Germany Holidays: Hut-hiking in the Alps

You don’t have to carry the world on your back to get up amongst the high peaks of the Bavarian Alps.

The Alps are threaded with long-distance paths, many of them originally routes used by cattle drovers, bandits and the military. In Germany they are well organized, carefully signposted and made more accessible thanks to a network of mountain refuges, or alpine huts, which mean you don’t have to carry a whole lot of gear, or even food, when you set off for a high-level hike.

These alpine huts are often substantial buildings, maintained (and usually staffed) by the local alpine associations, sometimes with sufficient accommodation for 60 or 70 people. Many of them serve hot food (bewirtschaftet in hut specifications), and have bunk beds with mattresses, arranged in a combinations of dormitories (Matratzenlager) and smaller rooms. Overnight costs are minimal, although food and drink is likely to be a bit more expensive than down in the towns and villages below, if just because of the transport involved. Supplies (including the mountaineer’s essential, beer) arrive via a choice of methods: either by rugged all-terrain vehicle from the nearest road end, or by improvised cable car system, or even by helicopter.

You don’t have to carry the world on your back

However they are serviced, these huts transform the upper alpine experience. They allow hikers to set off with only a small pack, containing only clothing and personal effects, and the opportunity to kick back on a sunny deck and enjoy a beer and a magnificent view after a hard day on the trail. There’s usually plenty of international camaraderie, and hut meals are hearty and simple.

Coming out of the resort of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, for example, there are a handful of huts in the Oberreintal region, just below the Zugspitze, Germany’s highest peak. If you start out from Elmau, one of the main access points, you can reach the first, the Schachenhaus, in around three hours, and two thirds of the way up you pass the Wetterstein-Alm, a high pasture where cows spend two or three months in the summer, where the herdsman run a refreshment hut and sell their cheese. The rambling, full-service Schachenhaus itself was originally the staff quarters for King Ludwig’s villa at Schachen, so isn’t really your typical alpine hut, but up beyond it another couple of hours is the Meilerhütte, a more rugged and exposed place where mountaineers gather, ready for early morning assaults on the peaks. Alternatively at Schachen you could choose to go on towards the Zugspitze and stay in the Reintalangerhütte before returning to Garmisch on a path that brings you out by the giant ski jump.

Huts like these are generally open from June to September or early October, and usually have a telephone contact, so it is possible to check in advance that there’s not going to be a shortage of space (actually very rare).

And although they facilitate quick and relatively un-burdened sorties up into the Alps, they are not there to encourage recklessness: you do need to check the weather before setting out, to make sure you know your route and your abilities, and to carry suitable emergency supplies.

A website for huts in Germany (including Meilerhütte and Reintalangerhütte).

Schachenhaus hut website. (site in German only)

For more informationon the region:

Looking for more? See other destinations in Southern Germany

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18 responses to “Germany Holidays: Hut-hiking in the Alps”

  1. I am intyeresterd in hut to hjut hiking in the Garmish area. If I recall a sheet for bedding is required. would reservatons be necessary for hikes in the June 26 to July 3 time frame. How do I make a reservaton for a hut or set an itinerary for a three day trip?
    Thank you

    Denny Ebert

  2. Some huts rent out sleeping bags. It’s up to you to contact individual huts to make reservations – or take the risk of just turning up. It is very rare that they are full.

  3. Andrew thanks for your reply. Cn you comment ona starting in Garmish and hiking for 4-5 days hut to hut. Returning to either Garmish or another city for me to explore. What meals do the huts provide? If I recall I need to bring sheets for the beds.

  4. can anyone advise me on tour groups that arrange hut travel in the alps? having never been there or visited one I would prefer to go with people that know what they’re doing.

  5. All of this talk about beginning in June has me worried! How about late May? We are expecting to get to München and the Alps after May 27th and to be done with the Alps (unfortunately) by Jun 2nd. In a normal year I would expect some ice and snow around then. Are the huts open? Should we bring crampons and snowshoes? Not interested in technical climbing, just in a bit of wandern.

  6. It really depends on snow conditions. If the snow has retreated, the huts will open in late May, but on a place by place basis. You’d have to check your route. In any case, most huts have an all-year-round facility, unmanned, but with basic equipment. Usually an annexe, with bunk beds and a stove all in one room.

  7. Andrew,

    Many thanks for your kind reply. This spring I am not planning on serious climbing and hope to leave even my snowshoes at home (and crampons). I will be in München for 4 weeks on business so I am hoping to get a weeks worth of “der Spaziergang” or “wandern” in the Alps in late May and late June but do not have the luggage capacity to bring in snowshoes or crampons. I could bring my sleeping bag but would be begrudging that space in my two suitcases as well.

    Thanks again.

  8. I am planning to start my first hut to hut hike in Garmisch-Partenkirchen area. Day 1: I want to hike from Kreuzeckhaus to oberreintalhutte.
    I did not find any information on the level of the hike. Any idea?

    From oberreintalhutte I want to go to Meilerhütte, then to Schachenhaus, then all the way down to the Olympic ski stadium. I’d like to know the levels of the hike. Can you please help?

  9. Hello, is it possible to free camp in the Bavarian alps? Are there any trekking route of about 10 days? my friends and I would like to exploit the region this summer and we have 2 weeks for the whole tour, any suggestion?

  10. Hi Matteo, I’m pretty sure that wild camping is illegal, although I think some mountain huts allow camping in their vicinity for a small fee. As for long distance routes, I think you’d inevitably end up crossing into Austria to do 10 days, probably on something like the Eagles’ Way. If it must be Germany, I’d recommend you have a look at the Allgau ( which I think is the nicest area for hiking. Other people may have more detailed suggestions.

  11. Hi there, anyone know a site I can book the knorr hut on Zugspitze in English? Many thanks!

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