Seven ways to experience Zillertal, Austria’s most naturally diverse valley

A hotspot among winter sports enthusiasts, Zillertal doesn’t disappoint after the snow melts: this Tyrolean valley is a summer paradise for hikers, bikers and nature lovers keen to experience Austria’s great outdoors. Here’s our pick of the highlights.

Snowy peaks, glinting lakes, alpine meadows, bracing air — when it comes to diverse mountain scenery, few places in Austria can compare to Zillertal.

Photograph by Andre Schönherr
By Oliver Berry
Published 3 Jul 2022, 10:00 BST

Located in the namesake Alps, Zillertal is the second-widest valley in Austria’s Tyrol region. It puts its size to good use: landscapes range from lakes to sky-high peaks, from green meadows to the mighty Hintertux Glacier — the country's only year-round ski resort. The area’s diversity extends to its experiences, whether you're travelling with your family or looking for adrenaline-fuelled fun, and culinary offerings, with plenty of places to fuel up for an adventure — be it traditional Tyrolean food at a mountain hut or fine dining at a historic Tux hotel.

1. Spieljoch Mountain

Best suits: families and explorers
With 50 adventure playgrounds, six outdoor swimming pools and seven adventure lakes, Zillertal is a leading family destination. A local favourite is Spieljoch, locally known as the ‘adventure mountain’: here, kids can tackle climbing walls, splash around a lake, hurtle down zip-lines, race three-wheeled mountaincarts and rocket down a tubing track. What’s more, at the area’s new crystal park, nine interactive play stations take children on a journey through the history of local mining.

2. Lake Fichtensee

Best suits: watersport buffs
At 5,577ft above sea level, the Fichtensee mountain lake doubles as the valley’s waterpark, with paddleboarding, rowing, wild swimming and almost two hectares of water on offer for cooling off on a hot summer day. It has a kids’ playground modelled on a fairytale castle, complete with battlements, turrets and towers. It’s also a popular spot for family picnics and barbecues — not least thanks to its sausage vending machine, supplied by the valley’s butcher.

Signposted trails of all difficulties stretch for 870 miles at three altitude levels around Zillertal, from the valley floor to rugged peaks.

Photograph by Daniel Geiger

3. Zillergrund Valley

Best suits: hikers
Several valleys snake their way into the higher mountains from Zillertal. For many seasoned hikers, Zillergrund is the most scenic of them all, extending for 12 miles all the way to the Austro-Italian border through a network of long-haul circuits and high-level hut hikes, such as the Hannemannweg trail. The mountain panorama has earned the valley the moniker of ‘Little Tibet’, and you might spot a prayer flag or two fluttering alongside cow pastures and shepherds’ huts. For an easier walk, the lower valley has several partially paved trails.

4. Hintertux Glacier

Best suits: snow enthusiasts
As the only ice sheet in Austria accessible year-round, the mighty Hintertux Glacier offers winter sports enthusiasts groomed, snow-sure runs 365 days of the year. In summer, it’s also a great place to experience a glacier walk: under the supervision of mountain guides, strap on boots, arm yourselves with walking poles and trek out in small groups onto the ice. Alternatively, take the easy way with the ski lift, or better still, one of the all-terrain snow groomers, which reach remote areas most visitors rarely see.

5. Nature Park Zillertal Alps

Best suits: nature lovers
Covering 163sq miles — about 40% of the Zillertal area — this is the largest protected area in the Austrian Alps. Starting at 3,281ft, it climbs all the way to the top of Hochfeiler, Zillertal’s highest mountain at 11,516ft (and the highest in Austria accessible to hikers). Keep your eyes peeled for marmots, eagles, mountain sheep and chamois — as well as a sea of wildflowers in the mountain meadows. Enthusiasts should book a guided hike or pop into the Nature Park House in Ginzling for informative exhibitions.

Whether you're on a family trip or looking for high-octane thrills, Zillertal has bike trails for all, often accompanied by postcard-pretty panoramas.

Photograph by Daniel Geiger

6. Zillertaler Höhenstraße

Best suits: bikers
Covering a total of almost 22 miles and 5,217ft in altitude, the Zillertal High Road is a rollercoaster ride for cyclists in search of a challenge. It takes in some of Zillertal’s most epic scenery: alpine passes, jaw-dropping valleys and more mountains than you could count. Expect to spend between four and a half and six hours to complete it, but to do it with a little less effort, opt for e-bikes — the route is dotted with charging stations, along with food stalls and roadside cafes to stop and refuel.

7. Zillertalbahn steam train

Best suits: romantics
Considered one of the engineering marvels of its age, this century-old narrow-gauge railway continues to chuff its way for 20 miles through the peaks between Jenbach and Mayrhofen. The standard trip lasts one and a half hours, but special journeys running throughout the year allow passengers to dine in style in the buffet car or see the ‘crystal car’, decorated with 62,000 Swarovski gems. 


Read more: Authentic experiences in Tyrol, Austria's alpine capital

Plan your trip

The quickest way to get to Zillertal from the UK is to fly to Innsbruck or Salzburg and catch the Four Seasons Shuttle, a regular bus transfer or door-to-door taxi service.

Alternatively, there are frequent trains from many European cities, including Paris. Catch a mainline service for Innsbruck, then change at Jenbach for connecting Zillertalbahn trains. Once you’re in the valley, the Zillertal Activcard covers, among other things, public transport and one cable-car ride a day.

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