Tips by a Local for Hiking in Switzerland
Switzerland is chock full of stunning mountain views, long winding glaciers and deep alpine lakes. So, it is perhaps no surprise that this is also a hikers paradise and hiking in Switzerland is one of the top activities for tourists and locals alike. Don’t forget to add it to your Switzerland itinerary. There are actually over 66 thousand kilometers (41,000 miles) of marked hiking trails in Switzerland, so you are obviously spoiled for choice.
And as someone who has spent way too many weekends and summer holidays in this amazing country, I thought I would share with you some of the best hikes in Switzerland that I have done in the past. From the short and cheerful, to the longer more endurance-oriented, there is something for everyone.
So, strap on your backpack, grab your hiking gear, and let’s get started with some of the best hikes in Switzerland…
Anyone spending time around the Interlaken area will spend hours taking in the towering alps above. And one of the most dominating is the Eiger. It is actually perhaps the most challenging climb in all of the Swiss Alps, and is responsible for taking countless lives each year. The sheer, north-facing rock face is one of the main reasons, but so too is the unpredictable and often freezing conditions on the climb.
For hikers, approaching the mountain is actually quite easy, and it affords us the chance to get up close and personal with this stunning mountain. The Eiger Trail hike starts at the Kleine Scheidegg and descends along a relatively easy path to Grindelwald below.
So, it is a fairly easy hike, descending a total of 780m (2559 ft) in around 3 hours. The first part of the hike is the most exciting as you soon arrive at the base of the Eiger, where the climbers actually start their climb. From here, you can look up and admire the sheer audacity of these people, and how death-defying such a climb really is. At least in most cases!
The start of this hike is actually from one of the train stations you stop at on the famous Jungfraujoch train ride. So, if you want to do both, you could do this hike down as part of the trip to save both time and money. Especially since trains in Switzerland can be quite expensive.
Hike Up Mount Rigi
Lucerne is surrounded by stunning mountains, and one of the most famous is Mount Rigi with the radio tower proudly jutting from the top. There are many ways of climbing up this local hotspot, but this is one of my favorite hikes in Switzerland.
Take the boat from Lucerne to Vitznau and begin your ascent from there. This is a long, seemingly never-ending climb, however the views as you slowly make your way up are well worth the effort. You can see all the way back to Lucerne itself, as well as their home mountain, Pilatus, and the almost lion-like Burgenstock on the other side of the lake. Further to the east is Fronalpstock, as well as the eastern arm of Lake Lucerne, Lake Urner, which is a stunning light blue, when the sun is high in the sky!
It takes between 4-5 hours to climb the whole 1350m (4429 ft) to the top of Rigi, but there are also a number of ways of shortening the hike if you wish. The cogwheel train up Rigi starts from Vitznau and stops at various points up the mountain. The most obvious place to stop to shorten the hike would be Rigi Kaltbad. You can also come here for a day-spa which has a view of the lake as well.
This is a perfect choice for hiking in Switzerland, especially for groups with different limits. You can take the train up, stop at Rigi Kaltbad or go all the way to the top.
Staubbach Falls in Lauterbrunnen
If you come to the valley of waterfalls, also known as Lauterbrunnen, white you are visiting Interlaken or Grindelwald, you absolutely have to do the short walk up to the Staubbach Falls. They are perhaps the most iconic and photographed falls in the whole valley.
The hike itself will only take one to two hours, depending on how slowly you ascend and spend taking photos. The highlight is being able to get behind the falls themselves, and a little wet in the process. So, don’t forget to bring your rain jacket and maybe only use your camera up there if it’s waterproof.
An easy day trip from Interlaken or Grindelwald, the Oeschinensee is the first hike I ever did in Switzerland, and perhaps one of the most unforgettable. The Oeschinensee is a lake nestled in a cirque of impressive peaks in the heart of the Bernese Alps. The hike to the lake is a relatively easy to walk along a wide path that even beginners can enjoy. Just keep in mind that it is all up, ascending 600m (1980 ft) in total.
For those wanting to do a shortcut, there is also a cablecar heading up from Kandersteg, so you can go one way on foot, and the other with the cable car. Don’t forget to spend some time once you get here just enjoying the stunning scenery, as there is really no other lake like it in Switzerland. At least as far as I know.
Because this lake is such a popular destination, there are also a myriad of things to do here in summer including boating, fishing, mountain biking and much more. So, feel free to combine a visit with some other interesting options, including things like the Rodelbahn, which you can only do in Switzerland.
Davos is renowned on the world stage as the place where the World Economic Forum takes place each year. However, for the Swiss it is one of the most popular places to ski in winter, and hike in summer!
One of the most jaw-dropping hikes I have done in the area is the loop around the lakes of the Joeriseen. It is actually hard to believe the blue colors of each lake, as they appear almost surreal as you approach them. They range from the tiny, to the huge, and the colors vary almost as much as well.
