Bike Ride: Sernf river near Elm

We really liked this Glarnerland bike ride, riding from Elm to Schwanden along the Sernf river. The scenery was gorgeous and the first half of the path next to the river was very nice. But the second half was a little too steep (up and down) in parts for our crew so we had to walk a couple sections. It’s not particularly difficult but better for confident child bike riders, probably 8 and older. It wasn’t a perfect ride for our family but still, we really liked it and will probably go back, if only so we can visit the magical little picnic spot on the river near the end of the ride. I hesitate to even tell you about it; I kinda want to keep it a secret. But we’re friends, right?

Location: Elm, Glarnerland, CH Trail: ~14 km one way
Car: ~1:10 from ZH Difficulty: medium
Train/Bus: ~1:45 from ZH, 2 changes Theme: none
Season: about April through Oct Website: www.veloland.ch

Getting There

Using the map above, get yourself to Elm and park near the Elm, Station bus stop. If you turn left immediately after the bus stop, you’ll find a few free parking spots.


View Larger Map

Overview 

We rode from Elm to Schwanden, locked our bikes at the train station, then took the bus back to Elm get our car, then drove back to pick up our bikes. It’s about a 30 min drive bus or car from Schwenden to Elm. The bus only runs once an hour, so plan your trip accordingly. The bus stops at the various towns along the way, so you could hike or bike a smaller section of the whole path outlined here. Total biking time is about 1:40, total walking time is about 4 hours.

Trail Details

To start the ride, turn left immediately after the bus stop, cross the bridge over the river, then turn left, following signs for bike path #83. The path is well-marked with bike path signs the whole way. But before we get to the pictures, let me summarize the ride as shown on the bike map below.

The first section from Elm to Engi (8.5km), is easy and suitable for most families. The path follows a river down a beautiful open grassy valley surrounded by mountain peaks. On this section, the path is mostly wide, sometimes paved, sometime dirt, mostly downhill, very easy. This part took us about 1 hour to ride, with lots of breaks.


View Biking with Kids – Glarnerland in a larger map

The next section, from Engi to Schwanden (5.5km), is more difficult. It’s still a dirt service road, but it’s more lumpy, better for a proper mountain bike than our city bikes. From Engi, the path starts with a steep incline (which I walked up), then down, down, down for the rest of the ride. Some of the downhill was steep enough that I didn’t quite trust my city-bike brakes and I walked some of it. Also, at the end of trail, you have to ride for a few minutes on the main road, with no bike lane: scary and dangerous for small kids. This section took us about 40 mins to ride with breaks and some walking.

However, the best part of the trail is on this second section, right before you join the main road. You can access the river there, with lots of beautiful pools you can play in and plenty of picturesque picnic places (sorry, I can’t resist alliteration). It’s worth the ride just to access this little spot.

Now for some pictures of the trail. Here’s the view from the car park at the start of the path.

Here’s the start of the bike path, shown by the red bike signs. The path starts on a paved road.

The path turns into gravel/dirt. Sometimes it’s right next to the river, sometimes it veers into the farm fields.

Just showing some more variation of the trail.

Looking back to Elm from the path.

One of the fire pits along the way. I’ve marked this one on the bike path map above.

Sometimes the path narrowed to a single track as shown below, not appropriate for bike trailers.

After passing the town of Matt, you’ll start seeing signs for the Suworow-Weg, which is the path the Russian army took through Switerland in 1799 on their way to fight the French.

When you get to the town of Engi, you’ll cross a bridge to your left and take the dirt road up a steep incline. I lost momentum pretty quick and had to walk up. It was short, but tough even walking it, since my son was asleep in the child seat and I had to push him up too. Once you pass the little pitch and putt golf course, the trail evens out. There are a few little uphills after this, but nothing big. Pretty soon you’ll start the long descent back down into the valley. It’s not scary steep, but you’ll need good brakes to control your speed. I also had city bike tires, which didn’t have great traction on the gravel road. So I walked down the steepest parts, just to be safe, especially since my son was riding on the back. The pictures below show this part of the trail, but don’t really capture decline. A few mountain bikes passed us on this section, zooming very fast down.

Eventually you reach the river again and the train flattens out. The river is beautiful and you’ll want to stop to check it out. But…

…keep going until you get to this part shown below. Unlike higher up the trail, you can easily access the river here and there are lots of spots for little ones to explore without falling in a dangerous spot.

We were there in early June and the water level was just right for playing around: deep enough in parts to swim around, but not too deep that you’d get swept away. But no matter what, respect the water and use common sense and caution. Kids can drown in very shallow water.

This was our favorite part of the ride and made up for the hard work on the second half of the trail. We  arrived here at about 17:30 and stayed well past 19:00. It was a super hot day and the sun luckily stayed late in this little spot.

From this river spot, it’s only about 10 mins to reach the Schwanden train station. Unfortunately, you have to join the main road and ride on that for a couple minutes before you reach town. Luckily, there was no traffic on the road when we were on it. I would have felt quite nervous to have my kids riding on this section. I might have had my husband go get the car and pick us up there instead. As I said above, we parked our bikes at the Schwanden train station and took the bus back up to Elm to retrieve our car. Remember the bus only runs once an hour, so stay at the river until close to the bus time.

Overall, it was a nice ride, with some bumps along the way.

I found this bike ride in a book, Velotouren für Familien: Band 1-Alpen (or here). I wouldn’t say I love this book, but it has it’s good points. The maps and description were helpful. I particularly liked the summarized info section, which notes important points like riding time, difficulty rating, elevation changes, type of bike needed, special attractions for families, etc. I would have liked more pictures, so I had a better idea of what the path was like. But lucky you, I’ll give you those here as a free add-on. The rides in the book are spread all over Switzerland, so the book is of limited use for day-trips. I need something more region-specific. I’m curious to see what rides are in the Band 2-Mittland (possibly out of print) and SlowUp – autofreie Ausflugsziele books by the same publisher.

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