E5 – The king of long-distance hiking trails
Regardless of whether you have been long-distance hiking or are just starting with this impressive and unique type of vacation, you will always come across one name: E5.
This describes what is probably the most popular long-distance hiking trail in Europe, after the Camino de Santiago. It will take you across 80 kilometers and lots of elevation changes from Oberstdorf, Bavaria to Merano, Italy. Despite these numbers, the E5 is considered the ideal introduction to the practice of crossing the Alps on foot. It is not particularly difficult in terms of hiking, but the landscape is well worth seeing. This article will tell you what to look out for and what there is to know about the individual stages.
Before you start
If you want to cross the Alps, especially on the E5, it is important to ensure proper planning and booking of accommodations.
Since the E5 is so popular, you can expect lots of people, especially during the holidays. We advise not to leave on a Sunday, if possible. Make sure that the stages you plan are not too long and that you are always aware of one thing above all: you are not going for a walk, but you will be partly in high alpine terrain. Hence, you need to be prepared accordingly.
This also includes the right equipment for all weather conditions, including snow and cold. The sudden onset of winter in the mountains can never be completely ruled out. If you pay attention to all of this, then nothing will stand in the way of your departure.
Stages of the E5
Stage 1: Oberstdorf – Kemptener Hütte
5 hours, ascent: 1100 m, descent: 50 m
Your hike on the E5 starts without much drama at the Oberstdorf train station. Unlike other long-distance hiking trails, the first stage on the E5 is a relatively easy start, allowing you to get used to the weight of your backpack.
The path through the village is initially quite flat, before it goes up to the Kemptener Hütte; although this path is also relatively easy and not excessively steep. After about five hours, you will reach the Kemptener Hütte – your first accommodation.
Stage 2: Kemptener Hütte – Memminger Hütte
8.5 hours (5 hours if you use a taxi), ascent: 1300 m, descent: 900 m
This is your second day of crossing the Alps into a second country. Shortly after you set off at the Kemptener Hütte, a border stone will tell you that you are now in Austria. With this knowledge, you will go on in high spirits and soon descend into the Tyrolean community of Holzgau.
From here, you should accept the offer to take a “Hüttentaxi” because the path is very boring along the road. That way, the ascent to the Memminger Hütte will be much easier for you. You can have your backpack brought up by the goods cable car.
You will benefit from this, because the ascent to today’s accommodation is steep, and with a bit of luck, you will be compensated twice for your hard work. There is a good chance that you will see one or even more Ibex on your way, and the hut itself is worth the effort anyway. It is not for nothing that the name Memminger Hütte appears on any list of the ten most beautiful huts in the Alps. It is beautifully located on the bank of a clear mountain lake and embedded in lush green alpine meadows.
Stage 3: Memminger Hütte – Zams
5.5 hours, ascent: 350 m, descent: 1800 m
The third day of hiking is mainly characterized by many long descents. This may seem like a relief at first, but keep in mind that this type of hiking is very strenuous on your knees and requires a high level of concentration. However, you start with a steep climb up to the Seescharte; some parts are even secured with steel ropes. This turns into a passage that requires absolute caution, especially if in snowfall.
But even in good weather, you have to pay close attention to your steps, and this does not change on the first part of the descent. It goes over loose boulders; be sure to use your hiking sticks before the path becomes flatter, gently sloping through meadows, until it finally leads into Zams via a driveway.
In the small village, you have the opportunity to replenish your food supplies and other useful items for the rest of the tour. You can stay overnight in one of the numerous guesthouses in town.
Stage 4: Zams – Braunschweiger Hütte
7 hours, ascent: 1350 m, descent: 1520 m
As is often the case with long-distance hiking trails, the most beautiful stage on the E5 is also the most strenuous. In the early morning, you will have a little extra time to wake up. You will take a cable car up to the summit of the mountain, Venet, before you follow the ridgeway across Goglesalm and Galflunalm and through a great flower meadow down into Wenns.
