Barrel camping for the complete beginner

Barrel camping is a new-ish but growing (based on our research for this trip) trend in camping accommodations. It’s basically exactly as it sounds: You sleep in a giant wooden barrel. It’s probably three meters wide and I’d guess 12 long. There’s a door, a few windows, electricity, and a heater for cold nights. It’s similar to a basic camping cabin, but instead of being made in the 1930s, it’s new enough that it still smells like freshly finished wood inside.

They look small, but it’s only because they’re longer than they are wide. It’s about 3m tall in the center.

Finding a barrel

We stayed at Camping Bannwaldsee, a moderately sized campground near Schwangau, Germany, and the King’s Castles in southern Bavaria (Neuschwanstein, Hohen Schwangau, and Hohes Schloß).

A range of alps in the background. Tegelberg is just left of center and illuminated by waning sunlight.
A view of the Alps from the Bannwaldsee dock at the campground. Tegelberg is the peak just left of center in this photo.

The trick for most tourists will probably be finding your way to the campsite. If you pack light, you could access the campgrounds by train or bus. Our campground had a bus stop right at its entrance that could take tourists to nearby Schwangau, Füssen, and other cities and attractions. Across three adults and a child, we had quite a bit to wrangle across multiple modes of transit, so we opted to rent a car from Munich.

Driving gives you the freedom to choose your route and schedule, but it’s a luxury you pay for. Gas is expensive in Europe: roughly $7.45 per gallon. Rental cars in Europe are not immune from hidden fees either.

One thing we didn’t know when we booked this campground was how good the food would be. They had fresh baked bread and pastries in the cafe every morning, along with locally made sausage and cheeses. The biergarten also had well-made regional food and pizza.

How to sleep in a barrel

These barrels were cozy, and surprisingly comfortable. With the sun beating down on them all day, they got a bit warm by the evening. With the windows and doors open, they cooled down quickly once the sun set.

There was a large bed on a platform to the rear, two benches that converted to smaller beds, and a table that pulled out from the wall between them; fully electrified. They could sleep three adults or a cozy four. The table would be more than enough to spend time indoors on a rainy day, but if it’s nice out, the barrel will get way too hot.

A woman in a peach-colored top sits on a bench in the foreground. Above and around her is the wood slats of the barrel interior. Opposite, another bench and a tiny TV. In the background a large bed lofted slightly above with a large open window. Not pictured, the smell of fresh-cut timber.
Danielle, in the barrel.

A little Deutsch’ll do ya

My German skills, rusty as they were, came in pretty handy. Our neighbor Marie (7) and László were keen to play despite the lack of a common language. I translated (an little) and taught László how to say a few things. I’ve been impressed, though, by how swiftly children work something out, even if it’s not a perfect playing situation. Grownups could take some lessons.

The adults also spoke little or no English and I was able to help our neighbors understand something about us and vice versa. They were glad to know that Milwaukee has biergartens but Bavarian ones remain superior. (Note to Milwaukee County: Consider a return refund on the glasses! More food variety! Please never close them!)

Danielle and her mom got on just fine but it was fun to play translator for a little while, even if the adults in the room thought I sounded like a man-child. “Aber dein Deutsch ist genug,” as our Swiss neighbor put it: Enough to get by.

Campground recreation

Our campground was on the eponymous Bannwaldsee, and swim we did. I’m starting to think László is part fish. The kid jumped off a dock into water well over his head (wearing an PFD) then climbed the ladder for more. We practically had to bribe him to get him out of the water. He’s certainly more comfortable than I was at his age.

Nancy was kind enough to let Danielle and I venture solo for a short hike around the summit area of Tegelberg. From the Bergbahn on the way up, we got a clear glimpse of all three castles, most prominently, Neuschwanstein. Once we were up on the mountain, though, we could see mountains sprawling across the German and Austrian countryside, including a distant view of the ever-impressive Zugspitze, Germany’s highest peak.

A large range of steep peaks. In the far background, the Zugspitze is visible.
Alpine landscape, the massive peak in the background is the Zugspitze.

There are tons of hikes up there, and it was possible to summit without the bergbahn (cable car). We considered it, but they are hours-long hikes and we wanted to be back on the ground in time to go swimming with László and didn’t want to exploit Nancy’s kindness. We would have had to start much earlier in the day to avoid heat, too. Cable cars are nice because that allow both: Hike around the summit and not devote your entire day to it.

There is a massive network of bike trails around here too. We didn’t have bikes or a way to ride with László but it’d be great to do this again after he learns to ride a pedal bike.

This is not a backpacker hostel

The last time I was in Germany, my brother and I were in hostel mode, meeting acquaintances from around the world in noisy, smoke-filled bars, and late night Döner stands. Camping is a much more family- and recreation-centric way to travel. That kind of behavior would probably piss off a lot of people here.

Camping is an affordable way to stay near King Ludwig castles. As an American traveling alone or with a group of other youths, you’ll stick out. People will need to accommodate you more than everybody else at the campground, especially if you don’t speak much German. Be considerate of that and have appropriate expectations if this post somehow helps you book a campground.