A Quick & Dirty Guide to the Stubai High Trail
The Stubai High Trail (“Stubaier Höhenweg” in German) is one of the most beautiful treks in the Austrian Alps. Linking together eight characterful mountain huts, this horseshoe-shaped route around the Stubai Valley oscillates between breathtaking passes and enchanting valleys, while affording hikers non-stop views of serrated peaks, shimmering lakes, and magnificent glaciers.
I walked the Stubai High Trail in mid-October 2019, as part of an extended hiking trip in the Alps. It was one of four multi-day high trails I did in Austria during the journey; the others being the Berliner Höhenweg, Schladming Tauern Höhenweg, and the Wormser Höhenweg.
(Note: The information below is largely directed towards independent hikers, rather than folks going as part of organised trekking groups).
At a Glance
Distance: 80 km (50 mi)
Average Duration: 7 to 9 days (see How Long will it Take? for details)
Difficulty Level: Moderate
High Point: Grawagrubennieder – 2881 m (9,452 ft)
Lowest Elevation: Neustift – 994 m (3,261 ft)
Total Elevation Gain & Loss: 11,306 m (37,093 ft)
Which direction?: I don’t think it matters. I hiked in a counter-clockwise direction, and the Cicerone guide books referenced below describe the trail in a clockwise direction.
What’s in a Name?: As of 2020, most folks – including the Stubai area’s official website – refer to the featured hike as the Stubai High Trail or Stubaier Höhenweg. However, it is also known as the Stubai Rucksack Route or Stubaier Runde Tour in German. For users of the Cicerone Guide books mentioned below, note that in “Walking in Austria” it is referred to as the Hohenweg and listed as 120 km long, whereas in “Trekking in the Stubai Alps” it is called the Rucksack Route and estimated to be about 80 km in length. For the purposes of this article, I’m going to go with “High Trail” or “Hohenweg” and the shorter of the quoted distances, which aligns with GPX data for the route.
Getting There & Away:
The termini of Neder and Neustift are serviced by a regular bus service (multiple times daily / #590) from the nearby city of Innsbruck. The journey takes around half an hour, and the bus stop is located directly outside the entrance to the Innsbruck train station. Click here for bus timetables.
Hiking season in the Austrian Alps is generally between late June to late September. In an average weather year, September is ideal. The school holiday crowds are gone, the summer thunderstorms (generally short) have subsided, temperatures are cooler, and the mountain huts are less crowded.
Off-season: Depending on the snow levels and experience of the aspirant, the Stubai High Trail can also be done in the late spring or early to mid-fall. When hiking at these times, you may require an ice axe and traction devices. Also, note that the full-service huts closed at these times, so you will need to carry all of your own food and a perhaps a tent/tarp (Note: Most of the huts have small winter rooms (“winterraums“) that remain open during the off-season. See Accommodation below for details).
Personally speaking, for someone like myself who has always had an aversion to crowds (especially out in nature), hiking the trail off-season was ideal. I didn’t meet a single other person doing the entire route, and the only day-trippers I saw during my three days on trail were around the easily accessible Franz Senn Hut and Dresdener Hut.
Guidebook: Cicerone Press publish two books that cover the Hohenweg. Walking in Austria gives a bare-bones account of the trail, while Trekking in the Stubai Alps has a much more detailed summary of the famed hut-to-hut route, including trekking notes, basic maps for each section, side trips/alternates suggestions, distance and time estimates, and logistical information on getting to and from the trail. Both books are available in Kindle version or paperback.
Maps: You can pick up maps for the Stubai High Trail at the tourist office in Neustift. You have a choice of either a free basic map of the route or topographic maps by the Austrian Alpine Club (Sheet 31/1 Stubai Alpen: Hoch Stubai 1:25,000 and Sheet 31/2 Stubai Alpen: Sellrain 1:25,000). Normally, I would opt for the latter option, however, for this well-marked/easily accessible route, I think that the basic map, combined with a Kindle version of the Cicerone Guide, and GPX data, should suffice for most hikers in all but winter conditions.
Permits: No permits are required to hike the Stubai High Trail.
Language: German. Almost everyone you meet that’s under 60 years old will speak English, however, a few simple words and phrases of the native tongue will always be appreciated by locals.
Cell/Mobile Phone Coverage: I tend to keep my phone in flight mode while out in the woods, but from what I can gather, during hiking season some of the huts on the Hohenweg have Wifi/cell reception, along with the opportunity to charge your phone and/or battery pack whether you are overnighting, or just stopping in for breakfast or lunch.
Other Online Resources: The Stubai.at website is an excellent source of information not only for the Stubai High Trail but for anything else you may be interested in doing while in the Stubai region.
Resupply & Water:
Food: There are no villages along the Hohenweg, but meals are never hard to come by during the hiking season as all of the huts are full service. It is also possible to purchase snacks and sandwiches to go.
