Are you ready for a gravel adventure on the border of Austria and Italy? Come along for six days of the best off road passes (Jöchls), back roads, tarmac climbs and some hike-a-bike. Enjoy a week of adventure in the beautiful mountains and valleys between Innsbruck and Merano and discover the best of Tyrol with this self supported trip.
Note: We did the route with three loaded gravel bikes, most parts of the route are 'rideable'. We used 43mm tyres for this trip, a 1:1 gear ratio (or lighter) is a good idea. There will be sections that you will have to walk your bike on every day of this route. Sometimes you are not allowed to ride, sometimes it is just not possible to cycle. We stealth camped two of the five nights, officially this is not allowed. If you happen to do so, respect the land and the rules and leave nothing but footprints. Enjoy!
Starting in downtown Innsbruck, following a quiet road out of town. You'll pass some small villages and will ride parallel to the famous Brenner highway.
There will be steep gravel sections and the route takes you to the 'Grenzkamm' [border ridge]. An old military road with several buildings that offer shelter. Part of the route is a hiking trail, so respect the law and push your bike!
Day 1 ends in the town of Colle Isarco, make sure to have a pizza and beer at Café Europa!
Day 2 starts with some nice cycling roads but quickly you will get to the bottom of a long climb. This is actually a downhill section which is part of a summer toboggan run but you are allowed to ride there as well. There are even signs to warn for 'other' traffic. That part eventually takes you up to a short stretch of hike-a-bike across a single track and you will run into some fences that you will have to scale.
After some lunch and 'Schorle' you can bomb down to Sterzing. Plenty of food and accommodation are found here. We decided to push on and head for the beautiful and quiet Ratschings valley. We stealth camped at a local picnic site next to the rumbling creek.
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Day 3 will take you to the halfway point of this trip. A long but rewarding climb takes you up to the Rinneralm, where there are several spots at the ski station that serve food and drinks.
After some amazing hike-a-bike parts you will end up at the tarmac of the Jaufenpass. The great road will take you down to the valley where a well sign posted trail can take you all the way to Merano. We turned left before we got there and climbed over a ridge to the Merano 2000 Ski Station to camp in between hundreds of campers. Not ideal and we recommend staying in Merano or one of the surrounding villages like Scena instead.
Day 4 is all about two big climbs, the first one is a mix of tough hike-a-bike stretches and very rideable trails. You will end up at the Vöraner Alm via singletrack trails and treated to great views and a hut with awesome local food. From there it is a trail down to the valley and the sealed climb up the Penserjoch. It is one of the quieter roads you can ride but there will be some traffic. The climb is very doable and there is a restaurant/bar on the summit.
We made our way down to Sternzig (again) and treated ourselves to some pizza and warm beds.
Day 5 starts with a mix of trails and roads up the valley to one of the highlights of this trip: The Pfitscherjoch. From the south (were we came from) the gravel climb is challenging but rideable all the way to the summit where you will find the famous Pfitscher Haus/refugio. A must stop place to admire the views and enjoy some locale cuisine. You can sleep here too! We made our way down over a hiking trail where you will have to push/carry your bike sometimes but the trail eventually turns into a double track gravel road and will take you past the Schlegeisspeicher, an impressive reservoir with glacier views.
The road down can be busy and there is one long tunnel! Luckily you can skip it, look for a signposted trail on the left (if you're heading down the valley).
We ended up stealth camping in a field close to Ginzling. This little town has a few options to eat and sleep as well if you prefer that.
Day 6 will take you back to the comfort of Innsbruck, but there is one more highlight to scale: the Geiseljoch. The climb starts out with smooth tarmac but will change into double gravel tracks and eventually a singletrack to the actual pass. It is all rideable but challenging. The views and quiet sense of achievement make it worth though.
Going down can be a bit tricky, you might want to get off the bike some times to reach the restaurant about 3k down from the summit safely. From there is it all about gravel heaven and mostly downhill stretches in the direction of Innsbruck.
The final stretch into town we tried to ride as many trails as possible – maybe not the quickest route, but it will be a fitting end to you six days of bikepacking in Southern Tyrol.