If you have ever been to Switzerland then you will know just how beautiful the landscapes are. From stunning lakes to rivers, waterfalls, valley pastures, glaciers, and mountain after mountain, it is certainly one of the most beautiful places in the world I have ever been.
With such stunning scenery, you would think that trail running in Switzerland would be incredible, and you are not wrong.
What makes trail running in Switzerland so great is the abundance of excellent trails, 65,000km of marked hiking paths in total, along with the fantastic infrastructure that makes all of them so accessible.
There are not many places in Switzerland you can not get to via public transport, even the remote parts of the Swiss Alps have a bus or train that will get you there. It truly is a paradise for trail runners!
Now that we know that Switzerland is a great place for trail running, let’s get into finding you the best trail running in Switzerland. I’ll run through everything you need to know so you can enjoy the best trail running Switzerland has to offer including races, great trails, when to go and lots more.
Table of Contents
Best Trail Runnings Races
Switzerland hosts a number of excellent trail races from internationally renowned ones to local races. We will focus on the biggest and best trail races, to begin with, and then take a look at some smaller local ones.
The Sierre Zinal is one of the best trail running races in the world and it happens to be hosted in Switzerland. The race takes place in August and all the big names in trail running usually attend.
The race starts in Sierre in the Alps of Switzerland’s beautiful Valais canton and over 31 km and 2,200 meters of elevation gain, ends in the village of Zinal, also in Valais.
This race has been going since 1974 and it takes you through some incredible Alpine scenery with some tough terrain, loose trails, and very technical sections along the way.
Only 5,000 runners are allowed to enter this race and if you would like to run it, you will need to book your spot early on. Registration opens up in December of each year, so put a reminder to register in your diary now.
Swiss Peaks Trail Race
The Swiss Peaks Trail Race is not for the faint-hearted as it is a multi-day race that covers a total of 170 km and has an elevation gain of 11,000 meters. It can take several days to complete depending on your pace.
This is a relatively new race that has only been going since 2019. It costs 250 Swiss Francs to enter and this includes shuttles, shelter overnight, food along the journey, and more.
While this is a tough race that will have you running on some intense terrain, up steep technical sections, and more it is also beautiful. You will run through alpine meadows, across mountain passes, and glaciers, and see famous peak after peak of the Swiss Alps.
The race takes place in the Valais Canton of Switzerland in early September every year.
Eiger Ultra Trail Race
The Eiger Ultra Trail is another awesome race but is pretty challenging too. The race is 101 km long and has an elevation change of 6,700 meters.
This race has been held annually since 2013 and it is immensely popular as the route is incredibly beautiful and is a part of the Ultra-Trail World Tour.
The race takes place in July every year and begins in the delightful mountain town of Grindelwald in the Bernese Alps, and runners follow a loop to end back in Grindelwald.
The run is challenging but you will see the best of the region along the way including epic views of the area’s most famous peaks – Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau.
Trail Verbier-St. Bernard Race
The Trail Verbier-St. Bernard Race also takes place in July and takes runners through beautiful parts of the Swiss Alps.
It has been running since 2008 and is part of the UTMB (Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc) series which means you actually have 4 different races to choose from which include; X-Alpine, X-Traversée, Verbier Marathon, and Verbier X-Plore
X-Alpine is the toughest race as it is 110 km long and has 9,300 meters of elevation gain, that is a 9.3 vertical kilometer race.
The X-Traversée is a shorter race but it is still pretty tough with a distance of 30km with 2200m of elevation gain. It also takes you through the historic and very beautiful Grand St. Bernard Pass
The Verbier Marathon and Verbier X-Plore are shorter races in case you are not quite ready to take on the likes of the big boys quite yet.
No matter which one you choose, you can guarantee that you will be running through some epic alpine scenery along the way.
Grimpette De Bedjuis Race
Unlike the other trail running races we have looked at, the Grimpette De Bedjuis is actually quite short at only 7.5 km but that does make it easy as there is 1 km of elevation gain to cope with along the way.
The race happens every year in October and has been going since 1986 and is popular with runners from all around the globe. It starts in the ancient valley town of Riddes in the canton of Valais and finishes in the village of Les Crêtaux.
It follows a beautiful trail through meadows and forests and is at a lower altitude which is why it can be held in October.
Best Trail Running Trails
Now that we have covered the top trail races in Switzerland, let’s take a look at some of the best trail running trails that will put your running shoes to the test. Something to bear in mind when picking trails in Switzerland, not every hiking trail is a good running trail, so be cautious of this.
