Back in 2015 when I started hiking regularly, I fell in love with alpine lake hikes (this one is my all time favorite.) In order for a lake to be considered “alpine” it must be above a certain elevation (somewhere around 5000 feet, or 1524 meters), and is often fed by mountain runoff. In Washington where I am from, these alpine lake hikes start close to sea level, which means it’s quite a climb to see them.
Anyone can visit a regular lake, but you have to work to see an alpine lake.
Here in the Alps there are cable cars to help cut off some of the climbing, but the assistance in reaching an alpine lake doesn’t make the journey any less spectacular. Last summer I was introduced to two lakes in northern Austria very close to where I live, and I had been daydreaming about seeing them ever since. I finally made plans to spend a day in the mountains, and it was a day I won’t soon forget.
These two lakes are within the same hiking region on the Meininger Mountain range in Ehrwald Austria. I have ridden my bike to Ehrwald a couple times, and I originally thought about biking to Ehrwald, hiking to the lakes, and biking back. This brief psychotic episode was short lived thankfully, because that would have been rough.
Instead I took a train (with my bike) to Ehrwald (saving an hour and a half of uphill biking), biked to the cable car where my pal Galiya and I took the cable car up the mountain (saving two hours of hiking) and began our journey to lake number one around 10:30.
First stop: Seebensee.
The views on our way to the lake reminded me of the Swiss Alps, and were far more expansive than any of the hikes I have done in Bavaria just next-door. I couldn’t believe I waited so long to experience Austria in this way. The mountains kept going, and around each corner was a new view unlike anything we’d passed earlier in the day.
It took us about 1.25 hours to make our way to Seebensee, and the terrain was doable for any hiker. I was out of breath a few times, only because Galiya and I were speed walking. After necking it back to enjoy the journey we fell into a comfortable pace. Once we arrived at Seebensee we found ourselves surrounded by other humans, and rightfully so – the lake is gorgeous.
We also found ourselves surrounded by lots of alpine cows. My favorite!
The weather was starting to get quite warm, and I was relating on a personal level to that cookies and creme cow in the above photo. Galiya and I brought our bathing suits so we could dip our overheated bodies into the lake, but we decided to save our plunge for lake number two.
Second stop: Drachensee.
The climb to Drachensee was more intense than the walk to Seebensee. This required over 300M of climbing in a short span of earth. We started the climb around noon (aka the peak heat of the day), and my body was definitely feeling the burn (inside and out.) I took my time, and stopped to savor the view of Seebensee a handful of times while I let my heart rate calm down.
What I love most about hiking in Europe, aside from the jaw dropping views, is the diversity among hikers. People of all ages and shapes come out to hike, and everyone goes at their own pace. I saw more people over the age of 50 hiking to Drachensee than I saw people my age or younger. It’s not only motivational, but inspirational! I strive to live a life that will allow me to continue hiking well into my 60’s and even my 70’s!
We took about 30 minutes to climb the switchbacked hill up to Drachensee, and at the top of this hill lives the Coburger Hütte – a mountain hut where most people stop to savor a bit or a brew. Galiya and I skipped the crowded hut and continued the final few minutes down to Drachensee.
We had every intention of swimming in this lake, until we arrived. Drachensee is a beauty of a lake, but her inner core disappears into a thick darkness hiding whatever lives under the surface (Drachensee = dragon lake.) I don’t like swimming in water where I cannot see what is underneath me, and I have self diagnosed myself with Thalassophobia.
Side note: this Buzzfeed article made me want to vomit and I could not finish looking at the photos!
The deal breaker for me was seeing a large pipe leading into the lake from the shore, and almost immediately disappearing into the darkness. Nope, nope, nope. Instead we sat around the shore of the lake where little to no other humans were, ate a snack, and savored the view while our core temperatures cooled off naturally from lack of movement.
The trails surrounding Drachensee are seemingly endless, for more intense hikers and even climbers there are routes that continue onto the peaks above the lake. There is a Klettersteig route as well, but I like living so I opted for the lake as my “summit.” We planned to go for a swim in Seebensee after avoiding being sucked into the dragons lair of Drachensee, and began our descent back down to our first stop.
Initially I couldn’t figure out why no one was swimming in either of these lakes. When the sun is strong and people are out hiking, it’s hard to find a spot to set up and swim because everyone is out swimming. I was worried all these German speakers knew something we didn’t, but we decided to go for it anyway.
I quickly discovered why no one was swimming.
This icy blue water was just that – icy! The moment I stepped my toes into the water I was met with an overwhelming surge of cold. I slowly continued to wade deeper into the water, hooting and hollering the entire way. Had it not been for my feet slipping on the algae covered rocks I likely would have taken much longer to submerge my body.
I then went in and out of the lake three times. I guess I was a sucker for the pain. Overall it was my feet and hands that suffered the most. I could have kept my core in that water for much longer. After cooling off our internal heaters we sat on the grass next to the lake watching small human specks walk across the mountain peaks surrounding us.
