Five Wild Places In Austria You Need To See To Believe
Austria is world-renowned for its strong mountain culture and stunning alpine scenery. Still, there’s nothing quite like experiencing it first hand. It seems there are layers of jagged peaks, towering mountains, and sparkling jewel-colored lakes everywhere you look. And thanks to a well-coordinated system of cable cars, trails, and mountain huts, it’s all exceptionally accessible!
You could spend a lifetime exploring the Austrian Alps and never run out of things to do. So the real question is, where to start. In a country brimming with places to see, here are five of the best places to visit in Austria!
Austria may be landlocked, but after seeing a few pictures of Plansee, no one would blame you for thinking otherwise. Reminiscent of a Norwegian fjord, Plansee lies between the forest-covered ridges of the Zwiesel and Spießberg mountains. It’s exceptionally clear water, and unique turquoise color makes it a popular destination for a wide variety of activities. You can scuba dive, snorkel, sail, row, kayak, the list goes on and on! Sightseeing ships offer tours from late May until autumn and feature spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. But perhaps the most common way to enjoy Plansee is by finding a little slice of beach to soak up the sun on. Access to Plansee is free of charge, though many of the campsite and hotels charge a small fee to access their beaches.
2. Seebensee & Drachensee
Austria has no shortage of jaw-dropping alpine lakes, but the dynamic duo of Seebensee and Drachensee are hard to beat. The shiny emerald-blue Seebensee can be easily accessed via a relatively short hike on the well-marked trail starting from the mountain station of the Ehrwalder Almbahn. From Seebensee the trail narrows and a series of steep switchbacks deposit you in the middle of an alpine wonderland. The emerald green Drachensee sit’s like a glistening jewel below towering peaks, and if you are lucky enough to visit on a calm day, the reflection is spellbinding. Here you will also find Coburger Hütte. The hike to Seebensee and then Drachensee can easily be done as a day hike, but for the full experience reserve a room at Coberger ahead of time. From the hut, you can explore further into these enchanting mountains, and maybe even enjoy a sunset or two. The food isn't too shabby either!
3. Olperer Mountain Hutte
If this view from Olpererhütte looks familiar, it’s because you have likely seen it all over social media. The small suspension bridge up above Olpererhütte and to the right has become a popular photo-op in the Austrian Alps. And for a good reason! From the bridge, the entire valley down to the reservoir is visible, and the views are simply breathtaking.
But the hike to Olpererhütte offers more than just a swinging bridge. An adventure into the Ziller Valley will take you down a scenic high Alpine road, to a huge dam with emerald green water, and finally up to one of the oldest mountain huts in the eastern Alps.
Perched high above Schlegeis Reservoir, Olpererhütte can only be reached after a 1.5-hour hike, or by helicopter. There is no cable car. The hut is generally open from early June to early October, and makes for a spectacular base camp along some of the areas more exhilarating hut-to-hut treks, like the Berlin High Trail, the “Peter-Habeler-Circuit” and the “Munich-Venice Dream Path.” The sundeck offers incredible views of lofty peaks down to the glinting, turquoise Schlegeis Reservoir.
4. Via Ferrata Donnerkogel aka “Ladder to Heaven”
Looking for an adrenaline-inducing, white knuckle adventure? Look no further than Austria's 40-meter long “Sky Ladder,” or “Ladder to Heaven.” The Sky Ladder is a unique and relatively new feature that bridges a giant gorge on the Dachstein via Ferrata. The via ferrata takes thrill-seekers up a classic climbing route for over 400m to the peak of the Donnerkogel maintain. From there you can hike back down the backside of the mountain on a rough trail. While the Sky Ladder is sure to get your heart pumping, it’s only one of many highlights on the Dachstein climb. Along the entire via ferrata, you will enjoy expansive views over the alpine world of the Inner Salzkammergut, including Dachstein, and the simmering waters of Gosausee down below. For more information and things to do in the area, check out my post on how to successfully climb Austria’s Ladder to Heaven.
The Gosausee is a small protected mountain lake, surrounded by breathtaking natural scenery. Located in the heart of the UNESCO World Heritage region of Hallstatt Dachstein Salzkammergut, Lake Gosau is one of the most beautiful destinations within the region. During the summer it is a magnet for sunbathers, water lovers, as well as alpine enthusiasts. You can easily walk around the entire lake on a well-formed path. The total distance is approximately 4km and generally takes a little over an hour. Just before the end of the hike around the picturesque mountain lake, there is a large meadow located just below the circular hiking trail, perfect for picnics and soaking in the scenery.
But perhaps the most unique way to enjoy Gosausee’s spectacular setting is from the Laserer via ferrata. The route can be broken into two distinct sections. The first runs along the lake only a few meters above the water. While the second section offers sweeping views of snow-covered Dachstein in the distance and Gosausee's deep blues waters far down below. If you like mountains than trying out a via ferrata is one of the best things to do in Austria!
There are so many beautiful places to see and things to do in Austria. It can be hard to know where to start! I hope this post added a few places to your Austria bucket list. But, remember, sometimes the most rewarding destinations are the ones we just stumble upon. Don’t forget to embrace adventure, keep an open mind, and curious spirit, while you’re traveling around Austria. You never know what hidden gems you’ll find!
Photos in collaboration with Quin Schrock.