Conquering the Kofel, Oberammergau’s Signature Mountain

Towering over the village of Oberammergau is the Kofel, a Matterhorn-shaped mountain with an elevation of 1,342 meters (4,400 feet). ‘Kofel’ means ‘cone-shaped mountain’ in Celtic, and so hints at the tribes and peoples that once passed through this mountainous part of Germany.

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.

Kofel Mountain Oberammergau Germany

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 and we knew we’d reached 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. We’d later learn 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.

Climbing Kofel Oberammergau 4
A pre-ascent group shot, and the Kälberplatte meadow which we crossed early on in the hike.
Kofel Mountain Oberammergau Germany 3
The area’s hiking trails are well marked. Here are approximate hiking times. We took longer than an hour and a half to ascend the Kofel since we took several breaks.

Alpine flowers in Germany

Ammergauer Alpen Map in Oberammergau
The red-roofed village of Oberammergau (under the red arrow in the valley) is dwarfed by surrounding mountain peaks. The Kofel is the mountain directly towering over the village.

Hiking in Oberammergau

Hiking Oberammergau 4

Kofel Climb Oberammergau 5
A small religious shrine, and the scenic path.
Writing on Kofel Oberammergau
Vintage graffiti scribbled on a rock wall along the hiking path. Some of it went back to the 1930s, making us wonder what became of those hikers during World War II.
Kofel Climb Oberammergau
Shawn traverses the scree field with grace, and a sampling of the Ammergau Alp’s wildflowers.

Climbing Kofel Oberammergau 5

Kofel Climb Oberammergau 6
Young evergreen trees, and a pair of hikers donning traditional Bavarian attire – leather pants known as Lederhosen.

Kofel Climb in Oberammergau 8

Kofel Climb in Oberammergau
The summit cross and the path to get there. The gentleman holding on to the metal cable has climbed the Kofel three times throughout his life.
oberammergau woodcarving cross
The summit cross, undoubtedly carved by one of Oberammergau’s master woodcarvers.
Overhead view of oberammergau church, hotels, homes and nato school
The village of Oberammergau below.
Oberammergau hotels, Peter and Paul Church and homes
Oberammergau’s Saint Peter and Paul Church.

overhead view of oberammergau hotels, church, homes and nato school

Ammergauer Alpen
Paragliders take in the stunning views of the Ammergau Alps.

Kofel Peak Oberammergau

Kofel Oberammergau peak 6

Kofel Climb Oberammergau 7

Kolbenalm
Taking a break during our descent at the Kolbenalm, a Bavarian style, family-owned inn and restaurant.

Kofel Oberammergau hiking

Kofel Oberammergau peak 2

Where in the World?

Planning Pointers:

  • The Kofel’s elevation is 1,342 meters, and Oberammergau sits at an elevation of 837 meters. The hike is relatively easy, for those who are fit, and mostly takes you through a lovely forested area. About half-way to the summit, hikers will 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 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 come dislodged from the rock, making it possible to get off-balance or startled.
  • Several different routes access the Kofel’s summit. We started at the Döttenbühl parking lot, near the Oberammergau Cemetery, crossing 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 and photographs and mingle with other hikers. To return to Oberammergau, we hiked via a different path, the Königssteig (King’s Trail). The return journey was considerably longer – approximately 2.5 – 3 hours.
  • Be sure to pack adequate water and snacks in your backpack, as there’s no drinking fountains or vendors along the route. On the way back to Oberammergau, we stopped at the Kolbenalm, a family-owned restaurant/inn for cold, bubbly water since we’d  exhausted our supply.
  • More Kofel Hiking Resources: Summit Post & Hike & Bike.
  • Also view 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.

59 thoughts on “Conquering the Kofel, Oberammergau’s Signature Mountain

  1. I love this part of the country, although I’ve yet to spend as much time around Oberammergau. I like the verb “wandern”, but there’s also “spazieren gehen” or one of my favourites “bummeln”. I really like the idea of the valleys huts or “Hütten” where one can either bunk overnight and/or have a well-deserved rest and fuel stop. Thanks for your beautiful tour up and down the Kofel, Tricia!

