The Pieterpad trail: hiking through the Netherlands
The Pieterpad trail is the most famous long distance trail in the Netherlands. It starts in Pieterburen up north in Groningen to the Pietersberg in Southern Limburg. You will hike almost 500 kilometers to some of the most beautiful parts of the Netherlands.
The Pieterpad trail was the idea of hiker friends Bertje Jens and Toos Goorhuis Tjalsma. One of them lived in the north and the other one in the south. Together they developed the first long distance path in the Netherlands. The goal was as much nature as possible and as little paved roads as possible. They succeeded pretty well.
Why hike the Pieterpad trail
When you think about the Netherlands you probably don’t think about hiking. It is true there are no real mountains, but the Netherlands has more than enough natural beauty to offer. Throughout the country is a network of trails and long distance paths. Hiking in the Netherlands can be a real pleasure for nature lovers.
None of the hiking trails are as popular among the dutch as the Pieterpad trail. The Pieterpad trail is the perfect combination of culture, history and nature. For foreigners it is also one of the best ways to get to know the Netherlands and its people.
The pieterpad trail is a varied hike that shows the diversity in landscapes and cultures of the Netherlands. In 500 kilometers you go through five different provinces and a number of national parks and nature reserves with forests, heathlands, river dunes and even some hills.
The Pieterpad trail brings you to remote parts of the country where only a few tourists come. You will pass through small villages and historic towns. Expect to see traditional farms and wind mills. And you will mreet lots of Dutch people. For many, the social interaction with the locals and other Pieterpad hikers are part of the charm
How to hike the Pieterpad trail
The Pieterpad is divided into 26 official sections between 15 and 25 kilometers. How you hike the Pieterpad trail is a personal choice. Some hike with friends, but there are also plenty of people who walk alone. Some hike from North to South, but there are also some that start in Maastricht. You can of course follow the official sections, but you can also adjust them to your own speed and capacity.
Some people walk the whole trail in one go, staying in bed and breakfasts or campings along the way. Other people walk a few sections during the weekends. I started my Pieterpad journey in February 2021 and went whenever I had a weekend off. In July 2022 I reached Maastricht.
I will discuss more practicalities about hiking the Pieterpad trail further on. Let’s first discuss the official Pieterpad itinerary
Pieterpad trail itinerary
Below you will find the official Pieterpad sections as described by the official Pieterpad organization. On their website you can find the start and end points and the gpx files. The site is in dutch only, but if you click on the sections it is easy to find the gpx file. Alternatively you can download the gpx files from Wandelnet. You can use 9292.nl or Google maps to find directions to the start and end points.
Pieterpad section 1: Pieterburen – Winsum
The Pieterpad trail starts in Pieterburen. A small village in the north of Groningen. The flat green open polders and extensive farm fields with the occasional windmill looks typically dutch. The polders in Groningen are in fact the oldest man made landscape in the Netherlands and the first effort to conquer the water and the sea.
Dikes and Canals had to protect the land and the small farming communities built their villages on top of artificial mounds called “wierden”. The first section is relatively short and you will pass through the two scenic wierden villages of Eenrum and Mensingeweer.
Sightseeing: the seal rehabilitation and research centre in Pieterburen, the Mustard Factory windmill in Eenrum, charming villages of Mensingeweer and Winsum
Accomodation: Hotel Marenland
Pieterpad section 2: Winsum – Groningen
On the second section of the Pieterpad trail you remain hiking through the polders of Groningen. All day you walk on long straight paths through the open and flat farmlands. Many people think this is a boring section of the Pieterpad trail.
Coming from a more urban area in the Netherlands, I liked the experience of emptiness. Midway between Winsum and Groningen is the scenic terp village of Garnwerd with its beautiful windmill. A little later at the small village of Oostum you can clearly see that the church is built on an artificial mound. Slowly you enter the vibrant student city of Groningen.
Sightseeing: the windmill in Garnwerd, the church in Oostum, Groningen
Pieterpad section 3: Groningen – Zuidlaren
On the third section of the Pieterpad trail you go from the province of Groningen to the province of Drenthe and the landscape changes accordingly. The differences are immediately visible as you leave the city of Groningen behind you and enter the forests of the Hondsrug. A sand ridge formed in the ice age.
