A 3 Day Tour in the Karwendel Nature Park, from Scharnitz to Innsbruck, staying at Karwendelhaus and Hallerangerhaus along the way. That’s the brief of the tour we did to briefly explore Karwendel.
In this article I will briefly introduce Karwendel Nature Park and talk about our first day on our tour which took us from Scharnitz to Karwendelhaus.
About Karwendel Nature Park
Karwendel Nature Park is a unique nature sanctuary right in the middle of Tyrol, Austria. It covers almost all the Karwendel mountains and spans across 727 square kilometers (~280 square miles). It has been preserved since 1928, which makes it one of the oldest nature reserves in Europe.
Karwendel is rich in everything you would expect from a good hike or a longer trek. This includes rare animal and plant species, beautiful and remote places and mountain huts where to stay when you explore.
The Karwendel mountain range is the largest in the Northern Limestone Alps. Most of it is in Tyrol Austria. the northern parts are in Bavaria, Germany.
Despite its wild and remote nature, Karwendel is very conveniently located:
- On the southern side of the Karwendel Mountains lies the Inn Valley (Inntal) and Innsbruck.
- To the east is Lake Achen (Achensee), a very popular holiday region.
- The western side of Karwendel ends at the Seefeld Saddle mountain pass, home to the famous Seefeld Olympic Region. Scharnitz and Mittenwald on the German side.
- In the north, the Karwendel mountains stretch into the Bavarian Prealps.
From the map below you can see how the Karwendel Mountains are surrounded by civilization which means easy access by trains and public transportation.
Getting to Karwendel
In my opinion Innsbruck and its surrounding areas and towns are the easiest gateway to Karwendel.
Karwendel is situated just north of Innsbruck. You can try to get a flight direct to Innsbruck airport (serves mainly European flights) or you can catch a train to Innsbruck from, for example, Munich Airport.
Once in Innsbruck, you can get to Karwendel by literally taking a lift from downtown to Nordkette on the mountaintop high above. Once on top, on the southern side lies Innsbruck and the Nordkette Ski Area. On the North side, Karwendel Nature Park begins.
West From Innsbruck
From Innsbruck it is also very easy to catch a train to all the areas on the Western side of Karwendel:
- Reith bei Seefeld to access the Karwendel High Trail
- Seefeld and the Olympic Region
- Scharnitz, where our 3-day tour began
- Mittenwald across the border in Germany. Mittenwald is well served from Germany so if you wanted to start there, do check connections from Garmisch Partenkirchen & Munich.
East From Innsbruck
Also close to Innsbruck but on the eastern side, entry points to Karwendel to consider include:
- The Achensee region. The train from Munich to Innsbruck stops at Jenbach, which is near Achensee.
- Schwaz, just west of Jenbach, is another good entry point.
The southeastern part, Schwaz and Jenbach, calls itself the Silberregion (Silver Region) due to the rich silver and copper deposits which made the region important in the 15th and 16th centuries. More information about all this and the region here.
It’s great if you can get a flight to Innsbruck, but I always recommend checking out Munich International Airport as an option, especially if you’re flying overseas. Read this article to find out my thoughts on this, and read here for the 5 Best Airports to Reach the Alps
Notable Treks Through Karwendel
Because of its beauty and uniqueness, it’s no wonder several long treks pass through Karwendel. Here are the notable ones:
- The Via Alpina Red Trail. This monster of a trek goes through the entire Alpine region over 161 day stages, from near Monaco to Trieste. It goes through all 8 Alpine countries. Very hard to do in one season… It also crosses through Karwendel
- The mighty Eagle Walk. Adlerweg in German, these 420 kilometers of walking spans Tyrol from East to West. A total of 31,000 vertical meters.
- Karwendel Höhenweg is a 6 day trek that makes a loop from Reutte to Scharnitz. It spans 55 kilometers 7000 meters of ascent and descent If I had more time, I would have done this instead of our 3 day tour.
On our 3 Day Tour we were on all of these at some point.
3 Day Tour in Karwendel
Our plan for our 3 days in Karwendel was quite straightforward:
- (Day 0: A prequel… Garmisch-Partenkirchen to Leutasch and Scharnitz)
- Day 1: Scharnitz to Karwendelhaus
- Day 2: Karwendelhaus to Hallerangerhaus
- Day 3: Hallerangerhaus to Innsbruck
We expected the valley walk from Scharnitz to Karwendelhaus to be easy and pleasant and it was.
Day 2 expectations were tough. Crossing over Birkkarspitze at 2749 meters, on a difficult path, and still ways to go to reach Hallerangerhaus. We expected a long way and a long day and got it.
Then walking from Hallerangerhaus to Innsbruck we expected e something in between, and it was.
All in all, expectations and the trail met quite well!
