Hiking the Gemmipass – Leukerbad (Gemmibahn) to Kandersteg (Sunnbüel)

The Gemmipass is a historic mountain passage connecting Canton Valais and Canton Bern, which, according to the Gemmibahn information site, has been used since ancient times (coins from the Roman empire have been found here). If you are looking for a backpacking through the alps experience that isn’t wildly difficult, this is a great option. From the top of the Gemmibahn cable car to the top of the Sunnbüel cable car, the hike is about 8.5 km with about 80 m of ascent and 480 m of decent along well maintained gravel paths. Along the way, there are dramatic mountain views, alpine lakes, three restaurants (one each at the top of both cable cars, and one right at the mid-point), grazing cows with bells on, and even a self-service cheese kiosk. While it is possible to do this hike as a day trip from Zürich, it is a bit far. If you want to add an overnight to the trip, there are a number of options for accommodation and dining in Leukerbad and Kandersteg. And, if you really want to extend the trip, there is even an option for overnight accommodation at the middle of the hike (Hotel Schwarenbach). All in all, it is a very enjoyable hike and one I recommend.

Detail Summary
Where:Leukerbad, Gemmibahn to Kandersteg, Sunnbüel
Canton Valais and Canton Bern, Switzerland
Train:Zürich HB -> Leukerbad, Gemmibahn – 3 hr 15 mins
Kandersteg, Sunnbüel – > Zurich HB – 2 hr 40 min
What:Hiking the Gemmipass

Yellow trail markers
Daubensee – Schwarenbach – Sunnbüel
Skill:Easy – About 2 hr 30 min

Length 8.5 km, Ascent 80 m, Descent 480 m
Cost 2021:
Adult full-price ticket for both cable cars CHF 48.
Discount for SBB Half-fare, Swiss Pass, and Junior cards.
Discounts also available with stays at participating hotels in Leukerbad.

Additional Info

Getting There

This is a point-to-point hike, so best done with public transportation. We stayed in Leukerbad the night before, so we simple walked from our hotel to the Gemmibahn station. If you are coming from Zürich, it will take about 3 h 20 m with public transportation. At the Gemmibahn station, we purchased tickets for the Gemmipass hike which includes ascent on the Gemmibahn and decent on the Sunnbüel cable car.

The Trail

At the top of the Gemmibahn cable car, there is a restaurant with, presumably, great views of the Leukerbad valley. I say presumably because we were a bit socked in, and we could not see anything the day we were there. This is also where the trail begins and looking ahead, luckily, we could see the sky clearing a bit.

The first part of the hike takes you past the Daubensee lake. There are two paths here to choose from, a wide path that goes high above the lake, or a slightly (only slightly) more rugged path that goes down to the lake and then along the shore. I wanted to go down by the lake shore so that is what we did. Both paths meet up again, at the far end of the lake.

From the lake, it takes about 30 minutes to get to the Hotel Schwarenbach. This part of the hike takes you through some very beautiful but desolate landscape. Not long after leaving the lake behind, we could see the Hotel Schwarenbach in the distance.

When we reached the Hotel Schwarenbach (german), it was lunchtime, so we decided to stop for a meal at the hotel restaurant. The menu is classic Swiss food at typical Swiss prices. My husband got the käseschnitten (bread with melted cheese topped with ham and fried eggs) and our kids got the älpermagronen (Swiss version of macaroni and cheese) and the kalbsbratwurst with french fries. I wasn’t that hungry, so I just got the green salad, but then Pittsburghed it up by snagging a few fries from my son’s plate. It was a pretty good lunch, with a fantastic view.

After leaving the restaurant, the trail continues through the rocky landscape. The alpine flowers were blooming, so there were some lovely bursts of red and purple along the path. As we came towards the valley, there were again two paths to choose from, a wide path taking a lower route through the trees to the valley, or a slightly (again only slightly) more rugged path that goes above the tree line. I preferred the more open view, so we took the higher route.

When we reached the valley, the trails rejoined and we passed the rock marking the line where we crossed from Canton Valais into Canton Bern. The herd of cows grazing here had a wonderful view (third picture.)

Not too far past the cows, we passed a farm, and a self-service cheese kiosk. There, we bought a fresh goat cheese in olive oil and mountain herbs that was absolutely divine.

The clouds were collecting, so visibility was a bit low for the rest of the hike. But there wasn’t much left to go anyway, another 30 minutes or so and we were at the Sunnbüel cable car station.

Getting Back

We got to the Sunnbüel cable car station just in time to get the next cable car down. We considered hanging around at the top, but as the clouds made it impossible to see anything, we decided it was better to head down. (The bus at the bottom only runs once an hour, so we could have taken the next cable car and got the same bus.) Once the cable car got below the clouds, we were treated to some fantastic views! Just beautiful.

We really enjoyed this hike, and I definitely recommend it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *