UNESCO Swiss Alps from hiking trail near Hotel Tschingelhorn

UNESCO Alps Trail to Obersteinberg, The Best Lauterbrunnen Hike

Over the years, we’ve hiked some truly magnificent trails in a number of countries. One in particular that continues to maintain its place on our list of all-time favorite treks is the Obersteinberg loop hike. Hidden away in the upper reaches of Lauterbrunnen Valley, which is widely considered the most beautiful in Switzerland, the Obersteinberg trail offers unbeatable panoramic views of the Alps. Incredibly, despite falling entirely within the country’s UNESCO Jungfrau-Aletsch region, the trail is one of Switzerland’s least known hikes. If you’re looking to tackle one of the best hikes in Lauterbrunnen, this one should definitely top your list.

UNESCO Swiss Alps from hiking trail near Hotel Tschingelhorn
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What is the Jungfrau-Aletsch UNESCO World Heritage Area?

While this hike isn’t located within a national park, it does fall within a protected area. It’s part of the Jungfrau-Aletsch UNESCO World Heritage Area, the “largest contiguous glacial area in the Alps.

Known also as the Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch, the landmass encompasses 824 km2 of glaciers, jagged peaks, and pristine forests. It includes nearly all of the Bernese Alps.

Much of the region is uninhabited, and more than 3/4 rises to at least 2000 meters above sea level. Fifty peaks top out at over 3500 meters. Nine exceed 4000 meters. The Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau are all found within this UNESCO area.

Trail near Tschingelhorn in Lauterbrunnen with Jungfrau massif
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Stechelberg to Obersteinberg Trail Conditions

  • 12 km (7.5 mile) round-trip hike
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • The hike requires good physical condition. It’s strenuous with a steady uphill gradient from the parking area in the community of Stechelberg to the Berggasthaus Obersteinberg, a rustic mountain guesthouse high in the Alps.
  • Apart from the gain in elevation and some steep drop-offs that might be scary if you’re afraid of heights, the trail is fairly easy. It’s well marked and well maintained.
  • Starting elevation in Stechelberg: 912 m/2991 ft
  • Final elevation at Obersteinberg: 1776 m/5828 ft
  • Total elevation gain: 865 m/2837 ft

Obersteinberg Map: Trail Route

Click the upper right corner to enlarge map.

1. Start your hike in Stechelberg.

The town of Stechelberg, Switzerland is just a smattering of quaint country homes, a restaurant, and limited tourist lodging. It’s tucked almost secretly away between the imposing canyon walls of Lauterbrunnen Valley.

It’s where the road essentially ends, at least for through traffic. A narrow, gravel road continues past town for a ways, paralleling the upper reaches of the valley’s Jungfrau-Aletsch UNESCO World Heritage Area, but a sign at the end of town clearly forbids all but local traffic on this road.

For anyone driving into the valley to hike the UNESCO trail to Obersteinberg, this is the place to leave your car. Lauterbrunnen parking is limited, but from the large, paid parking lot on the edge of town, it’s just a short walk to the official start of the trail in Stechelberg.

Flowers in Lauterbrunnen Valley, Switzerland
Beautiful wildflowers grow near the trail in Stechelberg.

It was this trail that had brought us to the southern end of the valley floor on a gorgeous, sunny May day.

After a night of tent camping at Camping Ruetti in the valley, we spent the morning exploring Trümmelbach Falls, then drove the short distance to the public parking area in Stechelberg.

At the gravel parking lot, we dropped some coins in the meter, anticipating that we could complete the hike in under 5 hours.

Travel Tip: The only cost associated with this hike is for transportation to Lauterbrunnen. You’re allowed to park for up to 10 hours in the public lot (marked on our map above) for 7 CHF. Since we drove our personal vehicle, our total cost for the day was less than 10 CHF.

An alternate option for this hike is to start in the village of Gimmelwald north of Stechelberg. If you hike that route, you’ll have the additional cost of the cable car, and the first part of the hike isn’t within the UNESCO Jungfrau region. The hike also has more elevation changes (more up and down rather than just uphill there and downhill back), and the total distance is about 21 km (13 miles).

