You don’t have to be a family of seasoned hikers to enjoy a summer walking holiday in the Alps. There are plenty of trails covering a range of terrain, with abundant attractions along the way to keep younger hikers motivated and entertained – like cuddling local llamas or hurtling down summertime toboggan runs.
So fill your lungs with fresh mountain air, picnic with divine Alpine backdrops and get your heart rate up walking the trails in any of these top family-friendly hiking destinations.
Not only is Oeschinensee widely regarded as the most beautiful Alpine lake in Switzerland but its environs offer a network of hiking trails suitable for all of the family. First, take the gondola from the small, timbered town of Kandersteg. Then it’s a 25-minute walk to the lake via a well-trodden path. Catching sight of the cyan-blue, glacial water backed by the snow-dusted, rocky ridges of the Doldenhorn is always a memorable moment. As is a refreshing dip in the lake to cool off from hiking in the sun; trails are bountiful here, passing mountains, meadows, waterfalls and creeks fed by the Fründen Glacier. Head back to the gondola for what may well turn out to be the highlight of the day – the Rodelbahn. This summertime toboggan run (for both children and adults) winds for 750 metres down the steep mountainside, accumulating enough speed around the hairpin bends to really get the adrenalin pumping. Stay at Landgasthof Ruedihus, a traditional Alpine chalet in Kandersteg with a sun terrace and formal garden.
Depending on your children’s hiking proficiency and enthusiasm, there are countless hikes around the Mont Blanc region that start in the village of Chamonix. One such trek is the Tour de Mont Blanc, a challenging route around the mountain massif, taking approximately 11 days to walk its 105-mile radius – while this would no doubt be too much for most families, it can easily be broken into more manageable chunks. Spend a couple of days on the first two sections of the walk and be immersed in some of the most heavenly Alpine scenery; ramble through wildflower meadows and scented pine forest, along paths shared with mountain goats and over crystalline streams. Stay in a typical French mountain refuge, like Terminal Neige Refuge du Montenvers, for the full experience.
Located at 1,050m above Lake Lucerne, the Swiss town of Engelberg is surrounded by beautiful family hiking trails. There’s the easy 1-and-a-half-hour Engelberg Trübsee Lake Walk, starting at the top of the Engelberg-Trübsee cable car and circling the serene lake with a playground at the end. A more challenging option is the Four Lakes hike, starting at Trübsee and passing Engstlensee and Tannensee, before ending at the biggest of the Four Lakes – the Melchsee. While the whole route takes approximately seven hours to complete, the handy thing about it is that it can be sped up by hopping on a couple of cable cars, and is known to be one of the most scenic hikes in the region. Stay 1,800 metres above sea level amid the mountain peaks and just beside the lake at Berghotel Trübsee, or in the centre of Engelberg at Hotel Bellevue-Terminus.
The effortlessly pretty town of Lugano, built on the banks of the eponymous lake, can be found in southern Switzerland’s Italian-speaking Ticino region. Around here, families will find myriad child-friendly hikes and a rare opportunity to go on an Alpine llama trek. The gentle llamas are led by a guide and carry the load, while children can potter alongside and pet their ridiculously soft, fleecy wool. You’ll be traversing landscapes akin to Lombardy in northern Italy, with glacial lakes lined by palms, citrus and cypress trees, and a similarly balmy climate. too. Half-day, full-day and multi-day treks are available, with the latter possible to combine with an overnight stay at the llama farm. From May to October, the treks start in Monte Comino in Centovalli, and from October to May they start in Monte Novella, Losone-Arcegno. Stay in a 16th-century villa on the banks of Lake Lugano at Guesthouse Castagnola.
If you’re concerned about how your offspring may fare on an Alpine hike, the Champlönch Children's Trail is a great option for easing the young ones into it. It’s accompanied by a digital guide with GPS and a booklet, which you can rent at the Swiss National Park Centre in Zernez. With animal avatars appearing on the digital map at various locations to explain the geography of the area, it’s a fun, interactive experience for the whole family. And since it takes two and a half hours to cover 5km of easy terrain, the pace is more than manageable for little legs. Stay in a wood-panelled suite and enjoy the spa at the peach-coloured Hotel Baer & Post Zernez, located close to the Swiss National Park Centre.