Hallstatt Ice Cave & 5 Fingers Tour:
Location: Krippenstein Peak of the Alps’ Dachstein Mountain Range
Elevation: Ice Cave is 4500 Feet & 5 Fingers is 6890 Feet
Distance From Hallstatt: 3 Miles (direct by bus 543)
Time Required: 3-3.5 hours for Ice Cave including round trip transportation including the bus, cable car, and hike. (+60 to 90 minutes for the 5 Fingers; +60 minutes to eat at the Dachstein Lodge)
Fun Scale: 10 out of 10
Dachstein Ice Cave Overview:
There are only a few places on Earth where tourists can easily access mega-sized ice caves and Hallstatt has one of the best. The neighboring Krippenstein Mountain of the Alps’ Dachstein Range (Stone Roof) provides the perfect conditions for the cave to thrive. Taking the official guided tour of the Dachstein Ice Cave is easy to do in a half of a day from nearby Hallstatt and one of the best activities to do in Austria.
Also near the main Ice Cave, the Mammoth Cave offers great trekking, the 5 Fingers Lookout will let you dangle high over mountain’s edge with a view that will make you feel on top of the world, there are wonderful Alpine hut restaurants to visit, and there is great hiking above the tree line. You definitely want to make it up Dachstein for at least part of a day while in Hallstatt.
Seasonal Hours In Winter:
The Dachstein Ice Cave is closed for the Winter each year from late-October until May. Depending on snow levels the 5 Fingers Lookout trail is often closed for hiking in Winter, but can still be reached with snowshoes or skis. Even with the Ice Cave closed, the upper sections Dachstein Mountain and Alpine huts are open in Winter. Snowboard, ski, and snowshoe rental equipment is available at the Dachstein Visitor Center.
Getting To Dachstein From Hallstatt:
By Bus 542/543: The best way to reach the Dachstein Mountain Visitor Center from Hallstatt is the local Postbus 543. You can catch this bus/shuttle van at the main Hallstatt Bus Station (Hallstatt Lahn) just South of the village center as it does a loop between Hallstatt Gosaumühle > Hallstatt Lahn > Obertraun > Dachstein and back at least once an hour from 8am-5pm. A current pdf schedule can be found HERE. At the bus stop, the schedule will be in German and “ruckfahrt” is when it arrives at the stop you’re at while “abfahrt” means when it will depart.
If you are arriving into Hallstatt by bus, Bus 150 from Salzburg meeting Bus 542 at the Bad Ischl Train Station. From Bad Ischl, you will ride South to the Hallstatt Gosaumühle Bus Stop just North of town and transfer to the local Postbus 543 for the last few miles into Hallstatt. Instead of getting out at Hallstatt Lahn, ride the Bus 543 10 minutes further all the way to the Dachstein Visitor Center. You can always double check with your driver that they are stopping at Dachstein, but they will.
By Train: If you are arriving into Hallstatt by train, you can switch to the bus route easily in Bad Ischl Station along the way. Alternatively, you can also stay on the train until the next stop after Hallstatt Station called the Obertraun Train Station (Obertraun Banhhof) where you can also grab Postbus 543 on the way up Dachstein Mountain. (Printable Bus 542 Timetable). Keep in mind that there are no luggage lockers or bag storage at the Bad Ischl, Hallstatt, or Obertraun Train Stations but there are a few at the Dachstein Visitors Center.
By Car/Taxi: If you are driving yourself there is a large parking lot right at the Dachstein Visitor Center. Taxis are very limited in this small village so it is suggested that you book in advance. The main companies we have used are Taxi Godl which runs 24 hours a day, and Taxi Rastl. If you’re staying in Hallstatt, your hotel can help with taxis. There is also a parking lot if you have your own car in Hallstatt. If you are in a pinch you could hike as it is only 3 miles away, but the last 3/4 mile is steep, there are no sidewalks, and it ends up taking about 2 hours to hike.
