Some people hang up their hiking shoes when the summer holiday ends. But the Swiss hiking season continues through at least mid-October, and even through November at lower elevations. Our family loves hiking in every season, but some of very favorite hikes have been in autumn when the crowds have thinned and lower sun casts a lovely yellow hue on the dramatic Swiss landscape.
The wildflowers and lush green fields may be gone, but intense fall colors more than compensate. Where we once caught picked dandelions and chased butterflies, now we jump through golden leaf piles and collect fallen chestnuts. As the weather chills, the hearty food served in mountain huts has more appeal and we trade popsicles for apple cake. Now we build fires not just to roast sausages and marshmallows but also for warmth and companionship. It's a magical time.
We seem to enjoy these hikes a bit more because every sunny day seems like a gift, a bit of stolen time before we settle in for the dreary cold days ahead, spent mostly indoors. Switzerland usually gets a couple warm sunny weeks in late October that fool us into thinking winter might never come. But we know better and spend as much time as we can outside before the first snow covers the trails and the gondolas take a well-deserved break before ski season opens.
There's a lot to like on this easy stroll along the Klöntal Lake near Glarus south of Zurich. It's a short but winding drive from the valley to this gorgeous alpine lake surrounded by mountain peaks. There's a walking path along the west side of the lake, where we enjoyed shuffling through the fallen leaves in the forest. The kids loved gathering wood to build a fire on the lake shore.
This spectacular view of the Bernese alps over the lovely Bachalp lake is most photographed in summer. So in October I was a bit worried that we had missed its prime. But the beautiful contrast of harvest colors and light dusting of fresh snow above us was so charming. Before heading on the trail, don't miss the thrilling cliff walk at the top of the chair lift. Then it's an easy hour on the obstacle free path to the lake, a perfect place for a picnic while the kids skip rocks. You can hike back the way you came or extend your hike on a beautiful narrow alpine trail, with colorful groundcover and even a waterfall. Don't forget to reward the kids with some time at the big Alpen playground at the middle station, where they can swing and climb, while you relax with a view. You can add on a little adventure, with a trotti scooter ride down to the valley.
Flumserberg has so many attractions for families packed into a compact area. We usually start with the "Wild Man" theme trail for children, with big views and games and puzzles for kids along the easy downhill path. The trail ends at the Cliimber ropes course, where both big and small can test their balance and strength on the Cliimber ropes course. In late September, the Alpinabzug and Oktoberfest celebrations often fall on the same weekend, so you can admire the decorated cows and enjoy some Bavarian specialties while swaying to the catchy tunes of the Oompa band.
This hidden gem in the Diemtigtal National Park, south of Bern, quickly won our hearts with its sweeping panorama views speckled with red, yellow and orange in early October. After making its way around the panorama, the trail dips into the forest, along a river and joins a children's theme trail with fun interactive stations, like a climbing wall, bowling, water play, a memory game, and zip line among other amusements. There are several excellent picnic areas with fire pits, stocked with wood.
Gorges de l'areuse
This walk through the Areuse gorge in northwestern Switzerland is a good choice when higher elevations are covered in clouds or early snow storms. The path takes you through forests and meadows along a river, with several narrow sections bordered by dramatic cliff walls. It's a bit long at 11 km but mostly downhill and easy walking; we saw many families with little kids happily skipping along this one. Even though it's a popular hike, you can easily separate yourself from the crowds, with many peaceful picnic spots next to on the river, where kids can climb around on river rocks and float sticks. In September, a few of the trees were just beginning to change, but by mid-October, it's an autumn rainbow raining leaves into the rushing river.
We adore the picturesque Walensee, with the craggy Churfirsten peaks looming over its deep blue water. The destination is the big Seereenbach waterfalls, which are reached by ferry and either a shorter walk along a road or a longer, more challenging hike along a narrow alpine trail. Both are beautiful and doable with kids, each with a different character. Either way you'll pass through tiny villages, with adorable gardens, a couple outdoor cafes, and little farm stores. Sometimes you're right on the lake with open views all around – and sometimes deep in the thick forest, high above the water. In fall, the trees nestled in the cliffs above turn bright yellow and orange, begging to photographed.
Hiking in fall has a few considerations. This is a time to pack extra layers, check the weather carefully, and have a Plan B. Weather can change quickly. A trail that was clear one day can be quickly blocked after an early snowstorm. The day might start warm and sunny but the temperature can drop quickly as sun fade on the shorter days and the wind and fog move in. In fall, we always pack warm hats, gloves and rain jackets, even if the forecast looks nice. Better safe and warm, then sorry and shivering. Always check resort websites and trail conditions before heading out.
Many mountain resorts and alpine towns have special fall festivals, particularly the Alpinabzug, where they bring the cows down the mountains to the valleys for winter. So check the local event calendars to coordinate your hike with one of these events.
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Photos: © Tanya Deans