On a weekend trip to Zermatt we decided to do the much advertised Glacier Paradise Trail with hopes of close up views of the Matterhorn and opportunities to stand next to a glacier! Suffice to say we did all that and a little bit more as we turned this trail hike into a bit of a day’s adventure!
Time: 4 h 30 min
Distance: ~ 15 km
Altitude: ~ 200 m ↑ 1500 m ↓
I’d love to say we got up at the crack of dawn all bright eyed and bushy tailed to do this trail. Truth be told we’d been hiking the day before so we slept in a bit and grabbed ourselves some coffee at the local bakery before heading up. By about 11:00 am though we’d made to the top of the Trockener Steg cable car station at some 2928 meters high in Zermatt. Fun fact: From Trockener Steg the cable car continues another 1000m up to Klein Matterhorn (3883m), currently making it Europe’s highest cable car station.
Most folks do this Glacier Paradise trail by hiking up from Schwarzsee to Trockener Steg. Since our legs were tired from hiking the day before we decided to minimise the amount of upwards leg burn by hiking downhill. So from Trockener Steg station, we made our way down to the first highlight of our walk: Theodulgletschersee.
It’s a lake with waters that look more silvery than blue. On a good day, you could take one of those famous Matterhorn reflection pictures here, but it was too windy when we were there so the water wasn’t still enough for such a shot. No complaints though – the weather was near perfect! There wasn’t a cloud in sight. Not even that famous solitary cloud that always seems to hug the Mattherhorn like a permanent sidekick of sorts.
The neighbouring glacier, unsurprisingly called Theodulglacier, used to skirt the edges of this trail, hence the name ‘Glacier Paradise trail’. However, as the glacier retreats it has moved away from the path and further uphill. Given that the landscape was fairly flat we decided to detour towards the edge of the glacier closest in sight. Fully aware that this is a glaciated area we chose our path carefully (stay on dry rocks that clearly stick out of the ground) and in no time found ourselves at the foot the glacier.
Naively, I’d always imagined a glacier to be like a giant frozen ice cube minus the cube shape. To my surprise, the glacier was pretty muddy. The top of it was grey, slimy and completely covered in silt to the point where you could leave imprints of your hands in it (of course we tried). And then when you looked at the ice it contained tonnes of little pieces of rock frozen into it. Not an ice cube I’d want in my drinks :P.
After this fun little detour we headed back towards the path, crossing a rather wet and silted up landscape. We found a lunch spot perched on a giant rock that gave us a view of the Matterhorn and two small partly frozen lakes! This being Zermatt, the views didn’t stop there. After lunch, we continued downwards skirting around some of the nearby rocky cliffs and frankly just admiring the landscape. Despite its popularity, the area was wild and the views of the Matterhorn towering in front of us did not get old. As we stared at the Matterhorn, we could see people hiking up the lower end of the ridge making their way towards ‘Hörnlihütte’ which is known as the Matterhorn basecamp.
From the comfort of our comparatively easier trail we continued on and plowed our way up the only uphill stretch of our hike. We were now close to the end of the official glacier paradise trail at Schwarzsee where you’ll find cable cars to take you back down into Zermatt.
After some consideration of our energy levels, food stocks and the hiking times we decided that we had the motivation and energy to hike on down for a while longer. We were aiming first for Furi where there’s another cable car to Zermatt and if we had it in us we would hike down all the way to Zermatt!
So off we went, past down Schwarzsee where the landscape began to change. It went from a rocky barren land to a very undulating landscape, the kind of which you’d imagine Hobbits living in. On one side, we had the Matterhorn and on the other we could see a very young pine forest starting to take hold of the area where the glacier once was.
As we continued down, we came across a self-service drinks fridge which provided some useful refreshments on this hot summer day! The path then continued through a lush forest that made us feel like we were walking through some sort of natural botanical garden with giant leaves and scented pink flowers all around us. Not too long later the scenery changed again. This time we were on a wide track paralleling an artificial lake. We could see a giant fountain pouring water into this dammed reservoir.
There are two ways home from here. One way is via the hamlet of Zmutt (fastest way down on foot). The other way is through the tunnel to Furi. From Furi you can grab the cable car to Zermatt or you can continue to walk down (longer than via Zmutt). There’s no best option here – so have a look at the map and pick what you fancy. We went via Zmutt.
At Zmutt we found loads of fellow hikers crowded around enjoying drinks and some well-deserved ice cream! It was a neat little spot so it’s worth considering if you want somewhere to relax and grab a drink.
From here the path flattened out and it was an easy 4 kilometres and 300 meters down to Zermatt train station. It was much warmer down here, nearly 20C, and so all those extra layers of clothing we had on came off quickly.
We didn’t have too long for our train out. So we hurried through the crowded town center, picking up our luggage from the lockers and some takeaway pizza for the ride home on the Matterhorn-Gotthard Bahn! Chuu chuuuuuu!
Practical Information for this Hike
|Start||Trockener Steg Cable Car Station|
|Altitude||200 m ↑ 1500m ↓|
|Popularity||5/5 – pretty popular|
|Season||Summer (July – Aug)|
|High point||Trockener Steg 2929 m|
|Public Transport||Trockener Steg: 40 min from Zermatt|
|Parking||Zermatt is car free so you need to park in Täsch, 5 km away and get the train from there to Zermatt.|
|Highlights||Views of the Matterhorn!|
Here’s the route map:
Heading down 1500m like we did here is not a stroll in the park and it can certainly be a strain on the knees. So here are a couple ideas of how to make the best of the Glacier Paradise Hike without heading all the way back down into Zermatt..
Option 1: Stick to the main glacier paradise route
7km, ± 200 m ↑ 550 m ↓, 2h 10 min, T2 (medium) difficulty from Trockener Steg to Schwarzsee
This is the official glacier paradise trail. You can do it in any direction depending on how you feel. There’s more up if you went from Schwarzsee to Trockener Steg – that’s also the way most people do it. But if you want to keep it simple you can start where we did and then then just get the cable car back to Zermatt from Schwarzsee.
Option 2: Take the cable car down from Furi
10km, ± 200 m ↑ 1300 m ↓, 3h 20 min, T2 (medium) difficulty from Trockener Steg to Furi
If you fancy an option in between the official trail and what we did you could consider walking down to the next cable car station down from Schwarzsee at Furi.