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Switzerland--a walker's paradise: the outdoors beckons. Days are longer and getting warmer. It's time to get out of the house, breathe some fresh air, burn off some of those winter calories and explore.

Switzerland is a paradise for hikers and walkers of all ages. There are approximately 60,000 kilometres of officially marked hiking/walking trails (wanderwege, chemin pedestre) in the country! These trails, which can be found all over the country, are lovingly maintained and carefully marked by the Swiss Hiking Federation and affiliated groups.

All you have to do to enjoy a walk in the beautiful Swiss outdoors is to go a little outside a city, find a yellow metal arrow and be on your way. Of course, a good map is essential and a guidebook is useful if you are planning more than a short, casual walk.

The ubiquitous yellow arrows that mark Swiss hiking trails contain useful information.

Below is a quick guide on how to read them.

Sign Posts

The yellow arrows are usually posted on tall metal poles. They tell you where you can go from where you are standing. The closest destination is listed first, the furthest, last. Often, an amount of time is printed after each destination. This tells you how long it takes an average walker walking at an average speed of 4.2 kilometres/hour with no breaks to get there. If a destination has a picture of a tram, bus or train after it, this indicates that that form of public transportation is available from there (good to know if you are getting tired and would like a ride back to where you started from.) If an arrow has a white section, that indicates where you are and your altitude above sea level in meters.

Level of Difficulty

The tip of the arrow also contains important information. If it is yellow, matching the central portion of the arrow, the path is considered easy to average, though not necessarily flat (in fact, some can be quite steep). The path is generally unpaved and potentially dangerous or difficult sections have been secured with handrails, steps or bridges. Obstructions have been cleared away. These paths are ideal for family hikes as no special knowledge or equipment is required.

If the tip of the arrow is white with a central red stripe, this indicates a mountain path. Mountain paths are predominantly narrow and very steep. They can have unprotected and exposed stretches. Mountain paths are not for the unfit, inexperienced or unprepared.

If the tip of the arrow is white with a central blue stripe, this indicates an alpine path. These go through steep, rugged terrain, sometimes over glaciers and occasionally involve rock-climbing Hiking these trails can require the use of special mountain-climbing gear. These are definitely not for the unfit, inexperienced of unprepared.

If no one in your group is familiar with the terrain, it may be helpful to hire a mountain guide. Mountain guides can be found through the Swiss Mountain Guide Federation. Its website,, lists all mountain guides working in Switzerland.

The tip of the arrow can also indicate a special walking path. The Jurahohenweg, for example, is a 600-kilometre long path that is specially marked by a yellow arrow with a half red and half yellow tip.


Once you've chosen your path, the next thing to look for as you set off on your walking adventure are the trail blazes. These are yellow, brown or white (depending on the trail you've chosen) rhombuses, arrows and rectangles painted on tree trunks, rocks, barn doors, etc. along the way. Look for them at forks in the trail to ensure you stay on the path.

Other Signs

In your wanderings, you are likely to encounter many other useful signs. Among them:

* Brown arrows and blazes with white writing

These indicate "culture' paths and take you on a walking tour through a bit of Swiss history such as along on old Roman road or along a trade route used in the Middle Ages. These paths are generally studded with cultural monuments such as chapels, castle ruins and horse exchange stations.

* White arrows and blazes with blue writing

These indicate wheelchair accessible paths, which are also entirely accessible with baby strollers. These paths are paved but protected from traffic, are generally not steep and have no stairs or muddy sections.

The Swiss Hiking Federation recommends, however, that before taking someone in a wheelchair along one of these paths, you walk it on your own first to make sure you can handle the gradient as well as any unforeseen obstacles.

* Green rectangular signs with white writing

These signs indicate a nature sanctuary or reserve (Naturschutzgebiet, reerve naturel). These areas are strictly off-limits to any type of development and are designed to protect local flora and fuana.

Safety Tips

* Avoid hiking alone.

* If you are going on a long hike, plan it carefully so that you reach your destination before dark. Remember the air at higher altitudes is thinner and you will tire more easily.

If you are hiking with children. take frequent breaks and carry plenty of water and snacks.

* Stay on marked paths, especially in difficult terrain.

* Dress right. Wear sturdy shoes with good soles and ankle support. Wear comfortable pants. If you are going for a hike in the Alps, do not underestimate the weather. Even if it is 25[degrees]C in the valley, it could be snowing on the mountain peak. Furthermore, Alpine weather can change quickly and dramatically. Be prepared for windy conditions, fog, strong sun and the occasional sudden storm. As the Swiss say dress like an onion. Wear layers undershirt, shirt, sweater of sweat shirt and wind-proof rain jacket).

