As I mentioned in my last post, the Swiss Family Domecks spent the weekend of Swiss National Day in Zermatt. Thanks to the incredible magnetism of the Matterhorn mountain and half a dozen ways to reach the peaks surrounding this once-small-town in Canton Valais, Zermatt has become a major focal point for tourists visiting Switzerland.
If you want to enjoy the Swiss Alps by hiking around Zermatt, then consider tackling these trails for your fix of mountain glory: the Five Lakes Walk, the Matterhorn Glacier Trail, and the Botanical Nature Trail.
Per the guidelines set by the Swiss Hiking Trail Federation, all three of these trails are considered hikes of “Medium Difficulty.” For the purposes of this article, I have laid them out from easiest to most strenuous. Also, the time allotments mentioned are for actual walking times and do not include stops for photoshoots, picnics, or afternoon naps.
THREE SCENIC TRAILS OF ZERMATT
The Five Lakes Walk (5-Seenweg)
What is likely the most popular trail in the entire Zermatt region for its photogenic character and accessibility, the Five Lakes Walk wanders by – you guessed it – five mountain lakes: Stellisee, Grindjisee, Grünsee, Moosjisee and Leisee. The trail is a 9.3 kilometer course that takes about 2.5 hours to walk at an average pace. With incredible views of the Matterhorn, however, consider factoring in more time to your hike in order to take it all in.
To reach the trail, first take the Sunnegga-Rothorn funicular up to Sunnegga (it’s a 3 minute ride through the mountain). Then, continue your journey up the Rothorn ridge via the Blauherd gondola lift. For ticket prices, visit the Zermatt Bergbahnen website here.
The Five Lakes Walk begins from the top of the Blauherd lift at 2578m – the trail’s highest point of elevation – and zig zags down and across the valley, eventually looping back up to Sunnegga. If you decide to do the hike in reverse, then give yourself an additional 30 minutes of walking to account for the trail’s overall ascension.
Each of the five lakes has its own unique appeal. Some are great for swimming in the summertime and some have spectacular views of the Matterhorn. Because of its perfect alignment with the famous peak, I believe that the Stellisee (the first lake) is probably the most photographed and most recognizable of the five.
The Five Lakes Walk is very family friendly. Of my three Zermatt trails, it is the easiest as it’s mostly a downhill ramble and almost half of the path follows a gravel road. The trail does require an ascent from the Moosjisee up to the Leisee and Sunnegga that’s unavoidable but thankfully not too long. If you want to postpone that uphill trek, veer off at the Moosjisee and follow signs to Findeln where you can rest and refresh your strength at Chez Vrony, a fabulous restaurant with a spectacular view of the Matterhorn.
If you only have time to do one hike while in Zermatt, take a day to enjoy this path at a leisurely pace and soak up the majesty of the Matterhorn as you stroll along. For more details about the Five Lakes Walk, visit the Zermatt Tourism website here.
The Matterhorn Glacier Trail
High above the village of Zermatt, the Matterhorn Glacier Trail presents hikers with scenery that seems to belong in another world. Spanning 6.5 kilometers and taking about two hours to complete, this high altitude trail starts at just over 2,900 meters and descends to 2,500 meters, making it more difficult than the Five Lakes Walk simply from the sheer levels of elevation. But with a steady and slower pace, I was able to hike this trail at 35 weeks pregnant – and I’m so glad I did!
To reach the beginning of the Matterhorn Glacier Trail, you start at the Zermatt-Furi station at the very end of town, where a line of gondolas will carry you all the way up to Trockener Steg. The ride itself is quite enchanting, but it will cost you a pretty penny (click here for lift prices). Of course, you can always start in Zermatt and hike up without a gondola… but I’d say this ride is totally worth the price of admission.
The trailhead begins just outside the Trockener Steg mountain station, where immediately you’re thrown into a world of rock and ice. The lunar-like landscape under the shadow of the Matterhorn is a fascinating terrain to traverse and provides a sharp contrast to the green valleys far below.
The glaring Furgg and Theodu glaciers stretch upward just above the trail line, where chair lifts carry skiers to the uppermost ridge that serves as the border between Switzerland and Italy. (Yes, you can actually ski in Switzerland and Italy all in the same day!) The glaciers have retreated some three kilometers since 1850, leaving behind a rugged field of raw earth.
The trail leads hikers across the eastern bowl of the Matterhorn peak. After trekking across the bleak expanse and making your way up to the Hirli lift station, you re-enter a world where green grass grows. Yet, glimpses of the Gorner Glacier off to the east remind you that you are still high in the Alps.
The Matterhorn Glacier Trail ends at the Schwarzsee. From the Schwarzee, hikers can continue walking back down to Zermatt (which takes about 2-3 more hours depending on your route) or catch the gondola from the Schwarzee gondola station. For more details about the Matterhorn Glacier Trail, visit the Zermatt Tourism website here.
The Botanical Nature Trail (Botanischer Lehrpfad)
Although this path does not include any views of the Matterhorn, the Botanical Nature Trail is an absolute delight for flower enthusiasts. However, it is the most rigorous trail of the three, as it is almost entirely an uphill battle to the final destination, Trift. Frequent hikers may enjoy the challenge of this trail more than the other two, as this one is certainly a workout!
The Botanical Nature Trail begins in Zermatt town and rises 850+ meters in just 3.9 kilometers through a valley cut by the river of melting snow from the glaciers high above. Compared to the rocky world of the Matterhorn Glacier Trail, the valley is a haven for life, covered with lush vegetation and teeming with tiny critters.
Alpine flowers are the star of this hike, and information panels about the various species of flora are spread across the uphill climb. Many rare and protected species, such as the Apollo butterfly and Edelweiss blossom, call this valley home. I was in heaven with all of these natural delights!
The final destination of the Botanical Nature Trail is the Hotel du Trift, a colorful character stationed at the start of a high mountain meadow. The Hotel du Trift sits at a crossroads for several different hiking and mountain biking trails, and it’s a popular hangout spot on the weekends. Try their homemade iced tea and fresh apple tart, a satisfying treat after the 2.25+ hour journey.
Another reward for hiking uphill is that returning to Zermatt is all downhill, taking only a fraction of the time! For more details about the Botanical Nature Trail, visit the Zermatt Tourism website here.
The trail does pass by the Bergrestaurant and Pension Edelweiss, which is perched on a rocky overlook just above Zermatt. We stayed here for the night and enjoyed watching night fall over the city.
The next morning, we headed back down to Zermatt and hopped on a train for home in Zurich, thankful for such a great time in the mountains but a bit sad to say goodbye. (And I was especially reluctant to retire my hiking boots for my self-imposed “hiking maternity leave.”)
Zermatt is a delightful Swiss city. And as much as I love that little tourist town, I love the mountains even more, which stretch out in all directions and invite you to explore their majesty at your own pace. And that is something I truly hope you can do!
Hello, Fellow Mountain Lovers! What do you think about these hikes in Zermatt? Have you been to this Swiss city before? Do you have any other great hikes in the region to recommend?