Hiking in Austria
Hiking in Austria could very well be one of the best things you can do in your life, if mountains and the outdoors are a part of your way of life. Austria has given the world a lot, from the world-famous Swarovski jewelry to Mozart but for an average person of the world Austria may not be quite as synonymous to the Alpine pastures and cheese as its neighbor Switzerland. However, like its neighbor, Austria is easily one of the best hiking countries in the world.
In this article I will give a broad overview of the different hiking areas of Austria. Austria is divided into provinces and they all have great outdoors opportunities. However, if you’re planning to go hiking in Austria – and particularly in the mountains – some areas are probably more attractive than others due to geography and accessibility. By accessibility I mean access from international airports and such.
Overwhelming Amount of Information
The tourism offices of the different areas have done a great job in promoting their own specific areas. However, if you just start Googling around without a specific idea or location in mind, the number of options can be overwhelming.
When I did research for this article, I easily found well over a hundred sites and those were mostly just the official ones maintained by tourism offices and such.
I understand that in a country with a huge tourism industry, the different regions, valleys, cities and towns are all fiercely competing against each other for visitors. I think this is especially true in the summer since winter sports is more popular. The large ski areas with extensive infrastructures tend to fill up in the winter leaving excess capacity during the summer.
This is also apparent in pricing: during the summer it is much, much more affordable to stay in the nicer hotels
In this article I will look at the areas on a “province” level to give you an idea where you might want to look deeper. I intend to make deep dives into at least the interesting provinces in more detail.
I will link you up to all the relevant sites maintained by the local tourist offices and other interesting sites. They have the most up to date information about their local things so there’s not much added value for me to copy that information here. I’ll rather try to point you to the right direction.
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If You Drive, Get the Vignette
Austria is very easy to travel in and the coverage of public transportation is very extensive. Driving, on the other hand, is sometimes even easier. If you do drive, make sure you get a Vignette and stick it on your car window at the border.
It’s essentially a toll you pay for a predefined period and you need the sticker for proof you’ve paid. It’s not expensive but not having it and getting caught can be. They’re sold at all gas stations at the borders so if you fly to Munich and rent a car there, the car won’t have it unless you’ve arranged for the rental company to get it for you. If you rent a car from within Austria, it should have it. Do check either way.
More information about the vignette and rates here.
Trains are Great in Austria
While driving is great in many ways, trains are also very convenient. The train network is very extensive in Austria, including all the mountainous areas. I prefer trains if I travel alone and especially if I do a longer tour from one place to another. Going back to get your car from somewhere if you can avoid it doesn’t really make sense.
You can find the Austrian railways with route and other information here. Also keep in mind that you can find all of the same tickets and more from Deutche Bahn, the German railway company – you can find their site here. I tend to get my tickets from bahn.com if I book beforehand.
Where to Fly?
There are several airports in Austria, the main ones being:
- Vienna – International and well connected but a little to the side from the main hiking areas.
- Salzburg – small airport, well connected within Europe, in Salzburgerland
- Innsbruck – small airport, well connected within Europe, right in the middle of Tyrol
Read about my recommendations on where to fly when going to the Alps here.
Let’s then get on to the provinces.
The Provinces of Austria
The provinces in Austria, and which are covered in this article are:
- Tyrol (Tirol in German)
- Salzburg (Salzburgerland in German)
- Carinthia (Kärnten)
- Styria (Steiermark)
- Upper Austria (Oberösterreich)
- Lower Austria (Niederösterreich)
Map credit: By Wouter Johannes Arendshorst (WjArendshorst) – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=78481549
As you can see in the map, the higher mountains tend to be on the western side of the country. As you will find as you read further, the western parts are in my opinion where to look, if you want to hike in the mountains – which is my preference and what this site is focused on.
The opportunities for hiking, climbing and other outdoor activities in Tyrol are endless, both in summer and winter. According to the official tourism website of Tyrol, there are 24,000 kilometers of market trails in Tyrol. That’s more than halfway around the Earth. There are hundreds, if not thousands of places to stay ranging from simple mountain huts to luxurious resorts.
There is an overwhelming number of hiking regions to choose from within Tyrol. For example:
- Looking to hike around a lake district? Maybe look at the Achensee region!
- Looking for all kinds of summer activities including golf? How about Ziillertal? At the end of the valley in Hintertux you can even go skiing: the Hintertux Glacier ski resort is the only one in Austria open 365 days a year.
- Want to stay in a city and go for day hikes? How about staying in Innsbruck, the capital city of Tyrol with the Karwendel Nature Park just over the mountain to the North, accessible by lift.
- The list goes on with world famous mountain towns such as Kitzbühel with its world famous Hahnenkamm downhill ski races and Seefeld (remember the Winter Olympics in 1964 and 1976?)
