I put on my warmest winter gear, slip my feet into my snow boots, and hide half of my face in my fleecy scarf. When I step outside of the traditional Austrian lodge, I notice the golden sun rising behind the mountains. All I see are rugged peaks, topped with a snowy frosting. Their outlines stand out against a pale blue sky with not a single cloud in sight. Somewhere in the distance, I hear an animal rustling in the woods, snapping a branch as it rushes away. I quickly turn around, but the mystery critter is long gone and everything appears still and quiet again.

Snow has such an unparalleled effect on nature. It can immediately transform any landscape into a more enchanting version of itself. And out of all the places I’ve been to, there is no place whose metamorphosis is more stunning than Hohe Tauern National Park in Austria.

Why You Should Visit Hohe Tauern National Park in Winter

Hohe Tauern National Park in Winter

Untouched snow in East Tyrol

Fewer Humans, More Snowflakes

Hohe Tauern isn’t just Austria’s largest national park. It is also the largest nature reserve in the Alps, Europe’s mightiest mountain range. Hohe Tauern is a protected area, and five natural sanctuaries within the park are completely shielded from any type of human disturbance. Even around the villages in the valleys, cars are sparse and snowflakes outnumber people by the millions. Agriculture is not allowed, and you will only notice some forestry and alpine-meadow farming on the edges of the reserve. One or two lonely snow sheds feature in the fields that flank the mountains, but never much more than that.

I can’t figure out why, but most tourists and travelers seem to stick to more well-known skiing destinations in Tirol. So, for now, Hohe Tauern remains a well-kept secret among the local Austrians. The powdery slopes are much quieter, ice climbing is a preferred pastime, the tavern menus are more minimalist, and the people will still look up when they hear you speaking with a foreign intonation.

Hohe Tauern remains a well-kept secret among the local Austrians. The powdery slopes are much quieter, ice climbing is a preferred pastime, the tavern menus are more minimalist, and the people will still look up when they hear you speaking with a foreign intonation.

Ice Climbing in Hohe Tauern National Park

Landscape in Hohe Tauern National Park

The Winter Forests Enter a State of Serenity

By January, the summer birds have long flown south and the native forest animals have grown a tick coat of fur to survive the icy temperatures. Many of the smaller animals without wings are asleep in their winter nest or underground den. The woods have fallen more silent than usual. During winter time, the forests of Hohe Tauern enter a state of serenity.

Snow hiking in Hohe Tauern National Park

Snow hiking in the forests of Hohe Tauern

Surely, the snowy season transforms the forest in a harsh environment for many species. But there is also something magical about the peaceful winter atmosphere in East Tyrol. A snow hike through the woods in the Defereggen Valley will put anyone in the mood for quiet contemplation and semi-meditation. Step by step, the only sound I hear is my own breath, harmonizing with the snow crunching beneath my feet. From time to time, when the wind releases a gentle sigh, it’s like the forest produces indecipherable whispers.

Step by step, the only sound I hear is my own breath and the snow crunching beneath my feet. From time to time, when the wind releases a gentle sigh, it’s like the forest produces indecipherable whispers.

Snowy landscape with a frozen brook in Hohe Tauern National Park

Animal tracks near a brook in Hohe Tauern National Park

Alpine Animals Leave Their Tracks in the Untouched Snow

Since humans aren’t much of a force to be reckoned with, the animals of East Tyrol don’t see a reason to restrict their territories to the forests. In the night, at dawn and at dusk, hares and deer aren’t afraid to cross the paths in the valley villages. This alone is enough of a reason why every nature lover should visit Hohe Tauern National in winter. The pristine snow makes it so much simpler to find and identify animal tracks. Whether that’s together with an expert ranger or just by yourself, you will find them soon enough.

Further up into the Alps, the wild Ibex goats, red deer, and golden eagles live their lives the traditional way. Since the time Hohe Tauern became a protected area, native species like the bearded vulture and Alpine marmot have been brought back to thrive in the mountains. In a time of sprawling concrete jungles and climate frenzy, Hohe Tauern holds a strong grip on its natural riches.

Animal tracks in Hohe Tauern National Park

Sunrise in Hohe Tauern National Park

Do You Identify as a Nature Lover? Here is more of the World to Explore:

Disclaimer: I was invited on a press trip to visit East Tyrol, including Hohe Tauern National Park. As always, all photos and opinions in this article are my own. Are you a Dutch speaker? Then make sure to check out more of my articles about this snowy destination at WeAreTravellers.nl!

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