K.C. Dermody / Sep 04

What To Do in the Swiss Alps During the Fall

K.C. Dermody / Sep 04

While the Swiss Alps may be famous for skiing, a great time to visit Switzerland is in the fall. It’s my favorite time of year, especially in early fall when the weather is often ideal. Summer’s warm temperatures give way to mild weather with fresh, crisp air, frequent bright blue skies, and a choreographed setting of magnificent color. The leaves start to turn in early October, with the peak of fall foliage between mid-October and early November. 

The Alps have 48 peaks that are higher than 13,100 feet and cover two-thirds of the country, running the width from Lake Geneva in the west to the Austrian border in the east. Not only do they provide a breathtaking backdrop but a wealth of outdoor adventure. Of course, you’ll need to hydrate for all your activities so you’ll be happy to learn that when visiting this part of Switzerland (or anywhere else in the country) you can expect to enjoy some of the tastiest, highest-quality tap water in the world.

Be sure to bring your LARQ water bottle so that you can fill it up wherever you go without the waste of buying single-use bottled water or harming the pristine environment. While ordinary reusable waters can start to smell after just a couple of days, LARQ Bottle PureVis™ neutralizes harmful odor-causing bacteria, ensuring that it stays clean without the need to wash it, time that can be spent enjoying some of the many things to do in the Swiss Alps in the fall instead. This travel guide for visiting Switzerland will reveal the very best.

Ride the Glacier Express

The Glacier Express is world-renowned, running between Zermatt and St. Moritz for one of the most stunning rail adventures on Earth. This is no ordinary train ride – referred to as the “slowest express train in the world,” the journey takes approximately eight hours, making its way through narrow valleys, around tight curves, through over 90 tunnels, and across nearly 300 bridges. Views are enjoyed through panoramic windows and include everything from emerald valleys dotted with charming chalets and bell-wearing cows to dramatic craggy peaks and glacial streams. At the highest mountain pass, Oberalp, you’ll be traveling at an altitude of over 6600 feet. 

The train takes a break from October 15 through December 8, so if you can, time your trip to enjoy the views and the glorious fall color during the second week of October just before the pause in operations.

Head to the Peak of Uetliberg in Zurich

Photo by Patrick Federi

Zurich, located at the north end of Lake Zurich, is home to Uetliberg, an over 2,854-foot mountain that offers a panoramic view over Switzerland’s largest city and the lake. The summit can be accessed via a 20-minute train ride from the Zurich HB main station, providing a kaleidoscope of color that ranges from green and yellow to orange and red through much of October. The panorama includes views of Lake Zurich, the Alps, forests, and the city’s rooftops. If you’re up for a leisurely hike, an easy two-hour trek on the Planet Trail will bring you from the mountain to Felsenegg, traveling through a model of the solar system. 

Lake Geneva Boat Cruise 

Cruises on Lake Geneva are available from mid-April through mid-October, providing the chance to take in some of the most beautiful sights from the water. While there are many different options, CGN offers “Lunch on the Lake,” a gourmet cruise departing from the city of Geneva that includes a mouthwatering meal while sailing along the Alps to Grand-Lac with stunning views of the highest peak in Europe, Mont-Blanc. 

Ride the Cable Car to the Matterhorn Summit

Photo by Christian Meyer-Hentschel

The Matterhorn is the most famous peak in the Alps, located near the picturesque, car-free village of Zermatt. It soars over the Swiss/Italian border at nearly 15,000 feet and while many come to climb it, there’s an easier way to reach the summit and Europe’s highest scenic outlook platform. A cable car will whisk you up to the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise which sits at over 12,739 feet, with the one-hour ride providing epic views the entire way.

Hike in Swiss National Park

Swiss National Park is the country’s only national park, covering roughly 438 miles with mountains and untouched forests while bringing opportunities to spot abundant wildlife, including ibex, red deer, chamois, northern hare, and many different bird species. It’s primarily for hiking as no bikes, fires, or tents are allowed. As the park is strictly protected, this is true, unspoiled wilderness and one of the best places to see a wide variety of animals that aren’t often seen in other areas of Switzerland.

No Swiss Alps fall travel guide would be complete without mentioning one of the best hiking trails for viewing gorgeous scenery and autumn hues like the larch trees with their golden yellow leaves. Val Trupchun is a relatively easy loop around the valley of Trupchun, traveling about 7.9 miles, taking about 3.5 hours to complete. It’s also a great spot to see local wildlife that can only be spotted in the national park, including red deer. The annual highlight is the red deer rut, a time when hundreds of stags can be heard bugling. They congregate in their traditional rutting areas, including the Val Trupchun, from mid-September through early October.

E- Mountain Bike Tour from Grindelwald

Photo by Ruth Georgiev

The Alps are a mountain biker’s paradise and a three-day tour from the charming village of Grindelwald to the foot of majestic Eiger Mountain is a bucket-list experience following well-marked trails that can be done on your own or as part of a package. An e-mountain bike will allow you to take in more of the scenery which includes everything from glistening glaciers to lush valleys, waterfalls, and stunning alpine lakes. You’ll marvel at some of the world’s most famous mountains too, including Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau.

Marvel at the Aletsch Glacier

The Aletsch Glacier is the largest glacier in the Alps, located between the cantons of Bern and Valais. It extends from the northern slopes of Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau, carrying an astounding 11 billion tons of ice. There are many different vantage points for a magnificent view, including the gondola that travels from the village of Fiesch. It will bring you to the Fiescheralp where you’ll continue by cable car to the Eggishorn viewpoint that sits high above the glacier, for a jaw-dropping panorama that reveals its entire length and the mountains. 

Tour a Cheese Factory

Appenzell is one of the prettiest destinations in Switzerland, surrounded by mountains with streets lined with the pastel-painted facades of traditional buildings. Many house fine dining restaurants, cafes, bakeries, and cheese shops. The town is particularly notable for its cheese and the Appenzeller show dairy offers tours that reveal the inside secrets of how it’s made. While tours are available throughout the year, if inclement weather hits, it’s the perfect excuse to spend a little time indoors. You’ll learn all about the long-held traditions used while accompanying cheesemakers about their daily business. Of course, the best part is the chance to enjoy a tasty sample. 

Explore the Most Charming Historic Centers

Many Swiss towns have spectacular historical centers, often referred to as the Altstadt which translates to old town. Fall is fabulous for exploring them with the colorful trees framing cobbled lanes. That includes Lucerne’s, where you’ll find a maze of winding passageways, medieval architecture, and cascading fountains in the remarkably preserved Altstadt. Zurich’s Altstadt is also lovely with the picturesque hilltop square, Lindenhof, providing sublime views. In the fall, the tree leaves turn bright yellow, bathing it in a brilliant golden hue. 

Thun, which sits at the lower end of Lake Thun as the gateway to the Bernese Oberland, has an Altstadt with a 12th-century castle at its center. It contains one of the most beautifully preserved representation halls of the Middle Ages with the castle tower in a dungeon that’s remained just as it has for hundreds of years. Plus, the corner towers provide magnificent views over the city, the lake, and the Alps.