Breakfast – Usually served from around 6 to 8 am. Continental-style, consisting of bread/butter/jam and coffee or tea.
Lunch – Usually served from midday to 2 pm, though it can vary from hut to hut. Order as much as you like from the menu. Beer and wine are available.
Dinner – Principal meal of the day and usually served between 6 pm and 7.30 pm. The set-dinner option is well-priced, ample in size, and can once again be washed down with your choice of adult beverages.
Costs: Most folks that overnight at the huts go for the “half pension” option, which consists of dinner, bed, and breakfast for between €45 and €55. Lunch is always à la carte.
Off-season: If you are interested in hiking out of season, you will have to carry all your own supplies from start to finish. If you are fortunate – it happened to me on three separate occasions during my time in Austria – friendly locals may have left some beers in the Winter Rooms to help get you through the chilly nights!
Water: Plentiful throughout the hike. Can either be obtained at the huts or from streams along the way. During my time in the Alps, I generally drank directly from sources and had no intestinal issues. The exception was if I was obtaining water downstream from huts or grazing animals, in which case I treated with Aquamira drops.
Route / Conditions:
Overview: During the summer months the Stubai High Trail is a moderately demanding trek. It includes more than 11,000 m (36,809 ft) of combined altitude gain and loss, and during its course, hikers will negotiate high passes, exposed traverses, boulder fields, and steep scree slopes. The trail is well marked with splashes of red/white paint, and major junctions usually have a signpost or a painted marker with a designated trail number.
If hiking during the shoulder seasons, do I need traction devices, ice axe, or any other specialised equipment?: During my October hikes in the Alps I didn’t carry an ice axe, but I did use Salewa mountain spikes (similar to Kathoola Microspikes) and was very glad to have them for some of the icy high sections. Also on the footwear front, I regularly wore a combination of merino wool socks and Montbell Gore-tex All Round Socks under my trail running shoes. I’d definitely go with the same system again if I was to return to the Alps in the spring or fall. (Note: I’ll publish a full gear list for the trip in the coming weeks).
How Long will it take?: In the opening “At a Glance” section I mention that the average time taken for the high trail is 7 to 9 days. That said, the amount of time it takes can vary greatly depending on a number of factors. Fit and experienced hikers carrying a light pack and who have a relatively good run with the weather, can comfortably do the hike in three or four days.
Highlights: I enjoyed the entire trail, but if I had to pick my favourite sections they would be as follows:
Stage 4 – Between Nurnberger and Suzenau Huts via Niederl Col.
Stage 6 – Between Dresdner Hut and Neue Regensberger Hut via the Grawagrubennieder Pass.
Note: I’ve read that Stage 2 between Bremer and Innsbrucker Huts is also supposed to be gorgeous, but unfortunately, the weather gods didn’t smile on me for that challenging section, and I spent the entire day walking through a combination of freezing rain, strong winds, heavy fog, and snow.
Lowlights: The only one that comes to mind is the built-up area around Dresdner Hut, which can be accessed by cable car.
Mountain Huts: Virtually all hikers on the Stubai High Trail stay in the mountain huts. These regularly-spaced refuges usually boast incredible high altitude locations, along with impressive vistas. Most are open from mid-June to late September, and along with overnight accommodation (dormitory and sometimes private rooms), they also offer breakfast, lunch, and dinner. As referenced above, the best value can usually be found in the half-board offer, which consists of a three-course dinner, a bed, and breakfast for between 45 and 55 Euros (as of 2019). Note that folks that are affiliated with certain other European Alpine or Mountain clubs (e.g. UK, German, French) enjoy reciprocal rights. During the peak season months of July and August, accommodation should ideally be booked in advance; this especially holds true if you are hiking in a group.
Is Wild Camping Possible in the Austrian Alps?: Officially speaking………….it’s complicated. There is no “everyman’s right/freedom to roam” in Austria, and alpine zone camping regulations can vary significantly between states. The Stubai High Trail is located in the Tyrol region, and according to the Tyrol Camping Act (2001), as per the Austrian Alpine Club website: “Camping outside of campsites is prohibited”. The only exception is alpine bivouacking “for a short period of time required by the occasion.” Before wild campers get too excited, the website also states that “Deliberate bivouacking is equated with staying in a tent! Violations can result in fines of up to 14,500 euros, depending on the federal state.” In reality, I suspect if you were to stay well away from huts and farms, set up just before dark in a stealthy spot, leave at dawn the next day, and diligently practice LNT principles at all times, you would be unlikely to have any issues. Click here for a detailed overview of the camping situation in Austria.
Winter Rooms (“winterraums”): Although I did carry a shelter on the Stubai High Trail – for emergency purposes only! – I ended up spending all of my nights in the winter rooms. These little sanctuaries are a godsend at the end of a long day in rough conditions. They are generally an annex to the main hut and remain open all-year-round.
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