If you live in a flat country like the Netherlands (like I do), it can be hard to find proper terrain to practice for mountain hikes. No matter how many flights of stairs you walk up or down, or how many sand dunes you conquer, it’s still a poor substitute for the real thing. To get some real practice in, you’re going to have to go abroad. That is how I ended up on the Lee Trail (Escapardenne Lee Trail) in Luxembourg. Sure, I wouldn’t classify the hills there as mountains, but the Lee Trail can offer you 2200 meters (ca. 7,218 ft.) of altitude gain in 53 kilometers (ca. 33 miles), and that’s a good start.
In order to get my legs a much needed work-out, I departed for Kautenbach with a group of friends on a Thursday evening at the end of September. We choose to drive that evening, so we could get an early start on the Friday morning. We pitched our tents at camping Kautenbach that evening.
The Lee trail runs from Ettelbrück to Kautenbach (or the other way round). We opted to leave our cars at the station in Kautenbach and take a train from there to Ettelbrück. That way, we could finish at the cars on Sunday afternoon. Public transport is free in Luxembourg, and the train to Ettelbrück only takes about 15 minutes, so wherever you decide to start, it’s an easy trip there.
If you don’t feel like camping or prefer to take a day pack only, that is very feasible as well. Most campsites along the trail also offer cabins or other accommodations, and there are some hotels nearby. We encountered a fair number of people that tackled the trail from a fixed point and used public transport each day to pick up where they left off the day before.
We did decide to go camping, so we had to carry all our gear, enough food for three days and a few liters of water. You will come across a few spots where it will be possible to get water, but they are some way apart, so make sure you have enough carrying capacity. You could opt for a water filter instead, but in areas where there is agriculture nearby, I tend to take the cautious approach and carry tap water. No backpacking water filter in the world can extract chemicals from your water.
DAY 1: Ettelbrück – Bourscheid-Moulin
Packing the tents, eating and driving to the station took a while, so it was past 11 o’clock by the time we got on the train. As the total route isn’t all that long, and we had three days, we weren’t in much of a rush.
The trail will feel much longer than those 33 miles though, because your hiking speed will drop considerably with all the ups and downs. You probably will be hiking slower than usual. Nevertheless, if you’re an experienced hiker and don’t have the time to do it in three days, it is certainly possible to do it in two.
The trail is well-marked, but we downloaded the GPX routes as well. These are easy to follow on apps that can handle GPX files. I used my Garmin Fenix sports watch, which enabled me to leave my phone in my pocket.
The real work doesn’t start until after you pass the statue of general Patton in Ettelbrück. That’s where the trail goes up, and the surface will change from sidewalk to forest path. The hike has officially begun!
It won’t be long now until you pass the first viewpoint: the Predigtstuhl (‘the pulpit’). Looking out over the river Sûre from here, you’ll see the river winding along the valley below. ‘Lee’ translates to ‘mountain ridge’, so that should give you your first clue about the trail highlights to come. The trail itself is quite varied and will take you from hills to forests, from gravel to rocks, from trees to brooks and from villages to fields.
Though the weather reports had promised us fair weather for the entire trip, it started pouring down by the time we arrived in Michelau. Since the small village has a train station with very decent restrooms, the timing was impeccable, and we waited out the rain there.
Tip: Once you are near Bourscheid-Moulin, Chateau Bourscheid will greet you from a hill top nearby. If you have the time, make a small detour to visit it.
In Bourscheid itself, camping is possible at the camping du Moulin Bourscheid, which is right on the trail.
DAY 2: Bourscheid-Moulin – Hoscheid
The second day was our longest one. If you stick to the official stages, today will be around 20 kilometers (ca. 12 miles). If you want a shorter hike on your last day, consider making some extra miles today. As we enjoyed a rather extensive lunch break by the river in Dirbach, we did not take that opportunity though.
