Panoramic – one word to describe the high-altitude circular hike around Lake Millstatt in the heart of Austria’s mountainous Carinthia region. You can marvel at the captivating view down to Carinthia’s second largest lake on this adventure. The lake is constantly changing depending on the time of day and the weather. In the morning, mist floats over the water, disappearing as it warms and reveals its bright turquoise colour and, as the sun sets, the lake’s surface reflects the warm evening light.
You will climb the high mountains surrounding the lake, which tower above 6,500 feet (2,000 m). The trails are varied: You’ll find garnets on the paths through the Millstatt Alps; discover rare plants such as mountain azaleas in the Nock Mountains Biosphere Reserve; learn about Celtic settlers around Mirnock Mountain to the east of the lake; and hunt for gold on Goldeck Peak, which was once mined for its precious metal.
The trail is 118 miles (190 km) long and split into 12 stages which lead you from the lakeshore at 1,960 feet (600 m) into the surrounding mountains. On stage 11, you encounter the Gmeineck, the highest peak, which stands at 8,503 feet (2,592 m). Such high peaks make this route a challenge even for seasoned hikers, especially because of the altitude. You should bring hiking poles with you for the long descents, to take the strain off your legs. The trail is generally easy to walk on, with some rocky sections at higher altitudes which require sure-footedness. Some of the stages are over 12 miles (20 km), but the easier stages in between should help you ro regain your strength.
As this route runs through high alpine terrain, it is only hikeable from June to October. There are, however, many variants to adapt the route to your own preferences. For example, you can skip out the Rosennock, Mirnock, Goldeck and Gmeineck mountain ascents. As the trail is a circular, you can also start at several points. The lovely mountain town of Spittal an der Drau is a good alternative starting point and easy to reach by train.
After a full day hiking, you can either stay in one of the rustic mountain huts or in an inn in the valley. You’ll be able to restock your provisions here too. There are only a few beds available at the huts so make sure you book in advance as the region is a popular holiday destination in summer. There are plenty of places to stop for a bite to eat en route too. Carinthian noodles, a local dish of dough filled with cheese or potatoes and coated in butter, are the perfect fuel for strenuous hiking in the mountains.
On the first day on the Höhensteig you can look forward to three times the summit feeling: you climb the Tschiernock, the Hochpalfennock and the Tschierwegernock. But you have some altitude meters ahead of you. At the beginning of the way you break in on a moderate incline. First, it goes through dense forest. After a good four kilometers, you have the opportunity to turn to the Pichlhütte, where you can stop. Otherwise you just follow the path uphill.The trees are getting fewer and the terrain is getting steeper. About halfway along the route you reach the next hut with the Sommereggeralm, where you can stop off on the way. You could also stay here if you want to split this stage. If you go further, the break here should not be too long, because you still have three cams in front of you.Shortly below the first summit you will pass the stone table. At the latest here you can treat yourself to an extensive look down to Lake Millstatt. On the Tschiernock you made the ascent for today. From here it is easy and almost flat along the ridge to the Hochpalfennock, which is followed by the third summit of the day. Only a short descent is missing and then you cross below the ridge to Millstätter Hütte.At the end of this stage, you even have two alternatives to spend the night: After descending from Tschierwegernock, you can turn right to reach the Alexanderhütte. A little longer is the detour to the Schwaigerhütte, which is a little further down towards the valley.You can get to Treffling from Spittal an der Drau with the bus line 5138. It leaves directly from the train station, which is called Spittal-Millstätter See. Get off at this stop: Treffling at Seeboden junction Ort. You can find the current timetable at kaerntner-linien.at/fahrplaene-und-linien/fahrplaene-bus-oberkaernten. If you only want to start the hike at the Pichlhütte, you can take the Almexpress hiking bus. To do this, register with the Seeboden tourist office. However, the bus only runs from four people. You can find more information at millstaettersee.com/de/urlaubsthemen/der-almexpress-am-millstaetter-see.html.
