The two faces of Chasseral – summer and winter hiking in the Jura
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At 1607m Chasseral is far from being one of the tallest mountains in Switzerland. So it’s worth asking: why is it such a popular mountain then? It turns out that Chasseral is one of the highest and most prominent peaks in the Swiss Jura. With its central location on the Jura range and overlooking the flatlands, the panoramic views of the Alps all the way up to Mont Blanc are certainly worth writing home about! And I guess this post is proof of that 🙂
Chasseral is also fairly accessible and has tonnes of options all year round, whether you’re after hiking, biking, snowshoes or skiing. We’ve been up there twice in summer and in winter. There are many paths up to the peak with the main routes being from along the ridge with the Jura Crest Trail or across the ridge, for example via the Combe Grede Gorge. To some extent, the time of year dictates which paths are open and safe.
As a general rule, Chasseral can be reached from all directions in the summer and autumn months (around May – November). For example, we hiked up from Frinvillier along the wide ridge to the top in the summer, which gives you lots of panoramic views. In winter, however, going along the ridge is a long option and starting from St. Imier or Nods is probably a better option for most people. For a tougher option, check out the Combe Grede Gorge, though this is season dependent as it’s basically closed to the general public in winter.
Anyway, we’ve shared more details of our summer and winter versions of hiking up Chasseral below. It was a full day’s hike in both cases, about 6 hours, with a little bit more energy needed to hike up in all that snow in winter! There are a couple of ways to shorten the hike and we cover that too in our ‘alternative routes’ section below.
So let’s get started!
Chasseral – Snowshoe Hiking Up in Winter
It took a while for us to choose which route we’d like to use for a snowshoe hike up Chasseral in the winter (Dec – Mar). We’d already done the Jura Crest Trail path so we were fairly certain we’d like to try going across the ridge this time. Something else we needed to bear in mind that the area surrounding the peak of Chasseral is a designated wildlife area, and you’re not allowed to leave marked routes for winter sports (see map here).
It was a sunny day with a bit of wind predicted to come in later in the day. At about -8C, it was also freezing and I had about 6 layers of clothes on to cope with the cold 😀 Given the stable weather though, we planned to start by having a look at the Combe Grede Gorge. From our online search it looked open – it’s an allowed route through the wildlife area, after all… So off we went to Villeret Station which is the closest access point to the gorge!
From Villeret it’s a straightforward 1.5 km walk to the entrance of the gorge where we found a big yellow warning sign planted in the middle of the path. It seems that the gorge is officially closed in winter due to the risk of avalanche and rockfalls. Traversing it would be at your own risk and it’s only left open to experts as a winter climb on days with the right weather and snow conditions.
So, we found ourselves in a bit of a pickle! We were interested in checking out the gorge, especially the very last part through the cliffs but we weren’t ready to do that at the expense of our safety. As the weather conditions were sound and there wasn’t a huge amount of snow at the bottom, my partner laidbackhiker who’s had lots of experience of winter hiking suggested we have a look at just the first much flatter section of the gorge and then take a safer route up and around of the steepest parts of the gorge.
And it was worth it. That first section was just gorgeous! The freezing weather meant that there were icicles everywhere and the dusting off snow around brought out a beauty unlike what I’ve ever seen before in a gorge! We did however come to respect that warning sign.
On more than one occasion we saw the remains of avalanches that had fallen down across the path from the steep gullies and ravines of the gorge. On one or two occasions we and another two hikers we met along the way had to walk over the leftovers of these old avalanches!
The path itself was narrow and windy. There were several metal bridges criss-crossing the gorge. Some of them had large dents in them, presumably due to rocks that had fallen off from the cliffs above. On the narrowest bits there were chains to hold on to.
Once we were about a kilometer into the gorge, around 911m, the path presented us with a fork in the road and a second warning sign. The path up through the gorge seemed to have three ladders we’d need to contend with in addition to the risks we mentioned earlier. The alternative path we chose was just 20 minutes longer to Chasseral via L’Ilsach so we used it to get out. There actually wasn’t that much snow when we were there so it was a gentle but steady climb up through the forests and onto the snow covered fields of L’Ilsach and Métaire des Plânes.
So yeah… even the first part of this gorge is not to be taken lightly in winter! If you’re keen to visit then we advise waiting for the summer (perhaps May – Oct) – those old avalanche cones we saw weren’t small.
Anyhow, on with the hike! The snow got deeper as we got higher and so we plonked on the snowshoes we’d been carrying for the first half of the hike. In no time we found ourselves in the midst of a local ski resort, Les Savagnières, with happy skiers whizzing by left and right :). Quite the contrast from the gorge where we’d only found a couple of much more seriously equipped hikers! From here we continued our plod through the snow towards Pré aux Auges which to my dismay required a bit of downhill that we’d have to make up later! From Pré aux Auges, though, the iconic candy cane colored tower marking the peak of Chasseral was in sight, a carrot showing us that we weren’t too far away.
It was still going to be a slog to get up there but we were excited to do it. Once we were above the tree line we were on our final section of the route up to the ridge. From the bottom this last stretch looked fairly straightforward, but it turned out to be grueling! Little did we know that what should normally be a nice path up in the summer was now covered in icy snow and angled in a way that made climbing up on snowshoes painfully tiring. And to add to that it started to get quite gusty as we got closer to the ridge line. We ended up locking arms and bracing ourselves against the wind to get onto the ridge. It was the first time I’d been slapped in my face with blowing snow. I can confirm it’s not a fun feeling.
