Family friendly hiking in the Swiss Alps
During our summer road trip across Europe, we spent a few days in the Swiss Alps hiking in the Maderanertal valley. Our children were aged seven and five at the time so we were delighted when some friends based in Switzerland came up with a three day family friendly hiking itinerary. It turns out that hiking with kids in Switzerland does not have to be arduous or hard work provided you pick the right trek. Our walk was a glorious three days packed with lake swims, incredible views and delicious food.
Hiking with kids in Switzerland: our multi day Swiss Alps walking itinerary
Day 1: Drive from Zurich to Bristen (2 hours, 115 kilometres), cable car from Bristen to Golzern, lake swimming at Golzernsee, overnight at Gasthaus Golzernsee
Easy, flat walk (from the cable car to the lake and back), approximately 20 minutes each way.
Day 2: Hiking from Golzernsee to the Hotel Maderanertal
Rocky walk through the forest, quite a steep descent and then a gentle climb along a dirt track to Hotel Maderanertal, approximately three hours of walking.
Day 3: hiking from the Maderanertal Hotel back to Bristen
Fairly gentle descent from Hotel Maderanertal back to Bristen on a mix of dirt tracks and rocky pathways.
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Where is the Maderanertal Valley?
Maderanertal is part of the Glarus Alps in the canton of Uri in central Switzerland. Our hike was located close to the Gotthard Tunnel so this is a great destination for families who are passing through Switzerland on route to Italy or it can be combined with a trip to Zurich (two hours away) or Lake Lucerne (an hour and a half).
We drove from Zurich past Lake Lucerne to the small town of Silenen near Amsteg. From there, we took a narrow hairpin bending road up to the village of Bristen which is overlooked by the mountain of the same name (3,073 metres in height). We left our car there for three days.
Will children enjoy hiking in Switzerland?
Our children were seven and five when we did our Swiss hike. One of our boys is less enthusiastic than the other when it comes to long walks. However, there were sufficient diversions to keep him engaged during most of the trip. There are lots of little unmanned stalls selling crystal rock formations along the walk so our children enjoyed digging around trying to find their own rocky treasures.
There were wild fruits to eat during the hike: one of the forested areas was carpeted with blueberry bushes and wild strawberries also grew there so the kids had fun foraging.
The lakes, rivers, streams and waterfalls were a big draw: swimming, paddling, throwing sticks and stones. Water is always a great diversion for small children.
The scenery was incredible throughout the walk; huge mountains, meadows, deep river valleys and lush forests. The weather was also on our side: we had glorious sunshine for our first day, a cloudy second day which completely changed the scenery with low clouds hiding much of what we’d seen the previous day. Our final day was back to clear blue skies so the kids were able to appreciate how varied the mountain climate can be.
During our three day Swiss Alps hike, the kids ticked off many of the traditional things one associates with Switzerland: pristine mountain wilderness, Alpine lakes, cows munching in green pastures with their bells clanging, the lattice rösti potato dish, we even listened to an alphorn. Our friends also packed plenty of Swiss chocolate, a cultural necessity.
Provided you find the right trek for your family’s ability, hiking with kids in Switzerland is a really fun summer holiday.
Day 1: Golzernsee
Our first day did not involve a great deal of hiking. We hopped on the cable car which whizzed us up to the small settlement of Golzern. From there it’s an easy two kilometre walk along a stony path (suitable for buggies) to Golzernsee (Lake Golzern). We spent the rest of the day at the lake, cooking on the BBQ (a permanent feature next to the lake), swimming and relaxing in the sunshine.
Golzernsee is a great day trip from the main road which leads to the Gotthard Tunnel. So if you’re driving to Italy and fancy a day away from your car, this is a lovely option as you feel a million miles away from anywhere but it’s actually quite accessible. There are several restaurants at Golzern and there are toilets near the lake.
We spent the night at Gasthaus Golzernsee, a small property with just six rooms and a shared bathroom, it also has a dormitory for groups. We had a family room with two sets of bunk beds. We enjoyed dinner on the sunny terrace looking towards the lake and breakfast was served in a little room nearby. The food was typically Swiss: rösti, schnitzel and sausages (and chips for the kids!) for dinner. Breakfast was cereal, yogurt, meats and cheese, bread and jam.
Day 2: Maderanertal
After breakfast, we walked around the lake into the forest. The path was quite rocky and slippery in places as there had been heavy rain overnight. It was a steep descent, leading us to an impressive viewpoint overlooking the Chärstelenbach river with waterfalls cascading down the mountainside in the background.