Tyrol is home to several very interesting Long-Distance Hikes such as
- The Lechtal High Trail (Lechtaler Höhenweg) (Click here for the Gohikealps Planning Guide and personal experience!)
- Berlin High Trail in Zillertal (Berliner Höhenweg in German)
- Carnic High Trail in East Tirol (also called Carnische Höhenweg in German)
… just to point out a few. To top it off there is, of course, the mighty Eagle Walk that crosses all of Tyrol in 413 kilometers split between 33 stages!
It’s not just the that Tyrol a perfect place to hike, it’s also easy to reach from anywhere. To the South lies Italy, easily accessible by train and car. Bordered by Germany to the North, the Munich International Airport is near. Across Vorarlberg on the Western side, Tirol is also close to Switzerland and the Zurich Airport.
In addition to the proximity of Munich and Zurich, right in the middle of Tirol lies its capital city Innsbruck which also has an airport well connected within Europe. Check out my view on the best airports to reach the Alps here.
That said, what I’ve talked about so far is about North Tyrol. Due to its very colorful history (which you can read about here on Wikipedia), Tyrol also includes South Tyrol (Südtirol) on the Italian side of the border and East Tyrol (Osttirol) which is separated from North Tyrol by Italy and the western part of Salzburgerland. Confusing? Yes. And even more so since what’s nowadays Trentino, located south of Südtirol in Italy, also used to be Tyrol!
I cover the Italian side of Tyrol elsewhere on this site. When people outside of the region talk about Tyrol nowadays, they practically always seem to refer to North Tyrol. East Tyrol seems to be called East Tyrol most of the time.
Tyrol seems to have invested considerably in their online presence. Their tourism website is very informative and contains loads of detailed information about the region as well as specific hikes you can go on there.
There’s a lot of literature available about Tyrol. Here’s some books to consider related to hiking there:
- The Adlerweg: The Eagle’s Way across the Austrian Tyrol, a book by Cicerone that covers the Eagle Walk in detail, including several variants. The Eagle Walk is called the Adlerweg in German, hence the name.
- Innsbruck Mountain Adventures, by Sharon Wray and published by Cicerone. Covers pretty much all activities you can do around Innsbruck very well, not limited to hiking.
- Trekking in the Zillertal Alps: Cicerone Press, by Allan Hartley. Focused on Trekking in the Zillertal valley – one of the most popular hiking regions.
I will be writing up Tyrol in much more detail sometime in the future. Please sign up for the Gohikealps.com newsletter to get notice when!
Between Switzerland and Liechtenstein on the West, Tyrol on the East and Germany on the North side lies Vorarlberg. Like Tirol, it’s quite easy to access from Munich and Zurich. The capital of the region is Bludenz, a city of about 15,000 people.
Although the smallest of the Austrian provinces, Vorarlberg is plenty rich in hiking and other outdoor activities both during summer and winter. Hiking in Vorarlberg is plentiful and since the entire province is in the mountains the scenery is beautiful. Near Bodensee (Lake Constance in English) there are also views to the lake to be enjoyed.
The regions within Vorarlberg are:
- Montafon, right on the Swiss border (Davos on the other side!), Montafon is a long valley of nearly 40 kilometers. Vorarlberg’s highest mountain, the sun cream inspiring Piz Buin (3,312 m ) at the south end. Excellent hiking opportunities here with the opportunity to cross over to Switzerland.
- Alpenregion Vorarlberg, home to Bludenz, Brandnertal, Klostertal and the Grosses Walstertal Biosphere Reserve.
- Lech Zürs am Arlberg, famous for its winter opportunities as well as being known as an upscale ski resort. Nonetheless, the hiking there is excellent, and it is a good place to get on the Lechtaler Höhenweg, one of the great long distance trails in Tyrol.
- Bodensee-Vorarlberg is located at the very West end of Austria with Bregenz and Lake Constance (Bodensee in German) on the North end, Switzerland to the West and Liechtenstein in the South West. Lake Constance is surrounded by Austria, Switzerland and Germany and could be interesting to do something different, perhaps before or after a mountain tour.
- Bregenzerwald – South East of Lake Constance bordering with Germany on the North, home to a lot of cheese which you can discover on the Cheeseroad (Käsestrasse)
- Kleinwalstertal is an interesting small area which seems more linked to Germany that Austria, given that road access is from Oberstdorf on the German side of the border.
Small as it may be, Vorarlberg is most certainly worth considering as a hiking destination.
The world-famous city of Salzburg is the capital of the province Salzburgerland. One of the most famous Salzburgians of all time must be Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. While the city of Salzburg is rich in culture, the Salzburgerland in which it lies is rich in mountains and nature!
By the way, Salzburgerland seems to be called simply Salzburg in English, so depending on the context Salzburg might mean the city itself or the province in which it is located.
