Hiking in the Bavarian Alps

Hiking is Bavaria's favorite pastime. Locals believe firmly in the emotional and spiritual benefits of walking and hill climbing and tend to hit the trails the moment the snows melt.

The tourist office in Garmisch-Partenkirchen will point you to hiking trails of varying degrees of difficulty, all clearly marked with signs. The office also offers a brochure outlining the half-dozen best trails. You don't have to be an Olympic athlete to enjoy them. Most hikes will take an energetic person 4 to 5 hours, but some of them are shorter and easy enough for children.

An easily accessible destination is the 1,240m (4,070-ft.) Eckbauer peak, which lies on the southern fringe of Partenkirchen. The easy trails on its lower slopes are recommended for first-time Alpine hikers. You can even take a chairlift to the top, where, in real Bavarian style, the Berggasthof (a guesthouse or cafe, usually in a high-altitude and rural location) will serve you a glass of buttermilk. In less than an hour, you can descend on relatively easy trails through a forest. The cable car stretching from Garmisch to the top of the Eckbauer departs year-round from the Eckbauerbahn (tel. 08821/3469; www.eckbauerbahn.de), adjacent to the ski stadium in Garmisch. A round-trip fare costs 12€ for adults, 7€ for children ages 6 to 16, and free for children 5 and under.

More demanding are the slopes of the rugged Alpspitz region, which begins about 1.6km (1 mile) southwest of Garmisch. The area is interlaced with wildflowers, unusual geology, meadows, and a network of cable cars and hiking trails spread over a terrain ranging in altitude between 1,200m (4,000 ft.) and 1,800m (6,000 ft.). The highest trails are around the summit of the Alpspitz at 2,600m (8,500 ft.).

One of the most appealing ways to gain a high-altitude panorama over this region is to take a trip up the Alpspitz. Begin your journey at the Kreuzeckbahn/Alpspitzbahn cable car terminus, a mile south of Garmisch. The cable car will carry you uphill along the Kreuzeckbahn for a 4-minute ride across a jagged landscape to the lowest station of the Hochalm cable car. Here the Hochalmbahn will carry you uphill for another 4 minutes to the top of the Osterfelderkopf, 1,950m (6,400 ft.) above sea level. Cable cars for both stages of this trip depart at 30-minute intervals daily 8:15am to 5:15pm. After your visit to the Osterfelderkopf summit, you can return to Garmisch via a different route, a direct downhill descent via the Alpspitzbahn, a 10-minute ride above jagged gorges, soaring cliffs, and grassy meadows.

Round-trip passage along this three-tiered Alpine itinerary costs 24€ for adults and 18€ for children. These fares and times of departure can fluctuate. For the latest details, either call the information service for the above-mentioned cable cars (tel. 08821/7970) or check with the Garmisch Verkehrsamt (tourist office) on Richard-Strauss-Platz 2 (tel. 08821/180700).

From Garmisch-Partenkirchen, many other peaks of the Wetterstein range are accessible as well, via the 10 funiculars ascending from the borders of the town. From the top of the 1,780m (5,840-ft.) Wank to the east, you get the best view of the plateau on which the villages of Garmisch and Partenkirchen sit. This summit is also a favorite with the patrons of Garmisch's spa facilities because the plentiful sunshine makes it ideal for the Liegekur (deck-chair cure).

Another hearty hike is through the Partnachklamm, a gorge with a roaring stream at the bottom and sheer cliff walls rising on either side of the hiking trail. Take the Graseck Seilbahn from its departure point at the bottom of the gorge, less than 1km (1/2 mile) south of Garmisch's ski stadium, and get off at the first station, which is adjacent to a cozy hotel, the Forsthaus Graseck (tel. 08821/943240; www.forsthaus-graseck.de). The 3-minute cable car ride costs 6€ per person each way (free for hotel guests) and operates from 7am to 10pm, midnight on weekends. You may want to get a meal or drink at the hotel first.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.