Ice Cave Tour & Nearby Sights:
1. Dachstein Visitor Center:
About The Dachstein Visitor Center: A trip to the Ice Caves and 5 Fingers starts with a visit to the Dachstein Visitor Center. It’s here that you’ll buy your tickets for the lift up the mountain and for your Ice Cave tour. The Visitor Center and each of the gondola lift stations will have wifi available. Another thing that is great is that the Visitors Center added a limited number of bag lockers in 2017 to make it easier for visitors who have luggage. As of our last visit, the Visitor Center has 12 Medium lockers (60x35x85 cm) and 10 Large lockers (90x35x85 cm). You can find out more on the luggage storage options around Hallstatt Here.
Before leaving the Visitor Center, make sure to keep track of the time the last bus departs the mountain back to Hallstatt (typically between 3pm-5pm) as you don’t want to have to walk all the way back. The best way to make sure you’ll have ample time is to go to the mountain early in the morning, spending the first half of your day here with the second half back in Hallstatt. Also, make sure to wait in the parking lot right where the bus dropped you off to get picked back up when you leave and make visitors get distracted and miss the bus entirely.
2. Dachstein Cable Car:
About The Dachstein Cable Car: It’s hard to believe that visitors to the Ice Cave once had to hike all the way up the mountain. With the opening of the gondola in 1951, the journey became much easier and the annual visitors have grown to over 180,000 people. The 1st section of the 3-tiered cable car gondola climbs a staggering 2461 feet from the Visitor Center which seems almost unreal, but surprisingly the ride is very smooth.
At the top of the 1st cable car section is the Schönbergalm Lodge which has a restaurant, a museum, and is the jump-off point for the cave tours. The 2nd level of the cable car takes you to the 5 Fingers Lookout, Welterbespirale Lookout, Krippenstein Lodge & Restaurant, the Heilbronn Cross Trail with the Dachstein Shark, and most of the Winter ski runs. The 3rd and final level takes you to the Gjaidalm Lodge which offers great mountaintop hiking between Alpine huts and all the way to the Dachstein Glacier. It is fun to hear your fellow passengers ooh and ahh as the car sways slightly in the middle of the journey.
Make sure to pay close attention to the gondola schedules each time you exit at a lift station so you can make sure to be back in time for your desired return down the mountain.
Service Hours: The cable car runs year-round. In the Spring through Summer it goes Daily every 15 minutes from 8:40am. The last car back down leaves at 5:10pm (4:50pm from 3rd station) in the Spring and Fall and these hours are extended to 7:10pm (6:45pm from 3rd station) in July & August. Winter Hours: Daily every 15 minutes from 8:30am-4:30pm. Cost: The most common ticket is 34.50€ (kids 18.90€) which covers your roundtrip lift to the first station plus a guided tour of the ice cave. The ticket we get most is is the 43.70€ (kids 24.20€) which cover the first two lift levels plus the Ice Cave tour and it’s less than 3€ to add all three sections of the lift to this ticket. For access to all the lift levels for hiking but no Ice Cave tour it is 30.90€ (kids 17€). Staying On The Mountain: If you are staying on the mountain you will only have to buy your pass once and can use the lift system for the duration of your stay.
3. Dachstein Ice Cave Tour (Dachsteinhöhlen):
About The Dachstein Ice Cave: Dachstein Ice Cave (Dachsteinhöhlen) is awesome! While there are a few other ice caves in Austria, including the World’s largest one in Werfen, we prefer Dachstein. We like it more because they normally let you take pictures while Werfen does not, and the surrounding Dachstein sights including the village Hallstatt offer a complete all day experience.
The first sections of the Dachstein Ice Cave were discovered in 1910 and tourist access began only 2 years later. Until the cable car opened in 1951, the only way to reach the caves were by extreme mountain hiking mixed with some rock climbing.
The ice in the cave is formed by water which seeps from the Dachstein plateau down into the cave through small cracks and joints in the cliff. When outside temperatures are above freezing the caves still contain really cold air, so the penetrating water freezes and forms magnificent ice shapes and frozen waterfalls. Although some Summer water flow is warm enough to produce slight melting, it actually balances the winter growth some which is a good thing. The Winter-Spring growth exceeds the Summer ice loss and the constant cycle of slight melting with growth guarantees the survival of this magnificent natural showcase and frozen waterfalls.
