SWITZERLAND and the ALPS hiking guide

The Alps of Europe are a paradise for hikers. This article describes how to plan your hiking trip beneath spectacular peaks such as Eiger, Jungfrau, Matterhorn, Mont Blanc, and Piz Palü. Here are the Alps in a nutshell:

  1. Switzerland: Berner Oberland & neighboring Loetschental.
  2. Mont Blanc and the High Route: Trek the Haute Route from Chamonix’s Mont Blanc (France) to Zermatt’s Matterhorn (through Switzerland’s Valais/Wallis canton). Hike the Mont Blanc Circuit, or day hike from Chamonix and Courmayeur (Italy).
  3. Switzerland: more in Valais/Wallis canton: Fiesch (Eggishorn); Verbier (Lake Louvie)
  4. Switzerland: Engadine Valley: trekking advice and itinerary for 5+ days.
  5. Appenzell: trek for 1-5 days through a splendid microcosm of Swiss traditions.
  6. Schaffhausen canton: see attractive Schaffhausen’s old town, Rhine Falls and historic Stein am Rhein. 

Separate articles cover the Dolomites in Italy and Slovenian Alps:

Alps favorite images from hiking in Switzerland, France, Italy, and Slovenia

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Practical advice for self-guided trips in Switzerland and the Alps
  • Transportation:
    • In your home country before departure, buy a Swiss Pass for free travel on most Swiss rail lines and Post Buses (discounted for 2+ people traveling together, or age 60+, or under age 26) and discounts on most lifts. Various Flexi Pass options save money for public transportation on days of your choice everywhere in Switzerland.
      • For one-way hikes within Switzerland: Post your luggage ahead to train and Post stations, or have hotels send your bags ahead.
    • Renting a car can beat train prices for 3 or more people traveling together (though parking can be a problem in big cities).
  • Money: Switzerland costs are similar to resort areas of the USA. From 2005-2016, exchanging the US dollar for Swiss Francs has been better than for the Euro (used in France, Italy, and Austria).
    • Save on food: Pack a thermos bottle to fill at your hotel in the morning for hot drinks during the day, along with a sack lunch from the Coop or Migros grocery store. Restaurants are expensive. Finding a flat with kitchen was our favorite deal in the Dolomites.
  • Use hiking poles (as do Europeans) to assist ascents, protect your joints on descents and improve hiking stamina by 20%.
  • Time change: set your watch +9 hours from Pacific Standard Time (PST=west coast USA) to get Central European time (CEST is GMT+1). Allow a full day to recover from travel weariness and severe jet lag, plus 2 or 3 days to recover your sleep schedule.
  • Guidebooks: Buy a travel guidebook plus hiking guidebook at bottom of this article for planning and reference along the way.
Switzerland map 1: five-week hiking itinerary, August 2016
A geographic travel map of Switzerland shows a month itinerary starting from Zurich (doing 25 hikes in 35 days July 27-August 30) in Schaffhausen, Stein am Rhein, Appenzell, Berner Oberland, Valais canton (Fiesch, Verbier, Zermatt) and Engadine Valley, in Europe. (Tom Dempsey)

Map 1: A geographic travel map of Switzerland shows a 5-week itinerary starting from Zurich (doing 25 hikes in 35 days July 27-August 30, 2016) in Schaffhausen, Stein am Rhein, Appenzell, Berner Oberland, Valais canton (Fiesch, Verbier, Zermatt) and Engadine Valley. (Tom Dempsey)

Switzerland map 2: one-month hiking itinerary, September 2005
A geographic travel map of Switzerland shows a month itinerary starting from Zurich and doing 20 hikes in Berner Oberland, Chamonix (France), Zermatt, and Engadine Valley, Europe. (Tom Dempsey)

Map 2: In 2005, Carol and Tom Dempsey hiked 20 days during a month in Switzerland, via Zurich, Berner Oberland, the High Route from Chamonix (France) to Zermatt, and Engadine Valley. (Tom Dempsey)

Weather and hiking season in the Alps (Switzerland, France, Austria, Italy)
  • July 1 through August 15 is high tourist season, after which local kids go back to school and parents don’t have as much time to visit the tourist areas, which are then less crowded. Our trip July 27-August 30, 2016 had almost perfect weather, vast variety of wildflowers, and little problem with crowds (lots of lodging options).
  • July to early August has the best wild flower displays. We were still impressed by flowers in September 2005.
  • Late August through September is a great time to go for good weather and also avoiding crowds. Yellow larch and other impressive fall colors begin in middle to late September. Many mountain huts start closing in early September. Stay in valley hotels all year. Hiking season continues through October in the Dolomites, Italy, which are consistently clearer, warmer and drier than the Alps of Switzerland, France & Austria, which are further north.
  • Swiss hiking season ends about late September or early October due to snow in the mountains and the closure of many visitor facilities. When winter snowpack builds up a few months later, the Alps throng with skiers, creating bigger winter crowds than summer in ski areas such as Zermatt, where building booms have provided lots of lodging.

