Glittering glacier fields, Alpine lakes, roaring waterfalls, and velvety green hillsides—these are a few of the elements that make hiking in Switzerland an all-star event. And you won’t lack for options, thanks to the 38,000 miles of hiking trails that spiderweb across Switzerland’s peaks, valleys, and hills, an astonishing figure given that the entire country encompasses less than 16,000 square miles.
Hiking is more fun here, too, thanks to the network of Alpine huts, guesthouses, and inns that offer hospitality to weary hikers and make it relatively simple to hike inn-to-inn with only a daypack.
Ready to participate in the country’s unofficial national sport? Here are some of Switzerland’s best hiking regions and trails.
The Jura Mountains: Jura Vaudois Nature Park
Dotted with 2081 named peaks, none higher than 5,600 feet, the gentle Jura Mountains form the natural boundary between Switzerland and France and provide a peaceful retreat. Rising from the shores of Lac Léman near Lausanne to the 5,500-foot summit of La Dôle, the 270-square-mile Jura Vaudois Nature Park encompasses quiet villages, shady riverbanks, craggy cliffs, and steep slopes thickly forested in spruce and pine.
You can’t help but hike through history on the Romainmôtier Heritage Trail, which winds through the sleepy Nozon River valley, starting and ending at the 10th-century Romainmôtier Abbey, one of the best-preserved examples of a Cluniac Romanesque priory in Switzerland and likely the country’s oldest monastery as well. The stone church is open to visitors, as is the newly renovated restaurant, which serves locally sourced regional specialities, such as spit-roasted rosemary chicken and fresh fruit tarts in a courtyard.
The route is one segment of the 200-mile Cluny Way, which follows the ancient Way of St. James from France’s powerful Cluny Abbey, founded in 910, through Burgundy and the Loire Valley to Le Puy-en-Velay. Just outside the park, another historic hike follows a section of the Alpine Panorama trail through Lavaux Vineyards, designated a UNESCO World Heritage site for the long history of its characteristic terraces and viticultural traditions, which date back to the 11th century.
Another one of the park’s most popular hiking options is the Jura Crest Trail, the oldest long-distance hiking trail in Switzerland, which runs almost 200 miles from Zurich to Geneva, traversing the ridgeline and offering far-reaching views of the Alps.
How to Get There
Located 45 minutes from Geneva, the park has numerous entrance points accessible via car or bus. The visitor center located in the Hôtel du Marchairuz at Marchairuz Pass, which can be reached by Post Bus, makes a good starting point.
The Engadine Dolomites: Swiss National Park
Created in 1914, Swiss National Park was the country’s first national park—and bizarrely remains the only one so designated, despite the creation of numerous nature parks and reserves. Relatively small at 65 square miles, this remote area of the eastern Graubünden canton had been decimated by logging and mining, its ecosystem all but destroyed and wildlife banished when it was selected by the government for preservation in 1914. Today it’s as much a wilderness area as a park, its once bare slopes swathed in thick forest and home to an estimated 250 ibex, 1,800 red deer, and many other species, including chamois, marmots, and bearded vultures.
Altitudes in the park vary from 4,500 feet to 10,500 feet, making for diverse challenge levels. Hikers up for a serious challenge might opt for the 10-mile hike to the Fuorcia Val Sassa Pass or the climb to the top of 10,933-foot Piz Quattervals, a five-hour ascent that requires finding a trail over scree-covered slopes. One of the most popular hikes in the park, the 8-mile Munt la Schera crosses tundra-like high-altitude steppes with views that extend into Italy’s Stelvio National Park to the south passing old mine tunnels and meadows blanketed in wildflowers. The 13-mile route from Lavin to Zernez traverses the Zeznina Valley to the Alpine Macun Lakes before ascending to the 9,350-foot pass Fuorcletta da Barcli.
How to Get There
The Pennine Alps, the highest mountains in Western Europe, form the backbone of the Valais, which boasts the highest concentration of 12,000-foot peaks in the Swiss Alps.
So remote that the roads here were among the last in Switzerland to be paved, this slice of southwestern Switzerland remains deeply rooted in tradition, and you’ll find fresh cheese, housemade sausage, and freshly baked bread everywhere you go. This is still the Alps of your grandparents’ postcards, where slate-roofed wooden hay sheds dot hillsides and the clang of cowbells and jingle of sheep and goats sing you to sleep at night and wake you in the morning.
You’ll never forget hiking the historic Leukerbad via ferrata, a series of eight precarious ladders built to transport goods up the almost sheer mountainside. The endpoint, Albinen, was designated a national heritage site for its many gabled wooden houses preserved from the 1600s and 1700s.
No trail in Switzerland is better known that the Walker’s Haute Route, an inn-to-inn trekking route that runs from Chamonix in France to Zermatt below the Matterhorn with possible stops including the villages of Trient, Champex-Lac, Verbier, Arolla, Les Hauderes, Grimentz, and Gruben. A center of mountaineering since the first ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865, Zermatt celebrates its adventurous history in the folksy Matterhorn Museum.
How to Get There
Both Chamonix and Zermatt are accessible by Swiss Rail, with Zermatt having the additional benefit of being the terminus of the Glacier Express, a tourist favorite for its Alp-spanning route. To reach the Leukerbad via ferrata, take the train to Leuk followed by the postal bus to Leukerbad.