Hiking in Switzerland
Hiking lovers will definitely have a good time in Switzerland. Hiking in Switzerland can be done on about 60,000 km of trails that enable you to explore a great variety of landscapes. Obviously, the majority of hikers prefer the Alp region. This page provides tips and information regarding hiking in the Swiss Alps. This might particularly come in handy in case you have never hiked in mountain areas before. A number of tips is about safety. There's a reason for that: Hikers turn out to be involved in accidents more frequently than people who practise exterme sports. That's because this group of mountaineers is, on average, quite unexperienced and pays less attention to security.
Hiking is the perfect way to observe nature and admire the landscape. The most beautiful places can often only be reached on foot. The hiking routes on this website are classified by region. Each of the chapters Bernese Oberland, Wallis and Graubünden contains a section with hiking tips. These hikes do not take more than a single day and they are explicitly no climbing routes, because climbing is another speciality.
In addition to our tips, local tourist offices or railway stations can provide you with more information. They often have brochures with local or regional hiking tips. Also, we welcome you to discuss your plans in our forum.
- Do not immediately start your vacation with a long hike. First take a day or two for some short simple hikes in order to allow your body to adapt to the height and the thin air. If you suffer from headaches, loss of concentration or feel sick at an altitude above 2000 m (6500 ft), you might have some kind of altitude sickness. Descending is the only remedy.
- Watch the short- and midterm weather forecasts. Avoid deserted areas and high altitudes when the weather is bad. If necessary, avoid trails covered with snow. Trails at high altitudes can be covered with so much snow that hiking is nearly impossible, even in summer. The risk of avalanches is not restricted to the winter season.
- Avoid dangerous trails. There are some exposed trails passing deep ravines. Avoid these routes if you do not feel safe or if you are not prepared for this. Avoid trails crossing glaciers and trails that are in line with dangerous glacier tongues, unless you are accompanied by a mountain guide.
- Don't choose a high altitude hike on overcast days. You will risk missing out on all the good views.
- Consider how to travel. It is often convenient to use public transport because you don't have to return to your starting point then. Make sure you are informed about the time table and the last ride. The last ride for cable cars can be at the end of the afternoon! Also inform yourself about tickets. Profitable season tickets or combined tickets are often available. The Swiss Pass is very popular, as it allows unlimited traveling by train, bus and boat. You also get discounts on most gondolas and funiculars.
- Depending on your shape, the number of breaks you take and other circumstances, a hike can take longer than signs or this website indicate. That's why it is better not to start late.
- Many routes are only suitable for the summer season. That counts for most of the hikes on this website as well.
To take with you
- A map at scale 1:50,000 or 1:25,000.
- First aid kit, including a rescue blanket to prevent fatal cooling.
- Mobile phone (which can not be used in some deserted areas). The general emergency number is 112. The number of the helicopter rescue service is 1414 (Rega), 1415 (Air-Glaciers) or 027-9668686 (Air Zermatt).
- Rainproof clothing. This is necessary even when the weather forecast is good. The weather conditions can change very rapidly in the mountains.
- Additional (thermo) sweater.
- Sun-lotion. Sunburn is easily caught, especially in snowy areas. Consider lip balm as well.
- Sunglasses with an UV filter. Sunglasses without an UV filter are dangerous because the dark glass causes the pupils to widen, allowing the radiation to penetrate the eyes more easily. Preferably use a pair of sunglasses that offers side protection.
- Sufficient amount of food and drinks (at least 1 liter/34 fl oz).
- Spare food in case your journey takes longer than expected.
- An alarm (e.g. a whistle) to warn people in the area if you are in trouble. The emergency signal to use if you need help is 6 signals per minute followed by a one minute break. You should repeat this until help arrives or until you get an answer existing of 3 signals per minute followed by a one minute break. In case you don't have a whistle you can use the flashlight of your camera, a mirror, or any other signal available.
- Wearing several thin garments is usually more comfortable than wearing just a few thick garments. It allows you to vary the number of garments you are wearing as the temperature requires. The temperature can change quickly due to the height and the wind.
- Hiking/climbing boots. Regular sport shoes are not convenient or even not suitable on most trails. Hiking and climbing boots come in different categories (based on the difficulty of the terrain which the shoes are designed for). You can get more information in your sport store.
- Thick socks, preferably seamless. This can prevent you from getting blisters.
- A pair of long trousers offers the best protection against the sun and coldness, and limits the chances of getting hurt by bushes or sharp rocks.
- A cap to protect your face from the sun. There are caps available that protect your ears and neck as well.
- An adjustable ski pole to use as a hiking stick. Special points are available for better grip on rocks. You can buy these ski poles in sport stores. They're convenient for both descending and ascending, and indispensable on difficult or snowy trails.
On the way
Signposts on hiking routes.
Signposts on hiking routes in the mountains.
Signposts on alpine routes.
- Do not leave the marked route. There are signposts that help you to find your way. They provide information about the walking time which is needed to get to certain destinations. The signposts are displayed on the right. They are divided into three categories: yellow is for normal hiking routes, white/red is for routes in the mountains and white/blue is for alpine routes. The color codes can be found on signpost as well as on rocks and trees. Alpine routes are mostly dangerous and may cross glaciers and contain sections of climbing. The routes on this website do not fall into this category.
- Stick to the pace of the slowest person in the group.
- Avoid dangerous situations. For example, do not stand still at places with lots of loose rocks on a slope. A stone avalanche might have taken place here and it can happen again. Also, a brook basin can be dangerous when it transforms into a lethal torrent of water due to heavy weather conditions elsewhere. It can occur even quicker in case the brook or river is also in use to drain away water from a hydro-electric power station. This kind of power plants can be found a lot in Switzerland. The amount of water can increase dramatically in no time without previous warning. Every year, a number of people drown because of this.
- Do not throw down rocks. Even small stones can be dangerous if they land on lower situated hiking trails. Furthermore, they may cause stone avalanches.
- Trails regularly cross fields where cattle may graze. You are expected to close the fence or different separation once you have passed. Cows, in particular when accompanied with calfs, may act aggressively when disturbed. So pass them quietly and keep some distance.
- Keep an eye on the weather and adjust your plan if the weather turns bad. If necessary, take the shortest route back to civilization. A pocket size barometer seems to come in handy, but since air pressure varies with the height, the weather forecasts provided by such devices (without height correction) become useless when taking it into the mountains.
- Try to contact the rescue services through your mobile phone in case you need immediate medical assistance. Provide clear information about your location. If your phone does not work at your location, go and get help in the valley or the nearest mountain hut. Keep trying whether your phone can be used again while you are on your way down. Don't hurry too much to prevent more accidents. Leave someone with the victim if possible. Provide the victim with food, drink and a rescue blanket.
- Do not wave to helicopters unless you need help. This will prevent rescue helicopters from making an unnecessary landing. If you do need help, then wave with two arms (use your body to form the letter Y).
- Names of (mostly small) locations may be spelled different on maps and signpost. Even signposts along the way may use a different spelling for the same location. Some examples are Eggeschwand↔Eggenschwand, Usser Üschene↔Aeusser Üschene and Bussalp↔Büössalp.
- Do not throw away trash. That includes food. Throwing away food is harmful to wildlife.
More about hiking and trails
We wish you lots of hiking fun!