The Swiss National Park is Switzerland’s only national park and the oldest in central Europe. It was founded in 1914 and covers 172.3 square kilometers of protected wildlife and foliage across 80 kilometers of trails. Park rules can be very strict, but this has allowed the park to preserve its beauty and endemic species to thrive for years.
One of the best things you can do to immerse yourself in the beauty and solitude of the National Park is to go hiking, and below are some of my favorites from around my various visits over the years.
There are 21 walking routes categorized into three levels of difficulty in the Swiss National Park. Depending on the required equipment and skills, you can choose how hard or long you want your hike to be.
I have done various hikes in the National Park, and these are some of the best hikes I would recommend.
One of the easiest and most popular hikes in Autumn is a return loop hike up the valley of Val Trupchun. It is located in the Southern part of the park, actually outside the main valley most people visit.
You can start the hike with a fun train ride for kids (it’s actually a car/wagon not a train) and then walk to rest of the way up the path. Or, you can do the round trip by heading up on the south (left) side of the valley, and then back along the more popular path.
This valley is popular and well-known for spotting wildlife, as well as a great spot for seeing the Autumn colors of the Larch trees. You can see and hear the dear rutting in October, and often spot some of the Bearded Vultures that call this part of Switzerland home.
Also be aware that you cannot stop and picnic everywhere in the park, as there are designated zones with marked yellow poles that the personal have allocated to reduce human impact. This applies everywhere in the park.
This is a hike that is in the main valley of the Swiss National Park and is easily accessed at either end by the bus running through the park.
You can hike this one in either direction, and I can’t say one is harder than the other. We started at the hotel Il Fuorn and parked our car there, and caught the bus back.
The hike takes you quickly away from the main road and up to a view on lake Livigno in Italy. Then there is about 30 minutes to the turn-off to the ascent of Munt la Schera, which you can skip if you are running short on time. It is worth heading up for the full 360 view from the top though.
There are great spots for food and drink at either end, so if you want to avoid carrying your lunch, you can plan around it. Il Fuorn is actually one of the only spots to stay in the National Park, and has a great big terrace outside serving food most of the day. Buffalora is a lot smaller, and we had to grab something to eat outside the terrace area because it was full.
This is one of the hardest hikes I have come across in the national park, but if you have the experience and fitness, it is well worth it. In total it can take around 7-8 hours hiking time, which means the full hike, including breaks, can take you all day.
The lakes of Macun (or Lais de Macun as they are called in Romantsch) are spectactular, and after the initial tough ascent up, you get a stunning view of the lakes in the crater from the very top. They are a collection of very small alpine lakes or various blue colors. From dark, to mind-blowing turquoise, and the descent, which we did after lunch, takes you around a few of them on your way down to Lavin, your final destination.
The initial ascent can be shortened by taking a local alpine taxi from the owners of the Hotel a la Staziun in Zernez. Because this ascent is on a road and adds very little to the hike, we decided to take this option and reduce the hike by a few hours. It’s still long, and quite tough (especially with 1600m down) but still quite achievable in one day.
This is quite wild and alpine hike at the top. Not technical at all, but just be aware that it’s not a hike for beginners, and no “walk in the park”.
This is the first hike we ever did in the Swiss National Park. We combined it with the next one to the Chamanna Cluozza the next day, overnighting in the Hotel Il Fuorn.
It’s a bit of an adventure because you take the bus out of Scuol to the bus stop at Val Minger, starting, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Slowly you wind your way to the first pass (Sur Il Foss), alongside a small river, and then ascend in to the next valley for the slightly challenging scree-filled climb to the Fuorcla Val dal Botsch pass. There you descend into the trees, down to the road near Il Fuorn.
You kind of end up in the middle of nowhere, not at the hotel, which means the best option is the aim for P8 Car Park (the left hand path as you descend). Because there you can grab the bus. Of course, it’s not far to the hotel, so you could follow the hiking signs parallel to the road until you get to the hotel.
We did this as a two day hike, but you could easily stretch it to a longer one day hike. We chose to do this because there are no other places to stay in this area of the park.