Guided Tour Overview: We recently took the 50-minute guided tour for the third time and got submerged inside the magic of the icy landscape. After a 20 minute hike from the cable car to the entrance, you head into the mountain through stalactite passageways and down into a large hall called Saint Arthur’s Dome. The huge hall, dominated by rock boulders, is where they have found ancient cave bear bones which had signs of human processing.
As you head deeper into the cave you start to feel the icy chill until your first frozen sighting. The stairs will lead you up to and through an impressive wall of ice with a frozen tunnel called the Keyhole. From the Keyhole the sure size of the caves really begins to hit you and the fantastic formations have names like the Ice Palace, Tristan Dome, Big Ice Chapel, and then the 30-foot-tall phallic shaped Big Ice Mountain.
Our favorite ice formation is the called Castle of the Holy Grail which shimmers in colors from white to dark blue, depending on the lighting. The caves just seem to get better and better as they go on and even have a frozen waterfall! As an extra treat, the Alpine view as you leave the cave is one of the best in all of Austria.
Ice Cave Tour Cost: Your Ice Cave tour will be added as an option as you buy your cable car pass at the visitor center. We suggest the package that at least includes the ice cave and ride up to the Tier 2 area. (Current Prices). Ice Cave Tour Hours: The cave tours are CLOSED in the Winter and only run May-October. The 50-minute tour runs daily late-April through October 9:20am-3:30pm but stays open until 4pm in June and until 5pm July through August. You will sign up for your time slot once you reach the 1st level cable car station. How To Dress: Because the caves rarely exceed freezing, you should wear closed toed shoes, a hat, and either a sweatshirt or coat. Piano Concerts: In August they have 4-5 nights with special below ground piano concerts right in the middle of the cave with the frozen formations as a backdrop (more info).
4. Dachstein Cave Museum (Höhlenmuseum):
About The Cave Museum: On the crossroads between the lift station and the path to the two caves is a very interesting museum highlighting the history of the Dachstein Ice Caves. The museum is housed in a series of wooden and stone huts which helps it blend into nature.
Our favorite item on exhibit in the museum is the skull of an ancient cave bear they found while exploring the cave. You can also see a model of the 30 miles (48 km) of corridors that have been explored in Mammoth Cave. In the nature park around the museum, kids can join in a number of activities including the training ground for archery.
Cost: Free. Hours: Open during cable car operating hours April 30 to October 30; closed in Winter.
5. Mammoth Cave (Mammut):
About Mammoth Cave: Mammoth cave is quite long and a favorite among cave enthusiasts. Overall, Mammoth Cave is the 30th longest and 31st deepest cave in the world. More than 37 miles (60 km) of passageways have been explored in the cave and around 1 km of them can be viewed during the standard 1 hour long guided tours. There are also really cool 4-hour long trekking tours where you strap on full caving gear for those looking get more down and dirty.
The Mammoth Cave is cool, but most visitors on a tight schedule won’t find it very cool in comparison to the Ice Caves. If you are in Hallstatt for two full days or more than by all means check out Mammoth while up the mountain as it’s included in your lift pass anyway. On the flip side, if you only have one day in Hallstatt do the Ice Caves in the morning and skip Mammoth.
Mammoth Cave Tour Hours: The cave tours are CLOSED in the Winter and only run May-October. Normal 1 hour long tours run daily the second week of May-October from 10:30am-2:30pm (until 3pm June 15th-early August, until 3:30pm mid-August through October). Check out the current schedule. It is recommended to start your ascent no later than 2pm to make the last tour as it can take 25 minutes to walk from the cable car station up to the cave entrance. Please note the last cable car back down the mountain from Level 1 leaves at 5:10pm (5:40 June 15th through July). Verify current times especially if on a tight schedule. Mammoth Cave Tour Cost: Add the cave tour onto your cable car pass, (Current Prices).
6. 5 Fingers Lookout:
About The 5 Fingers Lookout: The 5 Fingers Lookout viewing platform in Hallstatt offers an adrenaline rush at the highest level. Opened in 2006, it’s definitely one of the most spectacular viewing platforms in the Alps and reaches out like a 5-fingered hand over a 1300 foot (400 meters) vertical drop. Even more impressive than then drop is that tiny Hallstatt will now be almost 5,000 feet below you!!!
