Mud Walking in the Netherlands
Early on when I moved to the Netherlands, I read a New York Times article about wadlopen, or mud walking in the Netherlands. About a year ago, I was browsing the NYT Travel section when I came across an article about the Netherlands. It struck me as weird and uniquely Dutch. So I knew I had to do it! Check out this post if you’re not sure on who the Dutch are or where the Dutch come from 😉
In this wadlopen guide, you’ll find information about wadlopen, wadlopen tours, where to stay when wadlopen and what to bring wadlopen.
What is Wadlopen?
Wadlopen is mud flat walking a low tide. Sounds glamorous, doesn’t it? Well, the Dutch have never been about glamour and I was not about to let an opportunity to walk around in mud pass me up!
Wadlopen is done in the north of the Netherlands at low tide. You can literally walk from the mainland of the country to the Wadden Islands through the mud flats during this time. The water is mostly at ankle height or lower, but from time to time you might be waist deep in water when you go wadlopen.
Wadlopen couldn’t be further from the outdoorsy activities I grew up with in California. I’m used to mountains, forests and rugged beaches, but I wanted to experience the Dutch outdoors. Wadlopen is an experience that I think only the Dutch could truly appreciate. It is a country full of people who couldn’t care less about biking in the rain, so sloshing through mud at low tide seems like a natural extension of their acceptance of always being surrounded by water.
Looking for more great trips in the Netherlands? Check out these posts!
- The 10 Best Day Trips from Amsterdam
- How to spend a day in the Hague
- Visit the beautiful Castle de Haar
A weekend in the Wadden
My Dutchie and I drove about 2.5 hours from The Hague to Friesland, a province in the north of the Netherlands. From various points in Friesland you can walk from the mainland to several different islands during low tide, all across mud flats in the Wadden Sea. I read online to wear shoes that cover the ankles, since the mud in the area is so deep that it can pull your shoe right off of your foot. I also read online we could buy shoes at the point we started from. Unfortunately, that wasn’t true.
We parked our car at a ferry station (ferries travel back and forth from the island to the mainland in the deeper areas), and waited for our friends who were joining us. Everyone there was wearing high top converse, while we were the only ones with old running shoes. You can only go wadlopen if led by a trained guide, many of which carry ridiculously large walking sticks and navigate the area with GPS. This was going to be interesting.
Read more: Hidden Gems in the Netherlands
At about 4pm we started our trek out to Ameland, the island where we would be spending the night. We were sinking into the mudflats almost as soon as we began, and every step was a heavy one. I wondered how deep I would sink into the mud if I just stopped moving. Actually, it felt great. We spend most of our time worrying about being clean, making the dirty times somewhat of a luxury.
Everyone was slipping and sliding in the mud, and everyone was covered in a dark grey stickiness. After the initial 200 meters or so, we were mostly in the clear. For much of the rest of the hike there was only shin high or lower water, save for the few times we had to wade through waist high water, and everyone had to carry their bags on their heads.
It totally reminded me of that old Oregon Trail game. Looking at everyone forging the river, I felt like we were heading out west. All we needed were some oxen.
Once we got away from the mainland, everywhere I looked seemed like an endless expanse of land. I couldn’t see the island we were headed to yet, only the other groups walking to our right and left. The emptiness of the area was beautiful in a kind of, I have no perspective on which direction is north kind of way. It felt like a great big migration.
All of us, covered in mud, backpacks full of water and snacks, wading across waters. And for what? Just for the enjoyment of it. At one point in time treks like this were necessary, and here we were in 2011, hiking across the sand just for the fun of it.
The best part, for me, was being out in nature and having to rely completely on our guides. If the guides leave at the wrong time or take the wrong course, the situation can immediately turn dangerous.
The Netherlands doesn’t have the kind of natural parks that place like, oh say, California would have, so I spend most of my time in cities, so the opportunities for hiking are pretty minimal. Wadlopen was a welcome break from city life, and felt like something other worldly compared to how clean and contained city life is.
How to go wadlopen
If you’re going to go wadlopen, you absolutely must book a tour. Don’t try this without an expert, kids! Wadlopen tours start from Friesland and go out to various Wadden Islands, so lengths of your journey can vary from 10km to 20km. In my humble opinion, a 10km walk across mud is plenty to get the gist of what wadlopen is like.
Of course, I wouldn’t want to stop anyone who is feeling ambitious from taking a longer trip, but just keep in mind that you might be very sore after pulling your legs out of thick, viscous mud for three hours. The tour I mentioned above to Ameland is likely the most popular of the wadlopen tours, since it is 10km and about 3 hours in length.
What to bring for wadlopen
What you wear when you go wadlopen is pretty essential for enjoying the experience. Here are my must haves:
- A pair of waterproof shoes – or shoes you just don’t care about: I wore old running shoes when I went wadlopen, but I could also recommend wearing a pair of rainboots – if you have rainboots that would be comfortable enough to wear for a 10km walk. Your feet will be cold when you go wadlopen – this is the North Sea after all, so consider some thick socks and rainboots. Of course those will only be good for you if the water is lower than your rainboots. So, come to think of it, you’re gonna be wet and cold either way
- Running tights: I wore running tights when I went wadlopen because they don’t hold very much water. Sweatpants would be a definite no-no.
- A waterproof and windproof jacket: this is the Netherlands after all, so the wind could be whipping when you’re walking across those mudflats. Make sure to stay warm on your upper body since your lower body will probably be plenty cold.
Where to stay in Ameland
After three hours of wadlopen, you’re going to want to get to your hotel as soon as possible and jump in the shower. Funny how being covered nearly head-to-toe in mud will do that to ya.
I’d strongly recommend staying in Hollum on Ameland. It is one of two villages on the island, it it has substantially more options than the small village of Nes.
No time to read this now? Pin it for later below!
This article was originally posted on July 29, 2011
Gabby is a native (Northern) Californian who spent the majority of her 20’s living the expat life in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, exploring Europe and beyond. 27 countries later, she’s relocated back to her home base in California where she explores her passions for the travel and the outdoors.