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.
In the 19th century, tourists wanted to climb mountain peaks more comfortably than hiking or climbing. Therefore, cog railway tracks were built in several places in the Alps, where narrow-track steam trains ferry people up and down the mountains to this day. The 5.8-kilometre-long trip up Schafberg (Sheep Mountain) takes approx. 35 minutes. The Schafbergbahn train ride from Wolfgangsee 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 primary 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, you have arrived at the Gates of Heaven at the mountain peak.
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Gates of heaven
One of the best viewpoints I know of in Austria is the Schafberg Peak in the Salzkammergut. Many places have incredible views around the Alps, but the mixture of lakes, valleys and mountain peaks makes this place all the more spectacular. Moreover, the summit offers a 360° panoramic view on a clear day. At the peak, the mountain hut aptly named “Himmelspforte”, which in English means “Gates of heaven”. Its restaurant offers local cuisine and outdoor seating with great views. Why not! An Apfelstrudel, with a view of the Alps, is the essence of Austria.
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, 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 is sloping more where we came up with the train. On clear days you can see almost 100 km, and I will not even start to list all the surrounding mountains. Nevertheless, enjoy the Apfelstrudel before you head down – by train or foot.
Hop-on, hop-off hiking
For those who are fit for hiking, there are several 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. You can hike to the top in 1-1 ½ hours. Or you continue on the train to the top for the last 10 minutes, as I did.
I went in early June and encountered long queues even though I arrived 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.
You can always stay at the Hotel Schafsbergpitze, Austria’s oldest mountain inn, initially in 1862. It is perched on the summit and is open from May to October. To enjoy a complete Wolfgangsee and Schafsberg experience, you can get combi tickets for the Schafbergbahn, hotel and lake cruise. Last but not least, don’t forget to stroll around lovely St. Wolfgang.
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