After crossing the river we reached our lunch stop: Alp Stössi, an alpine diary selling freshly made cheese and yogurt. The products are made from the milk of cows who have munched their way through the surrounding herb-rich pastures. We were given a quick tour of the diary and we then feasted on cheese and cured meats. My children weren’t big fans of this unfortunately but they filled up on bread instead.
The track from Alp Stössi took us uphill with our destination handily within sight to encourage the less enthusiastic walkers (this was the least interesting part of the hike). Our overnight stop was the Hotel Maderanertal, a somewhat ominous looking place when it was surrounded by cloud but this exterior belied the warmth of the hotel once we stepped inside.
Us grown ups enjoyed coffee in the restaurant while the kids went off to explore. Other children were staying too so there were squeals of excitement as the kids tore around the place (my apologies to the more restrained guests we might have disturbed).
The Hotel Maderanertal dates back to 1864 and has a long history of welcoming hikers from around the world. Our rooms felt very much as they might have done over a hundred years ago: simple wooden furniture, a wash jug and bowl on a table, traditional furnishings and stripped wooden floor boards. We had two interconnecting rooms with windows looking out over the valley. The hotel has recently changed hands and much work is being undertaken to restore the buildings and the grounds. It must be a very exciting, and demanding, project. I highly recommend a visit.
Near the hotel is a particularly beautiful lake which I’m ashamed to say was a bit too chilly for me but some of our friends leapt in (briefly). We spent a lot of time here just enjoying the tranquillity of the spot.
We had an enjoyable dinner of meat stew and polenta, the kids meanwhile filled up on chicken nuggets. The hotel has plenty of games (cards, board games and so forth) to keep children occupied which was handy. There’s something very enjoyable and rewarding about mountain hotels when you reach them on foot and the Maderanertal was no exception.
Day 3: National Swiss Day
We were fortunate enough to be visiting the Maderanertal for National Swiss Day, 1st August, celebrating the founding of the Swiss Confederation. Outside the hotel’s small church we listened to a traditional alphorn and then we continued on our way, retracing our steps past Alp Stössi to a path which hugged the river all the way back to Bristen.
It was a busy day to be in the Maderanertal Valley: there were lots of Swiss families (with flags flying from their backpacks) making the most of the holiday. We had quite a long walk from the Hotel Maderanertal down to our stop for lunch: the exquisite little Gasthaus Legni. Although there were some complaints from the children and we had to feed them lots of snacks en route, it was fortunate that we arrived late for lunch otherwise it would have been tricky to grab a table at this lovely spot.
We had a really great lunch at Gasthaus Legni and I particularly enjoyed the homemade caramel walnut tart. A very rewarding place to stop at the end of our hike.
It’s a short walk from Legni back to the Bristen cable car. This was our first multi-day hike with the children and because it was not too demanding they’re keen to try this type of hiking again. Hiking poles are on their Christmas present list. Watch this space…
Hiking with kids in Switzerland: practicalities
Switzerland is not a cheap country, particularly when your own currency is struggling. Although we stayed in relatively modest (but comfortable) accommodation, it was still an expensive three days. Accommodation cost approximately £200 per night for our family on a bed and breakfast basis. Meals and cable car fares were on top.
Important to note: some of the places we stayed or ate at did not accept card payment so we had to ensure we had plenty of cash before setting off.
We took as few clothes as possible as we had to carry everything ourselves. Although it was chilly on our second day, we wore shorts for most of the walk and had a couple of layers which we could strip off when the weather warmed up. Rain coats were essential as was swimwear. I would highly recommend travel towels to save on space and weight. Our kids managed the walk perfectly well in their normal trainers so there’s no need to spend lots of money on children’s hiking boots.
We’ve always tried to ensure our kids carry a small backpack when out walking so that they get used to the idea of being responsible for their own belongings. This came in helpful on our Swiss hike as our older son was able to carry his own clothes and other necessities for most of the trip. Still working on the little one…
For more information on hiking in the Maderanertal Valley, check out the Golzern website which has details on cable car fares, where to stay and eat and further information on trekking routes.
During our summer road trip, we also spent a few days in the Italian Dolomites which was a different sort of mountain experience to multi-day hiking with kids in Switzerland but equally enjoyable.
Have you been hiking in Switzerland with kids? Let me know how you got on in the comments below.
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