Mountain weather varies by region:

  • A north wind generally means good weather in the Alps.
  • Check the useful weather forecast for specific ranges, peaks, and altitudes:
  • Check weather forecasts and start hiking early in the morning. In many mountain areas, sun heating the ground in the morning can often build up clouds and thunderstorms in the afternoon. Patient photographers can look for attractive cloud breaks in the hours around sunset.
  • Switzerland:
    • The Valais, Zermatt, and Matterhorn tend to be sunny and dry with the highest hikes in the country.
    • Bernese Oberland and the Eiger are much rainier than the Valais and Engadine. The astounding beauty of ice clad peaks soaring high above verdant green pastures sprinkled with wildflowers must be seen to be believed.
  • France: Chamonix climate is somewhere between Geneva and Zermatt, one of the drier alps areas in the rain shadow of Mont Blanc. September to early October is best hiking weather.
  • Dolomites, Italy (click for article): September through October are consistently clearer, warmer, drier in the Dolomites than in the Alps of Switzerland, France & Austria. Southern and southeastern areas are foggier than the rest of the Dolomites. Excellent overnight hut walking options include:
    • Rifugio Lagazuoi
    • Tre Cime di Lavaredo (in Italian), Drei Zinnen (in German), or “Three Pinnacles” (in English) circuit with refugios.
Global warming is quickly melting most Alps glaciers

1. Switzerland: Berner Oberland and neighboring Loetschental

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UNESCO lists Jungfrau-Aletsch-Bietschhorn as a World Heritage Area featuring the most glaciated part of the Alps, Europe’s largest glacier, and a range of classic glacial features such as U-shaped valleys, cirques, horn peaks, and moraines. The ongoing uplift and compression that formed the High Alps has left an outstanding geological record. A diversity of flora and wildlife thrives in a range of Alpine and sub-Alpine habitats. In the wake of retreating glaciers, witness the colonization and succession of flowers and plants. The impressive vista of the North Wall of the High Alps, centered on the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau peaks, has played an important role in European art and literature.

Berner Oberland and Loetschental hiking tips, Switzerland

The Berner Oberland (Bernese Highlands, Bernese Oberland, or Bernese Alps) is the southern and higher elevation part of Bern canton, in Switzerland.

How to get there: From Zurich downtown train station, ride 4 hours to Interlaken, where you board a train to scenic Grindelwald Valley or spectacular Lauterbrunnen Valley.

