Switzerland is definitely a nation of hikers, and with over 65,000 kilometres of marked trails, that’s probably not surprising. There are well-marked trails all over the country that invite casual strollers, experienced hikers and everyone in between, to get out and about and enjoy the beauty of this stunning country.
And it’s not only the Swiss that you’ll find hitting up the trails. Visitors from all over the world find it hard to resist the opportunity to breathe in the clean, crisp Alpine air and admire the magnificent scenery whilst they hike beside a river, along a mountain trail or through a lush green meadow.
That’s right, not all hiking trails in Switzerland involve going up (or down) mountains – You can certainly do that if you wish but there are plenty of hikes on more even terrain, and at lower altitudes, too.
Today’s guest has hiked all over Switzerland and is a wealth of knowledge on the topic. Melinda Schoutens, along with her husband Rob, is the author of four books that “Inspire families and individuals to connect with nature one outdoor experience at a time.”
As well as telling us her story, and explaining how two Americans came to be writing books about outdoor adventures in Switzerland, Melinda is also going to share some important things to know before you set off on a hike.
She’s also going to tell us about four fantastic – and easy – hikes that you might like to try when you visit Switzerland.
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As always, I’d like to say a huge thanks to the folks from Switzerland Tourism for sponsoring the podcast. For loads of inspiration and tips to help you plan your Swiss vacation, visit their website, myswitzerland.com.
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In this episode you’ll learn about:
- Important advice to help you prepare for your hike
- Useful apps and emergency numbers to take with you
- Four of Melinda’s favourite easy hikes in Switzerland
- The Fresh Air Kids Switzerland books and where to buy them
Melinda Schoutens and her husband Rob fell in love with the mountains on a trip years ago to Colorado, USA. After climbing nearly 14,000 ft, they were hooked. Little did they know, they would have the opportunity to fall deeper in love with the mountains when they relocated to Switzerland in 2007.
They have gone from hiking while pregnant, to changing diapers, nursing and carrying their two children on their backs to having two independent hikers by their sides. As their children have aged, Alpine adventures are what they seek. Whether that be spending the night in a remote Alpine hut, visiting a rope park, swimming in an Alpine lake, or simply enjoying a mountain meal, they are always their happiest when they are exploring the Swiss Alps.
They are the authors of four books – Fresh Air Kids Switzerland – 52 Inspiring Hikes That Will Make Kids and Parents Happy, My Book of Discoveries, Fresh Air Kids Switzerland – Hikes to Huts and Winter Kids Switzerland.
Melinda’s tips for preparing for your hike
- Check weather forecasts and impending rain showers/storms on MeteoSwiss App, as well as webcams in the area you plan to visit.
- Hiking season in the Alps depends on snow levels, weather and elevation.
- Typically, hiking season in the Alps is late June through September, but that truly varies depending on the season, the snow levels of the previous year and of course, the elevation.
- Hiking is possible year round at lower (below 800m) elevations, also depending on the weather and snow levels. Though, snow levels are changing drastically these days.
Tip: Download the ALERTSWISS app, which alerts residents and visitors to emergencies, warnings, closures, fire bans, and dangers within Switzerland that warrant your attention.
- If you are relying on a train, gondola (cable car) or any other form of public transportation, determine the schedules by using the SBB Mobile app!
- Know the last gondola ride down the mountain. The last ride down the mountain is always posted at the gondola station. This is essential information as you do not want to get caught having missed the last ride down the mountain for the evening and having to walk/hike, which could be dangerous.
- Please plan all public transportation connections in advance.
The SBB Mobile app (quite comprehensive) is ideal for timetables (trains, buses and boats) in Switzerland.
What to Wear
- Always wear sturdy hiking boots with good tread when hiking in the Alps. Tennis shoes simply do not provide the traction you need for mountain terrain.
- Never wear flip flops on hiking trails in the mountains!
- Wear and bring layers for warmth and a rain jacket in the event of rain. In the Alps, the weather can and does change quickly. Be prepared!
- Bring a sun hat, sunglasses and sunscreen for protection year round. An umbrella may also prove quite helpful.
- Having a pair of gloves, scarf and a warm hat go a long way in terms of providing warmth! They are small, light and easy to pack!
What to Bring
- Bring supplies with you, such as plenty of drinking water for each person for the day, snacks, a rain jacket, cell phone, cash and important cards (travel, health insurance, identification, etc).
- For safety, please ways let someone know where you are going, especially if you are hiking alone.
- Always have a first aid kit on you at all times, including any and all medications you may need for the duration of your stay.
- Having medication for headaches is very helpful in the mountains.
Tip: Check with local tourist offices or the hotel staff if you plan to set out for a day hike. On occasion, trails may be closed due to weather, maintenance or may not be accessible if the lift station is closed for service or poor weather conditions.
Know the basics of reading trail markers:
- Yellow trails are the easiest to navigate and require the least amount of skill, though, that is not to say all yellow trails are all easy and void of danger.
