Hiking Belgium’s Hautes Fagnes Nature Reserve

By alison - September 13, 2012 (Updated: November 19, 2014)

Hiking in the Hautes Fagnes near Eupen, in Belgium's Eastern Cantons

Hiking in the Hautes Fagnes near Eupen, in Belgium’s Eastern Cantons

Secluded woodlands, gushing waterfalls and hundreds of kilometers of forest trails – this can’t be Belgium, can it? It can, if you’re hiking in the Hautes Fagnes Nature Reserve, at the edge of Liège, in Belgium’s beautiful Eastern Cantons.

We’re often asked about our motivation for moving to (and staying in) Belgium; particularly by Belgians themselves. “But Canada is so beautiful,” they sigh. “Don’t you miss the nature?”

In truth, we do miss the nature and wide-open spaces of our home and native land, but to be honest, we weren’t spending a lot of time in nature, even when it was so readily accessible.

While I have nothing against hiking per se, it’s not something I’ve ever done on a regular basis. So when our hostess at the lovely B&B Julevi, in Eupen, recommended a ‘nice walk through the forest,’ I thought it would be a great opportunity to put my camera through its paces. I had no idea it would be me getting the workout.

As I examined our map of the extensive Hautes Fagnes trail network, I started to get concerned. Although I walk long distances in the city, was I really up to hiking 18kms through the forest? “Don’t worry,” chided Andrew. “It’s Belgium, how hard can it be?”

The Hautes Fagnes (High Fens, in English, Hohes Venn, German or Hoge Venen, in Dutch) make up the largest nature reserve in Belgium, with an area of 4,501.2 hectares (11,123 acres). They are part of the 700km2Hohes Venn-Eifel park which spans the Belgian-German border.

The Hautes Fagnes are particularly special because of their 10,000-year-old alpine sphagnum bogs. The water that filters down through these bogs is the cleanest in Belgium. The bogs also create a microclimate, which sustains flora and fauna unique to this area of Belgium.

The hike we had chosen would begin south of the N67 road, to Germany, and loop through the forest, crossing back over the road and ending at Eupen Lake. The trail would be signposted along the way. At the midway point, we would stop for lunch at the Haus Ternell nature centre and brasserie. A beer and food stop… it sounded like a truly Belgian hike.

Signposts on the Hautes Fagnes Hike

At first, it wasn’t hard to spot the signs posting our way… later on the trail got rougher and the signs weren’t as easy to spot.

So, armed with our trusty map, we set out on our adventure. We quickly spotted the multi-coloured signposts that would guide us through the forest.

We strolled along on a paved path with forest on one side and pasture on the other. From our higher vantage point, we had a lovely view of Eupen, below.

Setting out on our paved path

Setting out on our paved path
View of Eupen from the hiking trail

View of Eupen from the hiking trail

We were feeling rather smug about the paved and signposted ‘hiking’ trail. But our smugness melted away as we took in the beautiful scenes around us. There were wildflowers everywhere; particularly abundant were the bright fuchsia foxgloves (digitalis).

Foxgloves along the Hautes Fagnes hiking trail

Foxgloves along the Hautes Fagnes hiking trail

Although we didn’t pass another human for the first few hours of our hike, we weren’t alone. The trees were filled with birds, butterflies flitted around us, and we even happened across on of Belgium’s more bizarre inhabitants – the slowworm, or Anguis.

Nature all around us in the Hautes Fagnes

Nature all around us in the Hautes Fagnes
Belgian Slowworm

We spotted this little slowworm basking in the sun on our path

Although the slowworm looks like a snake, it is actually a legless lizard. What’s the difference, I hear you asking? Lizards, even legless ones, have eyelids and small ear openings, which snakes lack. They also have notched tongues rather than forked tongues like a snake. Our slowworm was basking happily on the path and wasn’t bothered by us.

As we continued into the forest, our paved path gave way to gravel and finally to the forest floor. At last, it was feeling much more like nature tails we were accustomed to in Canada. We found ourselves walking alongside rushing streams and, around every turn, there were rapids and small waterfalls.

Waterfalls and breathtaking views while hiking the Hautes Fagnes

Waterfalls and breathtaking views while hiking the Hautes Fagnes

Just as we began to forget what country we were in, we arrived at our halfway point and lunch stop. Halfway through a Canadian hike we’d likely be eating canned beans or hot dogs cooked over a campfire. In the German corner of Belgium, we were treated to currywurst and schnitzel.

Currywurst and Schnitzel

Currywurst and Schnitzel on a hiking trail – only in Belgium

With our energy reserves restored, we set out for the second phase of our Hautes Fagnes hike. Although we began on pavement once again, it wasn’t long before we were scrambling over logs, clambering up hillsides, and teetering over rickety bridges. Now this was hiking.

Not exactly the easy path we expected...

Not exactly the easy path we expected…

Despite realising we are seriously out of shape (thank you Belgian gastronomy!), we were having an amazing time. We both couldn’t help marvelling how this wild place was just a two-hour drive from cosmopolitan Brussels.

In fact, if someone had dropped us into the Hautes Fagnes blindfolded, we would have easily been convinced we were somewhere in North America or Scandinavia.

Hiking in the Hautes Fagnes

This sure didn’t look like Belgium to us!

When we finally emerged from the wilderness and stumbled onto the paved path beside Eupen Lake, we were dirty and exhausted but also elated and invigorated. We had uncovered the green heart of Belgium and there are still dozens of nature trails for us yet to discover.

Do you know any great nature hikes in Belgium? Share them with our community, in the comments below.

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Big Cheese at CheeseWeb
Alison Cornford-Matheson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of She is the author of The Foodie Guide to Brussels: Local Tips for Restaurants, Shops, Hotels, and Activities. Alison landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about slow and sustainable travel, in Europe and beyond. She loves to discover hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She has visited 45 countries and is currently slow travelling through North America in an RV, with her husband, Andrew, and two well-travelled cats. You can also follow her work on Google+
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  1. Comment by Yamila

    Yamila February 6, 2013 at 13:52

    this looks great! do you guys think it is possible to do all this without a car? how close are the hiking trails from the train station?

    • Comment by Alison


      Alison February 6, 2013 at 13:58

      Hi Yamila, The trail we took is about a 4km walk from the Gare de Eupen, so already a bit of a hike. In theory, I’m sure you could also grab a taxi to the Eupen Lake or Haus Ternell, where many of the trails begin and end, but I have no idea what this would cost.

  2. Comment by Nels

    Nels March 3, 2013 at 15:15

    This looks like an awesome hike? Can you give any more practical details, like the overall length and time spent?


    • Comment by Alison


      Alison March 4, 2013 at 11:42

      Hi Nels, The hike we did was about 18km and it took us about 6 hours, but that also included several stops for lunch, photos etc. There are so many trail options and variations in the area though. That’s why we strongly recommended picking up the trail map, as we did. It’s worth the price, particularly if you’re an avid hiker and want to try out several of the trails.

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