia.

As we leave Fulda we start on the Rhine-Main-Kinzig R-3 route so I reset my odometer where R-3 starts.Sign showing intersection of R1, R2, and R3

Mile 26.0 (41.9 km): This is the bridge over the Kinzig River in Schlüchtern. Getting here we dropped 500 feet from the hill above the city. Prior to the drop, we chugged up and coasted down several high hills between Neuhof and Schlüchtern.

Rathaus in Steinau on der StrasseChurch in Steinau a.d.StrassePalace in Steinau a.d. StrasseMile 30.7 (49.4 km): We took several pictures of the town of Steinau on der Strasse, a Brothers Grimm city. The Grimm family raised their children in this town and that fact is commemorated by the fountain in front of the Rathaus.

Mile 31.1 (50.0 km): In Bad Soden, we stop for the night at Hotel zum Heller, Gerhard-Radke Strasse 1, 63628 Bad Soden-Salmünster, telephone 06056/7350, fax 06056/73513. The cost is €25 per person per night or €50 per couple. This is a good recommendation, there are 25 large renovated rooms and they offer a great breakfast buffet. Our balcony overlooks the small creek, the Salzbach, and we enjoy a bottle of wine on this warm evening while our laundry dries on lines we have strung across the balcony.

Day 4: Bad Soden-Salmünster to Hanau

Day Overview: Today is not the most interesting cycling day, unless you count riding into a stiff headwind as interesting. (A friend of ours says that a headwind is just a poor man’s hill.) The path is mostly flat finally and except for a couple kilometers of well-packed gravel, it is paved.

Mile 6.4 (10.3 km): Wächtersbach is the first community after leaving Bad Soden. Leaving here, stay to the left of the Baumart because we did not see a sign.

Gelnhausen Gelnhausen Burg Schränke restaurantMile 12.7 (20.5 km): We stop for coffee in Gelnhausen at restaurant Burg Schränke. The owner of the restaurant overhears us speaking English and chats us up. He is opinionated and holds an ultra conservative view of current politics. Would that more people were of similar mind.

Mile 33.1 (53.3 km): We end this tour at the Bahnhof in Hanau. The path continues on down the Main through Offenbach to Frankfurt and Mainz and ends eventually in Rüdesheim but we have already traveled that part. If you want some of the travelogue, look at our Main tour and the Rhine tour.

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