Hiking in the Swiss Alps should be near the top of everyone’s bucket list. From cascading waterfalls to flower-filled meadows and the rugged mountains – the most famous of which are the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau – there are few places where you can so easily connect with an idealized vision of a place and have it live up to expectations.
Trails are plentiful, and there is something for every level of skill and comfort. The most adventurous are the base jumpers who leap off the cliffs in squirrel suits and open their parachutes after flying through the valleys. At the other end of the spectrum are trails reached by funicular or gondola that are easy walks through relatively flat areas high in the Alps.
Lauterbrunnen is a fantastic gateway to the Alps. It’s a short train ride from Interlaken, which has major highways and a rail station connecting it to other Swiss cities and beyond.
When you think Lauterbrunnen, think idyllic Swiss mountain town with chalet-style buildings, friendly people and a gorgeous waterfall.
To get away from even a town as small as Lauterbrunnen, hop on the funicular and head toward Grutschalp. A little higher in the mountains, it’s still nowhere near the point that is covered in snow, and when I was there in June, it was shorts and T-shirt weather. From there, you can hike to Murren and then on to Gimmelwald.
From Gimmelwald, you can take the gondola down to the next step in the valley, and it’s an easy flat walk back to Lauterbrunnen along paved trails for cyclists and leisure walkers.
While that’s what I did, there are numerous routes to take for those seeking more difficulty, and those who want less difficulty have options as well. Checking with a local guide is the best way to figure out what’s right.
Walking in the Swiss Alps is like walking on top of the world. I even got that feeling without taking the train up to the top of the Jungfrau, which stood at an imposing height across the valley.
The trails are well-marked and popular, but when I was there it was rare to run into other hikers.
Passing through the fields, I crossed streams and made my way through meadows full of wildflowers.
At times, hikers cross lands owned by farmers, and their cattle are fenced in. As someone who lives in a city in America, where property is seemingly more strictly controlled, I was surprised that I was able to pass through gates into farmers’ pastures before continuing on the hike at the other side.
Of course the pastures were full of cows, and just like everyone who’s seen Heidi imagines, the cows have bells around their necks.
As I approached Gimmelwald, it was clear that the drop to the next step in the valley was steep, and there was no funicular to take me down. That meant taking a gondola.
And I hate gondolas. Planes don’t worry me. I’m fine with bridges. I even jumped off a Swiss cliff with nothing but a rope attached to me at one time (more on that in a future post), but I. Hate. Gondolas. Statistically, they’re incredible safe, but swaying a thousand feet above ground just doesn’t give me that feel-good sensation of safety.
In any case, I descended from Gimmelwald to the valley floor and hiked back to Lauterbrunnen.
The pathway is paved, and the walk is easy. It’s fun to watch the helicopters taking parachutists aloft, and then watch them sail through the air and glide to the earth. The same is true of the base jumpers, and the area around Lauterbrunnen is one of the best in the world for that particular sport, both for the terrain and the fact that it’s legal.
At the end of the journey back to Lauterbrunnen, I passed the waterfall that distinguishes the town from many in the area. Waterfalls are everywhere, but the one at Lauterbrunnen has a steady flow, and I could view it from my hotel window.
Don’t ever let anyone tell you Switzerland is cheap – with the Swiss Frank at parity with the U.S. Dollar and the minimum wage in Switzerland being about 22 Franks per hour (I was told both 22 and 25 when I was there), everything comes with a hefty price tag. But don’t think for a second that it’s not worth it.