I know nothing better than to see the sunset in the mountains, the clear star-filled sky in the night and the first rays of sun in the morning, moving from peak to peak all the way down to the valley to wake people up to a new day. It’s quiet, peaceful, a bit scary and very demanding – only a few people and the magnificent nature – life as it’s best.
The alpine elevation (from 1000m up) is my comfort zone. It must have something to do with the similarity to my native Lapland – the remoteness, the wild nature, the solitude – and the chance it gives for a good break from the everyday errands. (It might also have something to do with the possibility to get extraordinarily good awe-inspiring pics for Insta and Fb, though I don’t admit anything.)
I do enjoy city life too, at least in cities with good quality of life. I enjoy the services available, the good company and the effortlessness which comes in the exchange of all the hard work. But from time to time I need a different kind of hard work and the best reward – the mountains – and I just need to get away, above it all. For that, a multi-day hike in the alps is one of my favourites, for it allows me to spent a lot of time high in the mountains, away from the everyday discomforts. Though it comes with many discomforts of its own – blisters, aching muscles and uncertainty – the transformative powers which do the kind of magic for the mind and body that the little suffering is more than worth it.
An alpine hike from a train station to a hut and back the next day, or a multi-day trek from a mountain hut to another hut, mostly by foot but sometimes on a bike even, and on winter by skis, is the kind of luxury I like a lot. Sometimes for two days, sometimes for a week or so.
About a year ago I did a very nice hut tour, more of which in here, and since that, I’ve gotten many questions of how and where to do a similar tour and especially how and where to sleep in the Swiss Alps. Therefore, I thought about writing a little post on why, how and where to do a hut tour, for one or few nights, in Switzerland, with some additional alternative sleeping tips.
Please note that even if you are a 5* hotel or villa type, especially the one more on the wellness and pampering side, a tour like this might still be for you. It’s not as polished and posh as the majority of 5* establishments, but still and even more of the real luxury kind of. While it doesn’t include spa, a tour like this includes many times a refreshing glacier river and/or a lake, with natural jacuzzi and healing minerals. And while you rarely get a Michelin star meal in a remote hut in the mountains, the whole setting (candles included) and the long day hiking makes almost any kind of a meal taste marvellous. (You may leave your complaints later in the comment section, but please only after you’ve tried a tour like this).
Many countries, especially the ones in the Alps, offer similar huts and guesthouses for hikes and adventures, but as Switzerland offers an excellent, one of the best I’ve seen, selection and network of huts and trails, with good supporting infrastructure and excellent quality of food and sleep – not to forget the views and overall experience which is hard to beat by anything else – I concentrate in the Swiss options in here.
Yes, it’s many times a bit more expensive than in the neighbouring countries, not to mention the other mountain destinations around the world. But in exchange for the money you get an excellent service, sustainable practices and an experience which is worth the money and more, I promise.
SAC Huts (Hütte)
Swiss Alpine Club aka SAC manages the most varied selection of the real alpine huts (German: hütte) all around Switzerland, though as the name suggests the denser the network the more remote and higher – alpine – elevation. Many act as a perfect basecamp for demanding alpine climbing and mountaineering tours, but many are also more than fine for a nightly stop on a regular hiking or backpacking tour on the alpine meadows and easy to middle trails on the scale I and II (more of the swiss signalization and scaling system in here), offering accommodation and meals, mostly half board, for the guests.
You may browse the huts and read more of them and alpine hiking in Switzerland here. Most of these huts offer open doors both winter and summer season, acting as a base camp for winter ski tours and ski mountaineering, and in summer for climbing (many have extensive rock-climbing and bouldering “gardens” nearby), hiking (trekking), biking, and mountaineering. Most of them are only reachable by foot and a great amount of them require many hours hike, though all of these along the marked Swiss hiking trails connected to a public transport stop in at least one end.
In the hut, you find a heated hut with one or few rooms with dormitory kind of accommodation with pillows and warm duvets (bring your own liner though, more of which in the section gear further on) and a restaurant serving simple yet filling meals. And from the windows, you have excellent views of course, in a good weather.
Toilets are sometimes indoors, sometimes outdoors, simple yet clean, and rarely there’s a shower option, to make it a real wilderness experience. (My tip to compensate this is to have a small bottle of micellar water, few pads and/or baby wipes, topped with clothes of natural fibres like merino.)
Berggasthauser = Mountain Guesthouses
In addition to the SAC managed huts, you find many other guesthouses along the hiking networks, managed by various organisations, most of which non-profit. Compared to the SAC huts, many of these are reachable by cable car and/or very short hikes from the nearest cable car, train or buss stop.
The exact sizes and opening season(s) of the guesthouses are varied, but most of them offer multi-bed dorms and private rooms, restaurant and half board, as well as lunch for the overnight guest and passing hikers.
And as with SAC huts, you may book these with the half board or just the accommodation. And preferably pay with cash.
Note that one of the best networks of trails and guesthouses you find in the Alpstein massif in the canton of Appenzell, in where excellent beer and cheese is also to be enjoyed easily in the guesthouses.
Most of the huts offer open doors both winter and summer season. Most of them are only reachable by foot and a great amount of them require many hours hike in nature, which might create obstacles and hinder the hike to the cabin, sometimes with a very short notice. Therefore, for the exact dates and conditions of the season, it’s better not to book the hut too well in advance (in many cases it’s not even possible before the season) – rather check the current situation and latest information in the website or calling the hut near the planned visit.
