Hiking the Swiss Alps conjured up daunting images in my mind—facing down towering mountains with an overloaded backpack, having to purchase special gear, and getting lost hiking alone, never to be found again.
Why Anyone Can Hike the Swiss Alps
Turns out that was a bit dramatic, and pretty much anyone, regardless of experience or fitness level, can hike the Swiss Alps (no hiking boots required)
You Can Catch a Ride up or Down
Some people may call this cheating, I call it eliminating the worst parts of hiking—much of the Swiss Alps are serviced by a great network of fast and easy-to-use cable cars, gondolas, funiculars, and cog railways that can whisk you up or down the mountain. This is great for people who are short on time but still want to hike the Swiss Alps on a day trip, as you can start from a higher elevation and get right to the great views and good trails.
Or, hike up and take a cable car down, saving your knees/joints and skipping the boring descent after you’ve already summited.
Most cable cars, cog railways, and gondolas are handicapped accessible as well (click here for more information), as are the viewing platforms.
No Gear Required
I usually have my Vibram-soled hiking boots when I attempt any summit at home in New England, but to save suitcase space, I only packed running shoes. Thanks to the well-maintained, mainly dirt trails, I was completely fine, even on the hikes with “medium” and “difficult” ratings. The only essentials you need to hike the Swiss Alps in the summer are: Sunscreen (the sun is stronger at higher altitudes), sneakers, a water bottle, and a jacket (the weather can change quickly and gets cold at higher elevation). That’s it!
No Sad Granola Bars Needed
I’ll admit a squished peanut butter sandwich or granola bar tastes pretty good when it’s the only thing available after a long morning of hiking, but you know what’s even better? A three-course hot meal served with local wine. Since most of the mountains are accessible without hiking, you’ll find amazing restaurants next to many of the trails, so you don’t have to worry about carrying all your fuel with you. Check out these high-elevation restaurants in Zermatt, and you can spend your hike deciding whether to get fondue or rosti when you arrive.
Do nature, fresh air, and amazing views bore you? (Or maybe you want to hike the Swiss Alps with a reluctant partner or kid?) Then Switzerland’s Theme Trails are for you. These hikes educate, offer up tastings (hello, wine road) or entertain, as the trails are based around different subjects to hold your interest.
If you’ve ever panicked from not seeing a rock cairn for miles, you’ll appreciate the Swiss Alps’ easy-to-follow trails. Most of the day hikes you’ll do in the Swiss Alps are single track paths that have bright yellow signs, which are clearly marked with directions and the amount of time to certain landmarks—so you won’t even need a map.
You don’t have to pay an entrance free before you hop on a trail, as most are on public land.
However, if you’re planning on utilizing one of the transport systems up or down, you’ll have to pay. Note that if you have a Swiss Travel Pass, you’ll get a 50 percent off your ticket on mountain railways and cable cars.
The Swiss have a reputation for being detail-oriented and efficient, which is evident in their hiking trails. A network of volunteers from the Swiss Hiking Trail Federation does an excellent job at keeping the trails in great shape, so you won’t have to fight through overgrowth or worry about a washed-out trail when you’re here.
More from SmarterTravel:
- Tipping in Switzerland: The Switzerland Tipping Guide
- Switzerland Travel Guide: What to Do in Switzerland
- 10 Ways to See Switzerland Like a Prince or a Pauper
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