When it comes to alpine hiking and mountain scenery, Switzerland is pretty unbeatable. One of the most stunningly beautiful treks in Europe is hiking from Schwarzsee to Breccaschlund, or Brecca Gorge, a valley in the Alps that was gouged out by glaciers thousands of years ago. Despite its beauty and easy accessibility, the area tends to fly under the radar for tourists who instead flock to places like Zermatt and Lauterbrunnen Valley. That’s a huge bonus for those who prefer a more solitary outdoor experience. It’s definitely one of my all-time favorite hikes in Switzerland.
You’re welcome to use our free custom map of Breccaschlund if you’d like. The route we took is a panoramic loop hike around Lake Schwarzsee, up into Brecca valley, and back to the starting point along the opposite side of the lake.
Total hiking distance: 14 km (8.7 miles) round trip
Starting elevation: 1045 m (3428 ft)
Highest elevation: 1668 m (5471 ft)
Total elevation gain: 623 m (2043 ft)
If you’d prefer a shorter hike, you can just hike around the lake, or simply turn around at any point and take one of several alternate routes back to Schwarzsee. Many of the area “trails” are actually farm roads for locals, so they’re easy to follow and well signed.
Click on square icon in upper right to enlarge map.
How do you get to the Breccaschlund trailhead?
Car: The easiest way to reach the trailhead to Breccaschlund is by car. It’s about two hours northeast of Geneva, an hour south of Bern. Navigate to the east end of Schwarzsee in the canton of Fribourg.
Public transportation: It’s possible to take public transportation – a train and then a bus – to the lake, but it takes longer.
From Geneva, plan on 3-4 hours one way. You can catch the IC1/IR15 to Fribourg, where Bus 123 will get you to Schwarzsee. You can also the the IC1 train from Bern to Fribourg and catch the same Bus 123 to the lake. Allow 1.5-2 hours.
Travel Tip: Just to clarify, make sure you do not navigate to the more famous Schwarzsee (Black Lake) that’s near the town of Zermatt, Switzerland.
Where can you park to hike Breccaschlund?
Parking is available in a public lot right on the east end of Schwarzsee, the lake. Make sure to bring a few euros to drop in the parking meter.
The parking area provides access for the Riggisalp cable car, which is an option for those who want to avoid some of the elevation gain on the full loop hike we did. Keep in mind that the lift typically only runs from June through October and December through March for the winter season.
Cable car ticket prices for adults are 12 CHF for the ride from Schwarzsee to Riggisalp. Kids (6-15) are 6 CHF, and dogs currently ride for free.
What should you bring for the hike?
Sadly, this is one hike Travis missed out on. While he slaved away at work, I headed to the Swiss Alps with a friend and her mom, Ula, who was visiting from Poland. I’d met her mom during a road trip with friends to Pruszowice, where they’d shown me around their home town and then spent a fun day in her mom’s ceramics studio making Polish pottery.
The skies absolutely monsooned on us during the entire drive from Friboug to Schwarzsee, but luckily it slacked off to a pleasant drizzle by the time we reached the lake.
Especially if you’re visiting outside the summer months, be prepared for rain or even snow. The weather in the Swiss Alps changes quickly, so wear layers, bring a rain jacket, and wear (or at least bring) waterproof hiking boots.
If you’re hiking with your dog, like I was, make sure they also have snacks, water, and protection from the elements. I always carry a headlamp in case we end up in the mountains after dark, plus we have a bright, neon lighted collar for our dog so she’s visible in poor light.
Pretty much everything is still closed in the off-season, so plan to bring anything you might need for the day. Don’t forget lunch, snacks, plenty of water, a reliable map or navigation app on your phone, and obviously your camera!
Start your hike from Schwarzsee on the Häxewääg.
Once our trio of three ladies and one rat terrier were bundled up against the rain, we set off with our backpacks along the Häxewääg.
Language Tip: The German term Häxewääg roughly translates to Witch’s Trail, Witch’s Way, or Witch’s Path.
The Häxewääg is a wide, mostly flat themed trail that runs for 4 kilometers around the perimeter of the lake.
