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.
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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.
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.