  • www.myswissalps.com/berneseoberland/ web site thoroughly describes most Berner Oberland hikes…
  • Mannlichen Gipfel
    • is the site of my best selling image: Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau 81ALP-04-15.
    • Männlichen mountain (2343 meters elevation or 7687 feet) provides a stunning view of the peaks of Eiger (Ogre 13,026 feet), Mönch (Monk), and Jungfrau (Virgin 13,600 feet). Männlichen can be reached from Wengen by the Luftseilbahn Wengen-Männlichen (LWM) cable car, or from Grindelwald using the Gondelbahn Grindelwald-Männlichen (GM) gondola. Then walk 15 minutes on a paved path to the summit. Go before 1:30PM to avoid afternoon cloud buildup. Return down the hill, then traverse 2 leisurely hours to Kleine Scheidegg train station, facing stunning mountain views at every turn! A special cog train runs from Lauterbrunnen to Wengen to Kleine Scheidegg to Grindelwald and back.
  • Lauterbrunnen Valley
    • Wander around Lauterbrunnen town and valley for amazing views, including 1000-foot-high Staubbach Falls.
    • Hike from Mürren (or Gimmelwald) up towards Birg and the Schilthorn as we did, and take the cable car back down for a very scenic day (or lift up and walk down).
      • Or walk Mürren to Griesalp one way 10 miles, 3000-4000 feet gain, then take the Kiental bus out.
      • Or if you have more energy, stay overnight in Griesalp and continue walking from Griesalp to Kandersteg.
    • On a rainy day, visit “Trummelbach Falls inside the mountain,” an underground slot canyon (entry fee).
  • Faulhorn Trail from Schynige Platte to First is one of the finest hikes in Switzerland.
    • Walk 6.5 hours, 9 miles, ~2700 feet elevation gain. (Optionally reverse direction for less uphill, 2300 feet total, arriving at Schynige Platte by 17:00 or 18:00 to catch the last train.) A sunny uncloudy day is required to see vast mountain views. See hike #39 in “100 Hikes in the Alps” by The Mountaineers.
    • Directions: Stage the hike from lodging in Grindelwald. Take Wilderswil cog rail 1 hour to trailhead at Schynige Platte (2068m). Hike by fantastic rock shapes in a deep valley. Hike east side of Bachalpsee. Ascend 15 minutes side trip to Faulhorn. Optionally overnight on top in atmospheric Berghotel Faulhorn for stunning sunset and sunrise views. Photographers should plan to reach spectacular First at the end the hike in the afternoon, because sun striking early morning haze obscures mountain details. At First (2168 meters elevation), lift down to Grindelwald, or from Mittelläger take the ~hourly Post bus.
    • Even better, start at Eigeralp farm (optionally overnight, eigeralp.ch) in Bussalp (above Grindelwald) with a fresh farm breakfast, watch alpine cheese-making, then hike a shorter route to First gondola. Every day, Eigeralp farm produces a variety of artisan cheeses and Alpine butter from raw milk in a large cauldron over an open fire. For breakfast, enjoy fresh bread from the oven, Alpine butter, various cheeses, yogurt, homemade jams, coffee, tea and fresh milk! While Eigeralp’s huts were built in 1892, its traditional cheese hut dates from the 1600s. While breakfasting, gaze over the peaks of Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau in astoundingly spectacular high meadows. Getting there: ride the private GrindelwaldBus.ch to the last stop in Bussalp, then ascend 40 minutes on foot. Hike a very spectacular trail from Eigeralp farm in upper Bussalp, around Faulhorn to Bachalpsee, finishing at the gondola lift station at First, which descends to Grindelwald BGF.
  • Lötschental (or Loetschental) is a less-touristed valley in the Valais Canton, just south of the Berner Oberland.
    • Stay in attractive Blatten. Enjoy a 3-mile walk one way up valley to Kuhmad Chapel (built 1758), past historic wood hayloft buildings and restored wooden chalets. Catch bus at Fafleralp and return to Blatten.
    • For best views of Loetschental and the sharp ridge of the Bietschorn, from Fafleralp, hike to Krindellücke (5 miles round trip, 2.5 hours, 1542 feet gain). See Hike #30 in “100 Hikes in the Alps.”
  • Kandersteg
    • is reached by train or road from Brig to the south or Spiez to the north.
    • Oeschinensee is a very popular alpine lake walled with high cliffs. See hike #36 in “100 Hikes in the Alps.” Start hiking in Kandersteg, 6 miles round trip (4 hours), 1400 feet gain (or only 30 minutes round trip hiking from top of chairlift). Late afternoon photo light is best for the famous “calendar shot” — try for a windless day for best lake reflections. From the lake, optionally walk 1 or 2 nights one way to Lauterbrunnen, staying in mountain lodging.
  • Fiesch: Eggishorn lift 
    • Take the cable car from Fiesch to Eggishorn (2893 meters elevation at top of lift), to see a spectacular view of the Grosser Aletsch Glacier (Großer Aletschgletscher), which flows from Jungfrau. From this great viewpoint at Eggishorn, if no ice or snow affects your safety, start a hike to Riederalp (9 miles one way, with 700 feet gain), optionally via Donnerstafel, Bettmersee, and Blausee, and crossing over the ridgeline for the best long-distance views. Then walk towards Rieder Furka and the cable car at Riederalp. (Option: After admiring Eggishorn’s view, take cable car back to middle terminal to shorten the hike and avoid slippery snow if present.) After finishing the walk at Riederalp, take the cable car down to Morel, where you can take the train back to Fiesch or down the valley to Brig. See Hike #34 in “100 Hikes in the Alps.” (Fiesch is 2.5 hours by train from Kandersteg.)

