Hiking to the Olpererhütte or Olperer Hut in the Zillertal Alps is an experience that challenges all the senses. There’s a scenic high Alpine road, a huge dam with emerald green water and one of the oldest mountain huts in the eastern Alps. Then there’s one of the most Instagrammable spots in the Alps – a suspension bridge over a stream with the dam and mountain peaks in the background. However, this is one Instagram spot that requires a considerable amount of effort (and degree of fitness) to reach. Maybe the question should be if it’s worth venturing so deep into the Ziller Valley in Austria to find the Olperer Hut trail?
I can honestly say that reaching the Olpererhütte after a climb of 600 metres is one of the most rewarding hiking experiences. It impressed us so much that we returned after a 2-year break to do it again in 2019.
Our first Olperer Hut hike was in the company of friends who know the region well. And because he had his own buddies, M needed no encouragement. In fact, the kids were first to reach the hut.
The motivation for our second hike to the Olpererhütte was two-fold. We just returned from a long trip to South Africa, and I was dying to reconnect with the mountains. Also, we missed the suspension bridge on our first hike. Ever since I discovered this, I wanted to go back to see if it was worth all the hype. So, when two young relatives who are fit and able came to visit, the Olperer Hut hike was the obvious choice.
It starts with a panoramic road trip from Mayrhofen to the Schlegeisspeicher Dam, a giant water reservoir for generating electricity with hydropower. The winding Alpine road, flanked by pastures and mountain streams, raises many expectations of what lies beyond.
The curiosity escalates once the massive dam wall appears. It’s so big that it’s also a bit scary and intimidating. However, then you turn the last bend and are greeted by a wide expanse of water, glacial views, and mountain peaks as far as the eye can see. Soon you will leave your car behind to start the 1,5 to 2-hour hike to the Olperer Hut (we did it in 1 hour 50 minutes, yay!).
Olpererhütte Trail Basics
|Starting Point||Schlegeisspeicher Dam|
|Distance||App. 3 km each way|
|Difference In Altitude||App. 600 m|
|Hiking Time||1,5 to 2 hours each way|
|When To Do It||Early June to early October|
Olperer Hut Trail Description
The Way Up
It’s not a walk in the park, going from about 1,782 to 2,389 metres above sea level. That’s a difference of 600 metres over quite a short distance, which means you’re climbing almost all the time. However, it also looks and sounds harder than it is. Just in case, here are some tips to help you adjust to higher altitudes.
I’ll break the trail up into four sections. The first part winds its way through thicker vegetation where the trail, although steep, is still fairly even. It soon gets rockier, with the Riepenbach stream flowing over the rocks on your right.
If you are unfit like me, you will stop to catch your breath a few times along the next stretch. Until, after clambering over some rocks, the hut finally comes into view when you scan the horizon.
Small and far above across the Riepenbach to your right, the upside-down V-shape of the roof of the Olpererhütte is unmistakable. Strange how much lighter your steps feel after this!
For what seems like ages, the Olperer Hut remains a spot in the distance. Then you reach a plateau and, in my opinion, the nicest part of the trail. Turning towards the hut, it suddenly looks so close you can start tasting the beer that’s waiting for you.
Take a minute to appreciate the beautiful scenery before marching on. The sight of several mountain streams (forming the Riepenbach) crossing the plateau make the effort to get to this point more than worthwhile. Once you’re on the other side of the stream, the last 5 minutes of uphill to reach the Olpererhütte seem like a breeze.
Taking the epic bridge picture
You have two choices after reaching the hut. The first is to plonk your tired body down on a chair and order a drink. The second is to use whatever energy you have left to continue another five minutes until you get to the suspension bridge.
The chances of being alone at the bridge are slim. However, even on a “busy” day (like on our last hike), the waiting time to have your picture taken shouldn’t be more than five to ten minutes. C and I made turns to photograph each other (the three youngsters in our party opted for the drinks first, picture second option 😊).
