+ Cross a series of mountain passes in Switzerland
+ Long, tough mountain days and some rocky cols
+ The real Switzerland represented by its villages and hotels
The Via Alpina in Switzerland is the East to West traverse of mountain passes that, for the trekker, reveals the rural Switzerland in its full glory. As well as the cols we trek through farmland, meadows, villages and small towns. We walk under the Eiger and Jungfrau and we stay in the famous resorts Grindelwald, Wengen and Murren.
The Via Alpina is the trekking route across the whole Alpine chain. Within Switzerland the route coincides with the Via Alpina as far as Lenk. We continue from Lenk to Montreux to complete what until recently was known as the Alpine Pass Route, East to West across Switzerland, from Sargans to Montreux. We take 18 days for the route which breaks the longest stages into manageable days, still leaving a very long last stage to Montreux.
Life on trek follows a reliable pattern: most days you'll start with a climb through forests to high meadows, a col - in three particular instances quite rocky and narrow - and a descent to the next village. A handful of days do not involve cols, or only minor grassy ones. Some days are nearer to roads and give insight into everyday life in rural Switzerland.
This being a self-guided holiday, you're free to walk as you choose. We make the arrangements, including booking accommodation and giving you our detailed routecards, and then it's up to you to complete each day's walk.
Alpine Exploratory on the Via Alpina
19 July to 18 September 2020
|VASsg Via Alpina Switzerland (Alpine Pass Route)|
Prices in GBP
2 rest days
2 rest days
|The 7 stages from Engelberg to Kandersteg form our Via Alpina: Bernese Oberland. This week passes the Eiger and Jungfrau and includes 2 of the 3 highest passes.|
All stops except huts
Itinerary and other key information
Here is our normal schedule of 18 stages and 2 rest days.
Arrival day: Arrival in Sargans
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
Stage 1: Sargans to Weisstannen
Red2 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
Stage 2: Weisstannen to Elm
Red3 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
Stage 3: Elm to Linthal
Red4 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
Stage 4: Linthal to the Klausenpass
Red3 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
Stage 5: Klausenpass to Altdorf
Red3 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
Stage 6: Altdorf to Engelberg
Black4 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
Rest day in Engelberg
Take the train to Lucerne (Luzern) for a city day; Engelberg is a branch line from Lucerne and trains run every hour. Or relax in Engelberg, perhaps taking the famous Titlis cable car.
Hotel in Engelberg
Stage 7: Engelberg to Engstlenalp
Red3 grade, 11km with 1260m ascent, 430m descent
Setting off from Engelberg, the Jochpass is the next col, relatively modest at 2,207m and with ski infrastructure on either side. Nevertheless, the mountains are building up and we descend to the delightful meadow of Engstlenalp. We are still a day from Meiringen in the next valley system. (The bus runs to Meiringen and it is also possible to walk beyond Engstlenalp to the cable car on the next stage.)
Auberge at Engstlenalp
Stage 8: Engstlenalp to Meiringen
Red3 grade, 20km with 650m ascent, 1890m descent
Our main route is a hilly, at times narrow traverse via Tannalp to Planplatten, from where we begin the solid descent to Meiringen. On the way is the Balmeregghorn, a grassy hill with long views over meadows and the deep Gental. (At Planplatten a series of three cable cars can be taken to Meiringen to save some or all of the descent.)
Hotel in Meiringen
Stage 9: Meiringen to Grindelwald
Red3 grade, 22km with 1410m ascent, 1030m descent
The passes continue with the easy-angled Grosse Scheidegg. A small road goes over the pass and down to Grindelwald. We climb and descend through woods and meadows. This feels like a more gentle day than others, despite the distance, because after the first ascent by the Reichenbach falls (as per Sherlock Holmes) the gradients are generally modest.
Hotel in Grindelwald
Stage 10: Grindelwald to Wengen
Red3 grade, 18.5km with 1170m ascent, 930m descent
The Kleine Scheidegg is today's pass, unique on the Via Alpina in hosting a railway station. (The Jungfraujoch railway can be joined here as an excursion.) We walk under the North Face of the Eiger. Roll gently down to Wengen on its high shelf. Together with Grindelwald and Murren, Wengen makes up the trio of famous Bernese Oberland resorts.
Hotel in Wengen
Stage 11: Wengen to Murren
Red2 grade, 8.5km with 860m ascent, 490m descent
Today is a modest stage, steeply down to Lauterbrunnen then steeply up. Our aim is the mountainside village of Murren, car-free and a curious delight. It feels as if suspended in mid-air. (The Grutschalp cable car and sweet old train can be used to bypass the stiff climb, thus skipping this stage and either missing Wengen or reaching Griesalp in a day.)
