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Walk this way: Austrian hiking trails

Are you a fair-weather rambler or a hardened hiker; a riverside rover or an altitude-craving alpinist? Lace up your boots and find a trail that suits your mood and ability

Walk this way: Austrian hiking trails
Seebensee lake, Tiroler Zugspitz Arena. Image: Tiroler Zugspitz Arena/U. Wiesmeier

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Best for: A classic day-hike     

Route: Pinzgauer Spaziergang
Distance: 11 miles
Tracing a spectacular path along a high spine of land in the Eastern Alps, this deservedly famous ridge walk ranks as one of Austria’s best day-hikes, taking in the icy summits of the Hohe Tauern and the Grossglockner — Austria’s highest mountain. The trail serves up a procession of deep views — most notably across to the massed snowy peaks of the Hohe Tauern range — and the walk itself generally takes between five and seven hours. There’s a height gain of around 1,560ft from start to finish, making it a feasible option for intermediate-level walkers and an excellent introduction to Austrian mountain hiking for those new to the destination. 

Start by catching the Schmittenhöhe cable car — ideally early in the morning, given the duration of the hike — to the summit, which stands above Zell am See-Kaprun and is regarded by some as offering the prettiest mountain views in Austria. The main backbone of the ridge then arches east, rising and falling for several miles before reaching the flanks of Hochkogel, the highest part of the route, where an uninterrupted panorama of the Salzach Valley opens up. The trail then snakes toward Saalbach, and is well signed throughout.    

Best for: A short, scenic walk

Route: Zirbenweg Trail
Distance: 4.5 miles
The name ‘Zirbenweg’ translates literally as ‘stone pine way’, an apt description for a route that roams through thick copses of centuries-old pines across the hills above Innsbruck. The trailhead is reached from the village of Igls via the Patscherkofel cable car, and the path follows the treeline at 6,560ft. There’s very little altitude gain, so it’s a straightforward walk, and a beautiful one too — with the Inntal Valley and Karwendel Mountains as a backdrop.

Best for: Epic distances

Route: Eagle’s Walk 
Distance: 173 miles
The Adlerweg, or Eagle’s Way, is a super-sized mountain trail leading right across the Tirol. You’ll need three weeks if you plan to do it all, although it’s probably approached as a network of shorter hikes. In addition to 23 main stages, a number of alternative routes cater for low-level walkers or altitude-craving alpinists. The trail leads between the towns of St. Johann in Tirol and St. Anton am Arlberg, and takes its name from its aquiline outline on the map.

Best for: Imposing scenery

Route: Gosaukamm Circuit 
Distance: 14 miles
The Gosaukamm massif, accessed from the town of Filzmoos, an hour south of Salzburg, towers above the local Sound of Music greenery. This magnificent circuit of the lofty limestone pinnacles is best done over two days, with an overnight at the wonderful Gablonzer Hut, where it’s only proper to treat yourself to a late-afternoon beer on the terrace. The popular hike involves a certain amount of scrambling, but isn’t overly taxing. 

Best for: Multi-day adventure

Route: Berliner Höhenweg 
Distance: 43 miles
This exhilarating hut-to-hut trek in the Zillertal Alps follows a lofty, long-distance circuit that rises to nearly 10,000ft. It’s a serious undertaking, usually requiring at least seven days, with views that are nothing short of stunning. Spanning seven stages, the looped trail passes a succession of mountain huts — including the 6,700ft-high Berliner Hut that gives the route its name — and tends to be achievable between mid-June and the end of September. The nearby resort of Mayrhofen makes a logical base before and after the hike.

Done anti-clockwise, the trek proper begins in the small village of Finkenberg and ascends more than 3,300ft to reach the first hut, from where the route undulates along an ever-more-dramatic series of high-altitude mountainsides. Some sections are demanding, but for those with good fitness levels and plenty of hill-walking experience, the trail is eminently manageable. It’s also worth noting that the ‘huts’ along the route are far more substantial and comfortable than that word might imply, with hosts, good meals and ample capacity. The highest point of the trek is the 10,100ft Schönbichler Horn pass.  

ANTO_Peter Burgstaller; Kunst am Berg©Schmittenhöhenbahn

Berliner Hut, Berliner Höhenweg hike. Image: ANTO_Peter Burgstaller

Best for: Hardened hikers

Route: Stubai Hohenweg
Distance: 75 miles
This circular week-long trek through the Eastern Alps is considered one of the most rewarding mountain trails in Europe. Some sections involve tight ledges and exposed passes, but the route also gives the opportunity to revel in the flora, fauna and landscapes of the Stubai Alps.

Best for: Families  

Route: Filzmoos Moor
Distance: 4.5 miles
Saunter through a pine forest to reach the Alpine plateau of Filzmoos Moor, with the chance to spot dragonflies, frogs, butterflies and birds. The path is gentle and takes around three hours to complete, making it a fine choice for young families. There’s a deer park nearby, and the Wildschönau tourist office offers the trail as a guided walk.

Best for: Tough climbs

Route: Peter Habeler Route
Distance: 35 miles
Named after an iconic local mountaineer (the first person to climb Everest without supplemental oxygen), this high-alpine trail circumnavigates the western Zillertal Alps. It’s subdivided into six stages and involves over 13,100ft of ascent — a climb for experienced mountain walkers only. The rewards, from pastures and lakes to wildlife such as ibex and marmots, are huge.

Best for: Art lovers

Route: 4 Seen Kunstwanderung (‘4 Lakes Art Hike’) 
Distance: 2.75 miles
There’s more to mighty Schmittenhöhe than its views. The peak, which stands above Zell am See-Kaprun, also acts as an open-air art gallery, with 26 large-scale sculptures dotting its slopes. This trail is a half-day climb up to the mountain’s 6,450ft summit, passing all these artworks along the way.

Best for: Riverside roving

Route: Lechweg 
Distance: 78 miles
An invigorating and relatively easy long-distance hike set up in 2012, the week-long route runs largely parallel to the River Lech, beginning at its source in Austria’s Vorarlberg and finishing across the border in Germany. The trail passes royal castles, wild river landscapes and one of the largest colonies of Alpine ibex in Europe.

Best for: Distance trekking

Route: Koasa Trail 
Distance: 41 miles
This long-distance yomp through the St. Johann region centres on the beautiful Wilder Kaiser (‘fierce emperor’) mountain belt, referred to as Koasa by locals. Split into four stages, this multi-day trek forms a large scenic loop. There’s a 12,300ft gain in altitude, and highlights include the Griessbach Gorge and the Niederkaiser ridge.  

Published in the Austria 2017 guide, distributed with the April 2017 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)