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.
Note: Strangely, the SAC web page listing family friendly huts has disappeared. But many individual hut websites still promote their family-friendliness. So do a little research before choosing a hut.
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;
- Lidernen Hut southeast of Luzern
- Bergsee Hut just north of Gotthard tunnel
- Boval Hut south of St.Moritz
- Bächlital Hut south of Meiringen near Grimsel pass
So now to the overview.
– 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.
– 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).
– 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.
– 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.
– 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 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.
– 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 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 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 clear your own table, bringing everything to the kitchen. 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.
– Drinks are purchased separately from the kitchen. Sometimes regular water is available free on request, both during meal times and to fill up your water bottle. At huts without potable water, you may have to pay for it. We found that bottled drinks were ridiculously expensive – 14CHF for a 2 liter bottle of apple schörli. All the huts we went to provided “marschentee” for free. It’s to fill up your canteens for your hike the next day, but at some huts this is always available, a good alternative to water.
– Bathrooms. All the huts we visited had clean, simple but civilized shared bathroom facilities. Just toilets and sinks with cold running water, no showers. I saw some people “bathing” with washcloths, but I wouldn’t recommend it. The bathrooms were a bit smelly because they were not regular flush toilets. But the smell did not carry through the rest of the hut.
– 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 is usually served from 7:00 to 8:00. 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, sometimes 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.
Did you make it this far? Good for you. Now go book your mountain hut and report back. Happy hiking!