GROSSGLOCKNER HIGH ALPINE ROAD, AUSTRIA 🇦🇹
The Grossglockner Pass, spanning 47.8 kilometers (29 miles) with 36 hairpin bends, is a premier attraction in Austria, ranking among the country's top three. Situated within the scenic 'Hohe Tauern' National Park, it not only offers breathtaking vistas but also stands as the highest point in Austria at an elevation of 2,504 meters (8,215 feet) above sea level.
DRIVING THE HIGH ALPINE ROAD
The Grossglockner High Alpine Road, known as Großglockner-Hochalpenstraße in German, is a remarkable feat of engineering and stands as Austria's highest paved mountain road. This scenic route is nestled within the breathtaking expanse of the Hohe Tauern National Park, connecting the city of Salzburg to the Austrian-Italian border.
This iconic road is not only the highlight of Hohe Tauern National Park but also a gateway to one of Europe's largest conservation areas. The park is a sanctuary for over 10,000 animal species and 1,800 plant varieties, encompassing 1,856 square kilometers of pristine wilderness. Within its borders, you'll find 266 majestic peaks, expansive forests, 550 shimmering lakes, enchanting waterfalls, untamed rivers, and approximately 250 glacial wonders.
Originally conceived as a means to boost tourism in Austria, the Grossglockner High Alpine Road has evolved into a masterpiece of alpine engineering that weaves its way around the pyramid-shaped Grossglockner mountain, seamlessly blending into the dramatic alpine landscape.
The road's grandeur and its enticing hairpin bends promise an exhilarating journey, culminating at an impressive altitude of 2,504 meters (8,215 feet) above sea level. It's no wonder that this alpine pass consistently ranks among Austria's top three attractions. A trip to the Austrian Alps remains incomplete without a drive across the stunning Grossglockner Pass.
Amid Austria's mountainous terrain, which covers more than 60% of the country, the Grossglockner High Alpine Road offers access to the highest peaks and the most dramatic alpine scenery. As you traverse this scenic route, you'll encounter numerous viewpoints that present stunning vistas of alpine meadows in full bloom, fragrant mountain forests, imposing cliffs, and majestic glaciers.
Each section of the road, with its generous width of up to six meters, is meticulously maintained, ensuring a safe and comfortable journey, much like other roads in Austria. For travelers embarking on their first alpine adventure, the Grossglockner Pass and its surroundings are a perfect starting point, as the overall difficulty level is moderate, designed with tourists in mind.
At the visitor center's observatory, a remarkable structure designed by Austrian jewelry maker Swarovski, you'll find a free multi-story parking facility to fully savor the breathtaking views of Austria's highest peak.
The pinnacle of the Grossglockner experience lies on the main plateau at the mountain's summit, known as "Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe" in honor of Emperor Franz Joseph of Habsburg. Here, you'll be treated to panoramic vistas of the "Pasterze," the longest glacier in the Eastern Alps, and a breathtaking panorama of the Austrian Alpine landscape, crowned by snow-capped mountains.
Nature enthusiasts may have the opportunity to observe iconic wildlife in their natural habitat, including marmots and ibex, adding to the allure of this mountain haven.
As you journey along the road, you'll encounter various exhibitions that offer captivating insights into the historical construction and ongoing operation of the road. These exhibitions provide a deeper understanding of the Hohe Tauern mountains' natural environment and heritage, enhancing the overall alpine experience on the Grossglockner High Alpine Road.
HISTORY OF THE GROSSGLOCKNER HIGH ALPINE ROAD
It is believed that a route over Austria's highest mountain was utilized over 3,500 years ago. However, the road as we know it today is a much more recent addition and has always been a prominent tourism initiative.
Back in 1924, when automobile ownership was a privilege of the very affluent, the initial plans to construct a road over the Grossglockner mountain were met with derision. This reaction was largely due to Austria's pressing concerns, including the profound repercussions of the First World War and the fact that it had lost a seventh of its pre-war imperial territory.
