Towering over the village of Oberammergau is the Kofel, a Matterhorn-shaped mountain with an elevation of 1,342 meters (4,400 feet). The name Kofel means ‘cone-shaped mountain’ in Celtic, and so hints at the tribes and peoples that once passed through this mountainous part of Germany.
The Bavarians we’ve met in this picturesque town are well-versed in the art of hiking, known as wandern, in German. As a result, they’re able to call off the names of these mountain peaks with the same sort of ease with which they ascend them. Coming from the Midwestern United States where hikes are typically through flat terrain, and well aware of my distaste for heights, I wasn’t sure I would have the fortitude to reach the Kofel’s summit.
When I first came to Oberammergau and spotted it dominating the landscape, I questioned if it could be easily hiked. Many of the villagers told us that it was “easy”, some even mentioned that they’d taken their children along for the hike. These comments gave me some encouragement, despite it appearing to have sheer faces.
On an early summer morning, my parents, Shawn and I set off to tackle the Kofel. Our hike would take us past a religious shrine carved into rock, then through a lush forested area where we met two hikers sporting Lederhosen. My mom and I grew intimidated when we encountered a scree field which had to be crossed if we were to make it to the summit. Banishing all thoughts that doing so might start an avalanche, we eventually made it.
Another leg of the path wove past rock walls on which hikers had scribbled their names and the year of their ascent. With some entries dating back to the 1930s, we pondered what became of those individuals during World War II.
Eventually, nature’s canopy gave way to an unobscured view of a pristine blue sky. Here, we knew we’d made it to the leg that locals describe as being the most challenging. This part of the mountain was exposed, with fixed metal cables attached to the rock face to which hikers can hold. We met a pair of women who said they were afraid to go further, a gentleman in his 70s who had just completed his third climb of the mountain, and a large fluffy dog as he bounded down the trail.
As we tackled the final leg, which is largely devoid of vegetation, we knew that we’d reached the top when we glimpsed the summit’s cross. The views of the Ammergau Valley, surrounding peaks, and a dollhouse-sized version of Oberammergau made the hike well worth it.
Later, we learned that we’d forgotten to sign the guest book at the top of the mountain, a practice that’s customary in the Bavarian hiking world. Perhaps that means a second ascent is in the cards for us soon.
Where in the World?
- The Kofel’s elevation is 1,342 meters, and Oberammergau sits at an elevation of 837 meters.
- If you are active, this hike is relatively easy, but there are a few sections that you might find difficult if you’re scared of heights. The first part of the climb takes you through a lovely forested area. About half-way to the summit, you’ll encounter a scree field, which some might find disconcerting. The last segment of the hike involves ascending the exposed section of the mountain. There are fixed metal cables (Klettersteige / via Ferrata) here to which you can hold on. Those with a fear of heights might find this leg of the hike challenging. At the time of our climb, one or two small sections of the cables had become dislodged from the rock, making it possible to get startled or off-balance.
- There are several routes that you can take to get to the Kofel’s summit. We started at the Döttenbichl parking lot, near the Oberammergau Cemetery and then crossed the Kälberplatte meadow. This more direct route generally takes approximately 1.5 hours, but it took us a bit longer since we stopped to take breaks, photographs, and to mingle with other hikers. To return to Oberammergau, we hiked via a different path known as the Königssteig (King’s Trail). The return journey was considerably longer — approximately 2.5 to 3 hours.
- Be sure to pack adequate water and snacks in your backpack, as there are no drinking fountains or vendors along the route. On the way back down to Oberammergau, we stopped at the Kolbenalm, a family-owned restaurant/inn, for cold, bubbly water. Even though Shawn and I had packed a few liters of water, we’d exhausted our supply by the time it came time to descend.
- For more more Kofel hiking resources see: Summit Post & Hike & Bike.
- Also, take a peek at this stunning panorama shot, which shows the Kofel and neighboring peaks at sunrise.
- Are you looking for a guesthouse or hotel in Oberammergau? Before my parents moved there, Shawn and I spent two nights at the Gästehaus Hildegard (affiliate link). We thought the beds were comfortable, the owners were helpful and kind, and the breakfast was tasty. The guest house is centrally located in the town too, and it’s not far from the Tiroler Gasse bus stop. The train station is also only about 1 km away.
- Need more trip ideas? This page indexes all my posts from Germany.
Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.