Hiking Switzerland: 7 Great Swiss Alps Hikes
Switzerland is my favorite country on the planet… at least so far. I’ve been lucky enough to spend multiple trips hiking in Switzerland and enjoying the Alps in multiple seasons.
Hiking the Swiss Alps is a real treat for a few reasons. The well-maintained trails and reliable public transportation make for easy planning of a perfect day hike or even an extended hut-to-hut trek. The altitude is lower than that of, say, the Rockies, making it more accessible for many.
I’ve come across stunning wildflower meadows, pristine lakes, cattle with bells, dense forests, idyllic Swiss towns, and diverse wildlife. It’s truly an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise, with seemingly endless natural wonders just waiting to be explored.
Here are my 7 favorite hikes in Switzerland:
7 Great Swiss Hiking Trails
Bernese Oberland Trek
You can do bits and pieces of this hike, or you can knock out the entire thing. If you do it all, the Bernese Oberland Trek is a multi-day hike that spans approximately 70 miles (112 km) and takes around 6-10 days to complete, depending on your pace and itinerary. The trek is located in the heart of the Bernese Alps, and it offers breathtaking views of some of Switzerland’s most iconic peaks, including the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau.
The trek typically starts and ends in the town of Meiringen, which is located in the canton of Bern. The trail takes you through lush alpine meadows, past glacial lakes, and over high mountain passes. You’ll also have the chance to visit some very charming Swiss villages like Grindelwald, Lauterbrunnen, and Wengen along the way.
The Bernese Oberland Trek is a challenging hike that requires a good level of fitness and experience with mountain hiking. The trail is well-marked and maintained, but it does involve some steep ascents and descents, as well as some sections that require scrambling over rocks and boulders.
One of the highlights of the trek is the opportunity to stay in mountain huts along the way. These huts offer basic accommodation and meals, and they provide a unique and authentic Swiss mountain experience. The huts are located in some of the most scenic spots along the trail, and they offer stunning views of the surrounding mountains.
The Bernese Oberland Trek is a must-do for any serious hiker visiting Switzerland. It’s a challenging but rewarding trek that offers some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in the world.
Let’s say you love the idea of the Bernese Oberland Trek but you aren’t cut out for 6-10 days of backpacking. Hiking just the Lauterbrunnen Valley gives you an incredible bite-sized piece of the longer hike. This hike is a day-long hike that takes you through the heart of the valley, offering some of my favorite views views of the surrounding mountains and waterfalls.
The hike begins in the town of Lauterbrunnen and takes you through the valley, passing by several farms, classic Swiss homes, and small villages along the way. The trail is well-marked and relatively easy to follow, making it a great option for hikers of all skill levels.
The hike is approximately 14 kilometers long and takes around 6-7 hours to complete. The elevation gain is around 600 meters, making it a moderate hike in terms of difficulty.
Along the way, you will pass by several waterfalls and will get a nice glimpse in to the Bernese Oberland peaks. The highlight of the hike is undoubtedly the views of the famous Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau peaks, which dominate the skyline throughout the hike.
The Lauterbrunnen Valley hike is a fantastic option for those looking to experience the beauty of the Swiss Alps. With its stunning scenery and moderate difficulty level, it is a great choice for hikers of all skill levels.
The Haute Route is a popular multi-day hike that takes you from Chamonix, France, to Zermatt, Switzerland. The route is approximately 180 km long and takes about 10-12 days to complete. The hike is challenging and is recommended for experienced hikers, and those who can handle the logistics of a point-to-point hike where you don’t return to your original starting point.
The Haute Route takes you through some of the most stunning landscapes in the Alps, or perhaps the entire world, including glaciers, high mountain passes, and picturesque valleys. You will also get to see some of the highest peaks in the region, including Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn.
The hike usually starts across the border in Chamonix, a charming town located at the foot of Mont Blanc. From there, you will hike through the French and Swiss Alps, passing through small villages and mountain huts along the way. The highest point of the hike is the Col de la Forclaz, which sits at an elevation of 2,987 meters.
The Haute Route is a challenging hike that requires good physical fitness and experience in mountaineering. You will need to be prepared for long days of hiking and be comfortable with carrying a heavy backpack. However, the stunning scenery and sense of accomplishment make it all worth it.
4 Lakes Hike
One of my favorite hikes in Switzerland is the 4 Lakes Hike. This hike is a moderate day hike that takes you through some beautiful scenery and past four stunning alpine lakes.