Salzburg is located against the German border and is easily accessible from Munich Airport, both by car and rail. Salzburg also has its own airport which, quite like Innsbruck in Tyrol, is well connected within Europe but not so much the rest of the world. Arriving from the U.S., for example, Munich would be where to fly.
As far as hiking opportunities go, Salzburg has pretty much everything you could hope to look for. A few highlights:
- Excellent ski resort in the winter, wonderful hiking resort in the summer with about 400 kilometers of marked paths: Saalbach Hinterglemm.
- The Zell-am See area where in addition to hiking you can go boating on the lake or summer skiing on the Kaprun glacier.
- Gastein valley (Gasteinertal in German) which reaches deep into the mountains, bordering the Hohe Tauern Nature Park and is particularly famous for its spas in Bad Gastein.
- Hohe Tauern Nature Park, the largest of its kind in Europe. Hohe Tauern spans over the Southern part of Salzburg as well as the Northern parts of Carinthia and much of East Tirol. It is home to Austria’s highest mountain, the Grossglockner.
- If you’re travelling by car and not afraid of mountain roads, the Grossglockner High Alpine Road offers an exceptional drive. It links Salzburgerland to Carinthia and if it fits into your plans (and you’re not afraid of the road!), I recommend it.
Salzburg will be covered in much more detail on this site. If you’re interested, please sign up to the Gohikealps newsletter to hear when!
The capital of the state is Klagenfurt, with a population of about 100,000. There’s an extensive Wikipedia article on Carinthia as well as Klagenfurt for more information. In my travels, which are often based out of Munich, it seems that Carinthia is unfortunately kind of far away and it is compared to say Tyrol and Salzburg.
There is an airport in Klagenfurt, but it is small and has very limited connections. In my opinion you’re better off getting on a train or driving, especially if you’re coming from farther away.
The mountains in Carinthia are higher in the western parts so if you’re looking for high-mountain hiking, the western part is where I would look first.
The Hohe Tauern Nature Park that is located also in Tyrol and Salzburgerland is in the Northwestern part of Carinthia – hence the area is called Hohe Tauern. This is obviously an extremely interesting hiking destination. You may have noticed that there’s several websites covering it, and the one covering the Carinthian portion of it can be found here.
The Karnischer Höhenweg or Carniche High Route or Carnic High Trail– yes, the same one I mentioned in the Tyrol section – is a 155km hike on the border of Austria and Italy. The western end of it is in East Tyrol, which I suppose is why both regions advertise it. This is one of the high trails high on my to-do list. There’s a website covering it here.
The regions of Lieser-Maltatal and Katschberg/Rennweg advertise themselves as particularly family friendly so if you’re travelling with kids, they could be interesting to you. Both areas are situated east of the Hohe Tauern region where the mountains generally are lower and perhaps less rugged. Also, as they say, they are on the “sunny side of the Alps”. More info on Katschberg here and more about Lieser-Maltatal here.
Worth a special mention in this region would be the Alpe-Adria-Trail which begins at the foot of Austria’s highest mountain Grossglockner, crosses Carinthia and ventures on into Slovenia and from there to Italy. A grand total of roughly 750 kilometers split into 43 stages, each about 20 km. Comprehensive info on this wonder can be found on the Alpe-Adria-Trail website.
For me personally the most interesting areas here are in Hohe Tauern and, of course, the two trails I mentioned: The Carinthia Höhenweg and the Alpe-Adria-Trail.
As with all the states in Austria, I plan to dive deeper later in a more comprehensive article. Sign up for the gohikealps newsletter to know when that is available!
Styria is the second largest province in Austria after Lower Austria. Its capital is the city of Graz, the second largest city in Austria after Vienna. To the west it is bordered by Salzburgerland, to the south Slovenia and Carinthia and to the North Upper and Lower Austria. Burgenland lies to the east.
As for hiking, the province is quite large and the most interesting parts, in my opinion, are on the western side of it where the mountains are most prominent.
In the Northwest you can find Ausseerland-Salzkammergut, where the Salzkammergut area spreads over to Styria. The Salzkammergut as a designated UNESCO World Heritage site is very interesting and has lots of hiking and other opportunities.
Gesäuse is another interesting area in Styria. Gesäuse is home to the Gesäuse mountains and both a nature park and national park. I have not been there, but it is on my to-do list. I will probably go there for a long weekend since its easy for me to catch a direct flight to Salzburg.
Both Salzkammergut and Gesäuse are quite near Salzburg so if you’re able to fly there, a short trip is viable. These areas are not prohibitively far from Vienna or Munich either.
Between Gesäuse and Salzkammergut is Schladming-Dachstein. This is another cross-province area: the western parts of the Dachstein mountains are in Salzburgerland. More info on the western parts can be found here.
