The autumn sun on your skin, the smell of a forest after a refreshing shower, leaves and mushrooms in all colours imaginable: autumn knows how to enchant hikers. Where better to enjoy all autumn has to offer than in the Maasmechelen part of the National Park
To anyone who loves to put on his or her hiking boots and roam nature for hours, we suggest the walk of 20 km mentioned below, which will lead you through Connecterra and the Mechelse Heide. Do you prefer a shorter walk? We mapped out two alternative routes of 11 and 9 km.
During the walks, you will make use of the walking junctions (wandelwissels), places where two or more signposted walks join. They are indicated with numbers on the walking posts. The hiking map Wandelkaart Nationaal Park Hoge Kempen from Wandelen in Limburg (€ 8) is a handy aid. You can buy it online or at Visit Maasmechelen.
Long walk: all the best of Maasmechelen
1 – 2 – 8 – 23 – 22 – 24 – 27 – 29 – 33 -34 – 39 - 40 – 42 - 47 – 48 – 37 – 36 - 35 – 31 – 30 – 28 – 27 – 24 - 25 -26 – 1
Distance: about 20 km
Parking spaces can be found at Visit Maasmechelen. From this point, you will cross the street in the direction of the former Eisden coal mines headframes, which will already welcome you from afar. Via the Visitor Centre, you will enter Connecterras walking area. In the headframes shadows you can find walking junction 1.
From here, you will follow the yellow route. The strange domes on your left side belong to the Ecotron, the high-tech research centre where scientists measure the effects of climate change on biodiversity. In front of you, you will see some spoil tips appear; those hills are completely composed of waste material (stone) from the former Eisden mine. The big, clear-blue pond you will walk past was also created by human hands. Until the nineties, gravel was won here. If you pay close attention, you will be able to see root prints from wild boars, which are often seen here, but not during the day.
Follow the yellow route until walking junction 23. Here, you will arrive at the Lanklaarder forest, a forest reserve from the Flemish government where the forest is allowed to grow naturally, without any human interference. In addition to coniferous trees, this forest also hosts birches and common oaks. The largest part of the forest cannot be visited, but from the walking paths you can fully enjoy the colourful autumn leaves.
Follow the long distance route (indicated by a paw print) until you reach walking junction 24. On your right side, you will see a railway. This is the former coal trail, which connected the different coal mines. Small trains came and went, carrying coal and miners. At walking junction 24, you can repose at the catering facility De Statie. In this former Eisden train station, you can find an extensive beer menu, special coffees, pies and snacks.
Follow the long distance route just a little while longer until walking junction 27. The purple route leads to walking junction 34. From here, the red route will bring you to the Mechelse Heide entrance, where you can catch your breath at the cycling café t Salamanderke with a local beer, coffee or a small meal.
Regained your strength? Good, because a steep climb awaits you. Follow the red route until walking junction 42. Here you will go through a small gate and then you will climb to the highest top of the National Park. From a height of 104 m you will enjoy a panoramic view of the area. You will see forests, heathland, the Eisden Tuinwijk (garden district) with its mine cathedral, the headframes where you started your walk, some Genk spoil tips, and on clear days you can even see parts of Germany.
The blue route passes the steilrand (an abrupt difference in height), from which you can overlook clear ponds. Those were formed in the same way as the Connecterra ponds: by gravel extraction. At walking junction 48, you will walk down via a steep descent (the red route), where you will walk through the swampy area between the two largest gravel ponds. Hopefully, you will still feel like climbing at this point, because that is how you will reach the slope on the other side.
Continue to follow the red route until walking junction 35, where you switch to the purple route. Here, you will pass part of the vast heathland, before you disappear in the Mechels Bos (Mechelen forest), planted more than 100 years ago to meet the big demand for mining wood. Since then, it has been converted into a beautiful nature and walking area. Here, you will find pines, but also lots of deciduous trees like birches and common oaks, so you will enjoy a lovely autumn colour spectacle. Mushrooms also feel at home here. Next, you will arrive at walking junctions 27 and 24, where you will pass De Statie once more.
From here, a connecting route (indicated by a brown X) will lead you via walking junctions 25 and 26 through the Tuinwijk (garden district). You will pass the Sint-Barbara church, popularly called the Eisden mine cathedral. St Barbara was the patron saint of the miners. This entire district, including the church, mosques, stores and hotel and catering facilities, was constructed for the miners and their families, who came from all over Belgium and Europe. Green squares, gardens full of old trees, lots of songbirds: this multicultural district is a nice place to live and stroll.
Your walk is almost over. You will still pass Grand Café Casino, where you can taste the authentic Italian kitchen. Next, the connecting route in the direction of walking junction 1 will bring you back to Visit Maasmechelen. Nearby, you will find lots of nice places to eat and/or drink something. After such a walk, you deserve it!
Alternative 1: contemplating the mining past
Walking junctions: 1 – 2 – 8 – 23 – 22 – 24 -25 -26 – 1
Distance: about 9 km
A wonderful tour through Connecterra and the 100-year-old Tuinwijk (garden district). You start at the Connecterra entrance, only 100 m from Visit Maasmechelen.
Alternative 2: heathland during autumn
Walking junctions: 39 – 40 – 42 - 47 – 48 – 37 – 36 - 35 – 31 – 30 – 28 – 27 – 29 – 33 -34 – 39
Distance: about 11 km
Who believes the heathland is only beautiful in summer, has never gone for an autumn walk at the Mechelse Heide. You start at the Connecterra entrance, only 100 m from the Salamander Campsite.