Later, in 1929, when the New York stock market crashed on Black Tuesday, ushering in the Great Depression, Austria's economy was hit once more. The nation faced skyrocketing unemployment, and the government sought projects to alleviate the economic strain.
Upon reviewing the plans for the "Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse," the Austrian government not only decided to proceed with the original 1924 vision but also expanded the road's width to a generous six meters.
The vision was twofold: to make tourism a profitable venture through toll charges while simultaneously revitalizing high-end tourism throughout Austria. In those days, owning a car was a luxury reserved for the wealthy elite.
The monumental effort commenced on August 30, 1930, at 09:30 AM, as the first explosion echoed through the mountain. Thanks to the labor of up to 4,000 workers, the road officially opened just five years later, on August 3, 1935. This development allowed the affluent to explore Austria's high alpine landscapes.
With the post-World War II economic recovery in both Austria and Germany, the number of automobiles on the road increased significantly. The Grossglockner High Alpine Road became a resounding success and continues to be so to this day.
In July 2015, the Grossglockner Alpine Road celebrated its 80th anniversary, marking eight decades of offering breathtaking alpine experiences to visitors.
ACCESS TO THE GROSSGLOCKNER HIGH ALPINE ROAD
We recommend driving the Grossglockner Pass from North to South, commencing your journey either from Salzburg, Austria, or Munich, Germany. Both starting points offer a full-day excursion, requiring an overnight stay in the Austrian Tyrol.
For a picturesque stopover, we suggest staying in the charming town of Lienz in the South, known for having the most sunshine hours in Austria. From here, it's a short trip into Italy and the stunning Dolomites.
If your journey necessitates heading back North, you have a choice: you can retrace your path and experience the spectacular road from the opposite direction, or you can opt for the Felbertauern Road, a scenic route spanning 73 kilometers and culminating in a 5.3-kilometer tunnel.
The Grossglockner Pass opens for traffic after winter closure, often as early as late April and certainly by May, providing an early opportunity to traverse its captivating route. This is notably earlier than most other alpine passes in Europe, which typically remain closed until mid-June. In early summer, the road is often framed by towering snow walls on each side, adding to the allure of the journey.
Operating hours vary by season:
April/May until June 15th: 6 am - 8 pm
June 16th until September 15th: 5 am - 9.30 pm
September 16th until the end of October: 6 am - 7.30 pm
Last admission is 45 minutes before nightly closure.
Please bear in mind that weather conditions in the Alps can change rapidly. While snow during warm summer temperatures is uncommon, it remains a possibility. Therefore, we recommend carrying some warm clothing and sturdy shoes to fully explore the numerous attractions along the Grossglockner Road.
When driving on Austrian highways, you'll require a vignette, available at gas stations across the country. However, this vignette does not grant access to the Grossglockner High Alpine Road.
To access the Grossglockner High Alpine Road, a car admission fee of €40 must be paid directly at the toll booth at either the North or South entrance. Payment can be made in cash or by credit card. This fee is essential for maintaining the road in optimal condition and ensuring moderate traffic levels on the pass. All attractions along the route are free once you pass the gates. When purchasing your ticket online before entering the Grossglockner Alpine Road, you can enjoy up to a 10% discount in all souvenir shops on the pass.
The Grossglockner mountain pass is, to us, the most spectacular attraction in the region and the entirety of Austria. It ranks among the most visited sights in Austria, alongside Schoenbrunn Castle in Vienna. To fully savor the experience, consider visiting on weekdays rather than weekends or public holidays, as the road is also popular among the locals.
Embark on the ultimate alpine driving adventure, where the magnificent Grossglockner High Alpine Road intertwines with awe-inspiring drives along the Sella Ronda in the Italian Dolomites and the enchanting Nockalm Road. This extraordinary 5-night, 4-drive edition of the Austrian Alps & Italian Dolomites Driving Tour promises an unforgettable journey through alpine splendor.