Schynige Platte Trails Oberberghorn
Schynige Platte Trails Oberberghorn; (photo/Katie Botwin)

Why Summer in Grindelwald, Switzerland, Belongs on Your Bucket List

Grindelwald looks Photoshopped. Step off the train — it’s an easy, scenic 3-hour journey by rail from Zurich — and the Swiss mountain town is picturesquely perfect.

Clean, narrow streets are lined with classic chalets, ski lodges, turreted hotels bedecked in fluttering flags, beckoning restaurants, and beer gardens. Beyond the village proper, the Alps are at their finest — pirouetting waterfalls, rolling lime-green slopes, and sweeping glaciers wrap the valley in every direction.

No, Grindelwald doesn’t look remotely real. It looks more like a movie set embellished by the CGI virtuosos behind “Lord of the Rings” — which is ironic, as JRR Tolkien traveled through this very valley as an impressionable 19-year-old. He later referenced his adventures through the Swiss Alps as inspiration for Rivendell, the Misty Mountains, and more.

In the years to follow, Grindelwald’s cinematic peaks have been home to several movie productions, ranging from older 007 installments to “Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith.”

Hollywood and Hobbiton aside, the mountain town is best known for its skiing. An impressive network of three interconnected ski areas and 42 gondolas and lifts provide efficient access to in-bounds and backcountry skiing. Grindelwald is equally known for its ever-popular “Jungfraujoch,” the continent’s highest railway.

But skiing isn’t the only reason to visit the region. In fact, here’s why a summer trip to Grindelwald can be just as rewarding.

World-Class Hiking and Trail Running

Stunning views and quad-burning vert, not to mention impeccably marked trails, make this area a hiking and trail running paradise. But what truly solidifies Grindelwald as one of the best places we’ve ever been is that aforementioned spiderweb of railways and gondolas.

You can hop in a gondola to skip lower-elevation slogs and start your adventure on high-alpine ridgelines. Or, hammer out a heavy climb and save your knees by catching a train back to town. In Grindelwald, you can even plot a point-to-point adventure sans shuttle or car.

Jungfrau’s tourism board currently lists 45 hikes on its site, but countless variations are yours for the taking. Here are a few of our favorites.

Quick Trail Run: Schynige Platte to Oberberghorn Loop

Alpine Garden
Alpine garden; (photo/Katie Botwin)

Distance: 3.1 km

Grindelwald’s Schynige Platte is a popular destination, as the alpine plateau offers unbelievable views, seemingly infinite trails, a classic Swiss restaurant and hotel, and even an Alpine garden overflowing with nearly 800 species of wildflowers.

But the awe-inspiring outpost is only reachable by a cogwheel train from Wilderswil (or an extremely long hike), and most tourists are day-trippers. Our advice? Book a night or two at the chalet-style Berghotel for 144 CHF, which includes dinner, breakfast buffet, and train ticket. Once the last train leaves, you have Schynige Platte to yourself until the first train comes up the next morning.

We took advantage of the solitude with a spontaneous sunset variation of this typically busy 3.1km loop, extending it to a mellow 5k with a few zig-zags through the empty Alpine garden and a ridge run to the summit of Tuba.

From the ridge, you’ll get a panoramic view of the sun setting over Interlaken’s twin lakes below. We didn’t see a soul, aside from a few paragliders silhouetted against the sky.

Itching for more? Extend this run to a 7.2km loop with a stop at the Loucherhorn.

Full-Day Hike: Schynige Platte to Faulhorn to First

sunset over interlaken from shynige platte
Sunset over Interlaken from Shynige Platte; (photo/Katie Botwin)

Distance: 16.2 km

This adventure also starts with a cogwheel train to Schynige Platte, where you’ll have views of Interlaken to the north and the Eiger to the south.

Skirt the skyline east, summit the nontechnical Faulhorn, and then gently descend to Grindelwald First, one of the Jungfrau Region’s ski areas. From there, you’ll take a gondola back to town before a quick walk to the train station.

Rolling hills, wildflowers, and spectacular views abound on this longer route.

