I don’t know if it was the intention of the Germans, but the name of the mountain Zugspitze corresponds to reality. Zug means train and it indicates that it is possible to get to the top completely without using energy thanks to a cable car. Unfortunately. Zugspitze is a beautiful mountain with perfect views, but the amount of tourists going up is spoiling the atmosphere. What is the best way to reach the top without taking the cable car? This article will give you all necessary information before your visit including guidelines, a map and my own experience.
Important information for climbing Germany’s highest mountain
Short description of the ascent from Partnach: Steep and long climb using via ferrata Essential equipment: Standard hiking gear. Via ferrata equipment not necessary for all routes. Best time to visit: June - September Fees or restrictions: Yes, fee to enter Partnach gorge (check current prices here) Camping allowed: No Nearest accommodation/food supply: On the top in Münchner Haus Height of the peak: 2962 m Hiking distance: 19.4 km (one way) Time to ascend to Zugspitze: 7-12 hours up, 4-6 hours back Elevation climbed: 2280 m Water availability on the mountain: Many huts (Bockhütte, Reintalanger, Knorr and Münchner Haus) on the way Difficulty level: **** (6 stars maximum) Personal rating of the mountain: *** (6 stars maximum) Beer on the peak: Aecht Schlenkerla ***** (6 stars maximum)
The best routes to Zugspitze
- From Partnach Gorge: This route is long but beautiful and with a minimum of other tourists. It starts at the Partnach Gorge near Garmisch-Partenkirchen. The beginning is wonderful since it leads via a deep gorge along the river Partnach. Be aware that you have to pay a small fee to enter the gorge (check current prices here). The next part until Reintal is going gently up on small roads. From there you are in an alpine paradise with fantastic views and a minimum of other tourists. The trail leads to the Reintalanger Hut, a mountain hut where hikers can rest and refresh. From there, the route continues up via Knorrhütte to the Schneeferner glacier where a via ferrata starts. The last part is the steepest but the via ferrata is just level A so it isn’t hard to reach the top of Zugspitze. We will take a deeper look at this route in this article.
- From Hammersbach: The Hammersbach route is the most popular route to reach Zugspitze without a cable car. The route is named after the village Hammersbach near its starting point. The trail passes through beautiful forests first and then continues via the deep valley Höllentalklam. During the hike there are two huts. You can visit Höllentaleingangshütte, where you can take a break before going up the Höllentalklam and there is also the Höllentalanger Hut just before the steepest part. The last ascent to the Zugspitze goes via a glacier and steep via ferrata level C where it is recommended to have a helmet and via ferrata set.
- From Ehrwald: There is also an option to climb to Zugspitze from Austria. This route starts in the village of Ehrwald in Austria. The beginning of the hike is easy but it continues later with steep terrain and via ferrata level A and B. Approximately halfway you can take a break at Wiener-Neustädter Hut. From there, the trail becomes even steeper as it approaches the Zugspitzplatt, a high plateau beneath the Zugspitze summit. The final section involves an ascent to the summit, which may include some exposed and challenging terrain.
Map of the best route to Zugspitze
My story of climbing the highest mountain of Germany – Zugspitze
Germany and its highest peak Zugspitze was another stop on my expedition European Peaks during which I climbed the highest peak of every European country. I took an epic train ride to Germany from Innsbruck. The train tracks led through a beautiful alpine landscape. In addition to this beauty there was a thunderstorm, so the mountains were even more dramatic. When I arrived in Garmisch-Partenkirchen (also called Ga-Pa), the change in the weather took its toll. The temperature dropped by 20 degrees, and I started to freeze quickly in my shorts.
It was great that my booked hotel was nearby. After 15 minutes of walking I got to the most beautiful accommodation of the whole journey so far. The hotel looked like a castle, no exaggeration. And even the staff behaved according to that. I got some champagne as a proper welcome, and after the formalities was welcomed to a beautiful room. I did not hesitate and immediately jumped into the soft bed.
After half an hour of relaxing, Björn, a friend of mine, arrived and timed his arrival just for a prepared dinner. I pulled out the most decent clothes I had (shorts and a short-sleeved T-shirt) and set out to test the 5-course Bavarian dinner. Such dinners could be more often on my table during my whole expedition. Thanks a lot hotel Staudacherhof who supported me on my trip and offered me this amazing dinner and room on my trip to Zugspitze!
