Hiking in Grindelwald: Finding the Allure of the Trail in the Swiss Alps
Hiking hasn't always been my idea of a good time. While I could marvel at the birds'-eye views afforded by a mountain summit on an occasional hike, it often felt like a chore to trudge my way up. That all changed when I visited the village of Grindelwald in Switzerland's Bernese Alps in the summer of 2023, though.
Located in the UNESCO-recognized Jungfrau region, Grindelwald is the departure point to the Top of Europe, the highest train station on the continent. The railway has been giving tourists a chance to experience the awe-striking magnificence of the Aletsch Glacier and 4,000-meter peaks since 1912. It would be an understatement to say I was astounded by the views of sky-high, rocky expanses blanketed by snow to the horizon.
But what will stick for me even longer than the awe I felt from the snowglobe-esque environment was the love of hiking I developed on the trails around the region, starting with the walk from the Eigergletscher railway station (a stop on the journey to the Top of Europe) on the Kleine Scheidegg mountain pass.
This celebrated path immerses you in the destination's epic scenery without requiring any mountaineering skills. On the gently sloping, gravel path, I could take in the views of the glacier on my own terms—sans crowds of tourists at the Top of Europe or the struggle of a climb up nearby peaks—while appreciating the quieter details of the place, like the butter-colored globeflowers that confetti'd the grassy fields at the base of the rocky alps.
It marked the beginning of my transformation into an avid hiker over six days in Grindelwald. Here's how.
Dynamic Scenery of Grindelwald
The next day, I made my way to Grindelwald First, a cable car station above Grindelwald, to hike to the world-famous Bachalpsee.
The journey to this idyllic mountain lake took about an hour from the First mountain station, where you can immediately take in views from the First Cliff Walk. The steel bridge hugs a curved cliffside and overlooks both the Eiger North Face in the distance and the verdant valley below. For travelers like me who hit the trail to Bachalpsee, it's just a taste of the scenery to come.
While not too steep, the incline to the lake felt challenging to me amid the thin air of the high altitude. The dynamic scenery proved to be the perfect distraction from my discomforts, though.
The trail offers views of Switzerland's first mountain shelters for hikers, built roughly 200 years ago, along with snow-swept peaks, trickling streams, and rolling meadows. I hardly noticed my heavy breathing amid the postcard-worthy vistas. Plus, the Bachalpsee lived up to its reputation as one of Switzerland's most stunning alpine lakes. Smooth and glassy, the lake was like a mirror for the surrounding mountains.
Still brimming with energy, I continued on the trails for another 90 minutes. Our group had the dirt path to ourselves, and the quietness made it easy to spot small creatures, like frogs and plump marmots. We stopped at a quaint restaurant in Waldspitz for lunch—potato rosti covered in melted cheese made the perfect alpine fuel.
Then, we set out on a winding trail through a forest—a stark contrast to the expansive fields and valleys just above us. Amid the trees and moss, it seemed like a fairy could pop out from anywhere. It felt like magic.
The path eventually opened up to lush, grassy meadows sprinkled with wildflowers. While the hike was just about over, the diversity of the landscape I had seen that day made me feel like I could have kept going for hours longer than I had ever hiked before. It's no wonder why hiking in Grindelwald is one of the most popular things to do in Switzerland.
Panorama Trail: A Treat for All the Senses
"The tones of the bells around the necks of dairy cows on pastures beneath the trails offered an oh-so-Swiss soundtrack for my hike."
Given how much fun I had hiking my first couple of days, I couldn't wait to lace up my boots and hit the Panorama Trail from nearby Männlichen. The aptly named path, which starts at 2,230 meters above sea level, is perhaps the prettiest place I've ever hiked in my life. Each twist of the wildflower-lined trail opened up new views of the precipitous cliffs, patches of forest, and alpine meadows.
After a brief lunch stop in Kleine Scheidegg, I continued the downhill journey on the Romantikweg (Romantic Way), where the wildflowers became even more fragrant, ancient five-needle conifer trees thrive, and paragliders splash the sky with color. The tones of the bells around the necks of dairy cows on pastures beneath the trails offered an oh-so-Swiss soundtrack for my hike, turning it into a deeply sensory experience.
No Car Required
I was surprised by my own stamina to go hiking, day after day, on my trip to Grindelwald. Seeing so many picturesque panoramas, one after another, helped keep my tiredness at bay. The destination's rich scenery doesn't deserve all the credit, though.
Grindelwald, and Jungfrau at large, is extremely well connected by public transportation, much of which brings you straight to the trailhead. Without the need to spend energy loading and unloading gear into a car, driving on unfamiliar roads, and scouring parking lots for a spot, I had a lot more endurance to enjoy the experience of hiking. All I needed to do was get my day bag ready and hop onto one of the hourly buses that departed directly outside my chalet-style hotel, Aspen Alpin Lifestyle Hotel, and make my way to the train or cable car to reach the trails.
What's more, Grindelwald offers several cable cars that take care of the steep climb from the village to the mountain paths. Sure, some of the more ambitious travelers go uphill on foot, but for me, being able to start the journey from a reasonable point on the ascent helped reserve my energy for the best parts of the trails, rather than feeling exhausted. It also meant that I could cover a lot of ground.
If more destinations had trails that were as accessible and well-connected as those in Jungfrau, I'd pack my hiking boots on every trip.
Unless you're a diehard trekker, hiking can sometimes start to feel a little overwhelming after a while. In Grindelwald, though, you're spoiled with a number of adventure activities situated close to popular trails, which help keep your adrenaline high between your meditative mountain walks.
Grindelwald First—the same location where you can start the walk to Bachalpsee—offers four outdoor adventure attractions that can break up the time between days of hiking. You can whiz from First to Schreckfeld on the First Flyer, a gravity-powered zipline. Immediately after, you and three friends can get strapped to the wings of a giant eagle known as the First Glider. You'll fly up to First on the wire, then soar headfirst back to Schreckfeld at 80 kilometers per hour.
You've also got wheeled adventures waiting for you. The First Mountain Cart is like a game of "Mario Kart" brought to life. You'll hop onto a surprisingly zippy tricycle that sits low to the ground, then let gravity take you down a rough trail, letting slower riders eat your dust as you race by them.
When you reach Bort, you'll swap your cart for a "trottibike"—a specially designed two-wheeler that's like a combination of a scooter and a bike—and zoom down a 4.5-kilometer-long asphalt run past mountain meadows down to Grindelwald. You can ride the trottibike right back to the First cable car station and return it to the helpful staff.
The adventure activities around Grindelwald make a week of hiking anything but repetitious. They made me feel invigorated, and excited to get back out on the trail and continue seeing more of the destination on two feet. And with some 200 kilometers of trails on offer, Grindelwald is a natural playground for experienced trekkers to people who only recently found a passion for hiking, and everyone in between.