Each of the 13-foot-long (4 meters) platforms at the 5 Fingers Lookout has a unique design, with different exposures to the height and unique views down over Hallstatt. One of the platforms has a section made entirely of glass and another enables visitors to gain their own personal view of Hallstatt through a large Baroque picture frame. The 5 Fingers are also illuminated until midnight and can be seen easily be seen after dark from the center of Hallstatt.
Time Required: 60-90 minutes including the round trip hike and time to check out the lookout.
Getting Here: Take the cable car up from the Ice Caves to the Level 2 Station and follow The Experience Trail directly to 5 Fingers. The walk time takes between 20-30 minutes each way. Hikers also like to visit the Pioneer Cross an additional 20 minutes past the 5 Fingers. Make sure to give yourself an extra 30 minutes round trip if you wish to stop at the Welterbespirale Lookout on the way back to the cable car.
Lookout Hours: Basically open all day all year, however, in the Winter the trail often requires snowshoes depending on the snow levels. Use caution around the snow-covered open-air installation in Winter. Cost: Your cable car pass to the 2nd level is all you need as the sights here are free.
Last Cable Car Down: Keep track of the time as the last cable car from the 2nd Tier Station going back down the mountain leaves at 5pm (4:40pm in Winter; 7pm in July & August). We usually keep track of how long it took to walk from the cable car to the lookout point so we know when we need to head back, expect it’ll take longer on the walk back as well.
7. World Heritage Spiral (Welterbespirale):
About The Welterbespirale Lookout: Further Past 5 Fingers is the true summit of Krippernstien Peak and the World Heritage Spiral (Welterbespirale) lookout point. The World Heritage Spiral (Welterbespirale) is cool not only because of its curving, shiny metal surface, but also for the large viewing platform built by World Natural Heritage.
We also love the summit’s over-sized wooden lawn chairs, trust us you’ll love resting on the chairs too as the walk to Welterbespirale ends up being a lot longer than it initially looks. In the Summer the Spiral’s hill is a popular grazing point for a small herd of sheep which really makes you feel in touch with nature.
Time Required: You’ll want 30 minutes round trip to break off the main Express Train to see the Welterbespirale Lookout, with 60 minutes being ideal if you want to lounge in the grass of benches to relax.
Lookout Hours: Basically open all day all year, however, in the Winter the trail often requires snowshoes depending on the snow levels. Use caution around the snow-covered open-air installation in Winter and stick to the paths. Cost: Your cable car pass to the 2nd level is all you need as the sights here are free. Last Cable Car Down: Keep track of the time as the last cable car from the 2nd Tier Station going back down the mountain leaves at 5pm (4:40pm in Winter; 7pm in July & August).
8. Krippenstein Lodge & Restaurant:
About Krippenstein Lodge: Sitting within a 5-minute walk of the 2nd level cable car station is the rustic Krippernstein Lodge. It is our favorite place to stop for food and a drink on top of Dachstein Mountain and the perfect lunch spot any time of year. The patio is an excellent place to relax in the Summer and the lodge is conveniently located next to most of the Winter ski runs.
The Lodge is well known for their traditional spätzle, apple strudel, cold beer, and their very large Lodge Burger. There is something about spending even just 30-60 minutes on the Krippernstein Lodge patio that makes you appreciate your visit to Dachstein so much more.
Staying at Krippenstein Lodge will give you a lot more time to hike on top of the mountain without worrying about the cable car schedule and you’ll have the peace of almost no tourist in the evening. If you stay here overnight (which we have), make sure to catch the sunset from the Welterbespirale tower. If you are lucky enough to book in advance you can stay in one of the dreamy panorama rooms with tall windows overlooking the mountains. In the Summer the lodge even has a petting zoo for kids thanks to its resident goats.
While the Krippenstein Lodge is the best place on the mountain to eat, there is another restaurant located right in the 2nd level cable car station (boring), one inside the 1st level cable car station (basic), and a collection of Alpine huts that serve food that can be hiked to from the 3rd level station.
Lodge Website: Here.
9. Dachstein Shark:
About The Dachstein Shark: Installed in 2013, the playful Dachstein Shark sculpture is a great reminder that the mountain tops you are walking on were once the floor of the Tethys primordial ocean. Most of the area around the shark is actually a fossilized seabed as you will see with the cow prints further up the Heilbronn Trial.
