Quite simply, the Swiss Alps is the best supported hiking destination in the world. Admittedly, I’m biased in making such a bold claim. I’ve guided walkers, hikers, and trekkers in the Alps for over 20 years. Where else can you enjoy that kind of mountain scenery and never have to carry anything more than a light daypack. Even on long-distance trails like the Haute Route, which I traverse at least twice a year, you can walk for days on end without a tent, sleeping bag, food or stove, knowing that a well-linked system of mountain huts provides great meals, a hot shower, and a comfortable bed at the end of a long day.
But in today’s economy, where both vacation time and money are tight, you may prefer to spend your limited time in the Alps on day hikes. You’ll be able to enjoy the mountain scenery, waterfalls, glaciers, wildlife, and wildflowers during the day, and still be back in town or on to your next destination before sunset.
Here are my recommendations for the most magnificent day hikes in the Swiss Alps. All are well-marked, easy to follow, and can be hiked in either direction. You’ll find them charted on free maps available from local tourist information offices. In most cases there is a cogwheel railway, funicular or gondola to speed you to a high and scenic elevation to get started. Most importantly you’ll find plenty of huts, inns, and mountain restaurants along the way where weary hikers can get recharged with cheese, chocolate, and apple strudel.
Where: Zermatt Length: 11miles/18km Duration: 5-7 hours Zermatt is touristy, to be sure, but within five minutes of the center of town you’re already leaving wildflower-spangled meadows to ascend through larch forests. The route takes you up the steep valley walls with dramatic views back down to Zermatt. Soon you emerge above treeline to a high alpine meadow known as the Höhbalmen, where a sweeping panorama of Switzerland’s highest peaks. Your descent offers spellbinding Matterhorn views to the right and the Zmutt glacier below.
Riffelsee to SunneggaWhere: Zermatt Length: 8 miles/13km Duration: 3-5 hours Once again, the Matterhorn is the showstopper here, but you access the postcard views quickly by taking the cog-wheeled Gornergrat train to Riffelsee, where you’ll have mirror-reflections of the Matterhorn in the small glacial lakes. Descending to Rifflealp, you’ll be tempted to stay the night at the elegant Rifflealp Hotel—not a bad choice—but continuing down to cross the Findelbach canyon leads you past more reflecting lakes and alpine meadows. The Sunnegga funicular makes for a quick descent back to Zermatt, although the forest path through the hamlet of Findeln is absolutely charming.
Lac de LouvieWhere: Verbier Length: 9 miles/15km Duration: 6-8 hours Make a quick escape from the ski-resort bustle of Verbier by taking the gondola to Les Ruinettes and continuing on a short stroll to the Cabane du Mont Fort for views of the Mont Blanc massif. Then it’s on to the Sentier de Chamois (the Chamois Trail) where you’re likely to see both ibex and chamois on the rocky slopes above, and commanding views of the Val de Bagnes below. Crossing the Termin Pass, you’ll arrive at Lac de Louvie, a stunningly beautiful gem of a lake with fascinating 200-year old stone barns at its head. Ring the lake, take in the views of the Grand Combin massif and descend through the dense forest to the village of Fionnay where you can catch a bus back down the valley or return to Verbier.
The FaulhornwegWhere: Grindelwald (Jungfrau) Length: 9 miles/15km Duration: 6-8 hours For high-level panoramic views of the Jungfrau, the Faulhornweg is a hiker’s dream. From Grindelwald, take the gondola to First, where a well-worn path leads to the Bachalpsee which creates an infinity-pool with the backdrop of the Eiger, Monch, Jungfrau and other snow-clad peaks flanked by massive glaciers. Soon views to the north open up as you overlook Interlaken and the glistening lakes on both sides. You’ll conclude at Schynige Platte, where the gardens display over 600 alpine species and the 360-degree views are among the best in Europe. A mountain railway that dates to 1893 takes you on the descent to the village of Wilderswil for easy connections to Interlaken or back to Grindelwald.
MürrenWhere: Lauterbrunnen (Jungfrau) Length: 6 miles/10km Duration: 3-4 hours The Lauterbrunnental is the world’s largest glacial valley (it’s hard to imagine someplace that outshines Yosemite) and it’s ringed by 72 waterfalls, including some of the highest in Europe. There’s no better introductory hike to this spectacular valley than the loop that leads from the town of Lauterbrunnen up to Grütshchalp (take the tram or the steep trail), then along a gentle forest path, crossing a dozen streams, to the village of Mürren, perched on a hillside. You’ll find plenty of viewpoints along the way before descending to the lovely village of Gimmelwald. From here you can take the steep trail or the tram back down to Stechelberg at the top of the Lauterbrunnen valley. Return to Lauterbrunnen by bus or follow the riverside trail past meadows, small farms, and waterfalls on every side.
More Hikes from Greg WittIf you'd like a hike that is off the normal Jungfrau tourist trails visit hiking a quieter route
I believe Salt Lake City is the greatest hiking destination in America. Name another city in the country where within 300 yards of the state’s Capitol building and the downtown center you can be walking in a protected nature reserve, spotting elk and raptors. For a description of five great hikes in this city click on Salt Lake City hikes.