Grossglockner is the highest mountain in Austria at 3798 meters. I had read a lot about this beautiful high alpine drive and all we needed was a a beautiful sunny day. We were using Zell am See as our base for a few days during our Austria trip. The weather in that region was a bit temperamental at that time. So we were deciding on things to do on a day to day basis. That particular morning was very crisp and sunny and the weather forecast indicated it would be so, for most of the day. We decided it was our best shot to do the Grossglockner drive.
Grossglockner high alpine road: Ins and Outs
Grossglockner alpine road is very popular with bikers and mountain bikers as well. No matter which direction you arrive from once you are closer to the start of the village there are lot of road signs for this drive. We passed through the charming village of Fusch and made our way to the toll booth. The toll depends on your vehicle type. It costs 35 euros for a day ticket for the cars. Even in the earlier part of the drive it was quite clear to us about what lay ahead in terms of vehicle traffic. This region with its fantastic roads, entertaining curves and breath-taking landscape is quite popular with vintage automobile enthusiasts as well.
So what is so unique about this drive. Well, the name says it all. It is a high alpine drive with 36 hair pin bends and some fantastic panoramic views. This road takes you right into the heart of Hohe Tauern national park. The final destination is Kaiser Franz Josefs Höhe. This look out point takes you very close to the Pasterze glacier and Grossglockner itself. You can drive unto to this look out point and then make your way back the same route. You will be driving in the alps surrounded by spectacular scenery. There are many vista points and rest stops in between. The steep mountainous terrain and the hair pin bends make it a challenging drive but the alpine scenery and the fresh mountain air makes it all worthwhile!
Traffic & Road conditions on Grossglockner alpine road
In our case, Sridhar was doing the driving so he had to deal with the challenging part while i just sat back and took in the scenery. The road quality is very good so you need not worry about this part at all. But the challenging part is dealing with the traffic on this road. We were there during June and that is not even the peak summer traffic. But still we found a cavalry of cars, bikes and cyclists all along the route. In most places along this road there is no overtaking so if you are stuck behind someone who is not as adept as you are, at dealing with this kind of road then that’s it, you are stuck behind them. On top of that you also have to watch out for the cyclists and give them enough space. The good thing is there are plenty of pull over spots so we decided not to let the traffic get on our nerves but to take our own sweet time to get to the destination. Believe me, you are missing out if you don’t stop enough on this drive.
Vantage points along the drive
In total we made about 3 stops during the drive. We first pulled over at a vista point to take some pictures. Next stop was at Haus Alpine Naturschau. Here we saw some interesting exhibitions at the alpine museum and a video show about the ecology, animals and birds in this region. The show was quite informative and entertaining. The gift shop here also sells many natural healing products like marmot oil, potato balm, mountain pine foot balm etc made with local produce of the region. This stop also has other needed facilities like restaurant and toilets.
Our next stop was at Edelweiss Spitze. The views from here are mind blowing. We were in double mind whether to take the short access road to the high vantage point by car or by foot. At that point it seemed very crowded with bikers and cars and we were already running late. So we decided to revisit on our way back instead. But unfortunately the weather was already changing on our way back and we decided to give it a miss. In hindsight i would have made our stop at Haus Alpine Naturschau a bit shorter and gone to the high vantage point instead.
We then passed the Fuscher Törl, a memorial for the workers who died during the building of this road. After a few more bends along the road we passed the beautiful Fuscher lake and further ahead the Head of the Pass or Hochtor. We finally reached the end of this scenic drive at Kaiser Franz Josefs Höhe.
Kaiser Franz Josefs Höhe
We were starving so we headed straight to the first restaurant in sight for a relaxed lunch as soon as we reached Franz Josefs Höhe. All this while enjoying the view of the Grossglockner massive and its cousins. We then walked around the area enjoying the view points and spotted some happy marmots basking in the sunshine. Next stop was at the Swarovski observation tower. There are a couple of powerful telescopes here. My curiousity was tickled by the information that we could spot herds of ibex or chamois on the mountain slopes using these. While I was just fooling around with it an impatient tour guide lady spotted my inefficiency quite quickly. She seemed to be a pro in using this equipment and pointed me in the right direction. So thanks to her i did manage to see a herd of chamois. The second telescope was pointed at some of the climbers trying to summit the Glockner massive. This time it was Sridhar to my rescue. I have to say i sucked at using them myself 🙁
There is no dearth of parking places or other facilities at the Franz Josefs Hohe. The views of the mountains alongside Pasterze glacier and the high altitude dams was amazing. But i was a bit disappointed at the amount of ice on the glacier. Apparently the tongue of the Pasterze glacier has been retreating over the past few decades much like many other glaciers. So for me the view of the glacier itself was not as rewarding when compared to the likes of massive Vatnajokull in Iceland or the impressive Aletsch glacier in Switzerland. But it is the journey itself that matters here, not the destination, much like in life. So for all you nature lovers and bike aficionados out there, this is one of those classic scenic drives that you definitely need to tick off your list!
Practical tips for doing the Glossglockner drive
- Check the weather forecast before you leave. There is no point in doing this drive in bad weather.
- Check the road conditions before you plan your journey. Usually the roads are closed in winter until the beginning of May.
- Check the prices of the tickets and opening hours. It is possible to buy tickets online as well.
- Start as early as possible to avoid the traffic specially if you are going during the summer months.
- Edelweiss Spitze is the best stop for the panoramic views. Take the short access road to the view point on the top to get the birds eye view of the all the hairpin bends on the drive and the panoramic views of the alps.