Embarking from the heart of Kühtai village, nestled at the tail end of the scenic Sellraintal valley, the trailhead of this hike has easy access, whether you’re traveling by car or utilizing the convenient public transport connections from nearby Innsbruck.
Your journey commences with a leisurely visit to the easily reachable Hirschebensee, followed by the picturesque Mittlerer Plenderlessee. Further along the trail lies the inviting DreiSeenHütte (Three Lakes Hut), where you can relish Tyrolean delicacies or savor a refreshing cold beer while gazing upon the breathtaking landscape. Descending from the hut, you’ll encounter the charming Unterer Plenderlessee, linked to the Oberer Plenderlessee by a babbling stream, just a short 10-minute stroll away. Finally, as you make your way back to the village, the stunning Finstertalspeicher graces your path.
This delightful hike, falling within the easy to moderate range, is accessible to all, taking just a little over three hours to complete. It shines brightest from late June to late July when the alpine roses paint a vibrant tapestry across the high alpine mountainscape.
In this guide, we unveil all you need to know about this captivating lake-to-lake adventure, allowing you to embark on a journey of natural wonder and exploration.
Hiking Map & Overview
— HIKE OVERVIEW —
| Difficulty: easy to moderate
| Trailhead: Wiesberghaus, Kühtai
| Distance: 8.2km
| Time Needed: 3h 20min
| Elevation: 410m
| Where to Eat: Drei-Seen-Hütte, Kühtaier Alm
| Where to Stay: Kühtaier Dorfstadl, AlpinLodges Kühtai, Altstadthotel Weißes Kreuz, Weisses Rössl, STAGE 12 Hotel by Penz
| When to Visit: July to September
How to Get to the Trailhead
Your hiking adventure begins behind the Wiesberghaus, situated across from the tourist information center in Kühtai. Accessing Kühtai is straightforward, whether by car or public transportation, with the city of Innsbruck being the nearest major hub, just 40km away.
To reach Kühtai by car, drive east from Innsbruck and merge onto the A12 motorway (Inntal Autobahn), heading in the direction of Bregenz. Approximately 20km into your drive, take the exit marked “Ötztal,” then follow the road signs guiding you to Kühtai.
It’s important to note that Austrian motorways require the use of vignettes, which can be purchased at gas stations or through this online platform. If you prefer to avoid tolls and highways, consult a navigation app like Google Maps to choose a route that circumvents them.
As for parking, there are ample free parking spaces available both along the main road and near the ski lifts. For the specific hike we're outlining below, it's best to park near the Bergbahnen Kühtai station.
By Public Transport
When using public transportation, your ultimate destination is “Kühtai Ort.” Depending on the season, here are your travel options:
Early July to mid-September:
During the summer season, you can enjoy a direct route from Innsbruck to Kühtai by simply boarding Bus #4166 at various stops throughout the city. The timetable and a list of bus stops are available here, and you have the choice to purchase your tickets either online or directly from the bus driver.
The rest of the months, make your way to Innsbruck’s main train station (Innsbruck Hauptbahnhof) and take a train bound for Ötztal Bahnhof, the nearest train station to Kühtai (40-60min). Upon arriving at Ötztal Bahnhof, transfer to Bus #320 with its destination marked as Obergurgl Zentrum, and disembark at Oetz Gemeindeamt, a mere 15-minute ride away. At this point, switch to Bus #4196, heading in the direction of Kühtai Hochalterbahn, and you’ll find yourself at Kühtai Ort in approximately 40 minutes.
Also note that Bus #4196 offers a direct route to Kühtai Ort from the train station once daily at 08:05, eliminating the need for bus transfers.
The Hike to Hirschebensee and the Plenderlessee Lakes
| Stage 1 – to Hirschebensee |
The hike begins with a gentle ascent, offering views of the village to your left. As you ascend, you’ll meander through alpine meadows and forests, treating yourself to panoramic vistas of the surrounding mountains and valleys. The trail is well-marked with easily recognizable red-and-white trail markers, ensuring a straightforward navigation.
Before you know it, roughly 30 minutes later, you’ll arrive at Hirschebensee, a pristine alpine lake. Here, you’ll be rewarded with a magnificent view of the dramatic mountain scenery of the Sellrain Valley. Cows and horses graze on the rugged meadows around the lake, occasionally taking refreshing dips in the water on hot days.
| Stage 2 – to Mittlerer Plenderlessee |
Moving away from Hirschebensee, the path takes on a slightly more demanding incline, offering splendid vistas back towards Hirschebensee and extending into the Ötztal. Along your journey, you’ll pass by a charming stream to your right, where you can spot some lively frogs.
Mittlerer Plenderlessee (2,317 meters) is just 1km away and should take approximately 30-40 minutes to reach. If you visit in July, you’ll be welcomed by a sea of alpine roses in full bloom adorning the lake’s shoreline. By the lake, you can relax, savor a snack, or brave a refreshing dip in the invigorating mountain waters. The profound silence, interrupted only by distant marmot whistles, makes it an ideal spot for a rejuvenating nap as well.
As you continue along the trail to the next lake, don’t forget to glance back at Mittlerer Plenderlessee, as it provides excellent photo opportunities.
| Stage 3 – to DreiSeenHütte |
The trail initially descends slightly before leveling out as you approach the Drei-Seen-Hütte (Three-Lakes Mountain Hut). Perched at an elevation of 2,334 meters, the hut is directly overlooking Unterer Plenderlessee, the next lake on our hike. This is an ideal rest stop where you can relish hearty traditional Tyrolean home cooking while taking in the splendid mountain scenery.
| Operating Times: The hut operates during the summer (June to September) and winter (December to April) seasons but is closed in between. When open, it welcomes guests daily from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM.
| Stage 4 – to Oberer Plenderlessee (& back) |
From the hut, a brief detour of just 10 minutes leads you to Oberer Plenderlessee. This serene alpine lake is framed by towering alpine terrain and often surrounded by lingering snowfields, casting a mesmerizing turquoise glimmer in the sunlight.
