When I heard about the new Salzkammergut long distance hiking trail, I knew this would be a wonderful way to explore the beautiful lakes and mountains region of Austria. For the last few years I’ve taken a hiking trip with my friend Julia in early September, testing ourselves on the Tour de Mont Blanc, the Dolomites and in the Austrian Tyrol, but this year the Salzkammergut trail was beckoning. Our 3 day hike started in the Alm valley, on a trail that would take us through the forest, past pretty lake Laudachsee overshadowed by the Traunstein mountain and up to the Grünberg peak overlooking lake Traunsee, where we would end our day in the lakeside town of Gmunden.
From our hotel at Hochbergerhaus Alm we got a lift down the steep winding road to the town of Grünau in the Alm valley, where we bought a few supplies. From here the trail leads along the Alm river and up the meadow slopes to the Gasthof Hochbuchegg where you can stop for refreshments. Since it was raining we cheated a little, getting a lift to this point and shortening our walk by 2 hours so that we could start at the beginning of the forest trail.
Tip: While in this area, you may like to visit the Cumberland Wildlife Park near Grünau, a 60 acre park where you can observe ibex, deer, bison and wolves in a natural setting and learn more about the wildlife of the area.
Through the damp forest
The trail took us steadily uphill, through a forest of tall conifers with bare spikes at the bottom where their lower branches had died off for lack of light. There were patches of long grass by the trail with wildflowers and the soft white heads of cow parsley, catching the raindrops. A black and yellow salamander walked slowly across my path and with damp fingers I just managed to pull out my camera in time to photograph him. The only building we passed was a wooden Jagdhutte hunting lodge and a few smaller wooden hunting hides raised above the ground with ladders, to scout out for game during the hunting season.
We arrive at Laudauchsee
We emerged from the forest at Laudachsee, a pretty lake overshadowed by the Katzenstein rocky peak and Traunstein mountains. I’d like to tell you that we stretched out in the sunshine beside the lake to have a picnic and take in the views, but sadly the rain was beating down and the lake shrouded in mist. We squelched up the hill to the Ramsaualm restaurant which was technically closed due to the weather, but since the owner was expecting a group for lunch, he took pity on us and let us in for a bowl of soup.
Lunch at lake Laudachsee
What a relief it was to settle into the restaurant next to the traditional green ceramic stove. The town of Gmunden where we were heading is well known as a ceramics town and produces plenty of green and white pottery at the Gmunder factory which we later visited. We ordered Frittatensuppe, a clear broth of vegetables and sliced pancakes which hit the spot nicely, before donning our slightly drier waterproofs to set off again towards the Grünberg cable car, about an hour’s walk away.
Tip: If you’re based in Gmunden, it’s a popular excursion to take the cable car up to the Grünberg peak then walk for an hour to Laudachsee along the easy forest trail for a nice lunch at Ramsaualm and then return the same way.
Just outside the Ramsaualm at the start of the trail, we found the wooden sculpture of a mermaid and next to her the carved wooden figure of the giant Erla. The local legend about the giant and the mermaid was written beside the sculptures and here’s the story;
The story of Giant Erla and the mermaid of Laudachsee
Once upon a time there was a giant named Erla, who lived high in the mountains of the Salzkammergut. One day Erla left his cave in the Traunstein mountain and came down to the shores of Laudachsee to enjoy the spring sunshine. Erla noticed a beautiful young mermaid, with blonde hair, swimming in the lake and soon he came to visit her every day. They fell in love but as winter approached, they became sad that they would not be able to see each other for a long time.
So Erla gathered some rocks and threw them down from the mountain into Lake Traunsee to make an island where he built a beautiful little castle called Schloss Ort. The witch Kranawitha made a spell to shrink Erla and turn the mermaid’s fish tail into legs, so that they could live together in the castle. But after a few years the mermaid became very sad as she missed her life underwater and so one day she disappeared into the lake, Traunsee. The giant Erla was heartbroken and turned back into a giant, leaving the castle, never to be seen again.
