Updated 7.17.2020: Active travel means many things to many people. We certainly include hiking in the active travel category. Through the years, we’ve shared many trails that have inspired our baby boomer readers to go hiking around the world.
And, now, we’re adding a new favorite to our list of European hikes. Guest contributor, Lesley Connor from Empty Nesters Travel Insights, is here to tell us about her adventure hiking through the Swiss Alps.
Hiking through the Swiss Alps
The phrase “hiking in the Swiss Alps” conjures up images of lumberjacks with flannelette shirts and belay ropes scaling the rugged Eiger mountain. But our Switzerland hiking tours in the Jungfrau region of the Swiss Alps were more of a pleasant stroll. We walked along well formed, signposted pathways, through fields of vibrant spring wildflowers, breathing in fresh, crisp alpine air, as the melody of cowbells echoed up from the pastures below.
The jaw-dropping scenery along the way was reminiscent of Julie Andrews in the opening scenes of “The Sound of Music”. Cozy restaurants appeared out of nowhere, where we could relax and enjoy a meal and refreshments to sustain us on our way.
Last June, Ian and I chose Grindelwald, a picture postcard village nestled in the Bernese Alps, as our base to explore the Jungfrau region of the Swiss Alps. Traditional wooden chalets celebrated spring with colorful displays of geraniums bursting from flower boxes on every balcony. The village offered a wide choice of accommodation, restaurants and tourist amenities.
The bus system, free to tourists staying in the village, provided easy access to the extensive cable car system to explore the hundreds of kilometers of alpine walking trails suitable for all fitness levels, from experienced mountaineers, to walkers with the odd arthritic twinge such as myself.
The cable cars were pricey, but once we reached the top, the walking trails were free and the scenery was priceless. Of the many hikes we took, two were particularly memorable.
Exploring Grindelwald First on a Swiss Alps hike
In summer, the winter ski slopes of Grindelwald First transform into a playground for sightseers and adventure seekers alike.
From the cable station in the center of town, we took the 25-minute gondola ride to the top. As we ascended the mountain, snowcapped peaks emerged into view, cows and goats grazed in the lush green pastures beneath us and the village of Grindelwald slowly disappeared behind us.
It’s astounding that even in the height of summer, the alps are still thick with snow, melting in rivulets streaming down to the glacier river below. At the top, we could have sat all day relaxing in the fields of wildflowers, soaking in breathtaking mountain panoramas with views across alpine pastures and distant mountain lakes.
Paragliders hurled themselves off the mountain, sailing into the valley below, others were harnessed to a zip line and hurtled down an 800 metre cable to the next gondola station at Schreckfeld below. Many chose mountain bikes for their return journey to the bottom of the mountain.
Before your walk, you can take The First Cliffwalk, a metallic boardwalk jutting out some 45 meters over the abyss, providing birds-eye views towards the Eiger and into the valley below, however this was a little adventurous for someone with my fear of heights.
From the many Swiss Alps hiking trails on offer, we chose the two hour return walk to the beautiful mountain lake of Bachalpsee, around 6 miles away. This was more like a gentle stroll along paved walkways, with a few undulating hills to contend with than a hike.
Wildflowers carpeted the fields, the melody of cowbells echoed through the valley and melting snow cascaded down waterfalls. Yet another spectacular mountain view appeared around every bend in the road, each more beautiful and picturesque than the last.
A never-ending trail of tourists meandered along the trails, yet the atmosphere was one of supreme serenity and quiet, like being in the sanctuary of a great alpine cathedral.
After a little over six miles, we were suddenly rewarded with the picture perfect view of the snow-capped Schreckhorn, Wetterhorn and Finsteraarhorn mountains reflected in the glassy waters of Lake Bachalpsee. Sitting on the grassy banks, we spent quite some time drinking in the quiet magnificence of what is possibly the most beautiful place on earth, capturing many photos of the scenery.
Hiking Mannlichen to Kleine Schiedegg
Our six-mile hike from Mannlichen to Kleine Schiedegg and the Jungfrau-Eiger trail beyond provided us with the picture postcard alpine scenery which makes this trail so popular with tourists. It’s some of the most beautiful hiking in Switzerland.
The cable car from the Grindelwald-Mannlichen gondola station brought us to Mannlichen cable station. Even in the height of summer snow capped peaks rose above the cloud shrouded mountains, partly obscuring what would be spectacular views on a clear day.
Our first breath of mountain air was icy, so we were pleased we had brought our scarves and jackets. We felt like we were literally on top of the world. Neither cloud nor cold could stop our enjoyment of the walk along the ridge to the cog railway hub of Kleine Schiedegg, and the Jungfrau-Eiger trail beyond.
Inspired by this hiking adventure? Gear up with our hiking gear for baby boomers.
Strolling the winding paths lined with edelweiss, gentian and alpine rock jasmine, Grindelwald was spread out on the valley floor before, looking like something out of a Swiss storybook.
The peaks of the famous Monch, Jungfrau and Eiger mountains were the ever present backdrop, still partially shrouded in a blanket of cloud.
The walk was relatively easy, however by the time we conquered the slightly uphill trek towards Kleine Schiedegg, we were certainly tired, hungry and thirsty. An alpine restaurant appearing miraculously from nowhere was a very welcome sight.
Here we stopped to enjoy a hearty meal of schnitzel, apfelstruessel and a couple of refreshing ales, as we watched the clouds slowly lift to reveal the full magnificence of the alps.
We could have ended our journey there, taking the cog railway home to Grindelwald. But it was still early afternoon, the weather was improving and we couldn’t get enough of hiking in the alps.
So we decided to keep on with the remaining 3-plus mile return section of the Eiger-Jungfrau trail which took us almost to the Eiger glacier face.
The slightly steeper incline took us along the famous Jungfrau cog railway, watching the carriages disappear into the mountain tunnel full of passengers headed to the mountain peak dubbed “the top of the world.”
This uphill walk was a little on the challenging side for an inexperienced hiker like myself. We had already walked over four miles that day, we were tired and it was getting hot. The winter gear had been replaced with sun hats and that final steep 500 meter hill towards the Eiger Glacier station looked insurmountable.
I was tempted to sit on a rock and call it a day, but we persisted “one step at a time” to the Eiger Glacier station. Once there, we were rewarded with indescribably beautiful mountain views. We felt we could almost reach out and touch the Monch, Eiger and Jungfrau mountains rising up in front of us, just emerging from the clouds alongside the famous Eiger glacier.
Thankfully it was all downhill back to the Kleine Schiedegg cog railway station and our journey back into Grindelwald.
After reading Lesly’s article, we’re ready to go!
How to plan a Switzerland hiking vacation
A little research goes a long way when planning a hiking trip to Switzerland. Check out our recommended resources for researching your trip:
- Research flights to Zurich to find the best-priced flight for your trip: Free flight comparison with Skyscanner.
- Browse through the Swiss Alps hotels at HotelsCombined to find the perfect accommodations for your trip.
- Confirm that your Medjet Assist membership is current. If an injury occurs while hiking, you want to fly to your home hospital in the U.S. Typical trip insurance will take you to the closest hospital in Switzerland. You’d be on your own from there.
- Book Grindlewald tours before leaving home.
On a fall trip to Switzerland, you can watch the cows come home at the Desalpe Festival.
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