23.03.2022

GROSSGLOCKNER ALPINE ROAD

The Grossglockner Alpine Road is named after the highest mountain in Austria, Großglockner, which measures 3,798 meters above sea level. It lies on the border between Carinthia and East Tyrol, inside the High Tauern National Park, about surface 1,856 square kilometers. The park includes 266 mountains, about 550 lakes and about 250 glaciers. But before we get to the description of this beautiful road, a short history of how it came to be.

Grossglockner high alpine road
Author Viktor Hanacek

 

DIFFICULT BEGINNINGS IN DIFFICULT TIMES

In 1924, when few people owned cars, the first plans for a road along the Großglockner mountain were presented. At the time, these plans evoked only sarcasm. Mainly because Austria was struggling with economic and social problems caused by the loss of World War I. In addition, Austria as a country had shrunk by one-seventh of its former, pre-war size.

On October 29, 1929, after the crash of the New York Stock Exchange (known as Black Tuesday) and the subsequent Great Depression, Austria also was faced with an economic crisis. The country therefore needed projects to combat the ever-increasing unemployment.

The Austrian government again reviewed the plans for the “Großglockner Hochalpenstraße” again and decided to continue with the original construction plans from 1924. It also assumed that the width of the road would be 6 meters (originally the road was to be 3 meters wide, with the possibility of widening it to 5 meters).

Tourism was expected to pay off the cost of building the road and provide a steady income from tolls. But not only that. The idea was also to stimulate so-called high-end tourism in Austria. This concerns the consumption of goods and services among the more affluent population. Cars in those days were a luxury that only wealthy citizens could afford.

In 1930 on August 30 at 09:30 the first explosive charge was detonated under the future high mountain road Grossglockner. The road owes its existence to the road engineer Franz Wallack and Franz Rehrl, the governor of Salzburg. They were the first to drive the gravel road in 1934, when it was not yet finished. Thanks to nearly 4,000 workers, the road was completed on August 3, 1935 and officially opened that day.

As the economic situation improved in Austria and Germany after the Second World War, more and more cars appeared on the roads. At that time, the road was further modernized and expanded. The parking were enlarged and new were built to accommodate 4000 cars (previously it was 800 cars) and the road was widened from 6 meters to 7.5 meters. The maximum speed allowed on the road was also raised from 40 km/h to 70 km/h. New catering and accommodation facilities were also built over time.

Below is a video that can be found on YT showing how the work on the Grossglockner road looked in the years 1930-1935.

 

GROSSGLOCKNER ALPINE ROAD IN NUMBERS

 

GUIDE

There are a few things to keep in mind when preparing to drive the Grossglockner alpine road. First of all, the route is closed during the winter and is open for tourists from the beginning of May until the beginning of November (although the time when the route is opened and closed depends on weather conditions and may change, so it is worth checking the dates of opening on the official website, which you can find here).

Top of the grossglockner road austria
Author Viktor Hanacek

This road is toll and prices are as follows (2022).

– 38 EUR for cars

– 28 EUR for motorcycles

The toll booth is near Wildpark Ferleiten (to the north) and near Heiligenblut, (to the south).

The toll can be paid in cash or by credit card.

Also keep in mind the opening hours of the Grossglockner road, and they are as follows.

From the beginning of May to 31 May, 6.00 am to 8.00 pm

1 June to 31 August: 5.30 a.m. to 9 pm

1 September to the beginning of November 6.00 am – 7.30 pm

The last possible entrance is 45 minutes before the road closes.

The current price list and opening hours can be found here on the official website.

It is worth remembering that the weather in the Alps can change at a short time. In spring and late autumn, you can experience occasional short snowfalls. Therefore, you should think about taking warm clothing for the trip and a solid full footwear. For those who would like to spend a few days in this beautiful place, there will be no problem finding accommodation in mountain hotels or cottages (after prior reservation, of course).

This popular road in the eastern Alps can be crowded by tourists on sunny summer days. Therefore, a much better idea is to go during the beside season, (between May and June, or between October and November). It is also good to avoid weekends and public holidays, as the road is also popular with locals. Another alternative is to stay overnight in one of the hotels or huts located on the pass near the road. Then, for maximum driving pleasure, get up early and leave for the road at 6 or 7 am, so that other drivers do not distract us, and we can enjoy the beautiful views.

Road Grossglockner, source Google Maps

 

WHERE TO STOP

Along the highway, there are many places to stop, take pictures and enjoy the beautiful views. These include:

Edelweißspitze (2,572 m) – a small detour from the main road with an amazing 360-degree panorama of more than 30 three-thousand-metre peaks.

Gamsgrubenweg hiking trail – an easy hiking trail with incredible alpine views, leading from Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe along the Pasterze glacier, to the Wasserfallwinkel. It is of course possible to continue to Oberwalderhütte mountain hut, but the route becomes more difficult after crossing the Wasserfallwinkel and is not recommended for persons without adequate preparation.

Tourist Center Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe (2,369 m) – named after the Habsburg emperor Franz-Josef, who probably to have hiked here in 1856. Here you can find interesting facts about glaciers, the Glockner exhibition and the Glockner panorama hall. From here, you have a view of the longest glacier in the Eastern Alps, the ” Pasterze”, which has about 9 kilometers long. The visitor center is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., from mid-May to early October (find current opening hours here on the official website).

TIDBITS

  • The Grossglockner Alpine Road is visited by more than one million tourists a year, making it the most visited tourist attraction in Austria, after Schönbrunn Palace.
  • The observatory at the Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe tourist center was built with the support of the Swarovski family.  Wood and glass were used in the construction, and its design reminds of mountain crystal.

  • Franz Rehrl was the first driver to drive a car on the Grossglockner alpine road on September 22, 1934 (which was not yet completed) in a converted Steyr 100 car.

The observatory at the Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe tourist center
The observatory at the Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe tourist center

SUMMARY

The Grossglockner Alpine Road is one of the most beautiful alpine roads, not only in Austria but in Europe. It enjoys great popularity and is visited by over a million tourists every year. Despite the difficulties that were encountered during its construction in the form of the Great Depression after World War I and the economic crisis of 1929, eventually a road was built. Thanks to this, every year, thousands of drivers can ride with a smile on their lips on the serpentines of the High Tauern National Park and admire the beauty of the Alpine mountains.

Viktor Hanacek

Viktor Hanacek

Pasterze Glacier, Dimitry Anikin (photo edited)

Viktor Hanacek

Viktor Hanacek

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