A tale of two gorges
During the summer months, the town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen in the Bavarian Alps transforms into a base camp for hiking and mountaineering. I’m not an athletic by any stretch of the imagination, but I do love a good hike. When my family and I recently visited the area, we found two fantastic hikes—Partnachklamm and Höllentalklamm.
If you’re short on time or a little rusty when it comes to hiking, I’d recommend hiking Partnachklamm first. Open May to March, this well-maintained trail is easily accessible. The trailhead begins at the Olympic Skistadion with ample parking available. The trail is paved and winds through a small meadow with the jagged peaks of the Alps and a clear glacial stream as a backdrop. After a short stroll, you’ll find yourself at the entrance to the gorge. The entrance fee for our family of four was only 13 euros. After paying your fee, you’ll pass through an old iron gate and into nature’s beauty.
Partnachklamm is simply stunning. You walk along the thundering river carving its way through the gorge, leaving narrow and towering rock walls. Waterfalls cascade from the hills above and into the river. Be sue to glance behind you every so often, because you’ll see waterfalls that you didn’t catch while trekking forward. The walkway is easy to navigate; however, if you were graced with the gift of height, there will be a few sections where you’ll need to duck.
When you reach the end of the gorge, you have a couple of options. You can return from whence you came, or you can continue on and do a loop. We chose the latter option and were rewarded with beautiful scenery and a couple of spots to sit and have refreshments. The Apfelkuchen at Wettersteinalm is a must-try.
Translating to “Hell Valley Gorge,” don’t let the name deter you from this trail. If you have a longer stretch of time visiting the area, I would absolutely add this hike to the list. Höllentalklamm is only open during the summer months, usually May through October depending on the snow. There are two different ways to start this hike: the Haus Hammersbach or the Grainauer village square. Since there was plenty of parking at Hammersbach, we started the hike from there.
You’ll wind your way through 2.7 kilometers of lush, green forest. In the autumn, the autumn leaves fall around you and blanket the ground in vibrant reds and yellows. The ascent begins almost immediately and is significantly steeper than Partnachklamm. When you reach the Höllentalklamm-Eingangshütte, you’ll have the opportunity to take a respite. Restroom facilities and the all-important pub are available.
When you pay the entrance fee (same as Partnachklamm), you realize that the amount of effort you put in absolutely matches the outcome. The gorge itself is slightly wider than Partnachklamm; however, the walkways are steeper and narrower. Waterfalls tumble into the roaring water, and the granite walls seem to touch the sky. There are bridges that traverse the river, with a slightly tricky one at the beginning (there is a weight limit imposed — no more than five hikers at a time on the bridge). A nice thing about this trail is the lighting in the cave sections. You won’t need to fumble for your flashlight app, since there are electric lights to guide you.
When we hiked Höllentalklamm, the clouds had staved off for a few hours, but returned about halfway into the gorge. It transformed the gorge into an ethereal and eerie mystery, as if you were walking through Modor in “The Lord of the Rings.” As you reach the top of the gorge, you’ll reach the Höllentalangerhütte. It’s another excellent pit stop, complete with food and drinks and even lodging if necessary. From here, you can backtrack through the gorge, or if you’re more adventurous, continue up the mountains to Alpspitz or Zugspitze.
• You will get wet and possibly muddy. The trails through the gorges are slippery, so sturdy hiking shoes or boots are a must.
• If you have carry a backpack, be sure to have a waterproof covering to protect your belongings.
• Bring plenty of water and if you have little ones, be prepared to take breaks.
• I recommend hiking poles or walking sticks if you hike Höllentalklamm, but we were able to do it without.
• If you choose do to both hikes, I recommend Höllentalklamm first; it's easier to do a steeper hike with fresh legs.
• If you’re staying at Edelweiss Lodge and Resort, the trailheads are just a few minutes away by car.
• Partnachklamm offers torchlight hikes in the evenings and hikes during the winter when the gorge is iced over. The tour desks at local hotels generally organize these hikes, so check with your hotel for more information.