(Zillertal Weekend) High above Schlegeis Stausee

The Zillertaler Hohenweg: A guide to the trek

Walking guides - see all our background pages


A key East-West valley in Austria is that of the Inn river, containing the city Innsbruck. A few local train stops from Innsbruck heading East, at Jenbach, an old-fashioned railway drops South to Zell am Ziller and Mayrhofen. Here it splits into the Ziller and Tux valleys. Skiing is big business in Mayrhofen but in Summer the resort changes to a walker's base. To the South and West extend several high valleys, particularly dramatic beyond the village of Ginzling.

The lie of the land

The area's high peak is the Schönbichler Horn (3134 m) to the South East of Schlegeis Stausee. That reservois is spectacular in its own right and marks the end of the bus route from Mayrhofen. This is the key link in the area, allowing various points on the surrounding ridges to be reached in a day.

From Mayrhofen we climb to the Gamshuette and this puts us on the side of the ridge above Ginzling. Traversing for two days takes us to the Italian border and down to the end of the bus route at Schlegeis Stausee. The continuation of the Zillertaler Hohenweg will bring crossings of the Schönbichler Horn (3134 m), Morchenscharte and Lapenscharte being the three highest areas of ground before a final traverse or valley walk from the Kasseler Hutte to Mayrhofen.

Best bits

In the absence of routecards for the walking South of Ginzling, we suggest that the views from the Olpererhuette are exceptional to Schlegeis Stausee and the mass ofpeaks above. A wide window in this modern hut's dining room shows the peaks in wide array.

Photos from trips: Zillertal

Is it for me?

Difficult terrain over 8-10 hour days - lengths forced by the wide spacing of huts - is not for every walker, making the Zillertal area one for regular and experienced trekkers. The route, really in any part, receives our highest Black4 grading. This puts it at the top end of our range for both technicality of terrain and physicality of ascents and distances. Those who complete the stages will find a sense of exhilaration. (A note should be made that stretching out over long distances, racking up the miles on easy tracks, is not the theme of the hills above the Zillertal.. instead the walking is intricate and in places very slow-going!)

Cows on the trail from the Italian border
Cows on the trail from the Italian border

Can I manage it?
Above the Zillertal it is essential for safety to be comfortable with steep and un-testable drops to one side, sometimes to both sides. Also key is fine foot placement and balance over loose and moving boulders, rocks and scree, on this particularly intricate and demanding terrain.

What's it like underfoot?
Rough! Rough and slow characterise the walking in the Zillertal, and this can come as a surprise even after wide experience in the Alps. Speeds are unusually low, preventing the more common sense of racking up the miles or even of being able to predict how long a stretch of say 2km will take.

The hardest sections are lightened by some easier ones, especially as we drop to the Schlegeis Stausee on a good, wide, track from the Italian border (more accurately the Pfitscher Joch and its hut).

The Mayrhofen-Hippach logo on a bench
The Mayrhofen-Hippach logo on a bench above Ginzing

Are the routes obvious?
The paths in the Zillertal are helped by fairly frequent waymarking, being the classic Alpine paint flashes in white-red-white stripes, plus red dots on rocks. However, this only tells the walker that they are on a path - not which path it is! Most junctions have some form of direction signpost, usually with estimated times.

However, it is essential for all parties in the especially challenging area of the Zillertal to have at least one competent navigator 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, but for the time it remains it can make navigation even more challenging. Under a cover of snow, ground features are hidden and reliance on map and compass skills is key.

Is the walking technically difficult?
Our Zillertal routes are walks as opposed to climbs or via ferrata routes. There is no glacier walking and no rock climbing.

There are however some sections where the path crosses rocky and steep ground, plus sections with metal cables as handrails over normal Alpine walking terrain. Some stages cross open, unforgiving terrain without easy escape routes: full days of mountain walking calling for self-reliance especially in wet weather with bad visibility.

Unseasonal weather
The typical summer's day in the Alps brings hot sun, perhaps with occasional rain or afternoon storms, but in any case paths clear of snow. However, fresh snowfalls occur each summer on a handful of occasions. Most often, these leave a coating of an inch or two on higher passes only, and they disappear in a day or two. However, sometimes the snow stays for longer periods and is deeper. While the Zillertal should be approached as a summer Alpine area, with Summer snow unlikely, it is wise to know that snow can fall even in summer.

A typical path with a steep drop
A typical path with a steep drop

When to go?
Our Zillertal season runs from mid-July to mid-September.

This short season is imposed by the weather: the chance of late-Spring snow patches remaining into early July across the higher passes, and the 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.

Where to stay

We love Mayhrofen's bustle. Compared to Chamonix or Cortina, the size is smaller but still able to cater for walkers and general tourists in a mix of restaurants and bars. This is quite a smart town, but definitely Austrian in the sense of egalitarian enjoyment of the outdoors. Hotels occupy many buildings around the central square.

We stay in a super hotel on the square, with its own restaurant. Breakfasts are generous and exciting. (We make a point of testing as we travel through Austria!)

In the hills, the huts are Austrian in quality and style, which means excellent and Alpine. There is a pleasant mix of modern building and old stone and wooden styling.

The Zillertal in context

The Zillertal relative to treks in the UK
Walkers used to the higher and rockier hills of the UK, for example Skye but taking that as an extreme rather than a necessary training ground, should enjoy the Zillertal. This is not an area to be tried automatically, because many Alpine treks with their gentler terrain underfoot will not be enough preparation.

The Zillertal relative to the TMB and the Walker's Haute Route
Trekkers who found the Haute Route comfortable should enjoy the Zillertal area, which is as consistently rocky and rough and exposed to one side as the Haute Route's Cabane du Mont Fort to Cabane de Prafleuri day. On the TMB the final stages above Chamonix are also rocky, but not nearly as intricate underfoot.

This is our comparison based on our own research: each trek has different possible configurations, each giving a different feel to the route. Please ask us any time for more details; with details of your walking experience we can suggest which trek you might enjoy most.

Explore the Zillertal with Alpine Exploratory

Alpine Exploratory offers one guided option in the Zillertal, our Zillertal Weekend, with further trips to follow. Chief will be the full Zillertaler Hohenweg (Berliner Hohenweg) circuit.

Our guided trips include your super accommodation and the benefit of an Alpine Exploratory leader to show the way.

Guided and self-guided holidays - see our full range

Research 2018

Simon Stevens at Alpine ExploratoryAlpine Exploratory's 2018 research on the Zillertaler Hohenweg will be led by Simon Stevens in August

Recces 2018

Trips 2018

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

Zillertal Weekend (Guided)

City breaks after trekking

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

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

City breaks after trekking

Map showing the route of Alpine Exploratory's Zillertal Weekend 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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