2. Stechelberg to Trachsellauenen: 3.2 km (2 miles)

From the minute we’d heard about the Obersteinberg hike, we were pretty jazzed about it. Lacking access by road or cable car, the only option is to hike in – our ideal kind of destination.

We’re not hiking “purists,” by any means, and we love a good gondola adventure as much as the next person, but we prefer hiking in places with as little civilization as possible. There’s nothing more disappointing than toiling away all day on foot to get to a place you think will be beautiful and isolated, only to find a crowd on top because they all drove straight there or took the train or cable car.

Somehow it’s much more rewarding to see natural vistas after a hard-earned day under your own steam. If you’re one of those outdoor lovers who feels the same, you’ll appreciate this hike.

Beginning of the Jungfrau-Aletsch UNESCO hike in Lauterbrunnen Valley
The Obersteinberg trail is wide and gradual where it starts in Stechelberg.

From the very beginning of this hike, you’ll have beautiful views of Lauterbrunnen Valley.

Even with much of the trail in the shadow of the spectacular Bernese Oberland Alps, we still weren’t prepared for the near constant views of the famous trio of Swiss peaks – the Jungfrau, Eiger, and Mönch – and a handful of the valley’s famed 72 waterfalls.

Within minutes, we’d gained enough elevation to look back for a lovely view of the town of Stechelberg tucked away below on the valley floor.

Town of Stechelberg, Switzerland
The massive Mürrenbach Falls provides a picturesque backdrop behind Stechelberg in Lauterbrunnen Valley.

Take the short side trail to Staldenbach Falls.

I realized quickly that the trail would be even more beautiful than I’d expected, as well as more strenuous.

Though the entire loop hike is only 12 km round trip, the trek from Stechelberg to the Obersteinberg Berghotel, roughly the half way mark, is all uphill. And not just uphill but steep. In less than 6 km (3.5 miles), hikers gain almost 900 m (3000 ft) of elevation.

When we saw the first small waterfall delightfully tinkling down across our trail, I couldn’t resist stopping to douse my hot feet and wet a bandanna for the sweaty trek to come.

Staldenbach Falls in Lauterbrunnen Valley, Switzerland

Staldenbach falls cascades down the cliff face on the trail just up the trail from Stechelberg.

When we topped a small rise, a beautiful old brown chalet came into view, perched above us on a steep, grassy slope near Sichellauenen.

As I admired the classic painted shutters and flower baskets, a head abruptly appeared along the cattywampus silhouette of the field. Seconds later, a second round-faced fuzzy alpaca appeared behind the first.

An entire herd suddenly materialized above us, staring with intense curiosity as we passed below them on the trail.

We continued to climb, at times following the gravel road for a short ways until our hike resumed on the UNESCO trail.

Mountain chalets on the UNESCO Jungfrau-Aletsch trail in the Swiss Alps
The gravel road for locals parallels the lower portion of the trail at times.

The Weisse Luetschine (White River) rages below the Trachsellauenen mountain hut.

The Weisse Luetschine river on the hike to Obersteinberg Switzerland

3. Trachsellauenen to Tschingelhorn: 1.9 km (1.2 miles)

The end of the road, even for local residents, is in the tiny community of Trachsellauenen. Here, the forest closes in around the trail as it narrows, offering welcome relief from the sun.

You won’t see another sign of modern civilization until the Tschingelhorn Berggasthaus, a rustic mountain hotel just down the trail from Obersteinberg.

Catch your breath at the Bergwerk mining ruins.

Discovering the remnants of several old stone walls and what appeared to be furnaces, we rested for a bit, then poked around. We’d reached the remains of the Bergwerk mining site.

At one time it included up to 18 buildings, including a smelting plant and living quarters for the miners. For centuries, this area was mined for iron ore, lead, and silver, though it ceased functioning in 1860.

Mining ruins at Trachsellauenen, Swiss Alps
The mining ruins (Bergwerk) just past Trachsellauenen were excavated in 1992.

The Bergwerk is a good place to stop for a break, make sure you have enough water, and prepare yourself for the next stretch of trail.

From here on out, it gets steep, and it’s all uphill.

Stunning Breithorn peak from the trail to Obersteinberg Switzerland
Waterfalls cascade beneath glaciers high in the Bernese Alps.

