Backpacking across one of the most breathtaking places on the planet, fueled by chocolate, cheese and beer? Yep. I’ve done that….. Twice. And you can too! I want to share with you how to backpack across the Swiss Alps.
When to Go
We typically go in September. It’s shoulder season, so there aren’t any crowds, the weather is usually good and most of the trail is completely accessible. And sometimes airline tickets are cheaper. The summer would be beautiful, but there are a lot of tourists in the small Swiss towns and the prices are at peak. But if you don’t mind that, the summer would be beautiful!
Before You Go
Figure out how long you can stay and make your travel plans. I can highly recommend Swiss
Book your train travel before you go. You will save a lot of money by booking a Swiss Travel Pass before you leave the US. There are several different tickets to choose from but if you are backpacking, I would highly recommend getting the full Swiss Travel Pass. It gives you unlimited travel throughout Switzerland plus free tickets to museums, and a lot of the main excursions you will want to see while you’re there.
Plan out your Route and Book a Few Nights of Your Stay.
*This post contains affiliate links, which means if you purchase something after clicking on a link, at no cost to you, I receive a small commission- so, thank you!
The thing about backpacking in Switzerland is that it’s completely civilized. It’s unlike our excursions here in Colorado, where you are really roughing it and if you forget to put something in your pack, you’re completely screwed. In Switzerland, you will hike during the day and then you’ll stay in a lovely little chalet or Berghaus each night. No one really tent camps much…..because why would you when you could stay in a convenient little chalet and have hot meals prepared for you!? If you’re going at a non-busy time of the year, you really only need to book your first several nights, that way you have the luxury to change your plans if you find an area you’d like to stay in longer or if you just need another rest day, etc.
The Alpine Pass (Via Alpina) is a very well marked and well-traveled route. It traverses Switzerland from Sargans in the East (near the Liechtenstein border) to Montreux in the West, on the shore of Lac Leman (Lake Geneva). Just FYI-If you wanted to hike the entire thing, it would take about 20 days plus extra days for bad weather and rest days. It’s easy to map your route! Figure out where you want to start and how far you want to walk each day and book your stays accordingly. The route goes across the most stunning scenery in the country and since you will be staying in a bed each night, you’ll feel rested and fresh each morning!
We planned to start hiking in Engelberg and end in Zermatt. We use Booking.com and have never had an issue. However, a potential money saver is to look up the price on Booking.com and then call the actual place you’d like to book- they will almost always give you a better deal if you quote the Booking.com price. (If you use my links above, you can get $15 off your first booking.)
Every Swiss accommodation is spotlessly clean whether you are high in the mountains in a small berghaus or down in a swank hotel in Zurich. You will find excellent attention to detail and service no matter where you go, so you can book with confidence.
What You Need to Know
Switzerland is the land of water. There is water everywhere and most of it is completely safe to drink. This is a gamechanger for a backpacker for sure! We did bring our small water filter, but I think we only had to use it once because we were just never that far from being able to fill up with fresh water at a stop.
Most days on the route you will encounter
The difficulty of the route is tough in some areas. The Alps, while not as high in elevation as the Rockies, are practically straight up and down! You will hike straight up for quite a while and then straight down for quite a while. The route goes through many mountain passes and also descends straight down to the valley floor and skirts the Swiss towns. There are also areas that are extremely narrow with loose rock as well as some slippery streams to cross. You wouldn’t want to fall, because I’m not sure when you’d stop rolling! You need to be in good walking shape and just plan your route according to your ability level. You definitely could do bits and pieces of certain parts of the route with children who are good hikers.
The trick to hiking the Alpine Pass is understanding the convenience of the wonderful and dependable Swiss transportation system. There is no need for the Via Alpina to be a tough and weary endeavor. Not at all. On almost (if not every one!) of the sections there are numerous transportation options to make your trip easier. In fact, on many of the passes, there is the option to take a gondola to the top! (We hiked, but still…. the option was there). Bad weather? Just whip out your Swiss Travel Pass and head to the next town and rest up. Legs need a break? No worries- hop a slick Swiss train and head to a lovely warm bed and a hot meal and relax for a few days in the next Swiss town.
Here is the one tip that I’ve never seen anywhere else, and it’s a big one. This is the only country I know of where you can bring as much luggage as you want on your backpacking trip! Yes, the clever Swiss have what they call “Station to Station Luggage Service”. When we began to hike, we dropped off our big luggage at the train station in Engelberg, and it was waiting for us at the next town when we arrived a few days later. What this means is that I didn’t have to spend 2 weeks in only the hiking clothes that I could carry on my back and I had time to do things like check out Swiss skincare! Oh- the utter luxury!
Be sure your luggage is good quality and that it rolls easily and you’ll have no issues getting from train station to hotels, etc. I’m in the market for new luggage and I’ve got my eye on these.
I recommend getting a very good backpack. It doesn’t need to be huge at all, but it needs to fit you really well and be comfortable. Gregory packs are my favorite. They are made to fit women. I’ve got several and they are amazing quality. You also need REALLY GOOD hiking boots. Showing my favorites- below. They are seriously good to go right out of the box and will last for years.
Hiking poles will save your knees! We had never used poles before but oh my gosh- we were SO glad that we did! Hiking downhill for hours can wreck your knees without hiking poles. I highly recommend getting a good pair. I’ve had these for years and they are still going strong!
Whether you do just a little bit, or the whole Swiss Alpine Route, this should be on your bucket list. Our hikes across Switzerland are the most beautiful, relaxing, rewarding, backpacking trips we have ever taken. The Swiss scenery is like none other and the culture with it’s excellent service, scrupulous work ethic and friendly people is an easy one to melt right into.
I hope that you found this post helpful and that you are encouraged to begin planning a trip! If you liked this, please consider pinning this post here.
Have you been to Switzerland? Would you ever consider backpacking across the Alps? Don’t hesitate to contact me if you are planning your first trip and have specific questions!
You may also like this post on our upcoming business travel.
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