Hiking the Alpe Adria Trail – section 1
A few weeks ago was in Austria, the country that I’ve always had a soft spot for. After spending a few days in the Wilder Kaiser region to experience the Bergsportwoche, I moved on to Carinthia, or Kärnten as the Austrians call it. Carinthia is on the sunny side of Austria, on the southern side of the mountains. I had been there once before with my parents as a kid and indeed recall that it was incredibly hot compared to where we came from. Somehow, I expected Carinthia to be a little dull, compared to the mountains I had been to before. I’m not sure why, but Carinthia never was really on my bucketlist so much. Until I heard about the Alpe Adria Trail.
I cannot recall when or where I heard about the Alpe Adria Trail. I’ve tried to find out, but I just cannot recall. It may have been a hiking magazine I read or it may have been on Pinterest. Or it may have been from other hikers I met somewhere along the trail. However, when I got to meet Iris from Tourism Carinthia last winter, I told her ‘I want to go hiking the Alpe Adria trail this summer, let’s work together!’ And so we did. She invited me to come to Carinthia and experience hiking the Alpe Adria Trail myself. And so I did.
About the Alpe Adria Trail
The Alpe Adria Trail is a 750 km long hiking trail running from the highest peak in Austria (Alpe) to the Adriatic Sea (Adria) and takes you across borders through three different countries: Austria, Slovenia and Italy. The trail was developed in 2012 and has 43 proposed stages, all more or less between 15 – 25 km in distance. The hikes are on well marked trails and mostly in non-alpine terrain, making it accessible for anyone who enjoys hiking. The trail was voted one of the Top 7 New Trails in the World 2016 by National Geographic Traveller Magazine and had some 16.000 hikers walking it in 2017.
My trip on the Alpe Adria Trail: arrival in Heiligenblut
As a blogger, I usually do thing in short, meaning that I get to try just a taste of the good things in travel. Luckily Iris selected some of the best stages for hiking the Alpe Adria Trail in Carinthia for me and made sure I saw three completely different routes. This blog is about the first stage I hiked and also the first stage of the hike: from Kaiser-Frans-Josefs-Höhe to Heiligenblut.
Heiligenblut am Grossglockner is a small mountain village in Hohe Tauern National Park. Its picturesque late-Gothic church surrounded by mountains and the glacier covered Grossglockner in the distance, make a pretty photogenic spot. I drove to town over the Grossglockner High Alpine Road but unfortunately it’s misty and cloudy and I don’t really get to see a lot of it, just keeping my car on the road in the thick fog in the sharp curves is quite a challenge already. However once over the mountain pass, the weather indeed gets a little better and upon arrival in Heiligenblut, some small patches of blue sky have appeared. The centre of town is free of cars but there’s a big free parking garage just 200 meters away from the entrance of town where you can park your car as long as necessary. I check into my hotel, pick up a map of the Alpe Adria Trail at the local visitors center and check the bus times for tomorrow, when I’m hiking back to Heiligenblut from Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe. I overnight at the National Park Lodge and just before dinner I feel like stretching my legs a little and so I decide to go out for a short hike in the valley. My destination is Kachlmoor and Gössnitz Waterfall, a 1.5 hour return hike from my hotel. It’s a pleasant evening stroll and after an excellent meal at the lodge, I decide to go to bed as it’s going to be a long day tomorrow…
Hiking the Alpe Adria Trail from Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe to Heiligenblut
The next morning I wake up early. After breakfast I pack my bag for the hike to come. In the meanwhile, my former neighbors Berry and Nanny have arrived. They are on vacation in Austria and decided to join me on the first stage of my hike. We plan to take the 9.25 am bus to Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe which will drop us off there at approximately 10.00 am. From there, it will be a 13.1 km hike back to Heiligenblut.
Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe is a panoramic viewpoint along the Grossglockner High Alpine Road and at 2.369m the second highest point along the road, which is actually a side road of the main road, as the end of this road marks the viewing point. From here, you stand at the foot of the highest mountain in Austria: the Grossglockner and above Pasterze, the longest glacier in Austria. Measuring 9 km in length, this glacier unfortunately loses 25 meters of ice each year due to global warming. Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe received its name after a visit from Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria and his wife Sisi who wanted to see Pasterze and hiked here from Heiligenblut to see the glacier. Each year more than one million people visit Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe making it a popular tourist attraction.
