by Anna Ploeg
Coming from Canada people assume I am used to mountainous scenery when in fact I am from the Ottawa valley, and unfortunately the “hills” I used to hike are at a lower altitude than Geneva itself… so I am not sure they count for much. Nonetheless I grew up constantly escaping into the forest for a sweet escape from my otherwise mundane reality and searching for a bit of inner peace within myself. Whenever I felt overwhelmed or needed a breather I would run through the forest nearby my mom’s suburban home. I always felt most grounded when distanced from any sign of urban infrastructure and modernity, as if the fresh air and sound of the leaves in the wind was some kind of drug that slowed down my thoughts and heart rate to a manageable amount that put so much into perspective and allowed me to simply be present.
Although I can’t be one of the first to claim that one of the many reasons for selecting the Institute was it’s close proximity to the mountains, you can imagine that when accepting my offer to come here, I immediately began collecting suggestions and doing research for potential hiking destinations.
Geneva is a small, fairly green city, but while studying and working in such a fast paced environment, I still itch for an escape to the mountains during my downtime… you can say I am not much of a city person. It doesn’t quite compare to the lush boreal Canadian forests, but I’d still pick mountains over beach anyday.
A year into living here, I figured in order to help inspire other students to get out there and explore the countless hikes Switzerland has to offer, and to help myself keep track and reflect on all the beautiful destinations I have been to, that I would draft a mini hiking guide. In this guide, I will give a brief overview of the hike, how to get there, difficulty and my overall impressions of it.
Mont Salève (1,379m) in two parts
First up is famous Mont Salève. Probably the most accessible hike from Geneva and arguably one of the easiest in Switzerland, but don’t be fooled because it is still hefty and steep. I joke with my friends that I don’t like Salève, because although it provides a great view of the city from the top, the ascent is a bit dull. Truth is though that it will always hold a special place in my heart as it was the first social event I attended when I first moved here and it introduced me to the EC.
The classic way up is to take bus 8 from cornavin to Veyrier, Douane. Get off at the last stop and walk across the border towards the telepherique. The hike to the observatory should take you approximately 1.5 hours (15.8 km roundtrip).
After having done it a couple times now, some friends and I wanted to try a new way up – this one is called la Grande Gorge. You start by taking tram 18 then switching to bus 44 all the way to Croix de Rozon, Douane. Then you walk through Collonges Sous-Salève to the base of the hike. We had to ask locals for directions a couple times because this hike isn’t as well marked. This route was quite special because you walked along a rocky overhang and got to check out a mini cave. Round trip this route is estimated to take 2h45m.
Le Reculet (1,290m) & Crêt de la Neige (1,720m)
Opposite to Saleve, Geneva is closely located to the Juras. Although I haven’t yet explored some of its other hikes, the one that I have done and highly recommended is le Reculet and Crêt de la Neige – the highest peak in the Juras. This hike is labelled as difficult, and doing both peaks together puts the round trip at 5h15mins (14km). Getting there by car would perhaps make the trek a bit more bearable, as by bus you had to take tram 18 from Cornavin then switch to bus 68 at the french border, you get off at Thoiry, Mairie and have to walk up a steady 30min incline to the Toican parking lot. From the parking lot follow the trail to the left called “Reculet par la Beule”.
We did this hike in early November when the peak was already covered with foot deep snow, so needless to say we weren’t well prepared, and only summited le Reculet and had to skip Crêt de la Neige cause of lack of feeling in our toes… but it was still a magical hike as we climbed through the low lying clouds on an otherwise dreary autumn day.
Creu du Van (1,400m)
Moving away from Geneva we have Creux du Van, which is also located in the Jura. This hike takes 14km and takes about 4h35mins, but is easy to medium as its ascent is only 780m. To get here, you’d take the train from Cornavin to Noirague (approx. two hours) and costs about 23chf one way with a half-fare card. Fun fact: the natural amphitheater is a unique site caused by water and ice erosion.
If I am honest, by the time we got around to doing this hike I had gotten a bit spoiled and my bar for nice hikes has become quite high. So unfortunately didn’t find the view as miraculous as some of the other ones mentioned in this guide, but still worth doing if you only have a day and are looking for a moderately easy hike.
Le Grammont (2,172m) and Lac Taney
On the other side of Lac Leman are numerous peaks waiting to be explored. Being one of the highest mountains off the lake, Le Grammont provides a surreal view at the peak and offers a great lunch spot near the crystal blue Lac Taney midway up. In all honesty, the first time I did this hike… it didn’t go so well… Moral of the story is to always do your research, come prepared and make sure you account for the fact that buses don’t run regularly on Sundays… but this is a story for another time.
I was determined to redeem the experience by planning a round two early in the summer. This time I made sure to double check the public transport options; take the train from Geneva to Vouvry, gare then switch to bus 131 and take it all the way to Miex, Le Flon parking lot where you will start the hike. It takes approx 2h20m to get to the parking lot and costs about 22chf one way with a half fare card.
