Switzerland is world-renowned for its natural beauty and this is a large part of why so many of us want to travel there and have already done so. For me, the magic of the Swiss alps, the mountains, lakes, and waterfalls are what make Switzerland so special.
But, if you want to see the best of it, you should be spending some of your time in the Swiss National Park and the other great nature reserves and parks this country has to offer.
Join me as I run through everything you need to know about the Swiss National Park, from where to stay, how to get there, and why it is worth visiting. Plus, we’ll cover the other great nature parks in Switzerland too!
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Swiss National Park
The Swiss National Park was established in 1914 as one of the first national parks in Europe and is the oldest park in the Alps.
The Swiss National Park covers an astonishing 170 square kilometers that range between 1400 and 3173 meters above sea level.
While the entire park isn’t accessible to visitors, as some places are simply close to impossible to get to, there are more than 80 km of hiking trails that give you access to a lot of it.
It is home to a plethora of Alpine wildlife, is immaculately preserved, and it is as wild as this mountain range gets, so it deserves a visit. But, where is it, and how do you get there?
How to Get There
The Swiss National Park lies in the Engadine Valley tucked in the Southeastern corner of Switzerland, close to the Italian border. The nearest major town in Switzerland close to it is Zernez. This town has decent connections, but in itself is more just a gateway to the rest of Engadine.
If you know anything about the Engadine, then you will know just how stunning it is, and the Swiss National Park is the most amazing part of it. Being dedicated to nature conservation, the wildlife here is unbeatable, so how do you get to see it?
Geneva couldn’t be further away from the Swiss National Park if it tried, as it is literally at the other end of Switzerland, but you probably already knew that.
Getting from Geneva to the Swiss National Park takes some time, but thanks to the efficiency of Swiss Public Transport, it is much quicker than it could be.
By Public Transport
It takes about 5.5 to 6 hours to get to the Swiss National Park from Geneva, and it requires you to take 4 trains and one bus.
First, take the train from Geneva to Zurich HB, Zurich HB to Landquart, Landquart to Sagliains, and Sagliains to Zernez. This train ride is pretty incredible as it takes you through almost every major city in Switzerland and into the alps too.
Once you arrive at Zernez, you simply hop on the postal bus service which will take you into the Swiss National Park. The postal bus service follows the one road through the Swiss National Park and has lots of stops, so you can use the bus to access different parts of the park.
The other option is to drive from Geneva to the Swiss National Park. This journey takes about 6.5 to 7 hours and follows the same route as the train via Bern, Zurich, Davos, and finally ends up at the national park.
You will find nine parking lots in the Swiss National Park along the one road, and you can choose to park at any of the parking lots in order to access the many nature trails.
You should take into account the road conditions, especially if you are driving in winter, as you might have to put your car on the train at Klosters as the mountain pass could be closed.
Things to Do
Learn About The Park At The Visitor Centre
If the weather is bad then a trip to the Visitor Centre is well worth it, and I would recommend going there to learn about the park before you explore it. It is based in the nearby town of Zernez.
Here you can find up-to-date information on all the trails and marked footpaths and get advice about which mountain trail, alpine trail, or regular trail will match your abilities and what you want to see.
You can also learn about the history, wildlife, plants, and tectonic features of the park in the numerous exhibitions at the center.
The main activity in the park is hiking and there are three types of trails you can choose from, yellow, blue, and red trails.
The blue are alpine trails that are technical hikes and require alpine equipment (so generally avoid them unless you are a pro), the red are mountain trails that require hiking boots and sure footing, and the yellow are normal hiking paths that tend to stay out of the mountains. But I would still suggest wearing hiking boots.
Be sure to choose the trails that match your physical ability and work out which trails will show you the things you want to see most. Whether it is marmots, wildflowers, or ibexes, there are certain trails that you are more likely to see them on.
Take A Guided Walk
Guided walks are the best way to learn more about the park and see things that you would otherwise miss by hiking around the park on your own.
Guided walks run on Tuesdays and Thursdays only, and as you walk around with your guide, you will discover so much more, be able to ask questions, and more. But, they are usually only done in German, which for a lot of you might be an issue.
You can book your slot for a guided walk at the visitor center.
Look For Wildlife & Geological Features
The Alps were created by the European and African tectonic plates pushing into each other. You can see geological features all over the park and even layers of the plates in some parts.
Also, while you hike around the park, be on the lookout for the unique fauna and flora that call the park home. Marmots, elk, ibexes, chamois, common vipers, bearded vultures, and golden eagles all call the park home, and there is even the chance of seeing a bear too.
Don’t forget to take notice of the beautiful flowers and butterflies in the park too. Look for the small things as well as the larger mammals and birds.
Winter In The Swiss National Park
In the winter, the Swiss National Park is closed to visitors as every path is covered in so much snow and most of the wildlife is dormant and resting. It closes in mid-November and opens again to visitors at the end of May.
