Why you should hike to the Olperer Hut in the Zillertal Alps

Follow in the footsteps of hikers of 100+ years ago

A scenic high Alpine road, a huge dam with emerald green water and one of the oldest mountain huts in the eastern Alps. This is what awaits you when you venture deep into the Ziller Valley in Austria. Reaching the Olperer Hut or Olpererhütte after a climb of 600 metres has been one of the most rewarding hiking experiences. We were lucky to be 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.

Olperer Hut in the Zillertal, Austria.
The Olperer Hut, one of the oldest mountain refuge huts in the Eastern Alps.

The Way Up

It starts with a panoramic road trip from Mayrhofen to the Schlegeis Dam, a big 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 Schlegeisstausee in the Zillertal Alps in Austria.
The Schlegeis Dam.

The curiosity escalates once the massive dam wall appears. It’s so big that it’s also a bit scary and intimidating. But 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!).

Steep, but you can do it

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 from Everyday Wanderer Sage Scott 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. There is one water point to fill up your bottle before you turn away from the stream.

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 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!

On the way to the Olperer Hut in the Zillertal Alps.
Enjoying the “nicest” part of the trail where it evens out on a plateau.

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. But 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 are on the other side, the last 5 minutes of uphill to reach the Olpererhütte seem like a breeze.

The Olpererhütte in the Zillertal Alps.
Almost there: the last few metres to the Olperer Hut.

The 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 wood burning stove for heating and cooking. In its place is a modern mountain hut with comfortable rooms and a superb restaurant.

View from Olperer Hut in the Zillertal in Austria.
The view from the sundeck of the Olperer Hut.

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). Unfortunately, the deck was already fully occupied by the time we arrived just before 13:00. However, since the wind picked up and clouds were moving over, we didn’t mind sitting in front of the giant panorama window inside.

Kaiserschmarrn at Olpererhütte.
Kaiserschmarrn – M deserved it after walking up the mountain with hardly any complaints.

Between the seven of us, we had 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.

Despite the full house, the service at the Olpererhütte was not only reasonably efficient but also friendly.

Mountain goat outside Olpererhütte.
One of the local residents outside the Olperer Hut.

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.

From the Olpererhütte to the Schlegeisstausee.
Making our way back down to the Schlegeis Dam.

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.

Read more: The most beautiful family hike in Austria

Fast Facts

Olperer Hut

  • The Olperer Hut can be 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).
Trail markers from the Olpererhütte in the Zillertal Alps.
Many trails lead from the Olperer Hut.

 Schlegeis Dam

  • The Schlegeis Dam holds 126.5 million ³m water used to generate electricity with hydropower. The dam wall is 725 m long, 131 m high and 34 m wide.
  • You can take a guided tour inside the dam wall or walk along the top.
  • 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.
  • The dam and the surrounding mountains form part of the High Alps Nature Park – Zillertal Alps.
Schlegeis dam wall in Austria.
The wall of the Schlegeis Dam.

Getting There

 

By Car – From Mayrhofen, head in the direction of Ginzling. You will pass through a one-way tunnel where you might have to wait for traffic coming from the front. Continue straight through Ginzling until you get to the Breitlahner toll booth.  A toll fee of €12 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.

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).

By Public Transport – Bus 4102 connects Mayrhofen, Ginzling and the Schlegeis Dam. Find the timetable here.

  • We stayed at Camping Aufenfeld in the Ziller Valley. Read all about it here.

  • Inspired to do more hiking, but want it to be a bit easier? Why not try the Leutascher Geisterklamm near Seefeld in Tirol or the Zirbenweg above Innsbruck?

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Debra Schroeder

You had me at beer at the hut! That view is worth the effort! That Kaiserschmarrn looks so tasty! Can’t wait to try this hike the next time we’re in Austria.

Anda

This seems like a beautiful hike. I haven’t been in Austria beyond Vienna, but hiking in the Alps is one of my dreams. We just returned from a long hiking trip to Patagonia where we met with some people from Europe who told us about the beauty of the Alps. Thanks for letting me know about the Olperer Hut.

amit

What a scenic hike, It’s these kinds of hikes that really make it worth it. I can only imagine how much you could taste the beer when the hut came into view but I’m sure you savoured every sip and all while inside with a panoramic view – Just incredible 😀

Indrani

That is one exciting hike. It is definitely thrilling to get close to what looks like a speck in the distance and sense its real magnitude. 🙂 The beer of course is a reason too. 🙂

Kathleen

What beautiful views! Down is always harder for me, so I would take longer. It looks like it would be well worth it though. I think the hike would work off any food and beer you had too.

Linda

This is a timely post for us. We will be visiting Austria in May. I am not sure I am fit enough to do the hike. But wonder if there are other ways to get some of the great views you have shown. I would love to see the Schlegeis Dam. But then I read your caution about travelling before June.

Dorene

Baby goats! Beyond that, the hike looks incredible. Sounds like its a challenge but the views are worth it, as are the snacks at the end for a reward! Thanks for the very thorough post.

Ash

What a great outdoor family adventure with friends! The Alps never run out of surprises. Your hike was well worth because of the fantastic views you had. Stunning views of the mountains, the dam and the hut itself. What can you ask for? Also, excellent food and a welcome by a local resident surely made your day!

himanshu

Wow, firs few lines set the scene. What else one can ask for. Alps are high on my priority for I have heard so much around them and your article gave me more motivation. I would love to take up this road trip from Mayrhofen to the Schlegeis Dam. Breath taking scenes during steep climb of 600 meters to Olperer Hut. I feel this must be the most photogenic hut of the world.

Tami

The Schlegels Dam and the Olperer Hut make great destinations. The views are simply spectacular! It looks like the water level has dropped quite a bit over time, but still it is such an incredibly beautiful sight. I’m glad to know that someone who is not perfectly in shape can still make the hike, if able to take a few rests along the way!