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. New for 2021 In June 2021 we will be walking the optional Vaduz to Sargans day, which some hikers might like to add at the start. We'd suggest 2 nights in Sargans.
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. There is also a bus from Elm to Matt. 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 and, on the ascent, a grassy area - the Unterboden - famed for cow pastures. A yellow postbus crosses the pass by a hairpin road. Due to limited places to stay at the Klausenpass itself, we 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, walking the pass, and taking the bus for the last bit of descent.)
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) with 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 you 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)
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 (breakfast)
Red 3 (grade) 11km with 1260m ascent, 430m descent
Setting off from Engelberg, the Jochpass is the first 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 and the start of a road. Here sits a fine old hotel, a large building. 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, for those who prefer to save a day or to stay in town.)
Auberge in Engstlenalp (dinner and breakfast)
Red 3 (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 (breakfast)
Red 3 (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 (breakfast)
Red 3 (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 (breakfast)
Red 2 (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 (breakfast)
Black 3 (grade) 17km with 1100m ascent, 1330m descent
The first of the two 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 (dinner and breakfast)
Black 4 (grade) 16km with 1440m ascent, 1670m descent
The rocky Hohtürli (2,778m) col is not even the highlight of this exceptional day in the mountains. Perhaps the highlight is the Blumlisalphuette (2,834m) just above the col, in classic Swiss Alpine Club style as a solid stone building with red and white-striped shutters, 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 (breakfast)
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 (breakfast)
Black 3 (grade) 16.5km with 1355m ascent, 1185m descent
The third of the Via Alpina's three 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, its level high street hosting boutiques, retaurants and a bakery.
Hotel in Adelboden (breakfast)
Red 3 (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. (Our routecard describes a shorter route direct to the col and down to Lenk, and you are free to choose your route on either side of the col.) This is a gentler day than those before or after. Lenk is another charming small resort at the end of its train line.
Hotel in Lenk (breakfast)
Red 3 (grade) 23km with 1420m ascent, 1310m descent
Our pass today is the grassy Trutlisbergpass. Begin with a waterfall in woods and emerge on high pastures. An easier alternative is the cable car from Lenk for a shorter ascent to the pass. At the pass, we drop to the village of Lauenen (optional bus to Gstaad) and then climb a secondary pass, the Chrine. At the end is the hamlet of Gsteig, and we take the bus into Gstaad for its lively resort atmosphere and good hotels. New for 2021 In June 2021 we will walk a new descent direct to Gstaad. If successful our routecards will show both options. This reflects the Via Alpina's new routing along the Swiss National Route 1. (We have always used Gstaad as a base.)
Hotel in Gstaad (breakfast)
Red 3 (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. Here is the bus to Chateau d'Oex, the local town and a stop on the famous Montreux-Gstaad railway. New for 2021 In June 2021 we will walk a new route from Gstaad to l'Etivez, and take the bus into Chateau d'Oex to stay. Our routecards will then show both options.
Hotel in Chateau d'Oex (breakfast)
Red 3 (grade) 32.5km with 960m ascent, 2065m descent
Picking up the trail from either the Col des Mosses or (new for 2021) l'Etivez, 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 to Montreux.)
Hotel in Montreux (breakfast)
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, clear blue water below and hills above. The train speeds to Geneva and then to Geneva Airport 6 minutes later, or by a pastoral route to Bern and Basel. We love to advise on Swiss travel. Congratulations on the Via Alpina!
Make the trip shorter
By including some longer days it’s possible to shorten the trip to 17 or 16 stages, while still walking the entire route. The changes come in the middle section: we would combine the 2 stages between Engelberg and Meiringen into 1 longer day, and the 3 stages between Grindelwald and Griesalp into 2 days, with a night in Lauterbrunnen in the middle. This gives 5 stages not 7 from Engelberg to Kandersteg. (If you are contemplating just this central week, and if you prefer a quick blast, then this 5-stage trip is superb.)
