Hiking in Switzerland
Switzerland probably has more kilometers of marked hiking paths per capita than any other nation. Its 50,000 km (30,000 miles) of trails fall under three headings:
Wanderwege are found in valleys, by lakes, and between towns. They're identified by signs with yellow markings. (In some cases, yellow metal markers or paint blazes are used to help you stay on the route.) If you're in good health and wearing rubber-soled shoes, the average Wanderweg shouldn't pose any challenge.
Bergwege are higher-altitude "mountain paths" with white and red markings. Most aren't difficult, but you'll need to take it easy if you're in poor shape or have heart problems.
Alpine Routen or "alpine routes" are marked with white-and-blue signs. They tend to be rugged (often with dropoffs), and you may encounter steep sections with cables or other handholds. Unless you're an experienced mountain hiker, you shouldn't try these paths without a guide.
Signs generally show estimated walking times to route junctions, villages, or huts. It's best to regard these times as minimums, since they don't allow for resting, picnicking, or sore feet.
When to come
Well-marked paths won't do you much good if you're lost in a blizzard, so you'll need to plan your trip for the right time of year.
In general, the alpine hiking seasons runs from mid-June through mid-September. Come earlier, and you may find snow on shady paths at higher elevations; arrive later, and your hiking plans might be spoiled by an early snowstorm.
At lower elevations and on the south side of the Alps, the hiking season begins in May and continues through October. Hiking on paved paths around major Swiss cities or towns is enjoyable at any time of year unless the weather is wet and miserable (which it can be--why do you think Switzerland is so green?).
During the winter, many ski resorts keep local paths clear for walkers. The steeper paths can be icy at times--my husband once broke the wheel off our baby's stroller when he made an involuntary glissade down a St. Moritz path--but on sunny days, it's possible to to hike the plowed hiking trails in shirtsleeves or a light sweater.
Where to go
It's hard to give a definitive answer to the question, "Where should I hike in Switzerland?" Still, here are a few suggestions to help you make a decision:
Theis one of Switzerland's most popular regions. Most hikers gravitate to the Jungfrau district around Interlaken, and with good reason: The area's resorts offer hotels and hostels in every price range, hiking distances are short, and an excellent network of cogwheel trains, funiculars, cable cars, and other lifts make it easy to reach spectacular scenery.
For more information, see our articles about Interlaken, Wengen, Gimmelwald, Mürren, Lauterbrunnen, and Grindelwald-First. If you're coming early or late in the season, or if you aren't comfortable at high altitudes, you may enjoy the hiking paths near Thun and Brienz.
St. Moritz) is justifiably popular for its beautiful scenery and accessible mountain trails. The Swiss National Park is worth a visit if you'd like to see ibex, chamois, and other wild animals in their natural habitat.(and especially the Engadine district near
Cardada Cable Car article.), the Italian-speaking canton on the south side of the Alps, is a good place to hike in spring and fall. (See our
Finally, cities like Zürich, Geneva, Bern, Lausanne, and Lucerne offer plenty of hiking opportunities nearby--especially if you combine your hiking with local excursions by train, postal bus, or lake steamer.
What to take
There's no need to bring a special wardrobe unless you plan to spend most of your time above the treeline, climbing mountains or hiking between Swiss Alpine Club huts.
The main things you'll need are:
(But don't bring heavy, stiff-soled mountaineering boots unless you're planning to scramble up an Alp. There's an old saying that a pound on the feet is like five pounds on the back--and in any case, rigid half-inch soles can make it difficult to get a footing on gravel or uneven terrain.)
Easy in the Swiss and Austrian Alps
Switzerland - The Swiss Way:
What not to bring
What to buy in Switzerland
Swiss maps tend to be high in quality but expensive. If you're hiking around a specific resort, you can often save money by purchasing a local hiking map from the tourist office.
Swiss hiking Web sites
Copyright © 1996-2018 Durant and Cheryl Imboden. All rights reserved.