2. Mont Blanc and the High Route: Trek from Chamonix’s Mont Blanc to Zermatt’s Matterhorn in the Valais

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Mountain excursions in Chamonix, France
  • Lac Blanc: Hike 6 miles, with 1800 feet vertical elevation gain one way, after taking La Flégère cable car lift. Start on La Flégère cable car at the north edge of Les Praz de Chamonix, one train stop or 10 minutes by bus from Chamonix. Behold the stunning Mont Blanc Massif across the valley. Day hike or stay overnight at Refuge du Lac Blanc for sunset and sunrise reflection of the spectacular rock needles rising above Chamonix Valley. See hike #12 in “100 Hikes in the Alps.”
  • Lacs Noirs and Cornu, 5.5 miles, 2000 feet: Take Le Brévent télécabine (gondola lift, 20 minutes). Optionally combine with the above Lac Blanc hike. See hike #13 in “100 Hikes in the Alps.”
  • Aiguille du Midi: Don’t miss the Téléphérique de l’Aiguille du Midi cable car from Chamonix (France) to a spectacular shoulder of the Mont Blanc Massif.
    • Take the world’s highest vertical ascent cable car, from 1035 meters to 3842 m (12,605 feet elevation) for an unforgettable, must-do experience.
    • If weather is good on top of Aiguille du Midi, board the Vallee Blanche Aerial Tramway (Funivia dei Ghiacciai, or Télécabine Panoramic Mont-Blanc) to Pointe Helbronner.
    • Optionally take the cable car (Funivie Monte Bianco) from Helbronner Point to Refuge Torino to La Palud near Courmayeur, in the Aosta Valley, Italy.
      • Walk a short distance on snow from Refuge Torino station to Col du Géant for stunning mountain views.
    • In good weather, take the lifts round trip. Or bus from La Palud or Courmayeur through the Mont Blanc Tunnel back to Chamonix.
Hut to hut walking on the High Route
  • The 112-mile Haute Route (High Route) from Chamonix-Mont-Blanc (France) to Zermatt (Switzerland) offers Old World charm and dramatic scenery from Mont Blanc to the Matterhorn. The whole trek takes two weeks.
  • The first three days of the Haute Route grandly introduce the Alps:
    • Day 1 (2-5 hours hiking): Start with Lac Blanc (as above) and stay in the a hut for panoramic views, with sunset and sunrise reflections of the spectacular rock needles rising above Chamonix Valley.
    • Day 2 (5-7 hours): Look for ibex (wild goats) on the way to Col de Balme, the first of 11 high passes on the Haute Route. End the day at Refuge du Peuty.
    • Day 3 (5-7 hours): After a rocky climb to Fênetre d’Arpette, with views of the Glacier du Trient, descend through meadows to the bus at Champex (or keep walking onwards to Zermatt to complete the Haute Route).
  • My High Route photographs continue as follows, with help from lifts and buses letting us hike high in the alps, then sleep low in valley hotels:
    • In 2016, we hiked scenic Lac Louvie (see further below), well worthwhile.
    • In 2005, we continued from Haute Route Day 3 above with public transit from Champex to Arolla, in the municipality of Evolène, in Val d’Hérens. Hiking upwards from Arolla past herding sheds in Alp Pra Gra, we saw the peaks of Les Dents des Veisivi reflected in a tarn. You can optionally stay in dormitories in mountain refuge Cabane des Aiguilles Rouges overlooking Aiguilles de la Tsa and Mont Collon (3637 meters / 11,932 feet) at the head of Val d’Hérens. But we stayed comfortably in a private ensuite double room down in Hotel du Pigne d’Arolla.
    • From Arolla in Val d’Hérens, we crossed Col du Torrent, seeing Dent Blanche (“White Tooth” 14,291 feet / 4356 m) in the Pennine Alps, descending to the turquoise reservoir of Lake Moiry. Fireweed bloomed pink along the trail. Overnight in ritzy Hotel Bella Tolla in the French village of Saint Luc.
    • We walked eastwards from St. Luc, rode up the Tignousa funicular, then walked up 2500 feet to Meidpass, then descended 3400 feet to the German village of Gruben, for a total hike of 9 miles. Meidpass is boundary between French and German cultural areas in Valais/Wallis canton.
    • In Gruben the next day, snow in the passes caused us to take public transit to reach Zermatt instead of hiking, to complete our High Route.
  • Lodging options:
    • Huts/refuges cost $25 to $80 per night per person with meals (2005). Photographs can capture more spectacular sunrise/sunset light up in huts than from hotels down in valleys. Hut info: ohm-chamonix.com and Swiss Alpine Club.
    • Valley hotels: Take lifts, hike high, and sleep low in comfortable hotels or hostels nestled in each valley. We loved a 10-day self-guided “Hiker’s Haute Route” luxury package from Ryder-Walker Alpine Adventures.
Mont Blanc Circuit (Tour du Mont Blanc)
  • is one of the great treks of the world, very spectacular and more crowded than the Haute Route. Hike hut to hut, from France to Italy to Switzerland, all on foot in about 8-10 days around the Mont Blanc Massif (or Monte Bianco in Italian).
  • Or day hike the highlights from hotels based in Chamonix, France (above) and Courmayeur, Italy (below).
Hikes and lifts in Courmayeur, Italy
  • Mont Blanc in French is called Monte Bianco in Italian.
  • Courmayeur, Italy, is a short bus or car ride from Chamonix through the convenient Mont Blanc Tunnel.
  • In clear weather, don’t miss the cable car from La Palud (via Refuge Torino) to Pointe Helbronner, then lift to Aiguille du Midi. Optionally take cable car down to Chamonix.
    • Hike Col du Géant: Near entry to Mont Blanc Tunnel, take La Palud cable car to Refuge Torino (3375 meters elevation). Optionally stay overnight in Refuge Torino (250 beds, reserved 1 week ahead with Italian Alpine Club, CAI) to experience a magical sunset and sunrise. Walk a short distance on snow from Refuge Torino to Col du Géant, a stunning mountain view. See over Vallée Blanche from the Brenva Face of Mont Blanc and over the Aiguilles to Géant.
  • Monte Bianco View: 8 miles one way, about 4.5 hours. From Courmayeur take the Val Veni bus westwards to end of pavement at 1955m, hike back via Col Chécrouit. Optionally take cable car from or to Col Chécrouit. Hike to Lac Chécrouit for a picturesque reflection. See a stunning view of mountain savagery (Aiguile Noir) from a spur of Mount Favre. Eat a festive lunch at La Maison Vieille on the mountain near the cable car. See hike #23 in “100 Hikes in the Alps.”
  • Hike northeast of Courmayeur:
    • Montagne de la Sax ridge: ~9 miles, ~4000 feet gain one way Courmayeur to Lavachey, sleep there or bus back. Hike high above Val Ferret through larch forest to some of the widest and grandest panoramas of the Mont Blanc Circuit. See back up Val Veni to Col de la Seigne and whole Mont Blanc Massif. Closer rocky peaks form an impressive wall: Géant, Grandes Jorasses, Leschaux, Triolet, and Mont Dolent.
    • Grand Col du Ferret: Drive car 6 miles or bus 10 miles, and hike steeply up ~2700 feet gain. Or hike into Swiss Val Ferret, and bus/train back to Courmayeur via Martigny, or continue hiking around the popular Mont Blanc Circuit.
    • See hike #24 in “100 Hikes in the Alps.”
Hikes in Zermatt, Switzerland
  • How to get there: The famous mountaineering and ski resort of Zermatt lies at 1620 meters (5310 feet) elevation at the head of Mattertal (Matter Valley) in the Pennine Alps, Valais canton, Switzerland. Most visitors reach Zermatt by cog railway train from the nearby town of Täsch (Zermatt shuttle). Trains also depart for Zermatt from farther down the valley at Visp and Brig on the main Swiss rail network. Small electric taxis serve Zermatt, which bars combustion-engine cars to help preserve small village atmosphere and prevent air pollution.
  • Gornergrat is spectacular cog train terminus located at 10,134 feet / 3130m elevation. The Gornergrat is the first point on a ridge that runs out to Hohtälligrat (3286m) and Stockhorn (3407m amidst a sea of ice) all linked by cable car from Gornergrat.
    • The Gornergrat cog wheel train ride takes 47 minutes from Zermatt station. 25% discount for holders of the Swiss Pass. Take the special dawn train for great a sunrise lighting up the Matterhorn. Leaving Zermatt, the earliest departures are 07:10, 08:00, 08:24… and the last departure is 19:12 as of 2005.
    • Sit on right-hand side of Gornergrat cog train for magical Matterhorn vistas. Hike up or down any portion:
      1. Take the cog rail to the Rotenboden stop, then hike east to Gornergrat 1000feet / 300m up in 1 hour, in 2.1 miles / 3.5 kilometers.
      2. A short walk on foot will reveal a sunrise reflection of the Matterhorn in Riffelsee and other tarns (ponds). Hike back via Gagihaupt peak (2568m).
      3. Hiking one way from Gornergrat down to Zermatt is 7.5 miles, down 5060 feet/1535meters, down in about 4 hours.
      4. Overnight option: Riffelberg Hotel (a stop of Gornergrat cog train) sits on spectacular exposed platform above the valley. Dorm beds 75 Swiss Francs per person with half board (dinner & breakfast, 2005); open until mid-October.
    • See hike #33 in “100 Hikes in the Alps.”
  • Stellisee and Fluhalp: Hike 5 miles/8k, 1700feet/500meters gain, 90 minutes up, 40 down. Take Sunnegga Express (7 minutes, an underground funicular train near east side of Visp River halfway between cemetery and Gornergrat cog rail). Or lift to Blauherd for 80m ascent to Hotel Fluhalp. Go east, below cliffs separating Sunnegga from Blauherd. Superb classic Matterhorn view and reflection. Hotel Fluhalp serves higher climbing huts.
  • Höhbalmen: mountain shoulder with great views, 3300 feet gain.