Make the trip longer
The long last stage from Col des Mosses to Montreux can be split into 2 days, and we would recommend this for many groups. The break point comes at Rochers de Nayes, where we take the train to Montreux and back the following morning to finish the walk. Thus we book you 2 nights in Montreux, which is a fabulous base for any reason. To make the trip longer still, we can split further days along the route in particular in the popular central week, or add further ret days.
Walk a shorter portion of the Via Alpina
If you'd prefer to walk a shorter section of the full route, we recommend the 7-stage Bernese Oberland week. This section of the Via Alpina passes the iconic mountains of the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau. It also includes the most dramatic two passes. Equally, we can offer the East or West sections as separate trips or plan a shorter trip entirely. (For a short trip of 3 stages, we like Meiringen to Murren.) Please ask us for more details.
Take fewer or more rest days
Our normal trip includes 2 rest days, separating the three weeks into thirds. These days are in Engelberg and Kandersteg, villages of a reasonable size, with good hotels, and with rail links to Bern. You might prefer just 1 rest day, and this could be half-way in Grindelwald or Wengen, super Alpine resorts each with trains going up to the Kleine Scheidegg and Jungfraujoch. You'll know how many days you like to walk in one go, and what you'd like to see within Switzerland. We would love to advise. As another thought, move off-route by train at Engelberg or Kandersteg to spend 2 nights in Lucerne, Zurich or (our favourite) Bern. This could be an invigourating city break within your long hike.
Hike with a guide
Hike with confidence in the company of our fully qualified International Mountain Leaders (IMLs), with the navigation, accommodation and all arrangements taken care of. If your group would like a guide for your trip, please get in touch for more details.
18 July to 17 Sept 2021 and 17 July to 16 Sept 2022
2 rest days
2 rest days
18 stages 2 rest days
Group of 4 or more
18 stages 2 rest days
Group of 1, 2 or 3
Please ask us
||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 17 hotel nights and 4 nights in auberges (comparable to simple hotels). You will have a private room each night. Your bathroom is ensuite at your hotels, whilst at the auberges your bathroom might be shared along the hallway. If availability is tight at 2 of the auberges then we’ll let you know in advance; in that case the choice will be between dormitories or taking a scenic bus to a nearby hotel. No huts are needed on this trip, and for such a long trail in the Alps this is quite remarkable. It follows the pattern of village-pass-village. (As below, we can add 2 huts if you'd like to see that aspect of the route.)
As standard, the accommodation on the Via Alpina is already fairly comfortable. If you'd like` a little more comfort, we can upgrade your accommodation on 13 nights to more comfortable 3* and 4* hotels. You'd still have 2 nights in auberges: in Elm and at Engstlenalp. (Ask us about the bus to Meiringen to swap Engstlenalp to a hotel.) On 1 night (Klaussenpass) we would also swap more basic accommodation to a short and scenic bus ride to more comfortable accommodation off the route, in the town of Altdorf. If you'd prefer to stay on the route, please do let us know and we'd be happy to book you into our classic accommodation on those nights. Lastly, of course our Comfy trip like our Classic trip does not stay in any huts.
The famous Swiss mountain huts are an excellent addition to any hike of the Via Alpina. Whilst we don’t book any hut accommodation as the norm, because each of our stages ends in the valley after a pass crossing, it is possible to incorporate some hut nights in the trip if you wish. The stages between Wengen and Kandersteg can be split up with stays in 2 mountain huts, at the Rotstockhutte and the Blumlisalphutte. This would change the walking distance on 2 stages, leaving one long day between the huts with over 2000m ascent. In return, you get the chance to experience typical Swiss hut charm, with dormitory accommodation in mountain settings. Please ask us for more details.
The single supplement covers the extra cost of booking single rooms in the hotels and auberges, compared with 2 people sharing a room.
