I want to create treasured trail memories for my family so I pack our bags and take my three boys on a walk along Zirbenweg Trail, rolling along high above Inntal Valley, plus an overnight stay at Patscherkofel Shelter. An enjoyable walk that is not strenuous and an amazing hut trip adventure – full of great times for all.
Zirbenweg Trail undulates through Europe’s largest and oldest stone pine populations (“Zirbe” in German, giving the trail its name), a species that is adapted to extreme conditions imposed by elevation and latitude. The seven-kilometer long trail runs along and slightly above the elevation of 2,000 meters and the walk takes some two and half hours to complete. En route are the highest-altitude botanical gardens in Europe, where more than 400 species of rare, exotic and imperilled Alpine wildflowers and plants can be found. A guaranteed kid pleaser: We take the easy way up in the chair lift, stunning views to the valley below and majestic Karwendel Mountain Range opposite included. However, let’s take it one step at a time.
We decide to ditch the crowds, to swim against the tide, so to speak. The majority of hikers along Zirbenweg Trail departs from Patscherkofel Mountain and walks to Tulfeinalm Alpine Pasture Hut. We hike the trail vice-versa as we want to spend the night at Patscherkofel Shelter. Thus, my husband and our two sons (our boys are nine and seven) leave our home in Innsbruck toward Tulfes after lunch. Which is quite late for heading out to the mountains, admittedly, yet it is perfect for our planned trip, with significantly less foot traffic. Glungezerbahn conveniently whisks us up to Halsmarter, from where we ride the chair lift to Tulfeinalm. This is a one passenger chair lift (yes, a ONE seater chairlift) which is quite old school yet perfect for those who cherish nostalgia a lot. Up at the top, we briefly meet with the crowds headed there. Most Zirbenweg Trail hikers have already reached their destination, Tulfein Alm Alpine Pasture Hut, and want to gather new strength there. However, we peel off and enjoy a much quieter forest walk to our destination, which is Patscherkofel. Although a stop at Tulfein Alm Alpine Pasture Hut is tempting, they serve some of the best cheese dumplings in the country and offer overnight facilities, too.
When hiking (or driving) with children, the “how much farther” question will be your most reliable companion. After all this is the way it is in our family. However, the Zirbenweg Trail proves a massive hit as we don’t hear our best-loved question along the entire route. The boys take the role of lead climbers and repeatedly run ahead and back to us, ahead and back (probably making the double distance compared to ours). Their energy and enthusiasm never flags, they explore the terrain off the path, enjoy a snack break along trailside benches every now and then and we master more than half of the distance, exhilarated, after one and a half hours. This enjoyable walk with its easy ups and downs is not strenuous, yet it provides stunning views.
Scenic Zirbenweg Trail is lined by Europe’s largest and oldest stone pine populations. Most of these trees are more than 500 years old. And the rewards along this trail? Far from little-they’re gigantic! From woods to upland plateaus to panoramic views of lofty mountains and Inntal Valley below, it just doesn’t get much better than this.
We stop for a rest at Berggasthaus Boscheben but the kids are eager to walk on. Slightly before and after the on-mountain inn, the trail weaves through somewhat exposed terrain. A few short sections can be dangerous so keep an eye on children. The final 30 minutes to our destination are easy again so the kids can run to their hearts content.
A tiny lake with reddish colour of the waters makes us stop again. Quite mysterious, it looks a bit like a crime scene amid mountain meadows. As we are neither biologists nor scientists, we can only guess why the tarn has morphed to red. We continue walking, wondering what might have turned the water blood-red. Eventually, we mutually agree on pollen and soon after, we reach the destination end of the day, Patscherkofel Shelter. Sitting on a tiny plateau in the warming glow of evening sun, it has a magical feel to it.
We cannot wait to see our beds for the night. The only downside was that the double rooms were already booked out—we opted for that hut trip at very short notice so all they had available was the dorm. Luckily, we don’t have to share the dorm with others. I am especially delighted, as sharing a bedroom with strangers is not exactly my piece of cake. Truth to be told, I prefer sleeping in my own bed at home anyway. Yet if you want to spend a night on the mountain, that’s part of the game. My boys’ taste is completely different, they love the dorm—that’s oh so much cooler than an ordinary bedroom!
Hutkeeper Markus Weber serves dinner on the outdoor patio – goulash and Wiener Schnitzel taste much better up here. It might be the hiking effort of the day plus altitude plus crisp air plus stunning views. Anyway, they really serve up great food here at the shelter.
The evening sun has the peaks and the valley below aflame with golden light, creating a spectacular cloudscape. It’s one of nature’s best shows we have ever seen and it tempts us to nab the summit of Patscherkofel Mountain after dinner.
Patscherkofel is one of Tirol’s most iconic (ski) mountains. Towering high above Innsbruck, its striking rounded summit is marked by a broadcasting station with red and white radio mast that can be seen from afar. The boys love the idea of climbing up to its top. They want to see the radio mast up close and personal. It’s takes roughly an hour to climb to its top, the well-trodden path weaves up through fields of Alpine roses and grazing cattle and eventually gives way to huge open spaces up above, a wide-open, barren Alpine world. You could as well climb a gravel road, but that’s a less scenic route. It can be quite breezy atop the summit of Patscherkofel, so be prepared for gusty winds named “Föhn” (literally, ‘hair dryer’), particularly in spring and autumn. The strong winds have created a moonscape up here, even more so with the technical facilities that are standing atop it (radio masts, weather station, air traffic control, etc.). The mystical skies add to the somewhat bizarre scene, which doesn’t seem to be Alpine at all. Anyway, the boys love it, and we are quite amazed, too.
As I know that this area is prone to thunderstorms, I keep an eye on the weather while on the summit. I can see a thunderstorm march across the landscape from Stubai Valley – the forest growls with the sound of far-off thunder. So it’s time to turn back to the shelter. Markus serves us some homemade stone pine schnapps at sunset, while the boys are enjoying some ice cream. We play “Uno” and then it’s time to go to bed. My three men are shattered, so by lights out they are all fast asleep. It’s only me who cannot sleep as tight as I wish.
Breakfast in the crisp morning air makes me awake and alert. We enjoy the quiet and solitude on the outdoor patio and watch the town below awakening. Actually, we wanted to ride Patscherkofelbahn Gondola down to the valley, yet now we decide to walk down past idyllic Lanser Alm Alpine Pasture Hut.
We are eating and drinking and contemplate our good fortune while sitting here surrounded by pure mountain beauty. Then it’s head to head down to Igls in the valley. The descent seems to go for forever and ever, and suddenly there it is again, our good old companion, the “how much farther” question. My husband and I try our best to keep the boys entertained and eventually we arrive in the valley, where grandpa waits on us to get us to our car, which is located at the base of Glungezerbahn. As soon as the boys are sitting in grandpa’s car, the annoying companion has disappeared again. They cannot wait to tell him all their hiking adventures. I sit next to them, smiling at their enthusiasm and happy while recalling our amazing walk along Zirbenweg Trail. It really was full of great times for all.
Please Note: Patscherkofel is a construction site as they are building a new gondola for the time being.
A detailed description of Zirbenweg Trail can be found here.