Austria is a country defined by mountains: Well over half of its landscape is shaped by the iconic Alps. A night spent in Innsbruck, the capital city of Tyrol (the state in which Austria’s highest peaks are found), is full of constant reminders of the summits above: crisp mountain air, cool temperatures, the sound of periodic rock fall. Many Austrians spend their weekends and holidays exploring the higher climes. They hike past lush alpine dairy pastures and pristine lakes in the shadow of rocky spires. And at the end of each day, they enjoy a hearty meal, hot shower and night’s rest at a scenic hütte (hut).
There are more than 1,000 hütten scattered through the Eastern Alps, most of which are associated with either the Austrian Alpine Club or German Alpine Club. While a summer hiking in the Austrian Alps might sound like the sort of vacation best suited for serious adventurers, the clubs were founded in 1873 with the mission to make the peaks accessible to all. As Henrich Stenitzer, a prominent club member, wrote in 1912, “The alpine clubs have unlocked the majesty and beauty of the high mountains for the masses, giving countless numbers of people the opportunity, without prohibitively demanding effort…or exorbitant costs, to become acquainted with the Alps.”
For better or for worse, Austria’s mountain infrastructure brings out the crowds during prime hut season (mid-June through early October). The well-maintained trail and hut systems make it easy for visitors to tailor an adventure to suit their own fancy. Sometimes, huts serve as a base for high-level alpinism. For others, they’re respites of company and comfort during a long trek or destinations for day trips complete with a delicious meal.
Austria’s mountain huts are actually much grander than that name implies. They’re equipped with hot showers, restaurants that serve delicious, hearty foods like krapfen (cheese, potatoes and onions fried in batter), bauernschmaus (farmer’s stew), schoderblatand (bread pudding), and plenty of beer—all in the midst of jaw-dropping alpine scenery. For now, many of Austria’s huts have put on their winter clothing and are closed to visitors, but there’s no time like the present to dream of—and plan for—summer. Here are eight Austrian huts to fuel your dreams of alpine hospitality:
The Stubai High Trail is one of the most popular hut-to-hut treks in Austria. Starting and ending at Innsbrucker Hütte, the trail covers about 60 miles and passes seven other huts along the way. Innsbrucker Hütte, which has been run by the same family for three generations, offers both private rooms and shared dormitories and a full menu featuring local beef, sausage and cheese.
The Nürnberger Hut is another destination along the Stubai High Trail, reached after a three-to-five-hour walk that goes past mountain vistas and Grünausee, the largest lake in the Stubai Alps. Open mid-June through early October, the hut is also accessible directly from the valley below with a two-and-a-half-hour walk from nearby Ranalt. From the sun terrace, visitors can look out on Wilder Freiger Peak and Lake Freigersee as they enjoy a marende (afternoon snack).
About a three-and-a-half-hour walk from Nürnberger Hütte, Bremer is the final stop on the Stubai High Trail. The small, traditional hut, built in 1897, was expanded in 2005. It also serves as a base for rock climbing and hikes to surrounding summits.
The Zillertal Rucksack Route (also known as the Berliner Höhenweg) is another popular hut-to-hut route. The 50-mile loop passes between 11,000-foot glaciated peaks, waterfalls and sections that are crossed with the aid of fixed ropes and ladders. Most people spend nine days taking the trek—the Olpererhütte is one of the stops along the way. First built in 1881, this hut was once a simple shelter that served as a base for alpinists. In 2007 the owners opened a new hut, now complete with showers, hot meals and a sun terrace.
The Greizer Hütte is another stopping point along the Zillertal Rucksack Route and a common destination for daytrips from Mayrhofen (a town about an hour’s drive from Innsbruck). It is located on an alpine farm kept by Irmi and Herbert Schneeberger that supplies the kitchen with ingredients for traditional Tyrolean cuisine. The hut is part of the Austrian Alpine Club’s “so taste the mountains” campaign, which promotes serving dishes made from only local ingredients. Horses, chickens and goats take pasture in the surrounding land.
Waltenberger Haus, one of the smallest lodges in Austria’s Oberstdorf Alps, is mostly visited by technical climbers and mountaineers. But the owners of even the most basic shelters know the importance of good food and drink after a long day in the hills: Most of Austria’s alpine huts serve local brews on tap.
At an elevation of nearly 9,500 feet in the Ötzal Alps, Hochewildehaus provides a true high-altitude experience and is a popular base for rock climbing and ski tours. It is about a four-hour hike from the town of Obergurgl, passing the Langtalereck Hut along the way. After a long day in the hills, visitors sit around the fire and enjoy jam sessions featuring Austrian tunes any time between the end of June and mid-September.
This high-end alpine lodge is part of a new wave of upscale chalets. Located on a farmstead that has been owned through generations of the same family since 1687, it’s been called “an idyllic place to eat, sleep and breathe crystal-clean air.”