Switzerland is a perfect country for any hiking enthusiast. It’s a place where you can climb a mountain in the morning, enjoy the rich cultural life within their many fine museums in the afternoon, and go to the theater in the evening. And although many European cities can be crowded with tourists in the summer months, the mountains are serene escapes that boast some of the world’s most breathtaking views.
Here are a few of my favourite hikes in Switzerland:
- St. Bernard’s Pass
One of the highlights of St. Bernard’s Pass is visiting the St. Bernard Puppies in the kennel at Great St. Bernard Hospice. There has been a monastery atop this mountain for over one thousand years and the St. Bernards used to be bred as rescue dogs by the Augustinian monks. This trail was also an ancient Roman road travelled by Hannibal and his army.
While hiking along the trail between the Swiss-Italian border, we came across a family of Ibex. These majestic creatures were nearly hunted into extinction. We were fortunate to catch a glimpse of them in their natural habitat. On a clear day, you will also see Mont Blanc, Matterhorn and the other 5,000 meter mountains along the range. I recommend staying overnight at the hospice and tackling this climb as many times as you can. The mountains stay the same, but the clouds shift in and out so fast that it feels different each time. (And if you are lucky, you might find an ancient Roman coin on the path for a keep sake!)
This little gem of a restaurant is found in the Ebenalp region, and offers spectacular views of the Appenzell district. There are two options here: the cable car or an honest climb. I recommend climbing up to enjoy the steep cliffs, views, and experience. Oh, and to burn off some energy to justify refueling at the Aescher Restaurant.
But, that’s not all! Just a short walk from the restaurant, you can visit the Wild-kirchli, which is a chapel in a grotto that was inhabited by hermits from the mid-17th century to the mid-19th centuries. There is also a cave where paleolithic artifacts were discovered that indicate it is the oldest prehistoric settlement found in Switzerland so far.
3. Pizol Summit and Five Lakes
Take the gondola from Bad Ragaz up the mountain to the summit of Pizol. From there, hike four hours to Alp Graffia for a quick mountain top beer before you descend again on the gondola. Along the hike you can enjoy the five unique lakes that are each a different shade of turquoise. And, even though you have the help of a gondola and two chair-lifts to reach the summit, the hike itself does not lack challenge. The path leads up and over each of the peaks, so there is a good amount of up-hill climbing. (Make sure you arrive no later than noon because the gondola stops running at 4pm- it’s a long way down and you don’t want to be stranded at the top.)
4. Harder Kulm
I know what you are thinking, Jungfraujoch should be listed here instead of Harder Kulm. It’s by far the biggest (3,400m) and is most often a trip highlight. However, Harder Kulm (1,301m) has a good list of pros. The climb can begin from Interlaken where you will enjoy a walk through the neighborhoods of the town. There is a funicular that takes you to the restaurant at the top, but hiking is the better way to get there. The hike is a bit like a lazy river in parts, and challenging in other stretches. From the lookout, you can see Interlaken, the Bernese Alps, and the two lakes. And who doesn’t like a nice observation deck on a sunny day? If you are in the area, I absolutely recommend taking the train/ gondolas to the summit of Jungfrau, but for a nice day hike, Harder Kulm gets my vote.
I’ll have to admit, it took a few days to figure out where this trail began. To get to Arnigrat, there is not really an obvious way. I suggest that you stop into a town called Sachseln and ask a local to help you put you onto the right track. The good thing is that if you end up taking the wrong trail, it’s still guaranteed to be awesome. I accidentally happened upon a beautiful waterfall on one of the days I was lost. Because there are so many ways to get up the mountain, you can spend a few days exploring each of the trails. Oh, and don’t get too close to the cows because they’ve been known to charge.