Round trip, the hike is 13.9km and takes approx 5h. The ascent to the lake is probably the worst/steepest part but you’ll be pleasantly rewarded upon reaching the lake. After a quick lunch/beer break, keep heading up the mountain by following the yellow signs for “grammont”. When you get past the tree line you can’t help but pause and take in the view of the twin peaks and lay in the late Spring mountain flowers.
But this hike just gets better and better, because it doesn’t end there! You end up twisting around to the other side and are faced with an impressive view of Lac Leman and Montreux (not pictured) along with a 360 panorama view. Needless to say, doing this trip for a second time DEFINITELY redeemed the first trip… I now consider it one of my top favourites!
Lac Bleu (2,090m)
Diving deeper into Valais is this gem. Although a long way to go for a fairly short and easy hike, it was definitely worth it! The journey from Cornavin to Pramousse in Arolla takes almost 3 hours and costs approx 30chf one way with a half fare card. From the bus stop you are dropped off right at the start of the trail, from here it takes an hour to get to the lake and the altitude gain is super manageable at 314m. From the lake you can keep exploring other mountains, but as it was cold we decided to head back down for some warm tea.
From the lake you can descend down towards la Gouille (25 mins) to catch the bus from there or continue all the way down to Les Hauderes. Just a heads up though that these mountain buses don’t run super regularly so be sure to plan accordingly or take advantage and use this down time while waiting for the next ride down to sip some local cider and play some board games at a local cafe in Hauderes.
Torrenthorn, Leukerbad (2,998m)
Torrenthorn was a medium leveled hike, located above the town of Leukerbad. To get to Leukerbad from Cornavin it takes approx 3hrs and costs 32chf one way with a half fare card.
To facilitate the ascent to Torrenthorn, take the Torrent-Bahnen cable car up to Rinderhutte. From there the hike takes 3hr and is 6.1km. If you are lucky and it is a clear day, you’ll get 360 views of the alps in the distance.
Surrounding the town you can also climb up the opposing mountain and hike the Gemmi Pass (2,350m). You can take the cable car up and follow the pass all the way to Kandersteg in the canton of Bern or simply do a lap of the lake which takes about 2h (6km).
After the hike, head back down to Leukerbad and check out the Thermal Canyon walk into Dala gorge 1hr (3km). Or treat yourself to a few hours at one of Leukerbad’s many thermal baths (25fr for 3 hours).
Domhütte, Randa & longest pedestrian walking bridge in Europe (2,940m)
This is probably one of my favourite hikes, because it was my first time doing an alpine trail. The hut is run by the Swiss Alpine Club (SAC) and provides a base camp for numerous other peaks such as the Dom (hence the name). The hike up to the hut was an experience in itself as you get to cross along the Charles Kuonen Suspension Bridge. The recently built pedestrian bridge is half a km long, making it the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in Europe. You can stop for lunch or coffee near the bridge and head back to Randa or attempt the climb up to the hut. Warning – this hike is difficult and not recommended for people with a fear of heights.
We opted to spend the night at the hut with meals included in order to get the full experience (80chf). But we didn’t join the mountaineers for their 3am call time to summit the Dom, instead we ate breakfast at a reasonable hour, walked up a little further to get a view of the glacier then headed back down to Randa to catch the train home.
The trip to Randa from Cornavin takes about 3.5hrs and costs 43chf one way with a half fare card. If you are just doing the suspension bridge loop it is 8.6 km and takes 4hrs (975m ascent). The hike begins right from the train station – follow the “Europabrücke” sign. If you are headed for the Domhütte, you can expect it to take 4hr30mins from the station and a couple hour descent the next day.
Gornergrat, Zermatt (3,089m)
Of course I couldn’t write a Swiss hiking guide and not include something in Zermatt. It takes about 4 hours to get to and costs approx 49 chf one way with a half fare, but I assure you it is so so worth it. This was probably the first proper Swiss hike I did (cause Salève doesn’t really count) and we did it in early October when the trees were just starting to change colours. We sort of went without a plan, but I sometimes find that those trips end up being the best because then your expectations become so easily exceeded.
I love the feeling of arriving in the mountains late Friday night in the dark and the excitement of waking up and looking out the window to a marvelous view. Its a fun surprise to wake up to that never disappoints.
Not having a particular trail in mind, we made friends with someone in our hostel and trusted his judgement for picking a worthwhile trail. We kind of cheated because instead of climbing up to Gornergrat we took the mountain train up (Gornergrat Bahn that you can catch from across the train station in the city). From there we took in the view of the glaciers surrounding us and headed towards Riffelsee lake to get a view of the matterhorn in its perfectly clear reflection. The hike to the lake from Gornergrat is only 3km and is mostly downhill. Now unfortunately from here I can’t give you a particular trail name to follow as I am not really sure how we got to where we ended up. In essence, we decided to walk down and across the mountain in the opposite direction from the Matterhorn. We ended up taking a different train down the mountain back to the town from Sunnegga.
I remember feeling so in awe while on this hike, it truly felt like I was living my best Swiss life, and it was in the moment that I fell in love with the mountains and knew I’d be back many times for more.