The Grünberg cable car
The trail continued through the forest and we reached the Grünberg cable car at around 1000m, at the top of the mountain that overlooks Traunsee and the town of Gmunden. In better weather we would have had a fantastic view from here and seen Schloss Ort, the castle on the lake built by Giant Erla for his beloved mermaid. In the rain, everything was misty and overcast, so we could hardly see anything, and decided that the cable car was a much more appealing option than taking the trail down the mountain which would take another 1.5 hrs. The cable car normally runs until 5pm daily and costs €11.50 one way €17.20 return – more information here.
We explore the old town of Gmunden
From the bottom cable car station, it was a 10 minute walk over the bridge and into the old centre of town, where we quickly found the Rathaus platz and our hotel Seehotel Schwan, facing the lake and jetty for the ferry boats. This pretty lakeside town is the regional centre of the Traunsee region within Salzkammergut and became wealthy in the Middle Ages from the salt trade that gives the region its Salz name. From Hallstatt and other production centres, salt passed along the river Traun to be sold in the major cities such as Vienna and Budapest. Prized for cooking and to preserve food through the long winters, the salt was so expensive that it was known as “White Gold”. After checking into our Hotel Schwan, we spent the late afternoon in Gmunden wandering around the medieval streets with their pretty pastel coloured houses and shops, admiring the old doors, paintings and plaster decoration.
Gmunden – the spa town
By the 19th century, the salt trade had become less important, but Gmunden became fashionable as a spa town, emulating the success of nearby Bad Ischl, where Emperor Franz Josef I would spend his summers. Pretty villas and an elegant boulevards were built facing the lake, while spa hotels offered brine baths and salt inhalations with health giving properties. Gmunden is also known as a ceramics town, with a pottery market held every August and the Gmunder factory, that you can visit to see the traditional handpainted green ceramics being made. The photos below show you how the pretty streets and houses of Gmunden look on a sunny day as unfortunately it was still raining when we were there.
In my next article about our hike on the Salzkammergut long distance trail, I’ll be covering some of the other things to see near Gmunden, such as the fairytale castle on the lake, Schloss Ort and the Gmunder ceramics factory, as well as what we enjoyed on the next section of the hiking trail over meadows and through forests until we arrived at Landgasthaus in der Kreh.
More stories from Austria
Where we stayed while hiking Section 20 of the Salzkammergut trail
We arrived late at Hochbergerhaus from the airport, so unfortunately it was too dark to see the wonderful views for which the hotel is known. This is a cosy, family run lodge set high up the mountain at 1200 metres and is popular for winter snow and hiking in summer, with a hunting theme in the wild boar hides decorating the walls. The hotel had prepared us a hearty dish of different Austrian specialities – spätzle with grilled cheese, saukraut with caraway seeds, roast pork and potatoes topped with a fried egg. We received a warm welcome despite our late arrival and found our room simple and comfortable with traditional wooden furniture and a balcony overlooking the garden area.
There are many mountain walks around this area into the Totnes Gebirge range and the Kasberg mountain, so it can be used as an extension of the main Salkammergut long distance trail, which starts from nearby Grünau. There is also a new WALDNESS package available, which includes walking, relaxing and other activities in the forest that are designed to promote welbeing in the natural woodland surroundings. If you prefer to stay right on the hiking trail, there are also lots of hotel options in and around Grünau.
Seehotel Schwan Gmunden
We stayed in Gmunden at Seehotel Schwan, an elegant, turn-of-the-century hotel which is very centrally located opposite the Rathaus (town hall) and facing the lake. There has been an inn on this spot since the 16th century but after the older building was destroyed in 1898, the current hotel was rebuilt and has been run by 6 generations of the Nöstlinger family for the last 100 years. While the restaurant and bar areas are furnished in charming traditional Austrian style, the bedroom was stylish and modern with pale wood floors, a cheerful red sofa and felt covered headboard. Our room on the second floor had a balcony that overlooked the lake with beautiful views although the weather was overcast and misty while we were there.
We also ate in the hotel’s restaurant with a menu that features many traditional Austrian dishes and I tried the excellent trout caught from the lake, served with buttered parsley potatoes and a green salad. The hotel also has a lovely terrace which is a nice place to relax with a view of the lake in fine weather. Seehotel Schwann is a great place to stay in style while hiking the Salzkammergut trail or as a base for exploring lake Traunsee and the surrounding region. If you can’t stay at Seehotel Schwann, check out the other options for hotels in Gmunden.