The bus is a little late however eventually shows up. The road up to Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe is windy and after about half an hour, we reach the final stop at Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe. Here you can find a restaurant, tourist shop, various viewing points and much more. However, after taking a few photos it’s time to get started on hiking. Even though today seems to be rather short with some 13.1 kms to cover, we know it’s going to be scenic and that it’ll take quite some time. Upon arrival at Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe it’s both cloudy and sunny at the same time, yet Grossglockner remains in the clouds most of the time. Plenty of people are waiting for the mountain to come out of the clouds in full and as the moment approaches, everyone grabs their cameras, awaiting that few seconds to come.
After taking a few photos it’s really time to get going. The trail from Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe starts with a steep descent right to the bottom of the glacial lake marking the end of Pasterze. Along the way there are some alpine flowers and each step down gives us another scenic point of view. Once down, we walk on the moraine left behind by the glacier and across the shores of the Sandersee at the end of the glacier. Here we realize that due to the time we take making pictures, we’ve been hiking for almost two hours but have just covered some 3.5 kms. We grab a quick lunch at the side of the lake and then cross another bit of terminal moraine before descending steeply to Margaritzen Stausee. From here, the rocky section is over and the landscape starts to become more green. Some flowers and plants appear and some tiny trees as well.
The landscape turns from alpine to more lush. After the second lake, the trail steeply descends into the woods and we pass some gorgeous waterfalls. The trail is slippery at some points and caution should be taken here as it’s quite steep. After about an hour we reach Sattlalm and from here the hike is rather easy. It mostly takes us through the woods on well maintained trails that are easy and fast. Along the way we pass a beautiful viewing point for a distant view of Heiligenblut and a few hours later we arrive back in Heiligenblut.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a whole lot of time left in Heiligenblut as I still have a drive to Mallnitz ahead of me for the evening, about an hour away from where I am right now. As I walk to the parking garage, I look at Grossglockner one final time, before stepping into my car and leaving Heiligenblut behind. Today was an incredible scenic day for hiking and I feel blessed that it was sunny so I could experience the beauty of this part of Carinthia to the fullest. My adventure hiking the Alpe Adria Trail has started!
How to arrange this yourself
The good thing about hiking the Alpe Adria Trail is that many sections can also be done as day hikes. For this one, you just have to catch a bus to Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe from Heiligenblut and you can walk back to town. In Heiligenblut you will find a big range of accommodations for all kinds of budgets, but keep in mind it’s not a cheap place to stay. I overnighted in the beautiful Nationalpark Lodge Grossglockner. At the time of my visit, the bus to Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe drove three times a day and the 09.25 departure was the first one. It left right in front of the National Park Lodge. The current schedule can be found here.
Map for hiking the Alpe Adria Trail
I did not have an original hiking map for hiking the Alpe Adria Trail, however the free Alpe Adria Trail guidebook I picked up at the Heiligenblut visitors center has hiking maps for each stage that are really all you need. Each section has their own pages including a map, description, the highlights, the length and the duration. It also includes the possible turnaround points as well as contact information, restaurants and accommodation along the way. As I said, this booklet is really all you need. The trail is very well signposted and it’s hard to go wrong. The guidebook is available in both German and English.
Additional tips for hiking the Alpe Adria Trail
– Download the app! Each stage has their own page with all information you need right in your hand. There’s a map as well which indicates how far you are from the points of interest and when I got lost at some point (not on this stage though) it got me back on track with the GPS function. In addition there’s an emergency call option as well.
– Be prepared for anything! As you are in the mountains, weather can change rapidly. In Heiligenblut it was sunny but once up at the glacier it was cold and windy. Something to take into consideration.
– Call the trail angels if you need help. Their number is in the booklet I mentioned earlier and you can call them in case you need help of any kind.
Hiking from Kaiser-Franz-Josefs Höhe to Heiligenblut was the first stage of my hike along this amazing trail. Blog with the following sections will be published within the next couple of weeks. For now, if you want to read more about my trips to Austria or other hiking trips, you may also enjoy the following blogs:
– Hiking the Gaisalmsteig at the Achensee
– Trekking through the amazing Kaisertal
– Top 10 of the best multi-day treks in the world
Pictures that include me were made by Berry and Nanny and credits for these pictures are for them.
New here and curious who We12travel is? Go here to learn more! For a daily dose of outdoor & adventure inspiration, follow We12travel on Instagram and Facebook!
Thanks for sharing!