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.
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 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
- 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).
- 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.
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.
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