Incredibly, there are 60,000km of hiking trails in Switzerland, compared to 71,400km of road and 5,100km of railway. Hiking is part of the Swiss national identity, after all, and place where it was invented.
For walkers, hikers and climbers, Switzerland has long been a Utopia. A place where mountain peaks rise dramatically skywards to create vistas to compete against any other in the word. A place where glistening white snow in the winter gives way to bright green rolling meadows in the summer. For 2.1 million foreign visitors a year, it’s easy to understand the appeal.
But it isn’t just the beauty that appeals. There’s also a more unassuming reason, at least for those less familiar with the Swiss trails, the famous yellow signpost – a national icon. There are over 50,000 of them littering the countryside and, like guiding stars or a career counsellor, they keep hikers on the right path in any condition, all year round. It makes hiking carefree, eliminating the risk of taking the wrong turn.
The responsibility of its upkeep falls to the Swiss Hiking Foundation – a large group of volunteers hike the trails to maintain them so hikers across the nation can always enjoy them.
With so many signposts, it is almost impossible to get lost (though we probably all know at least one person who would), even without a map or GPS. You just need to put your trust in the diamond shaped signs and they’ll guide you on a route suited to your experience and fitness level.
There are number of different types of trails and signs that explain the difficulty of the trail:
The yellow diamond sign: The most familiar of all the signs, these account for around 64% of all Swiss hiking signs. They signal pedestrian trails which are suited to all hikers, from beginner to advanced.
The red and white bar: More challenging routes are marked by a red and white bar and compromise around 355 of all trails. These may include steeper ascents up a hillside and require more effort.
The blue and white bar: You’re going to need your mountaineering kit to take on these routes. These technical alpine passes are marked by blue and white bars that require specialist gear such as ropes, harnesses, carabiners and helmets – they account for just 1% of all trails.
The magenta sign: If you’re travelling to Switzerland in the winter, you’re also likely to see magenta signs marking winter walking trails.
Many of the signs also give an estimated time it’ll take to hike that part of the trail – though proceed with caution. Let’s call these “Swiss times”, if you’ve ever been, you’ll know what I’m talking about. The Swiss are known for their speed across the mountains, for they are hardened walkers who don’t hang around. So don’t be disheartened if you don’t make it in time because, oh my, the Swiss were born to walk.
The trails, and the signs, cover the entirety of the country, passing through meadows, forest and vineyards, along rivers and ridges and up mountains and glaciers. There are seven main national routes including the Trans Swiss Trail and Alpine Panorama Trail and 63 regional routes, enough to keep you busy for a lifetime of hiking.
So how do you choose? We’ve put a handy guide together of some of the best routes in Switzerland for you to enjoy.
1 Eiger Trail
No list of Swiss trails would be complete without the famous Eiger Trail, a 6km, two-hour hike that has attracted mountaineers and tourists since pioneering days. Starting in Eigergletscher and winding across to Grindelwald, this trail takes in breathtaking views of the Eiger’s North Face, getting within touching distance of the majestic mountain. The time to go is between July and October and it’s a medium difficulty route.
2. Senda Ruinaulta: The Swiss Rhine Gorge Route
Known as the “Grand Canyon” of Switzerland, this hike boasts spectacular landscapes (not forgetting the top class cuisine!). The valley was transformed 10,000 years ago after 10,000 million cubic metres of rock broke off, allowing the Rhine to carve its way through the rock to create a spectacular canyon. This trail starts and begins in Laax and hovers 400m above the canyon, taking in an Instagram-worthy bird’s eye view into the gorge. It’s an easy three-hour hike that covers 9km.
3. Aletsch Panoramaweg: The Swiss Glacier Trail
This is an unforgettable experience of Europe’s largest ice flow. This glacier adventure provides unimpeded views and rock stairways open to an idyllic postcard setting. Expect to see picture perfect cotton grass meadows in spring as you negotiate a wide mountain trail that’s carved into the rock and winds down to Lake Marjelen. It’s a 12.4km hike that’s average in difficulty and certainly not one to miss.
GET THE GEAR
If you’re going to walk the walk, you need to get the right gear too. Here are a few ideas that will make you feel at home on the trails:
Over 70 years, Odlo has designed some of the most dynamic baselayers on the market, and the Pinut Revolution Light Merino Shirt for men is no exception. It features advanced temperature control systems based on specially selected fibres. These combine the natural positive effects of merino and PES to create a striking and versatile top. Wool fibres naturally control odours while PES fibres provide improved moisture management allowing you to stay comfortable and fresh for a day on the mountains.
The OdloWisp Jacket is the ideal travel companion for your Swiss adventure thanks all weather protective qualities and an easily stowable design. The versatile, storm-proof jacket has been treated with a DWR coating that repels water and creates a barrier against harsh winds. Alpine weather, bring it on.
Cover trails at a Swiss pace with the Odlo Revolution X-Light Silk Tank, built for performance. Its lightweight construction and lace mesh inserts give ultimate next-to-skin comfort while silk fibres offer natural cooling properties when you’re pushing your limits. Cover the terrain like a mountain lioness.
Pull on some trek-ready shorts with the Odlo Cheakamus Shorts that have been designed for any environment. Perfect for the intrepid explorer, the shorts are a creative compromise between style and sports development and have been cut from an abrasion-resistant high cotton weave with increased elastane for improved flexibility.
Enjoy your hike with the Odlo Aegis Jacket, a garment that has been adapted to brave the element thanks to its exclusive 2.5L tech-rich fabric. This lightweight design features Odlo’s signature Logic 3rd layer technology that protects the body against wet weather conditions. It keeps Alpine weather at bay with its head-hugging hood so you can focus on mastering the trails.
Switzerland’s world-class trails are made more accessible by the famous yellow signposts. They open the beauty of the country to a bigger audience, whilst putting to rest the fears and anxieties of visitors might have about getting lost and not knowing which route to take. Switzerland is leading by example when it comes to hiking, setting a standard that should be followed by other nations, encouraging new generations of hikers to enjoy the great outdoors.
In the modern day digital world, it’s easy to become disconnected with what’s around you. But there’s something magical about heading outside into beautiful surroundings and being guided for the day by nothing but a simple signpost. It’s a deeper connection than a phone screen or a watch face. These signs must be celebrated and protected for generations to come.