The Way Down
It’s fascinating how different the landscape looks from the opposite angle on the return hike. Now you have the Schlegeis Dam in sight almost all the time. Watch it change colour as the light changes when the clouds move over. It’s simply spectacular.
We thought the way down would be much quicker than the way up, but it took us the same amount of time. The reason is that you must be a lot more careful about where to put your feet down, especially over the rocky parts.
Alternative Way Down (Or Up)
There are two alternative trails between the Olpererhütte and the Schlegeisspeicher Dam. However, both are longer than the one described above. One follows the Neumarkter Runde (3,5 hours) and the other goes via the Friesenberghaus (4,5 hours). You can find more details on both here.
Is It Worth It For The Picture?
Since the suspension bridge picture is a big motivation for many people to hike to the Olperer Hut, it’s important to answer this question.
Yes, the view from the bridge is spectacular. Yes, it makes for a great picture. But there are many more equally great moments and views along the trail. I’m glad we got the picture on our second hike, but it doesn’t take away anything from our first hike when we didn’t walk the extra five minutes to the suspension bridge.
On both hikes, it was the changing views of the mountains and the Schlegeisspeicher Dam on the way down that halted my steps. The light changes every couple of minutes as the clouds move over, resulting in a magical display of colour. In my opinion, that’s what makes the Olperer Hut Hike worth the effort.
Tip for a similar hike in Austria without the effort: The Schafberg, with its Schafberg Himmelspforte hut perching on the edge, offers similar panoramic views than the Olperer Hut. The only difference is that, apart from hiking there, you can also take the steepest cogwheel railway in Austria to get there without a sweat.
The Olperer Hut
Hikers and mountain climbers have been staying in the Olperer Hut on their way to the like-named summit since 1881. It makes it one of the oldest mountain huts in the Eastern Alps. However, little has remained of the original hut with its hay mattresses and a wood-burning stove for heating and cooking. In its place is a modern mountain hut with comfortable rooms and a superb restaurant.
The sundeck where you can enjoy a well-deserved drink and meal has excellent vistas of the Schlegeis Dam and the surrounding mountain peaks, including the Hochfeiler (at 3,510 m the highest in the Zillertal Alps).
The deck is quite popular on a good-weather day. So, unless you arrive early, the chances are good you’ll have to wait for a table. However, we preferred sitting inside on both our visits since the wind picked up, and clouds were moving over. The giant panorama window inside means you don’t miss out on the views.
What we had on our first visit: Between the seven of us, we had pork schnitzel (€12,90), baked potato with sour cream and a smoked trout fillet (€9,60), a local sour cheese called Zillertaler Graukas served with bread (€9,60), and Kaiserschmarrn, thick chunks of pancake with apple or cranberry sauce (€9,80). A big beer or Radler cost €4,10 and the kids’ Coke (Kola in Austria) was €3,90 for 500 ml.
What we had on our second visit: schnitzel (again!), Tiroler Gröstl (fried potatoes with bacon, roast beef and a fried egg) and Graukasnockerl (a kind of dumpling), and apple strudel. This was all washed down with four beers and a Schiwasser (raspberry syrup with water).
I forgot to keep the slip, but the prices went up a little bit since our first visit (but not enough to complain about it). What I do remember is that all the food plus two beers and a Schiwasser came to €68.
Despite the full house, the service at the Olpererhütte was not only reasonably efficient but also friendly. Our order was mixed up a little bit on our second visit (we got one schnitzel and two Schiwasser instead of the other way around). However, the food arrived in a matter of minutes after ordering, so we didn’t wait long for the forgotten schnitzel to arrive.
Fast Facts About The Hut
- The Olperer Hut is reached by foot or helicopter only. While most supplies are delivered by helicopter (100 flights and 75,000 kg per season), flights are sometimes made impossible by bad weather. This necessitates various trips on foot, returning with full backpacks, up and down the mountain.
