Swiss Mountain Huts with Kids

Ever since I saw a trail sign pointing to a mountain hut, I’ve been wanting to go. But I was waiting for kids to get old enough or an overnight babysitter to magically appear. Then a friend of mine told me that she had taken her small kids (3 and 6) to a hut and I realized it was possible. Then my husband showed me this brochure from the Swiss Alpine Club (SAC) promoting family friendly huts. There’s even a specific price for babies, so all ages are welcome. Clearly the only thing keeping me from going to a mountain hut was me.So a couple weeks ago my boys and I headed up to Bergseehütte near Göschenensee, near the St. Gothard tunnel. My husband had to work, so I was on my own and I was a little nervous. The posted trail time was 1hr50min and elevation gain 600m. I knew it was going to be tough, but I knew we could do it with the right motivation and large supply of lollipops. Luckily, my boys were happy hikers that day and hiked all the way up without complaint. We were slow, but steady. It took us about 2hr30mins to get there. I felt a huge sense of accomplishment and my boys loved the adventure of it all and sleeping in a strange place.

Since then, I’ve visited two other mountain huts and though I’m not an expert, I can give enough info to uncover the mystery and hopefully inspire you to try it out. I think a mountain hut is a special experience. Kids will like it and you should definitely try it.

Huts we’ve visited;

Cost of Staying in Mountain Hut

Mountain huts are simple accommodation but not cheap. The prices vary, but at each hut, we paid about 200CHF for 2 adults and 2 children for one night, including half pension of dinner and breakfast. Many mountain huts are part of the Swiss Alpine Club. If you are a member, you get a discount, up to 50% at some huts. A family membership costs about 96CHF/year. I wish we had got one this year. It would have already paid for itself.

Hiking to Huts

Some mountain huts are easy to reach. Yes, some are very remote and the trails require technical equipment. But many are reachable by regular mountain trails. Some are just a short walk from the top of a cable car. Start with the family friendly hut brochure to find one that meets your requirements, paying attention to the trail length, difficulty and elevation gain. The huts also indicate what percentage of their visitors are children. So those with more child visitors might be a better fit for you. The Lidernenhütte is a good starter hut as it’s only a 20 minute walk from the cable car (I’ll post more about this hut later).

Reservations

Make a reservation before you go. Some huts are very popular and can be booked out early. But with all the huts we visited, we simply called the evening before and reserved spots. You give your name and phone number. You should tell them you have kids and their ages. If they have enough space, they will often give families their own room. At all the huts I visited, someone spoke English so don’t worry about that. They are used to having visitors from all over the world.

What to Bring

Pack light! You don’t need much and you won’t want to haul it either. I brought a change of clothes, sleeping bags/sheets, toothbrushes/paste, light snacks for the hike, and water. I was also bullied into bringing security blankets, stuffed animals, flashlights, and bedtime stories. All totally unnecessary, but they did make my boys happier.

Arrival at Hut

When you get to the hut, you’ll enter the mud room where you are expected to remove your shoes and wear the provided house shoes while inside the hut. Two of the huts we visited had a basket of small kid house shoes, shown above. My 4YO was very disappointed at the hut that only had big house shoes. There are often places to hang coats, hiking sticks, etc. There are usually baskets and cubbies for you to store personal food instead of keeping it in your room.

Check In & Payment

Check in with the staff at the kitchen, which also serves as the office. They assume you’ll be taking half pension, which means dinner and breakfast. If you don’t want that, you should tell them when you make the reservation. They might ask when you want breakfast but that’s only if you want it earlier than the regular time of 7:00. It’s best to pay with cash. Some huts let you pay by invoice, some with a SAC mobile phone app; ask when you make the reservation.

Sleeping Arrangements

The staff will then show you to your sleeping spots. You’ll likely share a room with strangers. There are long bunks, with a pillow and blanket in each numbered sleeping spot. Sometimes a group of 4 or so spots is separated with a partition from the other spots, so even though the room is shared, your family has its own little cubby.

There are usually shelves and hooks to store your stuff, but no lockers, so keep your valuables on your person. You are expected to bring a sleeping bag, liner, or sheet so you are not sleeping directly on their linens, which are not necessarily washed every time. We found that a regular flat sheet folded in half works just fine for an adult. For kids, a sleeping bag works a bit better because it keeps them contained.

Free Time

One of the reasons to visit a mountain hut is so you have time to see stuff that you couldn’t otherwise see during a normal day trip. Sunsets and sunrises are particularly special since you rarely can stay so late in the mountains.

You may not have the energy to do another long hike after arriving at the hut, but many huts are located near lakes or rivers so you can explore locally without too much effort. Inside the hut, the dining area is also the lounge, where people play games and socialize.

Two of the huts we visited had game cupboards, book collections, and toys for kids, which means you don’t have to lug up your own.

Dinner

Dinner is usually at 18:30. You will be assigned a table, shared with other guests. The routine was the same at all the huts we visited. You get a soup dish and a set of cutlery, which will be used for all courses. So you have to finish your food so you have room for the next course (I had to eat lots of stuff off my kids’ plates before the next course came).

