Following exhilarating ridge trails, magnificent views over giant rugged rocks, picturesque valleys and glistening lakes await you on the Southern Alpine Trail. You hike from the flat banks of the Mura River through vineyards and over two mountains on the Austrian-Italian border. The main route runs along Austria's southern border from the town of Bad Radkersburg in Styria to Sillian in East Tyrol. In the Karawanks mountain range, Slovenia is never far away whilst you make an occasional detour into Italy in the Carnic Alps. Lovers of Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling will especially enjoy the stages through the vineyards which are relatively gentle, leaving enough time to enjoy a glass or two en route.
Covering a total of around 500 kilometres (310 miles) spread over 25 official stages, this route is the Austrian Long Distance Trail number 03. Some of the stages have variants that are either easier or more demanding. To complete the whole route, you would be on the road for about four weeks, including a few rest days. However, you can also divide the route into several sections. For example, you could spend a week in the lower regions from Bad Radkersburg to Lavamünd, enjoying a glass of wine on the way. The next part through the Karawanks from Lavamünd to Thörl-Maglern can be completed in one and a half weeks. That leaves eight days for the third section following the Carnic High Trail from Thörl-Maglern to Sillian.
By splitting the route, you can also be more flexible with the time you travel. You mainly stay in mountain huts in the Karawanks and the Carnic Alps so you can plan these for summer and early autumn when the huts are open. You can also hike through southern Styria, where you often stay in inns, earlier in the year or during the golden autumn. It’s best to book all of your overnight stays in advance to ensure you have a bed at the end of the day. During your hikes, you’ll have the chance to take a break or fill up on snacks at the huts, but pack some supplies in your rucksack too.
The Southern Alpine Trail begins with a comfortable and fairly flat along the banks of the Mur. From the vineyards, the route becomes steadily more demanding. Some stages through the Karawanks and Carnic Alps have more than 1,000 m (3,280 ft), or even over 1,500 m (4,921 ft) of altitude gain. You should be surefooted and have a head for heights as the terrain is partly alpine.
You can arrive at and depart from your adventure with public transport. Both the starting point in Bad Radkersburg and the end point in Sillian have train stations. For up-to-date information about the trail, such as closed sections and inns en route, see (in German):
Would you like to extend your Alpine adventure? Once you have arrived in Sillian, it is only a stone's throw to South Tyrol and the Dolomites. About nine more stages would bring you through the imposing mountains to the city of Bolzano. You can find some tips for planning these stages here (in German): alpenverein.at/weitwanderer/weitwanderwege/suedalpenweg.php.
The first stage on the Südalpenweg is perfect for immigration for the coming days on your feet. Without any notable differences in altitude, you hike along the Mur to the west and enjoy the wonderful landscape on the riverbank.The Bad Radkersburg train station is a bit outside in the north of the town. It takes about 20 minutes to walk to the town center via Bahnhofstrasse. You also walk straight towards the Mur. On the first part of the route, you get to know the picturesque meadow landscape a bit away from the water. Later you follow the river bank directly to Mureck. On the way, several taverns and snack bars invite you to take a leisurely break. From the Murturm you can enjoy a beautiful view - also over to Slovenia, which is on the other side of the bank.
On the second day on the Südalpenweg you will stay the first two thirds of the route directly on the banks of the Mur. On this stage there is only a few more meters of altitude compared to the first day. The first gentle hills offer you a foretaste of the next stages. Mills operated by the water of the Mur and wineries with tempting offers by the glass provide variety on the way.Always with a view of the Slovenian bank, you hike to Spielfeld. Here you cross the river and walk past the train station up the hill. With a little up and down you get to Ehrenhausen on the Weinstrasse, which is again on the banks of the Mur. At the end of the stage - or maybe at sunset - you can climb up to the mausoleum and enjoy the wonderful view over the place.
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The third stage takes you through a hill country covered with wine, the Windischen Bühel. It goes without saying that you will meet one or the other Buschenschank along the way. The demands of the day also allow a glass of wine to take a break. Make sure you have enough sun protection. Because where the wine thrives, it can get really warm in summer.From Ehrenhausen you hike over side streets to the pretty village of Gamlitz. Then the day's ascent through the vines begins. Where it goes downhill again, small forests give you shade from time to time. In the vicinity of your stage destination Leutschach on the Weinstrasse you will also pass hop fields. Maybe you can have a beer for dinner after all?
