The Karnischer Höhenweg

I'm writing a guide for the Karnischer Höhenweg for Cicerone. Although I've walked it twice before there were still some gaps in my knowledge so in August 2016 I went back to Austria to walk it for the third time. It's a great walk. It's very popular with Germans and Austrians although without an English language guide, yet to be discovered by the Anglo-Saxon world. The walk, which takes about 9 days, follows the Italian/Austrian border through the Carnic Alps from Sillian in the west through to Arnoldstein, and the border with Slovenia, in the east.
Day 1 Karnischer Höhenweg

The Carnic Alps are a fabulous range of mountains providing, in a relatively small area, a range of different walking experiences. High and narrow they provide the perfect platform for views north into the Hohe Tauern and south into the Dolomites. Although much of the journey from west to east is spent following a ridge there are several beautiful limestone summits to climb and a chance for the more adventurous to try their hand at via ferrata.
Day 2 Karnischer Höhenweg
The via ferrata, climbs supported by fixed steel cables, date back to the First World War when Italians and the Austro-Hungarians fought each other in the Dolomites and the Carnic Alps for mountain supremacy. The legacy was a huge infrastructure of mountain walkways and climbs that, in the early post-war years and starting in the Carnic Alps, formed the basis for a new sport, a particularly accessible type of climbing, that is still going strong today.

The First World War front line went from one end of the Carnic Alps to the other and reminders of the conflict are everywhere. Whether it's the trenches along the ridge tops, the tunnels into the mountainside, or just heaps of rusty barbed wire the war has left a seemingly indelible mark on the landscape.
Day 3 Karnischer Höhenweg

The importance of the Carnic Alps as a walking destination has resulted in a dense network of trails and a superb walking infrastructure. Every type of long distance walk features here. The Europe-wide network is represented in the form of the E10; the transalpine Via Alpina (the yellow trail) also goes from one end to the other as does 03, one of Austria's national trails. Even the Karnischer Höhenweg developed on the Austrian side of the border has an Italian equivalent, the Travasata Carnica. With lots of mountain huts and other types of accommodation, it is possible to put together itineraries to meet a huge range of walking requirements. The Carnic Alps really are a walkers paradise.

We had a week and walked the whole of the route apart from the last 2 days. The first day was cold and we had some snow, but after that, we enjoyed great weather and filled in all key gaps in terms of my research. We learnt some important lessons as well.

Perhaps the most interesting one is how different things are between Austria and Italy. The Karnischer Höhenweg is an Austrian walk and Austrians tend to stick to the northern side of the border despite the fact that it remains completely open. Exploring the Italian side, particularly around the famous Monte Coglians added a whole new dimension to our trip. Travel just a few hundred metres across the border felt like entering a different world and great fun.

We also tried to experience the different types of accommodation and as well as the excellent mountain huts stayed in some farmhouse accommodation. Again, this added another dimension to the trip, enabled us to enjoy some really fabulous food, and is something I definitely want to do more of in the future.
Day 4 Karnischer Höhenweg

To enjoy the best of the Italian walking involved a particularly steep ascent along a route known as the Sentorio Riccardo Spinotti. It includes a cable-assisted climb of about 200m and when I did it last year I was very pleased with myself but was just a little concerned that most people would find it a little intimidating. Although I'm not sure if my wife Christine qualifies as 'most people' but she loved it and on a busy sunny bank holiday weekend the range of different walkers making the ascent and descent was really impressive. As well as great fun, it means that you can stay at the Refugio Marinelli, which based on my not inconsiderable exposure to mountain huts is the best one in the Alps - absolutely wonderful.
Day 5 Karnischer Höhenweg
Walking from the Italian side, we also spent time in the Open Air War Museum near the Plöckenpass. The whole of the Karnischer Höhenweg (part of which is also known as the Peace Way) is like an like an open air museum, but the trench works and other remains are particularly dense around the Kliener Pal and the Freikofel. It was also tough walking and after 10 hours 30 minutes, I had to accept that my plans for that day had been just a little on the ambitious side.
Day 6 Karnischer Höhenweg

I'm afraid the guide to the Karnischer Höhenweg won't be ready until 2018 but please get in touch in the meantime if you have any questions. My itinerary this year was as follows.

Day 1 - after arriving from London the previous day, staying at San Candido we got a bus to Sexton, took the lift up to the ridge and walked to Obstansersee Hütte.  An amazing ridge walk, atmospheric in the clouds amongst the trenches - the walk took about 7 hours.

Day 2 - from the Obstansersee Hütte we returned to the ridge and climbed Pfannspitze (2678 metres), the highest 'compulsory' summit on the Karnischer Höhenweg. After having lunch at the tiny Standschützen Hütte we walked to the Porzehütte - this walk took about 7 hours.

Day 3 - perhaps the best walk on the whole Karnischer Höhenweg, this perfect ridge walk takes nearly 9 hours and finishes at the Hochweißsteinhaus.

