Switzerland Hiking: What to Expect on the Trail

Many people new to Switzerland have little or no experience hiking but still want to enjoy the Swiss alps with their families. No worries! The Swiss make it so easy to hike here. There are endless options for hikers of all ages and abilities, from toddlers to teens, from newbies to experts.

Below you’ll learn the basics of how Swiss trails are organized, how to read the trail signs, and what to expect from different trail types.

See also Hiking with Kids in Switzerland for specific tips on taking your family on the trail.

What to expect of Swiss trails

The trails are well marked, well maintained and free maps are usually available on site.

Practically every mountain town has a cable car or lift to carry you up the mountain so you don’t have to hike up first to get the views.

Most resorts have short, easy panorama trails for casual walkers.

Many resorts maintain “obstacle-free” trails, meaning they are smooth dirt/gravel or paved and accessible for strollers and wheelchairs.

Most resorts have designed family-friendly trails with playgrounds and themes to keep children engaged and happy.

Most mountains have a restaurant at the top so you can relax and enjoy the view without even walking.

For one way trails, there is almost always public transportation to take you back to your starting point instead of shuttling cars back and forth with friends.

German Hiking Terminology

Here are a few terms that will help in the German-speaking Swiss alps.

  • Wanderweg – walking path
  • Rundgang – loop trail
  • Lehrpfad – educational path, the trail will have info signboards along the trail
  • Feuerstelle – picnic area with fire pits, usually with wood
  • Bergstation – mountain cable car station
  • Talstation – valley cable car station
  • …hütte SAC – means a mountain hut with the SAC affliation (more about mountain huts).
  • Schutzgebiet – nature reserve, hiking, fire, and/or picnics may be restricted in that area
  • Hunde an der Leine führen – dogs must be on a leash, required in certain nature preserves

Swiss Trail Signs

Here’s what the trail signs look like.

Official trail signs are yellow as shown here. Full yellow sign means a walking path, usually a relatively smooth dirt path.

The red & white stripes means “alpine trail,” which means the trail will be a narrow dirt path, with rocks and obstacles. It doesn’t necessarily mean the trail is difficult.

The signs usually quote hiking time, not distance. Std. is shorthand for “Stunden” which means hours.

The wine glass icon means you’ll find a restaurant at that destination.

The bus, train or gondola symbol means you can catch public transportation there.

Official hiking routes are color-coded and numbered as shown below. These routes can be seen on Wanderland.ch.

Swiss Trail Markers

Trails are generally well marked in Switzerland. You’ll either see yellow diamonds or white-red-white stripes painted on stuff. Other countries use different colors, so don’t get confused.

See Hiking with Kids in Switzerland for more info about getting started, what to wear, what to pack, where to go.

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