By Kevin Zanes – MyFernwehFamily
Think quick! What is the first thing that pops into your head when you hear ‘Switzerland’? Is it watches? How about chocolate? Maybe cheese? For our family, it’s family fun, the mountains and hiking in Switzerland with our kids. Switzerland is home to some of Europe’s most impressive mountains. The Dufourspitze, Switzerland’s tallest mountain. The Schilthorn, as seen in multiple James Bond movies. The Matterhorn, Switzerland’s (and maybe Europe’s) most iconic mountain; and the inspiration for the shape of Toblerone chocolate.
It is impossible for us to take a Swiss Alps holiday without going hiking which of course means spending ample time in the mountains. One of our favorite off the beaten path hiking destinations, and one that is excellent for hiking the Swiss Alps with kids is Saas Fee. We love it. Our three-year-old and one-year-old sons love it. And, we think you and your family will come to love it too!
Saas Fee Less Crowded Than Zermatt
Saas Fee is well known among avid skiers and winter sports enthusiasts, but it’s less popular as a summer destination for hiking the Swiss Alps. Why? Quite simply, it’s often overshadowed by Zermatt that sits in the neighboring valley. There is literally a fork in the road after Visp. One way leads to Saas Fee and the other to Zermatt. Since Saas Fee does not have the Matterhorn, it does not attract millions of annual tourists. We actually consider this an advantage of Saas Fee over Zermatt, as we prefer places for family travel that are less crowded and less touristy. However, with 13 peaks over 4,000 m+ (13,100 ft+) in elevation, the views from the Saas Valley are second to none.
If you and your family want to go hiking in Switzerland, want to avoid all the crowds and want postcard perfect sights around ever corner, Saas Fee is not going to disappoint! This family hiking guide to Saas Fee, Switzerland will help you and your family plan your own Swiss Alps holiday. If you have any questions or comments about any of this, feel free to leave them below, and someone will get back to you shortly.
How To Get To Saas Fee From Zurich
There are two options to get from Zurich to Saas Fee: drive or take public transport. As with nearly everything in Switzerland, both options are scenic and safe.
Taking Public Transit To Saas Fee
There is a direct train from Zurich Hauptbahnhof (main station) to the city of Visp. The 3-4 hour train ride takes you through the capital city of Bern before traversing one of the most beautiful parts of Switzerland, the Thunersee (one of the two lakes of Interlaken). At Visp, you will need to transfer to bus number 511 which will take you through the winding mountain roads to the main bus terminal in Saas Fee. At the time of writing, a ticket costs around 50 CHF (one way) and can be purchased on the SBB Website or mobile app (iOS/Android).
Driving To Saas Fee
The other option is a scenic drive. One route follows the same path as the train (Zurich – Bern – Lake of Thun – Visp – Saas Fee) and takes about 5-hours while another takes you through Lucerne (Zurich – Lucerne – Visp – Saas Fee) and takes about 4-hours. Both routes offer beautiful, classic Swiss mountain scenery, so you could drive one on your way up and the other on your way back. One of the main reasons to take the car is the ability to stop whenever you see something pretty! Schloss Oberhofen is a great example!
Important Information About Saas Fee
- There are no cars in Saas Fee. There is a parking lot on the outskirts of the city where your car, if you have one, will remain for the duration of your stay. All hotels offer complimentary pick up or, for holiday houses, the associated parking garage will have a phone to contact a more traditional “taxi” service. All transportation is electric.
- Stores in Switzerland close early on Saturdays and all day Sunday.
- Most hotels / holiday houses offer a lift ticket (worth its weight in gold). This ticket also covers local transport (i.e. Post-Auto Bus). Do not lose it!
- Food in Switzerland is expensive! The best deals at restaurants are the “Tagesmenu” or daily special. These limited selections are offered at almost half the price of a normal meal, but just as delicious!
Where To Stay In Saas Fee
Saas Fee, like most international locations, offers a mix of hotels and holiday houses. The hotels in Saas Fee are modeled in the traditional “chalet” style, with some of the best family friendly options being the Park Hotel, Hotel Allalin, and the Alpenlodge Etoile.
Another option for accommodation is a holiday house. While the global sites like Airbnb and Vrbo offer many accommodation options, Switzerland also has a few local holiday house options such as REKA (specializes in “family village” options) and mySwitzerland.
We opted for a holiday house through the local Swiss sites over a hotel. Primarily this was due to the overall cost to space advantage the local sites offered. We booked a 3 bedroom apartment for 1 week for USD 1,000, which relative to other options in the region, was quite a good deal.
You can save significantly if you book a holiday house, but they normally only run Saturday to Saturday. The holiday house also came with a kitchen which gave us the flexibility to eat-in as needed. Migros and Coop are the two main supermarkets in town. You will need to carry all your groceries back to your accommodation.