Drenthe has peatlands, heather fields, bogs and forests. It is the least densely populated province of the Netherlands. Appelbergen is a small nature reserve that packs all of these landscapes into one. Technically this is still Groningen, but it is a good preview for what Drenthe is going to show you.
In this section you will also see your first dolmens that Drenthe is famous for. These ancient graves with large stones are around 5000 years old. The boulders came all the way from Scandinavia and slowly moved to the Netherlands in glaciers during the ice age.
It is pretty impressive to imagine that simple neolithic farmers in the new stone age used these heavy boulders to mark their graves. In Drenthe they call these dolmens “hunebedden”. Hunebed G1 is a very small detour from the Pieterpad trail. Not far from here, next to a farm, are D1 and D2.
Insider tip: At Appelbergen there is a nice restaurant to eat pancakes. Perfect for a lunch break.
Accomodation: Brink hotel
Pieterpad section 4: Zuidlaren – Rolde
The fourth section of the Pieterpad trail shows the natural beauty of Drenthe in all its glory. It was one of my favorite Pieterpad days. First the river landscape of Schipborg, after that the sand dunes of Gasteren and finally the open heathfields of the Balloërveld. If you are lucky you might see the flock of sheeps that graze around here.
This Pieterpad section is all about nature. The only small town you pass through is the town of Gasteren with its traditional Saxon farms.
Insider tip: the only place to eat on the way is in Gasteren. Bring some snacks and enough water for today.
Accomodation: Bed and Breakfast Het Hunebed
Pieterpad section 5: Rolde – Schoonloo
As you leave Rolde you will pass by more dolmens. Hunebed D17 and D18 are right next to the trail as you leave the scenic village of Rolde. Section 5 on the Pieterpad trail is another day with lots of nature and few towns or villages on the way.
A highlight is the Meindersveen and the Grolloërveen veld. Small patches of heathlands are surrounded by dense pine forests. When I see a small red house in the distance it almost feels like I am in Swedish Lapland.
Sightseeing: Meindersveen, Grolloo Veld
Insider tip: there are no places to eat or shops on this Pieterpad section. Bring enough food and water for today.
Accomodation: De Deelderij
Pieterpad section 6: Schoonloo – Sleen
The sixth section of the Pieterpad trail is a long one through beautiful forests and peatlands with small lakes. At the end of the day before you reach Sleen it is possible to make a small detour to see ancient dolmens. Sleen is a very nice village with lots of traditional farms.
Sightseeing: Pieterpad monument, Hunebed D49, D50 en D51
Insider tip: there are no places to eat or shops on this Pieterpad section. Bring enough food and water for today.
Accomodation: Bed and Breakfast de Driesprong
Pieterpad section 7: Sleen – Coevorden
section 7 of the Pieterpad trail is the last one in Drenthe. Already it feels you have left nature behind you. It is obvious you are entering a different kind of landscape again. Today you walk past farmlands and canals. Most of it on paved roads. The day ends in Coevorden. One of the bigger cities in Drenthe with a nice castle.
Sightseeing: castle of Coevorden
Accomodation: Castle of Coevorden
Pieterpad section 8: Coevorden – Hardenberg
Section 8 of the Pieterpad trail starts in the city of Coevorden. As soon as you leave the city you will see the gate of Drenthe. Although it looks like one of the ancient dolmens it is actually a modern piece of art. The gate is also the official border between the province of Drenthe and Overijssel.
Overijsel is dominated by grasslands and rivers and that is exactly what you get to see today. A highlight are the traditional farms and the cute village of Gramsbergen.
Sightseeing: The gate to Drenthe, Gramsbergen
Accomodation: City Guesthouse
Pieterpad section 9: Hardenberg – Ommen
The Pieterpad trail continues through Overijssel. First there are more grasslands and farms. Later on the trail goes through some forests and the landscape becomes more varied. Near Ommen you pass a small area of sand dunes in the midst of the pine tree forest.
The ‘Sahara’ of Ommen is a great place for a short break. Although it can be very crowded with families and kids on the weekends.
Sightseeing: Sahara van Ommen
Accomodation: Hotel Wildthout
Pieterpad section 10: Ommen – Hellendoorn
From Ommen to Hellendoorn you will encounter your first hills on the Pieterpad trail. All together there are three ‘mountains’ to climb. First there is the Besthmener mountain that is 33 meters above sea level.
