Strange as it may sound, my recent trips to Allgäu left me longing for more. The area around Oberstdorf is so breathtakingly beautiful that I just can’t seem to get enough of it. No wonder that as autumn rolled in, bringing crisp, chilly air and all shades of gold and crimson, I found myself heading back to the Alps. This time, however, I had something different in mind. Even though I enjoyed my adventures at lakes Schrecksee and Seealpsee, those trails are quite challenging and definitely not for everyone. This made me wonder – is there an easy hike in Allgäu that anyone would be able to do? And if so, is it good enough for landscape photography? Well, now that I’ve returned, I’m glad to answer that question with a resounding “Yes!”. And to prove it, I invite you to join me on a leisurely walk through the Stillachtal valley.
The Stillachtal valley route begins just south of Oberstdorf, at the Heini-Klopfer-Ski jump. From there, it follows the river Stillach to the south-west, terminating somewhere near the German-Austrian border. The trail takes you through lovely Alpine landscapes deep into the surrounding mountains. The great thing about it is that there is no specific end goal, no big reward to work for. The journey is the destination here, and that’s exactly what makes it such an easy hike. You just keep going for as long as you like and feel comfortable with it.
I actually suggest starting a little further down, at the Fellhornbahn station. Doing so will shorten the initial part of the trail by around 40 minutes, allowing you to venture further into the valley. Incidentally, Fellhornbahn is also as far as you can drive without a resident permit. There is a large parking lot at the end of the road, so you shouldn’t have trouble finding the spot. Still, it’s a popular destination, so in high season I do recommend coming earlier. The price is a very reasonable 4 EUR per day. Annoyingly, the machine only accepts coins, but that seems to be a common theme all throughout Allgäu.
From the parking lot, keep walking south until you see the sign prohibiting car traffic. Here, a gravel pedestrian road branches off to the side. Welcome to Stillachtal Valley.
Through the Meadows
The first 3 kilometers are best described as a leisurely stroll through the Allgäu backyard. Right of the bat, you are treated to incredible Alpine scenery. The path takes you through serene meadows towards the towering mountains in the distance. It is a well-maintained and very easy hike with no elevation whatsoever. Even in autumn, there are plenty of people here – parents with kids, cyclers, hikers, elderly couples. This really is a trail for anybody and everybody.
Go at your own pace, breathe in the fresh mountain air, take in the lovely views, and just enjoy an amazing day outside. If you are into landscape photography, there are many photo opportunities along the route, so have the camera ready. Not your typical epic panoramas, perhaps, but more subtle compositions, often hiding in plain sight.
This first section comes to an end right after the Alpe Eschbach restaurant. For a quick moment, the pedestrian walkway merges back into the asphalt road before the two split up again. For many, this is as far as they would go. But, if you are up for a little exercise (nothing crazy, I promise!), keep moving. There is more goodness up ahead.
Into the Forest
As the road splits, you have a decision to make. One passage dives into the forest to your left. The other crosses the Stillach river and continues along its opposite bank. In reality, though, there isn’t much of a difference. Both head deeper into the Stillachtal Valley more or less in parallel to each other. Both will eventually lead you to the same place. We picked the left side, so that’s where the following images were taken. I expect the views to be very similar on the opposite side of the river as well.
The following part is a bit more demanding. It is still an easy hike, but the ascent starts to pick up slightly. You should expect around 200 meters of elevation gain over the next couple of kilometers. No longer a walk in the park, but hardly a real challenge either. And if you can pull yourself through this section, you will be handsomely rewarded with some incredible scenery.
I imagine the forest here is photogenic at any time of the year, but at the peak of autumn it is especially stunning. The soft October sun sets the foliage on fire and turns the scene into a vivid fairy tale. For a landscape photographer, it’s a perfect playground. Get the composition right, and the resulting images are gorgeous straight out of the camera with hardly any processing required. For others, it is simply an incredibly beautiful sight.
In approximately thirty minutes, you will reach Gasthof Einödsbach, a nice little restaurant with an amazing view of the Alps. This is an excellent place to stop and have a beer or one of their insanely delicious home-made pies.
An Easy Hike in Allgäu
We could have kept going – the path continues for another 6-7 kilometers before the ascent really becomes difficult. However, we didn’t want to make our trip unnecessarily long. Besides, autumn days are short, and cold afternoon shadows were already beginning to creep into Stillachtal valley. Gasthof Einödsbach felt like a pinnacle of the adventure and a natural point to turn back. All in all, it was a splendid day in the mountains, and I wholeheartedly recommend this easy hike to everyone. And to sum it up here is everything you need to know about it:
- Total distance: 9 km (extensible to 21 kilometers)
- Total elevation gain: 215 meters
- Duration: 2-4 hours, depending on how fast or slow you go
- Difficulty: hardly an effort
- When to go: April to October
- What to bring: snacks and water, appropriate clothes in case it gets rainy or cold, cash for the restaurant and parking (in coins), photography gear
- Doable with a dog: absolutely
- Total costs: 4 euros for parking, 5-6 euros for a drink and a pie at Einödsbach Gasthof, fuel to get to Oberstdorf
Landscape Photography Tips for Stillachtal Valley
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In many ways, good timing is the key to landscape photography in Stillachtal valley. On one hand, you want to be there later in the day, when the light is softer. On the other, the surrounding peaks obscure the sun and cover the ground in shadows long before sunset. Time of year is important too. More light enters the vale during autumn and winter when the sun sets further south. For fall colors specifically, mid to late October is probably your best bet.
Gear-wise, all you really need is a camera and a good all-around zoom, such as 24-105mm. I brought both an ultra-wide zoom and a telephoto and only used each once. Hardly worth the extra weight, in my opinion. Same with the tripod. There aren’t any waterfalls around, and it’s not exactly a sunset destination. Just save yourself some trouble and go light-weight. It’s an easy hike, remember?
Finally, always keep your eyes open. Not having a predetermined viewpoint in mind really helps to train your own sense of an image. Try to notice appealing compositions and subjects, look for natural contrast and saturation, think about light. There are tons of photo opportunities everywhere in Allgäu, and this trail is no exception. You just have to find them.
I hope you enjoyed this little journey to Allgäu and Stillachtal Valley. I have a few other articles about this beautiful region that you might want to check out. Feel free to get in touch with any comments or questions, and please share this post with whoever might benefit from it. And of course, come and say “Hi” on my Instagram or Youtube channel. I’ll be happy to see you.