follow us:
Shoulders of Giants is closed. Click here for more information
Adventure / July 16, 2017

The 5 best adventures in Switzerland

Written by: Molly McCowan

Switzerland: the land of cheese, chocolate, and clocks. Or at least that’s what most travelers think before they visit this gem of a country.

The reality is that Switzerland is one of the world’s best places for outdoor adventure—and one of the worst for anyone who suffers from vertigo. This small country isn’t afraid of going big when it comes to doing dangerous things at great heights.  

There are countless ways to adventure through Switzerland, but these are the five best.

 

1. Hike to the “Murder Wall”

The Matterhorn, Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau peaks in the Swiss alps are known to hikers and mountaineers around the world for their prize-winning combination of beauty and danger.

The Eiger has a particularly deadly reputation: its 6,000-foot sheer north face, commonly known as the “Mordwand” (“murder wall” in German), was not successfully summited until 1938, and has killed more than 60 climbers to date.

For a less perilous trek of the Alps, start in the pastureland just west of Zermatt. This area is largely undeveloped, meaning that its well-maintained trails pass through mostly pristine countryside. Summit the Mettelhorn (less than 800 feet of climbing) for panoramic views, and then descend back down to watch the sun set over the Matterhorn.

Trekkers can find many hut-to-hut itineraries in this region: some of the mountain hotels are only accessible on foot or by helicopter, but they manage to offer comfortable beds, hot showers, and delicious food.

Our friends at Carpe Mundo offer an eight-day hiking tour of Switzerland that includes treks featuring close-up views of the Matterhorn and Eiger mountains.

The infamous Eiger north face is among the world's most fearsome alpine climbs. To date, more than 60 climbers have died attempting it. Photo by Terra3.

Trekkers in the Swiss Alps dont have to sleep in tents. Many overnight in alpine huts like the Fluhalp Hut, shown here at the base of Zinalrothorn. Photo by Simons Images.

2. Ski St. Bernard Pass

Founded in 1049 by the Augustinian monk Saint Bernard de Menthon, the monastery that shares his name became famous for sheltering travelers and soldiers who braved the treacherous mountain pass between Switzerland and Italy. In the 1800s, the St. Bernard dogs bred there became known around the world for rescuing countless people from the snow and harsh alpine conditions.

The monastery is still active today, and it continues to operates a modestly equipped hotel, along with a small museum dedicated to the dogs that made the region famous. The monastery is only accessible by car from May to early October (visitors ski or snowshoe in the rest of the year).

Touring the Great St. Bernard Pass, or the Col du Grand St. Bernard, on skis is an unforgettable experience—start at the monastery and brave the sloping, eight-mile downhill ride to the village of Bourg-Saint-Pierre for amazing views of the valley below.

Our friends at Exodus Travels offer a four-day “Ski Touring in Switzerland” itinerary that includes this trip.

 

3. Bungee Jump the dam from ‘goldeneye’

Adventurers who have seen the James Bond film GoldenEye will recognize the Verzasca Dam, located near the southern Swiss region of Ticino. The dam is the fourth tallest in Switzerland, and at 720 feet tall, it’s almost exactly the same size as the Hoover Dam in the U.S.

This jump is the second highest in the world behind China’s Macau Tower and the first highest jump without guide ropes. The leap costs about $200 per person. For an added thrill, this jump can be made after dark (the dam is lit with floodlights).

 

The monastery atop Great St. Bernard Pass is believed to be the first place St. Bernards were bred to be used as mountain-rescue dogs. Photo by Stan Shebs.

Famous for its role in the movie GoldenEye, Verzasca Dam is now the site of the world's second-highest bungee jump. Photo by Hollerz.

4. Cross the Trift suspension bridge

Travelers visiting the idyllic town of Meiringen, near Interlaken in central Switzerland, would never know that they’re only a couple of hours away from Switzerland’s longest and highest suspension bridge.

It’s eye-opening to see how much this mighty glacier has melted and receded in recent years—the bridge wasn’t needed until the early 2000s, by which time the glacier level had dropped so significantly that hikers could no longer cross its tongue to reach the other side of the canyon.

Traversing the narrow, swinging bridge is a feat unto itself, but the trek can be extended by continuing the hike to the Trift or Winedegg huts to spend a night or two before making the return trip.

Travelers to this region should also check out the glass-walled Hammetschwand Elevator, on the coast of Lake Lucerne. It’s the highest outdoor elevator in Europe, and it offers heart-stopping views of the lake and valley below.

Parts of this trip are included in Trafalgar’s eight-day “Contrasts of Switzerland” itinerary.

The Trift suspension bridge offers a stunning (and sobering) view of a rapidly receding glacier. Photo by Ian Burt.

Climbers connect to safety lines along Glacier 3000's via ferrata, but that doesn't make the heights any less dizzying. Photo by Chriscom.

5. Brave Glacier 3000’s via ferrata

Close to Montreux and Lake Geneva, Switzerland’s Glacier 3000 adventure park is famous for its suspension bridge connecting the two mountain peaks that straddle the Tsanfleuron Glacier.

But the area around the park is home to some of its most rewarding, and least crowded, adventures. The most hair-raising of these is the Via Ferrata Gemskopf: a fixed-ropes-and-ladders course scaling a sheer cliffside. (It’s not for anyone who’s afraid of heights.)

Adventurers will need to make a three-hour trek to the via ferrata from the park (with harnesses and helmets in tow), and the route is only accessible from June to October. Go with a reputable mountain guide who’s done the route before—it has some very tricky and dangerous sections.

Do you have questions or comments about this feature? Email them to [email protected]

share
about the author

Molly McCowan

Molly McCowan is a professional writer and editor based out of Fort Collins, Colorado. Her love for travel sees her globe-trotting whenever she can, and she seeks out experiences that are off the beaten path so she can immerse herself in new cultures. She speaks fluent Spanish, so she’s almost always planning a trip to somewhere in Latin America. She also lived in Spain for a while, and backpacked across Europe on a shoestring budget. She hikes, camps, goes four-wheeling in her old Jeep Wrangler, and fly fishes in the mountains of Colorado regularly.

read more
hit the outdoors

Sign up for the inside scoop on new products, member discounts and inspiration from our giants.