3. Switzerland: more in Valais/Wallis canton

Fiesch: Eggishorn

offers stunning views via cable car viewpoints and ridge walks above the Aletsch Glacier, biggest in Europe:

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Verbier: Lake Louvie

The nearby city of Martigny made a handy base for hiking scenic Lake Louvie, starting with gondola lifts in Verbier resort area:

The peaks of Grand Combin (4314 metres / 14,154 feet on left), Combin de Corbassière (center), and Petit Combin (right) rise above Cabane de Louvie hut on Lake Louvie in the Pennine/Valais Alps, Switzerland, Europe. Optionally stay overnight in dorms at Cabane de Louvie. The dramatic Chamois Path (Sentier des Chamois) starts at La Chaux ski lift and ends at Fionnay PostBus. Cross Col Termin (2648m/8688 ft) in Haut Val de Bagnes nature reserve and descend to Lake Louvie via 1800s stone barns to the north, then to Fionnay (640 m up, 1415 m down in 8.5 hours). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

The peaks of Grand Combin (4314 metres / 14,154 feet on left), Combin de Corbassière (center), and Petit Combin (right) rise above Cabane de Louvie hut on Lake Louvie in the Pennine/Valais Alps, Switzerland. Optionally stay overnight in dorms at Cabane de Louvie. The dramatic Chamois Path (Sentier des Chamois) starts at La Chaux ski lift and ends at Fionnay PostBus. Cross Col Termin (2648m/8688 ft) in Haut Val de Bagnes nature reserve and descend to Lake Louvie via 1800s stone barns to the north, then to Fionnay (640 m up, 1415 m down in 8.5 hours). 

