(Zugspitze Tour) The gorge at Mittenwald

The Zugspitze Tour: A guide to the trek

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Introduction

The Zugspitze Tour is Alpine Exploratory's four-stage trek around the highest mountain in Germany, the Zugspitze (2,962m). We start and finish the circuit in Garmish-Partenkirchen. This is one of Germany's main ski and outdoor towns, in the Bavarian Alps just across the border from the Austrian Tyrol.

Of the four stages, one is within Germany, another is within Austria, and two stages cross the border. In this area the border is all but invisible. We link Garmisch with Mittenwald, Weidach and Ehrwald.

After the trek, an optional fifth day lets us climb the Zugspitze. By this we mean to ascend to the summit as opposed to trekking around its base; there is a steep and loose path, nevertheless still a walking exercise and not a climb, from a high funicular railway to the summit.


The lie of the land

About an hour and a half by train from Munich, the resort town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen sits underneath the Zugspitze. The summit of the Zugspitze is shared with Austria but the bulk of the massif falls within Germany as well as the natural walker's routes. Lower slopes rise from the farmed valley to steep forests; above rise the sharp limestone peaks around the old glacier that forms the winter ski area and most of the size of the mountain.


Best bits

This trek is notable for two gorges, adding extra interst to what is already a nicely varied Alpine trek at a lower level. These gorges are the Partnachklamm beyond Garmish and the Leutaschklamm after Mittenwald. Good, solid walkways take trekkers through the heart of the gorges.

The mountainous highlight is surely the Zugspitze, and this is the case however you might reach the top. From outside Ehrwald there is a cable car to the summit, while from the Garmisch direction there is a funicular railway to the plateau plus either the final walk or a short cable car to the summit. Also from outside Garmisch, near the Eibsee, is a cable car direct to the summit. Views are immense on clear days due to the altitude above anything in the vicinity.

Photos from trips: Zugspitze Tour




Walking through the Partnachklamm
Walking through the Partnachklamm



Is it for me?

Trekking from village to village in the Alps is a great pleasure, the more so thanks to the excellent standards and jolly Alpine atmosphere in these places. The main street of Mittenwald is a happy scene with drinkers outside Bavarian bars.

This four-day route gives a manageable mission in a well-connected corner of the Alps, with time to see the summit of the Zugspitze. Perhaps the beer halls and museums of Munich will fit into a week's holiday. (We very much recommend Munich before or after your trek. We include notes about Munich based on our explorations.)

Can I manage it?
Walkers used to consecutive days of all-day walking should find the Zugspitze Tour within their capabilities. Although this is one of our less demanding trails, the days are not too short, at 23km, 14.5km, 21km and 21km respectively. The terrain is generally smooth and rolling, with some shorter and steeper sections. It is necessary to be up for the full days' walking, a proportion of which is within woods with views coming at intervals. The views are worth the wait! Some other treks in the Alps give a more general mix of Alpine scenery including rocky cols; here on the Zugspitze Tour, the emphasis is on lower hillsides and woods, with more open tracks on the Austrian side.

The optional Zugspitze ascent comes as a strong contrast to the trek. This will suit experienced walkers who are confident in their balance, happy on loose ground. In early Summer there might be small snow patches to cross, or the snow might be too extensive to make an ascent sensible. The cable car and railway options make it easy for people to do different things and meet for lunch at the summit.

What's it like underfoot?
On the trek, forest tracks and roads are mixed with narrower paths in woods, sometimes rooty and a little rocky. This is not a completely straightforward trek, but is definitely at the easier end of Alpine walking.




Hay fields high above Garmisch
Hay fields high above Garmisch



Are the routes obvious?
German and Austrian signposting and waymarking are excellent. You might notice that the Austrian signs are even more detailed and useful. Painted waymarks - often white and red painted flashes on rocks or trees - are the common theme here, though because our Zugspitze Tour is a route using the network of existing paths, it is still necessary to know you are on the correct path. (Most of the time you'll know you are on a path!)

On the Zugspitze ascent - optional - you'll find waymarks but in addition a little interpretation of the hillside is needed in order not to stray from the main route.