The hike is approximately 11 kilometers long and has an elevation gain of around 600 meters. It starts and ends in the town of Engelberg, which is located in central Switzerland.
The hike is moderately challenging, with some steep sections and uneven terrain. However, it is suitable for most hikers with a moderate level of fitness.
During the hike, you will pass by four stunning alpine lakes: Trübsee, Engstlensee, Tannensee, and Melchsee. Each lake has its own unique charm and is worth stopping at for a break or a picnic.
In addition to the lakes, the hike also takes you through some beautiful alpine scenery, including meadows, forests, and mountain peaks.
I like the 4 Lakes Hike because it is an attainable way for many people to have a day in some classic Swiss Alps settings. It is definitely worth doing if you find yourself in central Switzerland.
5 Lakes Hike
The 5 Lakes Hike is a stunning day hike that takes you through some of the most beautiful lakes in the mountains of Switzerland. This hike is approximately 14 kilometers long and takes around 5-6 hours to complete. The elevation of the hike is around 1,500 meters, making it a moderate hike suitable for most hikers. Of the two “lakes” hikes, this is the harder one. The 4 Lakes hike is a little easier.
The hike starts in the picturesque town of Zermatt — a place with plenty of lodging options — and takes you through the stunning Matterhorn glacier paradise. As you hike through the area, you will come across five different lakes, each with its unique beauty. The first lake you will encounter is the Stellisee, a crystal-clear lake that reflects the Matterhorn in its waters. The second lake is the Grindjisee, which is surrounded by lush green meadows and stunning mountain peaks.
The third lake is the Moosjisee, which is known for its calm and tranquil waters. The fourth lake is the Grünsee, which is surrounded by dense forests and offers a peaceful and serene atmosphere. The fifth and final lake is the Riffelsee, which is famous for its stunning reflection of the Matterhorn in its waters.
I think the 5 Lakes Hike is a must-do for any hiker visiting western Switzerland. The views are great, and I really enjoy spending time in Zermatt.
Tour des Muverans
The Tour des Muverans is a multi-day hike that takes you through the stunning Alpine landscapes of the Muveran mountain range in the Canton of Vaud. The hike is approximately 65 kilometers long and takes around 4-5 days to complete, depending on your pace. But as with any of these longer hikes, you can knock out just a day of the trail if you have the right transportation arrangements.
The trail starts and ends in the charming village of Gryon, which is easily accessible by train from Geneva or Lausanne. The elevation of the hike ranges from 800 to 2,500 meters, so be prepared for some steep climbs and descents.
The Tour des Muverans is considered a challenging hike, but the effort is well worth it. Along the way, you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains, valleys, and lakes. You’ll also pass through several charming alpine villages, where you can stop for a meal or a drink.
One highlight of the hike is the stunning Lac de Tanay, a crystal-clear alpine lake surrounded by towering peaks. Another highlight is the Col de la Croix, which offers panoramic views of the Rhone Valley and the Swiss Alps.
For someone who is looking for a quality day hike near Geneva, this is a good option. Driving from Geneva to Gryon is just around 90 minutes, in good weather and traffic.
Glattalp Lake is a beautiful alpine lake located in the heart of the Glarus Alps. This hike is a moderate day hike that takes approximately 4-5 hours to complete round trip. The hike starts from the small village of Klöntal and ascends over 600 meters through lush alpine meadows and rocky terrain before reaching the crystal-clear waters of Glattalp Lake.
The trail is well-marked and easy to follow, with stunning views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. The hike is suitable for most hikers, but be prepared for some steep sections and rocky terrain. Proper hiking shoes and clothing are recommended.
At the top of the trail, you will be rewarded with breathtaking views of Glattalp Lake and the surrounding peaks. The lake is a stunning shade of turquoise and is surrounded by towering mountains. Take some time to relax and enjoy the peaceful surroundings before heading back down the trail.
How to pack for a Swiss Alps hike
When packing for a hike in Switzerland, the first thing I consider is the weather. Like any mountain destination, the weather in the Swiss Alps can be unpredictable, so I always include layers in my clothing selection. My packing list typically includes a moisture-wicking base layer, a warm insulating layer, and a waterproof outer layer to protect against rain and wind. I make sure all my items are lightweight and quick-drying.
I also like to have a waterproof backpack to keep everything in, just in case that random afternoon rain shower decides to soak me for a few minutes.