    1. ‘Bummeln’ is a new word for me – ‘stroll’ I like it. My parents have long favored ‘spazieren gehen’ and their dogs almost responded better to that cue than its English equivalent. :) I haven’t yet done any hut hikes, but think the idea sounds utterly relaxing. Can you recommend other spots in this part of the country to explore, Henry?

  2. Stunning views Tricia. I think coming down holding on to the cable might be scarier even than going up that way!

    1. Melinda, I must confess that my descent wasn’t always pretty, but I made it down. :) Now what I know what to expect at the top, I might even try the climb again someday, but for now, I’m eager to explore other local summits.

  3. Oh how lucky, Tricia, you got a sunny day!! Love all your posts from the Oberammergau, they make me feel home immediately. I tried to answer your questions from your last post about any fall events, but for some reason WP didn’t made it through to you. So here again, there is “Erntedankfest” sometime in October , where the farmers bring the herds of cows from the “Alm” down to their stables, it is like a procession. It has the meaning of like thanking for the crop of the summer , cows are sported with their beautiful bells around their necks and lots of fall flowers, it is really beautiful. All the locals are out and about in their folkloric outfits and even a priest blesses the cows. Hope you have a chance to see this. Auf Wiedersehen!!

    1. Cornelia, thank you for taking the time to share these details with me – twice! That’s quite thoughtful of you. Unfortunately I think we might have just missed it. Sunday was ‘Erntedanfest’ here in Oberammergau. It was a bit rainy so we didn’t go out to explore if any special activities were taking place. We are planning on watching the Leonhardiritt event in Unterammergau though. Do you recall seeing that?

    1. Belated thanks, Terri. Though the scree field didn’t faze the men in our climbing party, my mom and I weren’t very amused. :) It’s a delight to see the mountain every day though, and know we conquered our fears!

    1. Carol, I wasn’t sure I’d make it up there either, but when I saw some four-legged friends and children who did so, I knew I could tackle it. :) Most of the locals here seem so courageous when it comes to hiking what to me are fairly high spots! Guess it’s all what one is accustomed to.

  4. What an adventure. That last bit with the cable is a little scary. Reminds me of climbing Uluru. (Yes, I know that’s not a right thing to have done but it was decades ago and before the aboriginal rights were being asserted as strongly as they were later. And I was an ignorant youngster.)

    1. It was, Rachael. :) You certainly have done a lot of globetrotting, haven’t you? I haven’t yet been to Australia, but Uluru looks incredibly dramatic. I’ve read conflicting accounts about the view from the top – some say it is quite special, others say that the view is not so spectacular. What did you think?

      1. Hmm, I would say the view from the very top was nothing special. But the view from the top of the first climb, looking down past where you’ve just been, is vertiginous in the extreme. I will post it some time. ;)

    1. A good idea, Ruth! Now we can all feel a sense of accomplishment when we look up at Oberammergau’s signature mountain. (This one towers over my parents’ home and is emblazoned on many local details – from Lederhosen suspenders, to pharmacy signs, etc.)

      Do you do much hiking or climbing in CO?

    1. Here’s hoping sunnier skies are on the horizon then, Jo! Thank you for your thoughtful comment about my site. You’re very observant that I’d been tinkering with it. I do hope it’s not challenging to navigate though. For the most recent posts, a click to the Blog tab will take you there. :)

  5. Thank you for this web page of the Kofel and Oberammergau. Stationed in Germany with the USAF, I visited the area several times and climbed the Kofel in 1953. One of the local woodcarvers put me up to it. Said, “You haven’t really visited Oberammergau unless you’ve climbed the Kofel”. My last visit to Ober was in 2005.

    1. Michael, how nice to hear from someone else who’s tackled the Kofel. I suppose we were quite inspired by the many locals who’d climbed it, and other neighboring peaks, several times. It seems to be a rite of passage there. Was there a book at the top of the Kofel (attached to the cross) in which you could sign your name? Last summer I wasn’t aware of this guest book of sorts, so I missed out on the chance to sign it. It seems a return is in order to document that I was there. :)

      It’d be fascinating to hear your tales of how Oberammergau has changed over the years…

  6. I was a 20 year old soldier stationed in Germany in 1968 and I was sent to Hawkins Barracks for some training. From our barracks window we could see this mountain with a cross on it (it was Kofel but we didn’t know it at the time) and a few of us decided to try to climb up the mountain. We did not know there was some kind of walking or climbing path that you could walk up so what we did was climb straight up the mountain while holding on to trees for our lives, ha, ha! We made it to the top and we heard voices and found out THEN that there was a path you could follow. I have some photo’s of our climb to the top….

