Hiking the Maximilian Cave Trail in Zirl

Description: Hike to the Maximilian Grotto
Location: Zirl
Time: 2 hours round trip
Difficulty: Medium

Many who have taken the motorway west of Innsbruck will have noticed the steep cliffs above a quarry near the Zirl exit.

The wall is known as the Martinswand and it is very popular with climbers who can often be spotted on some of the many routes that traverse the steep rock. But it is also the location for a historic tale dating back to the days of the Emperor Maximilian, whose death 500 years ago is being commemorated in 2019.

The view from the Martinswand towards Innsbruck The view from the Martinswand towards Innsbruck

The Legend of Maximilian's Cave

The story of the Maximiliangrotto, as it is known, dates back to the time of the Emperor, a keen hunter and fisherman. According to the tale he was chasing an animal in the area of the Martinswand too enthusiastically and then realised that he was stuck in a precarious position - unable to descend the way he had climbed and with no route above him.

He sheltered in a cave on the cliff and shouted that he was stuck to his companions in the valley below. A small procession, led by the Zirl priest, prayed down on solid ground that the Emperor would be saved. And their prayers were answered when a young herdsman appeared above the embarassed ruler and showed him a way out which he had not previously seen.

The view from inside the Maximiliangrotto The view from inside the grotto

The two made their way down to the valley, but when Maximilian turned to thank his guide, he had disappeared. Was he a youngster who wanted no fuss or was he sent in answer to the prayers?

Maximilian later erected a cross in the cave and wrote about the misadventure in one of his hunting logbooks.

The Walk to the Maximilian Grotto

There was already a hike to the cave in existence back at the beginning of the 18th century but the current trail was finished in 2015 and outfitted with information boards as part of the commemoration of Maximilian's death in 2019.

The hike starts from the car park at the Red Cross building in Zirl. This can be reached on public transport by bus from Seefeld or Innsbruck. (Note that train station in Hochzirl is unsuitable as it is an hour's steep walk downhill or uphill away from Zirl!)

It climbs just over 200m in altitude and is less than 2km in distance. It crosses the walls of the quarry on a wide gravel trail with safety fencing and then winds up to the grotto on scree and then steps carved into the rock face. Although it is a relatively undemanding walk, it would not be suitable for anyone who suffers from vertigo as there are steep drops to the side of the secured trail, especially when approaching the cave.

The view from inside the Maximiliangrotto The trail crossing the quarry face (from upper right to upper middle)

There are fabulous views both up and down the Inn valley and across to the mountains above the Axamer Lizum to the south.

Return is via the same route to the Red Cross car park.