Your trip begins on arrival in Sargans. This working Swiss town has a fine old street and castle. With the village of Mels next door, the situation in the valley hints at the grand mountains to come. Dine at restaurants in either of these centres.
Hotel in Sargans or Mels (breakfast)
Red 3 (grade) 14km with 650m ascent, 100m descent
A short first stage climbs steadily in woods. We burst into the upper valley and walk up-river to the sweet village of Weisstannen. This brings us within reach of the first proper ascent of a pass. (It is also possible to use the bus to stay two nights in Sargans or Mels. Or, skip this stage if you wish to save a day. It's difficult to combine it with the stage to Elm.)
Hotel in Weisstannen (breakfast)
Red 3 (grade) 23km with 1250m ascent, 1280m descent
Leaving Weisstannen, continue on the valley road through cattle country to the head of the valley. Here starts the climb to the Foopass (2,223m), steeply up to a high valley and finally up grassy pasture. This first pass is grassy on both sides and relatively gentle. Descend to Elm on good paths and tracks.
Hotel in Elm (breakfast)
Red 4 (grade) 22.5km with 1460m ascent, 1790m descent
Leaving Elm, the Richetlipass (2,261m) is the higher of two passes on a strenuous stage to Linthal. We cross a high basin in between. The ascent can be helped by the Ampachli cable car, after which a traverse brings us to Matt and the higher ascent. In descent there is a fabulous wide view from the Richetlipass and, before Linthal, a well-made old mule track in woods. Linthal is an everyday Swiss village. (We can advise on the funicular railway to Braunwald as an alternative.)
Hotel in Linthal (breakfast)
Red 4 (grade) 16.5km with 1330m ascent, 80m descent
The next two stages cross the Klausenpass, a grassy area - the Unterboden - famed for cow pastures. A postbus crosses the pass by a hairpin road. Due to limited places to stay we walk up to the Klausenpass, take the bus to Altdorf on the far side and return tomorrow. (It is possible to stay near the pass, or to see the higher ground in one day by taking the postbus part-way up and part-way down.)
Hotel in Altdorf (breakfast)
Red 4 (grade) 21.5km with 100m ascent, 1530m descent
Having returned to the Klausenpass by bus, we descend steadily near road and river, passing the magnificent meadow at Asch. This is famed for its waterfall above. Reach Altdorf, a good place to buy essentials as a substantial valley town.
Hotel in Altdorf (breakfast)
Black 4 (grade) 29.5km with 1880m ascent, 1330m descent
This is a particularly memorable stage, perhaps the most demanding of the whole Via Alpina in terms of physical effort even if there are higher passes to come. The pass is the Surenenpass (2,291m) which has a rocky approach. After the pass the long roll down to Engelberg follows the course of the valley, goes quickly, and is charming. In Engelberg find all that a trekker needs within a small Swiss town. (The first ascent can be shortened by a cable car to Brosti, saving 1,080m and 3.5km).
Hotel in Engelberg (breakfast)
After a last breakfast we depart from Engelberg. It is an easy train ride up to Lucerne, at which point you are central within the Swiss network. We love to advise on Swiss travel. Congratulations on the Via Alpina East!
If you would like add on a few more days, why not look into our Via Alpina: Bernese Oberland trip? A fantastic trip in its own right, this would give you the chance to explore the famous resorts Grindelwald, Wengen and Murren in the Eiger and Jungfrau region.
Make the Trip shorter
By including some fairly long days, it is possible to walk the whole route in 4 or 5 stages. For a long first section, walk all the way to Elm in one day, giving a 36km day with 1,865m ascent and 1,335m descent. To make the trip even shorter, walk over the Klausenpass from Linthal to Altdorf in 1 day, giving a 38km day with 1,430m ascent and 1,610m descent.
Via Alpina East (Self-guided)
19 July to 18 September 2020
All stops except Weisstannen
|Please ask us|
The accommodation on the Via Alpina is of high standard using mostly 3* hotels, with delicious buffet breakfasts included on every morning. Following our standard itinerary, there are 5 hotel nights and 2 nights in auberges (comparable to simple hotels). You will have a private room each night; at the hotels with an ensuite bathroom, whilst at the auberges your bathroom might be shared. No huts are needed on this trip.
