With over 65,000km of marked trails that cross hulking peaks, flower-filled meadows and glittering glacial lakes, the Swiss Alps is just as intoxicating during the May to mid-October hiking season as it is when the winter snow cloaks everything in white.
Travellers can now book remote mountain huts online, so we’ve sought out the best hut-to-hut hikes in Switzerland, covering a range of difficulties and durations. All are easily accessible from at least one major Swiss city and each affords priceless panoramic views from altitudes of 1500m and above.
Hiking season in the Swiss Alps offers knockout views and knock-down overnight accomodation © Gaspar Janos / Shutterstock
Route: Haute Route
Where? Chamonix to Zermatt
Duration: Two weeks
Finishing dramatically at the foot of the Matterhorn, arguably the world’s most recognisable massif, the Haute Route connects the two ‘capitals’ of the Alps: Chamonix in France and Zermatt in Switzerland.
Established in 1861 by British mountaineers, this physically demanding trek traverses more than 200km of wild mountains and spectacular valleys that teem with ibex and short-horned chamois that hide among the rugged alpine terrain.
To take in the finest slice of the Swiss Alps, stay over at the century-old, family-run Cabane du Mont Fort in Bagnes, and plan a pit stop at the popular Cabane de Vignettes, which serves up a legendary rösti stuffed with potatoes, cheese, ham and fried onions. Less experienced hikers should follow The Walkers’ Haute Route, an alternative and well-marked trail 3000m below the original.
Here's the prize for those who complete the Haute Route: the might Matterhorn © emperorcosar/Shutterstock
Route: The Swiss Glacier Trail
Where? Bettmerhorn to Fiescheralp
Duration: Four hours
This four-hour hike along Europe’s longest glacier starts with a gorgeous cable car ride up the Bettmerhorn mountain and ends high above the Unesco-listed Aletsch Glacier, a vast ice artery that carves and curls through Switzerland’s Jungfrau region.
Climbing along a series of 4000m-high massifs, hikers should aim for Lake Märjelen, a twinkling spring lake that mirrors the mountains and soft cotton fields that surrounds it. After an afternoon of fresh, mountain serenity, indulge in a dinner and a good night’s sleep at the popular Gletscherstube Hut, famous for its extensive menu of local Valais wines and homemade apple tart.
The Aletsch Glacier in autumn, seen from the forests above © Frederic Huber Photography/Getty Images/Flickr RF
Route: The Romantic Trail
Where? Männlichen to Alpiglen
Duration: Two-and-a-half hours
Take the cable car from Wengen and head up to the summit of Männlichen, where vast sweeping views cast over the entire valley. From here, there are a series of hiking trails for the casual hiker, but the most remarkable is the Romantic Trail which bursts with wild buttercups, alpine roses and white cotton during spring and summer, making it ideal for open-air picnics.
If the weather is clear, you’ll have a good chance of viewing the Big Three: Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau, the fabled majestic summits that overlook the entire region. Make your way leisurely downhill to the Berghaus Alpiglen, a family-friendly hut that overlooks the north face of the Eiger. It offers a refined (though thoroughly unpretentious) take on typical alpine food. Sample the beet carpaccio, topped with citrus wedges and shaved cheese, whilst getting to know the cowbell-toting cattle that occasionally congregate here.
Hikers on a mountainside trail from Männlichen to Kleine Scheidegg © CHEN MIN CHUN/Shutterstock
Route: Surenen Pass
Where? Altdorf to Engelberg
Duration: Two days
Part of the long-distance Alpine Pass Route that traverses Switzerland from east to west, the Surenen Pass in Central Switzerland is a historic mountain route that requires hikers to be in good health.
Starting in the massifs above the village of Altdorf, near the southern end of Lake Uri, this mountain pass basks in glacial ravines that are dotted with gushing waterfalls and encircled by rosemary-green peaks. Stay at the stone-and-wood Sewenhütte on the Meiental side of the Ruess Valley, where the owners can organise wild blueberry picking trips and rowing excursions at Sewensee, another nearby lake.
The wonderful Engelberg village, the reward for completing a two-day hike from Altdorf © Sizhe_Hu/Shutterstock
Route: Through the Alpsteinmassiv
Where? Brülisau to Hundstein
Duration: One day
A few hours’ train ride from Zürich is Brülisau, a quiet village surrounded by limestone massifs that often finds itself shrouded by low cloud. From here, there is fantastic marked hike up the Hundstein that passes rustic rural houses, rushing streams and well-fed cows, which are herded to this area to graze on nutrient-rich grasses, just as they have been since the Middle Ages.
The route affords the opportunity to go wild swimming at the gorgeous Fählensee lake, which is hemmed in by the Altmann and Widderalpstöcke mountains. It then climbs to 1554m above sea level to the Hundsteinhütte, the Hundstein’s cosiest hut, where lodgers can enjoy a hearty helping of meat and potato gratin followed by Swiss hot chocolate before spending the night in a dormitory.
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