The staff brings the food to your table. The meal starts with a soup (usually light broth), then sometimes a salad, then a main course (at two huts we had pasta with a choice of red or cream sauce, one hut spaghetti bolognese, one hut served curry and rice), then a simple dessert like pudding or tart.

There was always more food available, you just ask the kitchen staff for more if you run out. At the end of the meal, you usually clear your own table, bringing everything to the kitchen. At one hut, we stacked all the dishes and the staff cleared everything.

Outside meal times, the kitchen usually sells an assortment of snacks, drinks and light meal items. I was concerned that my kids wouldn’t like the food and would starve. My 4YO didn’t like a lot of the food, but he survived. I think it’s a good experience for kids to be forced to just get along and make do. But you may want some backup food in your pack if your kids are really fussy.

Water & Beverages

Some huts have potable water, others not. Make sure to read the signs near the faucets. If the hut has potable water, they will usually fill up your water bottles and sometimes provide tap water for free upon request at dinner. At huts without potable water, you will have to purchase bottled water.

Beverages are purchased separately from the kitchen at meals time and throughout the day. The bottled drinks are very expensive. For example, we have paid CHF 10 for 1 liter water, CHF 14 for 2L bottle of apple juice.

All the huts we went to provided “Marschentee” (aka “hiking tea) for free, tasted like slightly sweet fruit punch. The tea is to fill up your canteens for your hike the next day, but at some huts this is always available, a good alternative to water. At one hut, we left our bottles on a cart the night before and the next day they were filled with the tea.

Washing Up

All but one hut we visited had clean, simple but civilized shared bathroom facilities. Just toilets and sinks with cold running water, no showers. One hut had regular toilets but in shacks outside the main hut. The toilets were a bit smelly because they were not regular flush toilets. But the smell did not carry through the rest of the hut. I saw lots of people “bathing” with washcloths, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

Lights out

Lights out at 22:00. Many hut visitors start their hikes early, like 4am. So this bed time is strictly observed. It can be a little difficult to get your kids to sleep earlier than that if you have a shared room because people are moving about and lights are on. Plus kids are excited to be in a new place, so it’s hard to settle down.

My only problem was that I waited too long to put my kids to bed, so the lights were out before we read our stories. I tried to read with a flashlight really quietly, as not to bother other guests, but I was very self-conscious and my 4YO keeps a loud running commentary throughout the story, which was hard to suppress. So at the next hut, we went to bed earlier and read for a good 30 minutes before lights out.

Breakfast

Breakfast is served in two shifts, an 5:00 shift for the early risers and then about 7:00 to 8:00 for everyone else. I was worried that my kids would sleep in and we would miss it. But everyone in the hut has to clear out by 9:00, so the hustle and bustle gets everyone up.

Breakfast was pretty much the same at all the huts. Bread, butter and jam. Coffee, tea, ovalmaltine, hot cocoa. Plain yogurt, muesli, cold milk, a couple times fruit. At one hut, they had cold cereal which made my boys happy. It’s all set out on a table and you serve yourself. Sometimes they bring the drinks to your table, sometimes you have to ask for you want from the kitchen.

Check out

You are expected to pack up all your stuff by 9am and leave the bed in the condition you found it, with the pillow and folder blanket in each numbered spot, ready for the next customer. You don’t have to talk to anyone before you leave, just go. If you are doing a hike before you go home, you can leave your pack in the mud room and retrieve it later.

Now it’s your turn…

Did you make it this far? Good for you. Now go book your mountain hut and report back. Happy hiking!

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8 comments

  1. Thanks for your comments, this is a great primer for parents with young kids. I'm planning a multiday hike with my 7 and 9 YO which is made easier thanks to your blog!

  2. Tanya – loved reading about your hut trip! We are planning a trip for the summer of 2014 and have 3 kids (8,6,4). We have done backcountry hiking and canoe trips and would like to do a european hut to hut trip next. We are hoping to find a route that links 3 or 4 huts that are relatively close together so that we can do a circuit if that exists. we would plan one or two rest days into the itinerary. If you have any suggestion or ideas i would greatly appreciate it!! Thanks!
    Jane

  3. Hi Judy. What an fun adventure for your family! I'll have to put that one on my list. Congratulations on getting your kids to walk so far. That is an accomplishment. Thanks for the nice comments about the blog. I'm glad you've found it helpful.

  4. Thank you so much for inspiring us. This weekend we hiked to the Spitzmeilenhutte from the Maschkengamm cable car (warning: it actually took us 3 1/2 – 4 hours with kids each way rather than the 2 1/2 hours stated on sign posts). It was one of the best things we have done here. As our children are a little older now (9, 7 and 5) they managed the hike very well and thoroughly enjoyed the adventure and being “on top of the world”! Thanks once again for this blog, I use it all the time. Judy

  5. So great!
    We love mountain huts too. This is a big incentive for my children: let's go to the hut – can you see it? we will sleep there…!! And that keeps them going. Of course some lollies or chocolate is necessary as well, but hiking with children is a mind game. They are much better in hiking than I am, they have so much energy left when we usually arrive at the hut. So my challenge is to keep their mind going.

    I will try out your hut, sounds and looks great! We love the hut Rugghubel above Engelberg.

    Thanks for sharing
    love.
    iren

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