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High Tauern National Park

High Tauern National Park is one of the most spectacular national parks in Europe. It is located in the west-central part of Austria, just outside the city of Salzburg. High Tauern National Park contains 1303 mountains, the highest and most prominent of which is Großglockner (3,798 m/12,460 ft).

High Tauern National Parkt, Austria

Geography

High Tauern National Park is located in the Austrian states of Salzburg, Carinthia, and Tyrol. Mittersill, Zell am See, Lienz, and Spittal an der Drau, are the closest notable cities to the park.

Encompassing an area of 1,856 sq. km (716 sq. mi), High Tauern is the largest national park in Austria and even the entire alpine region. From east to west, the national park is about 100 km (62 mi) long. It is also approximately 40 km (25 mi) long from north to south.

The largest part of the park is located in Salzburg, with a total area of 805 sq. km (311 sq. mi). Approximately 611 sq. km (23 sq. mi) of the national park are located in Tyrol, while the smallest area, which is about 440 sq. km (170 sq. mi), is located in Carinthia.

High Tauern is home to more than 300 peaks over 3,000 m (9,842 ft) in elevation and 342 glaciers. The highest mountains in the park are Grossglockner in Carinthia and Grossvenediger in Salzburg, both of which are over 3000 m (9,842 ft) tall.

Amongst keen mountaineers, the following mountains in the national park are also particularly well known: Hochgall (3,436 m/11,272 ft), Hochalmspitze (3,360 m/ 11,023 ft), Kitzsteinhorn (3,204 m/10,511 ft), Grosser Hafner (3,076 m/10,091 ft).

Due to its location and sheer size, High Tauern national park is relatively close to some other magnificent sights and national parks, such as:

  • Dobratsch – High Tauern is not far from Carinithia's highest peak, the Dobratsch 2,166 m (7,106 ft), which is located just west of Villach. The Dobratsch mountain range is also called the Villacher Alps and is part of a protected nature park.
  • Weissensee – Weissensee is a region in Carinthia that’s located relatively close to High Tauers and Dobratsch. Weissensee, one of the region’s largest lakes, is located in the middle of the Gailtaler Alps, which also includes Dobratsch. It is also part of a protected nature park. It measures approximately 78 sq. km (30 sq. mi) in area and has an average surface elevation of 930 m (3051 ft).
  • Nockberge – The Nockberge mountain range is another nearby nature spectacle. It is located partly in Carinthia, Salzburg, and Styria. The range is part of the Gurktal Alps. The Eisenhut at 2,441 m (8,008 ft) in elevation, is part of the Nockberge, and is the highest peak of the Gurktal Alps.
  • Ötztal – Ötztal in Tyrol is an Alpine valley that is also worth visiting if you’re traveling to High Tauern. The valley is home to several skiing areas, the Ötztal Nature Park and the highest paved road in the Alps, the Ötztal Glacier Road. The Ötztal Valley is 65 km (40 mi) long and is home to part of the Ötztal Alps. This mountain range is part of the Central Alps, and its highest peak is the Wildspitze at 3,768 m (12,362 ft).
  • Zillertaler Alps – The Zillertaler Alps are another breathtaking sight. The peaks are located between Austria and Italy. They are home to several sub-ranges and summits. The highest peak in the Zillertaler Alps is Hochfeiler at 3,510 m (11,516 ft).
  • Heiligenblut – Heiligenblut is a community located at the foot of Grossglockner. Its main village is the Heiligenblut village, which is the starting point of the Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse.
  • Raggaschlucht – The Raggaschlucht in Carinthia is also worth a visit. It is a gorge that’s about only 800 m (0.5 mi) long, but it offers an opportunity to witness the wild waters that rush through the valley.

High Tauern National Parkt, Austria

Geology

The High Tauern mountain ranges are part of the Alps. The most significant mountain groups of High Tauern National Park include:

The peaks of the High Tauern were formed over the course of millions of years as the African tectonic plate drifted towards the Eurasian plate, creating the peaks that we now know as the Alps.

However, High Tauern is not only a beautiful region with many impressive mountains; it is also the site of a unique geological feature, namely the Tauern Fenster (Tauern Window).