Hiking in Switzerland With Kids – Saas Fee
During our Swiss Alps family vacation in Saas Fee, we spent as much time outside as possible and explored many of the hiking trails with our two boys who were three-years-old and one-year-old at the time. We want to give them a taste for Swiss hiking early on!
At this point, it’s important to mention the importance of a good hiking carrier. Our youngest still napped twice a day. In order for us to even consider hiking the Swiss Alps with our kids, at least one nap (the morning nap) needed to be in the carrier. Our favorite carrier is the Osprey Poco Plus (previously the Osprey Poco AG).
Important Information About Hiking In Switzerland
- The best time to go hiking in the Swiss Alps is in the morning.
- The sun is stronger at high altitudes, so make sure to at least wear sunscreen.
- Dehydration occurs quicker at high altitudes, so bring a bit more water than you normally would.
- Layering is key to having an enjoyable experience when you’re hiking the Swiss Alps
Hiking in Switzerland With Kids Day 1: Getting Our Mountain Legs – Hannig to Mällig
Hannig to Mällig Hike Details
Difficulty: Easy / Moderate
Distance: 2.0 km (one-way)
Elevation Change: 360m
The hike from Hannig to Mällig was the perfect introduction to the Saas Valley. Beautiful views? Check! Gondola ride? Check. World’s most scenic playground? Maybe.
We took the gondola from Saas Fee to Hannig and we saw beautiful views almost as soon as we left the gondola station. The whole ride was almost too beautiful to process.
From Hannig, we zig-zagged up the mountain side, with the Swiss Alps visible in every direction. Despite the amazing views from the trail, the best views were from the smaller branch trails (barely visible). When you’re hiking the Swiss Alps, do not be afraid to explore off the main trail! Sadly, we did not see an ibex, which is common in the area.
There are no cable cars/gondolas from Mällig to Hannig, so what goes up must come down. Before returning to Hannig however, we gave the boys a quick snack to boost their energy a bit. However, we still needed to use the incentive of ice cream to get our oldest son all the way down the mountain.
Our youngest son – he was happily sleeping on my back the whole way down!
In Hannig, there is a small mountain restaurant with basic food and snacks. However, the best feature was the playground! This was the perfect place for mom and dad to grab a quick coffee and let the boys get the last of their energy out. While it is possible to hike from Hannig to Saas Fee, we opted for the gondola.
Hiking in Switzerland With Kids Day 2: Explore The City – Saas Fee
As tempting as it was for us to hike everyday we were in Saas Fee, we were still getting our “mountain legs” on, and we needed a quick break! This was the perfect opportunity to explore the city of Saas Fee itself; often overlooked for the surrounding mountains. The most striking feature of Saas Fee is the perfect blend of houses from multiple eras: the old stilt houses, traditional chalets, and modern apartments. Our favorite feature of the city, however, were the traditional wooden carvings found throughout the city. Although some scared the boys!
Another way to experience the city of Saas Fee is via train. No, not a huge train on tracks, but a small train on wheels. It’s called the “Allalino,” and it does a loop through the city and stops at various points. After a morning of exploring the city on foot, both boys were very excited to ride the train through the city!
Hiking in Switzerland With Kids Day 3: Testing The Elevation – Längfluh to Spielboden
Längfluh to Spielboden Hike Details
Difficulty: Moderate / Difficult
Distance: 1.9 km (one-way)
Elevation Change: 420m
Today was all about testing how the boys fared at higher altitudes; as Längfluh is at almost 3,000m. A long gondola ride from Saas Fee to Längfluh (transfer at Spielboden) provided ample views of the Saas Valley in every direction. Despite the summer weather, Längfluh still had some snow and the boys enjoyed a brief snowball fight. There are also some oversized chairs which provide great photo ops!
As my wife took our eldest on the gondola back down to Spielboden, I began the hike down from Längfluh to Spielboden with our second on my back for his morning nap.
Hindsight Is Always 20/20 Even In The Swiss Alps
I will not go so far as to say I regret the decision to do this hike, but I definitely would have thought twice if I had more facts about the trail. Despite the short length, the trail is quite steep at points, and a few stretches are full of slippery rock chips. At times, the trail seemingly disappeared all together, and it took me a couple attempts before I found the main trail again. With that said, the mountain views were spectacular and I am very glad I did the hike. In retrospect, rubbernecking the stunning Swiss Alps may have been the reason for my loose footing!
Making My Way Back
A few hundred meters before the gondola station, I found my wife and oldest son. They were sitting on the mountain side with another Swiss family. the kids were holding a bag of carrots and peanuts. At first it seemed a bit strange. But, as I hiked closer I realized they were feeding a family of marmots! Although the marmots were out in the wild, they were clearly quite used to people. This was definitely one of the highlights of the trip for the boys! When the marmots were full, we took the gondola back down into the village.
