Since the day we arrived in Switzerland, we’ve been excited about visiting Aletsch Glacier – the largest glacier in the Alps. If you’ve seen photos of it or visited, you know it’s spectacular! Thing is, the best time to visit is summer when you can see the clear delineation of the glacier from the surroundings, rather than just a solid sheet of snow. We also wanted to do an Aletsch Glacier hike, which can be impassable with bad weather or when the cable cars aren’t running.
When we happened to wake up on a random Wednesday to the weather forecast calling for blue skies, Trav spontaneously took the day off work and we packed for a day of hiking in the mountains with our dog – my favorite kind of day. If you happen to be in Switzerland and have a day to spare, this hike will positively blow your mind! It can be a bit tricky figuring out how to navigate the trains, cable cars, and hiking routes for Aletsch, but we’ve gotcha covered with a ton of useful travel info right here.
1. Arrive at the Betten Talstation (cable car station).
By car, Aletsch Glacier is located about three hours east of Geneva, Switzerland. Just navigate to Betten Talstation (Betten BAB) or Parking/Parkhaus Aletsch Bahnen. You’ll find a large parking area with ample space right at the Betten Talstation. During our visit, it only cost a few francs to park for the entire day. From the parking area, follow the pedestrian trail on foot to cross the Rhone River the short distance to the cable car/tram station.
By train, you can travel via SBB (the Swiss federal train system) as far as the town of Brig, then take the Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn train to Betten. The Betten Talstation is where you’ll hop on a tram that’ll take you up to Aletsch Glacier. Those coming by train can get off right at the Betten Talstation.
Travel Tip: Keep in mind that if you're taking the train to Betten Talstation, the cost of the train to get there is separate from the cost of the two trams you'll need to take to get from there up to Aletsch.
2. Take the first tram from the Betten Talstation to Bettmeralp.
Because Aletsch is at high altitude in the Bernese Alps, you’ll need to take at least two trams from Betten Talstation up to the Bettmerhorn, which is where you’ll start this Aletsch Glacier hike.
If you’re a glutton for punishment, you can opt to hike the 1800 meters (6000 feet) of elevation gain over a distance of 21 km from the valley to the peak. Though we usually prefer to hike rather than take trams, this is one time where we recommend taking the tram and hiking once you get to the top. Hiking at the top is superb with miles of scenic trails.
You can buy a tram ticket right at the Betten Talstation. Prices vary, but with our Swiss Half Fare Cards, we paid 24 CHF ($25) for both of us to ride any of the trams in the area for the entire day. If you intend to follow our Aletsch Glacier hike exactly, this will likely be the most cost effective ticket option.
Travel Tip: Scroll to the end of the article for a detailed Google map of this trail route, parking, and tram information.
The Betten Talstation cable cars only have two routes.
One route goes directly from the Betten Talstation to the town of Bettmeralp, which is where you need to go. The second route runs from the Betten Talstation to Bettmeralp, but it first stops at Betten Dorf (the village of Betten) on the way. This second route is for those who live in or want to visit the village.
If you only want to see Aletsch, take the first tram. It sounds confusing, but both trams start at Betten Talstation and end up at Bettmeralp, so you rally can’t go wrong.
3. Take a second tram from Bettmeralp to Bettmergrat.
Once you get off the tram in the car-free town of Bettmeralp, the tram station for the final leg of your journey is about a 10-15 minute walk across town.
Exit the tram station in Bettmeralp, turn right on Bettmerstafel, and follow it northeast to the Bettmeralp gondola lift station. From there, you’ll take the cable car to the end of the line – the Bettmergrat lift station just below Bettmerhorn peak.
Easy peasy, right?
Take the opportunity to talk to fellow passengers on the ride to the top. We passed the time by chatting with a nice local who’d lived in the area for 40 years. He was eager to identify the nearby peaks for us and offer tips on the best hiking. He, himself, was taking the tram up just to have lunch near the glacier.
Most folks aren’t so lucky!
Travel Tip: Want to see this all on a map? Scroll to the bottom of our post to our Google map. It’ll give you a better idea of where to park, where the lift stations are, and the route of our Aletsch Glacier hike.
Once you arrive by tram at the Bettmergrat cable car station, tighten your boot laces. From here on out, you’ll be hiking!
Aletsch Glacier Hike, Bettmergrat to Bettmeralp: 17.5 Km (10.9 Miles)
1. Start your hike at the Panorama Restaurant Bettmerhorn.
When you get off the cable car near the summit, you’ll immediately see the Panorama Restaurant Bettmerhorn. For budget travelers, we recommend packing a lunch with plenty of snacks and water. For those who prefer to buy food as you go, you can have lunch or grab something to go at the restaurant.
We packed our own lunches, so we can’t speak to the quality or prices of the food there. We did enjoy our homemade sandwiches from the restaurant’s fabulous deck though. The views are incredible!