Hotel in Murren
Stage 12: Murren to Griesalp
Black3 grade, 17km with 1100m ascent, 1330m descent
The first of the three toughest stages comes with the long climb to the Sefinafurgga (2,612m), the second-highest col of the whole Via Alpina. (The highest comes tomorrow.) The ascent is exceptionally scenic with views over Murren and back to the Kleine Scheidegg. The Sefinafurgga is narrow, loose and rocky, and the descent to tiny Griesalp is quick down meadows.
Auberge in Griesalp
Stage 13: Griesalp to Kandersteg
Black4 grade, 16km with 1440m ascent, 1670m descent
The rocky Hohturli (2,778m) col is not even the highlight of this exceptional day in the mountains. Perhaps the highlight is the Blumlisalphutte (2,834m) just above the col, in classic Swiss Alpine Club style, or the glacial views and features on the descent. We walk on a lateral moraine with waterfalls opposite. Today has the most consistently mountainous setting of all the Via Alpina stages.
Hotel in Kandersteg
Rest day in Kandersteg
Kandersteg is smaller than Engelberg and a train ride to Bern is easy to recommend. (Bern is the capitol of Switzerland and is unusual for its long arcaded streets.) In the other direction the Rhone valley and even Zermatt are possibilities.
Hotel in Kandersteg
Stage 14: Kandersteg to Adelboden
Black3 grade, 16.5km with 1355m ascent, 1185m descent
The third of the rockiest passes is today, the Bunderchrinde (2,385m). It is a notch in the rock, framing the onward view to Adelboden. The initial descent path is rocky and loose; lower down, the descent is fine and becomes gently pastoral. Adelboden is one of the most pleasant of Via Alpina resorts.
Hotel in Adelboden
Stage 15: Adelboden to Lenk
Red3 grade, 19.5km with 950m ascent, 1230m descent
Choose from two routes today, both crossing the mountains at the grassy Hahnenmoospass. We suggest the ascent to the Sillerenbuhl and descent via the Simmefalle, a long stepped waterfall in woods. This is a gentler day than those before or after. Lenk is another charming small resort.
Hotel in Lenk
Stage 16: Lenk to Gsteig
Red3 grade, 23km with 1420m ascent, 1310m descent
We cross two passes today, the grassy Trutlisbergpass and the wooded Chrine. After the first pass is the village of Lauenen and at the end is the hamlet of Gsteig. At both places we can take the regular bus to Gstaad for its lively resort atmosphere and good hotels. (Staying in Gsteig is a decent option too.)
Hotel in Gstaad
Stage 17: Gsteig to Col des Mosses
Red3 grade, 24.5km with 1320m ascent, 1040m descent
A steep ascent through meadows to the Blattipass and a long pastoral traverse to the Col des Anderets (2,030m) takes us into French-speaking Switzerland. This is an intriguingly cross-country day with some challenge. Above Les Diablerets we traverse several meadows, turn the corner of the hillside and come to the road at Col des Mosses.
Hotel at Col des Mosses
Stage 18: Col des Mosses to Montreux
Red3 grade, 32.5km with 960m ascent, 2065m descent
Our long last stage goes cross-country to the Rochers de Nayes, a peak high above Montreux. From this last high point the descent is long, but the middle section of path is a delight, twisting and surprising in its views. Arriving in Montreux is likely to be a sudden change, despite the charm of the old town. The lake-front and the Avenue des Alpes are quite busy. We hope that the holiday atmosphere and the charm of Lac Leman make an exciting finish. (The stage can be shortened by using the mountain railway from the Rochers de Nayes down to Montreux, or taking it from a station lower down.)
Hotel in Montreux
Departure day: Departure from Montreux
After a last breakfast we depart from Montreux, in what will feel like a very different environment to most of the trek. The paddle steamers on Lac Leman are a fine way to reach Lausanne or Geneva, blue water and hills above. The train speeds to both and to Geneva Airport, or by a pastoral route to Bern and Basel. We love to advise on Swiss travel. Congratulations on the Via Alpina!
Our usual schedule of accommodation might not be available, especially if there is not much time between booking and your trip. We book accommodation as closely as possible to this itinerary and present a schedule for you to check before we proceed.
Your holiday starts in the valley town of Sargans and ends on the shore of Lac Leman at Montreux. Zurich and Basel (for Sargans) and Geneva (for Montreux) 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.
