Following a short regency by Kingdom of Prussia (1791–1810) the region fell to Bavaria in 1810. The district was established in 1852. In the Bavarian communal reforms of 1972 it was merged with parts of the dissolved districts Naila, Münchberg, Kronach and Rehau.
The Saxon Saale river originates in the south of the district, on the slopes of the Fichtelgebirge. From here it runs northwards, its valley separating the Fichtelgebirge in the east and the lower Frankenwald hills in the west.