As far as anyone knows, The Celts are the first known inhabitants of what is now known as The Black Forest. There are only a few archaeological remnants of this time. Because there are no documents, we know little about them. Its likely that they simply became what we now know to be The Alamanni, or later called Germans. The Wikipedia page on the Alamanni will provide a wealth of information that will help form a holistic understanding of this time and place. But lets continue with our pursuit of the origins of hiking.
When the Romans first explored northward 2000 years ago, we have the first documentation of the area. They called it Silva Negra – The Black Forest. We can imagine from their descriptions and later the writings of The Brothers Grimm, that it was a dark and foreboding forest, where little light reached below the canopy of dense trees and the steep terrain made travel by any means, near impossible. A perfect place to breed stories about witches and wolves, and certainly no place for a leisurely hike.
For the most part, the Romans avoided traveling farther east into the forest from the Rhine River Valley. They made it as far west as the Danube river – not very far. Its wasn’t just the terrain but the fierce Alemanii that kept the Romans out of the forest.
The Romans were especially fond of the mineral hot springs of Baden-Baden for their medicinal benefits, and they were happy to congregate on the edge of the forest – away from the dangerous Alamanni in the forest to the west.
With that picture of what The Black Forest was like before modern times, of roads and automobiles, hiking was not something anyone in their right mind would consider doing in such a inhospitable place. Presumably mankind was preoccupied with hunting and gathering at this time. The art of leisurely walking in the forest would likely be ridiculed as a dangerous waste of time.
The mineral hot springs of Baden-Baden had by the 18th century, become a magnet for the wealthy, just as it had been for the Roman Emperors. Its not hard to imagine that the “spa tourism” of the 19th century spawned all sorts of leisurely pursuits – gambling for one – and likely pleasant hikes into the forest as well. History tells us that one Philip Bussemer opened a tourism office in Baden-Baden to fulfill those needs and created the first known hiking maps of The Black Forest. The famous 288 kilometer Westweg is reportedly the oldest of these trails running from Pforzheim to Basel, Switzerland.
So yes. We now know that the act of hiking for pleasure first originated here in The Black Forest, and specifically around the area of Baden-Baden.
Perhaps you would like to hike in the footsteps of history around Baden-Baden.