Best of the Via Alpina: Engstlenalp to Planplatten

No doubt—I had to return and do this hike again. In July 2019, when I first hiked the Planplatten Ridge from Engstlenalp to Planplatten, I came expecting to hike what many describe as a highlight of the Via Alpina and one of the greatest ridge hikes in the Alps.

But that wasn’t the case on that day as fog enveloped the ridge and views in every direction were limited to less than 50 meters. At some points on the route, I couldn’t even see the trail signs just 5 to 10 meters off. The fog even clouded my close-up wildflower photos. At one point along the shore of the Tannensee, I ventured off course and spent about 30 minutes following a cow trail before backtracking to find another hiker who could point me in the right direction. The entire hike was a blur—literally.

For my long-awaited return, I watched the weather for several weeks, hoping to pick a day with perfect views. I found that opportunity on a sunny Sunday in September. This time, with commanding panoramic views, the hike was an exciting revelation. Gazing back to the east was Mt Titlis, the Jochstock, and the broad slopes of the Titlis Glacier. Below and behind me were the Engstlensee and the Hotel Engstlenalp. The glaciated Wetterhorn massif was shining in the West. The big surprise was how close to the trail the Melchsee-Frutt resort was in the valley below and to the north. None of these scenic wonders were visible on my hike two years ago. I was essentially experiencing this hike for the first time.

Now that I’ve experienced all this hike has to offer, I can say that this is the most scenic stage of the Via Alpina as it marches across Switzerland from east to west. Additionally, I rate it as the second-best ridge hike in the Alps—and if you give bonus points for 4000-meter peaks and glacier views, it’s the best of the best. Only the Stoos Ridge Hike is in that same elite group.

Even though you might hear the Planplatten Ridge described as a knife-edged ridge hike—fear not. It’s a wide, well-maintained trail, and what little consequential exposure there is on the hike, is generally protected. There is no water on the trail between Tannalp and Planplatten, and there’s enough strenuous ascent, that on a sunny day you’ll want at least a liter of water in your pack. If you have a choice, go early in the season and ideally on a weekday when the traffic on the trail is lighter. But even in September, the wildflowers were good, and in July they are downright dazzling. Finally, take your camera and be ready to capture the stunning beauty this hike dishes out.

 The Stats:

  • Distance: 5.9 miles
  • Starting Elevation (Hotel Engstlenalp): 6004 feet
  • High Point (Balmeregghorn): 7398 feet
  • Cumulative Elevation Gain: 1775 feet
  • Cumulative Elevation Loss: 675 feet
  • Rated Time (Hotel Engstlenalp to Planplatten): 3 hrs. 45 min.

Getting there:

  • From Meiringen take the train to Innertkirchen Grimseltor and connect to the Engstlenalp Bus. This is a special tourist bus with a fare of about CHF 20. You can also drive a car all the way to Engstlenalp, and pay a CHF 8 toll at the Schwarzental entrance.
  • From Planplatten it’s a 2 hr 45 min. walk down to Meiringen, or you can take the Eagle Express Gondola to Mägisalp, Reuti and Meiringen.  
Greg Witt
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