If you have never been to Switzerland, are planning to, are interested in hiking in the country, or have wondered what all the yellow signs and tags are, then keep reading. Switzerland is perhaps the best place on earth to hike. The trails are well marked, there are restaurants along the way, and water is never too far away. This makes minimalist hiking quite easy to the point of only carrying some cash for incidentals. But before you go minimal (and I don’t mean like the naked hikers in eastern Switzerland), plan ahead with some tips and clicks to some great resources for mapping out your journey. Cash may be all you need, but it is nearly useless when you’re lost. Here are most of your mapping options.
Option 1) Memorize the names of the last train stop and follow the yellow signs anywhere. Most of them have many options with the walking times listed as well as indicating train or tram stops. The intermediate signs will point you in a direction, you might feel lost, but you’re never far from water or a public transportation stop. Keep in mind the three types of Wanderweg (hiking trail) signage; yellow is normal walking trails, red and white blazed trails are alpine walking trails (where some can be daunting depending on your adventure/skill level), and the blue and white blazed trails which are in our opinion, reserved for the skilled hiker/climber. For the blue and white, only a detailed map will show the difficulty level and may necessitate crampons and ropes in some cases.
Option 2) Buy an old map from a Brocki* for a couple of Francs. This is handy if you know how to use maps, and some of the old maps you find at a Brocki will make a great souvenir of your visit; if you’re not that much of a minimalist. We have often found maps with reasonable detail for areas we have been or plan to go. A used map can be an asset if your GPS dies, your memory fails, or you just so happen to drift off the grid. If you’re too far off the grid, then any map you have in any case may not help. If you tend to drift, you’ll need to resort to your boy/girl scout instincts, ask for directions, or take our advice in Option 1: locate the nearest point of interest. If you’re concerned that an old map in Switzerland might be outdated, consider that most of the trails have been around for a really long time, though some new buildings may exist.
*A Brocki is the Swiss-German word for Brockenhaus (in German) and is equivalent to a thrift store found in the US.
Option 3) Feeling cheap? Why not print out a map from online? Although this is possible if you like low quality or to cut and paste, it all depends on how much time you want to spend doing this versus other things. With the links below, you can find free access to some incredibly detailed maps, complete with hiking trails, elevations, points of interest, cliffs and scree delineated, peaks, towns, etc. Great for planning and while online, but perhaps not so practical if your hiking Obersteinberg, for example, with patchy reception. It might be cheaper to just buy a map or an App, since your data plan on your cell phone, with or without roaming, would outweigh the cost of paper. But if you’re choosing this option, you’re probably not bringing your phone on a hike. (Note: you should compare the details of the photographed maps above, to the online data below. I used the same location to compare, and a review of Hiking Obersteinberg, one of our favorite hikes, can be found here)
Option 4) Carrying a map is sooo last year! OK, maybe not, but whether you’re a techie, a geek, an iNerd, or an I-can’t-leave-home-without-it sort of person, then perhaps an App is more your style. These can be great! Some are free with canned routes while other are Lexus versions with in-app purchases that would prevent you from sending your kids to college (if college is not free in your country). All have their pluses and minuses, but perhaps the biggest down side is battery life! If you use your iDevice for everything from taking photos, bragging about where you are on Facebook, tweeting your #assoffacliff, using GPS to track your route, or attempting to achieve KOM on Strava, then your battery will die in less then four hours. Make sure your excursion is shorter than this, or you can default to Option 1, or just play it safe and carry the damn map you passed up in Option 2 and 3. If you’re battery dies, the only souvenir you’ll have is the thought of yourself looking like a lost dumb ass to the farmer who you asked for directions.
There is a 5th option, but it is not really for the minimalist: hire a guide. #nosenseofadventure.
These tips and links were used for planning a hike to the Creux du Van in the Neuchâtel region of Switzerland. The planning was for a combined route starting in Noiraigue, up to the Creux du Van, down to Restaurant de la Ferme Robert, to and through the Gorges de l’Areuse, to the train stop in Boudry. The “Creux” and the gorge both looked interesting, but were separate routes. The links here are great resources, we hope you find them useful.
Easy to use map, make sure you click “Pixel Maps” in the Themes toolbar
Need Arial Maps?
Great Map for Delineated Hiking Trails (perhaps the best I’ve found!)
Interested in through hiking or cycling or mountain biking… all of Switzerland…
Swiss Map Apps…