Hike and Luxuriate in Austria’s Tyrol
Hike and Luxuriate in Austria’s Tyrol
As I mentioned in a previous post, Innsbruck is the northern gateway to Austria’s Tyrol region. From Innsbruck, you can easily get to high peaks, alpine villages, glacial rivers, and scenic valleys.
In many ways, the Tyrol is Austria’s winter playground. Home to the country’s highest mountains, it draws skiers from all over the world to its 500 mountain peaks that reach 3,000 meters (roughly 9,800 feet) or more above sea level.
But the Tyrol is also a hiker’s paradise after the snow melts, with nearly 15,000 marked hiking trails. Here are some suggestions for a week-long summer vacation in the Tyrol.
An East Tyrol Village: Kals am Grossglockner
The East Tyrol village of Kals am Grossglockner (population around 1,000) lies at the foot of the Grossglockner, Austria’s highest peak.
Kals is also at the Dorfertal entrance of the Hohe Tauern National Park. With easy access to more than 70 day hiking trails, it’s a perfect base for exploring the park.
Stay at a Hiking Hotel in Kals
Have you ever heard of “hiking hotels?” They’re part of a large network of family-owned inns in the Tyrol that focus on serving hikers. Usually located in alpine settings, hiking hotels offer guided hikes, rent equipment, prepare packed lunches, and serve gourmet evening meals.
We stayed at the Hotel Tauerwirt in Kals, a hiking hotel that’s only 200 yards from the park entrance. As part of its standard program, the Tauerwirt has two hiking guides who lead group hikes.
Visit Hohe Tauern National Park from a Base in Kals
Austria’s Hohe Tauern National Park is the largest national park in the Alps. It’s enormous, with 266 peaks, 551 mountain lakes, and 342 glaciers. Plus, as you might expect, it offers lots of great hiking spots.
Hike the Dorfer See Trail
Near the park’s Dorfertal entrance in Kals, the Dorfer See trail follows a rushing river through a gorge into a pretty valley flanked by mountains. Beyond that, it continues to the oldest hut in what’s now the national park and then up to a summit.
Back in the 1950s, the government had plans to create a dam in this area. But many local women banded together to protest the project. Eventually, 93% of the local voters turned down the plan. Today, the one-time road carries “traffic” to and from the communal milking shed at the head of the valley.
Explore the Lesachalm Trail
On the Lesachalm trail, walk up a steep hill from Lesach, a small village just south of Kals. After climbing steadily, you’ll see a high glacial river and, soon, the Lesachalm hut.
Here, we paused for a snack – and had a complete surprise. All of a sudden, a resting hiker took out an accordion. As she and her friends sang Tyrolean folk songs, their lovely harmonies brought tears to our eyes. Above all, the Tyrol is a region steeped in tradition, like folk music.
From the hut, take Trail no. 60 down the mountain to get different views. At first, the trail climbs higher before it descends back into the valley. All along the way, you’ll see glorious views of the glacial river.
Ride the Gondelbahn Kals Cable Car
Finally, ride the Gondelbahn Kals cable car up to the the top level to gain access to a panorama trail. But, when you plan your trip here, make sure that you visit no later than early September, to avoid snow. Unfortunately, we had no idea that it had snowed overnight when we got to the top in late September!
Drive the Grossglockner High Alpine Road
If you want to see Austria’s highest peak and the largest glacier in the Eastern Alps up close, drive the Grossglockner High Alpine Road.
First opened in 1935, this magnificent route cuts through a vast landscape of jagged peaks, glacial lakes, and deep valleys. In fact, people often call it one of the world’s most beautiful drives.
A toll road, the High Alpine Road is only open from early May into November due to extreme weather. Believe it or not, it took over 4,000 men to build its state of the art tunnels and roads, including 36 hairpin turns. Sadly, hundreds died in the process.
The High Alpine Road also provides access to many great hiking trails. From the Kaiser-Franz-Josefs Haus visitors center, it’s possible to do short, steep hikes to reach some pretty viewpoints.
Visit the Ötztal Valley
One of the Tyrol’s pretty side valleys close to Innsbruck is the Ötztal Valley, which offers easy access to the nearby mountains and plenty of hiking. In fact, the Ötztal is known for its lush meadows and ice fields.
In addition to its outdoor attractions, the Ötztal Valley has many small villages with unique architectural details. For example, in the center of the small town of Oetz we found the fascinating Gasthof zum Stern. It’s a traditional Tyrolean inn with historic frescoes, the oldest of which dates back to 1573.
Hike from the Acherkogelbahn Cable Car
For fine alpine hiking in the Ötztal, it’s well worth taking the Acherkogelbahn lift from the village of Oetz. At the top, you can follow old shepherd paths across rugged slopes for vistas in many directions as you walk.
Importantly, from late-May to mid-October, the Ötztal Premium Card is available to hikers who stay overnight in Ötztal hotels, like Gasthof zum Stern. The card offers discounts, including free use of cable cars and buses.
Bike in Längenfeld
Längenfeld, which is located in a wide open green basin in the center of the Tyrol’s Ötztal valley, is a great place for biking. The basin, dating back to the glacial period, has 25 miles of flat, signposted cycle trails. You’ll pass through hamlets with small dairy farms surrounded by mountain walls.
Where to Stay in the Ötztal
The Hotel Rita is located in Längenfeld, close to many alpine hikes in the Ötztal valley. A bonus to hikers, the hotel offers guided hikes from Monday through Friday with its mountain guides. Plus, the Rita offers a guided early mountain hike to a plateau above Längenfeld, where hotel staff serve a “mountain” breakfast.
Finally, after your long day of hiking, you can enjoy a gourmet evening meal in the Rita’s dining room.
Why the Tyrol?
The Tyrol has some of the best hiking and biking spots in the Alps. Plus, the area has a rich culture, history, and many excellent hiking hotels. If you’re looking for ways to be outdoors while staying in a top-notch hotel, it’s hard to beat the Austrian Tyrol.
Getting to the Tyrol
If you’re going directly to Kals am Grossglockner from the U.S., fly into Munich and rent a car.
Innsbruck is a convenient gateway to the Ötztal valley and the northern Tyrol.
From the U.S., fly to Zurich and take a train to Innsbruck. In fact, Zurich has six daily direct train connections to Innsbruck by ÖBB Railjet, bringing you there in about 3 and a half hours.
Links to additional information.
Hotel Tauerwirt, a hiking hotel in Kals am Grossglockner, near the Dorfertal entrance of the Hohe Tauern National Park
Hotel Rita in Längenfeld, a good base from which to hike and explore the Ötztal Valley