Since we visited in June and the weather was still fairly chilly, only one other couple was seated at a nearby picnic table. In mid-summer, I imagine the restaurant gets pretty full.
2. Follow the boardwalk from Bettmergrat to the Bettmerhorn/Aletsch Glacier overlook.
The official start of the trail is where you get off the cable car at Bettmergrat. Beginning just outside the restaurant, the Aletsch Glacier hike starts on a wide wooden boardwalk.
It’s just a quick, easy walk to the main overlook.
Finally, you’ll see Aletsch Glacier!
The view from this point is superb – not just of the glacier, but of peak after peak rolling into the distance in every direction.
During our visit, even the overlook was mostly deserted. We gathered with just a few other folks to stare in awe at the massive ribbon of ice and debris snaking between the mountains.
For many folks who visit the area, they venture no further than this overlook, so don’t be fooled if there are crowds of people. Once you take to the trail along the glacier, you’ll leave most everyone behind.
3. Hike from the overlook to Märjelenbach.
Itching to get closer to the glacier, we didn’t stay at the overlook for long.
The trail we had planned on taking – the UNESCO World Heritage “high trail” – was closed due to landslides. Since our second choice started out along the same trail as the first, it too was blocked off to hikers.
In hindsight, we’re grateful. The hike we ended up doing instead was longer and allowed us a more varied experience of the glacier. This trail allows hikers to see the glacier from above, at the same height, and from below.
Aletsch and the surrounding region consists of glaciers, mountain peaks, and watersheds that’re a UNESCO World Heritage site. As part of the Jungfrau-Aletsch Protected Area, it was the first UNESCO site to be declared in the Alps and has been protected as such since 2001.
Extending for a total of 23 km (14 miles), the glacier is so massive – at least in part – because it’s the union of three separate glaciers further up the valley.
As these individual bodies of ice and snow slide downhill, the Great Aletschfirn, Jungfraufirn, and Ewigschneefeld (eternal snow field) converge at a place called the Concordia to create the Aletsch Glacier.
Concordia often appears as the Konkordiaplatz in German.
The glacier is at its deepest at Concordia. At this confluence, a tremendous amount of precipitation is funneled from the three glaciers into one, creating a depth of snow and ice nearly a kilometer deep.
Not wide – deep.
Even when you’re hiking just above the glacier far below the confluence, it’s hard to fathom its size.
When you realize it takes up to 10 years for an entire meter of snowfall to be compacted into a single centimeter of glacial ice, it gives a new respect for the length of time necessary to create such a sizable glacier and the incredible force required.
4. At the “Aletsch Glacier 10” sign, hike down to the base of the glacier.
Several miles into the Aletsch Glacier hike, angling down slowly and drawing ever closer to the glacier but still disappointingly high above it, you’ll finally near the point in the trail where it veers east away from Aletsch Glacier.
At this point, we started to see more water – steep creeks cutting across the trail and large pools of melt water by the wayside. A single short incline over boulders coursing with creek runoff and another short section led us to a sharp almost 90-degree turn in the trail.
Here, a series of stone steps leads away from the glacial valley and up into a side canyon toward Märjelensee, or Lake Märjelen.
Despite the gorgeous hike, we were both disappointed that we weren’t able to get closer to the glacier. But as we approached the lake, we saw a sign just off the trail that said “Aletsch Glacier 10.”
Stoked that we might get close to it after all, we disregarded the late hour and our weary feet and set off along Märjelenbach (Märjelen Creek), a raging creek flowing from the lake further up the trail down to the glacier.
The trail is clearly marked with white and red bars where it crosses the creek, but be careful on the rocks. They roll precariously under your feet and can be a bit slippery. Getting swept up in the unforgiving rapids of the stream would likely not end well as the creek flows under the glacier.
I’ve always had an irrational fear of falling into a crevasse, which is rather bizarre considering I’m not in the habit of trekking across glaciers.
We’d like to give it a try though!
We recently came across photos of a couple of guys who photographed their trip hydrospeeding (yes, it’s a thing) down 7 miles of Aletsch’s glacial melt water last year.
We sat and enjoyed the view for a bit with the sound of the roaring water next to us, then poked around along the glacier’s edge, peering underneath at rocks suspended in the solid ice.
Not only is the entire mass moving, but it slides downhill about 200 meters a year at Concordia. It slows to less than half that by the time it reaches the Bettmerhorn, the peak where this hike starts toward the end of the glacier.
It’s just plain eerie to be next to something not living but still moving with such force.
While it moves, it’s melting.
All around us, water was gushing down in small rivulets from above. When a sizable rock tumbled down from the top right next to us, we realized we should be even more careful than we had been. Looking straight up, we could see a line of boulders perched on the edge, ready to come down with just a bit more heat from the sun.
