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There’s two things you can expect from the Salzkammergut region of Austria: lakes and mountains. And where’s there’s mountains there’s opportunities for hiking. It didn’t take much research for me to settle on hiking Schafberg during my time in St Gilgen. Not only is the mountain famous for the incredible views from the top, but it presented a nice challenge as it’s a considerable trek up.
Schafberg mountain is a common destination for those visiting the Wolfgangsee area. After all, it’s arguably one of the most beautiful places in Austria. But only a fraction of visitors choose to hike to the top, instead taking the cog railway up. While I understand why that’s the case, there’s no question that climbing the mountain on foot is far more rewarding. Here’s why you should consider hiking up Schafberg, as it’s possibly my favourite experience hiking in Austria so far.
Before we get to the hike itself, it’s worth spending a moment to tell you why Schafberg is so special. The mountain is located in the Salzkammergut region among several lakes quite close to Salzburg. With an elevation of 1,783 m, it sits well over 1000 metres above the towns of St. Gilgen and St. Wolfgang. That combined with its uninterrupted views in all directions makes it the perfect spot for a day hike.
While the views and climb are impressive, the summit of the mountain or Schafbergspitze is its most iconic feature. The summit has a sheer drop off its northern face that is just awesome to look over. By the precipice are several traditional Alpine buildings, one of which is a hotel, seemingly floating on the edge depending on where you stand. There’s a reason why this is where most of the famous photos are taken from.
My Hiking Route
To climb to the top of Schafberg, there seems to be two main options. You can either come from the west out of St. Gilgen or the south out of St Wolfgang im Salzkammergut. The two routes do meet part way up the mountain, so much of the hike will be the same regardless.
Hiking trails are taken quite seriously in Austria and you’ll find regular yellow hiking trail markers that show you the way up. For my route, I followed Trail 20 out of St Gilgen in the direction of “Schafbergalm” and “Schafbergspitze”. This trail takes you through the village of Winkl, up through forest and over to the Schafbergalm station. From there, it’s a clear but steep path up to the summit.
From Winkl it’s meant to take a little over 3 hours to get up which proved to be about right. Expect the total hike to take around 6 hours, plus how ever long you spend at the top.
Taking Forest Trails
Although I spent the start of my hike in the town of St Gilgen, I have to say it didn’t feel like a hike right away. The walk out of St Gilgen and into Winkl is extremely pleasant as it takes you past fields and through the quiet village. It’s not until you hit the forest on the edge of Winkl that it starts to feel like the real deal. Early on I only encountered two other people hiking the trail up and to be honest, they soon left me in their dust.
The trail up through the forest is a nice dirt track that when dry is really quite comfortable to traverse. You won’t find too many flat sections or breaks from the incline, but it really isn’t too steep early on. Occasional breaks in the forest around you allow you to see the view over to the Mondsee. It’s a gradual climb at this point, but when you do get a view back down you realise how much progress you’re making.
Schafberg Cog Railway
There is a point where the forest trail makes way for a gravel road that you’ll follow for sections and cut across when convenient. You’ll know your time in the forest is over though when you reach the open meadows full of cows around the small Aignerriedel chapel. From there, it’s a very short walk to a major landmark on the hillside of Schafberg – the Schafbergalm.
A large stone lodge, the Schafbergalm is where you find the intermediate stop for the Schafbergbahn cog railways that climbs up the mountain. If you’re looking for a relaxing way to reach the top of Schafberg then the Schafberg cog railway is the way to go. This midway stop is the only one between the start of the train in St. Wolfgang and the summit.
Some visitors choose to get off the train here and climb from there which is smart if you’re short on time or fitness. For those hiking the full route though, it’s nice to stop here and watch the charming train chug its way up the mountainside. You may even have to wait for it at a crossing just up the hill.
Up the Open Hillside
Pressing on from the railway station, the path forward becomes a lot clearer. Hiking from Schafbergalm to the Schafberg summit takes you through open mountainside meadows with your destination always clearly in view. The incline isn’t too bad as you leave the Schafbergalm, but the way gets ever steeper the higher you go.
Ultimately, the final part of the hike is the hardest, but not just because of the gradient of the slope. Part of the difficulty is due to the rocky trail you take near the end that is less even underfoot than elsewhere. I wouldn’t say it’s very technically tricky, just a little uneven at times, so you’ll want to watch where you’re going.
That said, don’t forget to look around while you’re working hard to reach the top. The scenery around you and below is breathtaking and will instantly remind you why you’re doing the hike.
Views at the Summit
You’re sure to breath a sigh of relief when you reach the summit of Schafberg. After a short break at one of the benches around the area, it’s time to see the brilliant scenery that you came up here for. While the most famous shot is along the cliff face to the Himmelspforte Schafberg hut, there’s loads to see up here.
From the top you should be able to spot the three major lakes in the region, Mondsee, Wolfgangsee and Attersee. Look close enough though and you’ll also find smaller ones nearby and distant lakes like Irrsee as well. Then there are the incredible mountains to the south that make up the closest range of the Alps, known as the Northern Limestone Alps.
One of my favourite views though is found if you walk out past the railway station to the east. Following a small trail over the tunnel there you reach the razor sharp cliffs seen below. Nowhere else on the mountain quite demonstrates the sheer drop better than this in my eyes.
Tips for Hiking Schafberg Austria
Beyond just knowing the route and what to expect from the hike, there are other things that will improve your experience here hiking near Salzburg.
- When visiting Schafberg bring food and drinks with you if you’re on a budget, because everything is quite expensive at the top. Captive audience and all that.
- Follow the signposts because they’re good and will just make the hike a stress-free experience.
- St. Gilgen is the easiest place to reach with regular buses from Salzburg, whereas St. Wolfgang requires a connection in Strobl.
- If staying in Sankt Gilgen, I can recommend the Hotel Schernthaner which was a really nice place. Otherwise, there’s lots of options for accommodation in St. Wolfgang.
Have you heard of or had the chance to visit Schafberg in Austria? Do you think you’d do the full hike, the half hike or just take train up? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
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