It’s clearly designed for kids and families, with a playground and wide, paved trail that’s stroller-friendly and easily accessible from the main road and parking area. Seven interactive stations around the lake highlight different local legends, including one about the creation of Schwarzsee.
If you’re visiting the area with small children, hiking part or all of the Haxewaag trail will likely be enough for your day of adventures.
Though the Haxewaag trail offers lovely views of the lake, it can get busy in the warm summer months. During our visit in May, it was deserted except for us.
If it’s crowded here though, don’t worry. Just keep hiking and you’ll leave most everyone behind at the lake.
Climb from Schwarzsee to Brecca Gorge.
Once you reach the far end of the lake, the trail takes a hard left and begins to climb uphill in a series of zigzags. Keep an eye on the lake and watch how it changes with the light.
During our hike, the clouds briefly parted, bathing the lake in golden sunlight. The water changed abruptly from a peculiar opaque black to a warm greenish hue.
Local legend claims that a giant washed his feet in the lake, forever dirtying the water and lending it its impenetrable darkness, as well as its name – Black Lake.
Angling upward, you’ll quickly gain elevation as the trail narrows, only to widen again upon connecting with a gravel road providing local access to a network of alpine chalets.
The cows in the valley are free range and very curious. Don’t be surprised if they wander across the trail in front of you.
They especially liked our little dog and seemed to want to play.
Stop for lunch at the Marbach-Brecca mountain hut.
You’ll pass several alpine huts along the way, including Steinige Rippa and Saint Antoni Brecca.
We hiked as far as Marbach-Brecca before stopping for a lunch break. Marbach-Brecca is a rustic little chalet with stellar views of the gorge.
During our hike, it was too early in the summer season for any of the chalets to be open, so we’d packed our own brown-bag lunches. We chatted comfortably and soaked in the sunshine.
Though it would have been nice to meet the owners of the hut or even splurge for a cup of coffee, I was grateful that it was still the off-season. Save for the three of us, our dog, and the occasional cow, we had the entire valley to ourselves.
Ten thousand years ago, massive glaciers carved out this valley, leaving a steep, narrow passage between the craggy cliffs.
It’s a valley of the elements, of water and rock, with seemingly endless snow melt draining from the upper ridges in ribbons of silver and pale gray granite boulders littered about the valley floor like a child’s toys carelessly tossed and forgotten.
With energy still in our tanks, we continued hiking up the valley along the Breccaschlund panoramaweg.
Though I’ve still never been to Scotland, I imagine this must be how parts of it look, with light boulder fields scattered among lush green carpets of grass.
Topping a rise to Bremingard, another deserted mountain hut, I couldn’t help but feel like I was in a scene straight out of Lord of the Rings.
Between the name – Bremingard – and the primeval surroundings, we may well have been marching on Helm’s Deep.
Descend from the Bremingard mountain hut.
Just past Bremingard, the trail turns into little more than a cow path.
With the recent rains, my hiking boots quickly became slick with mud as I struggled to keep up with the other two. Though Dorota’s mom may have a few strands of silver hair, I have a feeling she could out-hike me any day!
If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a glimpse of some of the local wildlife: furry marmots, golden eagles, or even a herd of chamois. The wild goat-antelopes are native to these mountains.
Without warning, several chamois suddenly streaked down the hillside in front of us. We looked up and stood frozen, watching them glide across the rocky landscape in absolute silence. Seconds later, the entire herd gracefully melted into the fog above.
Not surprisingly, we made much better time on the downhill, eventually reconnecting with the intersection along the Häxewääg near the beginning of the hike.
Once you return to the southern edge of the lake, you can either hike back to the parking area the way you came along the eastern shore, or you can complete the loop hike around the lake along the adjacent shore.
Take the short detour to Schwarzsee Falls.
If you opt for the latter and aren’t feeling done in yet, don’t miss the easy 20-minute detour to Schwarzsee Falls before returning to your car
It’s only 30 meters tall, but the walk is easy and pretty and the waterfall picturesque.
For anyone looking for a day hike that’s incredibly scenic but not too difficult, I guarantee you’ll love hiking Breccaschlund.
If you do go, we hope you’ll report back and let us know about your hike.