If you must visit Switzerland in April through early June, there are still some great outdoor options even though prime hiking season doesn’t start till July. Instead of high alpine treks, you’ll be admiring panorama views from mountain tops, visiting waterfalls and enjoying valley walks, all wonderful Swiss experiences you won’t forget. Below I’ve listed various outdoor activities that are scheduled to be open in the early season, grouped by region.
Of course, weather is unpredictable and conditions can change quickly. So always check the current conditions before heading out and have a back up plan.
Note: This post focuses on the most popular regions of Switzerland. For additional low key local options, see Shoulder Season Hikes.
Planning for Early Summer
There’s plenty to do in Switzerland during May and early June. Just set your expectations accordingly. Here are your best options during this early season.
- panorama views from mountain tops
- lower elevations hikes, great for wildflowers
- waterfalls, rivers & lakes
- valley walks
- lake cruises
- driving tours
- city tours and museums
Specific recommendations for these categories for each region below.
What to Expect in the Alps in May & June
Most mountain transport is closed until late June. I’ve listed some that do open early, but it’s very limited so set your exceptions. Even if the mountain transport is open, the trails aren’t necessarily ready for hiking because they are still covered in snow or too muddy for hiking (we’ve been there and done that, not so fun).
This is the kind of thing that often happens to us during spring hiking: mud, floods, blocked trails.
It all depends on the weather and how late the snow and cold weather stay in the mountains. Some summers, the trails are covered in snow until July or a rogue mountain snowstorm can blow through in the middle of June. So no guarantees. Definitely check the websites for current conditions for heading out.
Enough of the bad news, let’s get outdoors!!!
Interlaken Area & Jungfrau Region
The Interlaken area is probably the best bet for tourists in early summer, as you can reach a few different hiking areas from this central point, particularly in the Jungfrau region.
Ballenberg – Let me first recommend this lovely open-air “museum,” which squeezes the charm of all of Switzerland into a 164 acre park in the alps. This park opens in mid-April so perfect for enjoying the alps before other areas open.
Mountain Tops – You can always visit the Schilthorn and Jungfraujoch all year round, but no hiking that early in the season. This is a good backup plan if snow is covering the trails. But remember to check the webcams before buying your expensive tickets. No point in going up if you can’t see anything.
Hiking, maybe – The mountain transport for these open in May, but trail conditions may vary.
- Männlichen opens 20 May. Panorama trail to Kleine Scheidegg. Playground with view at top.
- Schynige Platte opens 27 May. Mountain train to panorama views with variety of trails.
- Oeschinensee opens 13 May. Cable car to mountain area, easy walk to beautiful lake. Kids will love the alpine slide, but be aware that the slide will close during inclement weather. This is a 45 mins drive west of Interlaken.
Waterfalls & Rivers – These lower elevation options are great for the early season.
- Giessbach waterfalls open in March. Short funicular to spectacular waterfalls. Short hikes up and down the falls.
- The impressive Trummelbach falls open in April, a must see while in this area. Take your rain jacket to protect from the spray.
- The Reichenbach falls (made famous by Sherlock Holmes) open early May. A short funicular takes you up to a viewing platform over the falls, then a short hike up to get a closer look.
- The narrow Aare gorge opens mid April. Short walk on elevated wooden walkway.
- The walk down the Lauterbrunnen valley is always open, with dozens of waterfalls spilling over the cliff walls on either side with views of mountain peaks above.
Lake cruise – You can cruise on Lake Thun or Lake Brienz. See schedules here.
Rainy day – Keep a few of these up your sleeve for when the weather turns.
- Soak in thermal baths at Sole Uno or let the kids loose on indoor water slides at Aquabasilea, both 1hr30 drive north of Interlaken, near Basel.
- Explore the Beatenberg caves just 20 mins north of Interlaken.
- Tour a cheese factory at Emmental Schaukäserei and sample dozens of Swiss cookies at Kambly, both an hour drive from Interlaken.
Zermatt & Valais Region
This popular area has lots of big views, but not so many hiking options for early summer. The Zermatt website lists spring options here. In any case, you can ride up a couple mountains and admire the Matterhorn assuming the clouds cooperate.
Gornergrat railway & Riffelsee. This train is open year round, giving you access to the spectacular observation area overlooking the glaciers and Matterhorn. Most trails are likely closed in spring and early summer. But you should be able to do the short walk to the Riffelsee to get a beautiful view of the Matterhorn hopefully reflected in the lake. If the weather cooperates, you can continue hiking to Riffelalp.
