Hiking to the Tufa Runnel in Rohrbach – a Unique Natural Phenomenon

There are so many things you can do in Franconia (a region in Northern Bavaria). Especially if you are a nature lover and want to join the locals on hikes, you gotta pack your hiking shoes. Go on a day trip from Nuremberg or Ingolstadt and head to the tufa runnel in Rohrbach. That’s a unique natural limestone formation that elevates the local stream water above ground level and you can see eye to eye with the bubbling stream. Pretty cool, right?! Read on to find out more handy information and how to get there.

German: Den Artikel zur Rohrbach Steinrinne gibt es auch auf Deutsch.

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There are information boards about tufa runnels in Franconia on site. However, they are in German with no translation. Keep this article at hand if you need to look something up again as I tried to summarise and include it here.

What is a tufa runnel?

A tufa runnel is a type of growing rock that naturally formed over time due to chalk sediments from the natural spring water that over time accumulated above ground into its own ridge.

The local area is full of limestone and karst, making the underground water rich in minerals and sediments. As soon as the spring water reaches the surface and warms up, the carbon dioxide is extracted and the chalk “falls out”, resulting in chalk sinter (deposits).

If the outside erosion isn’t too strong, these sediments slowly add vertically, resulting in a water runnel that is elevated above ground floor. I call it nature’s own aqueduct.

A similar process with a different result are the tufa falls further up and down the stream and other nearby valleys. They are called “Kalktuffen” in Germany are instead of one linear runnel, they are more like multiples of pleateaus that cause mini waterfalls. Very pretty!

Tufa Runnel Rohrbach

The one limestone stream I want to introduce you in particular is the tufa runnel in the valley/forest of the Altmühltal south of the village Rohrbach.

This rocky streambed is 1.5 metres wide (although the stream itself is very slim) and the entire tufa runnel has a length of 60 metres.

To protect it from trampling and damage, a well cared for wooden path and trail has been erected next to it. This makes walking its length easy and you can still see plenty. From there, you can continue your hike into the forest and along the upstream section with tiny waterfalls and interestingly blue sediments in the stream. It’s very pretty!

Please do stay on the paths as the sediments and nature can be delicate and needs protecting.

That’s why this particular runnel has retained its unique height. Humans keep assisting in stabilising the runnel to prevent erosion tearing it down as can be seen in many other local tufa runnels.

moss covers the runnel as it descends onto the muddy floor
end of the tufa runnel

Flora and Fauna

If you look closely, you can see many typical plants that can be found in German wetlands growing alongside the edge of the tunnel. The sediments are very compact and mostly moist, which is loved for instance by the yellow flower marsh marigold (Caltha palustris, “Sumpfdotterblume”) as well as the horsetail (genus Equisetum).

When it comes to water creatures, there are two in particular that I found mentioned.

One is the rather common freshwater clam (psidium personatum), of which Germany has 17 varieties. They get to 4mm big and revel in chalky water.

Then there is the water worm crenobia alpina, which loves hiding in the shadows under the rocks of clean cold water streams that are between 8 and 11°C cold (46,4 to 51,8°F).

How to get to the tufa runnel Rohrbach?

While it is possible to take public transport, it’s quite tedious to get there as you have to get the train to the small town Weissenburg and then a bus to the village Ettenstadt. From there, you walk North into the forest. Maybe take a taxi for 12min from Weissenburg instead. I assume it’s like 12€ (have cash ready and add a tip).

The best way to reach the tufa runnel is by car.

You can easily get here from Nuremberg or Ingolstadt in under an hour by car.

Take the countryroad B13 towards Ellingen – Höttingen – Auhof and then turn to Rohrbach. There is a forest parking next to a plaxground at the southern tip of the village. From there you take the trail into the forest and it’s really not far at all and pretty easy to walk, as it is mostly even. (Still, you need hiking shoes because of the roads and possible mud.)

I parked close to the road at the edge of the forest where I spotted a small white sign pointing into the forest. There was a little clearing that allowed space for a few parking cars. Nothing official but nothing where it said it wasn’t allowed.

blue sediments in stream among grown leaves on forest floor
mineral rich stream in the beech forest

More stone runnels in Franconia

Rohrbach is part of the Franconia region, which in itself is divided into smaller regions. (And locals are very particular about where they place themselves.)

That aside, if you feel like you want to see more of these tufa runnels in Franconia or you are looking for one closer to where you are, then check the following ones out. I included a geotag so you can easily find them as Google sometimes has trouble locating them:

  • Steinerne Rinne near Raschbach (49°25’08.9″N 11°23’12.9″E)
  • Steinerne Rinne near Engelthaler Forst (49°27’23.6″N 11°23’22.6″E)
  • Steinerne Rinne near Happurg (49°28’17.6″N 11°31’30.7″E)
  • Steinerne Rinne near Erasbach (49°08’02.1″N 11°25’10.2″E)
  • Käsrinne (49°02’03.7″N 10°43’53.2″E)
  • Steinerne Rinne near Hechlingen (48°59’19.6″N 10°44’07.9″E)
  • Steinerne Rinne near Wolfsbronn (49°00’34.8″N 10°47’18.4″E)
green dark moss covers the sides of the tufa runnel
tufa runnel Rohrbach seen up close

More sights

Since the tufa runnel sits along a popular hiking trail of the name “Limeswanderweg” (limes hiking trail – from the Roman limes walls), you can extend your hikes quite a bit, depending on your preferences.

You could attempt a few of the trail segments, hike each in full or just join parts you feel most interested. it’s really up to you. No, there are no stamps to be gotten like at the Camino de Santiago/”Jakobsweg” (which goes up to Nuremberg an Bamberg).

If you’re interested, check out the segment that includes the valley Altmühltal and the Franconian Lakes, reaching from Eining an der Donau (Kastell) all the way to Gunzenhausen.

Here are the segments broken down including the distances for each:

  • Gunzenhausen – Ellingen 22,5 km/1,89 mi
  • Ellingen – Petersbuch 26,3 km/1,63 mi
  • Petersbuch – Kipfenberg 19,2 km/2,17 mi
  • Kipfenberg – Altmannstein 25,7 km/1,73mi
  • Altmannstein – Eining (Kastell) 16,4 km/2,23mi
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