Peak Performance in the Swiss Alps
By Claudia Laroye
The highs and lows of an overnight Alpine hike with kids in Switzerland.
Planning an overnight Alpine hike with our sons during a family holiday in Switzerland, we knew we needed a journey that would energize their bodies and ignite their imaginations — along with a healthy number of snacks and luck with fickle mountain weather.
Fortunately, the country’s extensive national hiking network of more than 65,000 kilometres of trails is perfect for planning experiences of nearly any length and difficulty. There is always a charming restaurant around the bend, or a cable car to save tired legs from a final descent down a mountain.
We’ve done many family hikes and day trips throughout the Swiss Alps. For this particular sleepover hiking adventure, we settled on the Gemmi Pass. This high mountain pass connects two Swiss cantons, Bern and Valais, across the Bernese Alps. It’s graced with excellent hiking terrain, cable cars, a fascinating touch of Roman Empire history, and a fabulous, kid-friendly spa finish.
Most importantly, it’s not so long as to produce calls of ‘are we there yet?’ or turn the kids off of hiking completely. It was the ideal choice for a comfortable overnight journey in the mountains.
We began our hiking trip on the Bernese side in the small scenic village of Kandersteg. After ascending up the steep rock face on the Sunnbüel cable car, we headed along the trail in a southerly direction with the sun high overhead.
This was the opposite course that Roman soldiers walking the pass over 2,000 years ago would have travelled as they headed north on route to Gaul. That the Gemmi Pass had once been used by Roman legionnaires gave the hike priceless credibility with our sons. They felt like they were back in the Roman Empire period and eagerly searched in vain for long-lost coins along the trail.
The hike’s length of almost nine kilometres with a small uphill grade was a perfect distance, allowing for coin scavenging, some adventurous bouldering, and time to enjoy a leisurely picnic lunch, including Swiss chocolate sandwiches for dessert. The high Alpine landscape was rocky and populated by sheep who spend the summer high in the mountains, grazing on delicate wildflowers and grass.
After passing the Daubensee, a sizeable lake whose shoreline hosts an annual shepherd’s festival in July, we celebrated our successful hiking day with bowls of ice cream on the expansive patio of our clifftop accommodation. The spectacular panorama of the Swiss Alps stretched out before us.
But our journey was only half over. After a delicious threecourse dinner and fitful sleep, we rose early the next morning to undertake the 900-metre descent into the small village of Leukerbad in Valais. The steep decline and cliff edges presented no issues to the boys, who skipped down the trail like mountain goats while I carefully stepped around switchbacks and veered away from vertigo-inducing drops.
Walking into the spa town, we headed straight for its famed bad, thermal hot springs that had also been enjoyed by Romans in their day. Soaking sore legs in the healing waters of this family-friendly spa, we contemplated the success of our Swiss trekking adventure, our minds already planning our next family hiking quest.