Planning a summer hiking trip in the Alps? Then you should know that the Swiss Alps is the best supported hiking destination in the world.
What is supported hiking?
When our hiking and trekking staff experts at Alpenwild say “supported hiking,” they mean that you can hike for days on end, going from hut to hut, and never have to carry a tent, a sleeping bag, meals, or a camp kitchen with you. Everything you need to enjoy hiking in the Alps is provided at conveniently placed, and beautifully situated mountain huts. These are often called cabanes or rifugios in French or Italian regions.
The Swiss concept of supported hiking and trekking is especially beneficial for hikers on long distance treks, such as the Chamonix-Zermatt Haute Route, the Via Alpina, or the Tour du Mont Blanc. All of these Alpenwild offers both on a guided and self-guided basis.
But for most North American backpackers, a backpacking trip means carrying everything you need in your backpack to survive for several days in the wilderness.
It means sleeping in a tent or under the stars in what we know as “backcountry camping.” That’s what backpacking is all about.
In the UK, backpacking and backcountry camping is referred to as “wild camping” and it’s essentially the same concept.
Is backcountry camping or wild camping allowed in the Swiss Alps?
The answer to this question is a definite “rarely.” In Switzerland, backcountry camping is not legally prohibited, but there are no uniform regulations. As with many other aspects of Swiss life, those rules vary by cantons and municipality. Each set their own regulations on backcountry camping, and these differ from canton to canton.
In most Swiss cantons, backcountry camping is generally not permitted. Backcountry camping is specifically prohibited in the most popular hiking regions and in cantons where most hikers would want to set up their backcountry camp. These include Appenzell, Bern, Glarus, Graubünden, and Valais.
Backcountry camping in Switzerland is strictly prohibited in cantonal and national nature reserves, the Swiss National Park, federal hunting zones, wildlife sanctuaries, and places where there is a general ban or entry.
In Switzerland, camping is generally limited to approved public campgrounds. But outside these public campgrounds, even “camping-like behaviors” such as setting up camping chairs outside a mobile home, is prohibited.
Are there any exceptions to the backcountry camping prohibitions?
Some cantons allow individuals (not in a group) to do overnight stays in the mountains above the tree line. This is as long as the tent is taken down during the day. The cantons that permit this type of use include Appenzell, Bern, Glarus, Graubünden, Valais, and others.
The other exception is that most cantons will allow camping on private property with the permission of the property owners.
With the above restrictions in mind, you may find it easiest to plan your camping experiences at Touring Club Suisse approved campsites. Even easier, plan a hut-to-hut hiking vacation in the Alps and discover the joys and traditional outdoor culture found in Swiss mountain huts.