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Trekking routes through the Swiss Alps have been used as trade and smuggle tracks for centuries. The variety of trails for hiking in Switzerland is endless. From easy footpaths to difficult climbs - you are spoilt for choice.
Switzerland is a walkers, hikers and climbers paradise. After all, this is the country where mountaineering was invented. Hiking is practically our national sport and a way of life, particularly in the mountains.
There is no other country better prepared for its wandering guests. A dense network of hiking trails for all levels of fitness, an excellent public transport system and hiking accommodations make it relatively easy to explore this country on hiking vacations.
Maybe we can't agree on politics (each canton and municipality have their own rules and regulations), but when it comes to hiking, Switzerland is united and managed to use the same system throughout the country.
The fact that there are almost as many marked hiking trails as there are roads for motorized traffic shows how serious we are about our national sport. More than 60'000 km (37,284 miles) uniformly marked trails criss-cross Switzerland which is barely the size of Nova Scotia. This is quite extraordinary compared to the entire road network of approx. 72'000 km (44,740 miles).
The Swiss Hiking Foundation is the umbrella organization and responsible for organizing and maintaining the signalization throughout Switzerland; a large group of volunteers make sure the 42'000 signs for the 7 national, 60 regional and 228 local routes are intact and at the right place.
The hiking season depends on where you hike. In general, the best time for high Alpine trekking is July and August, and for mountain hiking between July and September. In lower areas and in the foothills the season extends from May to October, and in the southern part, the Ticino, and Swiss Riviera for example, one can start as early as March.
Keep in mind that it doesn't get all too hot in very high altitudes, even in July and August. Snow and blizzards are always a possibility, so keep an eye on the weather forecast. Fog can creep in and make the trails invisible, especially during spring and fall.
Hiking in and around cities, towns, and villages is - of course - possible year-round, although it can be quite rainy and cold during early spring and late fall.
Not that snow stops us from our beloved pastime. Throughout winter, you can find groomed winter hiking trails for shorter walks and day trips.
Most of the tourist offices organize guided tours for their guests for a fee, some even for free. Ask when you pick up your Guest-Card.
Know thyself. Are you an avid hiker and used to hike in remote areas and difficult terrain, a long-distance hiker or a "Sunday walker", meaning you don't mind the occasional hike but prefer easier terrain and shorter distances?
Make yourself familiar with the route you want to take. Is there public transportation (train, postbus, cable-cars etc.) and where? Are there mountain huts and restaurants along the way? How difficult will the trail be? How much time will you need for a particular hike? Can you easy go back to your destination and how much time will you need? The better you are prepared, the smoother the hike will be.
If you plan an extensive hike or trek, acclimate yourself when you arrive for a day or two. Don't start immediately at a high altitude.
Allow enough time for your hike; avoid trekking in high altitude when the weather forecast is iffy. Be prepared to adjust your plans accordingly.
Once you arrive, use the local tourist office for the latest update on the route you have chosen. Depending on the size of the office, you also can buy maps or get pamphlets for free. Also, don't forget to ask for the "Guest-Card" if you stay for a couple of nights or longer. You can get great discounts with this card (even for mountain transportation), and certain things are even free. Be aware of opening hours: Tourist offices in smaller towns are often closed Saturday afternoon and Sunday. The hotel you are staying at should be able to provide you with the "Guest-Card" and information as well.
Most cities, towns and villages offer a "Guest-Card" if you stay a couple of nights or longer. You receive great discounts with this card, and some things are even for free.
Mountain-rides can be costly, especially in typical sightseeing destinations such as Pilatus, Matterhorn and Jungfraujoch, just to name a few. Don't get me wrong, they are absolutely worth the trip, but when hiking in the Alps is your main purpose, you might want to look for an alternative mode of transportation to reach the top.
Lots of areas offer discounts during the summer months, particularly where the cable cars and lifts where built for winter activities.
Depending on how many trips you plan to take during your holiday, you might want to look into purchasing a half-fare or Swiss card to get discounts on your train trips and certain mountain rides.
Some regions offer discounted "Mehrfahrtkarten" - tickets for more than one ride - for a few days or a week that also can be valid for different mountain rides in the same area. Ask at the tourist office or train station (and/or in your hotel).
Break in your hiking shoes before you leave home.
