Alpine Passes Trail

The Alpine pass trail from Chur through Olivone and Ulrichen to Zinal is one of the most beautiful long-distance hikes in Switzerland and the whole Alpine range. On the long journey through the Grison and Valais Alps, you will encounter the most spectacular pass crossings, and the other side often offers a completely different landscape than the one you just left behind. Unspoiled state, silence, light, magnificent views, mountain lakes, streams, Alpine plants, shy animals and countless mountain peaks accompany the hiker on the way. And every Alpine pass, as significant or insignificant as it may seem, tells its own story, be it in a large historical context or simply a regional one.

 

Experience of multi-day tours and basic fitness are preferred for this hike. Surefootedness is needed primarily for the steep ascents and descents of the Ticino passes; you also need a head for heights in the last leg in Valais.

 

The long-distance hike starts in Chur, from where you can take the Rhaetian Railway to Bonaduz. The first highlight of nature is Rheinschlucht, the Rhine gorge that is 13 kilometre long and 400 metre deep. It was formed after the Flims landslide some 10,000 years ago. The view from the bridge spanning over the Versamer Tobel is particularly impressive.

The hike from Versam takes you past Valendas, the gateway to the mystical Safien valley and home to Europe's largest historic wooden well. It was once the only well in the village and also served as a watering place for cattle. More than a hundred animals are said to have often crowded around the well. In Ilanz, the first city on the Rhine, the postbus takes hikers to Val Lumnezia or Lugnez. The quiet valley of light with its vast meadow slopes, on which individual barns have been scattered as if by a large hand, offers some cultural gems. For example, Vrin was awarded the Wakker Prize for its intact townscape. Old and carefully integrated modern wooden houses blend into a harmonious whole.

You then go up to the quiet Greina plateau located 2200 above sea level, which was not always a quiet place; the natural landscape with its many streams, small lakes and upland moors was once placed under protection following protests against a hydropower project with a reservoir. This heavenly and secluded place has an almost continental microclimate, reminiscent of a tundra. Did the Romans already have their eyes on it? In any case it is proven that the extensive Alpine crossing between Grisons and Ticino was actively used in Roman times.

Today, hikers can descend 1400 meters from the secluded place of Greina and pass through several levels of vegetation. Once you leave the rock world behind you, you will walk through meadows and the Alps towards the forest belt in Ticino. Now it's time to “roll out” into Olivone in Blenio Valley, where you must take a break not just to rest your tired legs, but also to soak in the pretty townscape and try out the cosy Ticino restaurants that offer regional specialities.

Strengthened and rested, hikers leave the valley floor behind and slowly start the climb towards the Lukmanier pass. The trail leads through protected marshlands with diverse Alpine flora and fauna and fascinating karst formations. From the Capanna Alpina di Dötra, you can enjoy a magnificent view of the Rheinwaldhorn and the Ticino Alps.

As you hike further, the rock type changes from sedimentary to granite and you reach Val Piora, one of the quietest and broadest plateaus in Switzerland. Apropos superlatives: one of the steepest funiculars in the world transports hikers down from Val Piora to Leventina and Airolo. The panoramic path from Pesciüm to All'Acqua stretches high above the valley floor. Sparse larch forests and pretty little villages define the landscape. Here you will come across not only Ticinio houses, but also many wooden houses that typically characterise Valais.

The route then passes through Val Corno up to Passo del Corno. Those interested in geology will enjoy the granite intrusives in shales at Gries Pass. The bright blue Griessee, which is snugly embedded in glacier-like mountains, is also worth seeing. On the long descent to Goms, there is enough time to lock the sublime images in your memory and mentally tune yourself to Valais.