The Dachstein area overall is a very popular hiking destination and together with the Salzkammergut, it is interestingly spread over multiple provinces so there’s a lot of information on it spread over different local websites. There’s also a glacier, which of course also has its own website.
I haven’t been able to visit the western parts of Styria as often as I would have liked but I intend to go more. The western parts, for me, are more interesting than the eastern. Once I go, I will write up my experiences in more detail. Please sign up for the Gohikealps newsletter for updates!
For its size and the general image of Austria, mountain hiking in Upper Austria is surprisingly limited. It doesn’t really touch the Alps except for the southern parts of it. However, the southern parts are quite interesting.
Salzkammergut, a part of which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, is definitely an area of interest for hiking and other activities. Although the majority and the core of the area is in Upper Austria, it is partially spread over Salzburgerland and Styria.
Probably one of the best, if not most, known towns in the Salzkammergut area is Hallstatt. Hallstatt is known for its exceptional beauty and It is, in fact, so beautiful that the Chinese made an exact copy of it – in China! Check out Wade Shepard’s report on location about it here.
You might also want to look at the Salzkammergut Berge Seen Trail, which is a 350 km loop around and through the entire Salzkammergut area. It’s only been established in 2017, so its quite new. I’m sure the trails themselves are ancient but this is now more organized. It’s on my to-do list for sure now that I found it.
Lower Austria, or Niederösterreich in German, is the largest province in the country. It has the most people and in the middle of is the capital city of Austria, the famous Vienna.
As far as hiking goes, there are mountains here, but they are not very high. The highest peaks reach about 2 kilometers. While the mountains may not be quite as majestic as in some of the other Austrian provinces, there is plentiful hiking and the lower mountains also may mean a longer hiking season and more diversity.
You can find more information about the options on the Lower Austria tourism website.
Areas of hiking interest in Lower Austria include:
- Mostviertel, in the South-West of Lower Austria
- The Vienna Alps, with its “Arc of the Viennese Alps” trail of 300 kilometers and 19 day stages
Vienna is well connected to the world and is in itself a very interesting city to visit. If you’re looking for a combination of city and hiking, Lower Austria could be an option to consider. Especially if you’re unsure of your ability and are not keen to go into the backcountry.
It may well be that Burgenland is more known for its wines than hiking trails, at least any mountainous ones. Burgenland is a small province at the border of Hungary and, different to rest of Austria, there are no mountains. instead, there are vast plains and vineyards.
As far as I am concerned, Burgenland would not be a place where I would go seeking hiking thrills, but of course there are other interesting aspects to this province that you can read about on their tourism website.
Where Should You Go?
Photo from Hohe Tauern nea Gasteinertal
The main reason why Gohikealps exists, is to try to make some sense out of the overwhelming choice of where to go hiking. These are my personal, mostly experience based opinions so if you don’t agree, please do leave a comment below!
For me hiking is most enjoyable in the mountains and especially the high ones, let’s start there: In Austria the highest mountainous areas tend to be on the western side of the country. That would be Tyrol (including East Tyrol!), Vorarlberg, Salzburgerland and the western parts of Carinthia.
Of all the places in the Austria and in all the Alps, I find myself returning to Tyrol repeatedly, both in summer and winter alike. I keep going back for the reasons stated: It has endless variety and it’s easy to reach. The latter point is especially important for me because of I always must fly to get to the mountains. Anything and everything you could expect to do in the mountains, you can do in Tyrol.
That said, ALL provinces in Austria are interesting in their own way. apart from Burgenland there are mountains in all the provinces and a mountain trail doesn’t have to run through high mountains to be interesting. Quite the contrary, often the most variety is found in lower trails.
Lower trails naturally also tend to have less snow, extending the season both in spring and fall.
I encourage you to explore the different areas virtually and find your perfect location – and then go do it! Whatever you choose, you cannot really go wrong.
There’s a lot of literature about hiking in Austria, here’s a few that may be of interest:
- Walking in Austria: 101 Routes – Day Walks, Multi-day Treks and Classic Hut-to-Hut Tours. Book by Kev Reynolds, published by Cicerone. A good all-around book with something for everyone. A lot of the described routes are in Tyrol.
- Walking Austria’s Alps: Hut to Hut 2nd Edition. Written by Jonathan Hurdle already in 1999 so it’s possibly a little outdated. On the other hand, the trails in the mountains don’t really change much…
I hope this guide has been helpful to you, even though it is only able to offer a glimpse to the endless hiking opportunities. As time allows, I will extend this and will look more closely at the different areas in Austria. I will also write up my own experiences. Please sign up for the gohikealps.com newsletter to receive updates.
If you read through this entire article, I humbly thank you! Happy hiking!