The Jungfrau region of Switzerland is one of my favorite travel destinations. The pictures are beautiful, but they still pale compared to the reality.
Our top activity in this region is hiking, and the best part of hiking in the Jungfrau region is the infrastructure. For the most part, there are options for everyone. The more fit people in your group can hike to their hearts content. The rest of your party can pick and choose. They can start with a short hike, then decide whether they want to continue hiking or hop on a train, gondola, or bus.
Our first three days of hiking included (1) one of my favorite hikes, the Panoramaweg, from Männlichen to Kleine Scheidegg with an option to continue further down the mountain; (2) the First to Bachalpsee hike with an option to continue further; and (3) the North Face Trail from Allmendhubel to Mürren with the option to continue to Gimmelwald.
Sunday, June 30, 2019
Our morning started with a simple breakfast of eggs and cereal in our lovely Wengen apartment. We packed a picnic lunch, then were on our way.
Panoramaweg Hike from Männlichen to Kleine Scheidegg
Since it was a clear day, we decided to start with our favorite gentle hike, the Panoramaweg. With both my parents and kids in tow, we needed to make sure that the hike was suitable for all parties. This particular hike is both one of the most beautiful and easiest hikes in the region. There are a couple areas of mildly steep decent towards the end, but since my parents were carrying walking sticks, they had no trouble on these sections.
The trails are signed by times, not by distances, which actually makes a lot of sense given that a very steep uphill trail will take a lot longer than a flat trail of the same length. The local senior citizens (who are somewhat more fit than e.g. average Americans) recorded the time it took them to hike these trails, and those are the times on the signs. If you are fairly athletic, you will probably be a little faster. Folks less in shape may be somewhat slower.
The Panoramaweg trail is listed at 1 hour 20 minutes, but between stops at playgrounds, stops for pictures, and stops to play in random piles of snow, we spent somewhat longer on this trail.
To start, we walked into the Wengen station and bought our 6-day regional travel pass, making sure to use our half-fare cards to get a 25% discount for adults. Children from 6-15 weren’t covered by the Family Card, but they were charged a relatively nominal fee.
After getting this settled, we hopped on the gondola to Männlichen. What an amazing ride up! Views of the Lauterbrunnen valley are stunning!
Once we arrived at the top, the boys took off for the playground, while we made our way more slowly. The kids were delighted by a jungle gym in the shape of a cow. Pre-teen boys thought it was hilarious to climb up through the rear end, then be spewed out the mouth down a slide.
They also really liked several games of skill that we scattered around the playground. One was a throwing game with a rope attached to two weights. The object was to wrap the rope around a horizontal metal bar.
As they played, the rest of us took the opportunity to get some pictures. So beautiful!
Shortly after we arrived, some guys playing the alpenhorn showed up. What a delight to listen to them play! We ended up staying a little longer than we intended, but it was well worth it.
As we continued down the path, we found the Panoramaweg signs to Kleine Scheidegg and started our hike. The boys quickly found some patches of snow to play in and lamented the fact that I had forgotten to bring gloves of any sort. Often, I will at least pack some cloth gloves in the daypack to protect their hands. Failing that, I might have them use a spare pair of socks as makeshift mittens. But this time, I had forgotten either option. Still, they were able to make a few snowballs before their hands started turning red, at which point I reminded them that they didn’t want to get frostbite.
The trail is stunning almost the entire way to Kleine Scheidegg. We all thoroughly enjoyed our leisurely, slightly downhill walk. As we approached our destination, we came across a little cafe with a playground across the path, so the kids stopped to swing a bit.
At one point, James picked up a friend. He was more than a little horrified when we told him to take a look. Poor kid.
From here, we hit the only minorly challenging part of the hike for my parents. The path was a little steep, but they were able to navigate it without slipping.
On the way down the hill, we found some benches with a nice overlook and decided to pull out our picnic lunch.
Hiking Kleine Scheidegg to Wengernalp
On arrival to Kleine Scheidegg, Jeremy and I knew that we wanted to continue hiking all the way back to Wengen.
My parents had the choice of getting on the train, or hiking a half hour to the next train stop, Wengernalp. They were still having fun, and while they knew there would be some steeper sections than what they experienced on the Panoramaweg, they decided to go ahead and try it.
As we continued down, we found a pretty pond and took a quick break. And between the rolling hills and the mountains, there were plenty of photo ops.
And the cows were quite fun too.
