5 - 6
FATMAP difficulty grade
There can't be many better day hikes in Austria than this - it's a long and wild trip through some beautiful scenery and yet remains remarkably quiet. The trip starts out at the top of the Wildkogelbahn cable car and finishes back at the mid-station of the same lift, so there are no logistical considerations to take into account other than the need to be back at the lift by the time it closes - descending on foot from the mid-station is simple enough but it's a bit of a knee-grinding slog! Leave the top station of the cable car and - having taken a few moments to savour the staggering view - follow a jeep track west and pass through the farm of solar panels which power much of the Wildkogel Arena's infrastructure.
Keep following the jeep track as it passes the Wolkenstein restaurant and then begins climbing up to the top of the Gensbichalm chairlift. Shortly after passing the chairlift station the jeep track turns into a much smaller hiking path, which in turn leads you onto the summit of the Braunkogel.
The view from the top is epic in just about every direction, with the snowy giants of the Hohe Tauern looking formidable to the south and the unmistakeable rocky bulk of the Großer Rettenstein off to the north-east. From the Braunkogel onwards the path is much rougher and - at times - not always abundantly clear.
There are red and white paint marks to show you the way but you'll still need a good nose for micro route finding if you're to travel efficiently.
The path leads you over a series of amazing and wild-feeling summits - the Frühmesser, Grasleitkopf, Geiege and Speikkogel, all of which are worthy objectives in their own right.
After the Speikkogel things get much more tricky - the north ridge of the Steinkogel is a rocky scramble and even features a metal ladder (see photos) at one point.
There's no "real" climbing but plenty of slightly exposed, easy scrambling and you'll need a head for heights to tackle it safely and enjoyably. Once on the summit there's a huge cross waiting for you - lean against it for a while and soak in the view.
However, don't hang around too long - there's still plenty of terrain to cover and a lift to catch! Head down the rocky and, at times, vague path down to the welcoming Steiner Alm.
If times allows, stop for a drink and then hike up a forest path which leads to a jeep track.
Follow this easily to the Wildkogelbahn.
Allow about 1 hour to hike from the Steiner Alm back to the lift. Once back at the lift, ride it down and toast a fantastic day in one of Neukirchen's bars!