The day begins with one of the most beautiful sections on the entire Höhensteig. With the tinkling of cowbells in your ears, you hike over the Millstätter Alpe. The path is almost flat and so you can enjoy the view even while walking. But it is also worth taking a look down. Because up here you can just find grenades along the way. This gem was set with the garnet gate. It is located just before the highest point of the Lammersdorfer Berg.In theory, after the summit you can descend to the right to the Lammersdorfer Hütte and stop there. However, this detour takes two hours and you would have to walk a good 300 vertical meters extra - in the descent and ascent. So maybe it's better to take a good snack with you and save your strength for the descent that is yet to come.The path falls relatively evenly on the back behind the Lammersdorfer Berg to the east. In the steeper terrain, curves help to make the descent pleasant. The first place to stay is at the Oberfriessnig farm, which is 1,150 meters above the valley floor. Or you can still descend to Kaning and spend a night in the village.
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Today is a more comfortable stage. After the first two long days, you can take it easy today. Through the picturesque Langalm valley, you can also climb almost 1,000 meters in altitude, but you can stop off on the way three times and take a reasonable break. You rarely have so much choice on the Millstätter See Höhensteig.You leave Kaning to the east and then stay most of the time in the valley floor on the way directly at the river. After the first third you cross the water and come right to the Aichholzer hut. The Petodnighütte is already a good two kilometers away. Further down the valley then divides at the Erlacherhaus - not to be confused with the Erlacher Bockhütte, today's stage destination.You keep to the right and ascend to the Erlacher Bockhütte, where your bed stands at 1,900 meters for the night. Here you are already in the middle of the Nockberge Biosphere Park. The Little Pfannock rises directly above the hut.
Today the Big Rose Nock is on the program. At 2,440 meters, it is the highest mountain in the Nockberge Biosphere Park. In the entire Nockberge group of mountains, the Eisenhut only towers one meter above it. But it is far away in Styria. From the summit of the Rosennock you can enjoy the view in all directions.You start from the Erlacher Bockhütte to the north to climb in a large left curve over your back to the Predigerstuhl. The path is quite steep and a good exercise for climbing the Großer Rosennock later in the day. Behind the summit, it goes comfortably to the west. To your left, the tinder walls fall off steeply. To the right is an idyllic plain on which the cows feel comfortable in summer. A short descent follows on narrow paths to the clear Nassbodensee. Here you can regain strength for the ascent to the Großer Rosennock. South of the lake you climb the summit over a back.The descent is initially on the same route. Shortly before Nassbodensee you turn to the right. It's always going downhill here. The first trees will soon be on the roadside. Through a forest you finally come back to the Erlacherhaus, which you already know from the last stage. The hostel is your goal for today.
On the fifth stage, you leave the Nockberge Mountains and head closer to Lake Millstatt. You walk south through the Langalm valley on a well-known path. If you haven't taken the time to do this on the way there, you can admire the historic mills along the way again today. Below Kaning you keep left on the slope and hike to Radenthein. Here you have several options to stop for lunch.You cross the town to go west on the other side of the valley. You always stick to the edge of the forest above the road. On the outskirts of Döbriach the big climb of the day is coming up: You still climb around 500 meters in altitude from the foot of the Mirnock today.At the end of the stage, the Alpengasthof Bergfried awaits you with a warm meal and a cozy bed. This stage is also suitable as the start of the climb. You can get to Döbriach from Spittal an der Drau with the bus line 5140. You can find the current timetable at kaerntner-linien.at.
Today is another exhausting stage. You climb the Mirnock over almost 1,000 vertical meters. The same number of meters of altitude await you on the descent. And that's not all: there are a few more meters, because today you walk back down to the lake shore. The descent, however, takes a few kilometers and makes walking more pleasant.Right at the start it goes steeply uphill to the summit of the so-called Mirnock mountain. He has been said to have a special power since the time of the Celts. The descent begins via the paradise stairs. Through forest and meadows, the path slowly brings you back down to the shore of Lake Millstatt.The goal of the stage is a beautiful, natural seaside resort in Ferndorf. Here, right on the shore, there are only campsites to stay. On the mountain there is still the Klammerhof in Gschriet, which rents out rooms, and a few holiday apartments. Those who do not find what they are looking for can switch to the inns in Döbriach.
Today you hike for the first and only time on the Höhensteig directly along Lake Millstatt. The stage is long at over 20 kilometers, but there are not so many vertical meters to overcome. In the idyllic hilly landscape, several inns are taking care of you today.After breakfast, the way is easy to find. You just follow the south bank west. In a curve you come across a hill at the Laggerhof - the first stop for refreshments. Here you turn left to Großegg. Once at the top, the path cheerfully goes up and down through a partially marshy landscape. Here you come to the beautiful Egelsee. If its water is completely still, the beautiful mountain world is reflected on its surface. The lake is ideal for a break and a refreshment. If you walk to the right towards Oberzmöln for a few minutes, you can stop off at the Gasthof Lug.Then keep parallel to the shore of Lake Millstatt and head northwest. There are two inns in Sankt Wolfgang. Here you descend to the lake again. After a short stretch on the shore you will come to the pier. Now you follow the banks of the Seebach until the Lieser branches off to the left. Here a beautiful, narrow path leads you high above the water to Spittal an der Drau. There are many places to stay and restaurants in the city.