Do you want more wine? Then you can choose this variant via the South Styrian Wine Route. On the same route as stage 2 you hike to Spielfeld, where you turn towards Slovenia instead of continuing to Ehrenhausen. You walk up and down between vines and wineries. You can enjoy wonderful views over the hilly landscape - for example from the Lubekogel.At the end of the path you come out just like the third stage in Leutschach. There are many accommodations along the wine route. For example, on your second day you can hike to Ratsch on the Southern Alpine Trail and spend the night there. Then on the third day you have a leisurely 13 kilometers ahead of you, which can be wonderfully supplemented with a few glasses of wine.
The meters in altitude increase day by day. On the fourth stage you move along the ridge that forms the border with Slovenia. For the first few meters you can say goodbye to the vines. Then you dive into a forest that takes you up to the ridge. You follow this to the Remschnigg Alm. It is the southernmost Alm in Styria, only a few meters from the border.The path alternates across meadows and through forests. Again and again it goes briefly downhill and uphill. At the end of the day there is a steeper but not too long ascent that leads you to Pongratzen. Here you can stay in the guest house for a restful night.
Those who feel fit can also add the Heiligengeistklamm to the fourth stage of the Southern Alpine Trail. With a few kilometers and more meters in altitude, it becomes a bit more demanding. To do this, you hike through a wonderfully secluded gorge, which promises a pleasantly cool section of the path in summer.From Leutschach you walk straight south to the entrance of the gorge. From there you follow the course of the water to the Slovenian border. The southernmost point of Styria is very close by. Now you orient yourself on the border, which leads you downhill and between hills to the northwest. Slowly you climb up the mountain ridge that separates Austria and Slovenia. Here you meet again on the main route of the Southern Alpine Trail, which takes you to Pongratzen.
On the fifth stage of the Southern Alpine Trail, you continue to hike along the Slovenian border to the west. There is so much going up and down that a total of 1,000 vertical meters come together. The first highlight awaits you right in the morning: From Pongratzen you hike steeply up to the ridge, where a church awaits you with a fantastic view of Austria and Slovenia.Then the path leads you either directly along the ridge or around some elevations on the Austrian side. You pass the Radlpass and a quarry to then climb to St. Lorenzen. From there it goes mainly through the forest downhill into the valley, where the Feistritz and the Krumbach unite to form the Bistrica. A last, partly steep ascent takes you up to Gasthof Strutz.
On this day it's more downhill than uphill, because your stage destination is in the Drautal. From there you hike up into the Karawanken the following day. So this is the last stage through the gentler mountains east of the Drava. Finally, you climb the 1,522 meter high Hühnerkogel.From Gasthof Strutz it goes quite steeply up a mountain ridge, the course of which you now follow more comfortably to the west. It culminates in the Hühnerkogel, from which you have a beautiful view to the south. Then you hike steadily downhill towards the valley. Much of the path runs in the forest. Where the trees are thinning, you can enjoy wonderful views to the south and over to the Karawanken. On the banks of the Drau you will finally reach Lavamünd, which will accommodate you for the night.
Alternatively, you can hike from Pongratzen via Eibiswald and Soboth to Lavamünd. Behind Eibiswald you wander through the remote and lonely forest areas of southern Styria. This route is a little longer and also more difficult to divide, as there is no conveniently located accommodation in the middle of the route.One possibility, for example, would be to extend the fourth stage and hike on to Eibiswald to spend the night there. Overall, the fourth day would be quite long at 27 kilometers, but from Pongratzen it is practically downhill - except for the ascent to the church, which can also be bypassed. The next day you could hike to Soboth and spend another night there. Then it would be another 20 kilometers to Lavamünd the next day, where you can then continue with the seventh stage.
The first day in the Karawanken is still quite comfortable. You climb up to the gentle Kömmelgupf and then hike back down into the valley to Bleiburg. In Lavamünd you cross the impressive Drau and go straight into the forest. With short, steep sections you walk steadily uphill between the trees and over and over again over fields with courtyards.The summit of the Kömmelgupf is also partially forested. But you can always catch a beautiful distant view. The descent to Bleiburg then takes place entirely in the forest. At your stage destination you have the opportunity to fill up your provisions again, because you will spend the next few days high up in the mountains and can only look after yourself in the huts.
