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A Short Guide to Hiking in Switzerland

Yellow trail markers - Joujou  /

It's summer in Switzerland and that means the hiking season is upon us. If you've ever spent some time walking or cycling outside in Switzerland, you must have seen noticed the classic yellow markers showing you the direction, the time it takes to reach your destination and the type of trail you'll be hiking. These are part of a national network of hiking trails.

Hiking Trails in Switzerland

Thanks to a long and old tradition of hiking in the valleys and mountains (and the flatlands), an extensive network of hiking trails all over Switzerland was developed over the decades. Currently, there are over 60'000km of hiking trails cover all of Switzerland. Almost as many km as roads since Switzerland only counts with 71'400km of roads!

Most of the hiking trails are located in the mountainous cantons of Grisons, Berne and Valais - including some challenging alpine hiking trails. However, there are always plenty of hiking trails nearby as well. Just outside of Zurich, for example, you have several hours worth of hiking on the Uetliberg and Albis.

Who is Hiking in Switzerland

About a third of Switzerland's population makes use of this extensive trail system every year and goes hiking at least once a year. There is a nice mix of all ages that you'll meet on the trails. School kids are taken hiking on their annual school excursion, senior citizen organize themselves in hiking groups and hit the trails, athletes train their endurance hiking (or trail running), and chances are you'll also find a group of cows or goats using part of your trail.

Please note, it is customary to greet other hikers on the trails when you cross them or pass them!

How to Deal with Cows on the Trail

If this happens to you, there is no need to panic. Cows don't usually attack hikers and you can pass through the herd easily. If you feel unsure, here are some guidelines in how to deal with cattle while hiking:
  • stay calm and move on normally
  • keep your distance to cattle, if you have to move around it
  • do not touch calves
  • keep your pet on a leash
As a child, I was taught never to pass a cow on its back side as it could be startled by something and kick out. I guess this was just an effort to keep me away from them because if you keep your distance this won't be an issue!

Cows on the Trail - Margot Kessler  /

Planning a Hike in Switzerland

Where to go

There are probably some hiking trails going through the very town or city you live in which are great for shorter hikes, running and walking. Check your train station for a map of local trails, watch out for the yellow trail markers or ask locals where they go for a walk.

Take along a map! - Dietmar Meinert  /

If you're heading for a longer hike or even a multi-day tour you have several options. Go traditional and buy a map of hiking trails of your desired destination or check out and use the many online resources:
If you have a smartphone you might want to check out the SwitzerlandMobilityApp. Just make sure you have enough battery if you're planning to rely on this app! It is always advisable to print out a map of your trail and take it along!

When to go hiking

If you're an average hiker, summer and fall are best for hiking - especially if you like to visit the mountains. Many hikes become fairly technical in winter and spring due to the weather and snow conditions and are only recommended for experienced hikers with adequate gear.

As far as timing, try to avoid the crowds during the school holidays (mid July - mid August) and on weekends if you can. Taking a day off work and going hiking midweek on a sunny day with empty trails and no one to disturb you beats about anything!

What to bring along on a hike

This depends largely on the length and difficulty of your hike and on your level of fitness and physical needs. Some basics should go on every hike though:
  • sufficient water
  • comfortable hiking boots (possibly with a change of socks)
  • comfortable and adequately sized backpack 
  • hat, sun block, sun glasses
  • enough food and snacks to get you through the hike
  • small change, wallet
  • camera
  • rain jacket
  • a warm sweater in case it gets cold suddenly (remember: you might be hiking in alpine conditions)
  • MAP
  • first aid kit
Wear something comfortable. Sports wear in layers is an excellent choice. Jeans and other cotton clothes are not recommended as they get heavy and won't warm you once they get wet (remember: summer rains!).

How to stay safe on the trail

This largely depends on you. Preparation is the key. Take your time to plan your hike and the things you need to bring along, especially if it's a multi-day trip. If you stick to trails that are adequate to your level of experience and fitness you'll do just fine and have a blast on the trail. A more experienced hiker friend or a guide can accompany you on a more difficult hike if you desire a greater challenge.

Generally, it is advised to hike in a group of at least two. If you do enjoy solo hiking, leave a rough itinerary and an estimated time of return with a responsible friend. Don't forget to check in with your friend once you're back from your hike!

==> For hygiene and safety recommendations in regards to hiking after the COVID-19 pandemic, check out Hiking in Switzerland after Corona!

Happy trails!



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