We were in the middle of a cow party, and had a handful of cows come to see what we were up to.
As we dried off and reclothed, we made our way back towards the cable car to start our journey back home. Not before stopping at the Seebenalm for a bite to eat and a chat with a tiny human. A small boy came and sat with us as we ate our food and I proceeded to make him count in German for us (he spoke to us non stop in German, but I only understood 1/10 of what he was saying.)
He was such a sweet and pure soul.
Our original plan was to bike back home (it’s mostly downhill), but after a full day of hiking (we managed ten miles) we decided to train back home. We made it back down off the mountain at 1700 – 6.5 hours later! It’s days like this that make it really, really hard to leave Europe.
Q: Does swimming in bodies of water without a clear view of what’s below you scare you too?
29 thoughts on “Austrian Alpine Lakes”
To answer your question, yes. On my honeymoon ages ago, I was supposed to do a snorkeling adventure. I went on the boat, never got in the water. How romantic right? I love the cows, they seem so quiet and content. Safe travels Brittany!
I remember when I went to Hawaii over a decade ago, and I was able to snorkel close to shore, but seeing people drop down over an underwater ledge into the deeper water gave me sooo much anxiety.
I can do swimming pools and the shore on the beach, anything else, nope. I’m right with you.
The cows are darling!
Aren’t they!!? I will miss them the most.
Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind–Bruce Lee
True story. I once signed up for the bike leg of a swim/bike/run triathlon. My friend Don had the swim portion in open water in a river near Annapolis. Paul, our runner, and I waited in the staging area about 1/4 mile away. We heard the gun go off for the start. Then we waited. And waited. Swimmers came and jumped on the bikes. More and more swimmers. Where was Don? A half hour after the last swimmer rode off, Don showed up. He had never swum in open water before and the gun and the chaos of all the other swimmers caused him to have a massive panic attack. He never crossed the starting line!
Moral: don’t mess with open water.
Open water is no friend of mine! Great story.
What idyllic scenery! Love the cows.
The cows are my favorite!
Oh HECK yes!! Even swimming in clear water where I can see what’s below me can make me feel anxious… Unless it’s a man-made swimming pool. 🙈 I’m SO impressed that you went in and out of the lake three times! That’s no joke, especially with Renaud’s… You’re my hero! 😉
When I was younger and braver (and before Renaud’s kicked in!), we used to do “polar bear swims” at Girl Scout summer camp. Twice during the week, campers could swim across the lake and back (using floaty noodles, if they wanted!) at 7 am before breakfast. I never missed a single one… But that *may* have been because the counselors offered us hot chocolate with mini marshmallows as soon as we finished! 😂 I think it technically may have counted as an alpine lake, maybe?? It was at almost 8000 feet — and it was definitely freezing cold! ⛄️
I used to even get freaked out by the deep end in the pool. Paranoid a shark would pop out…in a swimming pool. 🤦🏻♀️
I did a polar bear jump one New Years, that was a lot of fun. And I ran a race once on New Years where we had to run into the freezing ocean at the end. Haha. I think we got hot chili after, but hot chocolate would have been way better!
Austria is so pretty!! This trip looks like such a great experience. And your photos are beautiful!! What kind of camera do you use?
Thank you! I just use my iPhone, and I only have version 8! They have to stay about this size or the quality goes down, but they definitely come out ok when they’re kept small.
I’ve honestly been thinking of getting a new iPhone specifically for better pictures. I’m still using the 6! Thanks for letting me know 🙂
I was using the 6 up until this past March, and then I got the 8. The 6 I had was still decent too. But for even better photos the newest one is the best obviously ha.
Yes, beautiful places. Have more great times ahead. What’s next?
Nothing planned as of now!! Hopefully a few more fun adventures before my time in Europe comes to an end (for now.)
I pray you will have the best most meaningful adventures ahead. With the Lord anything and everything can be.
Did you happen to catch our promo for our You Tube podcast. We are looking for people’s ideas. If you or any of your cohorts to send in a clip by Friday that would be awesome. Thanks,
What a cool channel!
I wanted to invite you to our live stream every Monday. This week I will be giving a shout out to all my blogging community.
Oh how kind! I’m currently on a break from Facebook, but if I can go back and listen to this after it’s streamed I will!
Fantastic photos! I was going to ask what camera, but saw it in the comments. And hello from Oregon!
As long as I’m reasonably confident that there are no sharks or crocs then I’m okay. That’s not normally a problem in England! Did some lake swimming in NZ where it was flooded and I was swimming around the tree tops.
Enjoying your write-ups. Desperately hoping to get out hiking soon (Here in Yorkshire and maybe Lake District) when regulations allow.
Ohh I adored the Lake District. You live near such beauty!
I’m all for a good lake swim, but this one was too spooky for me haha.