The Umbal Waterfalls experience was actually a three-for-one kind of deal for us. While the main waterfall carrying the name Umbalfälle on the Umbalbach (which was also the headwaters of the Isel River) was a series of powerful cascades tumbling in nearly stair-stepping fashion, there were also two additional side waterfalls each of which could have been major waterfalls in their own right thereby adding to the overall experience.
The power from the Isel River (or still the Umbalbach until its volume increases by other tributaries further downstream) was the result of the Umbalkees Glacier melting. We showed up in the mid-Summer so the power of the river was in full effect.The other two side waterfalls were the Kleinbachfall (or Small Creek Falls) and Großbachfall (or Big Creek Falls). The Kleinbachfall was actually the big waterfall we saw from the Ströden car park (see directions below). It kind of threw us off guard because we thought it was supposed to be THE Umbal Waterfall that was featured on this hike (see the photo at the top of this page).
Meanwhile, the Großbachfall was a disjointed waterfall tumbling in multiple steps down towards a footbridge just before the trail reached the main namesake waterfalls on the Umbalbach/Isel River. Even though it had the “big” in its name, I thought the “small” one was prettier. Nonetheless, if you take all the waterfalls together, it was the kind of experience where you can see waterfalls in your sleep, and thus we gave this excursion the higher scenic rating as a result.
Speaking of the excursion, the literature tends to refer to it as being the “first European Water Trail”. While I’m not exactly sure what this means, apparently in the 1920s, members of the Vienna Boys Choir would come here in the Summer to enjoy the fresh air. Perhaps the resulting word-of-mouth led to tourism in the area, and maybe that’s why the association with being Europe’s First Water Trail had resulted (though plenty of other waterfall trails in Austria were in existence before this time).
From the car park, we hiked along a farm track leading past a couple of bear statues and towards the signed “Wasserschaupfad Umbalfälle”, which began right by a giant boulder towards the head of the Virgental Valley (the very valley we drove through to get to the car park). A sign here indicated that we were entering the Umbaltal, which was part of the Nationalpark Hohe Tauern.Then, we followed a different track going towards the waterfall we saw from the car park. After cutting across the wide and open valley of the Virgental, the path then ascended in the shade of the narrowing canyon of the Umbaltal. Along this stretch of the trail, we followed the course of the Umbalbach or Isel River for about the next 1.6km or so.
Towards the end of this initial stretch, we started to see the Kleinbachfall, which slowly revealed more of itself the further we went. Ultimately, it got to a point where the whole waterfall could be seen, and by that time (roughly a half-hour from the start of the hike), the trail veered away from the falls and ultimately reached a couple of cantinas or cafes called the Pebell Alm and the Islitzer Alm.
Beyond the alms, the trail crossed a bridge over the Umbalbach and started to reveal the main waterfalls on the rushing creek. On the other side of the bridge, the path then went right (I didn’t take the path on the left) as I continued towards the main waterfalls. At this point, the trail started to climb once again.
After another 200m, the path then reached the first lookout for the main Umbal Waterfalls. Now, the trail narrowed even more as it still climbed alongside the contours of the Umbalbach.In another 100m, the trail reached a footbridge crossing over the Grossbach (Großbach). Looking upstream from the bridge, I saw the disjointed waterfalls of the Großbachfall, where if I was able to spot some surprising tiers way up on the cliffs suggesting that this was indeed a pretty big waterfall.
Then, in the next 100m or so, the trail climbed up to a series of protruding metal overlooks almost edging out over the Umbal Waterfalls. This was about as close as I was going to get to these powerful waterfalls, and I really had to make sure nothing would get dropped since the footing at the lookouts were metal grates.
Since I was near the top of this series of waterfalls, I turned around at the second overlook to rejoin Julie and Tahia back at the alms. However, in hindsight, from studying the maps once more, I could have continued on this trail for another 30-60 minutes or so (not really sure) until I would have reached the Upper Umbal Waterfalls and maybe another bonus waterfall (thereby making this more than a three-for-one waterfalling excursion).
When all was said and done, we returned to the car park after about 3 hours away from the car. Since we had lunch at the Islitzer Alm, I’m guessing that the total hiking time was on the order of about two hours or more less.
The Umbal Waterfalls sat in the Umbaltal Valley, which was a side valley at the very head of the Virgental Valley. This valley was accessed from the B108 Road south of the Felbertauerntunnel toll station and north of the city of Lienz.
I’ll describe the driving directions from Zell am See as well as from Lienz. Any other starting location can be routed by apps like Google Maps using Ströden (or just Stroden since GM seems to understand some keyboards don’t have umlauts) as one of the destinations.
From Zell am See, we headed south into the B311 tunnel. As we emerged from the southern exit of that tunnel, we then kept right and headed west on the B311 towards Mittersill for about 24km. Then, at the roundabout, we took the third exit to go south on the Felbertauernstraße (B108).
We then drove south on the B108 for about 37km before taking the exit towards Tauerntalstraße in the town of Matrei in Osttirol. At that point, we then followed the Tauerntalstraße west through town, which then became the L24 along the Virgener Straße. We took this road all the way to its end in 17km at the car park in the village of Ströden.
When we made our visit in the Summer of 2018, there was a person there collecting 6 euros for us to use one of two car parks.
Overall, this drive took us about 90 minutes.
From Lienz, we’d head north on the B108 Road for 28km to the exit on the right at Matrei in Osttirol. This off-ramp would take us onto the Tauerntalstraße, where we’d head west and follow the directions as stated above to drive all the way to the end of the road at Ströden.
Overall, this drive would take about 45-60 minutes.
For context, Lienz was about 66km (under an hour drive) south of Mittersill, about 92km (over an hour drive) north of Zell am See, 75km (an hour drive) west of Millstatt, and 74km (over an hour drive) east from Brunico (Bruneck), Italy.
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