Black Forest

Black Forest
Blick vom Hohfelsen.jpg
Highest point
Elevation1,493 metres (4,898 ft)
Coordinates48°18′N 8°9′E / 48°18′N 8°9′E / 48.300; 8.150
Length160 km (99 mi)
Area6,009.2 km2 (2,320.2 sq mi)
Relief Map of Germany, Black Forest.png
Map of Germany with the Black Forest outlined in green
Parent rangeSouthwest German Uplands/Scarplands
OrogenyCentral Uplands
Type of rockGneiss, Bunter sandstone

The Black Forest (German: Schwarzwald, pronounced [ˈʃvaʁtsvalt]) is a large, forested mountain range in the state of Baden-Württemberg in southwest Germany. It is bounded by the Rhine valley to the west and south. Its highest peak is the Feldberg with an elevation of 1,493 metres (4,898 ft). The region is roughly oblong in shape with a length of 160 km (99 mi) and breadth of up to 50 km (31 mi).[1]

Historically the area was known for ore deposits which led to mining featuring heavily in the local economy. In recent years tourism has became the primary industry, accounting for around 140,000 jobs. The area features a number of ruined military fortifications dating back to the 17th century.


Woods and pastures of the High Black Forest near Breitnau

The Black Forest stretches from the High Rhine in the south to the Kraichgau in the north. In the west it is bounded by the Upper Rhine Plain (which, from a natural region perspective, also includes the low chain of foothills); in the east it transitions to the Gäu, Baar and hill country west of the Klettgau. The Black Forest is the highest part of the South German Scarplands and much of it is densely wooded, a fragment of the Hercynian Forest of Antiquity. It lies upon rocks of the crystalline basement and Bunter Sandstone, and its natural boundary with the surrounding landscapes is formed by the emergence of muschelkalk, which is absent from the Black Forest bedrock. Thanks to the fertility of the soil which is dependent on the underlying rock, this line is both a vegetation boundary as well as the border between the Altsiedelland ("old settlement land") and the Black Forest, which was not permanently settled until the High Middle Ages. From north to south the Black Forest extends for over 160 km (99 miles), attaining a width of up to 50 kilometres in the south, and up to 30 kilometres in the north (31 mi × 19 mi).[2] Tectonically the range forms a lifted fault block, which rises prominently in the west from the Upper Rhine Plain, whilst seen from the east it has the appearance of a heavily forested plateau.

Natural regions

The natural regions of the Black Forest are separated by various features:

Geomorphologically, the main division is between the gentle eastern slopes with their mostly rounded hills and broad plateaux (so-called Danubian relief, especially prominent in the north and east on the Bunter Sandstone) and the deeply incised, steeply falling terrain in the west that drops into the Upper Rhine Graben; the so-called Valley Black Forest (Talschwarzwald) with its Rhenanian relief. It is here, in the west, where the highest mountains and the greatest local differences in height (of up to 1000 metres) are found. The valleys are often narrow and ravine-like; but rarely basin-shaped. The summits are rounded and there are also the remnants of plateaux and arête-like landforms.

Geologically the clearest division is also between east and west. Large areas of the eastern Black Forest, the lowest layer of the South German Scarplands composed of Bunter Sandstone, are covered by seemingly endless coniferous forest with their island clearings. The exposed basement in the west, predominantly made up of metamorphic rocks and granites, was, despite its rugged topography, easier to settle and appears much more open and inviting today with its varied meadow valleys.

The Feldberg, the highest mountain in the Black Forest, SE of Freiburg

The most common way of dividing the regions of the Black Forest is, however, from north to south. Until the 1930s, the Black Forest was divided into the Northern and Southern Black Forest, the boundary being the line of the line of the Kinzig valley. Later the Black Forest was divided into the heavily forested Northern Black Forest, the lower, central section, predominantly used for agriculture in the valleys, was the Central Black Forest and the much higher Southern Black Forest with its distinctive highland economy and ice age glacial relief. The term High Black Forest referred to the highest areas of the South and southern Central Black Forest.