A geological 'Fenster' or 'window' is not a literal window but rather a geological structure formed over time by erosion of the upper rock layers, bearing what is underneath. The Tauern window was created by the collision of the aforementioned tectonic plates, which caused rock to be pushed upward above the Earth’s surface. The Tauern Fenster enables us to see a piece of Earth's history with our own eyes.

High Tauern National Parkt, Austria

The astonishing thing about the 'window' is that it allows visitors to see rock strata that are usually found in the deep layers of the Earth. These peaks (such as Grossvenediger) were formed from liquid magma, which created the vast gneiss cores that we see at the center of the window today.

This so-called Tauern window spans over 160 km (99 mi) in length. It includes many famous mountain groups such as Grossvenediger, Granatspitz, Sonnblick, Ankogel, Tux Alps, and Zillertaler Alps.

In the park, the primary rock types are gneiss, tonalite, granite, schists, limestones, and dolomite.

Grossvenediger, High Tauern National Parkt, Austria

Grossvenediger

Ecology

High Tauern National Park is a remarkably biodiverse place. For example, it is home to more than 3,500 plant species and between 10,000 and 20,000 animal species.

Edelweiss, the glacier buttercup, Rodolph's saxifrage, alpenrose, and Gentiana are the park's most noteworthy and famous flowers.

The white edelweiss flower originated in central Asia before it made its way to the Alps. It even grows in rock crevices and is one of the most commonly known Alpine flowers. Meanwhile, the glacier buttercup is a unique flower because it has sturdy stems that help keep small rocks on steep mountain slopes.

Gentiana is a blue flower that is also very well known in the Alps. There are many different kinds of Gentiana, and the stems are often used to make delicious schnapps in many Alpine regions. Rodolph's saxifrage flowers are red, and the alpenrose flowers are pink, making for a very colorful national park.

 High Tauern National Parkt, Austria

The park is also home to a large selection of animals! Of the more than 10,000 estimated species found in the park, some of the most significant inhabitants of region include:

  • Alpine Ibex – The Alpine ibex is a famous inhabitant of the Alps. It is relatively heavy (more than 90 kg/198 lbs in some cases), but it is still very agile in mountainous terrain as it is one of nature's most gifted climbers. The national park is home to more than 1,100 Alpine ibex.
  • Bearded Vulture – The bearded vulture eats bones and carcasses leftover by other animals. It is surprisingly large, too, as it has a wingspan of up to 2.9 m (9.5 ft).
  • Golden Eagle – The golden eagle is one of the most impressive animals to see in the region. Its wings span up to 2.1 meters (6.9 ft), and its eyes can see up to three times as good as human eyes.
  • Marmot – The marmot is one of the best-loved animals by visitors to the park. Those who choose to drive up the Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse (Grossglockner High Alpine Road) will likely see marmot featured in many souvenir shops and restaurants. They live at elevations between 1,400 and 2,700 m (4,593 ft/ 8,858 ft), and if you're lucky, you might hear them whistle.

 Marmot, High Tauern National Parkt, Austria

Marmot

Human History

High Tauern National Park was founded in 1971, making it Austria's first national park. It is home to Austria's highest and most famous mountain, Grossglockner (3,798 m/12,460 ft).

The park was formed when three Austrian states, Salzburg, Carinthia, and Tyrol, agreed to create a protected national park, but this was only the start of a long process. In 1981, Carinthia was the first of the three states to legally recognize the area as a national park. Salzburg and Tyrol followed in 1984 and 1992, respectively.

The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) only officially recognized the national park in 2001 in Carinthia and in both Salzburg and Tyrol in 2006.

The history of the High Tauern area started long before it became a national park.

In particular, the towns of Heiligenblut am Grossglockner and Bad Gastein are historically interesting.

Heiligenblut, which translates from German to 'holy blood,' was an essential region for the gold mining industry until the twentieth century. Besides mining, forestry and agriculture were the main economic forces here.

The place was named after a legend about the holy blood of Christ. According to this legend, a Danish prince named Briccius, who carried a bottle of the blood of Christ, was buried by an avalanche here in the year 914 CE when he was on his way back home. He planted the bottle inside his leg to protect it from thieves.

