Here & There is a weekly newsletter on a variety of outdoor and travel topics, and part of Mountain Gazette.
While in Engelberg, a few locals convinced me that I *had* to visit Valais, a canton in the south of Switzerland. So, I booked a few days in Zermatt, and hopped on a train. I’m very glad I did.
Zermatt has a vibe that sits somewhere between the Wengen/Grindelwald area and Chamonix. You’ll see a lot of older tourists looking for short hikes and Matterhorn views, but also trail runners, climbers, and mountaineers heading up to climb the Matterhorn or one of the surrounding glaciated peaks.
With limited time, I decided to do a long loop inspired by a route on ALPSinsight, which provides a wide range of fantastic trail running suggestions in Switzerland (and Chamonix). The ~26 mile, 8k elevation gain loop makes a horseshoe through the mountains surrounding Zermatt, with spectacular views and lots of enjoyable running along the way.
I started with a trip up the Sunnegga Funicular, opting to save my legs a tiny bit by turning a 10k ft day into “only” an 8k ft one. The funicular is a short ride through the middle of the mountain that pops you out 2,000 ft above town.
In this first section, I followed a rough approximation of the Five Lakes Walk, which is a popular day hike that takes you by several alpine lakes with stunning views and reflections of the Matterhorn, if you’re lucky. The Matterhorn was in the clouds for much of my day, but the views were still excellent.
The trail descends a bit on single and doubletrack and then climbs steeply up to the ridge between Hohtälli and Gornergrat. The view as you crest this rocky ridge line is unbelievable. The massive scale of the Monte Rosa massif and Gorner Glacier is something to behold.
Because there’s a train that goes all the way up to Gornergrat, this is one of the more crowded spots on the route. After a quick restroom stop, I followed a few dirt roads, followed by an extremely pleasant section of downhill single track. On a clear day (I wasn’t so lucky), you’ll have a direct view of the Matterhorn as well. The trail eventually steepens dramatically as it descends into the river valley towards Furi.
At Furi, you’re faced with a choice…the trail passes just spitting distance from a ski lift that will take you up to Schwartzee Paradise. While tempted, in the end I opted to keep pushing through the ~2200 ft climb.
At the top, I was extremely grateful for the extensive infrastructure in the alps — I was able to dip into Hotel-Restaurant Schwarzsee just as the weather turned sour. I had a nice cup of coffee and a snack while I waited a short (but heavy) hail storm. The route from here descends into another stunning river valley and then climbs yet again out the other side.
The final section of trail was simply sublime. A *perfect* single track trail traversing the mountainside. Views of the Matterhorn. A sweeping panorama of the mountains and glaciers across the valley. I ran this section with a massive grin splitting my face the entire time. From here, I it was just a steep descent back into Zermatt.
All in all, probably the single most enjoyable day of trail running I’ve ever had (my Strava activity was titled “Sublime. 10/10. Five stars. Holy shit.” 😂). Although there is a lot of elevation gain, there’s also a huge amount of runnable trail. If you’re looking for a trail that gets the ‘best of Zermatt’ in one push, this is it. Otherwise, the magic of the alps is such that you could slice and dice this route any number of ways — save your legs by utilizing the lifts, or easily break it up into multiple days by dropping back to Zermatt or staying at a mountain hut (the Hotel-Restaurant Schwarzsee is about halfway).
More Zermatt info
- In my trail research, I discovered the Via Valais, a 9-stage running route from Verbier to Zermatt. It was designed by the folks at ALPSinsight as a “Haute Route for trail runners”. It looks incredible, and I hope to return one day to run it.
- I stayed at Hotel Bella Vista Zermatt. No complaints, great hospitality and the deck has a great view of town and the Matterhorn (when it’s out).
- Food in Zermatt is pretty expensive but Take it Doner is probably the best bang for your buck. Tasty, easy, and good portion sizes. I also enjoyed Pizza Roma — great pizza and extremely friendly staff/owner.
- Zermatt Kitchen had excellent coffee and pastries. Snag a spot outside and enjoy a coffee or post-run Aperol Spritz next to the river with a view of the Matterhorn.