The boundaries drawn were, however, quite varied. In 1931, Robert Gradmann called the Central Black Forest the catchment area of the Kinzig and in the west the section up to the lower Elz and Kinzig tributary of the Gutach.[3] A pragmatic division, which is oriented not just on natural and cultural regions, uses the most important transverse valleys. Based on that, the Central Black Forest is bounded by the Kinzig in the north and the line from Dreisam to Gutach in the south, corresponding to the Bonndorf Graben zone and the course of the present day B 31.

In 1959, Rudolf Metz combined the earlier divisions and proposed a modified tripartite division himself, which combined natural and cultural regional approaches and was widely used.[4] His Central Black Forest is bounded in the north by the watershed between the Acher and Rench and subsequently between the Murg and Kinzig or Forbach and Kinzig, in the south by the Bonndorf Graben zone, which restricts the Black Forest in the east as does the Freudenstadt Graben further north by its transition into the Northern Black Forest.[5]

Work of the Institute of Applied Geography

The Handbook of the Natural Region Divisions of Germany published by the Federal Office of Regional Geography (Bundesanstalt für Landeskunde) since the early 1950s names the Black Forest as one of six tertiary-level major landscape regions within the secondary-level region of the South German Scarplands and, at the same time, one of nine new major landscape unit groups. It is divided into six so-called major units (level 4 landscapes).[6] This division was refined and modified in several, successor publications (1:200,000 individual map sheets) up to 1967, each covering individual sections of the map. The mountain range was also divided into three regions. The northern boundary of the Central Black Forest in this classification runs south of the Rench Valley and the Kniebis to near Freudenstadt. Its southern boundary varied with each edition.[7]

In 1998 the Baden-Württemberg State Department for Environmental Protection (today the Baden-Württemberg State Department for the Environment, Survey and Nature Conservation) published a reworked Natural Region Division of Baden-Württemberg.[8] It is restricted to the level of the natural regional major units and has been used since for the state's administration of nature conservation:[9]

No. Natural region Area
in km2
Population Pop./km2 Settlement
in %
Open land
in %
in %
centres of
centres of
150 Black Forest Foothills[10] 0930 268,000 289 7.69 29.33 62.92 Pforzheim Calw,
151 Black Forest Grinden and Black Forest Grinden and Enz Hills[11] 0699 060,000 086 1.92 06.39 91.51
152 Northern Black Forest Valleys[12] 0562 107,000 190 4.12 19.48 76.41 Baden-Baden,
153 Central Black Forest[13] 1,422 188,000 133 3.35 30.25 66.39 Haslach/Hausach/Wolfach,
Waldkirch, Schramberg
154 Southeastern Black Forest[14] 0558 080,923 112 3.03 32.44 64.49 Villingen-Schwenningen
155 High Black Forest[15] 1,990 213,000 107 2.44 26.93 70.31 Schopfheim,
Slopes of the Northern Black Forest to the Upper Rhine Plain (Northern Black Forest Valleys)

The Black Forest Foothills (Schwarzwald-Randplatten, 150) geomorphologically form plateaux on the north and northeast periphery of the mountain range that descend to the Kraichgau in the north and the Heckengäu landscapes in the east. They are incised by valleys, especially those of the Nagold river system, into individual interfluves; a narrow northwestern finger extends to beyond the Enz near Neuenbürg and also borders the middle reaches of the Alb to the west as far as a point immediately above Ettlingen. To the southwest it is adjoined by the Black Forest Grinden and Enz Hills (Grindenschwarzwald und Enzhöhen, 151), along the upper reaches of the Enz and Murg, forming the heart of the Northern Black Forest. The west of the Northern Black Forest is formed by the Northern Black Forest Valleys (Nördliche Talschwarzwald, 152) with the middle reaches of the Murg around Gernsbach, the middle course of the Oos to Baden-Baden, the middle reaches of the Bühlot above Bühls and the upper reaches of the Rench around Oppenau. Their exit valleys from the mountain range are all oriented towards the northwest.

Grassland economy in side valleys of the Kinzig, Central Black Forest

The Central Black Forest (153) is mainly restricted to the catchment area of the River Kinzig above Offenburg as well as the Schutter and the low hills north of the Elz.