Once we got to the ridge line though, the view opened up and we immediately forgot about the pain we were in! It was breathtaking. From left to right there was a panorama of snow covered Alps in front of us. The sky was clear enough that the Mont Blanc massif was in sight! Below we could see bits of 3 lakes: the Bieler, Murten and Neuchatel lakes.
After a quick photo or two we beelined towards the Chasseral Hotel for some temporary respite from the wind. We also found a thermometer on the hotel – turns out it was -14C on top, and that was without the windchill factor! Gulp! And entertainingly the road which we’d used previously in the summer was buried deeply in the snow, with the bus stop at Chasseral Hotel sheltered behind snow drifts.
Because of the wind and the long day we’d already had we decided not to go all the way to the exact peak. We’d already been there in the summer and were keen on heading down and out of the wind!
Our final destination, Nods, is about 600 meters below Chasseral but it didn’t take long once we got off the ridge for the wind to die down. The path back into Nods was straightforward. Strangely even though it was nearly sunset we met loads of people walking up from Nods on skis. I guess they were just after an evening ski session? Who knows!
Since the bus in Nods runs once an hour we paced ourselves in line with it and meandered our way into the town! What a fun day in the snow 🙂
Chasseral – Hiking Up in Summer
Now for the summer version! Our summer ascent of Chasseral followed the Chasseral ridge from east to west. It’s even an official stage, stage 7, of the number 5 Jura-Höhenweg (Jura High Route) hiking path. Overall, this route is way simpler than the winter route we described above – just get up onto the ridge and follow it 🙂
The hike started from the Frinvillier-Taubenloch train station in the little village of Frinvillier. Once you’ve crossed over the La Suze river path, keep an eye out for the yellow walking signs as you turn right off the road and begin to head up through the forest.
The first 400 meters of altitude comes quickly and this is really the most energetic part of the hike. After that the path flattens out into a nice wide track and the views start opening up as you continue to steadily work your way up 650 m over the next 14 km to the peak. The total altitude gain is quite large, so it did become a bit of a slog at times!
As mentioned above, the peak of Chasseral, denoted by the large mast on top will be quite obvious and so for the longest of whiles your destination will be in sight!
On a clear day, this version of the hike up Chasseral will give you unbroken views of the Alpine ridge and flatlands below for quite a while – so it is quite scenic. When we went though, the Alps were dotted with clouds and so our view was, shall we say, not optimal.
From the peak it’s only about 1.5 km further on what’s essentially a road to ‘Chasseral Hotel’ which has a bus stop. As you’ll have read above, this bus stop is not serviced in winter and so if you’re out of season your nearest public transport stop will be in the village of Nods about 600 m below the peak.
And that’s that really. The ridge hike of Chasseral isn’t a short hike but other than that it’s pretty straightforward and the paths are well marked. So it’s mostly a question of putting one foot in front of the other for long enough to make it up!
|Winter Route||Summer Route|
|Start||St. Imier Train Station||Frinvillier-Taubenloch Train Station|
|End||Nods, école Bus Stop||Chasseral, Hôtel Bus Stop*|
|Time||6h||6h 15 min|
|Distance||15 km||18.5 km|
|Altitude||1000 m ↑ 900 m ↓||1400 m ↑ 400 m ↓|
|Season||Winter (Dec – Mar)||Summer/autumn (May – Oct)|
|High point||Chasseral 1607 m||Chasseral 1607 m|
|Public Transport||To St. Imier: |
1h 20 mins from Bern,
1h 45 mins from Lausanne,
1h 45 mins from Basel,
2h from Zurich
|To Frinvillier-Taubenloch: |
45 mins from Bern,
1h 15 mins from Lausanne,
1h 20 from Basel,
1h 30 from Zurich
|Parking||see notes below||see notes below|
|Highlights||Panoramic alpine views!|
Now this is a tricky one. If you’re coming by car and would like to hike up, parking somewhere like Nods and hiking up as a round trip from there could be a good option. There’s a also parking spot on top of Chasseral by the Hotel, but we aren’t sure how long you can park there for and that doesn’t leave much of a hike left to the summit!
Nods Parking Address: Chemin du Citroz 31, 2518 Nods
Our Summer Ridge Route
Alternative summer route – partly through Combe Grede
And now some alternative summer routes that provide shorter versions of the hike! Options in winter are a bit more limited as the Chasseral Hôtel bus stop near the peak is not serviced in winter – there were loads of tracks from both snowshoes and skis though, so it’s clearly a very popular winter peak.
Chasseral from Nods: 7 km, ± 750 m ↑ 100 m ↓, 2h 45 min, easy/medium
This is a relatively short option, where you start in the village of Nods and make your way on relatively easy paths to the peak. From there just head down to the Chasseral Hôtel bus stop where the buses take you down to a train station in St. Imier or in La Neuveville. You’ll get all the Alpine panoramic views with a significantly shorter walk.
Start: Nods, école Bus Stop
End: Chasseral Hôtel Bus Stop
Chasseral via Combe Grede: 8.5 km, ± 900 m ↑ 150 m ↓, 3h 30 min, difficult
For those of you that are not afraid of heights and are up for a challenge, you could head up Chasseral via the Combe Grede Gorge. It’s open in summer and looks like it would be a spectacular way up to Chasseral. Be warned though (as we keep mentioning :)), the steepest section has 3 ladders that you’ll need to contend with. Having seen some of the ladders we think they are doable, but there are apparently some steep drop-offs further up as well. Just make sure you don’t have vertigo.
Start: Villeret Train Station
End: Chasseral Hôtel Bus Stop