Although the navigation is generally easy, it is essential for all parties in the Alps to have at least one navigator who is happy with a map and compass, for those situations where the route is not marked at a turning or where the clouds have closed in. Our routecards, notes and maps give you all you need to complete the trek under your own steam.

During each summer season, snow falls on typically two or three or more occasions. It tends to go away equally quickly and tends not to be deep at the altitude of our Zugspitze Tour route, even on the optional Zugspitze ascent, but for the time that it remains it can make navigation quite challenging. Under a cover of snow, ground features are hidden and reliance on map and compass skills is key.

Is the walking technically difficult?
The biggest challenge on the four-day trek is the occasional rooty and rocky stretch of path, perhaps in steeper steps up or downhill. Generally it is a simple route to walk.

The Zugspitze ascent is not a scramble, a via ferrata or a climb, but it calls for careful foot placement at times. Some sections have metal cables to the side, for balance, and small metal pegs that act as steps over boulders.




Pines and snow above Mittenwald
Pines and snow above Mittenwald



When to go?
Our Zugspitze Tour season runs from early July to mid-September.

This short season is imposed by the weather. The route is lower than most of our others in the Alps, so the chance of late-Spring snow patches remaining into early July is negligible, but to give the option of the Zugspitze and to coincide with our general Alpine season starts, we keep to early July. At the other end of the season there is a chance of the weather deteriorating into late September. Because we can't predict the weather for the coming summer, we have to set these dates in advance.




The Zugspitze from the valley outside Garmisch
The Zugspitze from the valley outside Garmisch



Where to stay

Germany and Austria are very hospitable countries, especially when one factors in the good organisation of buses and trains among the villages. Life works smoothly here. We find the hotels in Garmish and the other villages to be well geared up to a walker's needs, without fuss. It's easy to achieve what you want at the end of a hiking day! We like Garmish a lot, despite it being quite a large town by Alpine outdoor standards.

Each of the nights is in a village, so we don't include mountain huts on this trip. All of your nights are in a private room, not dormitories.

Garmish and Mittenwald, being our nights in Germany, have offshoots of the Munich bierkeller (beer halls) run by Hofbrau and Augustiner. This makes for a typical experience and very easy-to-order beer and food. The tables are often large and communal but this does not preclude a quiet dinner. Many other establishments are normal restaurants, small to large, in Summer months with tables on the street.




A group of walkers climbs the Zugspitze
A group of walkers climbs the Zugspitze



The Zugspitze Tour in context

The Zugspitze Tour relative to treks in the UK
Our Lake District treks have surprising similarities to the Zugspitze Tour! Over four stages, blast through forests and take to more twisty sections too, mountains above. Perhaps of these, the East Lakes Circuit with its fair distances and striding-out might be the closest in feel.

The Zugspitze Tour relative to the Tour du Mont Blanc
Compared to the popular Tour du Mont Blanc, the Zugspitze Tour stays lower, often in the valley floor or the lower wooded slopes, not taking to the higher mountain passes of the TMB. The Zugspitze Tour is easier, no doubt.


Trek the Zugspitze Tour with Alpine Exploratory

Alpine Exploratory offers this self-guided trek around the Zugspitze in four stages. We're also pleased to book shorter or longer sub-sections of the routes according to your available dates... and a weekend trip can work with care. Please contact us to discuss options.

Our self-guided holidays give you what you need to complete the route under your own steam. We book your accommodation in hotels and we give you our detailed routecards, the local maps, and lots of notes. Our private guided trips are similar but give you the benefit of an Alpine Exploratory leader to show the way.


Guided and self-guided holidays - see our full range


Research 2017

Pete Ellis at Alpine Exploratory Pete Ellis
Pete will lead Alpine Exploratory's 2017 Zugspitze research, in June



Trips 2017

Alpine Exploratory offers the following holidays based on our Zugspitze research:

Zugspitze Tour



City breaks after trekking

Our Zugspitze holidays come with notes on the following cities, in your info pack:

Munich in Germany
Vienna in Austria
Innsbruck in Austria
Zurich in Switzerland

City breaks after trekking





Map showing the route of Alpine Exploratory's Zugspitze Tour walking holiday







Alpine Exploratory
Alpine Exploratory is a system of knowledge on the best mountain trekking in our areas, giving clients superb holidays based on this exploration.
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