Hiking in the Austrian Alps: know before you go!
Are you planning to go hiking in the Austrian Alps? Then there are some things you need to know beforehand. Hiking in Austria is quite different than taking a stroll through the local park. I have been coming to Austria since I was 4 years old. In the past few years I have traveled that way at least once a year every year, usually to go hiking in the Alps. So I figured I’d start sharing all my best tips and learning moments with you. And so in this article I’m sharing all my tips for hiking in Austria with you. Enjoy reading!
Spazieren or wandern?
Many Austrians grew up in the mountains and are therefore experienced hikers. Hiking is the number one popular summer activity in Austria and the Austrians like to visit the mountains in their free time. Sometimes you will hear the term “spazieren” here instead of wandern (walking). For most Austrians, ‘spazieren’ is a short walk, from a maximum of one and a half to two hours. It is also often an easy walk, for example a tour through the park. So if you hear the term “spazieren”, it usually concerns a short walk that is not too difficult. “Wandern” is used for long walks and serious hiking.
Hiking distance are given in time
Contrary to what we are used to where I’m from (The Netherlands), in Austria the number of kilometers is often not mentioned, but instead the duration of the hike is indicated in hours. I noticed that I (still) find this difficult because it is not really measurable and very personal. One hikes through the mountains at high speed, others go very slowly. Also, the number of hours is not universal. For example, in New Zealand (my favorite hiking country) I always manage to stay within the specified time without problems, but I’m always far above it in for example Norway or Scotland.
In addition, experience shows that you sometimes stay within the specified time and other times you do not. Factors that this may depend on include weather conditions and how fit you are that day. For the given duration in Austria, the times mentioned are without breaks and with the most favorable conditions. So you are almost always on the road longer than stated on the sign, because you always take breaks (unless you take a short walk) and the conditions in the mountains are definitely not always perfect.
As a hiker myself I think that a duration of 6 hours takes me all day (including breaks and possible delays). When it says somewhere that a walk takes longer, I wonder if such a walk is feasible for me. This is, of course, also related to altitude gain and difficulty level of the trail.
Want to know more about how to get in shape for a multi-day trek? Read my tips here!
Cows and cowbells
During your hiking vacation in Austria you will undoubtedly encounter cows on the trail. Basically, the hike is not a true Austrian hike without cows on the trail, as far as I’m concerned. Characteristic of the cows in the Alps is that they carry cowbells and that you can hear them from afar. Do you find walking close the cows scary? That’s not necessary, in all these years I have never been bothered by them. Keep your distance and walk around them in case they do not want to leave the trail. However, the Austrian cows are used to hikers and hardly ever cause problems.
You’ll need trekking poles
Did you know I bought my very first pair of trekking poles in Austria? I thought it was a dull idea, but in the end they have become a must to carry. I often hear the comment “yes, but that’s for older people” or “that looks so dull” but guess what … in the mountains it doesn’t matter what you look like! In fact, most young people, when they enter alpine terrain, hike with trekking poles while hiking in the Austrian Alps. Poles are a must, especially when you carry a heavy backpack. They are also useful on steep sections for extra stability.
Rules on the trail
Although there is no written trail etiquette to my knowledge, there are some universal rules in the mountains. It is not the case that everyone always keeps to this (unfortunately), but there’s a number of things to take into account when hiking in the Alps. They are:
– Traffic going up has the right of way. If you walk on a narrow trail, make space for walkers who hike up by stepping aside.
– Pee and poop out of sight of others and the trail. Stay at least 100 meters away from water sources, bury your remains and take white paper towels with you instead of leaving them in nature.
– Do not bring “memories” from nature. So do not take pieces of rock, plants or anything like that with you.
– Don’t make cairns. This prevents landscape pollution and erosion. In addition, the cairns that are there are often intended as a direction indicator. You create confusion among hikers by building cairns in other places.
– Don’t leave anything behind. No food scraps, no poo scraps, no clothes you no longer need, no waste, no plastic. Nothing. In other words, leave nothing but footprints.
– Help others in need. Needs no further explanation right?
– Greet other hikers. In Austria people often say “Gruss Gott” or “Servus” -> words like “Hello” or “Guten (fill in any time of day here) are hardly ever used.
In the mountain hut: good to know!
A while ago I wrote this extensive article about the do’s and don’ts of a mountain hut. In a nutshell, you treat others and their things with respect, do not bother each other and respect the food you are offered. In the mountain huts in Austria, the higher huts sometimes have a set menu, so it is useful to inform them in advance of any dietary requirements.
Because there are almost always snorers in the “Matratzenlager” (dorm room), it is wise to bring earplugs or possibly a noise canceling headphone. It would be a shame to have a sleepless night after a long and probably exhausting hike.
Be quiet, don’t cause noise, and respect people who go to bed early to sleep. Also bring plenty of cash with you as it is not common for you to be able to withdraw cash in a mountain hut. In addition, there is usually no wifi and electricity. Facilities depend on mountain hut.
Some mountain huts have a “first come, first serve” policy, but most of them need to be booked in advance. Check the trekking information website for more details, this of course differs per trekking and per region.
The weather can change super fast
Nowhere can the weather change as fast as in the mountains. Even if it is warm and sunny at the time of your departure, always bring rain gear and a warm sweater in case the weather suddenly turns. In addition, it is wise to keep an eye on the weather forecast. Particularly if you have a long day of hiking ahead, leave as early as possible to avoid a heavy thunderstorm. If you see thunderclouds approaching in the distance, move on and don’t linger. On the Alpe Adria Trail I came into such a situation and that was not cool, you can read more in this article.
The colors indicate the level of difficulty
In the Austrian Alps there is not a fixed system unfortunately, but overall you can assume that the blue trail is easy, the red medium and the black difficult. Having said this, a blue trail for an untrained hiker can still be incredibly arduous. For me as an experienced hiker, even a red hike can be quite difficult. Sometimes I don’t even start black hikes (this is partly dependent on the duration and weather conditions).
Are you going on a hiking vacation in Austria for the first time and have little or no mountain hiking experience? Then start with blue routes at the beginning of your holiday and try some red hiking trails at the end of the trip. Sometimes you will come across an extra warning, for example “Nur für Geübte” (only for experienced hikers). Take it from me that this means experienced mountain hikers. The hiking that we do in the Netherlands is nothing compared hiking in the Austrian Alps.
In the mountains the sun is the toughest
Always apply a good amount of sunscreen before you head out and continue to apply well throughout the day. The higher you go, the brighter the sun and the greater the chance of getting sunburnt. A greasy lip balm and good sunglasses are also indispensable by the way, I currently have one from Rayban. Sunglasses from the budget store are not going to make your eyes happy in the mountains, so consider good sunglasses as a necessary investment!
Cables and Via Ferrata
On some hikes you will find extra security details. This can sometimes be footrests, but also steel cables to hold on to. You will find this mainly at steep parts and where it is more difficult to walk. Make use of it, they are there for a reason.
Via Ferrata (also known as Klettersteig in German) is a way of moving through the Alps on steel cables. For this you need a special equipment, you can absolutely not enter a Via Ferrata without the right equipment. Are you going on a Via Ferrata? Then go with a guide. I made a nice Via Ferrata in the Achensee.
Conclusion and disclaimer
These were my tips for your (first) time hiking in the Austrian Alps. Hopefully, you found this article helpful and it helped prepare your hiking trip to Austria. Want to read more about hiking in Austria? Then go to my hiking Austria page. Curious about my favorite walks? This article lists the best hikes in Austria.
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