Gondola to Train Traverse: Männlichen to Kleine Scheidegg

mannlichen hike
(Photo/Katie Botwin)

Distance on foot: 1.4-10+ km

From the new Grindelwald Terminal, a cutting-edge, four-season adventure hub that peddles everything from groceries and Swiss watches to ski rentals, catch the Männlichen Gondola. Exit left and traverse 4.4 km across the steep slopes of the Tschuggen — a favorite among Grindelwald’s freeride community in winter — to the Kleine Scheidegg railway station.

The route offers an incredible view of the iconic North Face of the Eiger, and you can enjoy lunch at the rail station before catching a ride back to town. If you want to extend the route, add the 1.4km Royal Walk on the front end.

Or, if you’re looking for an all-day, point-to-point affair, wrap around the Lauberhorn for a 9.9km add-on that ends in the charming, car-free town of Wengen before returning to Grindelwald by rail.

Ride a Railway Through the Eiger

Eiger Express
Eiger Express; (photo/Katie Botwin)

The Jungfraujoch, named after the “Jungfrau,” a 4,158m stone sentinel that towers over the valley, is the continent’s highest railway.

Your journey starts at Grindelwald Terminal, where you’ll catch the Eiger Express — an adventure in and of itself. According to the ski area, the Eiger Express is the world’s most modern tri-cable gondola, and 26-person cabins zip nearly 6.5 km to the Eiger Glacier station in a mere 15 minutes.

The aptly named gondola passes directly beneath the Eiger’s North Face and on a clear day, the views of this classic climb are unparalleled.

After obligatory photos at the Eiger Glacier station, transfer to the Jungfraujoch railway. Visibility is limited on this train, as the marvel of engineering tunnels through the heart of the Eiger itself. Yup, you read that right — there’s a tunnel through the Eiger. Most impressively, the tunnel was carved by shovel and pick, from 1896 to 1912.

There is one quick pit stop where you can exit the train, admire the tunnel diggers’ handiwork, and look out of several windows carved into the Eiger’s North Face. If you time it right — the train runs 365 days a year, even in winter — you may be able to catch a glimpse of climbers on their way to the summit.

The 26-minute ride tops out at an architectural marvel: a domed research station, restaurant, and museum all wrapped into one. The destination is perched on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Aletsch Glacier — the longest glacier in Europe. Explore ice caves, snap photos of the view, and stop for lunch in the window-wrapped Crystal restaurant. (You can’t go wrong with the fondue or schnitzel.)

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Mountaineering in the Swiss Alps

north face of eiger
Eiger’s North Face; (photo/Katie Botwin)

You’d need a library full of guidebooks to catalog all of the Alps’ climbing and mountaineering routes, and this Swiss slice of the range is chock-full of prominent peaks that make it an ideal destination for the vertically inclined.

Of course, no objective is more famous than the Eiger’s North Face. Highlighted by the 1938 Heckmair route, the face remains a testpiece for advanced mountaineers over 80 years after it was first climbed. However, it’s most typically attempted outside of summer, as a lack of ice on the route increases risk.

A more popular summer route on the Eiger is the knife-edged Mittellegi Ridge.

If the intimidating Eiger feels out of range, there are plenty of less imposing summits worth exploring around Grindelwald. Your best bet is to link with Outdoor, a local guiding company that puts spikes to snow or rubber to rock on a daily basis.

Outdoor offers everything from basic safety courses and excursions on less technical peaks to multi-day traverses of Grindelwald’s most iconic summits. Examples include its Basic Skills Mountaineering Course, and a Traverse of the Schreckhorn, often dubbed Switzerland’s most challenging 4,000m peak.

Climbing and Via Ferratas

If sport and trad climbing are more your jam, the region is unsurprisingly rich with rock.

If you’re rolling solo, The Crag is a helpful online guide. Oh, and if you want a taste of the Eiger’s exposure without the commitment of climbing its gnarlier routes, check out the Rotstock Via Ferrata, located looker’s right of the iconic North Face.