Oeschinensee, Kandersteg (1,578m)
Diving into the Bernese Oberland we have the turquoise blue Oeschine Lake (not pictured above, but just google it to see what I mean). To get there you take the train from Cornavin to Kandersteg (it is 3 hours away and costs about 38 chf one way with a half fare card).
We spent the weekend camping in Kandersteg and from the town hiked up to the lake (it is about 4kms and takes about 1 hour). You can also take a cable car up to the lake (15chf round trip with a half fare but price varies depending on which season you go).
Sitting by the lake and taking in the view may be satisfactory enough, but we wanted to see it from up high so we did a loop, also called the panorama trail. To get to it, follow signs for Ober Bergli. The trail adds an extra 8.5km and takes about three hours. The narrow path along the mountain ridge above the lake provided magnificent views. We never got bored on this hike as we were constantly crossing over many small waterfalls as seen in the picture above. Plus the misty clouds and dark rocky terrain made us feel like we were in some sort of Icelandic postcard. This was definitely a great addition to an otherwise already magical day.
Augustmatthorn, Interlaken (2,137m)
Not so far away from Kandersteg is this classic hike above Interlaken. To get to interlaken from Cornavin it takes about 3hrs and costs 36chf one way with a half fare card. From the main train station walk to the harder railway station and take the cable car up to the Harder Kulm Restaurant to start the hike. The hike is 16km and takes about 6hrs if you descent to the town of Habkern, in the valley opposing the lake once reaching the peak of Augstmatthorn. From Habkern you can catch a bus back to Interlaken, but be sure to check the bus schedule!
The blue water looks fake, but I promise you this is what it actually looks like in person as well. This is a popular spot as the hike itself isn’t too difficult and provides an amazing panoramic view of the lake and the valley on the other side as you traverse across the mountain ridge.
Grutschalp to Murren, Lauterbrunnen (1,638m)
Lauterbrunnen is known for being the valley of waterfalls (a total of 72 waterfalls run through the valley to be exact!). The town looks straight out of a postcard. It is just past Interlaken so it takes 3hr30mins and costs about 40chf one way with a half fare card from Cornavin. There are numerous mountains accessible from this town, one of them being the famous Jungrfau (top of Europe) that is seen in one of the James Bond’s movies.
The hike from Grutschalp to Murren is pretty easy and only takes 1hr30mins (4.5kms). We took a cable car from the town up to Grutschalp and followed a gravel road. Once clearing the forest, we found ourselves hiking through a field full of friendly and curious cows. This is where we stopped to have a snack while the cows checked us out. Continuing towards Murren, we got an amazing view of Jungfrau on the other side of the valley (see picture).
In Murren we got a spritz and opted to hike down and through the valley back to our hostel in Lauterbrunnen rather than taking the cable car.
First to Faulhorn to Schynige Platte, Grindelwald (2,681m)
This was an ambitious hike that starts in Grindelwald. Getting there from Cornavin takes 4hrs and costs 42chf one way with a half fare card. It is also located in the same area and Lauterbrunnen and Interlaken so you can make a weekend out of it and knock out many hikes in the area. We made the mistake of hiking 18km the day before this one so we were prettyyyy sore.
From First to Schynige Platte is also another 18 kms and takes about 6 hours. Since we took an extensive lunch break we had to really pick up pace in the second half of the hike, which was a shame since it meant that we couldn’t take our time to enjoy the beautiful scenery that kept changing after every turn.
From the town of Grindelwald, we took a cable car up to First (16chf one way with a half fare card). At the cable car station you can do the First Cliff Walk for free. From there hike up to Foulhorn and pass by Lake Bachalpsee. After summiting Foulhorn, you start descending gradually towards Schynige platte where you can catch a train down towards Interlaken (16chf one way with half fare). The train takes about 50mins and traverses 7km down the moment so it provided the perfect opportunity for a post hike nap.
Reflections and tips
I hope this guide proves useful and creates a good starting point for when you are trying to decide on your next hiking destination. Evidently there are numerous more options, I also only included destinations close to Geneva in the Juras, Valais or the Bernese Oberland as they are the most accessible and I still need to explore more on the other side of the country. Also keep in mind that Chamonix is only a 45min bus ride away.
In order to save money while traveling around Switzerland, the half fare card quickly becomes your best friend and although initially a bit of an investment, you make your money back after 1-2 trips.
I would also recommend the seven25 sbb card for those under the age of 25. You can buy this one annually or month-to-month. I used this one a lot in summer when I was hiking almost every weekend because when you travel between 7pm and 5am, all train fares and regional bus fares are free. So I would often leave Friday evenings after work and arrive at my destination late at night, would hike all weekend then head back Sunday after 7pm. This meant that my transportation that month would cost 39chf, which is usually equivalent to a one way train ticket even with a half fare card.
Other than that, be sure to do your research (especially when it comes to the local bus timetables), wear comfy hiking shoes and pack lots of water and food and get out and enjoy this beautiful country we are so fortunate to live in!!! Be safe and happy hiking!