Folks around Grafenwöhr, Germany, don’t have to drive for hours to reach the mountains. Steinwald Naturpark, just 25 minutes away by car, covers 60,000 acres of land and boasts peaks of more than 3,000 feet.

OK, so they are more like hills than mountains, but they are steep enough and high enough to provide excellent terrain for local mountain bikers, hikers and cross-country skiers.

Steinwald, which translates as Stone Forest, lives up to its name. It has acres of pine and oak forest growing amid a slew of boulders that range from baseball size up to as large as a 10-story building.

The boulders come in all kinds of shapes, from massive obelisks to outcroppings that resemble the carved heads on Easter Island, to formations that look like gray layer cakes.

In other places, hikers find themselves clambering over massive piles of rocks scattered over the landscape like a giant’s Lego collection.

According to the nature park’s Web site, the boulders are made of granite that dates back 600 million years, which is relatively young for the region.

One of the best places to enter the park is near Erbendorf, a small town about a 25-minute drive from Grafenwöhr. From there, you can follow park road signs that lead to Pfaben, a small town near the summit of the 2,814-foot-high Saubadfelsen rock formation. Pfaben can also be reached by walking for about an hour up a long, winding path from the village of Rosenbuhl in the valley below.

Spectacular views of the Oberpfalz — the Upper Palatinate region of Bavaria that encompasses Grafenwöhr and Vilseck — can be seen from the tops of some of the many large boulders in Steinwald.

Some boulders are relatively easy to climb and some even have wooden staircases built to allow easy access to the top. Others are more difficult to climb and should only be attempted by experts with the correct equipment.

The numerous hiking tracks through the park are not extreme, but the rocks and tree roots that grow across them can create hazards for inattentive walkers.

According to the park’s Web site, the Steinwald includes two protected reserves, near Grötschenreuth and Teichelberg. You will see and hear plenty of strange birds, plants and animals in the forest. If you want to know what you are looking at, and can read a bit of German, check out the painted trail-side signs which have a lot of information.

For local mountain bikers, Steinwald is a must-go location. Aside from the spectacular scenery, the rocks in the forest make for some interesting trails that will challenge the best intermediate riders and provide plenty of enjoyment for advanced riders.

You can download a GPS map of a mountain bike ride through the forest, compiled by Grafenwöhr mountain bike guru Adam Schlang at: php/action.view/entity.detail/ key.5837/sitelang.en/Mountain +bike.5837.html

If you are looking for massive, snow-capped peaks, you’ll have to drive to Austria or Garmisch. But for a much closer taste of mountain fun, Grafenwöhr locals will find plenty to enjoy at Steinwald.

On the QT

Directions: From Grafenwöhr, take B299 north past Pressath to Erbendorf. At Erbendorf, follow signs to the Steinwald Naturpark.

Times: The park is open all hours, but busiest on weekends. A series of special events, including nature walks, geological talks and demonstrations, are scheduled throughout the year.

Costs: Access to the park is free. There is a charge for special events, usually about 2.50 euros.

Food: There is a small restaurant near the trailhead at Pfaben. On Sundays the only place open in Erbendorf is the ice cream parlor on the main street.

Information: For information about the Naturpark and a schedule of activities, in German, see

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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