Zurich Forest Walk: Hornbach Ravine

A neighborhood friend led my son’s school class on this strange city walk that included two extremes: strolling through a lush forest and river hidden in the middle of the city and climbing down into a water canal and walking through pitch black tunnels with a flashlight. It was so fun to see this secret side of the city. My friend assured me that this was allowed by the city but I felt slightly rebellious the whole time. I guess that adds to the excitement! The forest section is wonderful for all ages and abilities. The canal section is better for older children and those with agility. In any case, I’m sure you’ll love getting to know your city a little better.

Location:   Zurich Region
Address: Start: Burgwies, Zurich, Switzerland
GPS: 47°21’29.1″N 8°34’17.2″E
Car: best by public transit
Transit: ~12 mins from Zurich HB
Trail: 1.8 km one way, about 1 hour
Condition: dirt and paved, obstacle-free options
Skill: easy
Open: year round, weather dependent
More info: www.wanderland.ch


This walk follows the Wehrenbach river (aka Hornbach) in Zurich Kreis 8, from Burgwies station on Forchstrasse down to China Garten at the shores of Zurich lake. The path is about 1.8 km one way, as shown below. 

The first larger section of the walk is through a forest, where you’ll pass a picnic area and playground. This section has a wide open path, suitable for strollers and small children.

The second smaller section is through city streets down in the canal. This requires climbing down a ladder into the canal, walking on sometimes slippery concrete next to the rushing water. Parts of the canal pass under city streets, so it is dark and requires a flashlight or headlamp. This section is not suitable for small children or strollers. We went with a school group of 10 year olds, which seemed about the right age. Also, the canal could flood unexpectedly, as signs will warn you. This is unlikely, but possible, particularly during and after heavy rains. So use caution and good judgment.

You can easily bypass the canal section and instead walk on the sidewalks that border the canal at street level, leading you down to Zurich lake, still a pleasant walk. This option is best for small children and strollers.

You can extend this trail by starting farther up in the forest or walking back along the lake north into the city (about another 1.5 km).

I couldn’t find any info online about the canal portion of the walk. But I did find an overview of the Wehrenbach area by the Zurich Water Department.

Getting There

This is a one-way trail and you can walk either direction. It’s best to use public transit to reach this walk, as parking is short term and scare.

Take Tram 11 to Burgwies tram stop. The path is on the west side of the tram stop, going down river.

The hike exits the canal at the junction of Hornbachstrasse and Seefeldstrasse. You can easily catch a tram here back into the center of town. Or you can continue walking on Hornbachstrasse to the lake, where the kids can enjoy the China Garten playground and large park.

It’s about a 1.5km stroll along the lake back to Bellevue and Stadelhofen, where can catch trams and trains back home. Or you can catch Bus 912 on Bellerivestrasse near China Garten, which takes you up to Bellevue (runs about every 30 mins).

Trail – Forest Section

After exiting the tram, use the stairs (shown below) or the pedestrian walkway that leads under the busy street to connect to the path next to the river, leading west down river. You can follow the yellow trail sign to Schweizer Familie Feuerstelle, which is a fire pit along the path.

You’ll pass Quartiertreff Hirslanden, a community center with lots of activities and classes for children. There is a picnic area attached to this center.

The path follows the river through a forest.

After about 400 meters, you’ll reach a clearing with a grassy field, fountain, fire pit and
picnic tables.

Here is fountain and picnic area. There is a grill, but you’ll need to bring your own wood.

We built this fire in November, a little chilly but still fun.

This section after the picnic area is very pretty, through a dense forest. I took these pictures in November, when the fall trees were just barely hanging on . Obviously this would be even nicer in spring and summer, when everything is green and filled in.

You’ll exit the forest and pass a few buildings on Drahtzugstrasse. There are paths that veer off. Just stick to the river.

You’ll pass this public playground.

Sometimes the path is on an access road, with very light traffic.

The path keeps by the river and crosses a couple bridges.

The end of the first section, exiting the forest.

Trail – Canal Section

Here’s looking back at the trail after you exit the forest. The river changes names here from Wehrenbach to Hornbach. There is a fountain here to refill your water bottles.

Now the canal is well below street level and will dip under the street. Right before the trail joins the street, you’ll see a rung ladder leading down into the canal. This canal section is about 500 meters long. You can bypass this section by just walking on the sidewalks along the canal all the way to the lake.

Here is our group climbing down the ladder. It is tall and tricky, so use caution.

Here we are walking in the canal. Obviously the water level needs to be low so you don’t have wet feet. The canal goes under a few streets, mostly short sections. But one section was long enough that it got dark enough to require flashlights. Bring them.

Most of the canal is open as shown below and the water pathway narrows so it’s easier to walk above where the water is flowing.

Here is where you exit the canal, as the water takes over the full width of the canal. You will climb the stairs and exit onto the street.

To exit, you leave the concrete path and have to step across rungs built into the wall as shown below, so your feet don’t get wet. Then walk up the stairs.

Congratulations! Now catch a tram on Seesfeldstrasse or continue walking down Hornbachstrasse to the lake. You will pass the China Garten playground on your way, a good reward for the kids.

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Forest walk by a river in the middle of Zurich, fun for kids and families. Picnic area and playground as well.

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One comment

  1. Our family of four really enjoyed this walk. We’re Aussies who live in the Netherlands and here in Zürich for a couple of days.

    Thank you so much for the detailed description of this route. It’s exactly what we needed after a hectic week. We wanted to connect with nature without having to get back in the car to explore further afield.

    This was the perfect peaceful, nature focussed activity for us ending up at the lake for an ice cream and swim. We snuck in a dip in the creek next to the football field in the forest too – refreshing!

    Our 7yo and 4yo had no trouble with the walk until the end when my husband carried our youngest for the few steps along the rungs in the stone wall.

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