By then, it was already after 7 pm and we were still hours away from the tram at Bettmeralp, where we planned to hike in a giant hook rather than returning to the tram on top at Bettmergrat. We had failed to check out what time the last tram would depart and recognized that we might very well have a very, very, verrrrrry long hike down ahead of us.
Travel Tip: 5 pm is typical for many of the cable cars in the valley to stop running.
Myeh, live life with no regrets! Seeing Aletsch up close and personal is totally worth it.
5. Return to the main trail and continue to Märjelensee.
From the base of Aletsch, you’ll need to re-trace your steps through the boulder field up the hill, cross the creek again, and resume hiking on the main trail. In just a few minutes, you’ll reach Märjelensee.
In late June, the area around the lake was an entire series of mini lakes – ponds really – that I assume are probably dry if you hike it later in the year.
6. Take the short-cut through Tälligrat Tunnel.
Not far past Märjelen Lake, the trail splits. You have two options here. You can go straight and pass Vordersee, an alpine lake with a dam along the southwest end. The trail then splits again, with the main branch making a huge arc to the east and then south back towards Bettmeralp.
The second option is to take the short-cut on the right. If it’s growing late or you’re about ready to call it a day, you’ll want to go this way. The trail enters the Tälligrat Tunnel, which cuts through the mountain for over a kilometer before exiting high above the Rhone River valley.
Travel Tip: The Tälligrat Tunnel is only open during the summer months. During the winter, it's closed and locked at both ends, so you'll have no choice but to hike around.
Be aware that much of the tunnel may be full of several inches of water. If you stay to the side, you can avoid most of it.
Midway through, be on the lookout for a mini waterfall gushing down the natural rock wall of the tunnel. If you want to refill your water bottle, this is your chance.
Mmmm – glacier water!
Despite the rather warm day, our breath was visible in the tunnel and my hands were icy by the time we reached the other side. I was grateful when we finally popped out, stunned at the startling change in scenery and just how far the valley below us was.
7. Tackle the last leg of the Aletsch Glacier hike from Obers Tälli to Bettmeralp.
Once you exit the tunnel, it’s pretty much a straight shot to Bettmeralp. As you wind along the hillside, be on the look-out for marmots whistling warnings to their neighbors and scuttling along the rocks during their evening shenanigans.
Travel Tip: Because this hike ends in the town of Bettmeralp instead of returning to the Bettmergrat/Bettmerhorn (start of the hike), you'll only need to take one cable car back down to the valley.
A bench along the trail offers one last truly stunning view. It’s the perfect place to sit for a few minutes, grab a snack, rest your feet, and just soak in the absolute beauty of this place.
If you think the hike is almost done at this point, it’s not!
From Tälligrat Tunnel, this last leg is still about 8 km to the town of Bettermeralp. The trail only drops about 300 meters, though, so you’ll likely make good time.
8. Take the cable car from Bettmeralp back to Betten Talstation.
Depending on when you do the Aletsch Glacier hike, you’ll need to keep an eye on the time and make sure you make it back to Bettmeralp to catch your cable car. The trams from Betten–>Bettmeralp and Betten–>Betten Dorf–>Bettmeralp are the only ones in the area with extended hours. We passed one at Fiescheralp that had long since gone to bed for the night.
We didn’t know this before the hike, so we were really lucky we didn’t get stuck up in the mountains. We arrived at the cable car station in Bettmeralp well after 9 pm and caught the last direct ride down just before 10. We’re eternally grateful it happened to still be running!
With some time to kill before our cable car arrived in Bettmeralp, we sank gratefully onto their comfy benches inside. After giving our tired little dog food and water, we yanked off our hiking boots with relief. Nothing feels better than flip flops and cool air after a day of hot and sweaty hiking boots!
In no time, the tram whisked us back down to our car at Betten Talstation, and we were on our way home to Fribourg before midnight. It was definitely one of the most memorable days we’ve had in Switzerland. In fact, the Aletsch Glacier hike is still one of our favorite hikes of all time.
Visiting Switzerland soon? Let us know if you have any questions about planning a trip to Aletsch. Already been? Let us know what you thought!
The total distance of this hike is 17.5 km (10.9 miles) with minimal elevation change.
Make sure to check the time table for the trams so you don’t get stranded in the mountains. It’s a very long walk back down and they shut down fairly early in the evening.
Fuel – 370 km round-trip to Aletsch for our car that gets roughly 100 km on 6 liters of diesel x 1.57 CHF/liter = about 35 CHF. We drove from Fribourg, which is slightly closer than Geneva.
Parking – 3.50 CHF for 8-10 hours
Tramfare – 24 CHF total round-trip for 2 half-fare adult tickets. If you don’t have the Swiss Half Fare cards, expect to pay 48 CHF for two adult round-trip tickets to the summit.
Food – Less than 10 CHF. We packed bananas, sandwiches, salami sticks, bread, and cheese for 2 meals on the go. Food is expensive in Switzerland, so we usually brown bag our meals when traveling to save money!