First of all, all worries that you might have when looking at the time have been taken away: Originally, stage 8 took you to Koprein, where you could spend a night at the Riepl inn. This inn is now closed. That's why you have two options for this stage: Either you shorten the ascent to the Petzen with a gondola ride and hike even further to Bad Eisenkappel. Or you put in a night on the Petzen. There you can spend the night at the mountain station in the Alte Zollhütte and hike to Bad Eisenkappel the next day.With this stage, the Südalpenweg becomes more alpine, rocky and also more strenuous. You top the 2,000 mark for the first time and have a challenging day ahead of you. From Bleiburg you first hike comfortably between fields and meadows to the south. Then the long and steep ascent begins. Here you have the opportunity to turn left to the mountain railway. The way up is nicely shaded to the mountain station of the gondola. From there you hike in a lane between the trees and keep the meters below you until the trees become fewer and the rocks more. Here, the Knieps, the first wonderful panoramic summit of the day awaits you. The second summit, the Feistritzer Spitze, then almost goes by itself. Afterwards, it goes a lot through the forest down to Bad Eisenkappel.
You can also make the ninth stage more comfortable if you want. Because this route includes the ascent to Hochobir behind the Bad Eisenkappler hut. But you can also stay at the hut, because it is your stage destination. It's just under eight kilometers and 1,100 meters in altitude to get there that day. You can decide spontaneously whether you still want to climb the Hochobir when you arrive at the hut.But even without a summit, this stage is not without its challenge: From Bad Eisenkappel it goes uphill. You move around a lot in the forest and only occasionally wander across a clearing. You only cross the tree line in the ascent to the Hochobir, from which you have a fantastic view. So the summit is definitely worth it!
The tenth day on the Südalpenweg is once again a somewhat more leisurely stage. You should just be aware that the day's climb does not await you until the last third of the route; before that it is mainly downhill. From the Eisenkappler hut you hike to the Schaidasattel, where you meet an asphalt pass road. The great view compensates for that.Then it only goes down a bit. Just before you come to another street, turn south and continue on narrower roads. Here it goes slowly uphill again through a valley. At the head of the valley you climb a saddle, from which it is only a few meters downhill to the Koschutahaus.
On the eleventh stage, the long descent into the tranquil Waidisch and the paths over the steep forest slopes are a challenge. Surefootedness is required on the exposed paths. In the morning you hike north downhill to Zell-Pfarre, which could hardly be more idyllic. From there it goes uphill, first on a ridge, behind which you can take a short break when crossing a slope.Then the path remains crisp up to the saddle under the Jauernik. The alpine pasture on the plateau that the path crosses is surrounded by trees. Above it, the rock walls of the Koschuta point up. Here you can make a detour to the summit above. From the next saddle it goes on forest paths down into the valley to Waidisch.
On this day, a fantastic view over Carinthia is waiting for you. But you don't get it for free: it's 1,200 meters in altitude from Waidisch to the summit of the Ferlacher Horn, which promises this panoramic view. Just a little south of Waidisch there is a steady steep climb to the panoramic mountain.Then you hike along the ridge to the west on a path and then descend in many bends through the forest to the Loiblpass road. There you cross the narrow valley and gain height again on the other side. The picturesque Bodental spreads out behind the next ridge.
Compared to the other stages, this one is more comfortable. Exciting paths through rocky slopes are waiting for you. From the Bodental you slowly hike up the southeast slopes. First of all, a few buildings will accompany you on your way. Then you dive into the forest and keep hiking uphill, left past the Kosmatitza to the Ogrisalm.Soon afterwards it becomes rocky and the Stinzsteig begins. For this you have to be sure-footed and have a head for heights, because it is exposed and you need your hands to hold on. The attached steel cable will also help you. At the end of this exciting section, the Klagenfurter Hütte awaits you. So there you can relax again straight away. If you still have time and inclination in the afternoon, you can climb the Bielschitza or the Kosiak from here.
It's mostly downhill on this day - and quite a long way. So make sure your knees are well rested. From the Klagenfurter Hütte you hike down to the Bärental. The street gets wider and you pass the first buildings. Then you turn left again and hike a little up to a chapel, from which you have a great view over the valley.Then it goes high above the Bärental along steadily downhill. You then make a big left turn via Matschach and continue west. Here it is slowly becoming flatter and comfortable paths take you via Maria Elend to your stage destination Rosenbach.
