Hiking around Oberammergau, Germany is one experience you don’t want to miss. There is even a little rock climbing if you’re up for it!
Laber Mountain to the Schartenkopf and back to Oberammergau, Germany is a circuit hike that offers incredible views over the Ammergau Alps and a little rock climbing adventure…if you’re up for it! Although I am an avid hiker until now I had spent very little time near in the Ammergau Alps. Instead, I hike more in the areas of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Walchensee, Tegernsee, Spitzensee, and Mittenwald.
You can start this hike from the Ettal Abby, which in itself is worth a visit. From here the hike is much easier, and perfect if you are looking for a more relaxed hiking experience. But for me, easy hiking is never my first choice. Instead, we started at the Laber Bergbahn, a gondola that takes you up the mountain. In true hiker fashion, I decided that walking the 786 meters up would be time much better spent than sitting in a gondola.
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Like with most things, taking the gondola offers pros and cons. One the one hand, the gondola offers you amazing views, which is why they went through the trouble of installing one, but on the other hand it gets pretty crowded. The gondola attracts a large crowd which wouldn’t affect a hiker on the trail. But at the summit where hikers and gondola riders meet, that is a different story. There is usually a restaurant on top of the mountain, of which every gondola I have been on in Bavaria leads. This means that as a hiker, you will inevitably meet crowds at the summit.
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But I digress, the hike starts at the Laber Bergbahn with signs indicating 2 1/2 hours to the Laber – the mountain we were hiking to. One thing I really like about the trail is that it’s an actual hiking trail the whole way up, unlike many hiking trails in Germany in which for part of it you are hiking on a road.
The path is steep, but never too steep, just enough to keep you breathing hard without feeling like your heart is going to jump out of your chest. After about an hour of hiking, you’ll reach a point where you have two choices: left or right. The left way will take you up through the Soilasee (a lake which is often dry during the summer months) on a gentler trail up to the Laber Restaurant, which has a large terrace offering views over the Ammergau Alps and to Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
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On the sign, shown in the photo of the left, you’ll notice that pointing to the right it says Labersteig über Schartenkopf and nur für Geübte, meaning only for the experienced. That’s the way we went. It’s flat for the first part which is deceiving as you find yourself puffing your chest out with pride going Look at me! It’s for experienced hikers and I’m having no problems at all!
Then comes the challenge. The path quickly changes and you have to do a bit of scrambling – using your hands and feet up some rocks and hanging onto a cable on a narrow ridge. At this point having good balance, good fitness and no fear of heights, then this will be relatively easy for you. If you are afraid of heights I would highly recommend going the easier way. It’s not only a challenge but is a long way down too. I would also not recommend choosing this part of the path if you have small children with you. Although, I did see a couple with children around the ages of 10 doing it and they had no problem. These photos show you the terrain so that you can decide for yourself:
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As a reward for your bravery, you get views like this, which you don’t have from going the easier way. I especially loved the view of the monastery in Ettal:
Carry on a bit and you will pass a cross that’s several meters above you, meaning that you’ve almost reached the summit, but it’s just out of reach and it stays that way – frustrating for someone like myself who likes to physically touch the cross to prove to myself that I made it!
A few minutes after that and you’ll reach the restaurant. You’ll hear the crowd before you see them.
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You won’t have much solitude here, but you will have some of the most amazing views. The views make up for the crowds in my opinion. If the conditions are just right, you may also be able to catch a paraglider taking off as we did:
For the descent, you can either return the same way or turn your hike into a loop, which we did, returning counter-clockwise back to Oberammergau through the Soilasee. The first part of the descent is fairly steep but is down a hiking trail, which turns into a road and I really dislike hiking on roads. Fortunately, there are shortcuts so you can minimize the amount of time you spend hiking on the road.
Know Before You Hike Laber-Schartenkopf in Oberammergau:
- The ascent takes ~ 2 to 2 1/2 hours and the descent is ~ 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
- The elevation difference is ~786m from the Laber Bergbahn. Add another 60m or so if you’re coming from the train station in Oberammergau.
- You can also ascend or descend from the gondola (which we didn’t use, but it is an option).
- You could also descend down to Ettal and catch a bus from there to the train station.
- From Munich, Oberammergau is ~ 90km. It took us about 1:15 minutes by car (but of course it always depends on traffic).
- You can also reach Oberammergau by train. It’s ~ 1 1/2 hours by train from Munich.
- If you start early enough you can also do some sightseeing. The abbey in Ettal is home to 50 Benedictine monks and is a popular tourist attraction. Linderhof Palace, one of King Ludwig’s fairy-tale castles is also nearby. And if you’re hungry, there’s also the Schaukäserei Ammergauer Alpen located at Mandelweg 1 in Ettal. Here you’ll find some of the finest cheese you’ve ever tasted!
- There’s also a NATO School in Oberammergau! If you’re attending classes here, it’s only a short walk to the Laber Bergbahn.
- Want to do another hike in the Ammergau Alps? Then check out the Kofel by Tricia. I haven’t done it yet, but it also looks like a good one. Also, check out my other recommended hikes in the German Alps and the best places to visit in Bavaria.