Bern isn’t only one of the best places for hiking in Switzerland, it’s one of the best in the world. From snowy mountains to valleys dripping with waterfalls, here are our top five walks...
Bern isn’t only one of the best places for hiking in Switzerland, it’s one of the best places for hiking in the world. There are iconic snowy mountains frilled by charming foothills, there are sparkling glaciers and glittering lakes, there are secretive valleys dripping with waterfalls and dotted with pretty alpine chalets, and there is an excellent infrastructure of huts, maps and trails.
In all, around 10,000km of hiking and trekking routes lace the canton. These include strenuous, leg-testing treks for the intrepid. But there are also plenty of gentle waterside walks and lower-level strolls for those who prefer to take it easier. And they all come with breathtaking views, fresh air, a sense of freedom and a magical immersion in nature…
The Aare River has done a dramatic job of carving its way through the Haslital. A large rock formation separates the upper and lower sections of this glorious valley, which runs from the Grimsel Pass to Lake Brienz – over thousands of years the river has slowly hewn a grand gorge right through it, measuring 1,400m long and up to 200m deep.
Since 1888 it has been possible to walk through this ravine thanks to the construction of a complex system of paths and tunnels. The route today, along wooden walkways anchored into the cliff walls and 400m of tunnels and galleries, takes about 40 minutes; the most striking parts are even accessible by wheelchair. It’s a privileged chance to see the creative powers of Mother Nature up-close.
See the glory of the high mountains unfurl without having to climb them on this trail in the pre-Alps. The Gantrisch Panoramic trail runs across the hills west of Thun, offering one of the best natural balconies in the region. To the south lies the Gantrisch chain – a ripple of 2,000m-plus peaks – while the higher snow-capped Alps can be glimpsed in the distance.
To the north, views stretch over the unspoiled forests and valleys of the Schwarzenburgerland and Bern midlands; when it’s clear you can see as far as the Black Forest and the summit of mighty Mount Pilatus. The trail is wide, well-marked and dotted with rest spots and viewing points, with some steps and steep climbs in places. You can do it all in one go, or break into sections if you want a slightly easier day out.
The Brienzer Rothorn is one of the most magnificent look-outs in the Alps. Soaring up 2,350m, it offers unobstructed views in every direction, taking in Pilatus, Rigi and the Central Swiss Alps, the 4,000m-busting Bernese Alps (including the Jungfrau) and even the distant Jura Mountains. On a clear day you can see almost 700 different summits. It doesn’t matter what level of hiker you are either – virtually everyone can enjoy this panorama. The fit can walk all the way up from the bottom along various trails: most popular are those from the Brünig Pass or Schönbühl in the east or from Brienz to the south. Either way, it’s a tough but remarkable climb via aromatic forest, alpine meadows and increasingly impressive views down to Lake Brienz and up to snow-capped peaks.
Alternatively, use the mountain’s historic transport system to lessen the effort. The Brienz Rothorn Railway opened in 1892 and its bright-red carriages continue to grind up, still powered by steam. You could ride the rack railway all the way to the final station, from where it’s only a 100m climb to the Rothorn’s summit. You could also disembark at the intermediate station of Planalp for a mid-level hike. Plus, there are a number of trails that riddle the top of the ridge, all of which offer tremendous views.
The glorious, glacially-carved Gastern Valley, now a designated nature reserve, feels far removed from the rest of the world. Sneaking off into the mountains not far from Kandersteg, it’s virtually traffic-free – there’s only a limited bus service, plus car access is taxed and restricted to certain times. This makes it a very peaceful place to explore on foot. Once you’ve reached the valley mouth, you can walk as far as you like on an out-and-back route. Stroll along the River Kander, enjoy sections of cool, fragrant forest, see waterfalls cascading down the valley sides and feel awed by the mighty rock walls. If you work up an appetite, stop at the remote Berggasthaus Heimritz for lunch deep down the valley, or visit the charming Restaurant Waldhaus and order a delicious raclette.
The 2,079m Rinderberg mountain rears up between Gstaad and Zweisimmen. In winter it’s beloved by skiers but in summer it turns into a hikers’ playground. A chairlift whisks you up from the little village of Schönried to the starting point of Horneggli – it leaves five minutes after the train arrives into the station, so easy to pair the two.
Once on the mountain, pick up the well-marked path towards Rinderberg: a rolling Alpine path leads from Hornberg to Parwengen. From there, the climb to the summit of Rindeberg begins. It's an easy uphill route on a good mountain path with incredible vistas of the Alps main ridge from the 2,079m summit. After that, it’s just a quick downhill to the mountain restaurant at around 2,000m – a great place for lunch with a view. Finally, the gondola brings you back down to the beautiful village of Zweisimmen – though if you're feeling adventurous, you can pick up a scooter at the half-way point and downhill the rest of the mountain.
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