A perfect summer hike deep in the Alps with a gorgeous lake to top it all off. We did this a few years ago in the height of the summer on a day where the weather was sunny but very moody! It’s hard to explain why this is one of the more beautiful walks we’ve done in the Alps. You’re high up in and around all the mountains and at some point a crystal clear lake, the Daubensee, suddenly appears, giving your eyes something different to feast on.
Time: 4-5 hrs
Distance: ~ 8.5 km
Altitude: ± 530 m ↑ 125 m ↓
This turned out to be one of our longer day trips from Zurich to Kandersteg where we hopped on a short bus to the bottom of the Sunnbüel cable car, or in German ‘Talstation’. The cable car took us about 750 meters above the Kander Valley up to the starting point of our trail in Sunnbüel. The trail is a popular one in the summer and so relatively well maintained. We’d say that it’s technically fairly easy and would suit hikers of all levels, with the main difficulty being the high altitude which might get you out of breath faster than you’re used to!
The first half of the walk starts by heading down a bit before you gently stroll up towards the Daubensee. Even though you’re nearly 2000 meters up the mountains surrounding this trail rise up another 1000 to 1500 meters around you. You’re basically walking through a little valley high up in between two mountain ranges.
Some of the mountains on your left, which are capped by Balmhorn and the impressive pyramid-shaped Altels, still have glaciers on them which we were able to get a nice view of despite cloudy skies. I’d never seen glaciers until we moved to Switzerland so it’s still a special sight when we do get a glimpse of them.
At about halfway up this trail you walk past the Arvewald, the Arven Wood, and come up to Schwarenbach which is a mountain hotel where you can grab a drink or even spend the night if you wish. As I write this, I’m imagining how nice it would be stay up there in the winter or summer. Whatever the weather, clear skies or a blizzard, it would be breathtaking!
Stepping out of my daydream, once you get to Schwarenbach you’re gonna have to work your way 150 meters up before you can set your eyes on this lake that I keep talking about. I’d never done much hiking at this point, let alone at 2000 meters up, so this 150 meters climb up was definitely some effort.
Once we made it, the view of the lake and the mountains surrounding it was spectacular! The lake was twinkling in the sun and it was such a pleasant sight. At the point where you get to the lake there are loads of picnic spots and so we grabbed a spot on a nice flat rock and munched away at our lunch. It was a warm sunny day and we dipped our feet in the water but neither of us dared to get in! I guess it’s mostly cold glacier melt water and despite the heat I did not fancy getting in :P. That’s just me though – I know some friends that wouldn’t have missed the opportunity!
Having rested our legs we continued on the last part of our hike up to the cable car that would take us down in to Leukerbad. In all of the hikes I’ve done, I remember these last 2 km up being one of the most uncomfortable. Perhaps I didn’t have the energy on that occasion or it was the altitude, who knows, but it was a proper slog and my other laidbackhiker wasn’t impressed at all by the fuss I made of getting up this last bit (angel face emoji). But we made it eventually! There was another mountain hotel, Wildstrubel, at this end of the cable car and to our surprise we found a small via ferrata where people were roped up and what not to traverse a little gap in the cliff side. I think one of us, i.e. me, wouldn’t attempt that but my partner certainly would!
Heading down, we were the last to pile into the full cablecar and despite our mediocre French and German we ended up chatting with the cablecar operator. As we descended, he pointed out to the path on the side of a hillside which from our viewpoint in the cable looked like a hairy zig-zag of a path and said that path is central to a Leukerbad challenge. Whoever makes it up that hillside in 60 minutes gets a free ride back to Leukerbad on the cablecar and free entry to the spa in Leuk (see here). He said even he’d only made it in about 75 minutes! We had a look when we got back home – you’d have to do over 900 meters up in that one hour. We can maintain a good pace these days when we want to, but definitely not 900 meters up within an hour!
As the cable car continued down, we just stared on in awe of the path – it looks like a spectacular path, so we might head back one day to do it – just probably not within an hour 🙂
Once down, the walk from the cable car station to the bus stop was downhill and very scenic! We walked through lots of Swiss style houses, tiny bridges and river streams. The red geraniums on every windowsill added to the picture-perfect day. From the bus-stop in Leukerbad it was a long ride home but one that was totally worth it!
Practical Information for this Hike
Start: Sunnbüel Cable Car Station
End: Gemmipass Cable Car Station
Time: ~ 3.5 hours
Distance: ~ 8.5 km
Canton: Valais and Bern
Difficulty: T1 (though the altitude may make it feel like hard work)
Altitude: ~ 530 m ↑ 125 m ↓
Peak: Gemmipass cablecar, 2340 m
Nearest Railway: Kandersteg Station
Nearest Public Transport: Kandersteg (Talst. Sunnbüel) Bus stop
Funicular/Cable Car/ Lift / Mountain Train: Sunnbüel & Gemmibahn
Point of Interest: Daubensee (lake 2207 m up in the Alps)
Alternative Routes & Transport
Here’s a snapshot of the route we took.
As the start and finish point are several hours apart by public transport, this can be a long day trip if you do it as a one-way walk like we did. It makes for a very scenic trip though, so it’s definitely a good option if you don’t mind a fairly long day out. Alternatively, you can make it a shorter trip by just doing half of the hike as a round trip.
From northern Switzerland (Basel, Bern, Zurich etc), the Kandersteg end of the hike is the closer round-trip option. Get the cable car from the bottom of the Sunnbüel cable car station in Kandersteg to the trail start point. From there walk up to the Daubensee (and optionally around it if you want) at which point instead of heading to the Gemmipass cable car you can turn around and head back to the start point.
If you’re coming from Valais or the Lake Geneva area, Leukerbad will probably be easier for you to get to. You could take the Gemmipass cablecar up from Leukerbad and do a loop around the Daubensee before getting the cable car back down. Or you could have a go at the path up from Leukerbad to Gemmipass!