Via Alpina – Stage 11 – Grindelwald to Lauterbrunnen
OK—This is where I break rank from the Via Alpina 1 on the Grindelwald to Lauterbrunnen path. If you haven’t already guessed, I’m not the purest of purists when it comes to hiking the Via Alpina. I’m not legally bound to hike every inch of the official route from Gaflei Liechtenstein to Montreux Switzerland to lay claim to hiking the Via Alpina. I don’t think it’s a sin to take a bus or train to bypass a large city or avoid a long stretch of walking on a sidewalk or roadway. I’m happy to take a gondola or other mechanized means to make a quick ascent to a lofty mountain trail. After all, in Switzerland, buses, trains, and mountain lifts are a quintessential part of enjoying the Alps. I’m not hiking the Via Alpina to check boxes or set some kind of record. I’m hiking the Via Alpina because I love being in the mountains, experiencing the beauty of the Alps, and immersing myself in the culture of the Alps. I want to create an experience and savor the journey.
So as we enter the Grindelwald Valley and into the larger Jungfrau region, be forewarned that we’re going to depart from the Via Alpina route for a bit. The Jungfrau Region is one of the world’s truly great hiking destinations. I love the Jungfrau Region and I’ve hiked and traveled through nearly every part of it for over 35 years. The Via Alpina route from Grindelwald to Murren is a straightforward and direct route but may not be the most enjoyable way for you to experience it. Let’s explore some options, then you can select what’s best for you.
The Official Route
Starting at the busy Grindelwald railway station, the Via Alpina follows the route of the railway line up to Kleine Scheidegg—the congested and most heavily touristed of all the passes on the Via Alpina. Continue following the railway line and ski slopes down to Wengen. From the Wengen railway station the route combines roadway and some steep forest paths to arrive at the Lauterbrunnen railway station.
If that route description didn’t sound like a hike in the Alps, then here are a few options to make your journey from Point A to Point B more enjoyable:
Option 1 – Eiger Trail
The North Face of the Eiger, with 5000 vertical feet of rock and ice, has been the setting for alpine triumph and tragedy for most of the last hundred years. Put yourself face-to-face with the North Face on the trail from Alpiglen to Eigergletscher Station. Then descend below the withering Eiger Glacier to the Eiger Museum where you can trace the historic routes on the North Face. A lakeside path chronicles in etched stone the climbers who died on the North Face. Conclude in Kleine Scheidegg and descend by train to Lauterbrunnen.
Option 2 – Bachalpsee, Faulhorn, Schynige Platte
If you stick to the official route, you’ll miss the best and most sweeping views of the Jungfrau Region. You’ll capture those views on one of the great panoramic walks in the Alps along the ridge from First to Schynige Platte. Start by taking the gondola from Grindelwald to First—don’t miss the free Cliff Walk attraction. From w, continue to Bachalpsee and up to the Faulhorn. The onward stretch from the Faulhorn to Schynige Platte offers views into France and Germany on the north and the giants of the Bernese Alps to the south. Take the historic train from Schynige Platte down to Wilderswil then on to Lauterbrunnen.
Option 3 – Männlichen to Kleine Scheidegg
One of the most popular trails in Switzerland is the Panoramaweg from Männlichen to Kleine Scheidegg. It’s crowded, to be sure, but it dishes to nearly-continuous jaw-dropping views of the North Face of the Eiger along it’s gentle 1hr 30min course. Take the new V-Bahn from Grindelwald to Männlichen (opening December 2019). Conclude the walk at Kleine Scheidegg and take the train down to Wengen and on to Lauterbrunnen.
Option 4 – The Jungfraujoch
Don’t resist. Embrace the tourist throng (up to 5000 people a day) and experience the Jungfraujoch. The legendary railway excursion from Kleine Scheidegg tunnels through the Eiger to arrive at the highest railway station in Europe and overlooking the Aletsch Glacier, the longest in the Alps. It’s an engineering marvel, and arguably the greatest mountain railway excursion in the world.
Option 5- Relax in Grindelwald
Finally, you can always just take a well-earned rest day Grindelwald. Basking in the views of the North Face of the Eiger, strolling through Grindelwald’s shopping and tourist area, or maybe visiting the town museum, before continuing to Lauterbrunnen. I’ve never had a bad day in Grindelwald.
Wildflower: Fireweed, Chamaenerion angustifolium, is also known as willowherb in the UK and in Canada, where it’s the provincial flower of the Yukon. It’s one of the most widely dispersed species in the northern hemisphere. It’s so common in the Alps that it’s widely omitted from wildflower field guides. It gets the name fireweed because it’s a pioneer species, and often one of the first plants to emerge after a wildfire.
Food Tips: If you do the Jungfraujoch option, don’t miss the Lindt Chocolate Heaven. This tiny shop within the Jungfraujoch complex is Lindt’s highest sales volume location. They have an unbeatable selection of Lindor balls, including new flavors you won’t find in grocery stores. My recommendation and personal favorite is the Extra Dark—look for the black wrapper.
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