Mountain Biking at Grindelwald First

Lookout at Grindelwald First
Lookout at Grindelwald First; (photo/Katie Botwin)

We can only imagine how much fun Grindelwald First, the region’s northernmost ski resort, is in the winter — cliffs, chutes, and playful gullies line its slopes and had us daydreaming of returning when they’re draped in blower. That said, it’s a full-on playground without powder, too.

Mountain bikers will be psyched on a network of singletrack accessible from the resort. Favorites include the exhilarating Bachapisee-Waldspitz A and B descents; the former is rated for intermediates, the latter for experts.

Both are accessed by the Firstbahn Gondola followed by a quick climb on the First-Bachalpsee access road, a popular, easy hike to a breathtaking alpine lake, and kick off a 1,200m descent back to town.

No mountain bike? No problem. All of Jungfrau Region’s ski resorts sport epic trails, but what makes Grindelwald First truly unique are the wild ways you can descend. After catching the Firstbahn Gondola up, plan to embark on a triathlon of wacky downhill diversions on your return to town.

The Descent: Ziplines, Gliders, and Go-Carts Galore

First up, the zipline and glider, parallel attractions located near the top of the gondola. This zipline’s particularly rad because you can take in the Alps two at a time.

Whereas the glider can fit the whole family: four riders don harnesses and strap belly-down, headfirst, into a giant eagle attached to a cable. The eagle and its passengers are slowly pulled up the cable from the bottom; at the top, tension releases and the bird flies back to base. We know — it’s quite the visual!

Mountain Carts at Grindelwald First
Mountain Carts at Grindelwald First; (photo/Katie Botwin)

Next up, our favorite leg of the descent: mountain carts. These gravity-powered, pedal-less trikes sport two thick rubber rear tires and a firm, smaller front tire. Steered with a bike-style, brake-equipped fork, driving the mountain carts is a cross between Mario Kart and mountain biking.

mountain carts
Mountain carts descent; (photo/Katie Botwin)

As you whip, rally, and Tokyo drift the carts down scenic dirt tracks, be on the lookout for cows — they’re as big as they are unconcerned by the endless peloton of cart-conducting tourists. (And if you’ve had a few steins of lager with lunch, save the carts for another time.)

The final leg of Grindelwald First’s downhill triathlon: Trotti bikes. Funky blue scooters equipped with small bicycle tires, the Trotti bikes are an exhilarating way to wrap up the descent.

After piloting more paths through the lower pitches of the resort, you’ll navigate the Trottibikes through town. Drop your Trotti bike off at the gondola where you started your day, and it’s off to a well-earned meal.

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Post-Adventure Food in Grindelwald

One of the best aspects of adventuring in Grindelwald, and the Alps in general, is that a good meal is often closer than you think. Thanks to its network of trains and gondolas, the Swiss can shuttle fondue fixings high into the alpine.

The grub in Grindelwald is first-rate and ideal for fueling long days in the mountains. Our hotel of choice, the newly opened, exceptionally comfortable Grindelwald Bergwelt, offered a sumptuous and scrumptious breakfast buffet.

For dinner, hang out in the Bergwelt for primo cocktails and a well-executed bar menu. Live music also may be on tap.

If you’re feeling adventurous, stop by the Glacier, where an experimental chef blends the traditional tastes of the region with the latest gastronomic techniques. The menu shifts constantly, but it’s safe to expect fireworks.

We visited many restaurants around town: Crystal at Jungfraujoch, Bergrestaurant at Klein Scheidegg, Berggasthaus at Grindelwald First for lunch, and Harder Kulm and Panorama at Schnyige Platte for dinner. The food was consistently high-quality, and the beer was always frosty and refreshing.

Speaking of beer, with that, we’ll raise a cold one to Grindelwald. We’ll be back — hopefully as soon as this winter — and certainly for many summers to come.

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Berggasthaus First Restaurant; (photo/Katie Botwin)
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Drew Zieff
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Drew Zieff is a Tahoe-based freelance writer and gear fanatic. You can find him cruising in his custom-built 2006 Chevy Express van, directing splitboard tests and snowboard tests for various publications, and chasing surf, snow, and stories at home and abroad.