- White-red-white are mountain trails and require sure footedness and familiarity with hiking on mountain terrain and in the Alps. You may be required to cross narrow trails and use hand-holds for stability.
- White-blue-white are Alpine trails and may require additional equipment such as crampons, ropes and navigational tools, but also a keen understanding of hiking, climbing and traversing Alpine landscapes. These are the most difficult and challenging of all Swiss trails and are best left to the experts!
Don’t forget the list of Swiss Emergency numbers when traveling in Switzerland:
Tip: If you are looking for the perfect app to tell you your current location in Switzerland, emergency numbers, and the distance to the closest emergency room, please download the echoSOS app
· Ambulance: 144
· Fire: 118
· Police: 117
· Rega (air/helicopter rescue): 1414
· Poison: 145
· Europe-wide Emergency Number: 112
A couple of other apps that may prove helpful
bergfex – for outdoor activities (hiking, mountain biking, ski touring, etc.)
swisstopo app – provides maps of Switzerland with detailed information
Hikes mentioned in this episode
Grindelwald: First to Bachalpsee (and back)
Canton: Berner Oberland
Out and Back
Why this hike: It’s easy to access, it’s in a gorgeous location, the trail is easy to navigate, meaning, you won’t get lost, and the views from Bachalpsee will render you breathless! Oh, and did I mention, some of Switzerland’s most iconic mountains are visible in the backdrop? Yes, the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau are within view.
Start: First cable car station in Grindelwald
End: First cable car station in Grindelwald
Length: Roughly 6 km
Time: Takes approximately 2 hours, more if you plan to stop for lunch and photos.
Difficulty: Moderate for non-hikers
Season: Summer through autumn, before the first snow
Points of interest at First:
Tissot Cliff Walk – Free of Charge
First Glider – holds four passengers and provides incredible views of the area – 15 minutes (2,166 m – 1956 m)
First Flyer – single seated zip line of sorts – 10 minutes (2,166 m – 1956 m)
Tip: Don’t forget to pack a picnic lunch for Bachalpsee and hike to the back of the lake and up the mountain a little bit for a breathtaking photo.
One of Switzerland’s most incredible mountain hotels, Faulhorn, which translates to “crumbly rock” (dates back to 1830) is located on the same route, which ultimately leads to Schynige Platte. The hike from Faulhorn to Schynige Platte is absolutely stunning, is a white-red-white trail and takes about 4 hours. Never attempt this route in poor weather conditions and always have sturdy hiking boots!
Faulensee to Spiez
Canton: Berner Oberland
Why this hike: It’s not often that you can slowly meander along the shores of Lake Thun with the Alps, the Spiez castle and vineyards within view. The town of Spiez is truly gorgeous and the lake is magnificent.
Start: Faulensee (reach by bus or boat from Interlaken, Spiez or Thun)
End: Spiez train station
Length: 4.7 km
Time: 1.5 hrs
Season: Year round, though beautiful in spring, summer and autumn
Points of interest: Schloss Spiez with Café and Garten, expansive lawn and playground for a picnic.
Tip: In the summer months you can rent paddle boards and enjoy the gorgeous lake.
Chillon Castle Lake Walk
Why this hike: This walk is ideal because you can combine history and culture with nature. Lake Geneva offers a picturesque backdrop and you will quickly ease into your vacation. Follow the path to the Montreux train station.
Start: Veytaux, Chateau de Chillon (can be reached by bus, train or boat from Montreux)
Length: Just under 4 km
Time: With the castle visit allow for 3 hours, the walk along Lake Geneva to Montreux is 1 hour
Season: Year round
Points of interest: Lake Geneva, Chillon castle, Montreux
Tip: Take the time to enjoy the impressive castle, making the museum visit and the walk a half-day adventure.
Trübsee Lake Walk located at 1763 m
Why this hike: Though Engelberg is often bustling with activity, the crowds will thin out once you start your hike around Trübsee. This relatively easy loop is picturesque throughout. If you wish to extend your journey, head up to Titlis where breathtaking views await.
Start: Titlis cable car station at Engelberg, disembark at Trübsee
End: Trübsee cable car station, return to Engelberg
Length: Just under 5 km
Time: 2 hours or more if you plan to enjoy a picnic
Season: Best enjoyed in the summer and autumn
Points of interest: Trübsee Lake, Mount Titlis for the Cliff Walk at 3,041 m, Trübsee Flyer Zipline, rowing on the lake and more.
Tip: Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy at the lake. If you are traveling with children, they will no doubt adore the newly constructed Schmuggler and Säumer play area.
More helpful resources
Previous podcast episodes which mention the places featured in the hikes listed above include Episode 8 (Grindelwald and Jungfrau Region), Episode 15 (Spiez and Lake Thun), Episode 10 (Montreux Riviera) and Episode 58 (Engelberg, Trübsee and Mt. Titlis).
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This episode is sponsored by Switzerland Tourism
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