Tirol’s mountains brim with beautiful hiking routes, with some of the most impressive walks to be found in the Hohe Tauern National Park in East Tirol. Extensive glacier fields, glacial valleys with striking peaks and vast forests of larch, spruce and pine provide an impressive backdrop to the National Park, and the many mountain huts which pepper the park offer plenty of opportunity for hut-to-hut hiking – a feature which inspired me to set out on my very own ‘hut hike’.
My starting point was the parking area in Dorfertal, Prägraten (1470m), where you can leave your car for several days at a time if needed (parking costs €5 per day). From here, I walked along a road and footpath into the Dorfertal valley to Gumbachkreuz (1,991m). Here, the view opened up to give me my first vista of the fourth highest mountain in Austria – the Großvenediger – a peak which locals fondly referred to as ‘His Ancient Majesty.’
Magnificent mountains panoramas continued as I walked towards Johannis hut, which I reached around two hours after leaving the car park. One of the oldest refuges in the Eastern Alps (built in 1858), Johannis hut sits near to the Defreggerhaus refuge and is makes an ideal base for climbing the Großvenediger (4-5 hours). If you fancy visiting the Johannis hut without putting in the legwork, take a lift with the Venedigertaxi. This mountain taxi service ferries climbers here as early as 3 o’clock in the morning, ready for a one-day ascent of the Großvenediger. If you don’t fancy such an early start, the taxi runs hourly from 6.30am between the Hinterbichl district and Johannis hut.
NOTE: Ascending the Großvenediger requires considerable alpine experience and should only be attempted under the expert supervision of a guide.
From Johannis hut, my walking tour continued along the famous Venetian Trail, which runs across Kreuzspitze mountain (3457m), in the centre of Hohe Tauern National Park. The Kreuzspitze is one of the most beautiful and highest observation points in this mountain region and gives a majestic view of the Großvenediger – on a clear day you can see rope teams making their way towards the summit.
I continued towards Sajat hut, descending via an 80-meter chimney, secured with steel cables to help guide you down – hikers with a fear of heights or those who lack experience should not attempt to tackle this descent without supervision and via-ferrata equipment. Passing the historic ‘Knappenloch’ stone, I reached Sajat hut after an hour long descent. Sajat hut was completely destroyed by an avalanche in 2001 and rebuilt again in the same year. Since then, it has perched here in the dramatic Sajatkar terrain, integrating beautifully with the surrounding landscape – many refer to the hut as ‘a castle in the mountains’.
Above Sajat hut, sits a 2820-metre mountain known as the ‘Red Column’, which features a challenging via ferrata route. The climb follows a steep rock face for around an hour before reaching a cairn where the words ‘Hail, brave climbers. Enjoy the panoramic view and keep this as a treasure that no-one can take from you,’ are inscribed.
After stopping for a break at Sajat hut and taking in the awesome view of the Red Column, I continued my hike through lush green meadows to Stabant hut, which is known locally as ‘Austria’s most beautiful hiking hut’ – to learn more about this accolade, read Georg’s blog post. For my part, I can only confirm that a break at the Stabant hut was well worth it, thanks to its delightfully rustic ambience and wonderful hosts whose warm East Tirol hospitality made me feel exceptionally welcome.
From Stabant hut, I finally set my boots on the main trail again, following it back to the car park and the original starting point of my hut hike.
With a walking time of 6-7 hours and a total elevation of around 1,700-meters, my hut hike was fairly challenging and demanded a certain degree of stamina but the spectacular scenery and raw mountain scenery throughout were more than enough reward for my efforts. Save this one till last; it’s a perfect way to conclude an East Tirol hiking holiday and will leave you on a real high.
Hohe Tauern National Park
The Hohe Tauern National Park extends over much of the central main ridge of the Austrian Eastern Alps. At 1,800 km² it’s Austria’s largest national park and is home to some of the country’s highest peaks: the Grossglockner (3,798m) and Großvenediger (3,662m) lie in the park’s core zone, where nature conservation is a priority.
I sincerely hope you enjoy this, and any other hike in East Tirol’s Hohe Tauern National Park.