The Zillertal Alps, A Hiker's Paradise

Our year of living in Europe was coming to an end but not without a final trip to the Alps.

By: Jack Hogan + Save to a List

We left Holland on a Friday around 2pm and landed in Innsbruck a short hour and a half later. The plane's descent was epic – we flew over Munich, came over the alps and then up the valley following the Inn River upstream with steep mountains on each side. When we stepped off the plane, walked out on the runway, turned around and had to look up a few thousand feet to see the peaks surrounding us. A few gliders cruised above close to the valley walls. Everything was lush and green, the sky was perfectly blue and there were a few waterfalls that we could already see in the distance. This place was unreal. We were both in awe and we hadn’t even left the airport…. or runway for that matter.

From Innsbruck we grabbed a rental car and made a quick stop for munchies. Of course, we needed to stock up on our PB&J fixings to keep things on budget J. Couldn’t resist the peanut M&M and pretzel combo as well. Word to the wise – even grocery store pretzels from the Austria/Germany/Switzerland regions are world-class. Anyways, we had pretty clear skies for our drive from Innsbruck to Alpbach but there was a storm a’brewing on the horizon. Alpbach is a quaint little Austrian village up a small side-canyon about 30 minutes from Innsbruck. There is a church in the middle of town with a dramatic steeple, true to the alpine style. We made quick work of our check-in and were hiking from our Inn before the first rain started. There was some thunder and lighting off in the distance but we were too eager to find a trail to let any of that slow down our plans. 

A crazy realization hit us about 10 minutes into the first hike - it was now 1800 and we were hiking in the Austrian Alps…. Only 4 hours prior we were in the flatlands of the Netherlands on the other side of Europe. The scenery could not be more different nor could the experience, yet somehow this was achievable in the same amount of time that we will typically allocate to getting over a hangover and binge watching Homeland. Crazy stuff.

Anyways, this first hike was a short one where we hiked out of town for a bit before looping back down a neat trail passing some local chalets. Have to say though, there is a set of peaks - the Gratlspitze - that make up a pretty dramatic backdrop for Alpbach. This crop of mountains sticks out from the rest since the tops are so rocky that there are no trees or grass growing passed a certain point. Across the valley from here was that picture-perfect characteristic alps landscape with steep green hillsides spotted with cows and big wooden farmhouses. Needless to say but we were in heaven. Seriously, could not stop thinking out loud some variation of ‘man, this is my jam!’ Long story short, the we were psyched to be back in the mountains.

That night we hit the most hopping joint in town (Alpbach is a sleepy hamlet/village with one or two restaurants open passed 8) for some Tyrolean wiener schnitzel. I know that my dear friend the burrito may be offended by this but nothing beats a post-hike schnitzel. Also, the local Zillertal Pilsner isn’t half bad either. After traveling quite a bit, Anna and I have both agreed that the memories that stand out the most are usually tied to an interesting place and an even more interesting person. On our first morning in Alpbach we met one of those interesting people who we won’t soon forget. See was the sweetest little Austrian Innkeeper whose daughter Sophie who warned us about at checkin by saying ‘my mom really likes to talk a lot.’ We had just woken up, made our way downstairs still rubbing sleep from our eyes when this lady comes rushing in full of energy, squeezes Anna’s shoulders and gives us a big 'good morning'! She was dressed in traditional Austrian garb and made a killer cappuccino. A muesli breakfast is rarely a highlight of a trip but this one was because of this amazing lady. She gave us a few recommendations for hikes to do that morning and after breakfast printed up some lift tickets for us that would get us a free ride on the gondola to the top of Lauserland.

From there we decided to hike the ‘panorama’ trail around Wiedersberger Horn. You could tell that this was THE local spot for skiing in the winter in the Alpbach valley as all of the surrounding slopes were clear of trees and scattered with ski lifts. The views were incredible and since it was summer, the ski slopes had turned into steep meadows covered in tall grass and wildflowers. Best part of the panorama hike was that we were circling a peak so as we rounded corners we would get new views of the neighboring Ziller valley. There were peaks in the not-so-far-off distance that had plenty of snow and a few small glaciers. The valley below was another quintessential Austrian alp landscape. Of course, we couldn’t just walk around the peak… so we also scrambled up to the summit just as some light rain rolled in. Rain in the alps is a bit of a drag as it obscures big views down long valleys… but at the same time it supplies countless waterfalls, big and small, on nearly every hillside. For the rest of our hike, we were traversing mid-slope enjoying a bunch of small waterfalls pouring off the hillside above and below us through some mixed cloudy then sunny light. We were high enough up to even see a rainbow below us – not something you see everyday.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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