For centuries, people walked or skied over Nature's Ice Palace on the Hintertux Glacier, never knowing it was there. Now, you can visit all year round if you know how. Here's how to make the most of summer in Zillertal - and how to head inside Austria's ice cave.
See also our guide to summer in Austria.
The Hintertux Glacier and Nature's Ice Palace
The Hintertux Glacier broods in charcoal and gleaming white above the valleys in Zillertal, Austria. The peak can be reached in a quick series of three cable cars and its slopes offer skiing and snowball fights all year round.
I first visited years ago, in the swirls and snows of winter, skiing with colleagues and hearing about a new discovery: an ice palace that had been hidden from view.
Fast forward a few years and I returned with my family, including one five year old girl with a passion for Frozen.
As part of a wonderful road trip to highlight the benefits of wellbeing and summer in Austria, we spent a few days in the region of Zillertal.
We had, of course, to visit the Hintertux Glacier. But what of Austria's ice palace? Read on to find out what happened - and to discover how you can do the same.
Disclosure: I visited the Zillertal region as a guest of Visit Austria for review purposes. As ever, as always, I kept the right to write what I like. Otherwise, what is the point?! Also, if you book or buy through any of the links on this page, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Cheers!
Why visit the Hintertux Glacier?
Spas and sunshine in the morning and a snowball fight in the afternoon? Who can resist the duality of that?
The Hintertux Glacier lives in Zillertal, in Tirol, a beautiful playground of a region rich in alpine landscapes, refreshing spas, hearty cuisine and plenty of hiking routes.
Known locally as the Hintertuxer Gletscher, it's an adventure lover's paradise. That said, it also has plenty of lower key outdoor activities for young families and, well, those who no longer yearn to risk mortal injury in order to feel alive.
While you might know Zillertal better for its winter sports, the world famous ski resorts of Mayrhofen in the Zillertal 3000 ski area, for example, it's great to visit in summer as well.
The infrastructure is well organised, reliable and clean and Austria is a welcoming country for young families. As well as visiting the awe inspiring Nature's Ice Palace, you can go hiking, biking, miniature golfing and relaxing in one of the many world class spas.
The Hintertux Glacier is also within reach of Austria's fifth largest city, Innsbruck. There, you can visit museums and zoos and soak yourself in medieval architecture and history with this 3 day Innsbruck itinerary.
In short, the Hintertux Glacier and around offers the perfect setting for a refreshing and revitalising mountain trip, whether or not you're travelling with kids in tow.
Nature's Ice Palace
When Roman Erler went skiing on one fateful day in 2007, little did he know he'd be changing the region for good.
He spotted a crack in the snow of around only 10cm or so. Being the intrepid Alpine man that he is, he dashed home for more exploration gear rather than cautiously stepping over the crack and retiring for a hot chocolate in a cosy mountain hut.
Not only did the 10 cm gap expand into a crevasse below but it also stretched sideways, filling cavern after cavern with icy artwork and rivers encased by ice. At the last time of visiting, in the early summer of 2022, excavations were ongoing with no sign of slowing down.
As Erler said:
"It was a coincidence. Nobody expected it. Normally a 10 cm opening is not interesting. But there was nothing there before."
Inside, you'll find caverns and corridors, deep wells and underground rivers. You can see ridges of burned auburn representing sand from the Sahara and the sooty stubs from copper coins dropped in the water for good luck. (In case it's not obvious, don't do this. It's pollution and it's (forgive the pun) not cool.)
It is, to borrow a phrase, like stepping into the unknown.
Practical Information for visiting the Nature Ice Palace
First of all, everyone needs a guide. You can book one in advance by calling +43 676 307 0000 or sending an email to [email protected]
Second of all, wrap up warm. Even though you can be sunbathing at the cable car station in the valley, you will be cold within the ice cave. Sounds obvious. But you never know...
What to Wear in Austria's Ice Palace
You will be standing on and surrounded by ice. So, it will be cold! While the ice cave protects you from the wind, I'd highly recommend wearing ski gear to stay warm and enjoy the natural show.
Hiking boots are a good compromise if you don't want to bring snow boots on a summer holiday. Another option is to wear leggings, then trousers, then waterproof trousers if you don't have snow wear.
Bring a hat, scarf, gloves and something to cover your ears.
And finally, bring a warm jacket, fleece and thermal base layer.
How long does a visit last?
There are different routes through the ice cave but on average, you can expect to be inside the ice for between one and two hours.
Can children visit the Nature Ice Palace?
Children six and over can visit the Nature Ice Palace as long as they are accompanied by both an official guide and their parents or caregivers. That said, the guides told us that they assess kids on the short but steep walk through the snow to the entrance.
