Winter Hiking in Switzerland 101

Switzerland has a large network of winter walking trails in the alps, where the snow is groomed so you only need regular hiking shoes not snowshoes. Here's everything you need to know to get started winter hiking.

If you or your kids aren’t ready for snow sports, winter walks in the Swiss alps are a great alternative. Mountain resorts groom the snow on winter trails so you only need regular walking shoes instead of snowshoes. 

Below I explain what to expect and include links to a suggested winter trails we’ve done as a family. See also Snowshoeing in Switzerland.

 

What to expect on a winter trails

In general, a winter hiking trail means that the snow is groomed with a machine (as shown below), so it is relatively smooth and walkable with regular shoes, not snowshoes.

The path condition can vary based on the temperature and snow conditions. Trails at smaller resorts and local hills are not necessarily groomed every day. If the trail is not groomed every day, it can get wet and mushy from all the walking and freeze over at night becoming icy. We suggest using hiking sticks, preferably with snow baskets, for stability. You may also want to bring traction cleats, which stretch over normal shoes and have little spikes to help you not slip on the ice. 

Winter trail signs and markers

Winter trails are typically marked with pink trail signs, as shown below, and painted poles that stick up out of the snow (helpful if there is fog). Sometimes the signs have an icon to differentiate between a groomed walking trail and a snowshoe trail. In my experience, there is a lot of variation with winter trail signs: color, style, info provided. But still helpful and generally easy to understand.

What to wear and bring on a winter hike

You should check the forecast and dress appropriately to the weather conditions. It’s best to bring layers so you can easily adjust your body temperature with changing conditions.

On top, I usually wear a thin long sleeved shirt, a fleece jacket and medium weight down jacket. I wear thick hiking pants, thick wool hiking socks, and waterproof ankle hiking boots. I bring a warm beanie cap and gloves.

If the weather is sunny, we get warm enough while hiking to remove most layers. But if we stop for even a couple minutes, we get cold fast and need to bundle up again.

For more details, see What to wear and pack for a winter hike

Winter trail etiquette

Sometimes the winter trail crosses a ski slope. Although usually signs tell the skiers to slow down and watch for hikers, do not count on it. Wait for a break in skiers, then move with purpose and caution, continually looking uphill for oncoming traffic. 

Sometimes the walking trail crosses or shares some sections with the cross country skiing path. In this case, do not tread in the cross country tracks (which ruins them) and keep an eye out for fast skiers that need to pass. In the pic below, the signs indicate the walkers are not allowed on the cross country skiing path (marked green). 

Where to find winter trails

Switzerland has a huge network of winter trails. You can see 60+ official winter trails on SchweizMobil.ch. In addition, each mountain resort usually has more winter trails that are promoted on their regional websites and brochures. For example, Aletsch Arena has 72km of groomed winter walking trails

If you are planning a winter holiday and hiking is a priority, make sure to review the number and variety of winter hiking trails before selecting your destination.

When you look at a winter piste map, the winter walks are typically marked in pink or purple. Some maps show a solid line for groomed trails and dotted for snowshoe trails. Usually there is a little icon with a walking person. The example below from Aletsch Arena shows purple lines for walking trails, dotted for snowshoe, and pink for sledding.

Tips for winter hiking with children

With small children, you could use a stroller on the snow with wide all-terrain tires. If the weather is too warm, the snow can get mushy and rutted, making it difficult to push the stroller. Check the conditions of the trails before committing to bringing a stroller. 

Swiss families often pull children along on a big wooden sled, equipped with a chair and insulated sleeper bag to keep your little one all snug and warm. 

Suggested winter hikes

Below are a few winter trails I can recommend. Most are loop trails that are manageable with kids, with restaurants along the trail, and very nice views. I’m always looking for more, so please leave comment if you know of a good one.

Easy and free winter hike with panorama mountain views near Zürich and Lucerne, great option for non skiers that want to enjoy the snow.
Winter hikes near Zürich that you can access with a car, so you can avoid riding a gondola and reduce your cost. Most are at lower elevations, so they may not have snow during the whole winter season.
If you or your kids don’t ski, a winter walk at Mount Rigi is a great choice for panorama views and fresh mountain air. It’s nice for families because the long sled run, beginners ski hill and walking trail are right next to each other, so you can mix and match activities based on age and ability.
The winter walk around this beautiful lake is a nice alternative for families with children too young to ski. The path is typically groomed with hard-packed snow, easily navigated on foot, stroller or sled. There is also a small sledding hill and multiple restaurants in the area.
This unique sled run near Engelberg starts with a beautiful 1 km winter walk from the top of the cable car, then an exciting sled ride back to your starting point. Sleds are provided free of charge.
Easy winter hike with panorama views at Flumserberg, using gondolas to skip the hard climbs. Optionally add on a 3 km sled run at the end of your hike for more excitement.
This short loop at the top of the Stoos ski resort is a nice choice for non-skiers that want to catch the views and some fresh mountain air in winter.

Lower elevation winter walks near Zürich

If we get snow in Zürich, there are a lot of nice free winter walks close to the city. These trails aren’t always groomed but enough people walk on them, that the snow gets tamped down enough that it’s walkable with regular hiking shoes.

An easy winter hike along the Uetliberg ridge west of Zürich, often covered in snow even when the snow has melted in the city. Accessible by car or cable car.
When in snows in Zürich, the nearby Türlersee lake is one of the prettiest winter walks in the area. It’s an easy walk and doesn’t require snowshoes.

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5 Responses

  1. Thanks for sharing this helpful information. You are inspiring me for walking in winter. I’m sure most people can take notes from this article. One thing most people lack experience while walking in winter. Well, this post gives us some good ideas for walking in winter.

  2. I am so grateful I found your post, You are inspiring me for the winter walk with kids. You’ve really covered up almost all the motivational tips for winter walking. Thanks.

  3. Wow! Such awesome tips in regard to winter walk with kids, I remember there were awesome days when I’d first time walking with kids for the fun of it and it was fantastic, I glad to have a blog to accompany me in my quest. http://flipoutdoor.com/

  4. We like the the winter loop trail on the Klewenalp. It has nice down hill stretches for sledding and nice walking trails. It is still close enough from Zurich to do in one day.
    http://www.klewenalp.ch/de/winter/wintersport/schlitteln/schlitteln-klewenstock

  5. Another one with visitors with little kids or non skiers is in the Toggenburg Valley. Gampluet– http://www.gampluet.ch/ You park at the bottom and ride the gondola up, at the top there are many winter walking trails but even better for kids there are many different types of sleds, snow scooters, snow bikes, etc that you can rent for the day to play up at the top. Each one cost to rent 5CHF and there is a nice restaurant in the same area as well that served 3 daily specials in a self service line and then on busier nice weather days the grill and hot drinks are open outside too. There was plenty of outdoor seating and the restaurant was in full sun all day which was great! You can sled to the bottom but it was not the best sled run I have ever been on– more like a ski run than a sled run- if we went again I would ride the gondola down or walk a walking path down.

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Hi! I’m Tanya and our family has been living & hiking in Switzerland since 2005, collecting dozens of fun hikes and activities for all ages and abilities. More about us…

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