Gorges de l’Areuse, Jura Mountains
The Gorges de l’Areuse trail takes you through the beautiful Jura Mountains. It begins in the village of Chambrelien and then you will pretty much run through forests and then in the gorge the whole way, crossing the river on the pretty little bridges along the way. It is a part of the Jura Crest Trail and ends in Chambrelien, where you started.
The trail is 21 km long and has an elevation gain of 1,050 meters. As it is in the lower altitude of the Juras it is a great trail to run during the spring and fall while the trails in the Alps are still covered in snow.
This is a stunning loop trail that runs alongside the Great Aletsch Glacier in the Jungfrau-Aletsch UNESCO World Heritage site of the Bernese Oberland. The scenery is one of a kind and it is one of THE trails not to miss in Switzerland.
The trail starts at Bettmersee Lake and over 22 km plus 848 km of elevation gain, you will pass by Blausee Lake, the Aletsch Glacier (the biggest in the Alps), Märjelensee Lake, and see amazing views of famous peaks including the Matterhorn before descending through forests back to Bettmeralp.
This is a lovely trail that is close to Zurich and takes you around the stunning Lake Klöntalersee. The trail begins on the shores of the lake and then goes for 21 km and has 1,1142 meters of elevation gain.
You will see lovely waterfalls and the rocky wall of the Glärnisch massif as you run around the lake through alpine pastures and shady forests. There are some challenging ascents along the way and you can always stop for a refreshing swim in the lake whenever you need to.
Sitting at a low altitude, you can do this trail any time between April and November as it stays clear of snow.
Best Time for Trail Running in the Swiss Alps
While trail running in the Swiss Alps is pretty magical it also comes with its challenges and one of the most dangerous parts to deal with is the changeable mountain weather. It is therefore very important to pick the right time of year to go trail running in the Alps.
The window for trail running in the Alps also depends on the altitude you intend to run at. Higher altitude trails open later in the warmer months and close earlier, as one would expect.
Generally speaking, you can trail run in the Alps between May and November. May is a great time to access the lower-altitude mountain trails and there are fewer crowds too but the weather can be unpredictable.
The weather in June is more consistent and usually, you are blessed with blue skies. The high-altitude trails also open up in June, and there are not many crowds either.
July and August are the best weather conditions for hitting the trails in the Alps but you will have a lot more crowds to contend with.
September is pretty much the same as June. Consistently good weather, higher trails are still open, and the crowds are few and far between.
October and November are lovely as you can get to see the autumn colors in full bloom. However, the weather is unpredictable and can be quite bad. Also, the higher altitude trails will be closed so you will have to stick to the lower ones.
Overall, the best months to trail run in the Alps are June and September as the high-altitude trails are open, the weather is good, and there are fewer people out hiking/running.
However, if you want to hit the super high altitude trails around places like Zermatt, for example, July and August are the best times to do so.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is Alpine trail running?
Alpine trail running, as you might have guessed, is running in an alpine environment and that means in the mountains.
Being in the mountains, alpine trail running is a lot tougher than trail running at low altitudes. Runners have to tackle serious elevation gains as they go up ridges, mountains, and back down again.
The terrain is not easy either as the trails are often loose, have some serious drop-offs, and can be quite dangerous. When you add in the changing weather you find in the mountains along with the thin air at high altitudes, you have a serious challenge.
But, alpine trail running does not come without its rewards. The views from mountain tops across the peaks, valleys, and lakes are sublime.
Is trail running hard on knees?
Yes, trail running can be hard on the knees as they absorb a lot of impact when you are running, especially downhill.
It can increase the risk of knee injuries but a lot of experts say this is more likely due to improper running form or not having the right muscles in the right places before trail running.
Is Trail Running harder than street running?
Whether trail running is harder than street running depends on a lot of things. The main difference is the uneven terrain compared to a smooth flat surface, but on uneven tracks, you run slower than you would on a road, so perhaps they balance each other out in this regard.
Navigating the tricky routes of trail running is a lot more mentally challenging than street running, as you have to stay focused all the time. While street running, you can get into a meditative state and a great rhythm without much worry whatsoever.
There is some debate as to whether street running is harder on your knees than trail running, as the surface is a lot harder and has more impact on your knees. However, experts say that knee issues are a result of running form, muscle strength, and existing injury more so than terrain.