* Carry your supplies in a backpack and make sure you have a First aid kit, a map, sun protection including sun cream and a hat and plenty to drink. A Swiss army knife and a mobile phone always come in handy.

* Check for ticks after hiking/walking in wooded areas. Lyme disease carrying ticks are prevalent in some areas.

Be Considerate

* Carry your garbage away with you. It is helpful to carry a plastic bag in your pack to collect garbage as it accumulates.

* Do not pick Alpine flowers. They are protected and if you are caught you could be fined.

* Low voltage electric fences are used on alpine pastures in the summer to keep cattle from straying. If your path crosses one, lift the gate or wire with the rubber-protected handle and replace it after you have passed. Leave farm gates as you found them.

Maps and Books

These can be purchased at most larger bookstores. Tourist offices in many hiking regions can also provide you with good local hiking maps.

The Swiss Hiking Federation has high-quality hiking maps (wanderkarten, cartes de chemins pedestres) for sale which can be ordered from their website:

And if you can't decide on where to go, Swiss News takes you a step further.

A Fun Day On A Mountain

Pilatus is Luzern's local mountain peak and recreation area. Plan a full day outdoors. There are hiking trials of varying lengths and degrees of difficulty, restaurants, picnic grounds, spectacular views, playgrounds, a toboggan slide, and the possibility to ride in the steepest cogwheel train in the world.

Pilatus Kulm is the peak of Pilatus. In true Swiss tradition, there are lovely sun terraces and a few restaurants at the top. On a clear day, the views of Luzern, the Vierwaldstatersee and the surrounding countryside are magnificent.

There is a short, manageable walking path at Pilatus Kulm called the "Dragon Trail" (see box) but the rest of the hiking there is quite steep and not for children of for the faint of heart.

Getting there

There are two ways to get to Pilatus Kulm and a lot to see and do in between.

In mid-May the cogwheel train from Alpnachstad to Pilatus Kulm opens for the year (it stops running at the end of November). It has been in operation since 1889 and is the steepest cogwheel train in the world. It takes you up 5,570 feet/1700 meters in an hour in total comfort at an average 42 per cent gradient.

A cable car operates year-round from Frakmuntegg to Pilatus Kulm. It's a faster trip than the cogwheel train and takes you up 2,350 feet/720 metres in just five minutes! To get to Frakmuntegg, take the gondola from the town of Kriens, through the mid station at Krienseregg and onto Frakmuntegg.

Along the Way

If you have children along, stop off at Krienseregg. It has a fantastic children's playground, picnic areas, an informal restaurant with a sun terrace and sign-posted hiking trails of varying lengths and difficulty ranging from easy paths to mountain paths to alpine trails. You can order a trail map from the Pilatus website,

The Frakigaudi toboggan slide (Rodehlbaln) is located at Frakmuntegg and opens in mid-May (it only operates during dry weather) and is a thrill for all ages.

You slide down a 1,350-metre-long (4,430-feet-long) chrome steel channel in a special sled and go through tunnels and around exciting curves. You can control your speed and go as thrillingly fast of as comfortably slow, as you like. When you reach the bottom, you will be pulled back up to the top of the run backwards while seated. Children will beg to go again and again. There is a restaurant, a lovely playground and picnic areas nearby.

If you enjoy more extreme sport, paragliding and mountain climbing can also be done at Pilatus.

For paragliding, contact Outventure--Outdoor Activities, 0416111441. For mountain climbing, it is recommended that you begin at Pilatus Kulm.

Go on and enjoy the outdoors.

RELATED ARTICLE: The enticing lakes.

Other than mountains, a very interesting option would be checking out the lakes this summer.

Be it the bigger lakes of Luzern. Zurich, Zug, Geneva to name a few of the smaller ones like Greifensee, Blausee, etc. Don't miss out on swimming in them. cycling of walking around them. Check out your options for fishing, water surfing and other water sports.

For those who want to enjoy the takes sipping on a cold drink and relaxing on a boat, all of Switzerland has a number of boat trips to offer.

Depending on the lake you are keen on, you could check out the cantonal website or get your options from
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Title Annotation:Expat Advice
Author:Littlejohn, Simone
Publication:Swiss News
Date:May 1, 2004
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