The Pasterze Glacier Hiking Trail | Grossglockner High Alpine Road
A top highlight of the Grossglockner High Alpine Road is the Pasterze Glacier. Located just below the Kaiser Franz Josefs Hohe is the Pasterze Glacier hiking trail that brings you alongside the edge of the glacier and to its tongue. This out and back route is a perfect add on to your day as you enjoy the Austrian Alps. Read on for all you need to know for a visit!
1) What is the Grossglockner High Alpine Road
While this guide won’t go in depth on the Grossglockner High Alpine Road, I still wanted to give a brief overview of what exactly it is.
The high alpine road is a 48 km / 30 mile mountain pass road with 36 hairpin like curves that wind their way up and down the surrounding mountainside. The highest point of the road reaches 2,571 meters / 8,435 feet!
The road is named after the tallest mountain in Austria – the Grossglockner. At 3,798 meters / 12,461 feet, the mountain can be viewed from several different vantage points, with one of the closest views at the Kaiser Franz Josefs Hohe.
The main scenic portion of the road, between Ferleiten and Heiligenblut requires a toll to enter. Due to its high elevation, this portion is only open during certain times of year for safety reasons.
So, whether enjoying the Grossglockner High Alpine Road as part of a road trip or day trip, I highly recommend a visit during your time in Austria.
2) Where is the Grossglockner High Alpine Road
As mentioned, the toll booth section of road begins in Ferleiten in the north, and ends in Heiligenblut in the south. I have highlighted both of those entry / exit points on the map below.
» Also highlighted is the Kaiser Franz Josefs Hohe, the starting point for the Pasterze Glacier trail that I will dive into in this guide.
I made the day trip to the high alpine road when spending a few days in the Bavarian town of Berchtesgaden (1.5 hours away). However, you could also day trip from nearby places such as Zell am See (15 minutes), Salzburg (1.5 hours), or even Innsbruck (2 hours).
3) Hours & Costs
Every year the opening and closing dates may vary slightly but expect the road to be open sometime in May and close sometime in October. For 2020 the hours are as follows:
June 1 – June 30: 5:30AM to 8:30PM
July 1 – August 31: 5:00AM to 9:30PM
Sep 1 – October 26: 6:00AM to 7:30PM
» The last entrance onto the road is 45 minutes before the night lock
The prices to access the road are different by vehicle. See below for the latest prices:
Private Car: 37 Euro
Motorcycle: 27 Euro
Trucks: 46 Euro
Bus: 5.80 Euro per adult / 2.90 Euro per child
4) What to Bring on the Hike
If you are wondering what to bring along when taking part of hikes in general take a look at the comprehensive Hiking Packing List that I put together. It includes everything I bring along on day hikes, and it will have you better prepared when taking part of trails all over Austria. The list includes several different essentials such as:
Hiking Shoes | Keen Targhee
Water Bottle | CamelBak Chute
Action Camera | GoPro Hero 8
Rain Jacket | Columbia Watertight II
Backpack Rain Cover | Joy Walker Cover
Portable Charger | Anker Powercore
Hiking Backpack | Osprey Talon 22
5) Pasterze Glacier Trail Background
Before jumping into the hike, I want to note that this hike requires no crampons or special equipment. While the hike is technically on the glacier, all of it is done on the moraine debris (rocks, dirt, sand), making it a safe hike to take part of.
You will not be hiking on the white ice of the Pasterze Glacier that you will see further out in the distance. Rather you will be hiking right to the start of that area.
Below you can see a picture taken from where the hike begins, as well as the route outlined that heads right up to the main part of the glacier itself.
The starting point of the hike is at Kaiser Franz Josefs Hohe. From here you can either hike the zig zagging route down closer to the glacier lake or you can take the quick funicular ride (open July to September; 10AM – 4PM; 13 Euro round trip).
If you decide to take the funicular in both directions (as this is an out and back trail), then you are looking at around 2-3 hours of hiking. On the other hand, if you decide to hike down from and then back up to Franz Josefs Hohe, you will want to add another ~1 hour to your total time.
Note: you could make this a true full day of hiking and start your journey at the Glocknerhaus, located just prior to Kaiser Franz Josefs Hohe. Take a look at the Grossglockner Hiking Guide for more about that particular route.
6) Pasterze Glacier Hike Details
Now that you have some details about the Grossglockner High Alpine Road, let’s talk more about what to expect on the Pasterze Glacier hiking trail. Once you have made your way down from Franz Josefs Hohe (either by funicular or by foot), you will continue the descent down to the glacier lake below.
The trail will be a mix of rocks, dirt, sand, and stairs all the way through so expect a little bit of everything. Remember, you are technically walking on a glacier here so being aware of your footing is essential.
Once you reach the glacier lake you will be able to enjoy the views of the water, the floating icebergs, and the Pasterze Glacier out in the distance. Above and across the lake will be the highest mountain in Austria – the Grossglockner itself.
Many people who do not want to hike the entire trail just stop at this point, however out in front, you will see the continued pathway etched into the ground. Follow the pathway as you walk right alongside the lake and further towards the Pasterze Glacier tongue.
Guiding you along the way will be some red and white trail markers to keep you on track. You will also come by some informational boards on the hike, which will show you how far the glacier receded over time.
Eventually you will reach the end of the main glacial lake and come across a river that connects the upper and lower lakes. As you walk up and along the moraine wall of this section of trail, you begin to see the Pasterze Glacier come into full view out in front of you.
Once past the short river section, you will find the second, smaller glacial lake that is fed directly from the glacier and the surrounding mountains. You will see streams of water pouring down the valley walls into the lake down below from various directions.
You will soon reach a point, where you no longer can head any further. With the glacier out in front of you and the icebergs floating down in the lake, this is perfect spot to just sit back and enjoy the view.
After enough time around the Pasterze Glacier, it will be the same route back in the opposite direction towards the funicular and Kaiser Franz Josefs Hohe. Although you won’t have the views of the glacier out in front of you, the glacier lake and the rest of the valley will be in sight.
Once you reach Franz Josefs Hohe, feel free to grab some food and drinks, and take in those views of the area from the viewing platform to wrap up your Pasterze Glacier trail experience.
That about does it for a guide to hiking the Pasterze Glacier. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to add them in below. Also don’t forget to check out the other Austria itineraries and guides up on the site (like this One Week in Austria).
Have fun out there and safe travels!