Munich Day Trips: Hiking the Karwendel

München is one of Germany’s most beautiful cities. From the iconic Marienplatz (dating back to the middle ages!) and various Biergärten to the Englischer Garten and the river surfers, exciting activities abound. Summertime München is a breath of fresh air and an outdoor-lover’s paradise. Cars are a hindrance; bicycle paths are everywhere. The bright crystal ice blue of the Isar River snaking through lush green forest induces a forgetting that you are in a city of over 2 million. Jump in–wake up immediately–she’s snow melt cold!

Another of Munich’s charms: proximity. To Italy. To the Alps. To even Vienna or Prague or the south of France. Venice is even doable…or hikeable, from the Marienplatz via the Traumpfad/Dream Path. Yes, I want to do this some day 🙂 There are also the overdone day trips, such as Neuschwanstein Castle and Brechtesgarten, or the cable car up the Zugspitze. Escaping the tourists attempting to stab your eye out with a wayward selfie stick, however, is a relatively easy task. Just don’t go to extremely accessible places, especially on the weekend!

One of my now favorite escapes: the Karwendel Mountain Range, one of the first ridges of the Alps and only a 90 minute drive from München. The Alps are gorgeous, and the infrastructure makes overnight hiking more like glamping, honestly. Take a look:

Surreally stunning, especially when you are there. Views are always better when you’ve had to earn them, I find.

How to get there:

The Karwendel is interesting because, although it is in Austria, you can only reach the mountains and the Eng via Germany. We drove south from Munich–Google Maps actually works quite well for this–partially with the Autobahn, then swinging through Bad Tölz and over a bridge and the Sylvenstein-Stausee. A photo stop was necessary, accompanied by a swimming stop the next day on the return trip. Top five most beautiful swims in my life, no exaggeration! The water is so turquoise and so clean.

Then, we swung left at Vorderriss. At some point, there is a toll station: 4,50 Euro to pass through, no problem. Passing the Hinterriss, we parked at the P4 parking place; another option would be to drive all the way into the Eng the first day and use the hiking town as a spring-off point.

Our General Plan:
  1. Park at P4 and hike approximately 4 hours, 13 kilometers, and 800 vertical meters to the Karwendelhütte. We chose the Karwendel for the slightly lower elevation and therefore less snow; although this is late June, there were huge snowfalls this year, resulting in many huts being closed still and/or equipment necessities that we do not possess, e.g. crampons.
  2. Decide Day 2 if we want to hike up the Östliche Karwendelspitze (over 8,000 ft elevation) and then all the way back to the Eng, or if that would be too much, in which case we simply hike to the Eng.
  3. From the Eng, hitch hike back to the car at P4–the Eng is the end of the one road (Risstal Landesstraße) leading into the valley.
To Take Into Account:
  • Overall fitness level and goals of everyone in the group! My sister doesn’t get outdoors much, and my uncle is, albeit sprightly and loving of mountains, over 50, so hiking up another 800 meters and then down 1600 meters on the second day didn’t make much sense.
  • Food and water necessities: from the Karwendelhütte to the Eng is usually a hut for lunch, but it is under renovation until 2020. Snacks on snacks on snacks!
  • Day of the week. The Eng is somewhat well known in the area, so a weekday was a stellar choice.
  • Time and snow. If there is more time and less snow, a week hiking from hut to hut would be amazing!

Let’s go!

Beginning from the P4 parking, we immediately cross a bridge and begin our ascent. The trail toted as a “monotonous mountain road” afforded us massive entertainment. Although, to be fair, I imagine in the dead of summer, without the gurgling stream of snowmelt hurrying down the mountain, it may be mildly less amazing. View: the monotony!

The mountains in the distance look like Alpine postcards already! And the view for our picnic snack stop was quite acceptable as well. We lay sprawled under tree shade in lush emerald grass, prepared for the cows to arrive for the summertime. This is approximately a third of the distance and a third of our vertical meters, and we are feeling fresh and fine.

More impressive monotony:

At this point, we have worked up a hunger that snacks can no longer quench. While trekking along the edge of the impressive ridge, we dream of tasty Schnitzels, which may or may not be at the mountain hut. It’s amazing to me, not only how they manage to have so many foods and drinks at the alpine lodges, but how they built them 100-150 years ago. It must be quite an undertaking! And they are so beautiful:

Notes on Hut Sleeping
  • Most usually, even if you have booked a room, you will be sleeping with several other people. By booking the large, multi-person room, we save a few Euros and sleep with 39 other people. Thus, ear plugs are essential.
  • Bring a sleep sack (basically a thin cotton or silk shell for your body…think human caterpillar). This is the thing to do and is an unwritten requirement of hut trekking. You just wrap yourself up, then place your pillow underneath and your blanket over top.
  • Have everything you need for the night well organized, so you don’t have to go traipsing up and down the squeak stairs, awakening anyone who has forgotten earplugs in the process.

Personally, I was an extra fan of the Karwendelhaus because of the skylights/rooftop views. My uncle’s chainsaw snoring still managed to awaken me in the midst of the night, but I was actually grateful. I stood up, stuck my messy blonde head out the window, and watched the clear night stars.

Above: sunset time with a resting uncle, stranger, and my leg.

Below: the one spot on the mountain with cell phone reception, somehow. Normally, I would never connect to the world, but A) the novelty, and B) I’ve heard it’s good to let your husband know you’re alive, when that’s an option. It was totally bizarre–we had no service whatsoever, and then, bam! In the middle of the circle, four bars! I would like to also note that there was never more than one person using this; we were all too enthralled by the world around us.

The Way Down, via the closed Falkenhütte and the Eng

After a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs and my sister perfecting her cat-eye eyeliner, we get a late-early start to the day. We know we have five hours ahead of us: approximately 22 kilometers, 200 meters up and 1000 vertical meters down, 80 degrees Fahrenheit and gorgeous. The mountains make my heart so happy.

Today, the path is more like a rollercoaster. We return down the way we had come the day before, but everything looks different from this perspective, in a beautiful way. Once in the first valley, the trails diverge, and we follow the signs for the Falkenhütte. Rapidly, we ascend again toward the tops of the peaks we admired yesterday. At some point, we turn around–we are again at the same elevation as where we slept, and the view is stunning.

Following the ridge, we bypass the Falkenhütte and begin following signs for the Eng. You see the photo with the rushing water? This is an avalanche zone, so watch your head for falling stones and do not try to take a nap or eat lunch here! A couple of weeks earlier, we could have crossed over the snowbank, but at this point in the season, it is unsafe. Cautiously, we wander down along the roaring snowmelt, scoping out a crossable section. It is amazing–within five feet of the water, suddenly a blast of cold air washes over us, and I mean probably 30 degrees colder than the surroundings. The water itself is maybe 45 degrees F? It was maybe slightly dicey, but we are somewhat nimble and skirt through the high velocity water, managing to avoid falling in!

Afterwards, another incline–at the top, the final reward of another glorious snack spot. From here, we have a steady descent to the Eng valley, famous as a starting point for many wonderful hikes, manageable for all ages, and for the lovely Großer Ahornboden, or big acorn floor. Coffee with ice cream in it never tasted so magnificent! We meet an anesthesiologist from Germany and discuss at length the problems with medical care in the United States–her perspective was fascinating–and slowly meander through the farm houses with piggies and cows. Although fully expecting to hitchhike, we stumbled upon a bus at exactly the right moment. Bus drivers in this region, in my experience, are always very kind–he dropped us off feet from our car, after which we splashed in the river and swam in the turqoise lake!

A beautiful trip, always.

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