Traversing the Austrian Alps on the Via Alpina

Categories Route Reflections, Walking from Amsterdam to Sarajevo

For some reason I had the idea to pick up the Via Alpina in Feldkirch. Probably because I thought I would be hiking on the Suisse side of the Bodensee. I did, until Konstanz, where I took the ferry. That ferry brought me in 4 hours in Bregenz. It would have been more convenient to head towards Obertsdorf, but Feldkirch was still in my head, without giving it a second thought, I went to Feldkirch where I started hiking the Via Alpina in Austria.

The start

In Feldkirch my sense of direction completely left me, for as far as it was there in the first place. Instead of heading to the campsite, I went the opposite direction. Before I knew it, I was already on the Via Alpina. No good, because I needed supplies and a day off.

As I’m writing this, almost two months later, I have a hard time remember all the exact places. On the Via Alpina I kept on crossing borders. Germany, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Germany, Austria. The trail follows the mountains and well, nature does not know borders. Borders are often formed by nature, but I could hardly see the differences. So, I “filed” this story under “Austria”, but parts of this traject actually were in Germany.

No campsite, no resupply. Instead I knocked on a door, met a lovely family and put my tent in their garden. The family was a bit worried, because of a thunderstorm. “You can also sleep inside if you like…” They offered me a room, a shower, dinner and coffee. Seriously, this is so much more fun than a campsite. Again it’s hiking without a strict plan (or without the ability to stick to any kind of planning) that leads to unexpected encounters. It’s beautiful and meaningful. It’s what makes my journey extra special. I will dedicate a category to those encounters, to those people, those “Friends of the Road”, but first finish this post.

Hiking Via Alpina Austria, first day
First day on the Via Alpina
Hiking Via Alpina Austria, supurb bivouac
One supurb “bivouac”

Some stats

In Austria I hiked 460 kilometers, 23 hiking days, 2 rest days. In Biberwier I took a whole week off. That week I stayed on a campsite, but besides that week I camped out in the wild. I met 1 other Via Alpina hiker, a real though one who’s hiking all Via Alpina’s in one season (!). There was lots and lots of swimming (I stopped counting), 2 very uncharming slidings, 3 spiders in my tent (not at the same time, but still… Iieell!) I hit my toes several times, but only 1 time the pain didn’t go away. Au.

Besides hitting stones, I also hit some shit. Fresh, warm piles of cowshit, (also iieell). I picked tons of berries, had to run and hide for lightnings, been completely soaked, walked in the clouds for days, but mostly I had the sun on my side. Beautiful, unpredictable summer weather in the mountains it was.

I slept 1 night in a mountain hut thanks to the caretaker of Prinz Luitpold Haus who gave me a dorm and a shower. Thank you! There was 1 homestay, the first night on the Via Alpina near Feldkirch, and lots and lots of beautiful camp spots. My oh my. That’s the short version of me, hiking the Via Alpina in Austria. If you keep on reading, you’ll find out about the “wheres”, “hows” and “whats”. Where I’ve been, how I felt and what it all looked like…

Good day to stay in
Prinz Luitpold Haus, Allgau
Prinz Luitpold Haus, Allgau
Sometimes it rained

The journey

Through the lovely Walsertal I made my way up. Green, flowers, water, cows, bells and… Mountains. Sweet and oh, so beautiful. I couldn’t get the smile of my face. Really, I was so excited and took so many photos. I’m in the mountains. Jeej, I’m in the mountains! Beautiful, beautiful mountains. Vorarlberg is this region called. My first time and definitely not the last.

From Vorarlberg the trail curved back into Germany, the Allgäuer Alps. It got wilder, the hiking path more demanding. Big screen slopes, high rocky mountains and deep deep valleys. Up and down, up and down. Austria, Germany, Austria, Germany. “This is Bayern,” “No, it’s Tirol,” “Welcome in the Tiroler Zugspitz Arena” an information board said. Oh my. Impressive, overwhelming almost.

Voralberg, Walsertal
Allgäuer Alps
Tiroler Zugspitz Arena
View from Meilerhütte, Via Alpina Red Trail Austria
View on Wetterstein mountain range (left) an de Zugspitze in the back

No Zugspitze and no huts for me

I didn’t climb the Zugspitze. Too many people, too many cable cars and other ugly stuff. No, that’s not what I’m looking for. I descended down to the Reintalanger valley and went up the next day with the Wetterstein mountain range on my side. Interesting peaks and an attractive ridge, but I sticked to the hiking. I hiked down from the Meilerhütte to the next valley and up through Karwendel Alpine Park. And down again.

Every day I passed several mountain huts, all of them serve beer, Apfelstrudel, hot food and they have a sunny terrace with superb views. However my budget didn’t allow me to eating or staying there, it’s much fun to watch the crowds. Watching people during the day and stars at night. My tent doesn’t have a terrace, but it sure has the good views.

Meilerhütte, hiking the Via Alpina in Austria
View from the Meilerhütte
Lamsenjochhütte, hiking the Via Alpina in Austria
Lamsenjochhütte, Karwendel
Hiking the Via Alpina in Austria, Tirol
Finkenberg, Tirol

Tirol at the the End

After Karwendel, I entered the popular skiing area: Tirol. This I, in my opinion, the least lovely part of the Via Alpina trail. Actually Mayrhofen was simple a sad sad place. Too many ski slopes, empty ski towns, ugly hotels, tasteless aprés ski stuff. Just sad when there’s no snow. And maybe also when is…

Although the Via Alpina follows unpaved roads, I think it must be possible to find a more scenic route. If you’ve got map and good weather. Two things I didn’t have. I followed my GPS to stay on track. Couldn’t see a thing, just clouds, clouds and clouds. At the Dominikus Hütte I took a day off, waited out the bad weather and when the clouds disappeared, I saw the first glacier. The Hochfeiler, I believe. What an incredible peak is that.

With mister Hochfeiler on my side, I crossed the border to Italy and left Austria behind. Again not really, the trail would go back, but for now let’s call it an end.

Pfitscherjoch, on the border

Lovely giants

The Austrian Alps are versatile, the Via Alpina leads you through one National Park after the other. Each mountain range had its own characteristic features. It’s own beauty. I’m not even try to think of “the most beautiful,” because honestly all of it is worth to explore. And if you do, if you’re hiking the Via Alpina in Austria, please give them my greetings. Say hi to the lovely Giants!

Hiking the Via Alpina in Austria

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