For more information and to book: Seehotel Schwan Website
Visitor information for hiking in Salzkammerkut
There is detailed information on the website for the Salkammerkut BergeSeen or long distance hiking trail, including walking notes and maps that can be downloaded and printed. Take a look at holiday offers for accommodation packages that save you money and make it easy to arrange a walking trip on different parts of the trail, with the possibility to have your baggage transported each day.
For more information on holidays in the Salzkammergut region of Austria, check out the tourism websites for Salzkammergut (the whole lakes & mountains region) as well as the tourism board websites for each of the lake-regions of Almtal, Traunsee and Attersee that we visited. You can find more information on holidays in Austria on the Austria Tourism website.
Thanks to the tourism boards of Traunsee, Almtal and Attersee in Salzkammergut for hosting my hiking trip in Austria.
We walked Section 20 – Grunau im Almtal to Gmunden
Length: 22 km
Altitude difference (uphill): 700m
Altitude difference (downhill): 800m
Lowest point: 426m
Highest point: 1004m
About the Salzkammergut long distance trail
The Salzkammergut BergeSeen or long distance hiking trail was inaugurated in the spring of 2017, creating a 350 km long distance route that covers the whole of the Salzkammergut region of Austria. The long distance route brings together numerous local trails that already existed, with new signage and route maps that make it very easy to hike the sections individually or by combining as many stages as you wish. Each section of the trail is planned to be a day’s hiking, and these vary in length from 4 hours to 8 hours, with 20 sections in all, making it possible to walk for 20 days if you want to make the whole trail in one round. Most hikers will probably do as we did and pick a section of the trail to walk for a few days as time allows. With excellent public transport in Austria it is also easy to move between the start points for each stage, if you wish to miss out a section.
There are also more advanced ‘Alpine Routes’ that can be added to the trail, that take you high into the mountains, although these are for more experienced hikers and should only be undertaken in good weather. Each stage starts/ finishes at a point where there are good accommodation options, with at least one place to stay and normally a range of different accommodation. The Salzkammergut long distance trail is a great way for walkers to get an overview of this beautiful region of lakes and mountains, with interesting and historic towns to visit, stunning scenery and plenty of welcoming guesthouses and restaurants to stop for a drink or lunch on the trail.
Maps and Guides for the Salzkammergut BergeSeen Trail
If you are just walking a few sections of the Salzkammergut BergeSeen Trail you can download the walking instruction and maps at the trail website – Click on the numbered section you plan to walk and at the bottom click Create PDF, which generates a document in either English or German with walking instructions and maps that can be printed. You can also buy maps and guides listed below which is recommended if you want to have a good overview of the trail. Maps and guides of the trail are also available from tourism offices and shops along the trail.
Recommended: Kompass hiking guide Salzkammergut BergeSeen Trail – Buy on Amazon
This hiking guide gives instructions on each of the sections of the trail as well as including a map. This guide with map has all you need for the whole trail. Be sure to order the correct language version of the guide as it is available in both English and German.
If the guide book is not available, you can also buy the following maps and use them in combination with printed walking notes that you download from the website.
Kompass 1:50 000 map Salzkammergut BergeSeen Trail – Buy on Amazon
This map covers the whole of the Bergeseen Trail but in individual sections so you don’t get the overview of the region.
Kompass 1:50 000 2-map set no 229 Salkammergut – Buy on Amazon
This 2 part set covers the whole of the BergeSeen Trail
Kompass 1:50 000 map no 18 Nordlisches Salzkammergut – Buy on Amazon
This map covers Traunsee, Attersee and Wolfgangsee including the sections 20, 1, 2 that we walked although the first part of section 20 from Grünau is not covered.
Photo credits: Due to the rain we experienced, many of my photos are very grey, so I have used some photos from the Traunsee and Almtal tourism boards to show you what the area looks like in the better weather, that is normally experienced through the summer and into September.