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Schafbergbahn steam train – Railway to heaven

© by Arnold Weisz

Schafbergbahn, the steepest cogwheel railway in Austria takes us to the 1783 m high summit of the Schafberg. At the top we were greeted with a fantastic view of the Salzkammergut lakes and mountains.

Already in the 19th century the tourists wanted to get up on mountain peaks, in a more comfortable manner than to hiking or climbing. Therefore, cog railway tracks were built several places in the Alps, where narrow track steam trains to this day ferry people up and down the mountains. The 5.8-kilometre-long trip up Schafberg (Sheep Mountain) takes approx. 35 minutes. The Schafbergbahn train ride from Wolfgangsee and to the top of Schafberg is not long, but very steep with a maximum incline of 26%. From the start at Lake Wolfgang to the peak, the train climbs more than 1200 meters in altitude.

Bumping and shaking

All onboard! The steward ensures all doors are closed and blows his whistle. A roar from the steam engine and we’re off in a cloud of dark smoke. It may not be the most enjoyable train ride I’ve been on. It’s rather bumpy and relatively loud. Notwithstanding, as the Schafbergbahn slowly climbs and leaves the lovely Wolfgangsee behind and the fabulous views appear, comfort is not the main concern anymore. After a 10 minutes’ walk from the railway station up to the peak, the astounding scenery of Salzkammergut unfolds all around you. Moreover, at the peak you have literally arrived at the Gates of heaven.

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Gates of heaven

One of the best viewpoints I know of in Austria is the Schafberg peak in the Salzkammergut. There are many places with great views around the Alps, but the mixture of lakes, valleys and mountain peaks makes this place all the more spectacular. Moreover, on a clear day, the summit offers a 360° panoramic view  At the peak, the mountain hut aptly named “Himmelspforte”, which in English means “Gates of heaven”. It’s restaurant offers local cuisine and outdoor seating with great views. Why not! An Apfelstrudel with the view of the Alps, is the essence of Austria.

Spectacular views

Let’s get our orientation in order, from a viewpoint. From the highest point Himmelpforte (Gates of heaven) 1783 m, you have the Wolfgangsee to the south, and Mondsee to the west and Attersee to the east. As you walk along the ridge. No worries, there is a fence you will notice the different sides of the Schafberg. The upper part of the north wall is more or less vertical before it at the bottom slopes gently into the lakes Mondsee and Attersee, while it’s sloping more where we came up with the train. On clear days you can see almost 100 kms, and I will not even start to list all the surrounding mountains. Nevertheless, just enjoy the Apfelstrudel, before you head down – by train or by foot.

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Hop-on, hop-off hiking

For those who are fit for hiking, there are several different marked hiking trails for those who want to combine the Schafbergbahn with a hike. Depending if you are going up or down hiking the Schafberg mountain takes 4-5 hours. And then there is of course possible to hop off the train along the way, at the Schafbergalpe station at 1363 meters altitude, after travelling about 25 minutes from the valley. From there you can hike to the top in 1-1 ½ hours. Or you continue on the train for the last 10 minutes to the top, like I did.

Extremely popular

I went in early June and encountered long queues even though I came in long before departure. I was lucky and got my window seat on the first available departure. That said, the trip is so popular that you probably won’t be able to get on the next train. Hence, for groups or families you should book ahead. If you are without a pre-booked ticket on a specific departure, you should notify the train staff when you intend to return to secure a seat, when you arrive at the top. There is of course a more relaxed and stress-free option as well.

Complete package

You can always stay at the Hotel Schafsbergpitze, Austria’s oldest mountain inn, originally dating from 1862. It is perched on the summit and is open from May to October. To enjoy a complete Wolfgangsee and Schafsberg experience you can also get combi tickets for the Schafbergbahn, hotel and lake cruise. Last but not least, don’t forget to stroll around lovely St. Wolfgang as well.

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Written by Arnold Weisz

Arnold Weisz

Globetrotting multilingual communications specialist born in Vienna, Austria – with passion for scuba diving, golf and culinary delights! 15 years of experience as a scuba- and travel reporter for among others: X-Ray Dive Magazine and Dykking.