The fact that 91% of hikers do it on their own shows how excellent the infrastructure and information about hiking in Switzerland are. It's no doubt the best-supported hiking destination in the world. And yes, of course you can do it alone.
However, doing it in organized groups can save you time and the trouble of detailed planning. At the end of the day, your luggage, a warm meal and a bed are always waiting for you. The guide not only can tell you more about the area, hopefully even a bit of local lore and mythology, he also takes care of emergencies. And of course, if you don't like to hike alone the company of fellow hikers is definitely a plus.
Another option would be booking a self-guided tour: you receive a detailed itinerary and maps; accommodation is booked, and luggage transfer arranged from Inn-to-Inn.
To prevent blisters, massage your feet with a heavy cream (not a lotion) and wear woolen socks or one of the seamless walking socks that are now available.
All hiking trails are well marked. If you stick to the marked trails, you can't get lost even without a map or guidebook.
Signposts (Wegweiser) provide information on where you are, the elevation you are at, the estimated time you need to reach the next destination (often more than one - resting time not included), gives you directions, and tells you the difficulty of the trail. They are divided into hiking trails, mountain trails and Alpine routes of different grades.
|Signs, Grade||Demands, Terrain||Hiking Examples|
Hiking Trail (Wanderweg)
Swiss Alpine Club: T1
Mountain Trail (Bergwanderweg)
Swiss Alpine Club: T2 and T3
Alpine Route (Alpinwanderweg)
Winter Trails (Winterwanderweg)
Regional and National Routes
Requirements according to the normal Hiking, Mountain Trail and Alpine route signs. In addition, the 60 Regional and 7 National Routes are marked with green logos on the yellow hiking signs.
What better way to explore Switzerland than on foot. I am working with an Alpine hiking tour operator who organizes hiking tours for over thirty years.
He offers small guided tours, including the famous Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt.
If you rather like to hike in your own company you can book the same tours as a self-guided package. This way you don't have to worry about your luggage - it will be transported from hotel to hotel so you hike light with only a day back.
SwissMobility provides in-depth information and route material for hiking in Switzerland. Get detailed specifics about your hike such as distance, restaurants and accommodations along the way, public transportation and so on. You can even print out a detailed map for your hike. Unfortunately, they only show one grocery store chain, and one that is not in every town and village (far from it). But almost all villages have grocery stores where you can buy food to take on your hike.
Want to find out which mode of transportation brings you to your desired mountain peak? PeakSurfer gives you exactly this information. Click at the region you want to hike, then choose a destination and a list with mountain transportation (with operating hours and prices - "Einfache Fahrten" means one way ticket) and local tourist office websites (or phone numbers) will show up.
You find a better list of grocery stores at SearchSwtizerland as well as restaurants, public buildings, phone directory and more. Info is printable.
The Federal Office of Topography (SwissTopo) offers the most accurate geographical reference maps (sections printable free of charge) for Switzerland and Liechtenstein, trip calculation service, geology data, GPS downloads, a selection of maps scale 1:25,000 or 1:50,000 and more.
MeteoSchweiz is the official weather channel for Switzerland.
You can stay at a Swiss Alpine Club hut even if you are not a member.
Meeting the locals while walking in moonlight? Wandernacht (wander night) lists all the organized moonlight walks (near full moon nights). The site is in German and French; use the Google translation tool, and although it's not optimal, at least you will understand most of it and can guess the rest.
To reach the remotest area possible without your own car, AlpenTaxi (Swiss Alpine Taxi) provides a list of local bus organizations and private cable car providers. You will have to make reservations.
Officially maintained barbecue spots throughout Switzerland - interesting for families. Often with children playgrounds. Unfortunately, it's not in English, but it's pretty much self-explanatory.
The Network of Swiss Parks (National, Regional and Discovery Parks)
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You have the choice between hotels, Alpine huts and inns, Naturfreundehäuser (Nature Friend's homes), B&Bs, hostels, holiday apartments, sleeping in hay or in campgrounds.
Wild camping is not uniformly regulated and can cause problems (albeit I never experienced one). Some communities allow it, others don't.
More about Hiking Accommodation here.
Taking a mobile phone on your hike can come in handy in emergency situations, though there's not always a connection.
Rescue does not come for free. It's very important that you take out travel insurance with worldwide coverage for rescue costs, helicopter included, if you plan hiking vacations, or any other vacation for that matter.
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