So you want to plan a day hike in Switzerland, and are looking for the most beautiful options out there – especially if you’re short on time? That’s something I can help you with.
I spent four magical years living in Switzerland – my first year living with some work colleagues in Interlaken, and the next three alone by the mountains in Meiringen. (I share all about this in my book, Mountain Song: A Journey to Finding Quiet by the Swiss Alps).
During my time in Switzerland, I spent most of my hiking time in the beautiful Berner Oberland where I lived, but I also headed out often for hikes elsewhere in the country – especially as part of my project to hike across Switzerland on the Via Alpina. That said…
The best place to base yourself in Switzerland for hiking
I know I’m biased, but I’d still always say that the Berner Oberland is the best place to base yourself for hiking in Switzerland. You’re so spoilt for choice here – everywhere you look there are stunning mountain trails.
Many people on hiking trips to Switzerland decide to stay in Interlaken, but I actually think that’s a bit of a mistake. There are so many places near Interlaken that have all of the same advantages – incredible scenery, proximity to lakes and mountains – but just without the huge crowds of tourists everywhere.
Again, I write a lot about this in my book! But the main summary is that I decided to move thirty minutes train ride down the road to Meiringen, and I still think it’s a perfect base for a hiking trip to Switzerland. It’s quiet, slightly off the beaten track, and surrounded by gorgeous mountain scenery. And you can get a direct train to either Luzern or Interlaken to easily navigate the rest of the country.
Slightly closer to Interlaken is Brienz, which is another incredible choice. In some ways, it’s perhaps better situated than Meiringen, as it’s closer to Interlaken for travel connections and you get the stunningly beautiful Lake Brienz on your doorstep (as well as the old steam train up the Brienzer Rothorn mountain). But it all depends on the places you want to be close to.
My pick of the best hikes in Switzerland
Now, the main reason that you’re reading this is probably to figure out the best hikes in Switzerland. So without further ado, here’s my round-up of the most beautiful day hikes in Switzerland that I wish I could be doing right now…
1. Oeschinensee to Bluemlisalphütte
Distance: Approx 10km each way, with a tricky 1598m ascent (and descent coming back down). SchweizMobil has some useful info for the full Stage 13 of the Via Alpina between Griesalp and Kandersteg, including a height profile.
Difficulty: Pretty difficult if you walk up all the way (and back again). To simplify things, just hike up as far as you want from the Oeschinensee and enjoy the view below.
If you have time in Switzerland for just one hike, I’d probably choose one near Oeschinensee. You can start from ground level in Kandersteg, but the beginning of the hike isn’t particularly stunning – and there’s a cable car to take you up to the main attraction: the glacial-blue Lake Oeschinen (or Oeschinensee, in Swiss German).
After some time gazing at the view, you can hike up switchbacks to a top view of the lake, which is rewarding in itself – and might be enough work for you. Or you can keep gaining altitude until you reach the Bluemlisalphütte, a mountain hut at 2840m which you can book for overnight stays with a cosy communal dinner.
I spent the night here during a hike for the Swiss tourism board back in 2018 and loved it. You can read the article I wrote about the hut and my hike from Kandersteg to Bluemlisalphütte here.
2. Kleine Scheidegg to Wengen
Distance: 9.2km (and 863m elevation gain)
Duration: About 3.25 hours
When you think of the Swiss mountains, do you think of the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau? Then this is the perfect day hike for you. Take the train from Interlaken to Kleine Scheidegg and make it the starting point of your hike down to Wengen. Here are some more details for the hike on AllTrails.
If weather permits, you’ll be blessed with awe-inspiring views of the big three as you hike on one of the most iconic hiking trails in Switzerland.
3. Schynige Platte Panorama Trail
Distance: 6km (258m elevation gain)
Duration: About 2 hours
Last summer I took the train from Copenhagen to Zurich to visit some friends in Switzerland, and I knew I needed to make time for some hiking. I chose to hike above Interlaken, starting from Schynige Platte after getting the mountain funicular to the top.
There are several hiking routes you can enjoy at the top around Schynige Platte, alongside a gorgeous little botanical garden showcasing the best of alpine flora. Here’s more info on the panorama trail on AllTrails.