The Southeastern Black Forest (Südöstliche Schwarzwald, 154) consists mainly of the catchment areas of the upper reaches of the Danube headstreams, the Brigach and Breg as well as the left side valleys of the Wutach north of Neustadt – and thus draining from the northeast of the Southern Black Forest. To the south and west it is adjoined by the High Black Forest (Hochschwarzwald, 155) with the highest summits in the whole range around the Feldberg and the Belchen. Its eastern part, the Southern Black Forest Plateau, is oriented towards the Danube, but drained over the Wutach and the Alb into the Rhine. The southern crest of the Black Forest in the west is deeply incised by the Rhine into numerous ridges. Immediately right of the Wiese above Lörrach rises the relatively small Bunter Sandstone-Rotliegendes table of the Weintenau Uplands (Weitenauer Bergland) in the extreme southwest of the Black Forest; morphologically, geologically and climatically it is separate from the other parts of the Southern Black Forest and, in this classification, is also counted as part of the High Black Forest.

The Belchen in the Southern Black Forest with its bare dome, seen from Münstertal


At 1,493 m above sea level (NHN) the Feldberg in the Southern Black Forest is the range's highest summit. Also in the same area are the Herzogenhorn (1,415 m) and the Belchen (1,414 m).

In general the mountains of the Southern or High Black Forest are higher than those in the Northern Black Forest. The highest Black Forest peak north of the Freiburg–Höllental–Neustadt line is the Kandel (1,241.4 m). Like the highest point of the Northern Black Forest, the Hornisgrinde (1,163 m), or the Southern Black Forest lookout mountains, the Schauinsland (1,284.4 m) and Blauen (1,164.7 m[16]) it lies near the western rim of the range.

Rivers and lakes

The River Schiltach in Schiltach
The Schluchsee, north of St. Blasien.

Rivers in the Black Forest include the Danube (which originates in the Black Forest as the confluence of the Brigach and Breg rivers), the Enz, the Kinzig, the Murg, the Nagold, the Neckar, the Rench, and the Wiese. The Black Forest occupies part of the continental divide between the Atlantic Ocean drainage basin (drained by the Rhine) and the Black Sea drainage basin (drained by the Danube).

The longest Black Forest rivers are (length includes stretches outside the Black Forest):

  • Enz (105 kilometres, 65 mi)
  • Kinzig (93 kilometres, 58 mi)
  • Elz (90 kilometres, 56 mi)
  • Wutach (91 kilometres, 57 mi)
  • Nagold (90 kilometres, 56 mi), hydrological main artery of the Nagold-Enz systems
  • Danube (86 kilometres, 53 mi), headstreams:
    • Breg (46 kilometres, 29 mi)
    • Brigach (40 kilometres, 25 mi)
  • Murg (79 kilometres, 49 mi)
  • Rench (57 kilometres, 35 mi)
  • Schutter (56 kilometres, 35 mi)
  • Wiese (55 kilometres, 34 mi)
  • Acher (54 kilometres, 34 mi)
  • Dreisam (incl. Rotbach 49 kilometres, 30 mi)
  • Alb (incl. Menzenschwander Alb 43 kilometres, 27 mi)
  • Glatt (37 kilometres, 23 mi),
  • Möhlin (32 kilometres, 20 mi)
  • Wolf (31 kilometres, 19 mi)
  • Schiltach (30 kilometres, 19 mi)
  • Wehra (incl. Rüttebach 28 kilometres, 17 mi)
  • Oos (25 kilometres, 16 mi)
  • Glasbach (18 kilometres, 11 mi), hydrological main artery of the Neckar system

Important lakes of natural, glacial origin in the Black Forest include the Titisee, the Mummelsee and the Feldsee. Especially in the Northern Black Forest are a number of other, smaller tarns. Numerous reservoirs like the – formerly natural but much smaller – Schluchsee with the other lakes of the Schluchseewerk, the Schwarzenbach Reservoir, the Kleine Kinzig Reservoir or the Nagold Reservoir are used for electricity generation, flood protection or drinking water supply.