A Hike for your Bucket List: The Via Alpina crosses 14 of the most beautiful Alpine Passes in Switzerland.
The passes of the Via Alpina
The Via Alpina crosses 14 of the most beautiful Alpine passes and six cantons of Switzerland, with a great variety of cultures, geology and topography. Broad roads give way to exposed ridge paths. The variety of flora and fauna along the route is among the most diverse in the world.
The Via Alpina goes from Vaduz to Montreux in 20 stages, staying north of the Swiss Alps. Over 390 km, hikers enjoy the many highlights that Switzerland has to offer.
While the sections initially pass through relatively flat terrain in St. Gallen, the altitude being climbed increases quite steadily in the Glarnerland. When it comes to that Alpine feeling, the highlight of the route can be found in the Bernese Alps.
Day by day, hikers work their way through majestic mountain landscapes, with each pass crossed opening up a new world. This trail covers a total of 14 passes in six cantons and involves 23’600 m of ascent and 24’800 m of descent.
The route takes hikers to the secluded Surenen Pass, the famous Grindelwald, the Kleine Scheidegg pass with views of the Eiger, Mönch und Jungfrau mountains, the well-visited Blüemlisalp hut, perhaps one of Switzerland’s most beautiful lakes in Lake Oeschinen, the enchanting Bunderchrinde Pass and the sleepy Rochers de Naye mountains with unique views of Lake Geneva, to name but a few highlights.
Diversity, adventure and idyllic surroundings: a classic long-distance hiking trail in Switzerland – this is what the Via Alpina stands for. The outstanding diversity of the Swiss Alps along the trail from Liechtenstein to Lake Geneva makes this route a classic.
The route leads through six cantons and carries you off into a world far away from street noise and daily stress. Traverse these 14 of the most beautiful Alpine passes in Switzerland over 20 stages from Vaduz to Montreux.
You will encounter the first highlight of the route by the third stage: the ascent of the Foo Pass. On a small knoll surrounded by rocks, you can see a seemingly endless Alpine landscape on both sides of the pass.
Through the Appenzell, Glarus and Urn Alps, you cross countless other mountain crests, narrow ridges and passes. The Klausen Pass, for instance, is famous because of its classic car race. You gain a completely new perspective when you experience it on foot and, in addition to the well-known turns, it also offers a very unusual hotel steeped in as much tradition as Klausen race.
Moreover, the Richetli Pass offers one of the most beautiful ascents of the route; the descent leads through an idyllic moor landscape. Time and again, hikers walk from one mountain landscape to another, diving into completely new geological areas.
The final part leads over the Bernese Alps. Here, the Sefinenfurgge and Hohtürli passes are among the most arduous and most scenic highlights of the route. Once you cross the Hahnenmoos Pass, you’ll be in another language region. The last pass, the Col de Chaude, is the highest point of the tour before you reach Montreux on the banks of Lake Geneva.
With its 20 one-day stages, the Via Alpina has much to offer. Here I show you ten unmissable experiences
1 The innkeepers in Alpenhof in Weisstannen (stage 2)
- Andreas and Marcel put a lot of heart and soul into running the inn – they take time for each guest and are passionate about their cooking. The building looks inconspicuous from the outside, but the interior with its antique furniture is somewhat of a surprise. In the evenings, hikers can relax with a book in the cosy lounge.
2 Obererbs ski hut (stage 4)
- A modern hut with old charm and a friendly hut warden, for whom generous hospitality is second nature. Chatting with like-minded people while sitting in a warm lounge and sipping a glass of punch or tea, surrounded by mountains with a view of the stars – what better way to end an evening after a long day’s hiking?
3 From Tannensee to Planplatten (stage 9)
- The ascent past Tannensee is rewarded with an unforgettable view of Tannensee and Melchsee. The trail then leads along a stunning panoramic path. Be sure to set out early morning as the sun rises – the light is breathtaking and very few people are out on the trail. If you don’t want to put too much strain on your knees, take the cable car down to Meiringen.
4 Enjoy the sunset on Engstlenalp (stage 9)
- The sunset makes the mountain peaks glow around Engstlensee. The wonderful mountain panorama makes a walk along Engstlensee all the more worthwhile. In midsummer, the mountain lake is an inviting place to have a swim. The historical Hotel Engstlenalp is a good stop for tired hikers to spend the night. This way, you don’t need to rush to catch the last postal bus and can instead enjoy the sunset in all its glory to the very end.
5 The Sefinenfurgge descent (stage 12)
- The landscapes here are like a scene from the Lord of the Rings. There are small hills with lush green meadows, through which meanders a beautiful river with a small waterfall, with dark rocks beyond. These contrasting images are unforgettable. The steep steps to Sefinenfurgge are equally impressive!
6 Blüemlisalp (stage 13)
- The SAC Blüemlisalphütte above Hohtürli at 2,840 m is well worth a visit. From here, hikers enjoy a wonderful 360°-degree view of Lake Thun, glaciers (the Blüemlisalp glacier) and the Bernese Alps.
7 Lake Oeschinen (stage 13)
- Seeing the lake for the first time and walking over the ridge is an unforgettable experience. If you arrive at the lake after a strenuous day of hiking, the best thing to do is to dip your feet in the cool water or even to jump right in! The crystal-clear water at the foot of the imposing rock face is magnificent.
8 Ascent to the Bunderchrinde Pass (stage 14)
- The spectacular view over the Kandersteg Valley, the mountain panorama and the view of the Oeschinensee in the distance are simply breathtaking. There are also impressive rock formations and strata on the Bunderchrinde Pass to marvel at. With a little bit of luck, you might also see ibexes.
9 Over the Trüttlisberg Pass to Gstaad (stage 16)
- At the beginning of the hike, you walk through the Wallbach gorge along fascinating rock formations shaped by the rushing water of the brook. Seemingly endless green meadows await hikers at the top of the pass, where they can look down into the wild Turbach Valley. You can stop off for a bite to eat at the restaurant Sunnestübli just before Gstaad and let the excitement of the stage sink in.
- Wonderful sunset over the lake on the plateau. The viewing point is slightly below the summit
|Start Location||Vaduz (Gaflei, FL)|
|Multiday route||20 days|
|Elevation profile|| 23600Meter ascents
|Signalization||Signalisation in both directions|
This Via Alpina is a great summer walk, if it stops snowing off-season – read here about the May biggest snowstorms in some parts of Switzerland.
You can see more ideas of what to do during summer in the mountains here. If you can splash some money, I recommend a helicopter fly to see the majestic Mont Blanc. There is also a post of our last summer family trip to the mountains and beach combined.
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You can start thinking about your trip, by reading the articles on the Planning your Ski Trip tab. Or how to pack for your family ski trip. If taking your furry friend abroad to the continent, read about the new Pet Travel Scheme update from DEFRA. Self-drive skiers also need to plan for Brexit. Check out our tips for driving to the mountains. If flying and renting a car in Europe, beware of the extra charges they will pass to you if you want winter tyres, snow chains or ski racks. If driving, check the winter tyres news for Europe and North America. You can see how our last family ski holiday was not as expected, even though one plans it to be a success, but how we could do the most of it.
Also for those interested in how resorts deal with the risk of avalanches, you can check the interview to Coco Torres, former Head of Operations at Valle de Las Leñas in Argentina, a highly avalanche risk resort.
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