Two of Austria’s most famous mountains are Grossglockner (3,797m) in Hohe Tauern National Park and Untersberg, in the Vienna Alps. The former because it’s the highest peak in Austria, and the latter because it features in the opening and closing scenes one of the highest grossing films of all time, The Sound of Music. Although few know the mountain by name of course. The hills are alive with the sound of mountainous music in so many places in this country, however, where over half of the country is given over to majestic peaks. Whether you choose to explore the Kitzbühel Alps, or the Alpe Adria Trail, here are our six best hikes in Austria, where trekking, exploring and feasting on fine mountain fare are definitely a few of our favourite things.
Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe to Heiligenblut, Hohe Tauern National Park
This is the first stage of the famous Alpe Adria Trail, which runs from Carinthia in the Austrian Alps to the Adriatic Sea, at a total length of 750km. You get off on a high on this trek, which starts at Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe viewpoint (2,370m), where you join the crowds who arrived by road to take in the views of Austria’s highest mountain, Grossglockner (3,798m), if the clouds don’t decide to disappoint. The rest of your walk to Heiligenblut won’t in any way disappoint, however, leaving the crowds behind and spending five or six hours walking within a cooling distance of the Pasterze Glacier, the largest glacier of the Eastern Alps at 9km long, although it’s losing 25m of ice a year, due to the climate emergency. That’s one lap of a swimming pool gone.
You descend on a slow, rocky trail to the glacial lake of Sandersee, and then over some glacial moraine to Margaritzen Stausee, where the landscape starts to mellow, wild flowers and greener flora appear, followed by a forested path which takes you to the mountain village of Heiligenblut. Or to give it its full name, Heiligenblut am Grossglockner, because you never lose sight of its omnipresent overseer.
Hiking time: 5-6h
Pinzgauer Spaziergang, Kitzbühel Alps
This is the longest walk of our trekking tour in the High Trails of the Kitzbühel Alps, but it’s an extraordinary 17km journey along the Pinzgauer Spaziergang which translates, amusingly, as Pinzgau stroll. If you call taking a cable car up to Schattberg (2,097m) then walking on a trail that is enveloped by more than thirty peaks exceeding 3,000m a stroll, then so be it. What’s incredible about this trek is that it isn’t that challenging, just long, with the highest climb being 650m of climb. There are some puffy moments, but there are also so many natural highs en route, with panoramic views to Grossglockner and Kitzsteinhorn, a trek on Schmittenhöhe which overlooks Zell am See from 1,965m and then the cable car ride that brings you down to the idyllic Austrian town on its eponymous lake.
Hiking time: 6h
Krimmler Tauern Pass and Refuge
This high peaks trail is a traverse from Austria into Italy, and one of the most superb routes on our Grand Traverse trek across the Alps and Dolomites, which takes two weeks. This cross-border trek takes place on day eight, starting out from Refuge Krimmler Tauernhaus, and the trek there is a pretty good starter for the main course, with the Krimmler Waterfalls en route, three beauties that tumble together from 380m. You also get to take in the magnificence of the Krimml Achental Valley from the refuge, which is in a tavern dating back to the 14th century.
The main course is the trek across the Krimmler Tauern Pass (2,634), the main ridge of the Zillertal Alps and one that follows in the footsteps of traders and farmers, refugees and devotees, all of whom have followed this trail along the Venediger mountain range past Krimmler, Prettau and Lahner glaciers. This is mainly because it is the shortest route between Salzburg and Venice. Peak moments are many including views out to Grosser Geiger (3,360m), Gamsspitzl (2,888m) and Grossvenediger (3,667m), all of which stop you in your tracks on this trail that takes seven hours, including your descent into Italy’s Southern Tyrol town of Prettau.