Note that in between seasons huts are closed with few exceptions, though many of them offer so-called winter room, which acts as an emergency shelter through the year. And when the weather and year are favourable, they act as a simple hut even in no emergency case, with beds, cooking facility and wood for a fire (aka warmth).
Food & Drinks
A few huts offer free and clean tap water, but all of them offer bottled water to drink, for a reasonable price, as well as other drinks, including local beer and wine, tea and coffee. Some also offer hot water, a portion of which free in some cases, for the thermos and/or tea.
If and when you want to be a more sustainable hiker and visitor than buying the bottles of water, and the one not carrying liters of water in your backpack all the way, I would recommend keeping your own bottle and water filter with you, to be filled in the fountains found in the villages and in the alpine rivers and natural springs. Almost every village in Switzerland has a fountain or two, many of them close to the bus stops and train station, and therefore more than conveniently on your way.
The higher you get the more natural freshwater you find thanks to the eternal snow and glaciers, but keep in mind that there are many cows and other animals around, even in the higher altitudes, so unfiltered water is only to be enjoyed with the risk and own caution. For this reason, the filter is a more than a good thing to carry along and invest some money in, in addition to the bottle.
For food, the huts and guesthouses offer a simple yet filling and delicious meals, many times of local ingredients and specialities. Simple breakfast is also served and as already mentioned above, the surroundings and the whole experience makes the meal many times the best you’ve ever had.
Note that during the serviced seasons the only option for food in the huts is to buy the half-board or single meal, as the kitchen facilities are reserved for the hut keepers and the “official” meal preparations only.
Booking, Prices And Paying
Every year there are more and more options to browse, book and pay for the accommodation online and with cards, but still the best and many times the only option is to call the hut (numbers you find online though) prior your arrival and ask if they have space (also a good occasion to check the current weather and possible hazards on the way) and book your stay this way.
The payment is easiest and many times the only way, to be done with cash, at the hut. Appr. price for a night in a hut or a guesthouse in a dormitory (number of bed varies, appr. from 4 to 10 per dorm) is 40CHF to 60CHF per person, and appr. 70 to 90CHF for a bed and half board (dinner and breakfast). There are some discounts and special prices available for children, mountain guides and people with a SAC membership. But for the experience and remote location (just think of how the huts have been built in such challenging locations and how all the food and drinks and stuff have to be carried up there, and the garbage has to be carried back down) the full price is more than on point.
Having cash with you makes it also easier to pay for food and drinks on the establishments found along the way, and many times you pass a guesthouse or a restaurant offering delicious lunches and cold beer worth the purchase. You may also come past with a farm selling products from a self-help establishment, and again here the cash is the only option.
More info of how and what about the Schweizer hütten can be found in German, French and Italian in here, on the website of the Swiss hutkeepers association.
Other Sleep In Alternatives
In addition to the guesthouses and alpine huts, one can look for and book private cabins all around Switzerland. A good selection can be found and booked in here. When wandering around in the Alps and alpine villages, you may also see signs promoting cabins and other accommodations for sleep in and some for a b&b, with a number to call to for requests and booking.
And of course, there’s also Airbnb’s available in some of the locations in Switzerland too. Though most of them in the villages.
Luxury, Guided & Packaged Tours
If and when you’re a less experienced hiker and/or wanting to make a very comfortable luxury trek, you may consider booking the whole thing as a ready-made package, some of which offer a higher quality accommodation, private rooms and showers, and some with the same options as mentioned above, this time just with someone else making the bookings and whole package for you.
Just browse the options online, in a travel agency brochure etc.
Note that guided tours and tour packages are also more than recommended when aiming for the glaciers and huts behind demanding high alpine treks and traverses.
Wild camping in Switzerland is in most cases prohibited and camping is only allowed in the designated camping places. Nevertheless, in the mountains, wild camping is allowed with few exceptions, like the wildlife and nature conservation areas and the higher you go the more precautions there is to be taken into an account, including the weather, hazards etc.
More info about wild camping in the Swiss mountains can be found in the SAC site in here.
Gear For A Hut Tour
When sleeping in the huts and guesthouses, especially in the dormitories, a light liner sleeping pack is mandatory to have. Most of the huts offer pillows and duvets and throws, but for hygiene having your own liner is a must. Up in the mountains laundry isn’t as easily done as down in the cities, not to forget the sustainability, so remember to keep the liner with you, and if not already having one, buy a liner before your first trip and wash it at home in between trips.
In addition to the liner, have some good shoes (like these), suitable clothes (take into account the weather, possible rain and storm, chilly high mountain evenings and mornings), backpack with a re-usable water bottle and some snacks, sunnies and sunscreen and maybe sticks, and you’re all fine for a nice tour.
If and when you’re going for the really high elevations and the huts behind alpine trails, you may also wanna consider taking an ice-axe and crampons, harness, rope, and friends (and know how to use those) for a safe trip.
And even though friends and good company isn’t gear, I’d recommend having a friend or two with you on a tour, especially if and when going for long distances and to remote cabins. You can do these solo as well (like and for this) and the friend might not really add extra comfort or safety, but still, it’s good to have someone to share the great experience with.
If you are as lucky as I am, a friend might also carry a bottle of good port wine in their bags the whole 5h hike up to the cabin, seen in the middle of the circle on the map below. And he might also carry the empty, yet heavy, bottle back down the next day, after a nice evening with candles, books and the wine.
Where – My Top 3 Huttour Destinations
Shreckhornhütte 2529m – demanding blue and white
Blüemlisalphütte 2840m via Oeschinensee – demanding red and white
Alpstein (network of guesthouses added with SAC hüts) – from easy to demanding