The alpine peaks grew more spectacular as we continued to gain elevation in the valley.

We passed countless huts and chalets, all still closed for the winter season.

Lauterbrunnen Valley trail near Hotel Tschingelhorn
Mountain huts and hotels typically open in June or July.
Hotel Tschingelhorn in the Swiss Alps
The Tschingelhorn Hotel is the last alpine hotel before reaching Obersteinberg.

4. Tschingelhorn to Obersteinberg: 950 meters (0.6 miles)

Passing Hotel Tschingelhorn, the trail finally becomes flatter. Here you’ll encounter the most spectacular scenery of the entire Obersteinberg hike. Largely above the treeline, you’ll have unobstructed views of the impressive chain of the Bernese Alps.

The Mutthorn, Tschingelhorn, Breithorn…

So many craggy peaks march like soldiers parallel to the trail on the other side of the valley.

Crossing a small creek, we paused to look nearly straight down as it dropped for hundreds of feet.

Waterfalls and glaciers from the Obersteinberg hike in the Swiss Alps

Across the valley, Schwandbach and several other creeks drain multiple glaciers: Hubelgletscher, Mittlerer Breitlowenengletscher, and others.

Like a mountain goat, Travis trotted down off the trail to a wooden platform built just next to the creek and refilled our water bottles. Though we had our Katadyn water filter with us, we drank straight from the creek.

The water virtually sprang from the very ground just above the trail, leaving little chance for it to pick up much that might make us sick.

Icy cold and fresh, it tasted like it came straight from a glacier – probably because it did.

Practically within sight of Obersteinberg, we hit snow.

Still grateful I’d opted to wear my Rafters, my favorite hiking sandals, I concede that it took me longer to navigate the snow drifts than Travis, who clomped through comfortably in his trusty Meindl waterproof hiking boots.

Spring trekking in the snow in the Swiss Alps
Travis easily outpaces me as I hop around snow drifts.

Considering that my feet were gently kissed by alpine breezes for the rest of the hike though, I maintain – no regrets!

Hiking the Swiss Alps in snow in my Rafters sandals
Excellent choice of hiking footwear, no? I love my Danner hiking boots, but my Rafters have superior ventilation.

5. Arrive at Obersteinberg, your final destination!

Emerging finally around one last corner, you’ll see the Obersteinberg Hotel at the end of the valley.

Behind it, the mighty Tschingelhorn peak rises above it all.

Berggasthaus Obersteinberg in the UNESCO Jungfrau-Aletsch Swiss Alps
Hotel Obersteinberg is the only sign of civilization at the end of the valley.
Pack mule at Hotel Obersteinberg in Switzerland

A curious pack mule greets us, framed by the Jungfrau, Eiger, and Moench.

Since the hotel was deserted, we said hello to their resident mule in passing, then continued on to a bench at the end of the valley to have a snack while enjoying the view.

Beautiful rustic Obersteinberg mountain chalet in Switzerland
The picturesque Hotel Obersteinberg is the final destination on the UNESCO Jungfrau loop hike.

6. Choose your route back to Stechelberg.

For us, Obersteinberg was essentially the end of the trail. Depending on how much energy you have left in your tank and how much daylight is left though, you do have other options for returning to Stechelberg.

There are a total of four main routes that will get you back to the valley from Obersteinberg.

6a. Backtrack the way you came.

The first and most obvious is simply to return the same route you hiked up. The total distance for this route round-trip is 12 km (7.5 miles).

6b. Return to Stechelberg via Tanzbödeli.

A second option is to return to Stechelberg via Tanzbödeli, a peak overlooking Lauterbrunnen Valley. The trail for this route cuts uphill off to the right about 75 meters before you reach Hotel Obersteinberg.

The roundtrip distance if you take this route back is 12.1 km (7.5 miles).

Tanzbodeli summit above trail to Obersteinberg Hotel in the Swiss Alps
The summit to Tanzboedeli is behind me on the trail.

Hiking Tip: You can also opt to just do a side hike from Obersteinberg up to the Tanzboedeli summit. It’s about 4.2 km (2.6 miles) up and back.

6c. Return to Stechelberg via Oberhornsee.