- The hut is generally open from early June to early October. It sleeps 60 people in five 4-bed and five 8-bed rooms. In winter, a basic winter hut (no catering and only a waterless toilet) sleeps 12 people. Rates vary according to age and whether you are a member of the Deutscher Alpenverein. Visit the hut website for actual opening times and rates.
- From the Olpererhütte, the summit of the Olperer (the third highest peak in the Zillertal Alps at 3,476 m) can be reached in about 4 hours.
- Other peaks to summit from the Olperer Hut include the Riepenkopf (2,905 m) and the Hoher Riffler (3,231 m).
- The Olpererhütte is on the Munich to Venice long-distance trail. It’s also on the Berlin High Trail for shorter multi-day hikes.
- The Schlegeisspeicer Dam holds 126.5 million ³m water used to generate electricity with hydropower. The dam wall is 750 m long, 131 m high and 34 m wide.
- You can take a guided tour inside the dam wall or walk along the top. The walk across is free (but not for the faint-hearted!). Tip: Stay on the waterside of the dam wall if you’re afraid of heights. Guided tours inside the wall take about 45 minutes and cost €5,50 per adult.
- A new Via Ferrata with 1,260 drilling holes, handles and safety ropes, is the latest attraction for climbers. Called Schlegeis 131 it goes all the way from the bottom to the top of the dam wall. You can rent climbing equipment at the little restaurant at the dam wall.
- If you’re not into climbing but still feel adventurous, there’s also an abseiling station and flying fox at the dam wall to get the adrenaline pumping.
- The dam and the surrounding mountains form part of the High Alps Nature Park – Zillertal Alps. (Tip: If you don’t want to venture this far into the Ziller Valley, you can also drive the Zillertal High Alpine Road closer to the Inn Valley.)
From Mayrhofen, head in the direction of Ginzling and follow the signs for the Schlegeisspeichersee. Continue straight through Ginzling until you get to the Breitlahner toll booth.
Toll of €12,50 per car is charged to drive the last 13,3 km to the dam. The road is open daily from 07:00 to 18:00 between mid-May and the end of October. The toll ticket must be displayed on your dashboard behind your windscreen (we forgot to do this on our 2nd trip, but luckily didn’t get into any trouble because of it).
Note: You may have to wait a few minutes at the toll booth for oncoming traffic to pass through.
Drive past the dam wall and park in the open area between the dam and the road directly at the start of the Olperer Hut trail (you will see a big sign next to the road on your right). If this parking area is full, there’s another one about 100m further. Parking is free.
By Public Transport
Bus 4102 connects Mayrhofen, Ginzling and the Schlegeisspeicher Dam. Find the timetable here. Tickets cost €7,50 each way (Mayrhofen to Schlegeis) toll of €3,20 per person (once-off) is also payable.
Tip: Holders of a Zillertal Aktivcard may use the bus for free. The card is worth it if you’re staying in the area for at least three days and plan to use some of the cable cars. Prices start at €61,50.
Getting to Mayrhofen is easy with public transport via Jenbach. Jenbach is on the train line between Munich and Innsbruck. From there you can another train or the bus to Mayrhofen.
Tips For Your Olperer Hut Hike
- Give yourself enough time to enjoy the hike and the hut experience. Also, the earlier you start, the less crowded the trail is likely to be. We started our last hike at 10:00 but agreed it could have been earlier. However, it took us almost 2 hours to get to the Schlegeisspeicher Dam from our home near Innsbruck. That’s why it’s a good idea to base yourself in the Zillertal for an early start. At the time of our first hike, we stayed at Camping Aufenfeld in the valley.
- There (used to be) one water point to fill up your bottle before you turn away from the Riepenbach stream almost half-way to the hut. On our second hike, we discovered the pipe with water filter coming from the stream is no longer there. (Moral of the story: carry enough water on you to last until you get to the hut.)
- Take enough cash to pay for your food and drinks in the Olpererhütte. There are no card payment facilities.
- Dress in layers, not forgetting a wind and waterproof jacket. It can suddenly get cold in the mountains even if the day started gloriously sunny.
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