Belgium might not be the place you think of first when you plan to go hiking. It’s not the hilliest of countries, but it still has a fair amount of options for hikes. From the dunes of the North Sea coastline to the valleys of the Ardennes in the South East, to the ancient forests in between, here are some really good trails to discover when it comes to Belgium hiking.
6 Great Trails for Hiking in Belgium
1. Napoleon's nose walk, Robertville
This forest valley circuit is in the province of Liège in the Ardennes national park. It offers a lovely combination of wooded trails, high-up valley views, and riverside paths, with a bit of culture thrown in.
The hiking route begins at the car park next to the Robertville dam and is marked out by green rectangles. The undulating trail takes you to a rocky formation called the “Nez Napoléon” or “Napoleon’s nose” which is an amazing viewpoint down across the Warche valley. It leads up through shaded forest trails and down to the river, ending up back at the spectacular Robertville lake.
Reinhardstein Castle (sometimes known as Metternich castle) takes center stage early on, looming up through the trees, an excellent opportunity for photos. The castle dates back to 1354, built for Count Wenzel of Luxembourg and then changed hands many times.
It was eventually demolished and then reconstructed again in 1969. You can book onto guided tours to see inside the castle. This extra experience lasts just over an hour.
The basic walk is 6 km / 3.7 miles long. However, you can extend it by continuing to walk along the regional GR 56 route across the Bayehon valley to the Signal de Botrange, the highest point in Belgium.
There’s also the option of leaving the path briefly to go and see the highest waterfall in the country which tumbles 60 m / 197 ft into the Warche valley just next to the castle.
2. Ladder walk, Rochehaut
This one is for the more adventurous hikers! Known in French as the “promenade des échelles”, its official name is Walk 84 – this is the number to keep an eye out for along the trail to make sure you’re going the right way. Walk 43 is an alternative route that you can also follow, with very similar features.
Another of the many great hikes in the Ardennes, the ladder walk runs from the town of Rochehaut in the province of Luxembourg, not far from the Belgian/ French border. It’s just over 5 km / 3.1 miles in length but the time it takes is around three hours.
Some say this is the most spectacular hiking route in Belgium because you get staggering views over the Semois river.
The reason you can get such amazing views in such a short space of time is down to a series of ladders that mean the trail gains and loses height rapidly. These ladders were built in the 30s as a secret route to a war shelter. They’re good fun, if a little exhausting! There are four in total, two going down and two going up.
Terrain-wise, it’s pretty difficult, and not for the faint-hearted. Grippy shoes are a must. The route starts high on the Rochehaut plateau (beginning at the church), then follows a descent to the river Samois, then back up and returning to Rochehaut.
3. Kordaal walk, Geraardsbergen
In the southern part of East Flanders is a stunning hilly region nicknamed the Flemish Ardennes (not to be confused with the official Ardennes in the South East of the country). This walk near the town of Geraardsbergen follows a circular route through idyllic local villages, perfect woodlands and picturesque castle grounds.
The trail is 6 km / 3.7 miles and follows a fairly easy map. Hiking begins in the center of the quaint village of Nokere, in Kruishoutem. The path enters the beautiful woodland of Kordaal nature reserve and is intercepted by babbling streams. It leads past Castle Ruffo de Bonneval and Nokere Castle.
4. Zwin nature reserve, Knokke-Heist
The Belgian coast may only be small at a mere 65 km / 40 miles, but it has some really beautiful scenic beaches, dunes, and wetlands. At the Belgian-Dutch border lies Zwin Nature Park (Het Zwin), just outside of the town of Knokke-Heist.
Back in medieval times, this inlet connected the city of Bruges with the North Sea, being originally created by a huge storm that formed a tidal channel inland. Since then, however, the waterway became too silted-up to be usable.
Hikers that love nature will definitely like this walk. The Zwin nature reserve has been nicknamed the “international bird airport” for its incredible range of birdlife. It also has an amazing diversity of wildlife, plants, and landscapes.
The walk is a good 12 km / 7.5 miles and follows an easy circular map starting at the new Zwin visitor center and demarcated by hexagonal signs around through the polders, dunes, small wooded areas, and marshes. You’ll eventually come to the sea where you’ll glimpse the old sea walls. This site has braved not just the elements but has been the site of many historic battles too.
There are some good viewpoints across the Zwin plain. While hiking, keep an eye out for white storks (one of the only areas in Belgium you’ll spot these), herons, egrets, curlews, kestrels and hundreds more. The combination of salt and freshwater means there’s a heap of rare flora to spot here too, such as sea lavender and marsh samphire. Don’t forget your binoculars!
5. The Sonian Forest, Brussels
For a great walk that’s just outside of Brussels, why not head to the Sonian Forest (Forêt de Soignes), now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This ancient wilderness cuts the capital region from the rest of Flanders and is prime hiking territory for those wanting to escape the city for a while.
There are tons of well-maintained trails of differing lengths that run through this primeval forest, home to some varied wildlife including nearly 40 different mammal species. One exciting creature to keep an eye out for is the wild boar, rediscovered here in 2007! Your best bet is to find your own way rather than plan hikes on a map beforehand, as wherever you walk in this beautiful beech and oak woodland will not disappoint.
There are a number of car parks dotted throughout the forest (you can get a map of these if you search online) including several that are accessible for those with disabilities. There’s also a special hiking trail in the Arboretum of Groenendael for the visually impaired to use, marked out with Braille.
6. Westhoek, De Panne
Like Zwin, Westhoek is a tranquil nature reserve based on the Belgian coast. It’s found near the French / Belgian border, just outside of the town of De Panne. It is the largest dune massif on Belgium’s coast, making it a popular place for hiking, home to many migratory birds and stunning views.
There is a 10 km / 6.2-mile circular hiking route that begins at De Nachtegaal (“the nightingale”) visitor center and then follows the hexagonal path signs through the Calmeyn forest, then the Krakeel dunes and finally in and around the Westhoek nature reserve. The trail is mostly flat and unpaved.
This hiking trail explores the surroundings of De Westhoek, a nature reserve covering 340 ha thus making it the largest continuous dune massif along Belgium’s coast. The start is at De Nachtegaal (The Nightingale) visitor center and the hike continues to the Calmeyn forest, the Krakeel dunes and the Westhoek nature reserve.
These are just a few ideas for a hiking trip in Belgium but the number of walks is endless. Remember that the hillier routes can get slippy in the winter, and to always come well equipped for the weather. I’m pretty sure it’s also a universal hiking rule to never embark on an adventure without a ready supply of tasty snacks…
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