The Austrian Kaunertal valley in the border triangle of Italy, Austria and Switzerland offers massive mountains, impressive panoramas, idyllic small villages, luscious mountain pastures and plenty of happy cows who take in their surroundings with googly eyes and are in no hurry to cross the streets. Several steep pathways and streets allow you to quickly gain height and experience all altitudinal belts of the Alps up to the ‘perpetual ice’ of the Gepatschferner glacier, the second biggest glacier of the east Alps and part of the biggest coherent glacier surface in the Alps.
The trip profile varies a lot depending on the accommodation (tent, mountain hut or hotel) and activities (family-friendly fun or serious mountaineering) that you choose.
|Geography:||Austria, Kaunertal||Best travel time:||Summer|
|Starting Point:||Prutz||Ending Point:||Prutz|
|Duration:||5 – 10 days||Climate:||cold – moderate|
|Required Fitness:||★★★ – ★★★★★||Adrenalin & Survival:||★ – ★★★★|
|Outdoor & Nature:||★★★★★||Fun & Relaxing:||★★★|
|People & Culture:||★||Family & Kids:||★ – ★★★★|
Travelling in Austria is very safe, and the price level is comparable to other European countries. Credit and debit cards can be used almost everywhere (sometimes they will require a minimum spending) and ATMs are available in every major town – e.g. in the towns of Prutz and Feichten.
Wi-Fi isn’t available everywhere especially not in the alpine huts. Some restaurants and accommodations offer free Wi-Fi, others will demand a daily fee of 3-5 € for 500 MB.
Firstly aim for Landeck. From there drive to Prutz via Fliess – that’s where the Kaunertal valley begins.
By plane / train / bus:
Innsbruck is the closest airport. Take a train or rental car to Landeck and then a bus into the Kaunertal valley via Prutz.
There are many bus stops along the Kauner valley glacier road, including one directly in front of the Gepatschhaus and one at the glacier restaurant (at the end of the road).
The valley has one main road so navigating should be fairly easy. To get deeper into the valley follow the signs to Feichten, which is the last town before the glacier park. Here is your last chance to stock up on supplies and cash. A few km after Feichten the road becomes a toll road (prices and working hours).
The hiker’s bus (called Wanderbus Kaunertal, here is the timetable), has many stops in the valley and all along the glacier road (Gletscherstrasse). This makes it easy for you to travel around without a car, but will require you to eat in restaurants and Alpine huts, which will push your budget above ★★.
Since Austria doesn’t allow wild camping, if you would like to camp, we wholeheartedly recommend Camping Kaunertal next to Hotel Weißseespitze in the small town of Platz (before Feichten and the tollbooth). It’s located on a meadow at the edge of a forrest and away from the road, so it’s very quiet. And it’s the perfect starting point for several hiking tours. The price is fixed all year round and you get free and unlimited Internet access. You can also use all facilities of the nearby hotel at no extra charge.
There is also a camp ground in Prutz (Aktiv-Camping), but even though it is very modern and clean, we don’t recommend because it it is further away from most attractions, it lies between 2 very busy roads, it is more expensive and the Internet access costs extra as well.
If you’d like to spend a lot of time close to the glacier and don’t want to miss out on comfort you should use the rustic family-run Gepatschhaus as your home-base. Here you can sleep in communal bunks with several other guests or in 2- or 4-bed rooms for a slightly higher price. Members of the German Alpine Club (DAV — Deutscher Alpenvereins) get a discount. Note that the Gepatschhaus lies within the toll-road area, but if you intend to stay here the entire time, you only have to pay once.
If you are looking for even more comfort you will find many guesthouses and Bed and Breakfasts (German: Pension) in the valley towns. There are also plenty of small and big Hotels – e.g. the **** Hotel Weißseespitze next to the above-mentioned camping ground.
In general you should be OK without a reservation for the camping grounds, but we recommend it for apartments and hotels.
If you travel by car and prefer to camp you can buy food in one of the supermarkets in Landeck or Prutz. Feichten has a small store which we can only recommend for emergencies.
Both camping grounds sell fresh rolls in the morning. The Pensionen usually include breakfast.
The Gepatschhaus offers a half-board for 23 €, and especially the 3-course dinner is very delicious. The chef is from Nepal and the breakfast includes fresh milk from the adjoining alpine pasture. You will probably be hiking during lunch, so just bring some granola bars and fruits.
In summer the weather changes quickly and you have to be equally prepared for glorious sunshine and rain. In higher altitudes strong winds can cool you off quickly and it can get quite fresh in the valley when the sun sets beyond the mountains. Even in summer there is a chance of snow at higher altitudes.
What to See
The idyllic Kaunertal valley is equally perfect for hikers, climbers and mountaineering junkies as well as for recreation with and without children. It offers massive mountain ranges, plenty of seasonally managed mountain pastures, alpine huts as well as hiking and themed trails.
