Hiking in the Netherlands: the most beautiful trails
Hiking in the Netherlands? You might think this is a joke. Isn’t it as flat as a dutch pancake? Isn’t it one of the most densely populated countries in the world?
Yes it is, but hiking in the Netherlands is very well possible. Even enjoyable. During the pandemic lockdown I was forced to explore my own country and I was not disappointed.
While everything closed down, hiking in the Netherlands became one of the few things I could still do on my days off. Everytime, I was surprised by the beauty of my own country. The Netherlands is so much more than Amsterdam and there are so many beautiful places to go hiking.
Why Hiking in the Netherlands
The Netherlands isn’t exactly known for its nature. Yet, for such a small country, it offers a huge variety in landscapes and has a much richer flora and fauna than you might expect.
The Netherlands has 21 national parks and 160 nature reserves. From forests, to dunes, bogs, peat soils, stream valleys and heather. Even some hills in southern Limburg. And there is lots of culture too. Small villages with windmills and traditional farms dot the landscape in between.
With a good public transportation system, most nature parks are easily accessible and have a great network of cycling and hiking trails.
How to find hiking trails in the Netherlands
So how can you find one of these established hiking trails in the Netherlands? You will be surprised by how much there is on offer and how many different organizations are involved in setting up trails throughout the country.
The only downside is that most of this information is in dutch only. I will still provide the links here, because I believe that most sites are rather self explanatory. Once you download the gpx file it is easy to follow the route without having to know dutch. Otherwise Google translate may help as well.
NS is the dutch railway organization and in an effort to encourage hikers to use the train they set up a number of hiking trails that goes from one train station to another. Overall the hikes of NS are very nice and a perfect combination of nature and culture.
My favorite NS hike is the one in the Kennemerduinen. Most are between 10 and 20 kilometers. A few are 2 day hikes with the option of staying overnight somewhere on route.
Natuurmonumenten is an organization that tries to preserve nature by buying the land. Be it a former land estate of the former nobility, a forest or a bog landscape. They have set up over 250 hiking routes. Their hiking trails are relatively short and well marked on well maintained paths with different color codes.
One of my favorite routes is the longest trail at ‘s Graveland where they also have a visitor center. They are not as easy to reach as the NS hikes as they often require you to take a local bus to the starting point.
Staatsbosbeheer is the dutch forest management organization. They too have a number of hiking trails set up in the forests and nature throughout the Netherlands.
I can highly recommend their “boswachters paden” or forester paths. These trails are often long enough to be a decent day hike and include the highlights of the area.
One of my favorites is the beautiful hike through the Schoorlse Duinen. They are not as easy to reach as the NS hikes as they often require you to take a local bus to the starting point.
Klompenpaden is a regional network of hiking trails through farmlands and nature in the provinces of Utrecht and Gelderland. Not all, but most trails are accessible with public transport. I hiked several of them and they were always a delightful experience bringing me to places where I would otherwise not go.
One of my favourites was the Zoddenpad near Hilversum.
The Knapzakroutes focus on the province of Drenthe. Drenthe is among the least populated provinces of the Netherlands and one of my favorites for hiking. Most of the landscape is heather and forest with the occasional farm village where you can still see traditional Saxon farms.
Best places to go hiking in the Netherlands
One of my favorite places to go hiking in the Netherlands is Drenthe and the Drentsche Aa. The Drentsche Aa National Park is a park full of history and nature. It is among our oldest landscapes formed by the late ice age.
The park focuses on the forests, meadows and heatlands around the small river Aa. What is so special about this river is that it is the only waterway that is not managed by people and still follows its original way. At the same time, ancient burial mounds and dolmens prove that this area was inhabited as early as the prehistoric period.
Drentsche Aa covers a large area with a network of hiking and cycling trails. The most beautiful parts of the Drentsche AA include the Aanlooërdiep, the Gasterse dunes and the Balloerveld. All are beautiful places to go hiking in the Netherlands.
Drenthe is the least populated province in the Netherlands. Therefore hiking in Drenthe means lots of nature with the occasional village where you can still see traditional Saxon farms.
