Hiking to and staying overnight in the Sulzenauhütte (Sulzenau Hut) in the Stubai Valley was on our list of things to do for two summers. One year we left the booking too late. The other we waited for the “perfect” weekend which never came. In 2017, we adopted a “come hell or high water” attitude. Our booking was made more than a month in advance. Dark clouds loomed overhead when we – 3 adults, 3 boys and a dog – set off on a Sunday in July. Thank goodness, it turned out pretty damn well.
The hiking trail to the Sulzenauhütte follows the Wilde Wasser Weg (wild water way) of the Stubai Alps. It literally means you are (almost) always walking alongside water, including two impressive waterfalls. The thundering Grawa Waterfall, the widest in the Eastern Alps, is the official start of this part of the wild water trail, while the top of the more slender but higher Sulzenau Waterfall marks the end of the journey.
Total difference in altitude: 671m
Total hiking time: 2,5 to 3 hours (depending on how many times you stop to catch your breath and gobble down water. And without a longer break at the Sulzenau Alm along the way.)
Level of Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Grawa Waterfall to Sulzenegg
Hiking almost to the top of the Grawa waterfall before turning away towards the Sulzenegg basin, is the steepest part of the trail. Fortunately, there are many beautiful distractions. Two viewing platforms invite you to rest, while the fern “forests” and green moss under the trees is something to marvel at. Hiking is made easier by wooden stairs on uneven, muddy parts.
Sulzenegg to Sulzenau Waterfall via Sulzenau Alm
You know the hardest part of the trail is almost behind you when the path stops winding. By now, the Stubai valley is far below. After a last bend, there is a wooden gate blocking the way. What lies behind, is a vista that will make you stop to catch your breath for a different reason than being tired. Thankfully, this part of the trail is wide and even so your eyes can roam over pastures, cliffs and waterfalls.
Our arrival at the Sulzenau Alm was timed perfectly to miss out on the only drops of rain that fell during the entire hike. The two hut keepers/cooks/waiters are some of the friendliest “strangers” we’ve come across in Tyrol. The traditional menu is small and simple. However, the liver dumpling soup and cheese omelette were just what we needed to sustain us for the second part of the hike.
The basin isn’t very long. Without the stop at the Sulzenau Alm, you can cross it in 15 minutes. From the alm, the next stop is the foot of the Sulzenau Waterfall. If you let your eyes follow it all the way to the top, you will see the Sulzenauhütte perching above. At this stage, it’s quite comforting to have your destination in sight.
Sulzenau Waterfall base to Sulzenauhütte
As luck would have it, the sun came out as we approached the waterfall, creating beautiful light displays in its spray. We were greeted at its foot by mountain goats and cows on their way to greener pastures.
The hiking trail swerves off to the right, winding its way through diverse vegetation, including the biggest variety of wild flowers I’ve seen on a hike. The Sulzenauhütte is reached in about 1,5 hours after leaving the Sulzenau Alm.
The Sulzenauhütte was built in 1926, partially destroyed by an avalanche in 1976 and opened again after extensive reconstruction. Run by the Gleirscher family, it is open annually from early June to early October (always check the hut website for actual dates). It’s in a prime position overlooking the valley basin with the Sulzenau Alm far below. In the opposite direction, numerous trails lead to various other natural highlights. The crystal clear Sulzenau river rushes right past the hut – so loud you must close your bedroom window to get some sleep.
What is the first thing to do when reaching a hut after climbing almost 700m in altitude? Order a beer. The second thing? Take off your hiking boots. (This doesn’t apply to kids. They were way ahead of us, dropped their backpacks outside the hut and dashed off to some snow in the distance.)
The beers on the sun terrace of the Sulzenauhütte while taking in the views toward the Stubai glacier in the distance was a satisfying end to the first day of our hike. Not long after, we were chased inside by a mighty thunderstorm.
Our first taste of the culinary offerings of the Sulzenauhütte was freshly baked Apfelstrudel in a custard sauce and Kaiserschmarrn (thick pancake pieces) with apple sauce. Absolutely delicious.
Given its isolated mountain location, the menu is quite extensive. For dinner, most of us opted for the substantial schnitzel with potatoe, while Mattheus had a platter with bread and cheese. It was so filling, we abandoned plans to have more Kaiserschmarrn.
Note: Dinner is only served until 19:00. Afterwards, you may stick around in the “stube” (dining room) until 10:00. We played games before retiring to our room at about 20:30.
