Saturday, March 19, 2022

5 family-friendly summer hikes in the Alps

You don’t have to be a family of seasoned hikers to enjoy a summer trek in the Alps. This picture-perfect region is home to plenty of trails covering a range of terrain for all levels of hikers.

 Young hikers can immerse themselves in the wild and stay entertained thanks to an abundance of attractions like white-knuckle toboggan rides or irresistible cuddles with llamas. Fill your lungs with fresh mountain air and boost your heart rate exploring the top family-friendly hiking destinations in the Alps.

Oeschinensee, Switzerland

Surrounded by hiking trails, Oeschinensee is widely regarded as the most beautiful Alpine lake in Switzerland

Hiking trails hug the shoreline of the Oeschinensee, which is widely regarded as the most beautiful Alpine lake in Switzerland. Fed by the Fründen Glacier, the lake glimmers blue under the summer sun as a labyrinth of peaceful hiking trails lead you around the picturesque Swiss landscape. Many of these trails are mapped on the Oeschinen Lake website, so hikers of all levels can decide which routes will best suit them.

To get to the start of the trails, take the gondola from the small town of Kandersteg to the lake. Then it’s a 25-minute walk to the lake on a well-trodden dirt path. Be sure to have your camera handy because seeing the turquoise water surrounded by the rocky ridges of the Doldenhorn is a memorable moment you’ll want to capture. A dip in the lake can be cold—even in the summertime—but this doesn't stop the locals from jumping in. If swimming isn't on the agenda, explore the area’s rolling meadows, mountain passes, waterfalls, and gentle creeks – the latter of which are excellent for wading into.

Head back to the gondola for what may be the highlight of the day – the Rodelbahn Oeschinensee. This summer toboggan run promises adrenaline-pumping fun for both children and adults as it winds a half-mile down the steep mountainside. Hold on tight as you twist around hairpin turns and whizz past lake scenery – thankfully, you’re always in control of the speed. When you’re done, calm your heart rate at the Landgasthof Ruedihus, a traditional Alpine chalet in Kandersteg with a sun terrace and manicured garden.

Chamonix, France

Wander through wildflower meadows with Mont Blanc as the backdrop near Chamonix

Wander through wildflower meadows with Mont Blanc as the backdrop near Chamonix

This one is for families with a little more hiking experience and enthusiasm. Countless hikes around the Mont Blanc region start in the village of Chamonix, located in the French Alps. Cast in the shadow of the mighty Mont Blanc, the challenging trails here promise to keep you on your toes while providing unparalleled views of the iconic mountain range. If you're a family of especially seasoned hikers and campers, consider doing the 11-day trek across the 105-mile radius of the Chamonix-Mont-Blanc route. The famous route allows you to circle the highest summit in Western Europe while basking in the summer sun.

You can also sample the route by breaking it down into more manageable stretches or only doing parts of it. You could spend a couple of days on the first two sections or just spend a day trailing the first leg of the route from Chamonix to Les Houches, staying at family-friendly accommodations along the way. Live out your Sound of Music dreams with a stroll through wildflower meadows and pine forests. Be sure to say hello to the mountain goats along the way. The area is dotted with picturesque campsites, but if you prefer creature comforts, consider staying in a typical French mountain refuge like Refuge du Montenvers. It provides a full Alpine experience.

Engelberg, Switzerland

Follow the easy Engelberg Trübsee Lake Walk with an interactive map for kids

Follow the easy Engelberg Trübsee Lake Walk with an interactive map for kids

Located 3,500 feet above Lake Lucerne, the Swiss town of Engelberg is surrounded by beautiful family-friendly trails. Lace up your hiking boots for an easy hour-and-a-half trek along the Engelberg Trübsee Lake Walk. This popular and well-marked trail starts with a cable car ride that soars above the serene lake and straight into the mountainous landscape. There's a playground at the end of the ride where kids can warm up for the hike ahead.

If you're in the mood for a longer hike, grab a map of the Four Lakes hike from the Tourist Information Luzern. This winding trail starts at the milky blue Trübsee, passes by the dreamy Engstlensee—which is perfect for picnicking—and takes you along the dark and dramatic waters of the Tannensee, before ending at the biggest of the Four Lakes, the Melchsee.

Lasting about seven hours, this all-day adventure is guaranteed to wear out even the most energetic of young hikers. However, the route can be sped up in places by hopping on a couple of cable cars that drop you off near charming towns to rest and refuel. Stay a mile above sea level at the lakeside Berghotel Trübsee or amid Engelberg's sublime, snow-capped peaks at Hotel Garni Hostatt.

Lugano, Switzerland

Walk among cuddly llamas near the pretty town of Lugano

Walk among cuddly llamas near the pretty town of Lugano

The pretty town of Lugano, built on the banks of the eponymous lake, is located in Switzerland’s Italian-speaking Ticino region. This popular summer destination offers adventure of all kinds, from water sports and endless hiking trails to plenty of retail therapy in the town's many boutiques.

Lugano is perfect for families who want to balance a luxurious escape with a rugged Alpine experience. Hop on a guided tour of the town when you arrive or take the rare opportunity to go on an llama trek. These gentle and well-cared-for llamas are led by a guide and carry the load, while children can walk alongside and pet the animals’ soft, fleecy wool. Kids can take turns leading the llamas down easy paths under the watchful eyes of the guide – the real challenge will be peeling them away from their fuzzy friends at the end of the hike.

You’ll be traversing Alpine-Mediterranean landscapes akin to Lombardy in northern Italy, with glacial lakes lined by palms, citrus, and cypress trees – and a similarly balmy climate, so dress accordingly. Half-day, full-day, and multi-day treks are available, with the option of combining an overnight stay at the llama farm on multi-day treks. From May to October, these treks start in Monte Comino in Centovalli, and from October to May, they begin in Monte Novella. Add a touch of historical decadence to your stay in Lugano by booking the 16th-century Guesthouse Castagnola, located right on Lake Lugano.

Zernez, Switzerland

Enjoy a digitally guided and interactive hike on the Champlönch Children's Trail

Enjoy a digitally guided and interactive hike on the Champlönch Children's Trail

If you're planning a family-friendly hiking trip for the first time and looking to play it safe, then the Champlönch Children's Trail is your ideal option. Located at the eastern edge of Switzerland, close to the Italian border, the climate here is as easy-going as the trails.

The Swiss National Park's website gives you all the info you need to get started, including instructions on how to rent a digital guide with a GPS at the Swiss National Park Center in Zernez. This device includes an interactive map that comes alive with animal avatars when you reach specific locations. These cute critters will explain the geography of the area in a fun and simple way, making for an educational family day out in the Alps.

The whole route spans just over three miles, making it easy to cover in a few hours at a manageable pace for little legs. Continue your forest adventure by staying in a wood-paneled suite at Hotel Crusch Alba Swiss Lodge Zernez, or enjoy the spa at the peach-colored Hotel Baer & Post Zernez – both located just a five-minute walk from the Swiss National Park Center.

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