Our approach to the Via Alpina
Our trip gives a complete journey on foot from Sargans to Montreux, along the Via Alpina. On completion you will have walked the full Via Alpina. On the trek itself, we use the postbus to reach Altdorf from the Klausenpass, to give better choice of accommodation. Otherwise no transport is taken except for any that you would like to add in, to skip certain sections of valley walking or to descend by cable car. The routecards explain these places.
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 four highest cols in particular, the Sefinafurgga (2,612m), the Hohturli (2,778m), the Bunderchrinde (2,385m) and the Surenenpass (2,291m), involve loose paths over scree and shale. The Via Alpina has no via ferrata or climbing sections and is a trek throughout.
Where we stay
Our standard schedule of accommodation consists of 16 nights in 3- or 4-star hotels, 1 night in a 2-star hotel, and 4 nights in auberges (like simple hotels). You will have a private room each night; at the hotels you have an ensuite bathroom, while at the auberges your bathroom might be shared.
If availability is tight at 2 of the auberges then we'll let you know; in that case the choice is between dormitories, or taking the bus (scenic) to a nearby hotel, or finally shifting your dates either side.
It is possible to stay in one or more Swiss mountain huts, on the Via Alpina. Please ask us for details. The huts are comfortable and welcoming. Hut accommodation is in dormitories, either on Alpine-style communal sleeping platforms or in bunk beds. We can sometimes book private rooms at some of the huts.
Your info pack contains full details of your accommodation including contact details and directions.
Let us move your bags between stops. Please contact us for a price.
The Via Alpina allows many variations and trip lengths. We provide some of the options below and welcome you to ask if you would like more details!
Walk the full route in 14 days
By walking 4 very long days, in addition to the long last stage to Montreux, the full route can be walked in 14 stages. Alternatively you can take local transport (bus, and cable-car and train) over certain sections. This misses the nights at Engstlenalp and Wengen, and doubles-up the Sargans to Elm and Linthal to Altdorf stages.
Walk a shorter section of the Via Alpina
If you'd prefer to walk a shorter section of the full route, we recommend choosing the 7 stage Bernese Oberland trek. This section of the trail passes the iconic mountains of the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau. Equally, we can offer the East or West sections as stand alone trips or plan a shorter trip all together. Please just ask us for more details.
Stay in huts
The last 3 stages of the Berenese Oberland section of the route into Kandersteg can be approached as a hut trek. We can replace the village nights of Murren and Griesalp with two good Swiss huts. The stage lengths are not quite as even, but the benefit is to spend nights in the mountains. Otherwise, the Via Alpina can be completed entirely without huts.
We suggest 2 rest days on the full Via Alpina Switzerland route making a walk of 6, 7 and then 5 stages. If you prefer, take one rest day or none: with one, make it Grindelwald and take the train to the Jungfraujoch, on the side of the Eiger.
Switzerland the federation
Switzerland's initial and famous channels of appeal do not reveal its wider character and its variety. We have grown to love it as a country; indeed more of a federation of culturally distinct regions than one country. The Via Alpina is particularly rich in Swiss scenes and opportunities for cross-country travel; please ask us to recommend our favourites based on your itinerary.
The Via Alpina in Switzerland
Traveling around the Via Alpina reveals the breadth of Switzerland; there is much to be said for completing the route in short visits. Crossing East to West as it does, with valleys often running North to South and carrying trade routes across the Alps, it is easy to reach cities. In turn these are St. Gallen, Zurich, Luzern - only 30 minutes from the trail at Engelberg - Basel, Bern, Lausanne and Geneva. Once at Kandersteg, the alignment of railways makes it easy to reach the Valais region in the South. One line leads up to Zermatt.
Our Swiss service
Please ask us to recommend airports, cities and train routes to reflect your preferences when traveling. For the full Via Alpina the normal airports would be Zurich then Geneva. These plus Luzern are great towns to see; we love Bern as an alternative and can recommend other smaller cities for nights before and after. We cover most of the scenic Swiss train lines and are glad to advise on post-trek rail travel. These lines need not be seen as exclusive. They can also be incorporated into your day's travel from the trek. Indeed many of the most dramatic lines are not among the famous ones marketed internationally.
Key information Summer 2020
Trip name: Via Alpina Switzerland (Alpine Pass Route)
Prices Summer 2020
18 stages and 2 rest days, per person:
Research Summer 2020
Trekkers at the Hohturli pass (Photo gallery)
Alpine Exploratory's service
The Via Alpina in the Alps
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