This day will also lead you past ‘L’arbre de Napoleon’, or ‘Napoleon’s tree’. That may sound like quite a sight, but in reality, I was rather underwhelmed. The first tree in this location was planted by locals in 1811, to celebrate the birth of Napoleon’s son. The great small man himself never actually visited it, and the original tree was cut down by the Nazi regime in the Second World War. The current tree was planted here in 1944 to replace it. While not a highlight of this hike then, the location is one of the high points: on top of a hill with views all around.
Music along the way
On today’s route, you’ll also come across the Klang Wanderweg (the ‘Sonorous Trail’). A separate trail where you’ll find several musical instruments along the way, ready to entertain the kids…or the adults! The Klang Wanderweg is actually a circular route that starts in nearby Hoscheid, and was intended as a family walk. The Lee Trail follows part of it, so you’ll have the opportunity to play some tunes as well.
Just before you reach the tiny town of Dirbach, the path becomes quite narrow and steep. As you turn the corner, all of a sudden, you’ll run into God’s Finger. The protruding rock does indeed, with some imagination, resemble a certain raised finger. Not long after that, the forest gives way to a paved road, and you’ll find yourself in the middle of Dirbach. If you happen to arrive here around lunchtime, the Hotel Dirbach Plage will do the trick neatly. The trail literally runs across their patio, so you might as well have a short (or long) break here. It has a nice view overlooking the river and a small waterfall. They also have hotel rooms, if you did not bring your camping gear.
With your tent, you can continue just a bit past Dirbach and go to camping du Nord.
DAY 3: Hoscheid – Kautenbach
Just after Hoscheid, you’ll encounter a few more musical instruments, but the path offers more delights here in the form of moss-covered trees that imbue the forest with a certain magic. We were lucky enough to walk here on a sunny day, and the rays of the sun peeping through the trees gave the forest an enchanted feel.
Suddenly, the trees give way to a ridgeline with perfect views all around, a fine place for a break to enjoy the view and get your camera out, if the weather is amenable. If it isn’t, there will be a picnic table at a more sheltered spot once you get down from the hill. Shortly after, you’ll encounter a picturesque small white chapel beside the trail.
On the home stretch
Not long now before you’ll be back in Kautenbach. Once you reach the lookout tower, you’ll see the village below you. If you make it to the top, you’ll be able to look back on some of the areas you’ve just visited.
If your knees are still up to it, they’ll undergo their final test here, descending into the valley. You’ve made it this far though, so the final stretch shouldn’t be a problem. After all, you’ve got cold drinks, hot meals and refreshing showers ahead!
The Hotel Huberty is very close to the station, and if open, should be a convenient place to get that drink or meal. Unfortunately, they were closed when we were there, but we found our rewards elsewhere. These three days away made me feel like I’d been on a holiday for weeks. Though I myself was by now in dire need of a shower, at least my mind felt fresh again!
Distance: 53 kilometers/33 miles), 2200 meters/7200 ft. altitude gain
Name: The Escarpardenne Lee Trail is part of the Escapardenne Trail (158 kilometer/98 miles), which runs from La-Roche-en-Ardenne to Ettelbrück.
Difficulty: Moderate/hard: if you are used to paved surfaces and flat trails, this might be hard on your legs and knees. If you have experience with hiking up and down hills or mountains, this should not present too much difficulty. Some steeper climbs and descents, with some ridge walking and cliffs. Paths might be slippery in wet weather.
Ettelbrück – Bourscheid-Moulin (17.8 km/11 miles)
Bourscheid-Moulin – Hoscheid (19.3 km/12 miles)
Hoscheid – Kautenbach (14.5 km/9 miles)
- Enthusiastic hikers that don’t mind some ups and downs.
- Less suitable for beginners
- Less suitable for people with fear of heights
What should I bring?
- Water capacity of at least 2 or 3 liters water or waterfilter (this is the one I use)
- Camping gear if you decide to camp, otherwise just a day pack with food, drinks, and rain gear.
- Hiking poles are not absolutely necessary, but are nice to have, especially if it has been raining, or if you want to be kind to your knees. I always bring them, because I need them to set up my tent.
- Your favorite hiking shoes. You don’t need ankle-high boots, but if you like hiking in them, go ahead. Read more about my favorite hiking shoes here.