One Of The Best High Alpine Driving Experiences
When I think of those picturesque mountains, the Alps, I think of craggy, green mountains sprinkled with sheep and cows, bells tinkling. I think of girls dressed up like Heidi, in dirndls and boys dressed in lederhosen. Every fall, we go in search of the Alps of our dreams. Even though we’re in love with Austria cities with their amazing museums and architecture like Linz and Salzburg, we just need to get out into the real Austria. The ritual and festivity of celebrating the end of summer and the cows coming home draws us over and over to these iconic mountains. I had never really thought much about the roads through the mountains. After all, it’s just a conveyance, a means to get from point A to point B. However, on our last jaunt we discovered that the Grossglockner High Alpine Road is an attraction all on its own, and a very worthwhile one at that.
We’d driven down to Tarrenz, Austria to see the goats and sheep come home, and then over to Silbertal where we watched them load up all the cows on trucks to be taken home, and so we were just tooling around east Tirol and we decide to go up over a pass.
As we approached, there was a ticket booth. It was the type of one person ticket booth that you see all over the world when you are entering a national park. We didn’t realize we’d picked a route that was anything special, but we happily paid and on we went. Boy, were we in for a treat. Sometimes you just have to drive to drive. We had stumbled unknowingly upon the Grossglockner High Alpine Road.
Driving the Grossglockner Road Through Tauern National Park
We were immediately wow’d! The road immediately started climbing and soon we were looking over the side at the twirls of highway that ribbons its way through and over the Glockner. The Glockner mountain, at 3,798 meters high, is awe-inspiring. Surrounded by peaks that are three fourths of its size, it towers over them and proclaims its royalty. Mountaineers come from all over the world to hike its pristine valleys, gawk at the glacier, and enjoy the unique wildlife of the Tauern National Park which surrounds the peak.
As we were undoubtedly on one of the best roads in Europe, we opened the sun roof of the car and whizzed all around the steep curves, waving to the other drivers who were enjoying the day just as we were. We made all the obligatory stops, at the hotel rest area where you can grab lunch or walk on the dam. We stopped at the glacier view marveling at how gray it all looked. The stops were interesting and fun, talking to other drivers, but the best part really was just driving on a fun road with amazing scenery.
There were plenty of hikers, bikers, motorcyclists and other hobbyists all around that day. We hadn’t prepared for hiking, but we did take a beautiful short walk by the brook, so clear we could see the fish. The path was one of the flatter paths and lead to a farm. It circled around the base of some impressive hills and mountains and the wildflowers were gorgeous. We didn’t walk long, but that’s when stumbling on something so fun bites you, we didn’t even have our water bottles with us and for me that’s number one when hiking. Oh well, onwards.
As we neared the end of the park, we realized we had probably done it backwards. This is not unusual for us, and we got a little chuckle out of it. I was more concerned about the really cool cows we’d passed. I looked them up and discovered they are a herd of European Aurochs. We followed their grazing for awhile trying to grab a good photo, but I guess they were just too hungry or camera shy, because they kept their heads low.
If you love driving, national parks, maybe some hiking or biking, the Grossglockner is only 3 hours south of Garmisch, in the beautiful East Tyrol. I would definitely chock it up as one of the best places to visit in Austria, along with the Wachau Valley and the Melk Abbey (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), especially if you love the outdoors as much as we do. It could be added to any Austria trip, like the Hallein Salt Mines, Innsbruck, or anywhere in those stunning Austrian Alps with no problem.
Hours: It’s only open during daylight hours starting in May and going through October. In the late fall and early winter, it’s a good idea to check to see if the pass is open before going, but the best time to visit is late spring and early fall. It’s busy enough all year round, but there are certainly more visitors, cars, motorcycles, and bicyclists in the summertime. The official hours are from 6:00 to 8:00. You may not enter the last 45 minutes of the day, because you could get stuck there overnight.
Cost: Just paying for one day pass is 35.50 Euros. It’s seems a bit steep, but it includes all your passengers, and it really goes towards keeping the park pristine and healthy. There is plenty to do inside the park, so plan to go early, pack a picnic lunch, and take your time enjoying all it has to offer.
Have you driven the Grossglockner? Any tips?
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