Footwear is essential for a good hike. If I am doing a through-hike for multiple days, I go with waterproof hiking boots. If I’m just doing a day hike, I often choose some of the all-purpose shoes that I like for Europe trips. Additionally, I pack extra socks to keep my feet dry and blister-free. Comfortable hiking clothes, such as quick-drying pants or shorts, are also part of my packing list.
Next, I consider basic hiking gear and safety items. My packing list includes:
- A comfortable and right-sized backpack
- A map and a compass or GPS device (your phone might not always work!)
- A multi-functional headlamp with extra batteries
- A first-aid kit and personal medications
- A whistle for emergency situations
- An external charger for my electronics
Best Seasons for Hiking Switzerland
In my experience, Switzerland provides stunning hiking opportunities throughout the year, but each season has its pros and cons depending on a hiker’s preferences. Let me take you through the hiking experiences in all four seasons.
Spring in Switzerland usually starts from March till May. The snow slowly melts away, revealing beautiful blooming flowers like crocus and Alpine roses, and the temperatures begin to rise, making it an enjoyable time to hike in the lower altitudes. However, in the higher altitudes, trails may still be covered with snow and ice, limiting the accessibility of some routes. If the snow melt occurs on time or early, Spring can be a great time to be on these trails, because not many others will be there.
As the temperatures rise and the days get longer, Summer (June to August) is arguably the most popular season for hiking in Switzerland. You can expect to access even the high-altitude trails and witness breathtaking views of the Swiss Alps. The downside of hiking during this season is that the trails can be more crowded and accommodations have to be booked well in advance.
When Autumn (September to November) arrives, Switzerland becomes a colorful canvas of red, orange, and yellow foliage — dominated by the amber and golden hues from Larch trees. The weather is cooler, making hiking comfortable, and the trails are less crowded than in summer. However, with its unpredictable weather and shorter days, you need to be prepared for unexpected rain showers and plan your hikes accordingly.
Lastly, Winter (December to February) offers a unique hiking experience in Switzerland. While most trails at high altitudes are covered in snow and inaccessible, there are still plenty of winter hiking and snowshoeing trails available in lower altitudes that showcase a different side of the Swiss landscape. The challenges of hiking during this season include freezing temperatures, shorter daylight hours, and the need for proper winter gear such as crampons.
In conclusion, every season has something unique to offer for hikers in Switzerland. It’s up to you to decide what kind of hiking experience suits you the best and which challenges you’re willing to embrace.
How is Swiss hiking different than North American hiking?
Swiss hiking is an incredible experience that stands out from its North American counterpart in several ways. One primary distinction is the trail system. In Switzerland, the network of hiking trails is incredibly well-maintained, marked, and extensive, covering over 65,000 kilometers. This makes navigating through the picturesque landscapes easy and enjoyable. In North America, you often find variation in trail quality due to the different organizations or government entities involved in maintaining different trails.
In contrast to North American hikes, Swiss trails often lead through charming towns and villages. Passing by chalets, vineyards, and churches, these trails offer opportunities to immerse oneself in the local culture and cuisine. Time spent hiking in Switzerland feels like stepping into a living postcard, with each turn revealing a new breathtaking vista.
Another notable difference lies in the accessibility of public transportation. In Switzerland, getting to and from trailheads is effortless thanks to the reliable and efficient train and bus systems. This allows for easy exploration of multiple trails and regions without the need for a rental car. In many locations, cable cars and funiculars whisk hikers to higher altitudes, enabling access to the pristine alpine wilderness with minimal exertion.
The Swiss Hiking Federation enforces guidelines and designations for their trails in a standardized manner. With three distinct categories – yellow (easy), red and white (intermediate), and blue and white (difficult) – hikers can readily identify the difficulty level of a given trail and choose routes that best suit their abilities. While North America has a varying degree of grading systems, they are not as uniformly implemented as in Switzerland.
As for trail etiquette, Swiss hikers are generally mindful of nature, as well as their fellow hikers. It is common to greet passersby with a friendly “grüezi” or “bonjour”, depending on the region’s language. Additionally, Swiss hikers value the leave-no-trace principle, cleaning up after themselves and ensuring minimal impact on the environment, just as is expected in North America.
Swiss hiking offers an unparalleled combination of stunning landscapes, accessible trails, and unique cultural experiences, setting it apart from the North American hiking experience in numerous ways.