Matterhorn Glacier Paradise. This is open all year round. The summit lift takes you to the highest viewing platform in the Alps, with a panoramic viewing platform, glacier palace, restaurants, snow tubing and even summer skiing. We’ve never been here, so I can’t give you a personal review. More info here.
Luzern & Central Switzerland
There are many beautiful year round options in this area, including easy access to a couple of beautiful driving tours. Many tourists use Luzern as a base since it’s so close to the alps.
Mountain Tops – this area boasts three of the most popular mountain top experiences: Rigi, Pilatus, and Titlis. All have expensive, breathtaking rides on funiculars and gondolas to sweeping panoramic views. All are open year round, though only Rigi has hiking options in early summer, the panorama trail if it’s not covered in snow or mud. Make your decision last minute based on which has the clearest views using the webcams.
Cruising Lake Luzern – In my opinion, this lake has the most beautiful views in Switzerland. We like the section between Brunnen and Vitznau. You can combine a lake cruise with visiting Rigi or Pilatus, combo offers available when purchasing your cruise tickets.
Driving Tour – The drive from Luzern to Interlaken is an attraction on its own. The highlight is the super blue Lungernsee, much photographed by tourists from the various lookout points. Another beautiful drive is the Sustenpass, from Wassen to Innertkirchen. You could continue to Interlaken or loop back to Luzern over the Brünigpass.
Hiking, maybe – Sattel Hoch Stückli opens in April and has a huge bouncy castle play area for kids at the top of the cable car. There is a nice panorama trail with view of Mount Rigi. We love quiet, locals-only Bannalp, open in April, which has a beautiful lake with mountain views. Near Engelberg, the Fürenalp cable car opens in May. It has great views of the surrounding mountains and a nice hike to a waterfall and partially along a river.
Zurich & Eastern Switzerland
There are lots of options in this area for locals and I’ve listed the best below. But since tourists usually want something big and famous, I’d recommend visiting a different region if that’s important.
Mountain Top – Säntis is open year round, offering panoramic views from the mountain top terraces.
Hiking – Ebenalp with the much photographed cliff restaurant opens in mid-May, with a variety of hiking difficulty. The gorgeous Seealpsee lake below Ebenalp can be accessed by a service road out of season.
Waterfalls & Lakes – These lakes are open year round. A short ferry ride across the Walensee then an easy hike to spectacular waterfalls. Or a walk along the shores of the beautiful Klöntalersee with majestic peaks looming above.
Chur & Graubünden
Many visitors take the Bernina Express that drops them off in Chur. Most tourists continue from here to the Interlaken area (about 2h30 by car), which I would recommend. But if you want to stay in this area, here are a couple beautiful areas that are open in late spring and early summer.
Hiking – The trail along the beautiful Pigniu reservoir is usually walkable by mid-May, when the waterfalls are roaring. The walk past the icy blue Caumasee to the Rhein gorge lookout is also a good choice for late spring. All the big mountains in this area are closed until late June. In Davos, some of the lower elevation cable cars are open in late May and early June.
Rainy day – The relaxing warm indoor/outdoor swimming at Tamina Therme is a nice option for bad weather.
Geneva & Western Switzerland
I haven’t spent much time near Geneva, but if you want to see the alps, this is not the best part of Switzerland to explore. There are plenty of charming sights and things to do, but not the big alpine experience. I can recommend the Cailler chocolate experience and the adorable town of Gruyeres and its accompanying cheese factory.
Southern Switzerland is a better bet weather-wise during early summer. But the drier landscape in Ticino is not quite the typical technicolor green Swiss alps that most tourists are looking for. So again tourists should probably focus on other areas.
Last Tip: Don’t Wait for the Weather
This is our family motto. If we stayed home every time rain threatened, we’d never go hiking in Switzerland. We’ve been on many hikes where we started in the rain and shortly after, the sun came out and we finished the hike in short sleeves. We’ve also had the reverse.
Be flexible: It rains a lot in Switzerland and cloud cover often obscures the beautiful scenery you wanted to admire. But Switzerland often has micro-climates, so even if it’s raining where you planned to go, it might be sunny just a two hour drive away. I like meteo.search.ch for checking the weather, particularly their precipitation and cloud cover maps.
Be prepared: Weather can change quickly. Definitely bring quality rain gear and umbrellas just in case.
Have a rainy day plan: All is not lost if you get socked in with rain. Your best bet are museums, factory tours and indoor swimming, preferably at thermal baths.
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