Nestled within the Mieminger mountains to the south and Wetterstein mountains to the north, lies the stunning, idyllic Gaistal Valley. Stretching west from the tiny hamlet of Klamm in the region of Leutasch, Austria, this achingly beautiful landscape is home to miles of hiking and biking trails, farms, alpine refuges and mountain “huttes” (huts) where you can explore some of the most nostalgic, untouched nature in Austria. It is here we chose for our third and final day of hiking in Seefeld in Tirol, perhaps saving the absolute best for last.
We headed out after breakfast, excited about the day ahead. We had heard about Leutasch from the Seefeld tourist office as it is one of five municipalities in the Olympiaregion Seefeld and is particularly known for its awe-inspiring beauty. You could easily hike for days going hut to hut, dining on delightful regional cuisine and finding refuge in the traditional alpine huts. There are plenty of amazing long-distance hikes (enough to make me drool and want to come back). For us, we only had the day so we decided to make the best of it.
We left shortly after breakfast, heading north on L14 for roughly 10 kilometers to the small town of Föhrenwald in Leutasch where we somehow got lost. Thankfully there was a hiking store in town that provided us with much needed directions and an excellent map of Leutasch and the Gaistal Valley. Otherwise we for sure would have been driving in circles through all the different tiny Austrian hamlets that make up Leutasch. We took a left on Leutascher Ache following the windy road passing through villages and farms until we reached the start of the parking area a little bit past the village of Klamm. Thanks to our stop at the hiking store, we knew to proceed all the way to the P5/Salzbach, the last of five parking lots, where we would begin our hike. There are 12 huts interspersed along the hiking trails through the Gaistal Valley, and we decided to visit two of them, the Gaistalalm and Tillfussalm.
We set off in high spirits on the flat-laying, wide trails through the Gaistal Valley. It was easy-going hiking with incredible views of the towering snow-capped peaks and the verdant green valleys filled with grazing cows. I let my children go ahead with my dad while I lingered behind, breathing in the fresh mountain air and snapping photos. I knew that my daughter Sophia was very pleased with the relative ease and gentleness of the hike after our high alpine hike in Seefeld the day before. This was family hiking at its best!
I was spellbound by the beauty and tranquility of the Gaistal Valley and equally impressed with the diversity of the hiking in Austria. Besides our trail, there are also biking trails throughout the valley where you can cycle hut to hut and enjoy the same benefits as the hikers. It is even flat enough to bring a baby stroller and the first hut is not very far making it a popular lunch trip for families with young children.
After about an hour, we passed through a pasture of grazing cows and reached the first hut, Gaistalalm. I was mesmerized by the symphony of the cow bells clinging and clanging in the wind. I had to stop, close my eyes and just listen to the music. We saw herding dogs, cows, and lots of sheep grazing in the pasture. The Gaistal Valley is also home to the European roe deer, red deer and chamois and golden eagles that nest up high in the Wetterstein mountain range.
We arrived at the Gaistalalm hut just in time for a much needed restroom break. We had been walking for roughly an hour and a half but it was still too soon for lunch. The hut was very lovely with fresh, summer flowers and an inviting dining and lodging area. We took a few photos of this pretty place and then continued on to the next hut.
The Tillfussalm hut is located about a quarter of an hour further along the path right next to the Ganghoferhaus lodge It has an enormous terrace overlooking the mountains and serves traditional Tyrolean food with a smile. As soon as we arrived, I could smell the schnitzel and apple strudel baking and knew we had arrived at the right place. We were in for quite a reward!
For the next hour, we enjoyed an absolutely delicious, savory lunch sampling as much as we possibly could of the local Tyrolean cuisine. I of course had to have an Austrian beer while the kids enjoyed a soda. For lunch, I chose the local specialty of fresh-pressed cheese dumplings and salad while my son Max had homemade noodle soup with a bacon dumpling. Sophia ate the traditional schnitzel with potatoes and cranberry sauce whereas my dad had locally made sausages. We couldn’t resist having dessert as well (if we weren’t already full, we ate more!). We ordered two fresh apple strudels with ice cream and tried Küchl, a traditional Austrian dessert that tasted a lot like a donut. We left feeling absolutely stuffed but very happy.
Thankfully we were still in good spirits after our robust lunch as all of a sudden our beautiful day faded into a heavy, miserable rain. Despite our rain coats and ponchos, we still got soaked and were cold. It wasn’t the most pleasant hiking weather but we survived. Just as we reached the end of our hike, the rain and clouds began to lift leaving us with a beautiful view.
All in all, our hiking experience in the Gaistal Valley was very memorable and we all loved it. As we were walking towards the car, Max told me how much he loved Austria and could perhaps see himself studying abroad and living in Europe someday. My heart leapt for that is exactly what I had dreamed of my children wanting: To love travel and culture as much as I do.
Want to go?
Starting point: Gaistal valley near Leutasch, Salzbach parking space (P5)
Destination: Gaistalalm mountain hut (approximately 90 minute walk) and Tillfussalm mountain hut (15 minutes further).
Signposts: no. 7 (Nordalpenweg), Ganghoferweg
Distance: approx. 10 km (in total)
Walking time: approx. 3 hours (in total)
Be sure to pick up a Hiking and Hut Guide from the tourist office in Seefeld. Inside the booklet, it lists the 56 huts in the Olympiaregion Seefeld. For a great list of the huts, visit www.seefeld.com/huettenliste where you can check out the available accommodations, prices and menu. Also, depending on which huts you want to visit, you will park in one of the five lots.