The accommodation along the Via Alpina East is fairly limited and we already use the comfiest hotel options available. To upgrade your trip, we can swap the auberge at Klausenpass for a second hotel night in Altdorf. From the pass, take the scenic post bus down into the valley and return the following morning to continue the walk.
We don't offer a specific Hutty option on the Via Alpina East, due to the limited options on the route and the general spacing of accommodation. However, please do contact us to discuss the minor ways in which we can tweak your trip to suit your preferred style, such as using simpler hotels.
The single supplement covers the extra cost of booking single rooms in the hotels and auberges, compared with 2 people sharing a room.
Our trip gives a complete journey on foot from Sargans to Engelberg, along the first week of the Via Alpina. On the trek itself, no transport is needed, unless you wish to take the postbus to reach Altdorf from the Klausenpass, for a comfier accommodation option. Buses and cable cars can be used to shorten days or skip out steep sections of descent where needed. Our routecards explain the different possibilities, and every year we carry out a pre-season recce to update you of any changes.
The Via Alpina’s terrain comprises the full range of Alpine walking, a typical day starting with wide tracks through forests, tarmac country lanes, then up to zig-zagging hillside paths and steep, rocky mountain paths. The highest col, the Surenenpass (2,291m), is rockier than others and more susceptible to late Spring snow. The Via Alpina has no via ferrata or climbing sections and is considered a trek throughout.
Is it for me?
The Via Alpina East is perfect for stronger hikers looking for a little comfort overnight. Good footing and a head for heights is needed for crossing the sometimes lose ground on the ascent and descents from the higher passes. In bad weather, experience is needed to judge whether walking is safe or whether passes should be avoided by taking the train or bus instead. Similarly, the ability to navigate with a map and compass is essential for at least one party member in case of poor visibility.
The high standard of accommodation on the Via Alpina and the option to have your bags transferred to every stop gives a little luxury and comfortable breaks along the route. The expansive cable car and post bus system allows for a certain flexibility to the walking, making it much easier to skip sections or even a whole stage of the route, compared to other trips.
We grade the Via Alpina a Black3, making it one of our harder treks. The hardest stage giving it this grade is the ascent and descent over Surenenpass on your last walking day. The other passes are a little lower, offering mostly grassy paths through Alpine meadows. In terms of distance, the route has 1 long day, the long crossing of the Surenenpass from Altdorf to Engelberg. Good public transport can help shorten many of the days, with 3.5km and 1080m ascent being shaved off the crossing of the Surenenpass by taking the cable car.
For an even more detailed read, please see our Via Alpina Walking Guide
Swiss Train Station
Your holiday starts in the valley town of Sargans and ends in the mountain resort of Engelberg. Zurich and Basel are the most convenient airports, with good trains.
Travel to and from the trip is not included in the holiday price. We take care to give the most useful notes possible about all the travel options. We supply these both on booking and in your info pack, and we offer personalised tips at any point. The aim is that our trekkers arrange their travel by the simplest and most scenic means as suits their plan.
- Bespoke accommodation itinerary - tailored to suit your particular requirements
- Breakfast every morning
- Detailed Routecards VAS1-VAS6 of the Exploratory system, printed on waterproof paper
- The topographical maps needed
- Expert advice and local information
- A comprehensive 'Season Update' following our pre-season recce
- Full support during your trip from the Alpine Exploratory team (9am until 9pm in the Alps)
- Travel to and from your trip
- Local transport whilst on the trip unless specified
- Travel insurance
- Lunches, snacks, drinks and evening meals in the towns (this would be 18 nights on our main trip)
- Baggage transfers (available as an extra)
Baggage transferWe offer baggage transfers as an extra to all stops except Weisstannen on our standard Via Alpina. Due the high cost of transferring luggage by road and rail in Switzerland, we generally recommend that you carry everything you need for the trip on your back; there is not too much you need during your trek. We can also advise on more cost-effective ways of sending additional kit ahead to meet you at Engelbergm such as using the excellent Swiss postal system. If you would like more information about our baggage transfer service, please ask.
2020 and provisionally for 2021
Via Alpina East enquiry form
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Since Alpine Exploratory started in 2005 we have loved getting to know our clients from around the world. Along with the UK, our best-represented countries are the US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Please use our national-rate numbers for a cheaper call to contact our office in Edinburgh.
Alpine Exploratory is a system of knowledge on the best mountain trekking in our areas, giving clients superb holidays based on this exploration.