The trail continues through the forests and heathlands to the Archemer mountain. With 78 meters this is the highest ‘mountain’ of today. The last climb is up to the 60 meters high Lemeler mountain.
These hills are pushed moraines that formed during the last ice age. The result is a varied landscape and beautiful panorama views. In my opinion this was one of the more beautiful sections of the Pieterpad trail.
Sightseeing: Panorama views on top of the Archemer and Lemeler mountains.
Accomodation: Bed and breakfast biej oons tuus
Pieterpad section 11: Hellendoorn – Holten
The Pieterpad trail from Hellendoorn to Holten goes straight through the Sallandse Heuvelrug National Park. This nature reserve is a moraine ridge that developed during the last ice age. As a result there are over 26 hills covered with the largest uninterrupted heathlands in Europe.
The first part of the trail is through the forest, but soon the trail gently climbs up to the Haarler Mountain and then the Holter Mountain. The forests change into heathlands with beautiful views.
Sightseeing: Panorama views on top of the Holter mountain.
Accomodation: Hotel Hoog Holten
Pieterpad section 12: Holten – Laren
The Pieterpad trail leaves the province of Overijssel to enter Gelderland. The largest province of the Netherlands. This part of the trail goes through an area called the Achterhoek. If you translate this, it literally means rear corner. Probably, due to its geographical location in the easternmost part of the province.
This rural area has its own culture and dialect. Achterhoeks is related to the Low Saxon languages and is more close to German than it is to Dutch. It is therefore no surprise that the trail again goes through lots of farmlands with traditional farm buildings, but also nice forests.
The Achterhoek is also famous for its land estates, mansions and castles that belonged to the 17th and 18th century nobility. Just before Laren you pass by the castle of Verwolde.
Sightseeing: Verwolde estate
Pieterpad section 13: Laren – Vorden
The Pieterpad trail from Laren to Vorden goes through the heart of the rural Achterhoek. This means green farmlands with traditional thatched roof farm buildings and the occasional country estates with their mansions such as the Den Bramel castle.
Sightseeing: Den Bramel castle
Accomodation: Hotel Bakker
Pieterpad section 14: Vorden – Zelhem
Castle Vorden is a beautiful start of the fourteenth section of the Pieterpad trail. Look out for the monument that marks the midway point of the Pieterpad. You are now exactly halfway between Pieterburen in the North and Pietersberg in the South.
The rest of the day is a pleasant hike through the forests and farmlands of the Achterhoek. Once in Zelhem look out for Smoks Hanne. A legendary lady that flew on her broom and was always wearing clogs that were too large.
Sightseeing: Vorden castle
Accomodation: Bed and Breakfast de Lindenhoek
Pieterpad section 15: Zelhem – Braamt
I never knew there were so many castles in the Achterhoek. This is the last section of the Pieterpad trail in this region. The last castle you pass is also the most impressive one. The medieval Slangenburg castle is a true beauty.
You will also walk through enough farmlands to say goodbye to the familiar sight of cows grazing around in the green meadows. At the end of the day it’s a lot of paved roads, but change comes in sight as the hills of the Montferland appear on the horizon
Sightseeing: Slangenburg castle
Accomodation: Karels hotel
Pieterpad section 16: Braamt – Millingen aan de Rijn
The sixteenth section of the Pieterpad trail is a long one with 24 kilometers. However, it is also a very varied hike with a lot of changes in the landscape.
As you leave the village of Braamt you can already see the hills of the Montferland in front of you. It is only 2 kilometers through the fields before you enter a beautiful forest and start a gentle climb up.
The Hulzer mountain is 82 meters high and a watch tower provides beautiful views. Not much later the trail crosses for a small part through Germany. The small town of Hoch Elten offers more panorama views.
Back into the Netherlands the landscape changes again. The forests make space for the river landscape of the Rhine. It’s a long walk on the dike right next to the river. There is lots of traffic and in the end I decide to take a path below the dike that runs parallel to the Pieterpad trail. No views on the Rhine, but way more quiet.
After the village of Tolkamer the scenery becomes more nice. Still it feels like a long haul before I finally reach the boat that brings me to Millingen on the other side of the river
Sightseeing: Hulzer mountain, Hoch Elten
Accomodation: Bed and breakfast Millingen aan de Rijn
Day 17: Millingen aan de Rijn – Groesbeek
The first part of this Pieterpad section is nothing special. More green farmlands and without really noticing it you are suddenly in the small town of Zyfflich in Germany. Back in the Netherlands is when the trail starts to become more spectacular.