It starts at the P3 Car Park (also known as the Vallun Chafuol bus stop) and takes around 4 hours to get to Chammana Cluozza, the only mountain hut you can stay at in the National Park.
From there, the next day is quite short and takes you to Zernez where you can easily get anywhere in Switzerland.
There are also guided walks for visitors, which are usually delivered in German, but it is also possible to book private guides in different languages.
The visitor center called the National Park Centre is also its own attraction where exhibitions are set up.
Picnics and camping are not allowed (in Switzerland you have to use a campsite), and guests cannot stay overnight in the park grounds. It would be good for you to familiarize yourself with the park rules before stepping foot in the park to fully enjoy their visit.
It is also worth going on a wildlife tour, as this is one of the best places to see a variety of Swiss animals, some you can rarely see anywhere else. For example, you can see:
But one of the most difficult to see elsewhere, but often seen in the National Park is the re-introduced Bearded Vulture. One of the easiest places to spot them in is the Val Trupchun, in the South of the park.
The Swiss National Park is located in the Romansh-speaking region in the Canton of Graubünden. It is officially called “Parc Naziunal Svizzera” and sits at an altitude of 1,400 to 3,173 meters above sea level.
Several routes can be taken to get to the park. There are charter carriages offered via Rhaetian Railway coming from Landquart to Zernez, which is where the visitor center is located. The park is also very accessible via public transport, taking the Rätische Bahn (RhB), which is the railway of the Romansh area, from Zurich, then a postal bus into the park. The park is accessible via rail and bus from any other part of Switzerland.
Public transport is highly advised to help minimize the traffic and disruption within the area.
Private cars are allowed in the park and can be an easy drive under perfect weather conditions. However, just like anywhere else, traffic jams and difficult road conditions in winter are sure to cause more delays. This is especially true during peak seasons when you use the Vereina train/car tunnel (an easy way from North to South via Klosters), as capacity is quite limited. There are nine parking lots throughout the area, but all vehicles take the only road that runs through the park called Pass dal Fuorn.
Access to the park is free, but there are small fees at the visitor center if you wish to view the exhibition and 17 minutes of film about the park.
There really is no best time to visit the Swiss National Park. While the park is open throughout the year, it is best to check whether the trails are open as they may sometimes be closed for maintenance. Nevertheless, the diversity of its flora and fauna guarantee sightings and encounters on any day. Picking a season has a lot more to do with who you’re going with and what you’re planning to do.
Spring starting in March makes an easier hike, but there are chances that the trails can still be muddy. While the park will be open, spring is considered low season in Switzerland, which means extra planning will be involved to make sure that hotels and train schedules are open. However, this offers picturesque views both snow-capped mountains and green valleys. Summer season, starting in June is the most popular season where trails will be mostly cleared of snow. The weather becomes pretty mild around October, but days will start getting chilly especially towards November (which is also considered low season).
There are only two places where guests can spend the night inside the Swiss National Park located along Pass dal Fuorn.
The Chamanna Cluozza or “mountain hut” is sought-after for its location in the heart of the park. It can accommodate 63 guests in multi-bed rooms and mattresses with Nordic duvets. Sleeping bags can also be bought or rented in the cottage. Accommodations are given in half-board bookings, which include lunch packages, snacks, and drinks. Toilets and laundry rooms are available outside the cottages, but there are no showers. It takes a three-hour hike from Zernez station to get to the hut.
Another option is Hotel Parc Naziunal Il Fuorn, a more complete and comfortable accommodation within the Swiss National Park. The rooms offer en-suite bathrooms, as well as great views with Graubünden Swiss stone pine and larch wood from the region. They also have a restaurant, Arvenstübli, serves traditional cuisine and game specialties.
If you run out of room inside the park, there are several hotels nearby that you can also choose from.
I recommend checking out the Hotel Central in Valchava. It is right in the heart of the Val Mustair section of the national park, modern, with awesome service. I have not seen many places with a 9.5 on Booking.com!
Switzerland never seems to run out of nature for people to enjoy, but the Swiss National Park gives visitors something no slope can offer – an up close and personal encounter with the country’s local wildlife. If skiing and the slopes are not your thing, head to the park where anyone from children to adults will surely have a memorable trip.
Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!