What’s really cool about visiting the sculpture is that you can climb inside the shark and get a view of the seabed from behind its teeth filled jaws. The large sculpture weighs 13,000 pounds and had to be flown up the mountain by helicopter after spending time at the bottom of Lake Hallstatt which help create the rusty exterior color. Especially if you have kids, you have to visit the Dachstein Shark.
Time Required: It takes 30 minutes to hike to from the 2nd level station and is another 60 minutes from here to the Heilbronn Cross. Hours: Open all year as even in the Winter you can still ski or snowshoe to it.
10. Heilbronn Cross Trail:
About The Heilbronn Cross Trail: If you are down for a little more extensive hiking consider doing the loop trail to the Heilbronn Cross. The Cross is a memorial place to 13 climbers who died in a mountain tragedy in 1954. Our favorite sight on the trail are the fossilized cow footsteps which are a reminder that these mountains once formed the floor of the Tethys primordial ocean.
Time Required: The loop trail is easy hiking with only a gradual slope and takes around 3 hours to complete. Stating at the 2nd level station it’s 30 minutes to the Dachstein Shark, another 60 minutes to the Heilbronn Cross, and a final 90 minutes either back to the 2nd level station or up to the 3rd level station.
11. Gjaidalm Lodge & Alpine Hiking:
About Gjaidalm Lodge: For those wanting a truly Alpine experience you may want to stay at one of the many Mountain Guesthouses on top of Dachstein at the Cable Car’s 3rd and final level. The easiest one to access on the 3rd level is the Gjaid Alm which is only a 10-minute walk from the station. They have 55 rustic double rooms, wifi, and even a sauna. During your visit or stay in the Summer months you can expect to see cows, goats, sheep, and even horse horses around the Gjaidalm Lodge.
Much like the Krippenstein Lodge near the 2nd level station, the Gjaidalm Lodge has some of the best hospitality in the region. From the lodge, you’ll have access to a lot of great hiking, downhill skiing, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. You will even be able to get some views of the Dachstein glacier which is about a 4-hour hike away near the Simonyhutte Lodge.
Getting Here: It’s only a 5-minute walk from the 3rd level station. Website: Here.
12. Wiesberghaus Lodge:
About Wiesberghaus Lodge: While our preferred place to stay on the 3 station level of Dachstein is Gjaidalm Lodge, the Wiesberghaus Lodge is a great back up with year-round activities. Sitting at 6503 feet in elevation the cozy lodge has 83 beds and actually has cell phone reception!
It is about a 2-hour hike from the 3rd level cable car station to Wiesberghaus Lodge so it is a good place to stop for food on your way up to either Simonyhutte Lodge or the Dachstein Glacier. We love having beers on their patio, especially in the Summer.
Getting To The Lodge: By hiking it is 2 hours from the 3rd level cable car station; 4-5 hours from the valley floor at Hallstatt; or the taxi company Godl in Hallstatt can take you from the Echerntal parking lot in town to the drip wall which is only a 1 hour and 45 minute hike up. Seasonal Hours: The Lodge is typically open all year. Website: Here.
13. Simonyhütte Lodge:
About Simonyhütte Lodge: The most remote of the Alpine huts, Simonyhütte Lodge sites at 7228 feet in elevation and lets you get up close and personal with the Dachstein glacier. The first rescue hut was established here in 1843 followed by the lodge which was built in 1877 by the Austrian Alpine Club and named after the famous Dachstein explorer Friedrich Simony (1813-1896). The 42-bed lodge is rustic, but does offer food and wifi. The sunrises from the lodge are quite famous and in the peak months, you will have to book far in advance.
Getting To The Lodge: By hiking it is 4 hours from the 3rd level cable car station; 90 minutes from the Wiesberghaus Lodge; 5-6 hours from the valley floor at Hallstatt; or the taxi company Godl in Hallstatt can take you from the Echerntal parking lot in town to the drip wall which is a 3 hour and 20 minute hike up to the lodge. Seasonal Opening: Open daily end of January-October; closed in November; varies December-January based on the weather. Website: Here.