You are entering Berg en Dal. A hilly area of beautiful forests near Nijmegen. Immediately you start climbing up the Duivelsberg. The rest of the day you continue through the forested hills with plenty of nice views.
Insider tip: on the Duivelsberg is a great pancake restaurant that is perfect for a lunch break.
Accomodation: Bed and breakfast de Bosrand
Pieterpad section 18: Groesbeek – Gennep
The Pieterpad trail starts in Groesbeek. A town that suffered greatly in the second World War. In particular during Operation Market Garden when allies tried to liberate the region.
Just outside Groesbeek you will see a WW2 glider plane in the middle of a farmfield. Shortly after that you enter the province of Limburg.
The Zevendal valley is a beautiful introduction into this new province. It is followed by a climb up to Saint Jansberg. Once you leave the forests behind you, you enter the river landscape of the Maas. The trail ends with a flat, but beautiful little nature reserve just before entering Gennep with its old town hall.
Sightseeing: War plane near Groesbeek, zevendal, Jansberg, town hall in Gennep
Accomodation: Hotel de Kroon
Pieterpad section 19: Gennep – Vierlingsbeek
This section of the Pieterpad trail goes through the Maasduinen National park that forms the longest stretch of river dunes in the Netherlands. The elongated ridge of sand is three kilometers wide and twenty kilometers long.
The trail starts with the floodplains of the river Niers before entering the forests around Gennep. The most beautiful part is the little nature reserve Quin. An area of heathlands and sand dunes that is very typical of the Maasduinen.
In Afferden you need to take a ferry to cross the Maas river. It’s then a short hike through the Maasheggen. This is an area of hedgerows that encloses meadows and fields. It’s one of the oldest cultivated landscapes in the Netherlands.
Sightseeing: Quin, Maasheggen
Accomodation: Bed and Breakfast Perron 22
Pieterpad section 20: Vierlingsbeek – Swolgen
Limburg is the most catholic province of the Netherlands. On this section of the Pieterpad trail you pass several interesting chapels and churches. First the Maria chapel in Holthees and then a little bit further the Saint Joseph chapel in Smakt.
Smakt might be a very little town, but it is a real pilgrimage center. The small chapel attracts more than 30,000 visitors a year. People come here to pray for a happy family or a merciful death when the day comes.
Further on is the Saint Goar’s chapel. The water from the well has healing properties that supposedly protect people against high fevers. Finally you pass Tienray with its replica Lourdes cave.
It can’t get more catholic than this on the Pieterpad trail. The natural beauty on this part of the trail doesn’t disappoint either. Sand dunes, forests and heathlands and the beautiful stream of the Oostrumse beek
Sightseeing: Saint Joseph Chapel Smakt, Oostrumse Beek, Saint Goar Chapel, Small Lourdes
Accomodation: Bed and Breakfast de Oude Pastorie
Pieterpad section 21: Swolgen – Venlo
It seems that the further south you go, the more beautiful and varied the Pieterpad trail becomes. The start of this section is spectacular with beautiful wet forests, heathlands and small nature reserves such as Schuitwater and Kaldenbroek.
Up till Grubbenvorst I enjoy each and every step on the Pieterpad trail. In Grubbenvorst you need to take a ferry to cross the Maas. From then on it’s a long and somewhat boring hike through the floodplains of the Maas to Venlo.
The chapel of Genooi means you are almost there. Just as I arrived there was a church service going on and the chanting lured me inside. An unexpected serene moment.
Sightseeing: Schuitwater nature reserve, land estate Kaldenbroek, Chapel of Genooi
Insider tip: at Kaldenbroek is a small ayurvedic cafe that serves nice tea and coffees, but also indian smoothies and lassi’s.
Accomodation: Hotel Wilhelmina
Pieterpad section 22: Venlo – Swalmen
The Pieterpad trail from Venlo to Swalmen goes in and out of Germany. First you need to exit Venlo. The Jammerdaalsche Heide just outside the city is a beautiful highlight. The former monastery of the Trappists is a great place for a small break before you enter the forest.
The rest of the day you walk through the forests along the border with Germany. You will cross the border several times and if you watch carefully you keep seeing border poles. The forest path is on a higher ridge and occasionally provides nice views.
