Europe,  Germany,  Hiking,  Travel

How to hike Zugspitze in a day

The Zugspitze is the highest mountain in Germany, sharing its summit with Austria. Want to find out how to hike Zugspitze in a day? Read on for everything you need to know. 

COUNTRY
GERMANY
HEIGHT
2962m
DISTANCE
ABOUT 21KM
DURATION
ONE DAY
8 - 10 HOURS
START AND END
GARMISCH-PARTENKIRCHEN

Promises of a 360° panorama from the top with views across Germany, Austria, Italy and Switzerland should put the Zugspitze summit on your must-do list in Germany. It’s usually recommended to hike the mountain over two or three days.

WE WILL SHOW YOU THE BEST WAY TO HIKE ZUGSPITZE IN A DAY IN 2021

There are five main routes up Zugspitze – two beginning in Germany and three in Austria. They vary greatly in difficulty. We opted for the Reintal Route, the longest but most scenic of the five. With the exception of a bit of a scramble towards the end, there are hardly any technical difficulties and this route should be manageable by anyone with a good fitness level. Details of other routes can be found here if you’re looking for more of a challenge.

The Best Route to Hike Zugspitze in a Day

The Reintal Route is popular and the trail is mostly clear with the exception of the technical scramble towards the end (read on to learn more). We didn’t buy a physical map, instead using maps.me as a guide. We’ve recreated the route below.

Keep this map handy – you’re going to need it!

Directions

If you want to hike Zugspitze in a day it’s best to stay in the town of Garmisch the night before. Grab your boots and a head torch and leave your hostel in the early hours of the morning. We left Hostel der Athleten at around 5am in the dark, cool morning breeze. 

The starting point for the Reintal Route is the distinctive-looking Olympic Ski Jump in Garmisch-Partenkirchen (730m). There, you can follow signs for Partnach Gorge (Partnachklamm). There is a fee of €3 to enter the gorge but it is definitely worth seeing. If you arrive before 6am, as we did, you can usually pass for free as the gate is unmanned.

Partnach Gorge sometimes floods, but there is a signposted detour which follows a path over the gorge. This will add some time to your hike. We reached our first stop, Partnach-alm, just in time for sunrise.

Keep following the path as it rises and falls, following the trail through the thick alpine forest along the banks of the Partnach River. If you start before sunrise, the morning fog casts an incredible ghostly-blue appearance throughout the forest, creating an ethereal contrast between the lush green of the trees and earthy orange of the sun as it rose over the towering peaks in the distance. It’s beautiful.

This section of the trail is well-signposted and both routes eventually meet to follow the Partnach River to the Bockhütte (1052m). The easy mountain path then climbs a little to the Reintalangerhütte (1370m). When open, both mountain huts are a refreshing place to stop for a drink or a snack.

Looking back across the valley

Continuing onward, the path becomes very steep, very quickly. However, you will soon be rewarded for your climb with incredible views. Remember to look back along the beautiful Rein valley and snap some photos. Fill up your bottle from some fresh natural springs continue on the steep incline to the Knorrhütte (2051m), a great place to stop for a well-deserved beer or cup of tea.

The section of trail both prior and following Knorrhütte is not very well signposted and can be difficult to find. There are red and white markers and poles marking the winter skiing trails. Other hikers often opt for this popular route and can be used to see the path ahead. Alternatively keep heading towards the summit and largest peak.

The approach to Knorrhütte

From Knorrhütte, follow the trail through several snowdrifts towards the Sonn-Alpin station (2576m), where the trail difficulty vastly increases for the final push up the summit.

The first section involves scrambling up a steep shale slope where every two steps forward will send you one step back. Watch out for people climbing above as they can send rocks tumbling down, which we narrowly avoided. Higher up the slope, a network of cables and small steel pegs provide footholds and handholds to climb up the rocky mountain face.

The views as you reach the ridge are unrivalled. The ridge forms the border between Germany and Austria and you can constantly cross between countries as the path winds upwards.

Reaching the ridge

Although the ascent is beautiful, overtourism and commercialisation of the summit takes away a little of the joy upon reaching it. 

Follow the trail to a large building on the summit, which houses a restaurant, shop and cable car station with 360° panoramic views for less adventurous tourists. This is easily reached by train from Garmisch-Partenkirchen and can get quite busy. We were met with shocked faces and several variations of “You HIKED all the way up? Insane…” by sightseers who had taken the easier route.

Having reached the summit, make sure to climb up to the gold cross marking the tallest point in Germany. This requires several steel ladders and cables plus no fear of heights. The views throughout the trek and at the summit were absolutely indescribable and well-worth the long hike.

The viewing platform at Zugspitze Summit

When we did this hike, we started in Garmisch at 4:30 am, from a hostel near the trailhead. We reached the summit at 15:00 pm, but stopped for frequent water breaks, a breakfast picnic at Bockhütte, tea at Knorrhütte and countless photo opportunities along the way. I highly recommend taking the whole day for this hike if weather/travel plans allow for it and taking the cable-car back down, as we did. If you want to hike both ways, it would be a much nicer experience to book yourself into one of the reasonably-priced mountain huts for a night.

Planning on travelling around Germany? You can get more information here.

Interested in more epic hikes? Discover your next destination here.

I’d love to hear your questions or experiences about Germany and hiking Zugspitze. You can leave a comment below or drop me an email here.

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Alice is a UK travel blogger who advocates sustainable travel and being more eco-conscious on a budget. She loves coffee, her houseplants and summiting mountains.

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