Hiking in Switzerland With Kids Day 4: A Bad Weather Dance Party
Mountain weather is fickle. Even if you think you’ll be hiking around the Swiss Alps everyday, you may actually have to do otherwise. With that said, when you’re planning your own trip to go hiking in Switzerland, you should definitely bring a few indoor activities. In the event that the weather turns or that you and you kids are simply tired from all your hiking around, a board game, a few decks of cards, etc. will go a long way for entertaining everyone. We opted to put on some music and have a dance party, but you do you!
Hiking in Switzerland With Kids Day 5: Fun In The Snow And The Best Views – Kreuzboden / Hohsaas
Hohsaas to Kreuzboden Hike Details
Distance: 4.7 km (one-way)
Elevation Change: 800m
In order to get to Hohsaas, we first had to take a bus to Saas Grund. These traditional Swiss buses, called “Post-Autos” have an incredibly unique horn, which they use around the tight mountain turns. The boys had heard the horn for weeks before the trip and were extremely excited to hear the horn in person. The bus drivers know how much the kids love the horn, and ours gladly set it off at every opportunity! Another trip highlight!
At 3,200m, Hohsaas is the highest point in the Saas Valley reachable by gondola. The gondola goes from Saas Grund to Kreuzboden. Then, we transferred to the second gondola to continue the journey up to Hohsaas.
At the top, we were able to see nearly all the 4,000m+ mountains. Our breath was taken away, literally (due to the altitude) and figuratively (due to the beauty).
The area around Hohsaas has snow all year round, and the boys enjoyed snowball fighting again as well as eating a bit of the snow. We even saw a bee, which at high altitude was quite a surprise!
We explored the area around Hohsaas for about an hour, which included a few brief hikes.
We also poked around a couple small glacier lakes, as well as had some more fun in the snow. Eventually, we took the gondola down to Kreuzboden.
Kreuzboden Our Favorite
In my opinion, Kreuzboden has the best views in the entire Saas Valley. Off to the side of the main mountain hut/restaurant/gondola station is a small alpine lake, and it is fed by a stream of glacier water. The crystal clear water reflects the surrounding mountain views. This is my favorite viewpoint in the entire valley.
But, Kreuzboden is more than just pretty views. The station also has a small petting zoo, pedal race cars, and arguably one of the best views from a playground in the world. All of these were super engaging for our two sons, so we definitely recommend you plan some time in your Swiss Alps holiday to wander around Kreuzboden!
A quick gondola ride back to Saas Grund, another Post-Auto bus ride back to Saas Fee, and our perfect morning in the mountains was complete!
Hiking in Switzerland With Kids Day 6: A Relaxing Downhill Hike – Saas Fee to Saas Almagell
Saas Fee to Saas Almagell Hike Details
Difficulty: Easy / Moderate
Distance: 6.4 km (one-way)
Elevation Change: 900m
Even though by our last day in Saas Fee, we had found our “mountain legs,” it was definitely time for a “cool down” hike. The hike from Saas Fee to Saas Almagell meanders downhill through a mountain forest on a paved path. We took this at a nice slow pace, and we bathed in the peaceful calm of the Swiss coniferous forest.
Near the halfway point, we found the Waldhus Bodmen Restaurant. Much to our surprise, at the Waldhus Bodemen, we also found a camel and a llama! This was an unexpected treat for the boys. Thankfully, we had a few spare carrots (bring some), and we were able to feed the camel.
At the end of the hike, in Saas Almagell, there is a small playground next to the mountain river. We found this to be the perfect place to soak our tired feet! The boys enjoyed climbing on the playground and splashing in the water before we hopped on a Post-Auto bus back to Saas Fee.
Closing Thoughts On Hiking In Switzerland With Kids
When my wife first recommended we visit Saas Fee, I remember my first thought was, why do we not just visit Zermatt? Isn’t that the prime place for hiking the Swiss Alps? A common thought pattern. However, after our week in Saas Fee, I can safely say it is now one of my favorite places in Switzerland and a wonderful place to hike with young children. There is a wide range of hiking trails, playgrounds at almost all mountain huts, gondola rides of all shapes and sizes, and of course, the Post-Auto bus! It was the perfect Swiss Alps holiday and the perfect setting for our many outdoor family adventures!
If you’re looking for another European destination for outdoor family adventures, consider a trip to Lapland, Finland for white water rafting and hiking. And, if you really do want to see the Matterhorn…Zermatt is just a day trip away! In the mean time, leave any of your comments and questions below, and then start planning your trip to go hiking in the Swiss Alps with your own kids!
Kevin is proof that travel does not stop with children. He’s discovered that it is harder, but not impossible! Kevin started his family focused travel blog to inspire and help other families to travel the world. Check out more of his content at MyFernwehFamily.