Our approach to the Via Alpina
The Via Alpina system is made up of 5 hiking routes across the whole Alpine chain. What we call our Via Alpina is in fact the Green Swiss Via Alpina. To confuse the picture, our Via Alpina (Alpine Pass Route) is also the Swiss National Route 1, within the Swiss system of trails. The full Via Alpina begins with 1 stage in Liechtenstein (Vaduz to Sargans) before crossing the Alpine chain in Switzerland as far as Lenk in the West. From Lenk, where the Green route Via Alpina ends, we follow the old Alpine Pass Route trail to Montreux.
On the trek itself, no transport is needed, but cable cars and buses can be used on many stages to shorten the walking if wanted. Public transport is also handy to upgrade auberges to hotels on certain nights. For example, use the postbus to reach Altdorf from the Klausenpass, to give a better choice of accommodation. Our routecards detail these transport options available on each day, and they tally with your Itinerary which details where you will stay, as well as pointing out where refreshments can be purchased. Where there is a choice of routes, we describe both options, allowing you to tailor the hike to suit your needs when possible.
The Via Alpina's terrain comprises the full range of Alpine walkin: a typical day starts with wide tracks through forests or tarmac country lanes, then rises to zig-zagging hillside paths, or open meadow where narrow hard-pack paths cross grassland. Above, we venture into the high hills where good balance is needed on rocky paths and steps.
The four highest cols in particular, the Surenenpass (2,291m), Sefinafurgga (2,612m), Hohturli (2,778m) and the Bunderchrinde (2,385m), involve loose tracks over scree and shale. In descent from the Hohturli to the Oechinensee there is hard walking on rocky paths, with drops to one side (lateral moraines). Chains aid the scree ascent up to the Sefinafurgga; wooden ladders down from the Sefinafurgga and up to the Hohturli give solid walking. The Via Alpina has no via ferrata or climbing sections and is considered a walk throughout, albeit at times a very challenging one.
Is it for me?
The Via Alpina is perfect for stronger hikers looking for comfy stays overnight. Good footing and a head for heights is needed for crossing the (at times) extremely loose ground on the ascents 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 postbus 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 our other Alpine trips. Generally, life in Switzerland is simple, comfortable and predictable.
We grade the Via Alpina as a Black3, making it one of our hardest treks. The hardest parts giving it this grade are the ascents and descents over the 4 high passes on stages 6, 12, 13 and 14. Not all the passes are like this though, with many offering grassy paths through Alpine meadows. In terms of distance, the route has 2 long days; the long crossing of the Surenenpass from Altdorf to Engelberg, and the final long day from Col des Mosses to Montreux. Good public transport can help shorten these 2 and many of the other days, with 3.5km and 1,080m ascent being shaved off the crossing of the Surenenpass by taking the cable car. For the final day, the cog railway can be taken from Rochers de Naye or from Glion to the end point at Montreux.
For an even more detailed read, please see our Via Alpina Walking Guide
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.
The Via Alpina crosses the breadth of Switzerland and intersects numerous North-South bus and train routes. We walk within a short train ride of Lucerne (Luzern), Bern and then Lausanne. It will become enticing to see more of Switzerland! We are always delighted to chat about train routes after your trip, to various Swiss locations. Attractions include Switzerland's scenic rail lines, of course, and these are often reachable within a day trip off-route.
We love Bern as a Swiss city before, during or after your trip. Then fly from Zurich or Basel airports. We are glad to recommend hotels and parts of town in all of the larger Swiss cities.
Italy is eminently reachable after your trip, from several points. Chiefly, Altdorf and Kandersteg are on major North-South train routes, that plunge into tunnels and emerge in the Italian valleys running down to Milan. We have ridden these and other routes and we love to advise.
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
- Dinner at the auberges (on 3 nights for our main trip, more if staying in the huts)
- Detailed Routecards VAS1-VAS18 of the Exploratory system, printed on waterproof paper
- The 9 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. (Also baggage transfers aren’t available to the huts, if you choose to add any huts).
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 on your rest days and at the end of your trip. If you would like more information about our baggage transfer service, please ask.
Via Alpina enquiry form
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