Sightseeing: Jammerdaalsche Heide, former trappists monastery
Accomodation: Bed and Breakfast Slapen en Smullen
Pieterpad section 23: Swalmen – Montfort
The Pieterpad trail from Swalmen to Montfort has a lot of farm fields, paved roads and towns you pass through Sint Odilienberg is one of the more charming villages with a beautiful basilic.
Today there is also some Roman history on the trail. You walk a small part of the ancient Roman road from Heerlen to Xanten. And as you enter Montfort you see depictions of Roman coins that archeologists found in this region.
Sightseeing: Saint Odilienberg
Accomodation: Bed and Breakfast De groene Gast
Pieterpad section 24: Montfort – Sittard
The Pieterpad trail from Montfort to Sittard goes through forests and farm fields with the occasional village. The trail starts near the small castle of Montfort.
One of the highlights on this stage is the smallest part of the Netherlands near Susteren. Here, the Pieterpad trail goes through a nature reserve on the border with Germany before entering Sittard
Sightseeing: Castle of Montfort, Smallest part of the Netherlands.
Accomodation: Hotel de Limbourg
Pieterpad section 25: Sittard – Strabeek
The Pieterpad trail from Sittard to Strabeek starts with a climb up the Kollenberg where the chapel of Saint Rosa is waiting for you. The landscape can’t be more different from where you started the Pieterpad in Groningen.
Southern Limburg is hilly and the trail goes up and down. This area has its own culture and language that is famous for its burgundian lifestyle. That means that there is lots of good food in abundance such as delicious cakes called Vlaai.
Castle Terborgh is a great place for a break and try one of the local delicacies from the region.
Sightseeing: Kollenberg en de kapel van de heilige Rosa, kasteel Terborgh, Terstraten
Accomodation: Hotel 2000
Pieterpad section 26: Strabeek – Sint Pietersberg
The last section of the Pieterpad trail starts in the beautiful rolling hills of Limburg. Soon the city of Maastricht comes into sight.
Maastricht is a great city and luckily the Pieterpad trail goes straight through the historic center. Before you know it you have reached Pietersberg and the end point of the Pieterpad trail.
Accomodation:Design Hotel Maastricht
Pieterpad trail traveltips
When you are going hiking in the Netherlands, accommodation can be a big part of your budget. You can always look on booking.com, but I will discuss some cheaper options below.
Do note that in some places the choices are limited. I recommend booking things in advance when you can, especially on the weekends.
Camping: In summer you can of course 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 euros per night up to 100 euros 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.
The cheapest way to eat on the Pieterpad trail is by buying groceries in the local supermarket. A typical dutch lunch is a sandwich with cheese, peanut butter or a slice of meat. In a dutch supermarket you will have plenty of choice in different types of breads and things to put on the bread.
Along the Pieterpad trail there are plenty of villages with a supermarket as well as cafes and restaurants. Only in Drenthe are a few stages where there are no facilities on your way.
Insider tip: bring some cash with you. On the way are also small tea houses where you can serve yourself some tea, coffee or snacks. They are way cheaper than a restaurant, but in most cases you can only pay with cash.
If you hike the Pieterpad sections during weekends it is good to know that most start and endpoints are near a bus stop or train station. In some of the smaller villages public transport is infrequent. Also check if buses go on the weekends. You can check this with google or on 9292
NIVON is the dutch organization that maintains the long distance hiking paths in the Netherlands, including the Pieterpad trail. They also publish the Pieterpad guidebooks. There are two books with part one from Pieterburen to Vorden and part 2 from Vorden to Pieterberg.
The books are in dutch, but the maps are still very useful even if you can not read dutch. There is lots of interesting background information as well as information about food and accommodation on the way.
Do you really need the guidebooks? If you download the gpx files from the Pieterpad website or wandelnet you could also walk without the guidebooks. Furthermore, the path is very well marked with red and white flags
When to hike the Pieterpad
You can hike the Pieterpad trail any time of the year. Even winter has its charms on a cold crispy clear morning. I started hiking the Pieterpad in the middle of winter when temperatures were freezing. The snow and frost in the meadows was absolutely beautiful.
Another favorite time to go hiking in the Netherlands is springtime when the flowers are blooming. This is also breeding 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 favorite time to go hiking in the Netherlands is Autumn with its lovely colors in the trees.
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