The hike from First (via Grindelwald) to Bachalpsee Lake in the Jungfrau region of Switzerland is one of the best “value” options for mountain experiences in the Bernese Oberland. It has a mountain lake, glaciers, breathtaking peaks, and even wildflowers. In this post, I’ll share my experience doing this hike, and what led us to decide upon this rather than heading to one of the other peaks in the Swiss Alps.
In actuality, this was not our first choice. Our top option, and probably anyone’s top option, was Jungfrau. Billed as the “Top of Europe,” this is a bucket list item for many travelers, and is the most pricey transportation option in Switzerland. As we were not eligible for any discounts, a roundtrip ticket to Jungfrau would’ve cost the 2 of us a combined $300. Schilthorn (the “James Bond Mountain”) was less expensive, but still over $200.
Our concern with either destination was that neither would be a full day’s worth of entertainment. For that much money, we wanted more than just a glorified observation deck. (For the sake of planning, all of these routes would’ve been cheaper with some sort of Swiss Rail Pass or the Jungfrau Travel Pass, but we didn’t have a need for either since we rented a car. Something to keep in mind if you’re debating rental v. rail when planning a trip to Europe.)
Something I’ve lamented in our previous posts about Switzerland is the cost of everything. Not to belabor the point, but I’d strongly encourage you to do research on traveling Switzerland on a budget before visiting, because the sticker-shock once there can be pretty bad. I’ve visited other expensive destinations, but none remotely compare to Switzerland, which is the most expensive country in the world to visit. With so much hiking and natural beauty, I was kicking myself at the beginning of the trip for not doing more research ahead of time because there are ways to do it on a tighter budget.
To me, Switzerland is likewise a place that feels like it’d be perfect to take kids someday (if we have them)…until considering all of those per person costs would be a couple of people higher. It makes me wonder how families do it; they’d have to either be pretty affluent or at least not nearly as frugal as us! Suffice to say, our budget and per-hour entertainment value was ultimately a consideration when choosing a Swiss gondola experience…
Ultimately, we opted for Grindelwald-First, which was still above $100 combined, but that was about as cheap of an option we could find. It also meant doing a hike that our friend, Mark Willard (who was with us on the trip), had previously done and recommended.
The voyage up on the aerial cableway was part of the adventure (excuse the poor photo of the cablecar, but reflections make it difficult and I wanted something to illustrate how these look), clocking in at around 30 minutes total, as we soared above green pastures of little more than cows, wildflowers, hikers, and quaint cottages.
This hike to Bachalpsee turned out to be exactly what we wanted, which was a more drawn-out experience and a way to enjoy the stunning natural beauty of the Swiss Alps. It was an incredibly easy hike (it was more a leisurely stroll on a partially-paved, partially-gravel path) and we saw people of all ages doing it.
Honestly, it wasn’t the best hike I’ve ever done, though. My personal preference is an engaging hike that is a bit more strenuous and features some surprises along the way. By that, I don’t mean stumbling around a corner into a bear–that’s a bit too much of a surprise. I mean a winding path with some “reveals” of dramatic vistas.
Given the nature of the landscape here, which was more like a rolling alpine wonderland, there wasn’t a whole lot of that. Realistically, I’m not sure if you’d even find hikes like that in Switzerland unless you went for much more intense options–and those were well beyond the scope of this trip. The vanishing point of the trail was usually dictated by distance rather than curves in the terrain, meaning your trail visibility at any given was pretty far.
This is entirely a matter of personal preference when it comes to hiking, and I still had an absolute blast on the hike/stroll. Those gorgeous, jagged peaks of the Swiss Alps were to our left for the duration of the hike, and the vibrant green alpine hills we traversed were likewise beautiful.
It was like being on set for the filming of a Ricola commercial. (I heard that this hike can contain a lot of wildflowers at certain times of the year, but we saw a relatively modest number.)
The big reveal here was upon winding the corner back around to the twin lakes of Bachalpsee. This was a definite ‘wow moment’ as the view of the Swiss Alps in the distance was better-aligned with our perspective, and resplendently reflected in the deep blue water of the lakes. Calling this scene picturesque would be an understatement.
Before the hike, we had stocked up on supplies at a Coop store (one way we learned to save money in Switzerland), and we each bought sandwiches. Like total suckers, Sarah and Mark had eaten their sandwiches on a picnic table in Grindelwald’s beautiful public park. Instead of going that route, I opted to save mine and chose to eat like 6 apples for lunch. The apples would be heavier to carry on the hike, anyway.
None of this may seem relevant to my report on this hike, except for the fact that when we approached a bench on the edge of Bachalpsee, I pulled the sandwich out of my bag and had a glorious feast while they both watched in envy. Highly recommended.
After the feast, it was time to make our way around the perimeter of the lakes of Bachalpsee. (I’m not entirely sure I’m getting the vernacular correct here–the name might be Lake Bachalpsee, but I think part of Bachalpsee means lake, in which case Lake Bachalpsee would be redundant.) These twin lakes are also technically one lake split by a dam.
In any case, everything was picturesque and serene. The water was gorgeous, and around every turn there seemed to be a slightly different, slightly better view. I think we spent around 45 minutes walking around the edges of the lakes, and I could have spent more time doing that but for the fact that we needed to catch the last gondola back to Grindelwald.
As we headed back to the “front” lake, we noticed that the water was finally placid there, allowing for stunning reflection. At this point, it was only the three of us who remained, and a Swiss woman. She indicated to me that she had been waiting hours for the water to smooth out, and had almost given up. It was a nice treat.
We also stopped for a couple of quick group photos of the three of us. As you can see, there were some very different opinions about what season it was up in the Alps. 😉
Making it back to the aerial cableway station in First was easy. Without much of a rush, we quickly caught up to groups that had left before us, and I think we did the whole hike in around 45 minutes each way. There was a restaurant and other entertainment options at the First station that looked like they would have been fun to enjoy, and I could see how people could easily spend 5+ hours up here.
One of the easiest ways to spend more time up in this area is by hiking from First to Bachalpsee, continuing on to Faulhorn, down to the Bussalp, then back to Grindelwald. Based on my research, this would only take another 3 hours (with 2 of that entirely downhill), would pass by a lot more beautiful scenery (including cows!), and would only require a one-way gondola ticket up to First–so it’d be cheaper!
As an added bonus, it would enable you to linger up longer at the top of these peaks for some stunning sunset photos. I would have loved to see how the scenes we saw looked about an hour later as the golden hour light cleared the air a bit better. Once we were back down in Grindelwald, the way the sunset light kissed the mountains was gorgeous:
Once back in Grindelwald, we had fondue for dinner, and then enjoyed that stunning sunset. Even though the transportation up there was relatively expensive, we felt the experience was well worth it. Every mountain range has its own unique “style” and of those, there is an undeniable appeal to the Swiss Alps. The lower alpine region is so inviting and pleasant to explore, while the jagged, snow-covered peaks in the distance juxtapose that pleasantness with a sense of adventure. It’s a contrast to which the Canadian and American rockies (and all other mountains I’ve hiked) cannot compare. The vibe of the Swiss Alps makes me want to return to Switzerland as soon as possible for more.
If you’re planning a visit to Switzerland and want to know what we did, check out my other Switzerland posts for ideas. I also highly recommend Rick Steves’ Switzerland to help better develop an efficient plan while there.
Have you experienced the aerial cableways in the Swiss Alps? Gone hiking in Switzerland? Any thoughts on the experiences or other hiking recommendations? Tips of your own to add? Questions about hiking or choosing the right train/cable/bus/gondola/other transportation tickets in Switzerland? Share any other questions or thoughts you have in the comments!