A third option for those feeling particularly adventurous is to return to Stechelberg via Oberhorn Lake and the Schmadrihütte mountain cabin. For this route, just keep hiking on the same trail along the hillside that you followed to get to Obersteinberg.

The total roundtrip distance for this loop hike is 17.2 km (10.7 miles).

Stunning Swiss Alps from the Lauterbrunnen hike to Obersteinberg
The views of the Swiss Alps just get better and better beyond Obersteinberg.

The highest point on this trail is 2260 meters, which leaves a total elevation gain of 1446 meters.

Make sure you’re physically up for that!

Hiking Tip: A side hike up to the lake and back to Obersteinberg will add 5.1 km (3.2 miles) to your hike.

Trail to Obersteinberg, best Lauterbrunnen hike
Continue about 200 meters on the trail to Oberhorn Lake for fabulous views across the valley.

Also keep in mind the time of year, since the upper reaches of trail are under snow until the summer months.

Our original plan had been to hike this longer and more challenging hike all the way from Stechelberg to tiny Oberhorn Lake.

Unfortunately, we realized when we reached the end of the valley that it was still too early in the year. The trail was impassable. We could see it just above us where it curved around to the right, climbing up beneath the peaks, buried in snow with waterfalls carrying melt water from glaciers above.

Trail to Oberhornsee in the Swiss Alps
Lake Oberhorn (not visible) lies below the Tschingelhorn at the very end of the valley.

6d. Return to Stechelberg via Talbach Waterfall.

Since we weren’t able to hike the longer lake loop and we hate backtracking, we opted for the final option. We returned to Stechelberg via Talbach Waterfall (Talbachfall) and the Weisse Luetschine River.

You’ll see new territory until the trail meets back up in Trachsellauenen, and then you’ll backtrack the remainder of the trail to Stechelberg.

The total distance is 12 km (7.5 miles).

7. Our Route, Obersteinberg to Stechelberg: 5.9 km (3.7 miles)

Like the route to Obersteinberg, the return trail to Stechelberg is well maintained. The steepest parts are mostly stairs with gravel and cable hand holds.

Much of this hike is not ideal if you have knee problems.

If you’re a fan of walking sticks, make sure to bring them.

Steep but well graded stairs on the trail down from Obersteinberg, Switzerland

It’s a pretty straight shot down to the river, where the trail follows it back to Stechelberg.

Hiking along the Weisse Luetschine river in Lauterbrunnen Valley
Travis hikes along the Weisse Lütschine River on the lower loop trail from Obersteinberg.
Jungfrau massif and Weisse Luetschine river in Lauterbrunnen Valley

The hulking rocks in the distance are the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau peaks, clustered together in the Jungfrau massif. While none are even in the top 25 highest peaks in Switzerland, they’re well known among locals and tourists alike, especially the Jungfrau.

A famous high-altitude viewing platform called the Jungfraujoch is located in a saddle between the Jungfrau and Mönch summits. Perched at 3463 meters (11,362 ft), it’s accessible to visitors by train, making it the world’s highest elevation railway station.

Many refer to it as the “Top of Europe,” though it’s not literally the highest point in Europe.

In no time at all, you’ll arrive back at Trachsellauenen near the mining ruins. 

From there, you’ll continue to follow the White River as it winds through the valley beneath the Jungfrau massif, leading you back to your starting point in Stechelberg.

Beautiful Swiss chalet at Trachsellauenen in Lauterbrunnen Valley
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Back at our car, our dog Touille gratefully settled in for the hour-long drive home. I knew how tired I was. I could only imagine how tired her little feet were. She only weighs 10 pounds!

Happily digging through our road trip bag for snacks for the drive home, I hung my feet out the window as we drove slowly back down Lauterbrunnen Valley, enjoying the cool evening air.

Images of the scenery we’d just seen still flashed in my mind like a burnt bulb that doesn’t yet know it’s spent. The entire hike to Obersteinberg felt like a dream.

I couldn’t imagine it would be possible to see even more spectacular scenery in Switzerland. Little did I know what was waiting for us on future trips hiking Aletsch Glacier and a weekend camping trip to the Matterhorn, the iconic Mountain of Mountains!

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