Upon reaching a junction, choose the rightward path that descends gently to the lake’s picturesque shore. In contrast, the leftward path leads to the mountain station of the DreiSeenBahn, providing the option to descend to Kühtai via cable car.
However, this is a circular hike and there’s one more lake – essentially, a reservoir – awaiting your exploration. So, return to the hut the same way to embark on the next segment of your journey.
| Stage 5 – to Finsteralspeicher |
Departing from the hut, the “Höhenpanoramaweg” (High-Altitude Panorama Trail) guides you to the Finstertal dam and its reservoir. This wide, gently sloping path allows you to reach the reservoir in approximately 20 minutes.
At the end of the dam, you can ascend the steep path to the wooden summit cross, where you’ll be rewarded with awe-inspiring views of the surrounding mountains and the Finstertal reservoir.
| Stage 6 – to the Trailhead |
Commencing from Finsteralspeicher, you can return to Kühtai in about 1 hour by following the marked and signposted trail downhill.
Be sure to take this path and not the asphalt road leading past the Graf-Ferdinand-Haus down to the Kühtai Busterminal. And if you encounter junctions without signposts, remember to keep to the right.
— Alternative Route —
For an alternative route, begin your journey at the Drei-Seen-Bahn in Kühtai. Hop on the cable car and descend to the mountain station at 2,420m, just above the picturesque Oberer Plenderlessee. From here, take the way down to Unterer Plenderlessee and, ultimately, to the Drei Seen Hütte.
Starting from the hut, embark on a brisk 20-minute hike to Finsteralspeicher, and subsequently, return to the hut to commence your hike in the opposite direction. Now, your journey will lead you first to Mittlerer Plenderlessee, and then to Hirschebensee, following the same path we’ve previously described but in reverse.
It’s important to note that this route is most convenient for those who have arrived by bus, as it allows them to commence and conclude their hikes at different points, both of which have bus stops. For those arriving by car, it’s advisable to adhere to the main route, as the two points are merely 800 meters apart.
Riding the Cable Car: The cable car typically operates from mid-June to late September. For detailed information regarding prices and operating hours, refer to this link.
Where to Stay & Eat in Kühtai
This hike makes for an exceptional day trip from Innsbruck, considering it’s only approximately 40km away from the charming capital of Tyrol. Even without a car, the excellent bus connections make it convenient to return to Innsbruck, where a plethora of activities and sights awaits.
Alternatively, you can choose to extend your stay in Kühtai itself. However, be aware that the availability of accommodations and dining options in Kühtai may vary depending on the season.
Drei-Seen-Hütte (eat): Situated midway along your hike at an elevation of 2,334 meters, this charming hut provides the perfect opportunity to indulge in authentic Tyrolean mountain cuisine. Relax on the welcoming terrace and relish traditional dishes while taking in the breathtaking valley views.
Kühtaier Alm (eat & stay): Conveniently situated beside the lift station, Kühtaier Alm is a popular spot for those looking for a quick and hearty meal. Here, you can relish traditional mountain cuisine while enjoying the scenic mountain views from their spacious outdoor terrace. Apartments are also available for rent, but a minimum stay of 3 nights is required.
Kühtaier Dorfstadl (eat & stay): In the inviting 2-6 person apartments with the traditional tiled stove serving as a unique centerpiece, modern comfort meets authentic Tyrolean coziness, creating a unique alpine atmosphere. And when it comes to dining, a diverse menu of local and international dishes is available on the sunny terrace, in the cozy farmhouse lounge, or at the rustic restaurant.
| AlpinLodges Kühtai (stay): A premier alpine retreat in the heart of Kühtai, these stylish lodges provide cozy and modern accommodations with stunning mountain views.
When to Visit
When considering the timing for your adventure, it’s important to note that Kühtai experiences two distinct seasons: winter and summer.
Truth is that Kühtai shines as a winter wonderland, with everything in full swing during the winter season. Most hotels and restaurants open their doors in December and remain operational until early April, perfectly aligning with the ski season.
On the flip side, there’s the enchanting summer season, the ultimate time for hiking, mountain biking, and exploring the breathtaking Tyrolean Alps. During this period, the hiking trails are easily accessible, and the mountain lifts are up and running, for hiking this time. Typically, the cable cars are in operation from mid-June to late September, making this the prime time to visit if you want to experience everything Kühtai has to offer.
Additionally, if you plan your trip between late June and late July, you’ll be treated to the mesmerizing sight of alpine roses in full bloom, adorning your journey at every turn.
In the interim seasons, finding accommodations and dining options may prove challenging. However, it’s worth noting that hiking in the autumn season offers a completely different, yet equally enchanting, ambiance and is highly recommended.
As the Lake Circuit Hike in Kühtai unveils the charm of its mountain lakes, remember it’s just the start of Tyrol’s hidden aquatic gems. From the tranquil Seebensee and Drachensee to the off-the-beaten-path allure of Salfeinersee and the emerald depths of Brechsee, a world of alpine exploration beckons.
So let this hike be your gateway to discovering the captivating mountain lakes that Tyrol has to offer!