Can you hike in Switzerland in winter?
Hiking in Switzerland during winter is perfectly possible. There are many groomed winter trails. Some are very easy and flat, and even suitable for wheelchairs and prams. Others are more challenging.
Winter hiking is a great activity: you can enjoy the Swiss snow scenery in peace and quiet. And you can take wonderful pictures.
You’ll find explanation about different kinds of snow hiking in Switzerland here. There are also tips for easy winter hikes with spectacular scenery!
What’s the difference between winter hiking, snowshoe hiking and cross-country trekking?
Winter hiking is hiking with regular hiking boots or snowboots. You’ll walk over groomed snow trails. The easiest trails are suitable for nearly all hikers, including kids and elderly.
Snowshoe hiking is done with flat soles, attached under your hiking boots or snowboots. You’ll also use trekking poles. Snowshoe trails run over more difficult terrain with deeper layers of snow. This type of hiking requires more stamina than normal winter hiking.
Cross-country trekking, or cross-country skiing, is different from hiking. Find more information here.
What’s the best time for winter hiking?
The best months for snow hikes in Switzerland are January, February and March. That’s when there’s most snow in the mountains.
The exact opening dates for groomed winter trails vary. They depend on weather conditions and the amount of snow. Routes at higher altitude are usually open longer than routes at lower altitude. In favorable snow conditions, the highest routes may be open from December to April.
Which are the best places for winter hiking?
Snow hiking in Switzerland can best be done at high altitude. There’s more snow in the mountains than at low altitude.
High-altitude valleys are perfect for easy snow trails. Examples are the Upper Engadine, the Lower Engadine, the Upper Rhone valley and the Matter valley.
Find more tips for winter destinations here.
Winter hiking on groomed winter trails
Regular winter hiking in Switzerland is a great winter activity for all. You don’t need special gear, except for waterproof hiking boots or snowboots and warm clothes.
Switzerland has many prepared winter hiking trails. Snow on these trails is pushed down to a flat layer, so that you don’t sink into it. The paths are broad and safe. Still, hiking on pressed snow is tougher than on normal summer soil. That’s why a snow hike takes about 25% more time than the same distance in summer.
Winter trails are available in several difficulty levels. The easiest routes are no longer than 5 km (3,1 mi) and have no more than 200 m (656 ft) of altitude difference.
Snow trails are signalized by pink signs, depicting a black hiking figure.
Snowshoe hiking on prepared trails
You need snowshoes for snowshoe trails. Information is available here.
Snowshoe trails are prepared, signalized trails too. But the snow is not pressed down as much as on regular winter trails. There are deeper layers of snow. The flat snowshoes prevent you from sinking into the snow.
Snowshoe hiking requires a better physical shape than regular hiking. A hike takes about 50% more time than the same distance in summer. Since snowshoe trails aren’t groomed continually, fresh snow can make conditions harder.
Snowshoe hiking trails come in several difficulty levels. The easiest routes are no longer than 4 km (2,5 mi) and have no more than 200 m (656 ft) altitude difference. If you’re not experienced, pick short and easy routes only. You can also hike with a guide.
Snowshoe hiking trails can be recognized by pink signs, depicting a white shoe in an oval shape.
How to prepare for snow hiking
For each hike, you should prepare well. Even it’s a simple trail, safety is important. Study the general hiking preparation and behavior tips. Also use the below tips for winter hiking:
- Don’t underestimate hiking in the snow. It’s tougher than hiking on summer terrain. So pick shorter and easier routes than you’d do for a summer hike.
- Make sure you have the right gear.
- Don’t go winter hiking alone. Or at least make sure that someone else knows about your plans and your route.
- Check weather forecasts shortly before leaving. Don’t go out if there’s chance of snowfall or other weather dangers. Snow obstructs your view and reduces your orientation. Fresh snow can make existing trails harder to walk on.
- Walk in daylight only. Make sure you’re back well before it gets dark. During the shortest days, the sun starts to set about 4:30 PM.
- Don’t leave the marked trails.
- Only hike long or high-altitude snow routes if you’re very experienced, or hire a guide.
Easy panoramic winter hikes in valleys
Switzerland has many easy routes in snowy valleys. They’re suitable for many hikers and offer splendid scenery. Examples of winter routes in valleys are:
Easy panoramic winter hikes in the mountains
You can make easy winter hikes with amazing panoramic views in the Swiss mountains. Examples of trails with difficulty levels “easy” and “medium” are:
Long-distance winter hikes
Long winter hikes are available too. If you’re experienced and if you’re in good physical shape, you can complete routes up to 10 km in a day. You can also choose to hike short stages in several days, with overnight stays in between. Examples are:
- Fiescheralp - Bettmeralp - Riederalp: a very famous 9 km (5.6 mi)-route (difficulty level “medium”) on the slopes of the the Upper Rhone valley, with amazing panoramic views.
- Leukerbad - Gemmi pass- Kandersteg: an alpine pass hike spanning 10 km (6.2 mi), from the southern to the northern part of the Alps.
- Niederhorn - Waldegg: a 10 km (6.2 mi)-descent of 880 m (2887 ft) from the Niederhorn above Lake Thun to the settlement of Waldegg.
- Tiefenbach - Andermatt: a beautiful 14 km (8.7 mi)-hike called the “Realp-Tiefenbach trail” between the Furka Pass and the Oberalp Pass. A shorter segment of 9 km (5.6 mi) is called the “Ursenbach trail”. This easier leg runs in the valley along the river Reuss.
- The Via Engiadina is a long path in the Upper and Lower Engadine. You can hike several stages on multiple days. Packages with luggage transfer are offered.
Suspension bridges accessible in winter
Switzerland has many thrilling suspension bridges. Not all of them are open in winter. The ones below are (if weather is good):
Snow hiking in summer
Summer is not the right season for snow hikes in Switzerland. There are hardly any groomed snow trails. Regular summer hiking is the way to go.
An exception is the hike from Jungfraujoch to the Mönchjochs hut. It’s a fairly easy route with 200 m (656 ft) of altitude difference. Walking one way takes 0h45 to 1h00. It’s usually accessible from mid-March to mid-October.