 Heiligenblut, High Tauern National Parkt, Austria

Heiligenblut

Legend has it that farmers tried to properly bury him when they found the body, but one of his legs refused to come up from underneath the ground. After further investigation, the bottle, which is said to contain the blood, was found and has since been kept in a church in Heiligenblut.

In the twentieth century, the small area developed from an agricultural and mining town into a place for summer holidays and recreation, which it remains until this day.

For example, take Bad Gastein, which is now a popular skiing and hiking area. The year 2020 marks 1000 years since Bad Gastein was first mentioned in written text as Provincia Gastuna.

The first evidence of human civilization in Gastein is dated back to 3750 BCE, long before Gastein was ever written about. Evidence of a later Roman settlement can be found in traces of old Roman roads and coins. In the eighth century, larger-scale farming started to develop in the valley.

The history of the therapeutic use of thermal water in Gastein (which it is now famous for) is long and began before it was first used in a thermal spa set up in 1350. Important figures like archbishops and later dukes and duchesses knew of these benefits and enjoyed it early on in the region’s history, too.

Best Hikes in High Tauern National Park

High Tauern National Park is a hiker’s and climber’s paradise. There are countless trails and peaks for hikers and climbers of all skill levels to enjoy in the park, as well as numerous schutzhütten (shelter huts) for visitors to check out. The opportunities here are endless as they include everything from week-long trekking tours to hikes that only take a few hours.

Here's a quick overview of some of the most popular hikes in the park:

Hochalmspitze from Giessner Hut

Hochalmspitze, one of the most prominent peaks in the park, is also known as the Queen of the Alps. The hike to the summit is challenging and requires a high level of skill and experience in technical terrain.

The estimated duration of this hike is 12 hours. It covers a distance of 13 km (8 mi), and it has an elevation gain of 1,700 m (5,577 ft).

Hochalmspitze, High Tauern National Parkt, Austria

Sonnblick via Fleisstal

Sonnblick via Fleisstal is a challenging ski tour that requires a good level of fitness, experience, and skill due to its length of 13.6 km (84 mi) and its elevation gain of 1,600 m. The estimated duration of this ski tour is 6 hours.

Skiers can choose from four different routes up to the peak, including from Rauris Valley, Zirknitz Valley, Moelltaler Glacier, or Heiligenblut. Sonnblick is also home to the highest weather station in all of Austria.

Sonnblick, High Tauern National Parkt, Austria

Ankogel Mallnitz

Climbing Ankogel Mallnitz is like climbing a piece of history. Since the first ascent up Ankogel in 1762, it has been referred to as the cradle of alpinism in the region. The first ascent of this peak was the first ascent up a glaciated mountain in the eastern region of the Alps.

This ascent is relatively tricky and requires technical climbing close to the peak. This climb takes typically about 4.5 hours to complete. It is approximately 6.4 km (40 mi) long, and it involves 750 m (2,460 ft) of elevation gain.

Ankogel, High Tauern National Parkt, Austria

Glocknerhaus onto Spielmann

The trek to Glocknerhaus onto Spielmann is less challenging than others in the High Tauern region, but it is demanding nonetheless. A good level of fitness is required for most paths in this region.

This route leads from Glocknerhaus to Spielmann (3,027 m/9,931 ft) via the Pfandlscharte at 2,668 m (8,753 ft). On top of Spielmann, you can enjoy a beautiful view of Sonnblick and Grossglockner.

Glocknerhaus, High Tauern National Parkt, Austria

Glockner Runde (Glockner Circuit)

The seven-day-long Glockner Runde (Glockner Circuit) trekking tour takes you all around Austria's highest mountain. This route mainly follows marked paths, but it still requires experience as it requires long hiking days, lots of elevation gain, and plenty of time spent in high alpine terrain.

The hike leads through the Glockner and Granatspitz groups and offers breathtaking views. For less experienced hikers, a guide is highly recommended along the Glockner Runde.

Glockner, High Tauern National Parkt, Austria

Krimmler Waterfall Stage Three

The beautiful Krimmler Waterfall Stage Three hike takes around 2.5 hours to complete and mainly leads along well-marked paths. It is suitable for hikers of most experience levels.