If kids (and grown ups!) seem level headed then in they go. If not, they're not allowed in. When we visited, baby Lab was five years old and handled it extremely well. Her legs got a little tired right at the end of the visit but she listened perfectly through all the icy ladders and steep walkways.
How do you get to the Nature Ice Palace?
The base of the cable car station lies in the Tux-Finkenberg area in Zillertal, Tirol. It's around a 90 minute drive from Innsbruck through some beautiful mountain scenery.
Alternatively, you can take the Tuxer Sportbus which runs all year.
Parking is easy and the car park is right at the base of the cable car station.
You can buy tickets on the spot to the cable car, which runs between 8.15 to 4:30. You want to go all the way up to “Gefrorene Wand” but don't worry. Staff are very helpful and if you explain you are there to visit the Natureispalast, people will help you on your way.
When to visit Austria's Ice Palace?
The Natureispalast is open all year round but to maximise your chances of stunning panoramic views on the way up, it makes sense to visit in summer.
Austria in summer is a special time to visit, anyway, for these reasons and more.
What do you need to take to the Nature Ice Palace?
You don't need to bring anything with you other than warm clothes and your booking information. If you do go on the ice paths (most paths are covered with a grippy black rubber surface) then you will be given crampons on site.
Bear in mind that electronics lose battery power fast in the cold. So, store them in a deep pocket or against your skin.
Also, be careful! Our guide told us that iPhones disappear into the water below the ice every single week.
Other Things to do on the Hintertux Glacier
With year round snow, you have plenty of opportunities for fun on the Hintertux Glacier!
If you're lucky, you'll catch the Moon Bikes team showing off their new product. These snow bikes differ from snow mobiles and take a lot more effort to stay on! But they're fun (for grown ups) and it's always worth trying something new in the snow.
- Learn more about the Moonbikes by watching this video on Summer in Austria, at around the two minute mark.
Which child can resist a snowball fight? With snow 365 days a year, even if little legs don't make it far beyond the cable car station, you can take in superb panoramic views of the mountains on the 3250 metre terrace and arrange a family snowball fight.
For hardcore skiers who don't like to take a break in the sun, you can ski on the glacier all year round.
Alight at one of the lower cable car stations to follow the hiking routes on the mountains and to avoid the snow and ice.
Hop off at the Sommerberg cable car station to enjoy an outdoor children's play area.
Another activity which is good to do all year round! Stop off at for a hot chocolate at any one of Zillertal's mountain huts or canteens.
Travel Tips for Visiting the Hintertux Glacier
Here's what you need to know about visiting this beautiful area...
Where to stay near the Hintertux Glacier
While you will find plenty of accommodation options right at the foot of the Hintertux Glacier cable car, there's one hotel among all hotels which I absolutely have to recommend.
The Seetal Family Alpin Resort is a short drive from the Hintertux Glacier in Kaltenbach.
However, it is absolutely brilliant for families with young children. Not only are children thought of in ways big and small with a petting zoo, outdoor climbing frame, kids club and kid-size bathrobes. But parents are too.
The atmosphere is welcoming and tranquil, the infinity pool exquisite, the adults only spa and sauna area divine.
I am already looking to see if we can book to return next year because we simply loved it just that much.
Other things to do in Zillertal
Of course, the region of Zillertal is more than just the Hintertux Glacier. Zillertal lives near St Johann in Tirol and Innsbruck and you can find a range of things to do in summer in Austria in each of those places.
Here are my favourites from our time in Zillertal.
Hiking and chasing waterfalls
Lace up your boots and clomp them on the earth! Austria was made for hiking!
While you can find a waterfall close to the Hintertux Glacier, my favourite spot was the small but gentle hike from the Seetal Alpin Family Resort near Kaltenbach.
Perfect for young children and still spectacular enough to make it all feel worthwhile.
Walk uphill from the hotel and keep on going!
Relax in a spa
Can I let you in on a little secret? Austria does the best spas. Whether big or small, there's a sense of professionalism and relaxation that you don't find everywhere else. It's as though, with all those outdoor activities, that people feel they have really earned the right to switch off and relax in the spa.
Explore the freizeitpark
Try your hand at miniature golf and let the kids run free at the sumptuous outdoor playground area at the Freizeitpark.
In and amidst the normal sleek trains that zip through the valleys, summertime sees a steam engine turn up on the Zillertalbahn route.
However, it's sometimes hard to find. Check with the local tourist office on the day to access the most up to date timetable.
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- How to swim in a UNESCO World Heritage Site: the Salzkammergut
- The best things to do in Innsbruck with kids
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