How to get there: It is best to take a train to Assen. The capital of the province of Drenthe. From there you can take a local bus into the Drentsche Aa.
Best time: The heather flows from the end of July till September. August is by far the best month to see the heather in its purple glory.
Schoorl has the highest and widest dunes anywhere in the Netherlands. With over 60 kilometers of marked trails they are a great place to go hiking in the Netherlands. The Schoorlse duinen have forests, moorlands, heather fields, small lakes and sand dunes.
The Schoorlse Duinen is a really diverse landscape that is home to a rich flora and fauna. Although most dunes are highly protected, there are a few dunes that you can climb. A very large dune offering wonderful views is the “Klimduin” in Schoorl itself. Once you reach the top you have wonderful views.
You can either start your hike on top of the “Klimduin” as you immediately enter an area of beautiful pine tree forests. From here it is about 5 kilometers to the sea. You can also start at the information center where there is another smaller dune you can climb.
The dunes around Schoorl are very fragile and play an important role in protecting the Netherlands. Most of the land in the province of North Holland is well below sea level. The best place to see this is at the “Hondsbossche Zeewering”. There are actually not really any dunes here. Just a large dike and when you stand on top you can clearly see that the sea is much higher than the land on the other side.
How to get there: Getting to the Schoorlse Duinen requires you to get a train to Alkmaar and a local bus. Still it only takes around one hour to get to Schoorl from Amsterdam and the area is well worth a visit.
Recommended trail: boswachterspad Schoorlse Duinen
If the dunes in Schoorl are too far away for you and you are looking for a place closer to Amsterdam I can recommend the Kennemerduinen. Easy to access by train and close to Amsterdam it is a very popular place to go hiking in the Netherlands. Due to its proximity to Amsterdam, the trails can be a bit crowded. especially on the weekends.
The landscapes are very similar to the Schoorlse Duinen and include forests, lakes and sand dunes. The Dune valleys and dune pastures are home to a number of special plants and animals. Look out for the highland cows from Scotland or the konik horses that graze in the park. It is also a great place to go birdwatching.
How to get there: The NS hike starts at Station Santpoort Noord. From Amsterdam central station there are frequent trains and the journey takes 30 minutes.
Recommended trail: NS hike Kennemerduinen
The Sallandse heuvelrug is a moraine that developed during the last ice age. As a result there are over 26 hills covered with the largest uninterrupted heathlands in Europe interspersed with pine forests. It’s still the Netherlands so hiking in the Sallandse Heuvelrug does not mean you need to climb up any mountains.
The hills are gentle and just high enough for some nice views here and there. When you are lucky, you can see the black grouse. It’s the only place in the Netherlands where you can still see them.
Best time: The heather flows from the end of July till September. August is by far the best month to see the heather in its purple glory.
How to get there: You can get a train to the Sallandse Heuvelrug. From train station Nijverdal or station Holten you can walk to the park and be on the trails before you know it.
The Oostvaardersplassen is where they filmed the nature documentary “The New Wilderness”. The movie is about the incredible nature in this relatively new piece of land and nature. Oostvaardersplassen is part of national park new land in the polders of Flevoland.
The movie shows more than 43 animal species including the wild Konik horses, deer and eagles that now live in the new national park. Since then, the Oostvaardersplassen is very popular among wildlife enthusiasts and bird watchers looking for the majestic white tailed eagle. There are a number of hiking trails leading to the bird watchers huts that look out over the marshes.
The documentary about the Oostvaardersplassen was a bit controversial within the Netherlands itself. Although nature is really beautiful here, the area is rather small and isolated. Plans to connect it with other nature reserves failed and there has been a lot of criticism on the management of the national park.
One of the reasons why it is so easy to spot wildlife in the Oostvaardersplassen is simply because the animals have only a small area to live in. The day hikes are therefore relatively short ranging from 5 to 10 kilometers.