Here, you will get on the hiking bus, which will take you through the beautiful Pitztal for almost an hour before you begin the ascent to the Braunschweiger Hütte – again on your own two feet. This will first lead you along the stream before it starts spiralling up the mountain slope in serpentines and challenging you physically. However, with the fantastic views of the surrounding mountains and the Pitztal Glacier, that hardly matters.
You have to watch out, though, because the path is not well-marked at this stage. Once you have reached the hut – at 2708 meters above sea level, the highest accommodation on the E5 – you will be rewarded for your effort with more spectacular views.
Stage 5: Braunschweiger Hütte – Zwieselstein
5.5 hours, ascent: 300 m, descent: 1600 m
The next day, you will continue uphill: The first stopover – the Pitztaler Jöchl – is almost 3000 meters above sea level. This is where you cross over from Pitz- to Ötztal. Although you might need to use your hands in some places, the ascent will generally be unproblematic.
Then the path leads downhill to the large parking lot on the glacier, which you should leave behind you as quickly as possible. There is not much to see here. The Löplealm is more beautiful, and you can take a rest here. Now you will start the rest of the descent into the idyllic mountain village of Zwieselstein, where you will experience alpine romance in all its splendor. A gentle gurgling stream cuts through the meadows around the village, and all around, snow-capped peaks soar into the sky.
Stage 6: Zwieselstein – Moos
7.5 hours, ascent: 1050 m, descent: 1500 m
On the sixth day of your hike on the E5, you will start heading up the mountain again. The first destination is the Timmelsjoch, where you will find an unusual sight: a large number of tourists. However, you will soon be rid of them again. The descent from Timmelsjoch down into the Passeier Valley is one of the most beautiful passages on the whole way. It features great views and a fantastic panorama of the mountain. And you will cross into Italy along the way.
On this day, you will have two options when it comes to spending the night. Either you stay at the Gasthaus Rabenstein or you hike an easy hour and a half to the village of Moos and treat yourself to another night in the luxury of a guesthouse.
Stage 7: Moos-Pfandleralm
7 hours, ascent: 1050 m, descent: 600 m
From Moos, you will have to struggle a little on an unattractive, paved road to get started. This will lead you up the mountain in serpentines. However, once you are done with this, you can expect a very nice path to the Pfandleralm. This is one of the most beautiful accommodations in South Tyrol.
We strongly recommend that you try one of the sundaes on offer here – you will love it! In the evening, the day tourists will start their descent into the valley again, and you will have the hut almost to yourself. Now, you will have all the time and leisure to enjoy a wonderful sunset over the mountains and let the day come to an end.
Stage 8: Pfandleralm – Merano
10 hours, ascent: 1800 m, descent: 850 m
Supposedly, there are hikers who complete this mammoth stage at the end of the E5 in one go. However, we strongly recommend that you split the route into two, maybe even three, days. The individual subsections could look like this:
8a) Pfandleralm – Hirzer Hütte
The cozy Hirzer Hütte is about four hours away from the Pfandleralm. With its sun terrace and the surrounding meadows full of alpine roses, this is a lovely place to stay. The advantage of this short hike is that after your arrival, you can relax and explore the immediate surroundings of the hut without any time pressure.
8b) Hirzer Hütte – Meraner Hütte/ Meran
You can change the second part of the last stage as you wish. Many hikers try to make it across the first summit of the 2781-meter-high Hirzer on their last day. After that, you will follow the gently sloping path through the meadows past the Kratzenberger See to the Meraner Hütte in the middle of the Merano ski region. Here, you can enjoy one last overnight stay in the mountains before you descend into Merano the next day. You can also take the cable car from the Kratzenberger Alm down into the valley and take a bus to Merano. However, we recommend the first option. Once you have arrived in Merano, take another day to relax. The city with its mixture of alpine and Italian flair is also worth seeing.
With conscientious preparation and careful planning, the E5 is the ideal introduction to the fascinating world of long-distance hiking. The varied paths and great accommodations paired with the opportunity to meet new people make this experience an absolute must for hikers. Just know that you won’t have the trail to yourself.