kayaking the Werra River

Kayaking the Werra River

Several weeks ago, Travis and I drove over to Kiessee, a small lake in Göttingen, to meet some folks from the Göttinger Paddler-Club. Hanging out on the club’s deck at the lake for well over an hour, we chatted with Robert, one of the organizers, and several of the club members over beer. The club’s water polo team had just finished practice when we arrived, so we chatted with them as well.  Robert gave us a tour of the boathouse, and we were delighted to see a handful of kayaks we’ve never seen before. At the end of the evening, we eagerly accepted the group’s invitation to join them on their next trip kayaking the Werra River in eastern Germany.

At 9 am the following Sunday, we met the group in the parking area of their boathouse, chatted while they finished lashing down their kayaks, then hopped in to ride with Annekatrin.

About an hour and a half later, we arrived at a campground in the village of Treffurt, which would be our take-out point. Dropping off one of the cars, we all continued on to the charming hamlet of Creuzburg (not to be confused with Kreuzberg). Pulling off the main road onto a narrow gravel and dirt track, we parked in a grassy area next to a perfect put-in.

Without our knowledgeable club members, we never would have found the place.

Our Goettingen Paddling Club group, Germany
Travis, along with 4 members of the Goettinger Paddler-Club, prepare the boats near the Werra River in Creuzburg, Germany.  Do you see the red, white, and blue kayak?  LOVE!

The plan was to spend the next 4 or 5 hours paddling a 28-kilometer section of the Werra to our take-out point in Treffur, where we’d left one of the vehicles. Accustomed to nearly always wearing PFDs (Personal Flotation Devices, or “life jackets”) when we paddle, I was at first surprised to note that none of the group planned to wear them.


Thinking about how much a part of our American culture it is to wear life jackets – from the time I was a kid riding in my grandpa’s boat on the Coeur d’Alene Lake to taking a lifeguard and water rescue course – PFD use has always been heavily encouraged.

But then I realized that they made their decision based on their paddling experience and knowledge of the river, opting not to use PFDs the same as we would on the St. Maries River in Idaho or Fenton Lake in New Mexico. We opted to leave our PFDs in the car. Had we kayaked the Werra River – an unfamiliar river, knowing absolutely nothing about it – without the group, we would have worn them.

Incidentally, shortly after our trip, a swimmer drowned in the Willamette, our local river in Oregon. For anyone reading this, wear a PFD!

Kayaking trip on the Werra River, Germany
Though the river looks quite calm (and is), it does have a current of about 5 km/hour with some small rapids.

Like paddling at Spreewald, kayaking the Werra River was another new and unique experience for us. Not only was it our first time paddling with Germans (yeah!), but it was our first time paddling in former East Germany.

As we crossed into the Werra’s river basin on the drive to Creuzburg, Annekatrin pointed to the other side of the river. Indicating we’d reached the former border between East and West Germany, she explained that the river itself was divided down the center along that particular stretch with checkpoints established along its banks.

Later while paddling, the group pointed out landmarks and talked about what it was like visiting East Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall. For West Germans, our day trip kayaking the Werra River would not even have been possible in the not-so-distant past.

Bridge over East Germany's Werra River
A relatively newly refurbished bridge spans the Werra in what was once part of East Germany.

The kilometers slipped past peacefully as we paddled to the sound of the gentle dip of our paddles and the frequent thwump, thwump, thwump of swans attempting flight upon our approach. They literally ran along the water’s calm surface before lifting clumsily in flight.

It quickly became apparent that the river is a birder’s paradise. Herons perched along its banks, hawks circled overhead, and mama geese watchfully shepherded their herds of fuzzy goslings.

Heron on Germany's Werra River
A blue heron flies overhead, its bulky wasp-like trailing legs distinctive against the sky.

Egyptian goose on Germany's Werra River
Germany hosts a sizable population of Egyptian geese, a feral inhabitant transplanted from their native Africa.

As the river wound its way through a handful of small villages, we passed the occasional naturcampingplatz – “nature campground” – and a handful of charming homes along the river banks.

Picturesque German home along the Werra River

Inky black waters of the Werra River, GermanyAs is typical of rivers in Germany, even small ones, we encountered two dams on the Werra. Both times, Robert warned us in advance, pointing out their distinctive blue and white warning sign:

Achtung wehr nach 300m links.  Caution dam 300m left.

Rather than signalling that the dam will be on the left, it indicates that the take-out point to portage around the dam will be 300 meters ahead on the left. Important sign to learn!

Dam warning sign on the Werra River, Germany
The sign for “upcoming dam” is likely one of the most important signs one might encounter while paddling in Germany.

Us in our Oru kayaks on the Werra River, Germany
Annekatrin snaps a photo of us near the dam in Falken, the first photo of both of us in our Orus!

Arriving at our destination in Treffurt in the late afternoon, we trudged ashore and stretched our tired muscles. Kicking back in a patch of cool grass, we chatted with Robert while the others piled into the car they’d left at the campground and drove to Creuzburg to pick up the other cars. Like a well-oiled machine, the group had the trip planned down to the smallest detail.

Take out for Werra River kayaking trip, Germany
Travis and Robert come ashore in Treffurt with the castle, Burg Normannstein behind them on the hill.

Annnnd they ended the trip in the most perfect fashion. When they arrived with the other cars and finished loading our gear, they drove into Treffurt and parked, leading us along the twisted, cobbled streets of town in search of ice cream.

The village of Treffurt is worth a visit even if you’re not paddling. It’s simply adorable!

The group shows us a pillar in Treffurt that was once used for publicly punishing criminals, complete with heavy iron neck and wrist shackles.

Half timbered house in Creuzberg, Germany
The architecture in Germany is simply enchanting. This particular beauty has been awarded special designation as a bat-friendly site.

Denkmal sign for Fledermaus, Creuzberg, Germany
Is there any cuter word in German than “fledermaus”? A bat is a “flutter mouse”. Gah, adorable!

Settling at a shaded table in a small square in Treffurt, we perused the menu before promptly choosing iced coffees. The name is a bit deceptive, since iced coffees in Germany (and Switzerland as well) aren’t like American iced coffees at all. In the US, iced coffee is simply any kind of coffee beverage – latte, mocha, etc – with ice in it.  But here, an iced coffee is coffee poured over ice cream. It’s quite a surprise when you’re not expecting it, but you really can’t go wrong with that combo!

This beautiful kitty hangs out at the ice cream shop while we enjoy our iced coffees.

Apparently I was so excited when our order arrived that I didn’t pause long enough to snap a single photo of our iced coffees, which arrived with mounds of sweet whipped cream in twin old-fashioned glasses. Oh, they were good!  It was the perfect end to a perfect day – paddling on a beautiful river with nice folks, good conversation, and ice cream as the cherry on top.

Know Before You Go
  • No permit is required to kayak this 28 km stretch of the Werra.
  • Parking is free at our put-in (marked on the map).
  • As of this writing, this is a nice, easy paddle with some stretches of rapids so small they might qualify as class I rapids.
  • Depending on your paddling ability and/or speed, anticipate 4-6 hours to paddle the entire stretch.
  • This river route has two dams, both of which require portaging.  The first is at Mihla with a right portage, and the second is at Falken with a left portage (both marked on the map below).  Heed the signs on the river for wehr, which means upcoming dam!
Map of Werra River Kayaking Route
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