This is a fairly long day hike, so give yourself at least 4-5 hours hiking time, as well as time to stop, take pictures and perhaps have lunch at the lakes. Also be aware that you need to be quite fit as it ascends and descends almost 1000m (3300 ft) over the course of the hike.
The hike is reachable by bus from Davos, as well as from the southern part of Switzerland called Engadine, if you happen to be visiting areas like St Moritz.
Cabane de Moiry
If you are down in the Wallis area of Switzerland, then this is one of my favorite short but stunning hikes to do. It starts just past the insanely blue damn of Moiry, and ascends to an alpine hut sitting right on the side of a beautiful glacier.
You can do this as a half day return hike, or an overnighter. We actually did it from the neighboring valley, from La Forclaz, which was a very long hike indeed. But you could also combine it with a hike from the start of the Moiry dam, where there is also a bus stop you can begin at.
The area around here is one of my favorites in Switzerland and also includes the valley of Zinal and another hike there I absolutely recommend if you are quite fit. This one however, is actually quite short and achievable for most people, just be aware that it is at an altitude where you start to get a little short of breath as you ascend.
Cabane du Grand Mountet
This is a hike I only managed to do this summer, but it certainly left an impression. Not only was it a very challenging hike, but the scenery is some of the most stunning I have seen on any hike in Switzerland.
This is ideally an overnight hike, where you sleep in the a Swiss mountain hut for the night. They provide you a very narrow mattress to sleep on (bring your own sleeping sheet if you can) as well as dinner and breakfast. Don’t expect high level cuisine here, but you will have more than enough to eat. They also have soft drinks and alcohol, all of which is flown in by helicopter every week, so the prices are not super cheap (or that expensive all things considered).
The hike itself begins in the car park just outside of Zinal, and ascends the side of the valley all the way to the end. Here you get a stunning 360 degree view of 4000m mountains filled with glaciers. It’s a stunning place to just stop and take in the view, both sunset and sunrise if you can. And the hike itself is amazing as well.
Given the length and altitude of this hike though, I only recommend it for the fit, and experienced, as I found it quite taxing and I have been doing this for decades.
The Haute Route
Probably the most well-known of Switzerland’s long-distance hiking trails, but in many ways also one of the most challenging. It actually started out as a ski race from Chamonix to Zermatt, and eventually become a hiking route as well. And having done most of the route myself, I can only take my hat off to those who do it in winter!
The area covered by this multi-day hike is stunning. However, it is also some of the most challenging hiking I have done in Switzerland. The terrain can be rocking and difficult underfoot, but the sheer distance and altitude is what makes it most difficult.
You have to cross around 11 passes (the exact route has various additions and shortcuts, so there is no “exact” route) taking in around 21,000m (69,000ft) ascent and 28,000m (93,000ft) descent. And depending on how fast you walk, it can take anywhere from 6-15 days. So, it is certainly no mean feat.
For me, the highlights of this hike including the beginning around Mt Blanc, Western Europe’s highest peak. The areas around Zinal and Arolo, with their soaring peaks and glaciers. And the final arrival in Zermatt, with the infamous Matterhorn in the distance.
Alpine Panorama Trail
Spanning the whole of Switzerland from Lichtenstein East, to Montreux on Lake Geneva in the South West, this trail covers some of the best scenery in Switzerland and is a great choice, if you are serious about hiking in Switzerland. It is normally done in 20 stages, covering a total of 390km (242 miles).
But it is not the length of this hike that is challenging, although some days can certainly be tough at over 8 or 9 hours walking time. It is the 14 alpines passes you have to cross, hiking up over 23600 m (16300 ft) and descending over 24800 m (15400 ft) over the course of the hike.
Some of the highlights of this epic trail include hiking past Engelberg, one of Switzerland’s highest and most popular ski resorts. Traversing the valleys below the Eiger and Jungfrau, taking in Grindelwald and Lauterbrunnen along the way.
Visiting some lesser known, but still stunning areas like the Oechinensee, the Klausenpass, and the home of the Swiss Meringue, Meiringen. And finally, the descent down to Lake Geneva with the stunning views of the distant French Alps and the huge lake below.
This is not a trail for the faint of heart, and is quite a commitment. However, you can do parts of the trail if you are in these areas, so don’t dismiss it completely, even if you never do the whole thing.
Final Thoughts and Tips
There are more hikes than you can do in a lifetime in Switzerland. Trust me, I have tried to do them all. But there are a good taster for anyone wanting to do a small hike while visiting, or bite off a larger week-long hike as a vacation.
If you are looking for more ideas on hikes you can either head to Schweiz Mobile, with their super-helpful interactive map, or to Outdoor Active, where I often get great ideas for a weekend away hiking in the alps.
About Anna from Expert World Travel:
Anna was born to travel the world having studied languages all her life. Although she has traveled the world, she now calls Switzerland home and spends her time writing about her experiences on Expert World Travel. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.