The Kaunertal glacier road runs from the village of Feichten in the Kaunertal valley along plenty of hairpin bends covering an altitude difference of almost 1500m. The road takes you from steep meadows along treeless terrain until the start of the impressive and vegetation-free glacier landscape.
The road offers a number of worthwhile stops: for small hikes around the Gepatschspeicher, impressive panoramas of the reservoir or the mountains, a view of the glacier tongue and walks to the Rifflebach waterfalls (ca. 15 min) or around the Weißsee (ca. 10 min), which is a mountain lake fed by the glacier with a beautiful light blue color.
At the end of the road you will find the glacier restaurant Weissee where you have a few activities on offer: take the Karlesjochbahn (a cable car to a viewing platform at 3.108m) to enjoy a magnificent view of the Austrian, Italian and Swiss Alps (prices) or climb up the Weißseespitze. To reach the summit safely you’ll need one of three things: solid mountain experience of your own, the help of a professional mountain guide or a 3- to 5-day mountain course (TODO: Link Blogartikel).
- You can take an easy 2 1/2 hour round hiking path from ‚Fernergarten‘ (close to Gepatschhaus) to the snout of the glacier tongue. Display boards along the way tell you interesting facts about the flora and fauna of the region, and when you reach the big red rocks you will have a magnificent magnificent view of the reservoir, glacier tongue and alpine meadows. The signposted path is suitable for children.
- Further down in the valley several hiking paths offer hiking trails of varying difficulty: the mighty and rough summits of the Kaunergrat or the rather gentle mountains of the Glockturmkamm. Either one will reward you with an excellent views of the valley and the glacier. Another example is the beautiful ridgeway from Aifneralm to Falkaunsalm which follows a gentle path along the treeline.
- Another option is the 15km long panorama trail Dr. Angerer Höhenweg /-steig from the Aifneralm to the Verpeilalm. This ridgeway has parts that are suitable for kids (Aifneralm – Falkaunsalm), others that demand surefootedness (Falkaunsalm – Gallruthalm) and finally some which require mountain experience (Gallruth – Verpeilalm). If you only want to hike part of the trail you drive through Nufels and can park your car next to the Wiesenhof. From here you can hike directly to the Falkaunsalm or Gallruthlm.
- For the most ambitious amongst you there are also difficult tours to Weissseespitze, Rauhekopfhütte, Brandenburger Haus, Glockturm or Rofelewand. All of these require a glacier crossing, so be sure to hire a mountain guide and all necessary equipment.
For climbing enthusiasts we recommend the beautiful granite face in the climbing garden Fernergries. It’s the biggest of the 3 climbing areas in the Kaunertal valley and is located directly on the toll road just 5 min away from the Gepatschhaus. Here medium and experienced climbers can choose among twenty six different routes (more information).
Right next to the climbing garden you’ll find the stunning Holderli-Seppl-Klettersteig (difficulty A-B) – a via ferrata leading over the the impressive waterfall of the Rifflbach.
The area also offers a number of climbing gardens for the entire family (Familienklettergärten).
Experienced climbers will probably prefer to spend their time in the Kaunergrat mountains instead of in the climbing gardens.
In the Kaunertal valley there are various ways of experiencing the glacier without any danger and in a way which is suitable for kids:
- A big adventure playground located behind the Weißsee restaurant gives children an exciting glimpse into the glacier world.
- Just a short walk away from the restaurant you will find a secured path through an ice crevasse. You can visit it on your own (year-round) or in the company of a mountain guide (July — Sept).
- Also starting from the restaurant is a hiking path leading to Ferneregg. It follows the edge of the glacier over 110 meters of vertical altitude and lets you experience the Gepatschferner landscape from a safe distance.
- For more adventurous kids and parents a family glacier tour might be the right option. Accompanied by a guide you start with an easy hike in a former glacier area. Once you reach the glacier you put on climbing irons and secured by a rope you walk along and across the ice crevasses. Here are a few examples of such tours: Kaunertal-Bergführer, Kaunertal, Alpinschule Fiss
For inquisitive kids many more programs focusing on outdoor activities are on offer: nature trails, playgrounds, guided tours and quizzes. Careful: while most signs and explanation tableaus are in German and English, probably most organized tours are in German.
For older and more active children, a climbing garden or a via ferrata might be just the thing (see the tab “Climbing”).
Points of Interest
The Weissseespitze is the „queen of the Kaunertal“ and the ascent to this summit is one of the most popular in the region. Here you’ll experience various glacier scenarios and a great view of the summits of the central Alps. The ascent starts at the parking lot of the glacier restaurant and initially heads to the Flagrinjoch. When you get here enjoy the splendid view of the Italian Alps before following the west ridge to the summit. The descent follows the Zahn- and Jubiläumssteig to Noerderjoch and back to the parking lot. To overcome the 800m difference in altitude you should be very fit and not afraid of heights. It took us just over 7 hours to cover the entire distance of 7.1 km. Feel free to inquire about our GPS tracking for this route.
