Hiking at the Grawa Waterfall: a day trip from Innsbruck
Date: 28 May, 2022
Location: Stubai Valley, Tyrol, Austria
Distance: 5 kilometres (3 miles)
Highlights: Grawa Waterfall and its impressive viewing platform, the beautiful bus ride through the valley
Summary: A short and easy afternoon hike in the mountains outside of Innsbruck, featuring dramatic waterfalls and a glacial blue river.
After a sleepless night spent in a hostel, I met Brett, Paul and Dan at Innsbruck's main train station. The boys had arrived early that morning on a sleeper train from Vienna, where they had been attending a scientific conference. It was our first day together on our two-week spring Interrailing trip around Western Europe.
Siting in the first class lounge at the station (one of the nice perks of having a first class Interrail pass), we looked at the weather forecast for the next few days – that afternoon offered our best bet at going for a hike in the Tyrolean Alps. After packing our daypacks, we dropped off our traveling bags in the lockers at the train station (only €4 for a XL locker that fit all four of our bags!) and made our way into downtown Innsbruck. The impressive mountains surrounding the city, which had been visible when I'd arrived the previous evening, were blocked by thick clouds.
We ate breakfast at a cafe near the river and grabbed a picnic lunch from the supermarket before walking back to the train station. From there, we hopped on a bus that would take us into the mountains. As the road climbed out of Innsbruck, we passed the Bergisel Ski Jump and saw panoramic views over the city.
Our first stop was at the Mieders Alpine Coaster, a 2,800 metre toboggan track down the side of a mountain. Unfortunately the light rain earlier in the morning meant the coaster was closed. Although the boys were disappointed, I was secretly relieved – the thought of speeding down the mountain in a toboggan was slightly terrifying. While waiting for the next bus, I shot some photos on my twin-lens reflex (TLR) film camera. The tops of the mountains were shrouded in clouds, giving the valley an almost mystical quality.
Just 30 minutes after getting off our first bus, we hopped on the next one (gotta love Austrian public transport!) and continued the scenic drive up Stubaital Valley. The bus drive in itself was wonderful, and would have been a decent day trip even without the waterfall waiting for us at the end. We wound through picturesque alpine villages and passed lush green meadows dotted with small wooden shacks. It was Brett's first time in the Alps, and we were delighted to be back in the mountains and exploring somewhere new together.
After leaving the villages behind, the bus continued to climb up the valley. The bus was never far from the glacial blue waters of the Ruetz River. We drove past countless waterfalls feeding into the river, but none were nearly as spectacular as what was to come.
When the bus finally emerged from a tunnel, and the Grawa Waterfall came into view, I was in awe. As we got out of the bus, I was struck by two things: the impressive size of the waterfall and the cold. Pulling on our coats, we admired the view from the parking lot. Visible from the roadside, the waterfall stands over 100 metres tall and is the widest waterfall in the Eastern Alps. Although you get a fantastic view from the road, it is definitely worth heading down into the valley and visiting the Grawa Waterfall up close.
We began the day's hike by joining the WildeWasserWeg (WildWaterTrail), a 22-kilometre hike that starts further down the valley and climbs up to a glacier at 2,520 metres of elevation. The Grawa Waterfall marks the end of the first (and easiest) stage of the hike. After skirting around a cafe, we crossed a bridge – the Ruetz River tumbling over rocks below us – before following the trail through the trees and out into an open field.
We ate our picnic lunch on a bench overlooking the mighty river, the sound of cowbells faint over the rushing water. Despite the grey weather, the colours of the landscape were vibrant and I changed into my red dress to shoot some portraits (with Brett's assistance).
After lunch, we followed the trial for a few more minutes, before rounding a corner and emerging onto the viewing platform in front of the Grawa Waterfall. What a spectacular view! Standing on the wooden observation deck, the waterfall crashed down in front of us. A faint mist hung in the air and the temperature was noticeably cooler.
The beautifully designed viewing platform made this one of the most unique waterfalls I have ever visited. With tiered benches, the organic-shaped, wooden observation deck offered fantastic views of the waterfall. We immediately regretted having eaten our lunch before reaching the viewing platform and wished we had brought some beers to drink while enjoying the view.
After resting and admiring the view for a few minutes, we agreed to hike up the side of the waterfall to the other viewpoints. The path followed a series of switchbacks in the forest at the side of the waterfall and was unlike any I had hiked before. As we climbed, the trail morphed from a traditional dirt path to a series of wooden slats elevated above the forest floor on large wooden beams – it was almost like walking up a horizontal ladder! Although the wooden slats required a little more concentration than normal, I was pleased my feet could stay dry despite the waterlogged soil.
After around 10 minutes of hiking, we made it to the first viewpoint, half-way up the waterfall. The second viewpoint, near the top of the waterfall, was an additional 10 minute hike. Both viewpoints offered impressive views of the water crashing down the rockface.
At the top viewpoint, around 100 metres above the observation deck, we paused to consider our options. Earlier, we had discussed continuing to hike along the WildWasserWeg, up to the next valley and another set of waterfalls, but we were all feeling cold in the misty, grey weather (especially Dan and Paul, who were wearing shorts!). Plus, we were nervous about missing the last bus back to Innsbruck. So, instead of continuing to climb in elevation, we turned around, hiked back down to the observation platform and began to hike along the river towards the next bus stop.
We followed the WildeWasserWeg down the valley. The trail remained close to the river, the glacial blue water winding around rocks and crashing over rapids.
At one point, we passed a group of goats chilling on the path. They were obviously used to hikers, as they seemed entirely uninterested in us as we passed.
As the path began to approach the road, we saw our bus driving past...without us on it. Brilliant. With another 30 minute wait until the next bus, we decided to continue hiking to the next bus stop, which would allow us to pass another waterfall. The path climbed up through a forest and, once again, we could hear the waterfall long before we could see it. The trail led to a bridge that crossed high above the crashing water of the Langetaler Wasserfall. Although not quite as impressive as the Grawa Waterfall, it was still a joy to see.
From the waterfall, we followed the winding path back towards the valley floor, where we would finish our hike. If you wanted to extend your walk, you could continue hiking down the valley until you reach the town of Neustift.
As we emerged from the forest and onto the road, Dan informed us that the bus would be arriving any minute. Just seconds later, the bus emerged from around the corner. We sprinted towards the bus stop, arms waving frantically. Luckily, the driver stopped and waited for us to catch up. After an early morning, we all ended up dozing off at points during the 1 hour and 15 minute bus ride back to the city.
To finish off this blog post, here are two shots of the Grawa Waterfall I took on my TLR film camera. Unfortunately, a small (but vital) piece on my camera broke, so these were the last two medium format film shots I took on this trip.
WildeWasserWeg Stage 1: https://www.stubai.at/en/activities/hiking/wildewasserweg/stage-1/
Getting there by public transport: Bus 590a or 590b from Innsbruck Hauptbahnhof. Get off at Neustift i. St. Grawa Alm. Takes around 1hr15minutes. Make sure you keep track of when the last bus of the day is – you don't want to get stuck in the mountains without a way back to Innsbruck!
Tickets: The cheapest option we found was to buy a two-person pass ("Tagesticket 2Plus." They can be purchased at the ticket machine at the train station, or online here.
Things to note: it can be considerably colder in the mountains that in Innsbruck, so make sure you pack appropriate clothing.