Partnach route to Zugspitze
After an unusually long sleep, we headed for breakfast where we finally started to plan our summit to Zugspitze. You can get to the top in several ways (as described above). Unfortunately, the simplest option, namely taking the cable car, is used by most people. My opinion, however, is that cable cars are enemies of the mountains, so this way was not possible. Another and for me the most appealing option was the shortest but the steepest route via ferrata from Hammersbach. Unfortunately, this route was not suitable due to unfavorable weather forecasts. It isn’t the smartest choice to climb the rocks in the rain. In the end we decided for the easiest but longest walking route which is 21 km long hike directly from Garmisch-Partenkirchen to Zugspitze with an elevation of 2000 m.
We headed out at 11 a.m. and the maps suggested that the journey would take 10 hours. We were supposed to be at the top just before sunset. The journey began above my expectations. At first, I was disappointed that I had to pay 5 EUR admission for some ravine, but after the entry I did not regret it for a minute. Honestly, this gorge is even more interesting and dramatic than the famous Caminito del Rey (which I saw in Spain). A wild river modeled a deep rocky canyon. The dramatic image of the morning was amplified by the morning thunderstorm, so the water not only flowed in the river but was also dripping everywhere from the peaks of the rocks. I give my warmest compliments to the trail builders for what they have managed to create for tourists here.
Heavy rains are not fun
After this marvelous introduction, a long, and a bit boring period came with almost zero elevation meters. In order to not get too bored, nature prepared a heavy rain for us. At that moment we longed only after a hut, where we could hide and get some energy. But it occurred not earlier than after 10 long km… We came to the Bockhütte Hut completely soaked. The mood was improved as late as when we filled the tank in form of a local dark wheat beer. Simply perfect. I wish that brewers in Czech Republic and Sweden visited Bavaria and learned to brew this luxurious beer.
From this hut the nature started to vary more and get even more beautiful. The woods began to thin and we began to enjoy beautiful views of the surrounding peaks of the German Alps.
The hike was getting more and more beautiful the higher we were getting but unfortunately it was also very long for Björn who lost all his energy. I helped him with his backpack for the last 5 km and we reached the Knorr hut under the Zugspitze in complete fog.
Recharging energy at Knorrhütte
We sat down in the restaurant and ordered a warm goulash soup and a beer. We refilled energy and started discussions about the upcoming day. Björn was obviously tired since he overestimated his hiking skills. Luckily, there was a solution. Now we were suddenly happy for the lifts around Zugspitze. Björn decided to take a shortcut the next day to the top by taking a cable car from Zugspitzplatt.
The next morning during sunrise it was still foggy, so we got on the road at 8 o´clock in the morning. After another 500 meters of elevation, the weather, unlike the previous day, was favorable, so I could take up a rocky path backed by a steel rope. I would compare this journey to the Tatra Mountains. Well-secured, no overexposed moments. I think there’s no need for belaying in nice weather.
Busy top of Zugspitze
Björn got to the top sooner of course and waited with two typical white sausages and wheat beers. Thanks, Björn for this tasty reward. The Bavarian kitchen – that´s something I love. However, the disadvantage of the Zugspitze peak showed too. And that is the cable car. Tourists who probably had been in the mountains for the first time took a lift to the summit.
According to their clothes, I’d rather think they were going to either a gala dinner or to a beach. They didn’t seem to understand that it was going to be cold at almost three thousand meters above sea level. They topped this smart behavior when they tried to get to the nearby summit, which can only be reached through a short, but interesting via ferrata. I just feared for some of the girls wearing high heels to fall from a few-hundred-meter-high cliff. Fortunately, my expectations were not confirmed, and so the ladies were nicely matching the fully equipped mountain climbers at the top cross.
When I finally got through the crowd of tourists, I could enjoy a breathtaking view. The clouds had just spread out, and I got to see a deep valley with arguably the largest German glacier. However, the view did not last for a long time, and I was too slow to pick up my camera, so I just have this picture of dense milk covering Zugspitze.
We decided not to walk down. We love our knees and the journey would take another 8 hours which would be tough for Björn. So, we decided to take the “enemy” cable car. The 33 EUR ticket hurt, but that´s life.
My tips for the mountain Zugspitze:
- Book your accommodation on the top of Zugspitze. If you do so you can enjoy precious time when there are no tourists on the top when the cable car is closed.
- Try the via ferrata if it is nice weather. I am very sad I didn’t try it.