Driving across the Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse in Austria

Starting from Lienz, keen drivers, myself included, would see the Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse (High Alpine Road) as a highlight. Which is why even though there was other more citcuitous routes to get to Zell am See around the mountains, I chose to brave through it. As the highest surfaced mountain pass road in Austria, this High Alpine road is open around late April/early May when the snow is cleared and drive-able until late October/early November depending on conditions. The road crosses through the Hohe Tauern National Park and has become a favourite amongst tourists as well to experience the sights of snow covered glaciers and magnificent Alpine scenery.

Lush summer meadows
Lush summer meadows around Lienz, Austria

While Lienz is not the start of the road, it is one of the larger towns at the opposite end of the valley with Zell am See being the larger town at the other end. This is where travellers might want to start off as a base as it is convenient to get necessities and maybe food and beverages that they might want to stock up if hiking is on their agenda. The road to get to Grossglockner begins from the 107 road and it starts to rise up in a series of gentle turns as the drive brings us into the state of Carinthia from Tyrol. From there on, the road settles into a quiet valley road with little bends. It might not be exciting for drivers but travellers can stop at one of 2 waterfalls that could be seen along the road. Amongst the 2, the Jungfernsprung waterfall is perhaps the more impressive and worth a visit if driving or getting to the other side is not of the utmost priority.

Jungfernsprung waterfall
Jungfernsprung waterfall

But since this review is all about the driving, after the Jungfernsprung waterfall, the 107 road brings us to the small town of Heiligenblut which is technically the start of the Grossglockner High Alpine Road and the base of the Fleissalm ski area during the winter. After climbing up once more through a series of bends, driver will reach the toll booth here where they can choose to pay a single day admission for EUR36 (~$41) and an additional day for EUR12.

One of the sights in Grossglockner for travellers is the Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe which is named after the Habsburg monarch who visited this panoramic spot. Today, the visitor centre has a glacier pathway that overlooks the Grossglockner mountain peak along with a glacier railway and various informative displays about the High Tauern National Park.

Summer in the mountains
Summer in the mountains, around the valley

For hard core drivers, they generally want to stick to the winding roads that will bring them to the summit and over the mountain pass into the northern part of Austria that connects to Germany. During the ascent, drivers will notice the alpine meadows at the valley giving way into a snowy and rocky landscape. As such, expect high winds and low temperatures at the top and drivers should still wear layers especially when they want to experience open-top driving.

Picnic site
Picnic site along the route

Along the ascent, there are some places where drivers can take a break with adequate space for more than one car to park by the shoulder. These are definitely suited to the number of enthusiast drivers and motorcyclists that drive these roads in groups. It is not uncommon to see convoys of similar cars driving up and down these passes and that speaks volumes about the fun to be had from traversing across the High Alpine Road.

Driving in the high alpine
Driving in the high alpine
Motorbiker in the high alpine
Motorbiker in the high alpine

At the summit there is a stopover point with a souvenir shop where drivers can get some memorabilia or just to take a break from the driving. Public facilities like restrooms are available to use as well. While up here, also take the time to soak in the crisp mountain air and enjoy the vantage viewpoint along with the crackling sound of sports cars engines making their way around the bends in the background. That to me is the hallmark of a truly enjoyable mountain pass in the spring and summer season.

Viewpoint scenery
Viewpoint scenery at the summit
Souvenir shop at the summit
Souvenir shop at the summit

From the summit, a short tunnel makes for a nice spot to try to rev up your car’s engine if you happen to have a sports car at your disposal to enhance the adrenaline rush. Otherwise, stop by at either ends of the tunnel where there are several parking spaces to enjoy the visceral noise a Ferrari or Lamborghini might make when crossing a tunnel.

Stopover point at the top
Stopover point with the tunnel
Mercedes SL cabriolet
Mercedes SL cabriolet at the parking area

In this instance, I was driving a plain vanilla Audi A6 Avant or a family wagon. Thus no such exciting drives for me but even then I have to say this particular stretch of the drive was the one I enjoyed most throughout my journey.

Audi A6 Avant
Audi A6 Avant across the tunnel

While driving the High Alpine Road, drivers could take a break and have a meal at one of the numerous mountain lodges and restaurant. One of the largest restaurant is Fuschertoerl located near the Fuscherlacke glacier lake not far from the summit.

Restaurant at the summit
Fuschertoerl Restaurant

The retaurant has a large parking lot and offers one of the most spectacular views from the top of the mountain pass, with numerous 3,000m peaks visible in the distance.  With the winding mountain pass leading back down in the valley just underneath, this is a great spot for car spotting as well!

Mountain peaks
Mountain peaks from the Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse
Mountain pass panorama
Panorama from Fuschertörl Restaurant

Drivers can experience the thrill of driving by spending just half a day crossing this spectacular mountain pass or they could find lodging in the mountain and explore the various exhibits and display or even go for a hike to experience the Austrian Alps at one of its finest. Whichever way one chooses, the Grossglockner should be on a drivers’ list of places to visit when in Austria!

Winding roads
Winding roads of the Grossglockner
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