Hiking Wengernalp to Wengen
Once reaching Wengernalp, John was starting to develop some blisters, so he hopped on the train with my parents. A couple of days later, we realized that his inserts were missing and bought some new ones, which almost instantly fixed the rubbing problems that he would have over the next few days. No one had any idea where they might have gone, but it highlights that you should probably inspect your kids’ hiking gear once in a while.
Jeremy, James, and I continued down the mountain. From here, the path gets very steep and should only be attempted with reasonable hiking boots. Even a walking stick may not be enough to prevent falls.
We also encountered some cows near the path.
Usually, the cows are fairly harmless, but you definitely don’t want to get between a mother and her calf. And we are always extra cautious if there is a bull in the group. Fortunately, this set was a little off the path.
We enjoyed entering a little forest, then came out into some farmland. A long, yet satisfying day of hiking!
On arrival we stopped at the grocery store to pick up a few items that we didn’t feel like carrying back with us the day before.
After returning to the apartment, we decided to do some laundry and rest a bit. At first, we couldn’t figure out why the dryer was flashing an error code, so Jeremy pulled out the manual that was written in German, French, and Italian. Somehow he managed to figure out that the converter was plugged in upside-down, and even better, figure out how to fix it. Go Jeremy!
We then made a delicious dinner of sausage, rösti (Swiss hashbrowns), cheese, and salad. For six people, I ended up putting too much rösti in the pan and it took a lot longer to cook than expected. Still good though.
If you are in Switzerland, don’t skip adding cheese to your meals. There are a ton of delicious varieties to choose from. My absolute favorite is Appenzeller, which is relatively tricky to find in the United States. We usually get a few different varieties and add them to both picnics and other meals.
The rest of the evening was spent at the park, wandering around town, looking at the town cows, and enjoying the views from both the deck and the living room of our apartment.
Monday, July 1, 2019
On our second day, we were hoping to do the Eiger Trail, but as we looked at the board by the station, discovered that it was closed. This hike is somewhat less gentle, so make sure you check the conditions (they have electronic boards at the major train stations) before you start. If there has been a recent avalanche, they are worried about an avalanche, or if the trail is too buried in snow to make it safe, it will be closed – they’re fairly good about that. It really isn’t wise to ignore these signs. A few years ago, we watched an avalanche happen from across the valley, something we like to avoid.
Journey from Wengen to First
Failing at our first plan, we decided to take the fairly lengthy train to Grindelwald via Lauterbrunnen, then continue on to First.
From Grindelwald, we walked across town and took the long gondola up the mountain to First. Even if you have no plans to hike, the journey is quite fun.
On reaching First, one member of our group was a little dizzy from the gondola ride, and needed a little time to get oriented. If you have a problem with heights, consider taking a very long nap.
From here, we decided to split up. Mom, Dad, and James decided to explore the area immediately next to the gondola station, while Jeremy, John, and I decided to hike to Bachalpsee. It takes about 2 hours to get from Wengen to get to First, so Jeremy was ready to get going before the forecasted afternoon rain moved in.
There are quite a few things to do at the top. If you are really brave, you can walk out on the cliff walk. If you want to do some adventure activities, you can take the First Flyer to Schreckfeld. Or, you can start in Schreckfeld and take the First Glider round trip. There is also an option of taking a Trottibike Scooter or a Mountain Cart down the mountain. Jeremy and I prefer the hike to Bachalpsee.
Hiking First to Bachalpsee
After parting ways, we began the somewhat steep climb up. It really doesn’t take all that long until the climb becomes much more gradual and pleasant.
And John always enjoys hiking with snow.
Given that the forecast was for rain, the hike to the lake was quite pleasant.
John was delighted when we reached Lake Bachalpsee. The idea of a picnic by a beautiful lake with plenty of snow was a treat.
Of course he picked the bench with the largest snow bank surrounding it.
The Hike from Bachalpsee to Bort
From here, we enjoyed views of the lake and debated heading back to First, or continuing down the mountain to Bort. The trail turns to stone for a while and is unwise to navigate in the rain. Looking at the blue sky, we decided to go ahead and take the Bort route.
John was delighted with the path and had fond memories of pretending to be a mountain goat on it when he was 4 years old.
The views really were quite pretty. John had fun scrambling over the rocks, jumping over streams, and enjoying the mini-waterfalls that we encountered.
After a little while we reached a few buildings that looked like they could be used either as a farm or as a ski lodge stop.
