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The canton's openness to all-comers today is a far cry from its inward-looking and diffident past. Down through the centuries, the people of this rugged area lived largely in isolated, rural pockets, mistrustful of outsiders and, aided by the near impregnable mountain terrain, able to resist most would-be conquerors.

In medieval times the region was known as Rhaetia, and was loosely bound by an association of three leagues (Drei Bünde). The modern name for the canton derives from the Grauer Bund, or Grey League. Graubünden joined the Swiss Confederation in 1803.

However, much more important was the year 1864, when a local hotel owner in St Moritz invited summer guests to stay over for the winter - for free. In this way, winter tourism in Graubünden, and later all Switzerland, was launched.