Leukerbad: Gemmipass and Sheep Festival

During our week stay in Leukerbad, we went up to the Gemmipass, a high elevation valley which is a very old trade route connecting the Bern and Valais regions. From the top of the cable car, you get a sweeping view of Leukerbad then turn around to a see the lovely Gemmipass valley shown above. The walking path meanders along the lakes, a little rocky but doable with strollers. If you keep walking, you’ll end up in Kandersteg or Adelboden in the Berner Oberland. We happened to be there during the annual sheep festival (last Sunday of July), when they bring hundreds of the sheep down to the valley. The kids loved that part and fun to participate in a local tradition. I’d love to go back someday and walk the entire pass.

Location: Valais Switzerland
Address: Leukerbad Gemmibahn
GPS: 46°23’01.3″N 7°37’29.9″E
Car: 3hr15 from Zurich
Train: 3hr15 from Zurich
Trail: 6 km loop or shorter options to lake and back
Condition: dirt road and alpine path
Skill: easy to moderate
Open: June through October
More info:  gemmi.ch

Overview

You will take the tiny Gemmibahn cable car up to the Gemmipass. From there, you can walk down to the lake and along the lake as far as you like. It’s about 1.5 km to where the sheep festival is, about halfway down the lake. You could also walk around the lake, about 6 km, shown on the map below. Or you could walk 4km to the Berghotel Schwarenbach for a hearty meal before heading back. It’s a downhill walk, so remember you’ll be walking uphill on the way back.

Getting There

The Gemmibahn is on the northwest side of Leukerbad.

By car: Drive to Leukerbad and follow signs to the Gemmibahn. Much of Leukerbad is car-free, but you can drive directly to the Gemmibahn, where there is a small parking lot. If it’s an exceptionally busy day (as it will be during the sheep festival), you may need to park somewhere else in town, which could be a difficult. So try to get there early in the day. There are usually spots available in the parking garage below the Migros. Then a short walk to the gondola.

By transit: take a train to Leuk, then catch a bus up to Leukerbad, getting off at the Leukerbad-Gemmibahnen stop.

Trail Details

Here is the Gemmibahn and a view from near the top. The car is very small, only holding about 10 people. We had to fold up our stroller to fit in. So on a busy day, you might have a long wait to get up. We went during the sheep festival, which was very busy, so it’s hard to compare to a regular weekend.

From the top of the Gemmibahn, you get this view of Leukerbad.

Looking the other direction, you get this view of the high elevation valley of the Gemmipass. It was very cold and windy the day we went up.

Here’s a look back at the restaurant/hotel next to the Gemmibahn. On the left, a trail sign painted on the rocks.

Follow the trail to the Daubensee, shown above. The trail is gravel and dirt, easily managed with an all-terrain stroller. We walked down to the lake, but there is also a small cable car that will take you down to the lake for a small fee.

We only walked as far as the sheep festival, which was about halfway down the lake; it took about 20 mins. We settled in with this crowd of spectators and waited for the show to begin. There was some typical Swiss food for sale: raclette, cervelat, bratwurst, soda and coffee. It was much colder than we expected so we were a little miserable during the wait and had to huddle together for warmth.

We weren’t sure exactly what would happen. Then we heard a lot of hooting and hollering by the shepherds way up at the top of the mountain. We could see the sheep herd slowing moving along in the distance. Then suddenly the herd came stampeding down the mountain, straight to the lake where the shepherds corralled them. It was very exciting. I had to watch my boys pretty carefully to make sure they didn’t get run over by a stray sheep.

After all the sheep were down, there were a variety of speeches and musical entertainment.

There were some games as well, include tug-of-war which my 6yr old really enjoyed.

My boys loved chasing the sheep around, trying to get close enough to pet them. They finally found one lazy sheep that let them get really close.

I was planning to hike more of the trail (shown above) after the festival, but we were all too cold. I would love to go back and walk much farther, maybe Berghotel Schwarenbach for lunch.

If you are there for the sheep festival, beware of the long lines for the cable car. Remember that the car only fits about 10 people. We stood in this line, in the absolute freezing wind for over an hour. I thought about going to warm up in the adjacent restaurant, but I knew many more people were still at the festival and would be joining that line eventually. I’m sure it’s not so bad on a regular weekend.

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