High mountains are our paradise: breathtaking peaks, crystal clear lakes and streams, charming waterfalls and wonderful vistas. Freedom. Peace. Awe. Except for rainy days when paradise suddenly turns into hell. I’m exaggerating a bit, of course, but just a tiny bit. 😛
High mountains are really unfriendly and unpleasant places on a day when cold wind is blowing hard, rain is pouring and fog covers the landscape. And I’m not talking about sudden storms that come and go, I’m talking about those days when it’s literally pouring all day long. Everything is wet and cold, the rain is hitting our head tirelessly and there’s not much to see due to the dense fog anyway. These are the days when we don’t want to be outside. There’s not much choice for indoor activities in a national park though so these days usually suck.
How to get the best out of rainy days?
But believe it or not, the goal of this post is not to complain and make you feel sorry for the two crazy adventurers who’ve got to countless incredibly beautiful national parks. What we really want to tell you is how to get the best out of rainy days in the mountains – particularly, how we did it in Hallstatt, Austria’s charming little mountain village tucked between large peaks of the Alps.
First of all, expect rainy days. If you spend a couple of days in the mountains you have to be really lucky to have clear weather all the time during your visit. No matter the season, weather is quite unpredictable in the high mountains – at least, it stands for Europe and for many other parts of the world. On the other hand, Hallstatt is one of the best places to have that horrible rainy day because it offers awesome indoor activities. However, some of these ideas can be used elsewhere, too.
Dachstein Ice Cave and Mammoth Cave
If weather sucks above the ground then go under the ground! Apparently, there’s a wonderful ice cave close to Hallstatt: Dachstein Ice Cave. It’s another world with magical ice formations and with 25 meters thick ice under your feet at some places. The 50 minutes long guided tours are quite frequent and the cave can be accessed by cable car.
Once you are there it’s worth visiting another magnificent cave that’s just a short walk from the entrance of the ice cave: Dachstein Mammoth Cave. Its name has nothing to do with mammoths but with its enormous size: more than 70 kilometres of passageways have been explored in the cave. We could visit about 1 kilometer during the guided tour and it was an impressive section with large halls, colorful rock formations and narrow passageways.
We liked that guided tours were both in German and in English. Sadly my German doesn’t exceed the level of ‘Ich möchte zwei Ticket, bitte.’ and ‘Wo ist der Kühlshrank?’ – none of which is very useful on a cave tour. But our guides told everything in English, too, plus there’s a free audioguide app for smartphones where several other languages are available.
Though there’s no wind and rain in the caves, they are cold. Obviously, an ice cave is supposed to be cold. And the Mammoth Cave has an average temperature of 4 °C. So have your sweater(s) with you.
Salt Mine of Hallstatt
We enjoyed the caves and it was already well past noon when we got back to Hallstatt. And it was still raining. So we decided to go under the ground again, this time exploring a wonder made by man. The Salt Mine (Salzwelten) of Hallstatt is more than 3000 years old and people of the Bronze Age have already worked in the mine. The guided tour through the tunnels gave an interesting insight into its history and some underground slides added even more fun to it.
The entrance of the mine is at the top of the Salt Mountain (Salzberg) above Hallstatt. You can hike there if you want but we preferred using the funicular railway because of the weather. (We did the short hike on another day though and it’s nice.)
Once we were out of caves and mines in the area we got back to our room. The weather was still bad and it was late afternoon anyway. Then the rain stopped around 7 pm. Since it was a long summer day and our feet was itching we drove to nearby Gosausee for a short walk. That’s actually what you can try if there’s no cave or mine at hand where you can escape from the rain and fog: short walks and hikes. We usually try to aim for lakes and waterfalls because they can offer lovely views even in the fog. I mean, unlike peaks you can at least somewhat see them.
The most important thing
All in all, we had an eventful and enjoyable day in Hallstatt despite of the unpleasant weather. And luckily, we got our sunshine the day before and after. But if you still think that a full day of pouring rain is mere catastrophe, rest assured because I understand you, I really do. Nothing can let me down so quickly as waking up for a rainy day. But you just can’t help it. Embrace it. Dance in the rain. Practice photographing raindrops on flowers. Jump into puddles like a kid. Or give it up, curl up on your couch, have a hot chocolate, read a book or watch a movie. If it’s nature against you, you have no chance anyway. 🙂
What’s your strategy to enjoy mountains on rainy days?