Day 4 - here we left the 'Austrian' itinerary and crossed the border to the south of the Wolayseehütte, did the big climb up the Riccardo Spinotti and finished about 8 hours later at the Refugio Marinelli.

Day 5 - the big 10 hour plus day where we went through the Open Air War museum and finished at the Casera Pramosio. There are lots of walking options around here and a more sensible itinerary would have involved one of them and split the day with a stop at the auberge at the Plöckenpass.

Day 6 - I made a slightly hairy climb over the Hohen Trieb and Christine, knackered from the previous day took a lower level option. We stayed at the Straniger Alm farmhouse accommodation with great food - the walk took about 7 hours
Day 7 Karnischer Höhenweg

Day 7 - an easy 6 hour walk almost to Nassfeld which includes the lovely walk along the south flank of the Trogkofel. Instead of making the knee crunching descent to the pass we took the lift all the way down to valley and caught a train to Villach returning to London next day.


  1. Hullo John, your Munich to Venice Guide came out just in time for me this year, as I walked stages 1 to 5. I hope to walk to the end of stage 12 in 2018.

    I have also booked most of my huts for the Karnischer Hoehenweg in 2018. I have chose to stick to the Austrian side and will go over Rifugio Valentin and not on the Italian side. Depending on the weather, I may have to get to Hochweisssteinhaus on the Italian side. I intend to walk to Arnoldstein; the easier, alm region on the second half of the route looks very appealing and it takes you through the cheese region. I plan to walk it in 9 walking days, with one day off in the middle at Nassfeld. What date did you start the walk, as there can still be snow in June?

    1. Hi Esther

      Nice to hear from you and congratulations on your Munich Venice exploits.

      In terms of snow and weather conditions, the Karnischer Höhenweg is similar to Munich/Venice. In June there could still be snow and it would be better to push your trip into July. I've walked the route in August and September but July is better for the flowers.

      If you have a few pictures of your Munich Venice trip then it would be great to see them.

      Best wishes


  2. Dear John,
    Thanks for the tips re KHW for next year. I have already booked my huts, so am stuck with end of June and hoping for very little snow. Re Munich to Venice pictures, I would need an email address to send you the pictures, as I have no idea how to upload them on this site. I did also complete the Osttiroler Adlerweg this year (9 stages) and together with the 16 stages walked of the main Adlerweg, got my gold pin, certificate and T-shirt from Tirol Tourismus. I collected all the hut stamps along the way and for me it was an achievemnent. For some of the walkers that I meet, it was just a little of what they do, particularly the climbers on the Stuedl Huette setting out for the Grossglockner.

    1. Hi Esther, if the huts are open than the trails should be open as well.

      The Adlerweg looks like a great hike, a very helpful website.

      My email address is

  3. I will be looking out for the book on the Karnischer Hohenweg by Cicerone, is it available now.

    1. Within the next two weeks I'm told. If you send Cicerone an email they will reply.


  4. Hi John

    Can you please give me a little more detail about the extent of exposure and scrambling I may encounter doing the Karnischer Hohenweg, assuming I did the Austrian route? I have completed the Grand paradise, The Jungfrau Trail, and Tour of the Queyras in the past.

    1. Hi there

      My definition of scrambling is that most people will want to use their hands as well their feet. There's a small stretch on Stage 1 near the Eisenreich, and on Stage 2 on the descent from Pfannsptiz (cover pic). On Stage 3 there is a little chimney you have to climb. That's it really, the Italian option is tougher but the ropes/cables are excellent.

      If you walked the Tour de Queyras I'm sure you'll be fine. You don't have the steep passes on this route you get there.


  5. Just got the book and making plans for 2019. I will be doing the AV1 and then spending a couple of days in Cortina before setting off on The Karnischer Hohenweg. My question is about resupply options and tent camping availability. Are the Huts at achieveable distances and what are the options if you continue past and have to camp for the night?

    1. Thanks for buying the guide and I hope you find it useful. There is a planner that details the time needed to walk from hut to hut including the interim huts where these are available. I haven't included none KH huts in my guide but if you want to extend I'd think about the Via Alpina. There is a good website that includes distances to huts along that route.

  6. I plan on hiking the KH "in reverse" from Arnoldstein to Sillian in July 2019 and then meeting some friends to do the AV1.I only have a week to complete the KH and am planning to do all stages. Is the trail clearly marked going West and do you have any time saving suggestions for extending or combining any of the stages? My current plan is to combine the last two stages (first two from your book)and hike from Porzehutte to Leckfeldalm on the last day.

  7. Hi there

    I think completing the route in six days is a challenge and without knowing the sort of walker you are I couldn't really encourage it. My suggestion would be to start at Nassfeld and miss the last two stages which are the least interesting. You can take the train from Arnoldstein to Tropoloch and then take the Millennium Express up to the route. The walking west from there is consistently excellent and if you are a strong walker, want some extra challenges, then take in some of the summits.

    Take care