Switzerland makes it so easy for families to enjoy the alps, with well-marked trails, theme trails designed for families and plentiful mountain transport. But it’s still important to know what to expect and how to prepare. I get a lot of questions about hiking with kids in Switzerland: how we find the best places to go, what supplies we bring, what our kids wear on the trail, where we stay, etc. With over 12 years of family hiking here, we’ve got a few answers.
I’m not much of a hiker or outdoors person and my kids have never hiked. Is there something for my family?
Yes! I realize that not everyone loves hiking as much as I do, but I’m also not a high adventure, extreme sports person either. I prefer activities that don’t require special equipment or skills. I also like easy, relaxing outings just as much as other busy parents. So this site includes lots of hikes that are specifically designed for families, which usually means they are relatively short and you won’t break a sweat. Also, at most mountains, you can simply take the gondola up and enjoy an amazing view (often with a playground) without having to hike at all, if that’s more your speed. There’s something for everyone.
>> Start with our Short and Easy hikes.
How do I motivate my tweens/teens that don’t like hiking or the outdoors?
Switzerland has lots of hikes designed specifically for families, with all sorts of attractions for kids. Many trails have playgrounds and theme trails with interactive stations scattered along the way. Many mountain resorts offer attractions like rope courses, summer toboggan runs, mountain bike and scooter trails. These guides should help you find something to interest your kids:
How do you find places to hike with kids?
Lucky for you, we’ve already done a lot of research on family-friendly hikes. Our website has all the hikes and activities we like and recommend. That’s a good place to start. We’ve done a lot of hikes, with many successes and some fails. I write up all the details here so you don’t have to make the same mistakes we did.
I give my husband lots of credit for finding the great outings that show up on this blog. He combs through lots of websites and blogs to get ideas. He also has an uncanny ability to pick the perfect place at the perfect time, like finding the only sunny place when the whole country is covered in clouds. I’m a lucky woman.
To get inspiration for new family hikes, we often browse mountain resort websites, hiking websites like Wanderland.ch and Switzerland web portals like My Switzerland and Schweizer Familie. However, these sites are often short on the details. So I typically study maps before heading out.
On our Pinterest page, I regularly pin hikes and activities I want to do soon.
What should our family wear for hiking?
It is important to be comfortable. I’ve bought proper hiking pants for my kids, but they prefer sweat pants and shorts. I usually let them dress themselves.
Rain jacket: The most important item is a rain jacket. The weather can change quickly and we’ve been caught unexpectedly in the rain or cold wind more than once on the trail. Just always bring it even if you think the weather will be nice. I often through lots of different clothes in the car then decide what to wear and bring once we get to the mountains.
Shoes: Unlike most Swiss hikers, we don’t wear fancy high tech clothes or shoes. I’ve bought several fancy waterproof hiking shoes/boots for my kids, but they’ve never liked wearing them: too hot, too heavy, too bulky. So most hikes, they just wear regular sport shoes or sturdy sandals like Keens. But they have been known to do a hike in Crocs. Pick your battles.
Sport Shoes: For most hikes on this site, you don’t need hiking boots with ankle support. Any old sport shoe with some tread will work. If you expect wet conditions, a waterproof shoe is very helpful.
What supplies does a family need on a hike?
Most hiking in Switzerland is near civilization, so you don’t need to pack that much for a day trip, besides drinking water and snacks. If you prefer not to pack food, many trails have a mountain hut cafe along the way. But here’s our essentials packlist:
- water – I really like our Camelback style water container, that has a long “straw”. That way my kids can drink while walking without me stopping to take off my back and get out the water bottle.
- sun cream
- sun hat (or warm hat)
- rain jackets
- food: lots of snacks and picnic lunch supplies
- fire starting kit (if grilling)
- first aid kit
- lots of tissues (for toilet emergencies on the trail)
- small plastic bag for garbage
- swimsuits if hiking near water
- extra clothes for little kids, in case they fall in mud or water
- diapers and wipes for babies and toddlers
Which child carrier / stroller should we use?
Child carrier. When my kids were little (under 4), I preferred to carry them in our Ergo baby carrier, instead of our framed Kelty baby backpack, which I found too bulky and uncomfortable.
All-terrain strollers (with big mountain tires) work great on many trails here and can also carry much of your gear, saving your back. We were very happy with our Bob Jogger stroller that has endured much abuse on even very non-stroller friendly trails.
What kind of day pack do I need? Do the kids need their own packs?
You don’t need a technical day pack, but you’ll be happier with a comfortable one with a padded waist belt that is big enough to hold all your kids’ supplies. I used a 20L pack for most of our time here and it was fine. If you carry lots of extra clothes and supplies for the kids, you’ll be happier with a 35 L pack.
Children can start carrying their own packs around 5 years old. It’s good training and teaches them responsibility. I recommend a comfortable child-sized pack that has padded straps and perhaps a chest buckle. A cheap backpack will just be uncomfortable and pretty soon you’ll be carrying two packs. Have the child start by carrying light things like their fleece and a bag of chips. My kids were always proud to help out the family and liked having quick access to their favorite snacks instead of asking me to unload my heavy pack and search for the one thing they wanted.
How can I save some money? Switzerland is expensive!
Choose hikes that don’t require mountain transport, where you can drive or take a bus directly to the trailhead. This include like walks along lakes and rivers.
Visit less popular areas, which are cheaper and less crowded but still amazingly beautiful. For suggestions, see my Swiss Alps on a Budget post.
Get your SBB Halbtax card immediately, which gives you half-fare on most mountain transport. For kids aged 6 to 15, get a SBB Junior Card, which costs CHF 30 for one year and allows the child to travel for free almost everywhere when accompanied by a parent. Children under 6 generally travel for free everywhere in Switzerland.
If you travel by public transport to the hike, look for SBB combo offers that give a discount if you purchase both the train and mountain transport together. Look for trains with family cars that have a little play area on the train for little kids.
Where do you stay overnight in Switzerland?
We typically do day trips from Zurich, so most activities recommended on this site are within a 2 hour drive of Zurich. We rarely do overnight weekend trips but we have done several week-long holidays in Switzerland, staying in regions that are too far from Zurich for day trips. Here are some of my region guides:
- Jungfrau Region: Family Hikes
- Zermatt & Valais Region: Hiking with Kids in Switzerland
- Engadin Switzerland: Family Activities and Hikes
We usually rent self-catering apartments for several days, through sites like www.homeaway.com. It’s a better value: you get more room for less money, you can make meals at home (especially breakfast for kids that get up early and want to stay in PJs), you have a separate room to hang out in while the kids are asleep in a bedroom, and you are usually in a less touristy location. Plus you have the option of staying in adorable traditional places like this:
In Switzerland, we’ve stayed in these areas: Lauterbrunnen in Jungfrau valley, Grächen in the Zermatt valley, Leukerbad in the Valais, Gluringen near Riederalp, Scoul in the Engadin, Champex in west Valais, camping in Locarno.
If you have more questions, please leave a comment.