This summer, we spent a week in the Engadin, the southeastern part of Switzerland. We loved the region and hope to go back and explore it more. While the language, architecture, and landscape differ from other parts of Switzerland, the trails were still well marked, many designed for families, making us feel right at home.
Overview of Engadin Region of Switzerland
I’m going to post about some of the fun things we did during our stay there. But first, I’ll give you a little overview of the region in this post. It’s a bit far for a day trip from Zurich, about 2.5 to 3hrs to reach any of the destinations I’ll highlight. So you might consider a long weekend or week long stay.
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The southeast part of Switzerland is called the Engadin, of which St. Moritz is the main hub. This part of the Engadin has wide valleys surrounded by rocky peaks with lots of big mountain resorts. It is quite built up with big towns, meaning more services and more people. The Engadin St Moritz website focuses on the areas surrounding St. Moritz. Here’s a panorama map of area.
The northeast part of the Engadin, starting at Zernez, is called the Unterengadin. While still technically part of the Engadin, the Unterengadin has slightly different look and personality. This area has narrower valleys winding through big forested mountain ranges, with smaller, quieter towns. The Engadin Scuol Samnaun website focuses on this area.
We liked both areas but slightly preferred the Unterengadin. In the Engadin, we did more typical Swiss hikes, going to the top of big mountain resorts, with breathtaking panorama views of enormous glaciers, big lakes, and sprawling valleys. But in the Unterengadin, we did little river walks and valley strolls which had a different appeal.
Renting a holiday apartment in Scuol
We stayed in Scuol, the biggest town in the Unterengadin at about 2,400 residents The buildings in the Unterengadin have a very distinct look, with their elaborately decorated exteriors. Walking around the old part of Scuol was an attraction in itself. Other towns in this area, most notable Guarda, have the same look and are smaller and quieter. This whole area is known for its “Quellen” or natural springs. Every town has lots of spring water fountains, each said to have a slightly different flavor due to the variation in mineral content. This “healthy” water also shows up at the Bogn Thermalbad in Scuol, which was a nice way to spend a couple hours after a day of hiking. The thermal bath is not designed for kids (no slides or play equipment), but our kids loved the hot/cold pools and warm outdoor pool with lots of bubbles, sprays and lazy river.
We liked that Scuol was small but not too small, with just enough stores and restaurants with semi-reasonable shopping hours (but still closed at lunchtime!). The town is also near the main road that cuts through the valley, so it was easy to access other parts of the Engadin. We’ve spent several vacations in tiny, sleepy, hard to access villages, which certainly has its appeal. But it was nice to have a more conveniences this time without sacrificing on beauty or charm.
Family friendly hikes and activities in the Engadin
I was totally overwhelmed by the options. There were so many family-friendly trails and fun theme trails to pick from that it was hard to choose. We spent hours poring over the promotional materials and hiking maps both before and during the trip. It wasn’t perfect, but I think we did pretty well. Here are our favorites. I’ll include links to my detailed posts as I finish them.
Seilpark Engadin ropes course, near Scuol. Exciting for young and old. Detailed post coming soon.
There were also a few duds, so considered yourself warned:
Flurinaweg near Scuol.
It’s a theme trail with signboards telling the Flurina story, a children’s book written by the same author as Schellenursli. It’s pretty enough but we had a few complaints:
1) The “path” is a well-traveled dirt road, good for strollers but not so charming.
2) Too busy! There were so many people on this trail on a Tuesday morning, I felt like I was in Yosemite valley. And several farm vehicles passed by going so fast, crowding us off the road.
3) All uphill, annoying and unnecessary. You could do the trail the other way, walking downhill the whole time, but the story would then be told backwards.
4) Too short. It took less than an hour walking super slow and then there wasn’t much else to do. There was a nice playground at the end, but it was so overrun by a big group of teenagers that we just went back down to the valley to find something else to do for the rest of the day.
Swiss National Park – Il Fuorn river walk
We also visited the Swiss National Park, which is a protected area dedicated to the conservation of wild flora and fauna. There is a small but helpful visitor center in Zernez, near the entrance to the park. The park itself is free to enter and has a limited services like a few hotels and cafes sprinkled along the main road.
The most obvious choice for families in the Swiss National Park is Kinderpfad Champlönch, an educational theme trail which has an accompanying children’s book and a digital guide you can download on your phone. I wish we had done this trail, but our kids were tired and we were a bit lazy. So instead, we chose to do a little easy river walk in the park, from Il Fuorn to Punt La Drossa. It was fine and we had nice time that day, but it wasn’t particularly interesting.
While I totally support the park’s mission and applaud their efforts, I’d personally rather hike elsewhere. The main attraction of the park is the chance to see wildlife in the wild, but that requires luck, patience, quiet and other things that are in short supply when traveling with small children. Also, the beauty is strangely a little spoiled by the wildness, which makes the landscape look dirty and unkempt, a big contrast to the rest of Switzerland. I guess I’ve been spoiled by all the manicured alpine meadows.
Lastly, the park has lots of rules: no fires, don’t leave the trails, no splashing around in rivers, no picking up rocks or sticks, etc. This dramatically reduces the fun potential for kids. I didn’t know about most of these rules until after our hike, which explains why other hikers were giving us disapproving looks. We didn’t build a fire or pick flowers or litter, but we did eat sandwiches by the river, dipped our feet in, and maybe picked up a few sticks. But even that is officially against the rules. So I wasn’t really interested in spending more time there. If you’ve had a good time there, I’d love to hear about it so maybe I’ll change my mind.
Hochseilgarten Pontresina (website). We had a great experience at Seilpark Engadin, so we drove an hour to try a different ropes course just to mix things up. Unfortunately, it was completely full when we got there and all time slots were already booked for the rest of the day (a big group had pre-booked). We were quite disappointed and it upset the plans for the whole day. The course itself looked fun and I wish we had a chance to do it, but I also had some reservations. While Seilpark Engadin was tucked away in a quiet forest, Hochseilgarten Pontresina was right next to a busy road and the town, so it was noisy and not as relaxing a setting. Hochseilgarten Pontresina was also more formal and less flexible. Perhaps this makes them more safe (who knows?) but I didn’t feel as welcome there. I’m not saying to avoid it, but if you go, go early and be prepared to wait.