I spent some time enjoying the alpine botanical garden, and then hiked back down to Interlaken (saving on the train fare) and enjoyed the stunning views over to Lake Thun.
4. Meiringen to Grindelwald
Distance: 23km (with 1500m ascent, 1100m descent)
Difficulty: Medium trail conditions, difficult length and elevation changes
Duration: 7hrs 50mins
This stage of the Via Alpina takes you past one of the most photogenic yet underrated views in Switzerland – looking up to the Wellhorn from Rosenlaui.
The Post Bus can help you out if you want to shorten the route on either side – such as skipping most of the beginning uphill by getting the bus from Meiringen to Rosenlaui, or saving your legs from the downhill later with a bus ride down from Grosse Scheidegg to either Meiringen or Grindelwald.
5. Kandersteg to Adelboden
Distance: 16km (with 1450m ascent, 1250m descent)
Difficulty: Medium trail conditions (including some unstable scree at the pass), difficult length and elevation changes
Duration: 6hrs 50mins
This is one of the most dramatic stages of the 400km Via Alpina hike across Switzerland, especially when you get to the Bunderchrindepass at 2385m that stands in the middle of this hike. The photos below are from when I hiked the route in July a few years back.
6. Sonogno to Lavertezzo
Distance: 14km (with 260m ascent and 640m descent)
Duration: 3hrs 40mins
I hiked the Sentiero Verzasca trail all the way back in 2017. Some of it is a bit too Instagrammable and popular with those crowds, but if you plan outside the peak summer months you might be able to avoid that.
Here’s some info from SchweizMobil on the hike from Sonogno to Lavertezzo. You can also do what we did and spend the night in Lavertezzo and complete the two-stage hiking trail the next day by heading to Locarno.
7. Hardergrat (Interlaken) to Brienzer Rothorn
Distance: 23.3km (with 2,419m elevation gain)
Duration: About 10 hours
If you look at stock photos of hikes in Switzerland, you’ll probably stumble upon at least a few taken on this route. With views of the Eiger, Mönch, Jungfrau, Schreckhorn and Finsteraarhorn, most of this difficult hike is on a steep, grassy ridge with jaw-dropping views… and very distinct slopes that at some points fall 1,500 meters along the way.
You’ll find some cables to hold onto on the most exposed sections, but definitely need to be surefooted and fit for this route. Make sure to bring your trekking poles and give it a miss if it’s been raining. Here’s some info on the trail on AllTrails.
When you reach the Brienzer Rothorn at 2351m, you can take the picturesque steam train (that’s been chugging since 1892) back down to Brienz, where you’ll find easy train connections to Interlaken and Luzern.
If you want to begin your day with a train ride up the mountain, here are some other hikes you can take from Brienzer Rothorn. The photos below are from my hike on the Brienzer Rothorn → Brünigpass route, en route back to my home in Meiringen.
|1.||Brienzer Rothorn → Schönbühl → Turren (→ Lungern)||3 h (5 h)|
|2.||Brienzer Rothorn → Brünigpass||5 h|
|3.||Brienzer Rothorn → Planalp||2.30 h|
|4.||Planalp → Brienz||2.30 h|
|5.||Brienzer Rothorn → Lättgässli → Chruterenpass → Planalp||2.45 h|
|6.||Planalp → Mettli → Brienz||2 h|
8. Urnerboden to Altdorf
Distance: 27km (with 1050m ascent, 1900m descent)
Difficulty: Medium trail conditions, difficult length and elevation changes
Duration: 8hrs 20mins
This unassuming hike was part of my Via Alpina route across the country, and I didn’t really know anything about the area beforehand. It was a long, long day. But it was stunning.
Maybe part of it was the sunny October weather, with a clear sky yet a layer of mist filling the valley below, but whatever it was, this became one of my favourite hikes of the Via Alpina. The views across the valley are stunning, as are the delicate peaks of the Schärhorn above the trail.
If you’re looking for some reading material for your trip to Switzerland, you might like my book about my time living there, Mountain Song: A Journey to Finding Quiet in the Swiss Alps. It’s available as a lovely illustrated hardcover, or you can pick up a copy on Kindle.1 Enjoy this article?