How to get there: Unfortunately you need to have your own transport
Recommended trail: Het lange pad
The Utrechtse Heuvelrug or Utrecht hill ridge is home to the second largest forest area of the Netherlands. It is actually a network of different forests, heathlands, grasslands, floodplains and former land estates. Some still have impressive castles that you can visit, such as the Amerongen castle.
The forests are the main attraction and some parts are still the original forests that grew right after the ice age when the hill ridge was formed. There are plenty of hiking trails to choose from. Autumn is a wonderful time to come here as the autumn colors are amazing.
How to get there: You can start the NS hike from train station Driebergen Zeist or Maarn.
The Veluwe National Park is the largest nature reserve in the Netherlands and very popular for wildlife spotting. The forests and heathlands were once a hunting park. Although hunting is no longer practiced, the park is still home to a large diversity of flora and fauna.
Among the wild animals are deer, foxes, wild boars and mouflons. Recently even the wolf returned to the Netherlands with a number of sightings at the Veluwe National Park. Your chances of seeing them is by hiking in the early morning or the late afternoon before sunset.
The Veluwe has a number of well marked trails. There are easygoing day hikes of just a couple of kilometers, but also longer and more challenging hikes of up to 20 kilometers.
Best time: A lot of people come to see the deer mating season in september. This is when male deers leave their herds to look and compete for a female. The heather flows from the end of July till September. August is by far the best month to see the heather in its purple glory.
How to get there: The NS hike starts at station Dieren, Rhenen or Velp
The Biesbosch is the largest freshwater tidal area in the Netherlands. This large area with rivers, streams, creeks, lakes and willow forests is a great place to go kayaking or canoeing. However, this water paradise is also a nice area to go hiking.
The 169 kilometer biesboschtrail is a multi day hike that shows you every corner of the national park and beyond. You can also choose some of the shorter day hikes such as the roundwalk on the “Jantjesplaat” or the “Oeverlanden”.
The Biesbosch is a great place to spot birds such as the kingfisher. And with a bit of luck you might spot a beaver.
How to get there: The historic city of Dordrecht is the best place to start your adventures into the Biesbosch.
Recommended trail: ANWB Biesbosch trail where water wins from the land
Berg en Dal
One of my personal favorite places to go hiking in the Netherlands is Berg en Dal near Nijmegen. It has some of the most beautiful forests in the country and sometimes you are wondering whether you are still in the Netherlands.
Berg en dal has actual hills with some steep climbs. Now don’t panic. The highest hill in Berg en Dal is still below 100 meters. High enough for some beautiful views all the way into Germany.
How to get there: The historic city of Nijmegen is the nearest train station and very close to Berg en Dal.
Recommended trail: N70 nature path
The Maasduinen National Park is a nature reserve in between the border with Germany and the Maas river. It is actually an elongated ridge of sand that is 20 kilometers long and 3 kilometers wide. The Maasduinen form the largest stretch of river dunes in the Netherlands.
The river dunes along the Maas are more diverse than you would think. One moment you are hiking through the forest and the other moment through the sand dunes, heathlands and meadows. It’s a wonderful place to go hiking and see more of the dutch river landscapes that define so much of the Netherlands.
The South of Limburg has the highest hills of the Netherlands. The biggest pride is the Vaalser mountain at 322 meters high. Yes, the dutch call this a mountain. And that is also why Limburg is such a popular place to go hiking in the Netherlands.
Not only does Limburg have the highest hills in the country, the landscapes are also incredibly scenic and the villages along the hiking trails are warm and friendly. People in Limburg are famous for their hospitality and love of good food.
You can’t leave Limburg without trying a vlaai (a cake) and zuurvlees (meat stew) with fries. All local specialties that are not so common in the rest of the Netherlands.
Recommended trail: There are a number of hiking trails in the southern part of Limburg, including the multi day Dutch mountain trail and Krijtlandpad.
Long distance hiking in the Netherlands
One of the best ways to see the beauty and diversity of the dutch countryside is by hiking one of the many long distance hiking paths. For such a small country there is an enormous amount of well marked trails to choose from. From North to South, from West to East and everything in between.