Hiking time: 7h
St. Wolfgang to Strobl, Salzkammergut
Salzkammergut is Austria’s lake district, just under 50km from Salzburg. When you take in the colourful, traditional houses and mountains around Lake Hallstatt, the largest lake, you feel transported to an era when people came to enjoy deep rest in the mountain air and ‘take the waters’. For a wonderful trek that takes in two lakes, the walk from St. Wolfgang, on Wolfgangsee, to Strobl ticks a lot of boxes, especially as it takes a divine diversion via Schwarzensee.
On this High Trails of Salzkammergut holiday, walk from one lake to the other along a tranquil forest trail overlooking St. Wolfgang where, after just over an hour, you see the glistening gorgeous of Schwarzensee, thought by many to be one of the region’s most stunning lakes as well as a perfect picnic and swimming spot, with a family-run restaurant there to boot. From Schwarzensee you walk down into the valley through a gorge, back to the lakeshore and around the rocky promontory of Bürglstein, finishing in the elegant waterfront town of Strobl, famous for its fine Art Nouveau villas.
Hiking time: 6h
Krems to Dürnstein, Wachau Wine Route
The Wachau Valley, on the banks of the Danube, is a region that is not only famous for its wines but also its medieval castles and monasteries. On this Wachau Wine Country walking holiday you hit the heights of this spectacular region on day two, walking between Krems and Dürnstein. This is because you climb up 500m through traditional terraced vineyards, rewarded with sweeping views of the Danube, the prettiest of riverside villages and Göttweig Monastery.
The region’s ancient cultural heritage and landscapes are protected by UNESCO, and on this trek you can really see why, with the winegrowers’ traditional farmsteads all typically U-shaped or L-shaped, layouts that date back as far as the Middle Ages. You also have a picture perfect stop for lunch on this tour, at Fesslhütte, which is located in the middle of the forest and has been feeding hungry hikers for over a hundred years. Your trek comes to a close at the impressive ruins of Dürnstein castle, with a descent down to the Danube and your hotel in the medieval town of the same name, where you can rest your limbs and, of course, enjoy the fruits of the local vines.
Hiking time: 4.5h
Hofpürglhütte, Dachstein Circuit
The Dachstein High Altitude Circuit, starting and ending in Ramsau am Dachstein, in the heart of the eponymous massif, is a 121km trail through the three Austrian provinces of Salzburg, Styria and Upper Austria. You get a feeling straight away of just how great this trail is on a trek up to Hofpürglhütte (1,705m), a mountain hut where you spend the night. On your trek up to the hut, you ascend Sulzenschneid, a 300m long ridge that extends in an east-west direction between the foothills of the Dachstein massif in the north and Rötelstein (2,247 m) in the south. As the ridge itself is at an elevation 1,884m, you can imagine that the views are second to none.
You then continue along the Linzerweg, a traverse between Bischofsmütze and Rötelstein through alpine meadows and pasture to the mountain hut, where you not only get some of the best views of the twin peaks of Grosse Bischofsmütze, but also the finest hospitality from your hosts, Heinz and Regina Sudra. The benefits of staying in a mountain hut is that you wake up to the same wonders, with another glorious hike around Donnerkogel (2,054m), with views across to the Dachstein glacier and down into the Gosau Valley, where your hotel awaits at Lake Gosau, which you reach with a final cable car ride. Experienced mountain hikers can also summit Donnerkogel.
Distance Ramsau to Hofpürglhütte: 13km
Hiking time: 6h
Distance Hofpürglhütte to Gosau: 11km
Hiking time: 5km
While embarking on some of the best hikes in Austria, it’s worth remembering that Austria has been a major player in reintroducing the lynx to its mountain terrain in recent years. If you enjoy Austria’s forests and mountains, please support the work of WWF in protecting and restoring healthy lynx populations here. The lynx is very elusive, however other wildlife in Austria to look out for includes ibex, golden eagles and bearded vultures, especially in the autumn. Meanwhile, if you have any questions about our walking tours in Austria, please don’t hesitate to contact us.