 

In Valais too, the Alpine pass trail connects the most beautiful valleys, crossing many attractive crossings on the way. The dreamy river valley Goms, with the young Rhone and the typical Walser settlements, is a world of its own. Forests, Alpine meadows and sun-seared storehouses of wood dominate the landscape. The route runs almost uphill along the slopes of the wide valley. In this remote valley, you will suddenly come across the original Swissman William Tell: the Tell house in Ernen flaunts the oldest picture of the Swiss national hero. Without lingering here for a long time, you can hike through the Twingi gorge into Binn valley, which is known for its minerals.

One of the most beautiful pass hikes takes you across the Saflisch Pass, which reveals the first breathtaking view of the Four-thousander mountain summit in Valais on this long-distance hike. Rosswald below the pass is located on a beautiful sun terrace with a view of the Rhone Valley. You will get an incomparable view of the entire next leg of the hike up to the Simplon Pass, which ends at the Passstrassengalerie (pass road gallery). Motorised traffic did not always commute over this pass. As early as in the Middle Ages, Simplon was the main trading route that turned into a mule trail in the following centuries. It was not until the 17th century that the tradesman Kasper Stockalper from Briger rebuilt the route into an actively used trading route. None other than Napoleon Bonaparte himself had a road built over this pass because it was strategically important to him. This is how the first navigable pass road was opened in the western Alps in 1805.

However, during the hike through the most beautiful Alpine passes, hikers leave the Simplon Pass behind to go on to Bistinenpass. What a panorama: right from the Bernese Alps to the peaks of the Mischabel group of mountains, which is home to Switzerland’s highest peak, the 4545 m high, eternal white Dom. As if the trail wants to be gentle on the hikers towards the end and spare their legs, it takes the form of a high-altitude hike on an even topography in the Upper Valais in the direction of Saas Fee. This is a good thing, because it is almost impossible to take one’s eyes off the view of the magnificent chain of Four-thousanders while hiking.

The last leg of the long-distance hike across the most beautiful Alpine passes is a rather demanding path: the mountain trail between Saas Fee and Grächen it very tricky. It is quite exposed, but luckily some sections are secured with wire rope. The view down into the Saas Valley and of Fletschhorn, Gagginhorn and Weissmies in the distance is the perfect finale to this Alpine pass hike.

Hiking tours on the Alpine Passes Trail

Medium
Switzerland

Hiking holidays Alpine passes trail Chur - Olivone TO

7 Days | Self-guided tour
Rhine gorge, Val Lumnezia & the plain of Greina One of the most important trading routes of the Roman Empire led merchants hundreds of years ago over the plain of Greina. After a nationwide protest saved this area from being flooded by the construction of a dam, hikers can still roam on these historic paths. The walk from Grisons to Ticino that leads through this area shows hikers how easy the climate can change in the alps and makes this tour one of the most fascinating walks in Switzerland. But even before walkers reach this area the Alpine Passes trail is going to put a spell on you. The Rhine gorge is called Swiss Grand Canyon and the unspoilt beauty of Val Lumnezia (the valley of light) is going to enchant you.
Moderate
Switzerland

Hiking holidays Alpine passes trail Olivone - Ulrichen TO

6 Days | Self-guided tour
A couple of steps Leave those pointed, stone church steeples of Ticino behind as you walk from the canton of Ticino towards Valais. While you will hear Italian language on the first days, soon German or even French is spoken in the end of your walking days. But this hike does not only show different cultures and languages but also different landscapes and nature. Wild and rocky close to the Gotthard pass, dreamy and secluded in the Leventina and mild and playful in the area of Goms in Valais. A couple of steps can make a whole lot of a difference in Switzerland.
Medium
Switzerland

Hiking holidays Alpine passes trail Ulrichen - Zinal

12 Days | Self-guided tour
(1)
From Goms to Val d'Anniviers The Alpine passes trail connects the most beautiful valleys of Valais. This tour starts in Goms - a dreamy valley where the river Rhone and the typical dark houses make the first days a very idyllic experience. The end of the trip is rough and rocky. Snow covered peaks tower above the valleys of Mattertal and Val d'Anniviers and some of the wildest tales of mountaineers were written in these valleys.