4. Switzerland: Engadine trekking advice: Itinerary for 5+ days

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The Swiss valley of Engadine translates as the “garden of the En (or Inn) River” (Engadin in German, Engiadina in Romansh, Engadina in Italian), and is part of the Danube basin. Don’t miss hikes near glacier-clad Bernina Range in this suggested itinerary:

Ratings:  **** four stars = Fantastic.  *** three stars = Must do.  ** two stars = Worthwhile.  * one star = only if time allows.

  1. ** Day 1: Stay at in Scuol**, which has very attractive historic buildings and a covered bridge over the Inn/En River, with high mountains for an impressive backdrop. Hotel Guardaval** in Scuol has a great view and very friendly staff.
  2. ** Day 2: Walk from Scuol** to Guarda***, via Tarasp** historic castle and Ardez** (great sgraffito).
    • Alternative Route: Hike a longer, remote, higher route which starts from atop Motta Naluns ski lift, hiking via the pleasant & remote Tasna valley* along high pastures and forest to Guarda***.
    • Stay at Hotel Meisser** in beautifully preserved historic Guarda*** (call ahead).
    • * Optional Extra Day: Hike from Cinuos Chel Brail train station to Val Susauna* (a small village with a pretty church in an isolated valley) to Zuoz*, which is bigger but has a pleasant town square. A nice view of Upper Engadine opens out as you approach within a mile of Zuoz and on into the town.
  3. ** Day 3: From Muottas Muragl funicular** hike to Segantini Hut down to Pontresina via Alp Languard’s Sessellift (chair lift)**.
    • Optional extension: From Alp Languard, you can also add (or do on its own) a great loop trip along a ridge to Chamanna Paradis** Restaurant, which has a spectacular view of Piz Bernina massif and Morterasch Glacier. Nice moderate grades and great views, but very popular, so don’t expect solitude.
    • Pontresina lodging: Hotel Steinbock** had a tasty buffet included with excellent dinner.
  4. **** Day 4: Walk from Morteratsch (second train stop from Pontresina towards Bernina Pass) to Boval Hut. Boval Hut offers close views of Morteratsch Glacier amid an impressive cirque of the icy Bernina Massif. Optionally stay overnight in Boval Hut for a good sunrise light on the spectacular massif. The trail is well graded, not steep, only 5 or 6 miles round trip and 2700 feet gain/loss. Return via lower trail for partial loop. A world favorite day hike!
    • *** Alternative or extra day: continue from Pontresina on the Bernina Express*** train line (the most spectacular train in Switzerland) to the top of the pass, and get off at an interesting area such as Alp Grüm. Optional day hike to Sassal Mason hut. Optionally take the Diavolezza*** lift to stunning views, similar to Boval Hut but 1500-feet higher.
    • *** Alternative or extra day: Spectacular hike from Pontresina up the Roseg Valley to Coaz Hut and over Surlej Pass down to St Moritz. Or hike round trip to Tschierva Hut (a long day, 15.5 miles roundtrip, 2800 ft), also in Roseg Valley.
    • Sils Maria* is a quiet, pretty village on attractive Lake Segl*, reached via Post Bus, more relaxed and cheaper than staying in St Moritz. In Sils Maria, Hotel Edelweiss** is very luxurious, with dinner and good breakfast in a huge ornate ballroom with live piano. Alternative: Explore scraffito in the village of **Samedan, overnight.
    • * Extra Day: Walk from Sils Maria to “pasturesque” Grevasalvas* (setting for the movie Heidi, with some nice old stone buildings), to Lake Lunghin, and optionally up to alpine Piz Lunghin** then descend to Maloja Pass to catch the Post Bus back to Sils Maria.
  5. **** Day 5: Ride the Bernina-Diavolezza cable car for spectacular views of the Bernina Range. If not afraid of heights at Diavolezza, don’t miss the short, scenic, rocky hike to Munt Pers*** which gains 265 meters over 2 km one way.
  6. *** Day 6: Hike from comfy 1881 SportHotel Pontresina*** up idyllic Roseg Valley** to Fuorcla Surlej**** for stunning views of Piz Bernina and Piz Roseg, finishing at Corvatsch Mittelstation Murtel cable car. Walking 14 km, we went up 1100 meters and down 150 m. Then take the cable car upwards to Corvatsch top station to see the impressive view, before lifting downwards to Murtel and Lake Silvaplana to catch the PostBus. Optionally shorten the day to an easy out-and-back hike of just 4 kilometers via round trip lift from Murtel.
  7. *** Day 7: Walk from Cassacia (or Vicosoprano) to Soglio*** village (11 miles, 2000 feet up, 2900 feet down) on the Sentiero Panaramico***, a scenic trail marked with little yellow hiking signs. All three villages are on the Post Bus line. If starting at Cassacia (via Post Bus), the first hiking hour is through pleasant pastures and woods, but within earshot of a busy highway, and follows powerlines, past a dam retaining pretty turquoise water, and within view of another dam (forming lake Lagh da L’Albigna) looming amazingly high on the other side of the valley. After a few hours the Sentiero Panaramico leaves the power lines and progressively gets more aesthetically pleasing, with more and more spectacular views of the Sciora Range*** the closer you get to Soglio***, an attractive town with medieval narrow streets.
    • Lodging in Soglio***: Hotel La Soglina*** has a great view and large, modern, comfortable rooms.