One of the planned highlights for this tour was approaching Innsbruck from the mountains. I had been to Innsbruck and the Norkette (where Karwendel begins) lots of times and had always wanted to do this. Now we did. After a few days in the wild and sleeping in mountain hut dormitories, the promise of a private room in a hotel is always enticing.
Day 0: A Prequel
Overall on this trip we had 4 days to spend in the mountains with a friend of mine. When planning we thought it would be a great idea to walk from Garmisch-Partenkirchen on the German side of the border to Innsbruck. The main event was to be our exploration of Karwendel and the said approach to Innsbruck from the mountains.
As for why starting in Garmisch? Well, it’s well connected from Munich Airport. Also, there’s just something about border crossings in the Alps that I find immensely satisfying. It says much about Europe when you’re able to just walk across the border from one country to another with no formalities whatsoever!
I’ll just say that before we set foot in Karwendel, we had already spent a day and a half to get to Scharnitz, where our 3-day Karwendel tour started. We did not start fresh but already had a lot of ascent, descent and kilometers behind us.
Day 1: Scharnitz to Karwendelhaus
Scharnitz is a very good beginning or ending point for Karwendel adventures. It is served by trains that run between Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Innsbruck. This makes it easy to go on all kinds of walks in the area.
Our plan was to walk to Karwendelhaus, a major establishment at the very end of the Karwendel valley (Karwendeltal). It was to be quite a lengthy day even without our walk from Leutasch to warm up. However, we expected it to be long but easy since most of the walking would take place in the valley on a gravel road.
Since we had started the day already in Leutasch, we had lunch at Scharnitz before proceeding into Karwendel. By lunch time you could reach Scharnitz easily by train, for example from Innsbruck.
A road goes all the way to Karwendelhaus and it begins in Scharnitz. We chose to take a small shortcut on a more “proper” path, the Birzelweg. There are some nice views to be had here as the trail climbs up above Scharnitz. Along the way you will find the Birzelkapelle, a pretty little chapel above the town.
After a while the trail joins the road which then gently ascends towards the end of the valley. A river runs along the road which is great if you want to take a break from the walking at some point and soak your feet in really cold and wildly refreshing water.
Towards the end of the valley the road become steeper and for us the final climb to Karwendelhaus became surprisingly strenuous. Without the day and a half already behind us, I don’t think we would have paid any attention to it.
The walk we did was easy and, in my opinion, anybody in decent condition can do it. I’m sure there’s plenty of people who just walk up there for one night and then go back.
Since there’s a road all the way, Karwendelhaus is also popular with mountain bikers. With a bike you could easily ride up there for lunch and the at the end of the day just effortlessly roll back down to Scharnitz.
More Adventurous Option
If we had not spent the morning walking from Leutasch to Scharnitz, I would have opted for a more adventurous route in the high mountains instead of the valley floor to get to Karwendelhaus
There’s a route that goes up to Pleisenhütte and from there continues over the Breitgrieskarspitze to eventually reach Karwendelhaus. I haven’t done this, but according to the map it is a difficult route with plenty of cable assisted, exposed parts. To me that sounds like fun!
Since I haven’t done this, I’m note sure if it would be feasible to do this in one day all the way to Karwendelhaus. You might need to spend a night at the Pleisenhütte. In any case it would be a long day.
If day tripping, a lot of people seem to walk up to Pleisenhütte and then back to Scharnitz.
Karwendelhaus is a major building with lots of sleeping spaces, a nice restaurant and a beautiful outdoors terrace with magnificent views down into Karwendeltal. What a place to watch the sun set behind the mountains!
It’s owned by the German mountaineering club DAV (Deutsches Alpenverein). If you’re a member of an eligible mountain club, you get a discount.
Read my guide “What You Need to know Staying in Mountain huts” – the information applies here.
The Karwendelhaus website is here. I recommend booking in advance, it was quite crowded when we visited. It’s on both the Via Alpina and the Adlerweg so it’s a key location for any trips into Karwendel. I expect it gets a lot of visitors always.
Dinner & Sunset
What a treat it was to enjoy a nice dinner and plentiful drinks at the outside terrace of the Karwendelhaus. The weather was warm enough to just sit outside enjoying the view and chatting with people. Our evening did not end until the bar closed and lights went out.
What You Need for this Trip
- Read The Ultimate Packing Guide for the Alps for advice on what gear I think you should bring.
- Read What You Need to Know about Staying in Mountain Huts
- Sign up for the Gohikelps.com newsletter to get my printable packing checklist.
- Get a map. Here is the Kompass Karwendelgebirge 1:50000 which I used for the entire 3 days. It covers the entire area.
Karwendel is Impressive
I was a little unsure what to expect from Karwendel before I went. I’m not used to something so spectacular, wild and remote being right next to a major city like Innsbruck. I have to say, I was very impressed.
With the easy access, I’m most likely going go there again. This time, I envision doing another few days’ tour around the eastern parts of it. Or perhaps going around the lake Achensee area.
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