    1. Hi John, what a treat to read your anecdote! As someone who is scared by heights, I do commend you for your bravery. Do you recall if you signed the book at the top of the mountain to show that you successfully ascended it? When we climbed the Kofel back in 2013, I didn’t know about this book, so I suppose I technically must return. :)

      When was the last time you were in Oberammergau? It would be fascinating to see your images from that intrepid climb!

      Thank you once again for reading, and for sharing your tale.

      1. Thanks for replying. I was only in Oberammergau that one time in 1968 for I think a week or two of training in the army. For some reason the book you mention does sound familiar but I don’t remember if I ever signed one. I have some pitcures I can send you if you send me your e-mail address. Mine is….. johnmil51@aol.com

      2. Greetings again, from snowy Oberammergau. The mountain peak that you climbed in 1968 is dusted with snow and fog as I type this. :) I’ve just sent you a message by email. Wish you a terrific Tuesday.

  7. Almost 2 years later on, and I realized (1) I commented, but (2) I didn’t answer your question. I adore Tegernsee. In my past life as astronomer and one-time staff of a Max-Planck-Institute, the MP has a “castle”, Schloss Ringberg, near Tegernsee. It is a beautiful area, and an area to which I must return. I also really love Garmisch-Partenkirchen (GAP), and I still feel I’ve missed out on far too much. I haven’t wandered as much in the area (or made the hike into Partnachklamm, etc.), or taken the train and explored Mittenwald, or taken the same train to Innsbruck (for a day or two), or taken the regional train from GAP to Reutte in Tirol. I admit: I’ve been to GAP twice, and both times up to Zugspitze I went: 1st time without a camera, and 2nd time with a camera. At least I’ve “cased” out many places I’d like to see. We also know and understand that these parts of Bayern show very different sides in winter and in summer: double the fun!

    1. Henry, like you we have much more of this region to explore. I’ve been wanting to get to Partnachklamm and Mittenwald, eager to learn more about violin-making at the latter. There’s much to see, reminding me of your earlier comment about somehow feeling guilty about returning to places you’ve already visited (or lived in) before.

      Schloss Ringberg sounds and looks intriguing. Must one have some connection to the Max-Planck-Institute in order to visit it?

      And, it sounds as though you’ll be seeing that snowier side of Bayern in a few months though, won’t you? :)

      1. Hi, Tricia. Like I said, it’ll be a little tough to visit now I’ve become reacquainted with foliage, flowers, blue skies, and that yellow globe occupying a larger duration of the day. ;) Forgot about the Geigenmacher in Mittenwald! Aaaaand now I’m drooling over the GAP area again. As far as I remember/know, Schloss Ringberg is owned and operated by the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft so staff at their institutes can use the facility for workshops and small meetings (http://www.schloss-ringberg.de/start), but the castle itself is relatively young. I remember one summer meeting and a group of us gathered at a Brauhaus in Tegernsee, and we ordered a meat and cheese platter. The “Steinkäse” was … “odorous”, known also locally as “Stinkkäse”. :P

      2. Funny, I’ve heard of Stinkkäse, but have never tried it. :) Though it sounds as though you’ll be missing the warmth of summer, think of all the Christmas market ambience you’ll be able to soak up! We’ll keep you posted what we discover in the coming weeks, but for the most part, we’re staying local in the Oberammergau area.

      3. Well … my colleagues from France were enthusiastic about the Stink … er … Steinkäse, while I and others looked on in amused horror. I was reading about Bavaria earlier today, and it got me dreaming again, dreaming of those mountains. I’ve to decide how much of December I might cover; I’ll keep you posted as well.

      4. Henry, lately we’ve been enjoying some aromatic French cheese that probably doesn’t come close to Steinkäse’s pungency, but I suspect that’s a good thing. :) For our salads, we’re just loving this French chèvre (goat cheese) that we found at the German market. Yes – definitely keep us posted as to your winter travel plans. The planning stage is always fun!

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