As you can see in the picture above you will be walking along really narrow ridges and will need to overcome some moderate climbing passages.
If you don’t already have experience with alpine tours please hire a mountain guide (for example Kaunertal-Bergführer, Alpinschule Fiss). Or do as we did: take a 5-day ice and rock course before heading off. Here you will learn how to use an ice pick, crampons, how to walk secured on a rope and many other useful things. We would recommend this local hiking school wholeheartedly.
A tiring but very rewarding hike starts in the small village of Unterhäuser and leads to the Verpeilhütte (a serviced mountain hut run by the alpine club). Take enough drinking water and plan at least 1 1/2h for the steep path which leads you in a zig-zag pattern 535 vertical meters up to the Verpeilalm with its happy cows and lush green meadows. Continue for another hour and 225 vertical meters to the Verpeilhütte (2025m) where you will have stunning views of the mighty three-thousanders of the Kaunergrat.
Feel free to contact us and inquire about our GPS tracking for this 3.5km route.
If you would like to take a slightly easier route you can:
- hike along the wide and slowly ascending car road from Unterhäuser (not frequented by general traffic), or
- drive the road from Feichten (start from Kaunertal Center on the main road and go left, go left again and up the mountain) to the Verpeilalm and walk the remaining distance (1 hour).
If you are a keen climber and have several days to spend we would recommend a multi-day hut tour: drive up to the Verpeilalm — hike to the Verpeilhütte — ascent to Madatschjoch (challenging via ferrata secured with steel ropes) — Kaunergrathütte — Cottbuser Höhenweg — Rifflseehütte — Wurmtalerkopf — Taschachhaus — Ölgrubenjoch — Gepatschhaus with beautiful views of the Kaunertal and Pitztal valleys as well as the glacier landscape. This tour has been wholeheartedly recommended to us by like-minded travelers, but in 2014 we didn’t have the time and could only do a small part of it till.
Tips and Tricks
- If you arrive by bus the Summer-Card might be a good option. The card allows free use of the ÖBB-Postbus (Landeck to Nauders, including Kaunertal valley) and gives you special discounts for outdoor activities (e.g. hiking tours with mountain guides, kids’ summer holiday programs, sports and culture) and entrances. Any of the camping places will issue you a card free of charge.
- If you want to use the mountain railway at the glacier you should consider the Gletscherpark Card or the Summer-Card Gold. These include mountain railways in the glacier area, the toll road and a discount for the glacier railway.
- Take time to stop and look for chamois, alpine ibexes, deer and groundhogs. These are just some of the natural inhabitants of this area.
- When you drive along the glacier road look out for the hand-carved figures by local artist Ernst Mark from stone pine wood. Some are beautiful photo motives and emphasize the creativity of the locals.
- The toll for the glacier road can only be purchased for either 1 or 14 days with a minor price difference. If you are unsure whether you want to stay for more than one day just buy a one-day ticket and keep it. If you do decide to use the glacier road again you can upgrade you ticket to 14 days.
- Don’t forget sun screen, ideally a hat or a baseball cap as well as long-sleeve clothes to protect yourself from the sun. It’s easy to underestimate the sun radiation (UVA and UVB) but at 1500m above sea-level the radiation is twice as high as at sea-level and the reflection from snow, glacier ice and rock make it all too easy to get burned.
- Don’t forget to take enough water – about 2-3 liters per day. The higher you get the thinner and less humid the air gets (it’s basically non-existent at -10 °C) and will dry you out really quickly. You can reduce the weight of your backpack by replenishing your water supplies from fast-flowing rivers of by purchasing bottled water from the managed mountain huts.
- Check out our blog article Exploring the mountains on your own – what to take in your backpack for a detailed list of necessary equipment
- For self-catering: Camping equipment
To prepare this trip we couldn’t find any books, so we used these links and brochures:
- Website Kaunertal
- Website Naturpark Kaunergrat
- Website Gletscherpark
- Brochures of the region with activity ideas
- You’ll get many maps and brochures on campgrounds, hotels and information centers on site, but if you want to prepare ahead of time, you can also purchase a hiking map Kaunertal of the region.
Without too much experience coming from a rather flat country the first few steep climbs with big altitude differences felt rather exhausting but also very rewarding with grand views of the mountain and glacier landscapes. Each route has its own charm. So plan enough time for enjoying the meadows, tress and wildflowers. You can hear birds chirping, cowbells ring and waterfalls rushing down. Everything makes a natural and pure impression and it’s hard to get enough of the beautiful landscape.
I would come back to:
- do the multi-day hut tour described above,
- hike the complete Dr. Angerer Höhen- und Panoramaweg (we only had time for a small part of it) and to really enjoy the view down into the valley,
- share more mountain and glacier tours with good friends and collect more mountain and climbing experience,
- unwind from the daily hustle and find some peace in the mountains.