The Trekking Guide to Zermatt

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about Switzerland? I bet most of you will think about the snow capped mountains and lush green valleys, or at least that is what comes to my mind first. I went to Switzerland primarily to photograph the Matterhorn and all the trekking came as an added bonus and all of that was done on as little budget as possible. Overall we completed  four different treks, one of which was a night hike, but we will get to that. 

Five lakes route

Before the first hike I told myself that I need take it easy, after all we had all week ahead of us. We chose to walk along the 5 lakes route without the help of the gondolas. The Official website for Zermatt explains that first you have to take the ride up to Blauherd and start the trek at the Stellisee (one of the lakes). Since the gondolas are outrageously expensive, a one way ride can cost you up to around 60 Euros, we chose to walk up. An employee at the tourist office told us to first take the route from Zermatt to Findeln (around 1,5 hour) and start the hike from there. 

My friends Ania and Sascha acompanied me on that day. This was our first of many breaks along the trek.
My friends Ania and Sascha acompanied me on that day. This was our first of many breaks along the trek.
The charming Findeln village is definitely worth the visit
The charming Findeln village is definitely worth the visit
Grindjisee and reflection of the Matterhorn
Grindjisee and reflection of the Matterhorn

The route is marked quite well but we still relied on the knowledge of the locals. Whenever we got the chance we listened to their directions. 

 

The first lake we got to see was Grünsee which translates to Green lake. I guess it is not difficult to guess where it gets its name from. 

Grünsee
Grünsee

From Grünsee we continued our way up to Grindjisee. This is one, of two lakes,  where you can admire the Matterhorn reflecting in the water. 

Very close to the lake we spotted some groundhogs. Photo: Jack Bolshaw
Very close to the lake we spotted some groundhogs. Photo: Jack Bolshaw

Next stop of the day was the Stellisee. The second lake where you can see the Matterhorn reflecting in the surface. This is where one would normally start the hike if taking the gondola from Zermatt. Once we got there we were welcomed by a cheeky herd of goats that started posing for us in front of the Matterhorn

Sascha taking a photo of the goat
Sascha taking a photo of the goat
Posing in front of the Matterhorn
Posing in front of the Matterhorn
Stellisee. It was too windy on that day to see the reflection of the mountain.
Stellisee. It was too windy on that day to see the reflection of the mountain.

By late afternoon we realized that it was already quite late and started making our way down back to Zermatt. Do you remember when I said that I didn't want to strain myself on the first day? Well, it didn't quite work out well because we ended up trekking for 10 hours (with some breaks in between). I was really sore the next day, but that didn't stop me from doing another hike. 

Trockener Steg - Schwarzsee - Zermatt

This hike was my favourite one. On the previous day I found two unused tickets for the gondola from Furi to Trockener Steg. At first I thought it was a trash lying down on the path, so I picked it up to set good example. When I looked closely at it, it turned out to be tickets for a gondola! Considering how sore I was from trekking the five lakes route I felt like I'd hit the jackpot. If it wasn't for those tickets I would have never been able to hike all the way to Trockener Steg myself and I saved myself and my boyfriend around 80 Euros! 

 

You're probably wondering why I liked it so much? I think the photos will give you a good idea why!

the Matterhorn from a different angle
the Matterhorn from a different angle
Jack walking down. Down in the valley you can see Zermatt
Jack walking down. Down in the valley you can see Zermatt

Me admiring the mountain. Photo: Jack Bolshaw
Me admiring the mountain. Photo: Jack Bolshaw

The hike was quite strenuous, especially for the knees, because most of the time its downhill. I also got a little headache from the high altitude, but the views make up for it. You can see almost 40 4000 meters peaks from the highest viewpoint!

Rugged landscape
Rugged landscape
Picturesque Schwarzsee
Picturesque Schwarzsee
Me walking down. Photo: Jack Bolshaw
Me walking down. Photo: Jack Bolshaw

My recommendation for this hike is buying a roundtrip gondola ticket from Zermatt to Schwarzsee (around 40 Euro), then from here trek up and down to Trockener Steg. This shouldn't take more than few hours and this part offers the best views. Bear in mind that the one way tickets often cost the same amount of money as a roundtrip!

Gorner Gorge

Only 20 minutes away from Zermatt Gorner Gorge is the easiest hike we did. The admission fee is 5 franks. For about 30 minutes you get to walk on wooden walkways that take you around the canyon where you can admire waterfalls and rock formations. Apparently the best time to visit is middle of September between 3 and 4 pm, because of the way the light hits the pass. Take your tripod with you, if you want to take some photos. It is quite dark inside the gorge 

Zermatt - Riffelsee - Zermatt

One of the things I really wanted to experience, after checking out the photos of the Matterhorn on the internet, is seeing the sunrise over Riffelsee and to do that I had two options. Stay at the overpriced hotel in the Riffelalp or Riffelberg (one night was more than my weekly budget) or do the night trek from Zermatt to Riffelsee. As you can imagine I chose the second option. I had to talk Jack into it, as he was very sceptical at first, but I managed it. 


We set off at around 1 am from the campsite and arrived at our destination just before 6, which gave us enough time to set up our photography equipment for the sunrise. The elevation difference between Zermatt and Riffelsee is over 1300 meters, which is quite a lot, and I could definitely feel it in the temperature difference. It was freezing cold up there! Just before we reached our destination we met two Czech guys who slept up there just in their sleeping bags!  For the night trek you are going to need some head torches and courage! The woods at the beginning of the hike might be a bit creepy. To start the hike you have to follow the signs from Zermatt to Winkelmatten and from there go into directions of Riffelalp then Riffelberg and finally Riffelsee. There are two hotels on the way where you can stop for a break and to warm up. 

The morning was freezing. That's me taking photos of the lake and the Matterhorn. Photo: Jack Bolshaw
The morning was freezing. That's me taking photos of the lake and the Matterhorn. Photo: Jack Bolshaw
That's the outcome of my photo
That's the outcome of my photo

The sunrise wasn't as spectacular as I have seen on the photos in the internet, but I still achieved snapping some great reflections of the Matterhorn in the Riffelsee and didn't regret hiking there for a minute! 

 

After spending around an hour at the top we hiked down to Riffelberg and splashed out on two well deserved train tickets down to Zermatt (31 Franks/person) Jack bought himself a celebration beer as well at 8am to the surprise of the locals. After the night trek we were simply too tired to walk any further!


Summary

If you are in Zermatt for only few days I would recommend hiking either the 5 lakes or the Trockener - Schwarzsee - Zermatt route. Both are relatively easy and can be done even if you are unfit. 

 

The best photography spots would be either Riffelsee at sunrise or the relfections of the Matterhorn in the Trockener Steg (weather permiting of course)

 

If you decide on buying gondola tickets, always invest in a roundtrip as it is cost effective to always buy a return. 

 

General Tip: Remember to always take enough food and more importantly enough water, as well as sunscreen and some weatherproof clothing when you go hiking! 

 

Have loads of fun! 


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

I am Marta Kulesza - the photographer and creator of www.inafarawayland.comI come from Poland, but I've been living, travelling and working around the globe since I turned 18. A few years ago, during one of my trips to Scotland, I bought my first DSLR and my adventure with photography began. When I am not stuck to my computer editing photos, you can find me somewhere in the mountains. 

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