In summer these unusual bushes bloom in delicate shades of pink (and look like cotton candy) and in autumn the leaves turn deep red and orange. So grab your hiking boots and read through my first-hand tips that typically only locals know about.
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What are smoke trees?
The German name is Perückensträucher. And in English, it’s the Eurasian smoketree or smoke bush. In Latin, it’s Cotinuscoggygria or Rhuscotinus.
The shrubs come in two to four different species and belong to the plant family of the sumac family (Anacardiaceae). They were named in 1753 by none other than Carl von Linné (a famous German botanist).
The plant can only be found in the northern hemisphere and they also grow in the USA, China and India.
Why the name? From afar, the flowers look like soft clouds and have billowy hairs on thin stalks that create that look. They are not as soft as they look, but still nice to the touch.
You can read more about the botany here.
Where are Smoke Bushes in Jena?
The best spot for spotting the smoke bushes in Jena, however, is at the valley Mühltal at the West end of the city.
Here, you can find the hill Nasenberg just above the popular restaurant/hotel Papiermühle. (Fun fact: it brews its own signature beer and you can take a bottle home. And you can stay here.*)
How to get to the valley
You can park for free in front of the Papiermühle. There are a few parking lots. If these are full, you can try parking along the path.
Alternatively, you can take bus 16 from the city centre in the direction of Jena, Cospeda. The bus stop is called “Mühltal”.
The buses of the lines 44, 280, 292, 424, 425 and 426 also all stop here.
It’s best to use the live journey planner for exact times or check the timetables.
There is a free app called MeinJena you can download. Note that there is no free wifi on public transport. And the MeinJena wifi can only be accessed if you downloaded and verified the app while being attached to wifi.
(Yes, Germany often makes things unneccesarily complicated).
You can also walk here from the city center along the highway. This will take you half an hour and will take you past the church Johanniskirche and the university house Döbereiner Hörsaal. (From here, you can also walk up to the landmark Landgrafen and monument Napoleonstein).
How to get up the mountain
Once you have arrived at the parking lot or the stop at Papiermühle, turn right on the gravel path and walk behind the paper mill (it should be on your left). There are also hiking signs showing you the way.
The path is called “Im Metztal”. It leads you past hillside houses and to a crossroads with another signpost.
Take the steep stairs up into the forest. This is the hardest part of the trail. But it’s not that long.
At the top, the path becomes quite flat. From there, you can enjoy a great view all the way back to the city centre of Jena (and have a seat) and further into the valley right along the limestone slopes.
Next, turn left onto the narrow path of the hillside. It will lead right into the thick of the colourful smoke bushes. You cannot miss them! Walk all the way to the entry of the forest. You can then take the path down and walk back in the valley (which is not that great), go up to the Napoleonstein or just walk back. I typically do the latter.
But if you want to walk directly further, then I have a few tips for you below.
When is the best time to visit the wig bushes in Jena?
As always, it depends on the weather, but generally the best time to visit the Jena’s smoketrees is in late September and October.
When I was there in 2020 in early November, there were still colorful shrubs but not in full glory. In 2023, the smoke bushes turned their brightest in mid October.
Alternatively, you can visit the wig bushes in the the Mühltal in summer. I was there on July 10, 2021 and it was beautiful. Even two weeks later you could still see them blooming in a pastel pink from a distance. At that time of the year, they also look super fuzzy and very different from the red wig bushes in autumn.
Once you know how smoke bushes look, you can spot individual ones all around the city in gardens and yards. I typically use these to gauge how far along they are with the change of colours before I hike all the way up.
When hiking any trails in Jena, especially along the limestone cliffs, you need to wear sturdy shoes. They paths are narrow and although they are well maintained, there are always loose stones lying around.
There’s just gravel and roots and it’s easy to trip. I wouldn’t want you to slide down into your demise. (Sorry for the bleak picture.)
Just wear closed shoes. Hiking shoes are great.
(By the way, the German brand Lowa* are my favorite hiking shoes. They last for years, are super comfortable from the start and I wear them constantly and around the world.
Important: Stay on the paths. Not just because otherwise you’d fall. But also because the foliage can be home to ticks (especially in tall grass and forests).
Like everywhere else in central and southern Germany, there is a danger of ticks. And these carry lyme disease.
Since the Mühltal in Jena is a nature reserve, you are not allowed to leave the paths anyway, but there are also grasses and bushes growing on the path.
What else is there to see?
There are several sights to marvel at in Jena as a whole: Museums, historic houses, a 360° view from the Jentower, etc.
But if you want to continue hiking, here’s what you can do:
On your way to the wig bushes you will pass the Lutherkanzel viewpoint right at the start of the trail. From here you have a fantastic view over the Mühltal, can see up to the Bismarck Tower (Bismarckturm) and directly to the city center of Jena.
But it is also possible to walk directly at the wig bushes further through the Mühltal (when you hit the forest at the end of the trail) and then down to the country road and to the Zigeunerquelle spring at the stream Leutra. (It’s not really a sight, tho).
Especially on hot days it would be refreshing to walk in the forest and near the water.
From here, you can also walk to the village Cospeda.
A shorter alternative is to walk back down the stairs at the crossing before you headed up to the smoke bushes. Here, walk back up another side of the hill and to the monument Napoleonstein or the Landgrafen.
From here it’s not far to Cospeda, and in February you should definitely check out the winter aconites in Closewitz. They are unique in Europe because there are literal millions of them. But the Jena Rautal, where the Winterlings grow, is also beautiful all year round.
Or you just hike up the mountains and enjoy another view into the valley from the viewpoint Cospedaer Ausblick.
The coordinates for all these places are:
- Lutherkanzel 50.939435, 11.555831
- Napoleonstein 50.945121, 11.571469
- Cospedaer Ausblick 50.945144, 11.557959
- Zigeunerquelle 50°57’00.1″N 11°32’14.1″E
- Bismarckturm 50.929320, 11.559777
- Landgrafen 50.936835, 11.578381
- Tal der Winterlinge 50°57’35.6″N 11°34’53.0″E
Where to find food
Are you thirsty and hungry after the hike? You can get something to eat right in the paper mill Papiermühle. It’s a restaurant I really like and services traditional local German food.
I myself like to eat Thuringian dumplings here (I am obviously the biggest fan of German potato dumplings). It’s hearty and filling food for meat lovers and you can also taste their exclusive, home-brewed beer, which is very popular among the people of Jena.
On the Landgrafen hill, there is also the restaurant Landgraf, where you can dine and have a great view. From there you can take the stairs back down to the city. There you can’t get lost at all.
As always, all hiking trails in Jena are signposted.
That’s it for now. Check out the blog for more travel inspiration and drop me a comment if you have any questions.
Have fun with the Jena wig bushes!
More travel tips for Central Germany
- What to do in Weimar
- The best Christmas markets in Erfurt
- Where to find an English park by a German castle at Rennsteig
- Visiting the snowcaps at Inselsberg
- Hiking beautiful meadows at Rhön National Park