The hike was quite lovely, and still no rain. Eventually, we made it to the steep downhill path to Bort.
The wildflowers were quite nice.
At the end of the hike, John was so tired and his feet so blistered that he didn’t even want to play in the amazing playground. If you are traveling with kids, either stop at the Bort playground on the way up or the way down from First. It is one of the better playgrounds in the area.
We hopped on the gondola and returned to Grindelwald, stopping at a shoe store to get John some new insoles for his hiking boots on the way to the train. All of us enjoyed the train ride back. As we walked to our apartment, the promised clouds rolled in.
For dinner, we had picked up some fresh spätzle (a delicious German pasta), hamburger, onions, peppers, and pesto sauce.
We spent the evening on the deck with a glass of wine, and hung our there until the thunderstorms started, then moved inside to play some board games that came with the apartment. We also played a game where we closed our eyes and said what we heard and smelled. While most of us smelled the thunderstorm, one of the boys smelled “spiders.” Odd.
Tuesday, July 2, 2019
Wengen to Allmendhubel via Mürren
After a long day of transit on Monday, we decided to stay a little closer and head to Mürren. After breakfast in the apartment, we headed to the train station and took the train to Lauterbrunnen. From there, we transferred to the cable car to Grutschalp, then took the train to Mürren.
Jeremy and I knew we wanted to do the North Face hike and remembered that there was a nice playground at the start of the hike, so we decided to take the whole family up the funicular to Allmendhubel. Note that the funicular is not covered by the Jungfrau Travel Pass, so remember to bring your Half Fare Cards and Family Cards with you – that said, the cost was relatively minor with these.
The top is quite nice. There are some flower gardens, a playground, and lots of options for hiking. The boys really liked the zipline, so we spent a little time there, then Jeremy, James, and I headed out for the North Face Trail.
Mom, Dad, and John hung out for a bit, then went down to explore Mürren, made their way to Lauterbrunnen, hiked to the Staubbach Falls, then returned to Wengen where they enjoyed the park and the deck of the apartment.
The North Face Trail
One issue about the North Face trail is that the signs are less consistent than on some of the other trails. Often times, the sign isn’t at a junction, but is instead a little past the junction and out of sight. Rick Steves guide book has a good description of the trail, so try to read that before you go.
We got on what we thought was the right path, and about 5 minutes later, it was confirmed when we encountered our first sign.
The views are really lovely and the vegetation is very lush on this side of the mountain.
On this hike, we always particularly enjoy the wildflowers.
The beginning part of the hike is mostly meadows.
There are also quite a few cows, so make sure you give them plenty of room and watch your step, particularly if there has been rain.
Fortunately, over the years many of the farmers have been adding electric fences around the hiking trails, so it isn’t nearly as nerve wracking as in the past. I still remember when John was 4 and we encountered a bull that was snorting and glaring at us. The little tiny wire gives me much more confidence.
After a while, you will stop your gradual descent and need to start heading up the mountain.
Eventually, you will reach more meadows.
Cutoff to Gimmelwald
As you get closer to Mürren you can either return to town, or take a cutoff and head down the steep forested path to Gimmelwald.
Once you leave the forest, you will have a wonderful view of the tiny town.
One interest store in town is the Honesty Shop. There is no one on duty, so people take what they want and leave money into an envelope that they then place in a box.
As we made our way into town, we were pretty tired and wanted to head back. Usually we stop at another fabulous playground by the gondola station, but the gondola was just arriving, so we decided to skip it rather than waiting 20-30 minutes for the next one. Note that this gondola is also not covered by the Jungfrau Travel Pass, so remember to bring your Half Fare Cards and Family Cards with you.
Mürren, Lauterbrunnen, and Wengen
The gondola brought us back to Mürren, where we walked through town, hopped on the train, then took the cable car to Lauterbrunnen. Sometimes we will walk the path from Mürren to Winteregg or Grutschalp, but this time, we were quite tired and decided to skip it. This path is fairly flat, paved, and is really good for people of all stages of life. Typically you will see quite a few cows near this path, particularly by the Winteregg station.
On arrival in Lauterbrunnen, we decided to walk to Staubbach falls, but given that we were tired and had seen the waterfall on previous trips, decided not to hike up.
We returned to the train station and took the train to Wengen.
Our evening was spent enjoying the park, the town, and the apartment deck.
What an amazing 3 days of hiking!