After a night in the valley, you go up high again today. You master the first climb on the way to the summit of the Goldeck. In numbers, this means: over 1,300 vertical meters. If you would rather take a break today, the cable car will help you up.The Goldeck is in the southwest of Spittal. So you leave the city in this direction and cross the Drau behind the last houses. Then a long forest path takes you up the mountain. The trees only clear up from time to time - for example on the idyllic Schwaiger Alm. A little further you will pass the Gasthof Krendlmar, where you can have lunch.From there it is also not far to the stage destination, the Goldeckhütte. It is just above the tree line. Alternatively, you can also spend the night at the Gasthof Krendlmar at the end of this hiking day.This stage is also a good start into the Millstätter See Höhensteig, as it starts directly in Spittal an der Drau. You can go here with Austrian and international trains. You can find information on the timetable at oebb.at.
Immediately after breakfast you have to climb two peaks today. Up to the Martennock there are only a good 100 vertical meters. Another climb and you're already on the Goldeck. If you get up very early, you can watch a beautiful sunrise from up here.From the Goldeck you descend north and meet the route from the previous stage at the Gasthof Krendlmar. You could stop here again - but it is still a bit early for lunch, because you still have a long descent ahead of you. At the Schwaiger Alm you keep to the right this time. In many curves it goes down through the forest.In the valley you only go a short distance on the country road to the left. At the next farm, follow the hiking path towards Marhube left into the forest again. Here you can make a detour to the ruins of Ortenburg before you descend to Baldramsdorf. There are several inns to choose from in Baldramsdorf.
The tenth stage is - compared to the other stages - not as long and there are not so many vertical meters to climb. That is why you can give yourself an hour or two before the hike that day to explore the craft museum in Baldramsdorf.If you then want to leave, you stay on fairly flat paths at the foot of the mountains. You reach Gendorf on a gravel road. From there the main road takes you to Rosenheim, where you turn right to soon cross the Drau. Through Lendorf you are now always heading towards the mountains on the other side of the valley. Here you ascend to Edling.Shortly after the village you make a detour on the left to a pilgrimage church that overlooks the Drau Valley. Then it goes back the same way and always uphill via Edling. At the end of the day you can enjoy the 3-valley view over Hühnersberg. You get a dinner and a bed for the night in the Kolmwirt a short distance before the 3-valley view.
Today's stage is tough with almost 1,500 vertical meters. The reward for this is the summit of the Gmeineck at 2,592 meters. Take enough water and a hat with you in sunny weather.From Hühnersberg you climb to the northeast on your back to turn northwest there. Through the forest it is always uphill. You meet a mountain stream, which you follow to the Kohlmaierhütte. You can only stop here on this stage. However, you only managed a third of the vertical meters at the hut.Behind the hut you keep going meter by meter and soon you will cross the tree line. Now it gets rocky and you are exposed to the sun unprotected up to the summit. The summit rewards you with a wonderful all-round view.From Gmeineck you turn east and descend on your back. At the next fork you go right and at the next one on the left. This path takes you to your well-deserved evening rest at the Bergfriedhütte.
The last day of the Millstätter See Höhensteig climbs again in the thigh. Because today there is a long descent, but also a little counter climb. At the Bergfriedhütte, the trees already indicate that you are at the tree line. Large parts of the path are covered in the forest at the beginning of the hike. Curve after curve you get closer to the valley.At the lower edge of the forest you will pass the old village. If you want to divide this stage, you can insert an overnight stay here. Now you move in the Carinthian cultural landscape between meadows, fields and small towns. Via Zelsach you get to Hintereggen. After that, you have to overcome one last little comb.Then you come to Sankt Paul and finally to Lieserhofen. Now you cross the valley floor. On the other side of the Lieser you will reach Treffling too soon. As a final highlight of the hike, you can visit the medieval castle Sommeregg and take a last long look at Lake Millstatt from here.