Park Rules & Regulations
There are a number of Park Rules that you have to follow while in the Swiss National Park. If you do not follow these Park Rules, you can be fined CHF 500 so it is well worth taking note of them. Here they are:
- You can not leave the marked trails
- You can not pick anything, from flowers to roots, fungi, or even dead logs
- Hunting, fishing, and any harm to animals are not allowed
- You are not allowed to light fires or use a stove
- Taking pets or any other animals into the park is not allowed
- Staying in the park overnight, even in the parking lots is not allowed unless you are staying in the hotels along the road or in Chamanna Cluozza
- All visitors must take all their waste with them out of the park
Where To Stay
If you want to stay in the Swiss National Park then you only have two options, which you will find below. You can also stay in numerous hotels in the nearby town of Zernez, and there is a campsite there too!
Chamanna Cluozza is the only mountain hut in the park and dates back to 1910. It is a very basic mountain hut with no showers. It is only open from June to mid-October and you can book it via this link. You have to bring cash to pay for it.
Hotel Parc Naziunal IL Fuorn
The Hotel Parc Naziunal IL Fuorn is the only hotel in the Swiss National Park and it is along the only road in the park. The hotel offers private ensuite rooms, rooms with shared showers, and even a suite. There is an onsite restaurant too and the building dates back to the 1400s so you will be staying in a slice of history.
I always enjoy stopping here for a break on the road if I am in the area. The views are great and their outside terrace is large. There are lots of options on the menu from small bites to eat, ice creams, drinks or larger meals if you are more hungry. There are few other options to eat until you leave the park, so this place gets popular in the summer months.
Other Top National Parks in Switzerland
Jura Vaudois Regional Nature Park
The Jura Vaudois Regional Nature Park sits on the base of the Jura Mountains between the French border and Lake Geneva.
It is a beautiful park and is pretty huge occupying some 500 km sq. It is best accessed via the town of Saint-George and is a wonderful place for hiking in the summer and snow sports in the winter.
The views from the park are stunning as they stretch across Lake Geneva and into the alps too.
Gantrisch Nature Park
Gantrisch Nature Park sits between Bern and Lake Geneva at the foothills of the alps. It is 400 km sq. in size and is home to lots of stunning alpine villages, meadows, and valleys too.
It is famous for the traditions of the locals and there are ancient sites that can be accessed via the many hiking trails.
Spend time in the forests, meadows, and valleys getting reconnected to nature while taking in views of the mountain peaks. Use the mountain biking trails, enjoy cross-country skiing in winter, and see the ruins of an ancient monastery.
Gruyère Pays-d’Enhaut Regional Natural Park
The Gruyère Pays-d’Enhaut Regional Natural Park is located a stone’s throw from Montreux and Lake Geneva.
This park is all about hiking, seeing quaint villages and cheese, and being in the Gruyère region of Switzerland. You can hike past dairy farms, try cheese, and take in the amazing views of the alps too.
There are some serious hikes for more ambitious hikers too where you can thru-hike and stay overnight at mountain huts too.
Pfyn-Finges Nature Park
Sitting in the Valais Canton of Switzerland amongst the alps is the stunning Pfyn-Finges Nature Park. This park crosses the Rhone Valley and is full of stunning scenery, as well as great wine, awesome hikes, and biking trails too.
You can also see bearded vultures in this park too and in the winter, lots of snow sports are available too.
Diemtigtal Nature Park
Diemtigtal Nature Park is in central Switzerland close to Bern, Thun, and Interlaken too. It is a small park that is just 16 km long but it protects the pastoral side of Switzerland.
It is a wonderful park for hiking and biking, plus you can take in the stunning architecture of the old farmhouses found there. It is also a wonderful place for winter sports when there is enough snow.
UNESCO Entlebuch Biosphere
UNESCO Entlebuch Biosphere is located close to the city of Lucerne and was the first UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in Switzerland as it is home to a diverse array of fauna and flora.
The area is known for its limestone caves, moorland, karst landscape, and even gold panning. There are some great hikes here and you should go on a hike with a guide to learn about all the great things it has to offer.
Beverin Nature Park
The Beverin Nature Park is in southern Switzerland in the heart of the alps and is culturally diverse as well as environmentally spectacular.
It covers some 500 km sq. and is home to gorges, valleys, waterfalls, and mountain peaks, and is home to ibexes which are stunning to see. The cultural side of things is awesome too with German-speaking Walser and Rhaeto-Romansh cultures, villages, and lots more.
The area is awesome for mountain biking, canyoning, hiking, climbing, and lots of winter sports too.
Frequently Asked Questions About Swiss National Parks
How many national parks are there in Switzerland?
The Swiss National Park is the only national park in Switzerland. All other parks are classified as either regional nature parks or nature experience parks. So there is only one national park in Switzerland.
What animals can you see in Swiss National Park?
There is a plethora of alpine wildlife you can see in the park and this includes elk, ibexes, chamois, marmots, common vipers, bearded vultures, and golden eagles. Also, there are reports of bears crossing into the park from the Italian side.
Is the Swiss Alps a national park?
No, the Swiss alps is not a national park. There are numerous protected areas in the Swiss alps but the only national park in the Swiss alps is the Swiss National Park.