This hike gains about 410 m (1,345 ft) elevation and is about 7.6 km (47 mi) long. Along the way, you'll get close to the region's magnificent waterfalls, which are one of the highlights of the national park.

Krimmler Waterfall, High Tauern National Parkt, Austria

Top Attractions in High Tauern National Park

High Tauern National Park is one of the most magnificent places in Europe. The largest national park in the Alps boasts more than just a few sights and activities. In fact, it is a true hiker and nature lover's paradise!

Here are some of the most noteworthy things to see and experience in the park.

Grossglockner High Alpine Road

The 48 km (30 mi) long Grossglockner High Alpine Road leads through the alpine landscape of High Tauern National Park. It gives you great views of green meadows, trees, past waterfalls, the rocky alpine region as it takes you to the road's highest point, Edelweissspitze, at 2,500 m (8,202 ft).

On top, a magnificent view of the park's most impressive mountains awaits. The Grossglockner is the highest of them all, and it is easy to see from this viewpoint. The view from Edelweissspitze is unique, but the whole road is a breathtaking experience in itself.

Krimmler Waterfalls

The Krimmler Waterfalls are the largest in Austria and some of the biggest in Europe. They feature three levels, and they have a total height of over 380 m (1,246 ft), making for an impressive natural spectacle. You can see the waterfalls by hiking along a short trail.

Krimmler Waterfall, High Tauern National Parkt, Austria

Wildlife Park Ferleiten

At Wildlife Park Ferleiten​​, you can see and learn about over 200 animals from the Alps and worldwide. The park is home to bears, wolves, and many more animals to admire.

If you wish, you can sign up for a guided tour of the park.

Gipfelwelt 300

The Gipfelwelt 3000 is a popular destination located on the Kitzsteinhorn. The Kitzsteinhorn offers skiers an opportunity to ski almost all year around. But this impressive mountain is worth a visit at any time of year.

You can take a cable car from Kaprun to Gipfelwelt 3000 and enjoy an experience usually reserved for experienced alpinists. An impressive view, an ice arena, a restaurant, and much more await at Gipfelwelt 300.

Gipfelwelt 3000, High Tauern National Parkt, Austria

Major Towns & Cities

There are numerous towns located all around and close to High Tauern National Park, all of which offer many things to see and do. One of the easiest ways to get to the national park is by plane. You can fly into Salzburg Airport or Zell is See and then drive to the national park.

Here's a quick look at some of the best nearby cities and towns to check out during your visit to the region:

Salzburg

Salzburg's beautiful and historic city is known by music and culture lovers worldwide. As the birthplace of Mozart and home to the Salzburg Music Festival, Salzburg has a lot to offer for visitors with a wide variety of interests.

Salzburg is home to beautiful lakes, mountains, and an excellent town center, making it a worthwhile place to visit all year round. The city is also home to many hotels and restaurants to suit any budget.

Salzburg, Austria

Bad Hofgastein

Bad Hofgastein is a town located in St. Johann in a rural part of the state of Salzburg. It has around 7,000 residents, and it is known for its winter sports, hiking, and wellness opportunities. It has recently gained attention because it is now home to the Adidas Infinite Trails Race,

This beautiful small town offers many excellent restaurants and hotels. If you get the chance, be sure to stop by one of Bad Hofgastein's many wellness resorts, too. You won't be disappointed!

Bad Hofgastein, Austria

Zell am See

Zell am See is a small community that's a little bigger than Bad Hofgastein, with just over 10,000 inhabitants. It is a favorite among tourists from all around the world.

The town center of Zell am See is fantastic, as there are many great restaurants and bars to check out. It is bustling with winter sports enthusiasts who come to the region to ski and enjoy the mountains in the wintertime.

Zell am See, Austria

Matrei

The town of Matrei in Eastern Tyrol only has 4,600 residents but is one of the largest communities by total area. Matrei is a popular place for winter tourism due to its prime location in the Tauern Valley. The town's historic town center also offers lots of historical buildings for visitors to enjoy.

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