5. Appenzell

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Appenzell offers wonderful trekking for 1-5 days in picture-perfect Swiss scenery, supported by lifts and cozy private double mountain hotels! Appenzell Innerrhoden is Switzerland’s most traditional and smallest-population canton (second smallest by area). The Appenzell Alps rise in northeast Switzerland between Lake Walen and Lake Constance.

Appenzell: a perfect trek of 2-4 days

  1. Our great walking trek (with Alpenwild.com tours) started with a 10-minute bus ride from quaint Appenzell village to Brülisau, where a cable car whisks up to Hoher Kasten (1795 m/5876 ft) mountain in the Alpstein limestone range of the Appenzell Alps. A spectacular ridge walk above the Rhine Valley reaches Berggasthaus Bollenwees, founded in 1903 at scenic Fälensee lake, a wonderful place to stay overnight in private double ensuite (or dormitory rooms). If you choose to ascend Hoher Kasten summit (1794 m) on foot instead of taking the lift, optionally stay overnight midway at Berggasthaus Staubern. Via cable car, Hoher Kasten ridge can also be done as a long day hike.
  2. The next day, admire sunrise on Fälensee lake. Cross Bötzel pass (in sight of Santis peak, our goal for day 3). Descend to Berggasthaus Meglisalp, which can only be reached on foot in the spectacular heart of the Alpstein range. This authentic mountain hostelry, owned by the same family for five generations, dates from 1897. Meglisalp is a working dairy farm, restaurant and guest house surrounded by majestic peaks (Altmann peak 2435m) rising above green pastures.
  3. From Meglisalp, a long ascent reaches Berggasthaus Rotsteinpass (2120 m) for lunch at a remote restaurant. Everyone was excited to see a large family of ibex crossing rocky & snowy slopes above. Weaving through limestone outcroppings, we ascended the stunning Lisengrat, a sinuous chain-protected trail to the summit of Säntis, one of the most exciting trails in the Alps. The rocky route is safely assisted by chains, but can be scary for those with fear of heights. Shared by three cantons, Säntis can be reached easily via cable car or with effort via trails, to see vast mountain views across six countries: Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, France and Italy. Säntis makes a great day trip, dining experience, or overnighter including fun walking the Lisengrat. When starting at Säntis (2502 m / 8218 feet elevation), the full Lisengrat ridge route goes down to Rotsteinpass then up to Altmann (2435 m / 7989 ft), connecting the two highest peaks in the Alpstein.
  4. In good morning weather atop Säntis, continue walking to scenic EbenalpBerggasthaus Aescher, and Wildkirchli cave, then descend to Wasserauen via cable car to catch the bus. (On Day 4 we escaped rain with a quick cable car descent from Säntis back to Appenzell via bus.)

6. Schaffhausen canton

is worth an excursion from Zurich or staying overnight a few days exploring the impressive Munot castle reflecting in the Rhine River at night, Schaffhausen’s old town, and nearby Rhine Falls:

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If you have extra days near Zurich or Schaffhausen, don’t miss the photogenic fresco-covered village of Stein am Rhein and historic St. George’s Abbey:

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Recommended Alps travel guidebooks from Amazon.com:

Search for latest “Alps travel books” on Amazon.com (look for updates every 1 to 3 years).

Bring a good country guide plus a detailed hiking guidebook:

2015: 2014: 2013:

2014: 2010: 2010: 2010:

8 thoughts on “SWITZERLAND and the ALPS hiking guide

  1. Gorgeous photos, and lots of useful info — thanks! My wife and I are limited to day hikes, up to 6 miles or so, and up to, say 1200 (maybe 1500) feet or so of elevation change. My reading suggests that the Bernese Oberland area would be fine for us. Would the Chamonix area also work? If yes, how would you compare the two? Thank you, Curt

    • The Bernese Oberland is full of wonderful beauty and variety, a great place to hang out, with quite a few hikes up to 6 miles/1200 ft, especially if you take various lifts.
      Chamonix is truly spectacular but may not have as many easy hikes or alternative activities when weather clouds the trails. Happy travels!

  2. I am interested in photographing fall foliage and lake reflection. I was told that Engadin Herbst is beautiful and also Dolomite. Would you recommend these places? When is the time for fall foliage in such places? Is it early, middle October or end September? What means of transportation is available for someone like myself who is interested in shooting fall foliage? Is renting a car a must? Are there any photo tours? Thank you for your sharing!

