Planning a Swiss hiking vacation, but want to veer a bit off the beaten path and escape the tourist trail? Looking for great hiking, traditional alpine charm, and authentic experiences? Appenzell in northeastern Switzerland is a great choice. It offers superbly crafted mountain trails, great wildlife viewing, and wonderful regional cuisine.
The Appenzell Alps, or Alpstein Massif as it’s known locally, is a sub-range of the Alps. It’s separated from the higher, better-known, and more crowded alpine hiking favorites in Switzerland like the Bernese Alps, the Pennine Alps, and the Bernina Alps.
You won’t see tour buses or throngs of foreign tourists arriving en masse at these trailheads. Instead, the dozen or so small mountain guesthouses in the Alpstein are bustling with locals. The hikes are adaptable, with a few aerial trams that serve the region. These select hikes include ridge routes, cable-protected ascents, and can be done as dayhikes or multi-day inn-to-inn routes.
Hike 1: The Lisengrat
The Lisengrat is the ridge route running between Säntis (8218 ft), the highest peak in northeastern Switzerland, and the neighboring Altmann (7989 feet), a shining spire to the east. It’s a rocky chain-protected stretch of ridgeline and can be done as a challenging dayhike or part of an inn-to-inn multi-day hike in the Alpstein range. The most precarious portions are protected with chains and ladders—so it’s something any fit hiker can enjoy. Approaching the Rotsteinpass, you’ll have as good a chance of spotting chamois and ibex as anywhere in the Alps. On the Säntis side you can stay at the Altersäntis Berggasthaus and on the Altman end, the Rotsteinpass Berggasthaus awaits.
Hike 2: Saxer Lücke
The Saxer Lücke is promoted locally as a “geological theme hike” and the hike is named for fault in the Alpstein Massif which creates a gap in the ridgeline (Lücke=gap). But this trail offers so many stunning views, wildflowers and other highlights, that it’s easy to miss the geology entirely. From the ridge you have eastward views to the Rhine, Liechtenstein, and Austria’s Tyrol, while to the west you’re overlooking the Bollenwees basin. Taking the tram from Brülisau to Hoher Kasten makes a great starting point and you can conclude at Berggasthaus Bollenwees or hightail it back to Appenzell for the night.
Hike 3: Äscher-Ebenalp and Wildkirchli caves.
You have several ways to tackle this ridge, but as an easy-going dayhike with lots of variety, I’d suggest taking the aerial tram from Wasserauen to Ebenalp. It’s a short descent to Wildkirchli caves where you’ll see the skeletons of cave bears and tools dating to the Stone Age, and the Altar Cave with its chapel and 19th century bell tower. Berggasthaus Äscher is set into the sheer rock face of Alp Sigel and makes for a memorable lunch stop. Your descent can take you directly down through the forest (listen for cuckoo birds) or a return to Ebenalp and a tram ride back down to Wasserauen.
These three hikes aren’t just Appenzell standouts, they rank among some of the very best hikes in the Swiss Alps and can hold their own against any hike you’d find in the Bernese Oberland or the Pennine Alps.