This variant from the Klagenfurter Hütte to Rosenbach runs partly in Slovenia. So you walk south of the ridge that marks the border and enjoy great views towards Triglav National Park on the other side of the valley. On the way you can spend the night at the Kahlkogelhütte to split the route into two stages. Initially, this route follows the same path as stage 14 down into Bärental. Then the paths separate and you climb to the west on the Bärensattel, where you cross the border to Slovenia.Now you hike along the slopes below the mountain ridge to the Kahlkogelhütte. Then you follow the path to the left around the Hahnkogel and then step back on Austrian soil. Here you descend into the valley and follow its course to Rosenbach.
This stage has so many vertical meters because it includes the ascent of the Mittagskogel. If you want to take this summit with you, you can easily split it up over two days and spend the night in the Bertahütte, which is 600 meters below the summit. If you skip the summit, you can deduct 600 meters in altitude and three and a half kilometers from the route information.From Rosenbach you hike a little further south into the valley, and then walk along the Rosenbach to the west. Via the Rossalm you get higher and higher to the saddle between the Mittagskogel and Ferlacher Spitze. Here you will find the Bertahütte for a stop or an overnight stay. The descent is steep through the forest to the northwest. The last four kilometers go to the Baumgartnerhof without great differences in altitude.
Even before the first ascent of the day you can enjoy a wonderful view over the Faaker See and the Carinthian landscape. Then the cycle gets going and it goes up in several bends around 600 meters through the forest. On this day you stay below the ridge and so you cross the slopes with little ups and downs for the next few kilometers.Towards the end of the route you climb the ridge on the Steineberg after all. Here you have a nice view to the south towards the Julian Alps. This is followed by the descent to the Wurzenpass, which connects Austria and Slovenia. The best thing to do here is to have your host pick you up, as there is no overnight accommodation on site.
On this day you say goodbye to the Karawanken and also to the border with Slovenia. This will be replaced by the border with Italy at the triangle. From the Wurzenpass it goes steeply up to the west. The fantastic view to the south to the Julian Alps adds to the motivation. The ascent is not too far on this day and at the top there is the triangle with views of Slovenia, Italy and Austria as well as refreshment stops.Downhill you first follow the ridge and the border with Italy. Then you descend steeply to the north and cross to the west. Down in the valley you will find your stage destination behind the motorway and the bridge over the Gailitz. You can either spend the night in Thörl-Maglern (but there is little choice here) or take the train to Arnoldstein, where there are several options for overnight stays.
On this stage you penetrate into the Carnic Alps. There are a lot of vertical meters ahead of you - so it is best to get up early and set off first thing in the morning so that you have enough time for breaks along the way. From the valley it goes straight back up into the mountains. First you follow the hairpin bends of a road, then you switch to a footpath along the Italian border that leads up the ridge to the Göriacher Alm.From there the path is quite flat for a short time and then downhill. So you can gather strength for the next ascent to the Feistritzer Alm. The hardest part of the day is already over there. It's only three kilometers from here to the Dolinza Alm, your stage destination, and it's almost all downhill.
Stage 19 does not promise to be a short day either. All sorts of goodies will keep you happy along the way. You should definitely try the Gailtaler cheese, which is made here on the mountain pastures. From the Dolinza Alm you hike up to the Starhandsattel. There it goes downhill again and along picturesque paths to the Egger Alm. Here you can, for example, take a break on the banks of the idyllic lake or in the old cheese dairy.Then you hike over the Kersnitzenalm to Italy. The second big climb of the day begins where you cross the border to Austria again. A saddle takes you between rocky peaks to the holiday resort of Nassfeld.
On the twentieth stage you follow the Carnic main ridge again pretty closely and thus also the border between Austria and Italy. A trench on the Rattendorfer Schneid is a reminder of the First World War. In the morning you ascend west to cross the Madritschen. Then it goes uphill and downhill in a varied way through a partly barren and rocky alpine landscape.You cross the steep slopes below the Trogkofel and pass the Zottachkopf to Rattendorfer Schneid. Passing the circular wall, it goes downhill and then up again, passing below the Findigkogel. Then the hike becomes really comfortable in the last section: It goes downhill again and again and past the beautiful Zollnersee to the hut of the same name.