    • In Switzerland, colorful fall foliage (autumn/Herbst) begins its stunning beauty in late September through about the third week of October. Look for golden larch tree needles in early to mid October. Engadine has more glaciers and snow (around Pontresina and the Bernina Range), which I think enhances beauty of the landscape compared to the drier Dolomites. You can travel most everywhere in Switzerland by train and post buses, made economical with a special pass purchased first in your home country. Dolomites are better traveled in a private car, because buses are more limited. Photo tours can be found most everywhere, and local tourist offices can put you in touch.
      Check out my tour in Switzerland covering the Matterhorn and Eiger areas: Summer
      2013 June 29-July 6: Develop Your Photographic Genius with a Pro in the Alps.

      • Dear Tom, thanks for your reply. I have checked out your 2013 photo tour and interested in possibly joining the tour next year. I also look forward to your tour for fall foliage some day.

        I am interested in seeing fall colors in Switzerland. Where would you recommend for the best fall foliage? Engadine? What is the difference between Engadine and other places such as Lauterbrunnen for fall photography? Is the first week of October a good time time?

        On your description of the 5 day tour for Engadine, would you recommend one renting a car to move around? I am carrying various camera gears and tripods and concerned the walking distance each day. Yet, will the train, buses and cable cars bring one close enough to the photo shooting spots? Or is extensive walking, trekking or via car necessary for photographing in the area?

        Would you recommend one staying at a place as a base and explore the Engadine area? Would Pontresina (youth hostel) be a good spot as the base for sun-rise and sun-sets spots and also taking day trips around the Engadine area? Or is Pontresina too hustle/bustle?

        Thank you for your advice.

      • Second week of October may be an approximate peak of a month of fall foliage colors in Switzerland (which varies by altitude, tree species, climate, etc). Anywhere you find extensive golden larch and colorful deciduous tree forests (such as Zermatt in Valais Canton) should look great. Searching on Google finds some great fall color images of Engadine, which is easily toured by train and Post Bus (with a Swiss Pass purchased first in your home country), which take you close to most trailheads, which are well marked. Staying at one place for 2 to 5 days lets you relax and see how the photo light plays over the course of a day and makes good light and good weather more likely, plus you don’t waste as much time shifting luggage and learning the ropes of a new area. Pontresina is a relaxed small village on the Bernina Express train line (the most spectacular train in Switzerland) centrally located for day trips via trains/lifts to the best of Engadine. If you book some lodging flexibly as you go, you may find a better place to stay higher in the mountains for sunrise/sunset, if 2-3 day weather forecast is sunny: look for lodging at the top of lifts and end of mountain roads in Switzerland!

        If you don’t mind the extra cost of car rental+gas, driving gives your photography a flexible freedom as the weather and light change each day (as I did in Norway in 2011). Aesthetically, getting out walking and hiking away from roads and trains gives you an athletic and artistic high with a more pristine connection to nature.

        For travel, I recommend minimizing photo gear as described on my BUY>CAMERAS menu, such as one high res camera with 11x zoom and tripod, plus pocket camera for macro and backup.

        For more specific recommendations of where to tour, contact my friend Greg Witt at info@alpenwild.com (who is guiding my 2013 June 29-July 6 Alps Photo Workshop). Greg spends all summer guiding people through Switzerland and offers an October 2013 “JRR Tolkien Tour”: http://www.alpenwild.com/trip?trips_id=29.

  3. Let me know about photo trips in these areas 2012 or 2013. This year I’m going to either engadine region or bernese oberland grindelwald. Which would you do.

    Thanks for great info…..

    • My vote for the best part of Switzerland is the Bernese Oberland: for beauty, relaxed setting, and variety of spectacular hikes with glacier views. You could easily spend at least 1-2 weeks hiking in the Lauterbrunnen and Grindelwald area. In comparison, the Engadine region has colorful sgraffito art on historic buildings (as in characteristic Guarda village) and offers a scenic day hike from Morteratsch to Boval Hut. Also hike up Roseg Valley to Coaz Hut and over Surlej Pass to St Moritz, or hike round trip to Tschierva Hut (and let me know how it is as I haven’t yet walked Roseg Valley). Engadine has more of a Romansch and Italian flavor and feels a more like a ski resort for the rich in St Moritz area. Engadine adds refreshing variety to extend your experience of Switzerland. Regarding my trips open for public sign-up: We’re already past my summer 2012 workshop that was scheduled with AlpenWild.

      Please join me in summer 2013 (on the menu for BUY>CLASS SIGN-UP). Master your digital camera in a setting of breathtaking inspiration in the Bernese Oberland and Matterhorn areas! Short walks to areas of concentrated beauty make this 8-night Alps tour especially attractive for those with limited vacation time. With professional Alps guide Greg Witt leading our trip, my time is freed for teaching photographic skills to our cozy group of 5 to 10 participants. -Tom

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