Rafting on the Aare River – Thun to Bern

The route from Thun to Bern on the Aare river is one of the most popular rafting routes in Switzerland. After giving it a run, and experiencing the warm, pristine, turquoise water, the fun rapid at Uttigen, the beautiful natural landscape, and the great swimming for myself, I can easily see why it is so popular.

Detail Summary
Location:Aare River Thun – Bern, Canton Bern, Switzerland
Train:Zürich HB -> Thun Schwäbis – 1 hr 40 min
Bern HB -> Zürich HB – 1 hr 2 min
Duration:4 hrs
Cost 2020:130 CHF for 2-4 person raft
Rental available from Aarebootsvermietung

Additional Info

For this trip, I decided to rent a raft rather than use our own and to take the train rather than drive. I used this trip to scope out the area for future trips, in case I would like to do it with my own equipment, and I’ve included those notes here along with the trip report.

Booking a Raft

We booked our four person raft from Aarebootsvermietung. Their website is in English, French, and German and you can reserve your boat right on the website. The rental includes the raft, paddles, and life jackets. It also includes a barrel for your belongings but it isn’t guaranteed to be waterproof. If you have your own waterproof bag, I suggest you bring that along for your belongings.

With the email confirmation of our reservation, we were also sent a link to a safety video. Watching the safety video is important as the route has a few things to watch out for – the rapid at Uttigen (about 45 minutes down the river), several bridges with pylons you need to avoid, nature preserve areas, and a ferry. It also shows details on how to recognize the take-out and where to return the raft. You will be asked to sign a confirmation that you watched the video before you pick up your raft.

Important!  Swimming in rivers can pose significant risks. Currents can be stronger than they appear, and dangerous currents and whirlpools can arise, for example, around hidden obstacles such as driftwood below the water surface. You are required to have a life-jacket for each person. When using your own equipment,  you are required  to clearly label your raft with your name and contact information.

Getting There

Because we had been warned that parking in the area near the put-in was severely limited, we decided to take the train. The train from Zurich HB to Thun Schwäbis takes about 1 hour 40 minutes with two changes, one at Bern and one at Thun. From the final stop at Schwäbis, it is a short 3 minute walk to the boat rental pick-up and the river put-in.

Bringing your own equipment?

We saw a lot of people getting off the train at Schwäbis carrying their own rafts to the put-in. In Bern, you can use the take-out at Eichholz Campground as we did, or you can use the next take-out just past Marzilibad. Either way, you will have about a 10 minute walk to get to the bus/train.

Parking options?

If we did drive, one idea was to park at a train station (Bern or Thun) and then take the rafts with us by train to the put-in. Both the put-in and take-out areas have very limited short-term parking for dropping off/picking up the rafts, so it is possible. However, both were very, very, crowded and busy while we were there.

Another option for put-in with your own equipment is at Uttigen. There is a train station there with parking a short walk from the river. Unfortunately, the put-in is after the rapid. I love a good rapid, so missing it wouldn’t be my first choice, but I know not everyone feels the same way.

Getting the Raft and Put-in

Aarebootsvermietung is located across the street from the river put-in point. They are impossible not to spot – they have a big yellow sign and many already inflated rafts out front ready for pick-up.

After checking in and paying (cash only!) and signing a confirmation that we had watched the safety video, we were given life jackets, paddles, a map and a brief overview of the route. We then picked up our assigned raft and carried it across the street to the put-in point. Here there is a small grassy area where many people were busy inflating their own rafts and a paved ramp down to the river with a line of people each taking their turn to launch. The line moved quickly and pretty soon it was our turn.

On The Aare

After launch we had about forty-five minutes to practice paddling and steering before we hit the rapid at Uttigen. We had been advised that the best route through the rapid was to stay about 5 meters from the right bank.

Happily we made it through without tipping the raft. We did get pulled into the eddy a bit, but with some strong paddling we were soon on our way. With calmer water ahead, we took turns swimming along-side the raft as we floated our way down river enjoying the views.

As we went along, we kept an eye on the map to be sure everyone was in the raft when we needed to navigate between bridge pylons. We also made sure to stay on the main branch of the river. Just after a large tipi, there is a small side branch to the river that is a protected nature preserve where boating is not allowed. (I don’t know why there is a tipi in Switzerland.)

After going under a covered bridge, we knew it was time to keep an eye out for the take-out point.

Take-Out and Returning the Raft

The take-out point was described as a bend in the river with a rocky beach on the left bank next to a large grassy field. I was worried this might not be specific enough to spot. But on a warm sunny day like this one with so many other rafters on the river, it was easy to follow the crowd – almost every rafter used this take-out point.

After exiting the river, we carried our raft across the lawn to the Aarebootsvermietung trucks. Again, their bright yellow signage made them very easy to spot.

We put the paddles into the boat and stacked our life-jackets along side as instructed, and then we headed over to the rest rooms on the other side of the park and changed into dry clothes.

I wanted to see what the next take-out station was like, in case we decide to do this route again with our own equipment. So, rather than heading directly to the train station, we took the long way back, walking along the river and then up to Bern station.

Walk Along River and then to Bern Station

There is a walking path along the river from the Eichholz campground to the take-out point at Marzlibad. River swimming here is extremely popular and there are crowds of people floating in the river and then walking back on this path. At the first foot bridge we came across, we were required to cross to the other side of the river as the path can currently only be walked in one-way direction as part of the city’s coronavirus protection measures.

One of the reasons this route is so often recommended is the fantastic view of the Swiss Parliament building you get at the end. While not the same as seeing it from on the river, it was still a great view.

The take-out point at Marzlibad is the last take-out point before the weir. There are many warning signs posted along the river, and you really do not want to miss this take-out. Entering the weir is forbidden as it is very dangerous and can be fatal for swimmers and boaters alike.

After walking past the take-out point, we walked up the hill to the train station and headed home.

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