Breakfast must be ordered the day before. Somehow, we missed this finer detail. Fortunately, they had no problem serving us the basic breakfast – a few slices of bread with butter, marmalade, cheese and ham. It was filling, but nothing to write home about. The coffee and hot chocolate were excellent.
We booked a 4-bed room (2 bunk beds) as well as a double room in the annex, which was the only room where Jenga the dog was allowed. There are also 6-bed rooms and larger dormitories. Duvet inners, blankets and cushions are provided. You must take your own sleeping bag inner (hüttenschlafsack). The rooms in the main building all have spectacular views.
Having to pay €2 for a shower coin which gives you 3 minutes of hot water, was a first for us. However, going to bed clean after sweating up two hills was worth every penny. Besides, 3 minutes is more than enough time even for washing your hair. If need be, you can stop the water (and time) for shampooing and soaping. Both the showers and the toilets were spotlessly clean.
We had no plug in our room to charge our camera and phone batteries. However, there were a few in the passage and one in the bathroom which we could use. Our room had a small wooden table and a big box shelf unit to put our stuff in.
Take note: No hiking shoes are allowed in the dormitory area. You must leave them downstairs where there is quite a handy drying room. Packing a pair of slippers or slops to use in the bedroom and bathrooms is a good idea.
We paid €27 per night per adult in the 4-bed room and €20 per child. The double room was a bit more expensive at €36 per adult.
Eating and drinking
At €13,30 for a schnitzel and potatoes, the food at the Sulzenauhütte doesn’t come cheap. Given the quality and the trouble they go through to provide good quality, fresh ingredients one tries to understand this. The same goes for the beer at over €4 per 500ml – it has come a hellavu long way up the mountain. The basic breakfast, which includes one hot drink, costs €8.
Tip: Become a member of the Alpenverein to receive substantial discounts on hut accommodation and dining options. Half board is also available, but not necessarily cheaper. Remember to take enough cash. It isn’t possible to pay by card at the hut.
Thank you to the Gleirscher family for making our first overnight hut experience so memorable!
Things to do around the Sulzenauhütte
There are enough short hikes and activities close to the Sulzenauhütte to warrant a two-night stay. One recommended hike is to continue along the Wilde Wasser Weg to the mouth of the Sulzenau glacier. The beautiful Blaue Lacke (blue lake) is on the way. We managed to reach this little lake with its views on the glacier and the valley basin below before we had to turn around for our hike back to the car.
Rock climbers will find many opportunities to practice their skills around the hut. There is also a flying fox over the Sulzenau river directly beside the hut. Those who like to hike to or climb Alpine summits can reach quite a few from the Sulzenauhütte, including the Großer Trögler (2902) and the Zuckerhütl (3507m), the highest of the Stubai Alps.
Walking to other overnight huts is popular. Those within range include the Dresdner Hut and the Nürnberger Hut. They are all along what is called the Stubai Höhenweg (Stubai High Trail). It’s not unlike the Tour du Mont Blanc trail in France, another great family-friendly multi-day hike in Europe.
From the Blaue Lacke we took the same route back past the Sulzenauhütte and the Sulzenaualm. However, instead of passing next to the Grawa Waterfall we took an alternative route back to the Stubai Valley and the car.
Grawa Alm – a good place to unwind
To celebrate the completion of the hike and take in the beauty of the Wilde Wasser Weg one last time, a final meal and drink at the Grawa Alm is a must. The Tiroler Gröstl (fried potatoes with roast beef and bacon topped with a fried egg) is highly recommended, and the prices are very reasonable.
Getting to the start of the hike
From the Tschangelair Alm – This traditional mountain hut restaurant is directly next to the main road and on the Wilde Wasser Weg. The hiking trail, about 2,2km downstream of the Grawa waterfall, starts on the right bank of the Ruetz cataract. You reach the waterfall after about 45 minutes and a 120m climb.
From the Grawa Alm – The waterfall is in plain sight of the Grawa Alma, the like-named restaurant next to the main road. Simply follow the hiking trail from the restaurant for about 10 minutes.
From the Sulzenauhütte bus stop – A few hundred metres from the Grawa Alm, this is the place to start if you are spending the night at the Sulzenauhütte. Parking is free, but be there early to secure one. Once you get on the trail, keep left in the direction of the waterfall. It’s a 15-minute walk away. If you rely on public transport, this is also where the bus drops you. It departs from Innsbruck every half hour.
Read more: 4 Favourite Things to Do in Stubai in Summer