Long distance trails, in short LAW in dutch, are a great way to get off the beaten path and see the different landscapes in the Netherlands. From small villages with windmills, green meadows with cows, polders, heathlands, forests and sand dunes.
The Dutch hiking organization NIVON has 17 official LAW trails and 21 regional trails. All are well over 100 kilometers and require multiple days of hiking. These trails are well marked and have official guides with useful maps.
The most famous and popular long distance hiking trail is the 498 kilometer long Pieterpad trail. It runs from Pieterburen in the north of the Netherlands to Pieterberg in the south of the Netherlands. Crossing 5 different provinces you will clearly see the regional differences in both landscapes and cultures. From the flat polders and meadows in Groningen, the heathlands of Drenthe to the hills in Limburg.
Although the trail is well away from the touristic areas of the Netherlands it goes through some of the most beautiful national parks, including the Drentsche Aa, the Sallandse Heuvelrug and Maasduinen.
The Trekvogelpad is the best long distance path for nature lovers and birdwatchers. It is the longest long distance trail that goes from one nature reserve to another. It also includes national parks such as the Utrechtse Heuvelrug and the Veluwe.
The path goes from west to east and starts at the beach and dunes in “Bergen aan zee”. It ends 414 kilometers later in the city in Enschede.
The Kustpad or dutch coastal path is the longest hiking trail in the Netherlands. 721 kilometers all along the dutch coast from the province of Zeeland to Noord Holland, Friesland and Groningen. Along the coast of the North Sea and the Wadden sea.
Hiking in the Netherlands: Travel Tips
When you are going hiking in the Netherlands, accommodation can be a big part of your budget. There is enough choice on booking.com, but I will discuss some cheaper options below
Camping: In summer you can of course always bring your tent and go camping. Wild camping is not allowed in the Netherlands, but most campings always have space for hikers with a tent. Costs will be around 10-15 euro per day. If you do not have a tent or want a little bit more comfort some campings also have hikers cabins for a reasonable price of 30 – 40 euro’s a night.
Vrienden op de fiets: Vrienden op de fiets is a network of local homes that offer a place to sleep to hikers and cyclists for only 20 euro per night. This is the best way to get to know more about dutch culture. In most cases these are families or couples that have an extra room in their homes. It is like a dutch homestay. You do need to be a member to get the list of homes available.
Bed and breakfasts: Bed and Breakfast is more commercial than Vrienden op de fiets. They can range from one or two rooms in someone’s home to a more professional small scale hotel. Prices differ a lot. It can be as cheap as 30 euro’s per night up to 90 euro’s per night for the more luxurious bed and breakfasts.
Natuurhuisje: The website natuurhuisje is not necessarily cheaper than booking.com. On the contrary, it can be a bit pricey. However, they have some truly unique accommodation options in the most spectacular nature locations in the Netherlands.
Where to eat
The Netherlands remains a densely populated country and you are never far away from a supermarket or restaurant. There are few places in the Netherlands where you can hike for hours without finding some place to eat or drink.
Drenthe is one of the few places where you should check if there is anything on the trail. Some National Parks only have places to eat at the entrance of the park.
Personally I prefer to bring my own picknick lunch regardless whether there are restaurants or not. In the supermarkets you can buy nice breads and some slices of cheese or meat. Bring something to drink or a thermos of tea and you are good to go. Nothing can beat a nice bench in the forest with a nice view.
When to go
You can go hiking in the Netherlands any time of the year. Even winter has its charms on a cold crispy clear morning. I even started hiking the Pieterpad in the middle of winter when temperatures were freezing. The snow and frost in the meadows was absolutely beautiful.
Another favourite time to go hiking in the Netherlands is springtime when the flowers are blooming. This is also breading time for a lot of birds. As a result some trails are closed. Summer brings nice and sunny weather. With the summer holidays the most popular hiking trails can become a bit crowded. August is when the heather blooms turning the heathlands a beautiful purple.
My personal favourite time to go hiking in the Netherlands is Autumn with its lovely colors in the trees. This is a great time to head to the forests of the Utrechtse Heuvelrug or the Veluwe.
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