Fall Hiking in Switzerland

With so many places to see and limited time, you need travel short cuts.   Person to person recommendations are often the best.  We asked our Swiss friends Christian and Iris for their favorite day hiking destination in the Swiss Alps.  Avid hikers both before and after kids, their favorite spot is LENK IN SIMMENTAL which offers easy valley hiking, more challenging and varied mountain paths, and higher more technical alpine climbs.

GSTAAD is a destination in the Berner Oberland with an international reputation but nearby Lenk in Simmental has the Swiss reputation.  It has been awarded as one of the best Swiss holiday family resorts for both its winter and summer activities.  Like Gstaad it has a charming, picturesque village but it trades the designer label shops for more outdoor stores and a working population.  While it caters to the outdoor enthusiast, it feels like a more authentic Swiss village.  For those of you familiar with recreational areas in Idaho, Lenk is the Hailey to Sun Valley’s Ketchum.

Sitting at an altitude of just over 1000 meters, Lenk is in the Simmental valley about 65km southwest of Interlaken.  The valley has 600km of walking trails and 290 km of mountain bike trails for all levels, so plenty to keep busy for a long weekend.  One of the attractions is the compactness of the outdoor activity which means no time is wasted in getting to your activity.  It's a great destination for both families and older people.

With a recent dusting of snow on the highest peaks and idyllic late September weather, the only challenge was choosing which of the hiking and mountain trails to do.  (We weren't looking to do any of the more advanced alpine or overnight trails, much to my husband's dismay.)  There too we had help from the owner of the hotel that was also recommended to us by Christian and Iris.  (see below in “Where to Stay.”)

On the first day, we took the gondola up to LEITERLI above Lenk.  There is an easy 3km loop hike on the top with beautiful vista views and interesting sign posts (in Swiss) about Lenk’s history.   There are several additional trails to do from the top which, if the weather is good, we’d recommend over hiking back down to Lenk.  From Leiterli back down to Lenk there is a discovery Marmot Trail (3 km) and Lynx Trail (6 km) aimed at kids but its ankle breaking steep and not quite as interesting for older kids.  There is another themed trail called the Alpine Flower Trail with 95 plant species that would have been lovely to do when the wildflowers are in season.

On the second day, we took the bus to IFFIGENALP (which is not accessible by gondola.)  From there we did an up and net down hike past several beautiful waterfalls and lots of cows.  One of the treats of hiking in Switzerland are all the old chalets en route where you can usually stop for a drink and buy some locally made cheese.    We extended what would have been a 3.5 hour mountain hike finishing in Simmenfalle into a leisurely 5 hour stroll.  Had it just been Brett and Lawton on the hike, they would have traded the stroll for a 600 meter add on climb to Flueseehutte.  The two of them are already plotting their return.

Getting there:

It’s a 5.5 hour drive to Lenk in Simmental from Luxembourg without traffic.  Expect some delays near Strasbourg and a few tolls in France.  The last hour of drive is on windy two lane road so it’s advisable to drive in daylight.  You will need to stop and buy the Swiss autobahn toll sticker (cost of 40 Swiss francs for one calendar year) when crossing into Switzerland.  If you fly, nearest airport is in Bern which is 1.5 hours by car or 2.5 hours by train.   From Zurich Airport it is 2.5 hours by car and 3.5 hours by train.

Getting around:

It is nice to have a car but if you are staying in the town center of Lenk, you can easily manage without one.  The Lenk bus leaves regularly from the train station in the town center to many of the trail heads and in some cases (where roads are only open one direction on an hourly schedule) is a better option than driving.  

Where to Stay:

At our friend’s recommendation, we stayed at HOTEL SIMMENHOF, Lenkstrasse 43 | 3775 Lenk Im Simmental, Lenk-Simmental 3775, Switzerland; +41 33 736 34 34; Family-run hotel 1km from the center of Lenk; large spacious family rooms available; indoor pool with smaller outdoor pool; free and excellent WiFi; exceptionally kid friendly; hearty breakfast offering included; onsite restaurant for dinner; free parking and shuttle service into Lenk; owners are as helpful and good as any tourist office.  90% of guests are Swiss.

If you have a few more francs to rub together or you want to be in town, LENKERHOF GOURMENT SPA RESORT is the highest rated hotel in the area and looked to be a special spot, Badstrasse 20 | Postfach 241, Lenk-Simmental 3775, Switzerland; :+41 33 736 36 36.

There are numerous other hotels in the town as well as a number of rental properties.  Because it is mostly a skiing destination, you should have ample lodging options for hiking seasons.

Where to Eat:

One does not travel to Switzerland for the food, but a warm Rösti (elevated hashbrowns with cheese and often an egg on top) after a day of hiking goes down easy.   There are 27 restaurants listed on Trip Advisor in Lenk.  We asked around for recommendations, which landed us at these two spots for dinner both of which worked well.

Hirschen Lounge Bar, Oberriedstrasse 1, Lenk-Simmental 3775, Switzerland; don’t mistake the red and white table clothes for pizza; interesting menu with excellent Rösti and very good vegetarian Spätzle with local chanterelles; average pasta dishes and make your own hamburgers; slightly slow service but the night was also quite busy.

Elk Bar & Restaurant, Oberriedstrasse 13, Lenk-Simmental CH-3775, Switzerland; large more modern than traditional Swiss restaurant with excellent terrace; aside from the parsnip soup and house salad nothing that floated above average but food is simple, service was good and there’s something for everyone on the menu.