MOUNT SÄNTIS HIKE IN ALPSTEIN, SWITZERLAND
The Mount Säntis hike is one in the Alpstein region is one of the most spectacular trails in Switzerland. It’s possible to trek to the top of Mount Säntis as part of the Alpstein loop or as a straight ascent. Once you reach the top you will find incredible viewing platforms and a large restaurant. There is also a cable car servicing Mount Säntis so you can choose to hike just one way and catch the cable-car either up or down. No matter how you reach the Säntis Peak, the view of the Alpstein region from the summit is magical.
HOW TO GET TO MOUNT SÄNTIS
There are quite a few different ways to reach Mount Säntis, so it is difficult to share the one defined route. What I will do is tell you your options and then share with you the route I took, which in general is the most epic and complete hike called the Alpstein Loop.
- The first option (which I did) is the Alpstein Loop. You begin at Wasserauen and hiked up to Ebenalp, onto Schäfler Hut and then up to Ohrli then finally onto Mount Säntis. From here you begin the descent down Lisengrat to Rotsteinpass, to Meglisalp, to Seebergsee and finally back to Wasserauen station. Generally, you will spend at least one night at one of the mountain huts. Schäfler Hut is a good place to stay overnight or if you come in the other direction Rostein Hut is a good choice. This route is best done over 2-3 days.
- The second option is to hike up to Mount Säntis from either of those directions. Essentially, you will take half of the Alpstein Loop and then catch the cable car down. This makes the summit and descent possible in one day.
- The third option is to head up via Seebergsee and then Mesmer. I’ve never done this route so I cannot comment on its difficulty level but it is listed on the map below.
- The fourth option is to hike up from Meglisalp up to Säntis via Wagenlucke but again this is not an average route and I cannot comment on the difficulty. It is also listed on the map below.
- The fifth option is to hike up from Schwagalp. This is where the cable car is so many park their car here and then either hike up or down taking the cable car either up or down to make the hike more manageable.
These are the main options from within the Alpstein regions, although there are a number of other ways to reach the waypoints listed from around the sides for an alternate route, in general, you will have to pass via one of the above routes at some stage. For example, you can catch the cable car to Ebenalp and begin from there to skip the first section of the hike.
GETTING TO WASSERAUEN (THE START POINT)
Wasserauen is the start point for the Schäfler Hut hike and is easily accessible by train or car. Wasserauen is in the north-east of Switzerland near the Liechtenstein border. Luckily, Switzerland is a relatively small country so you can reach the town of Wasserauen from most places including Zurich (2-hr journey by car). There is no major city nearby with journeys of 2+ hours from Chur, Lucerne, and Bern to reach Wasserauen. I was based in Appenzell district when doing this hike so it was just a 15-minute train journey for me.
TRAILHEAD INSTRUCTIONS FOR MOUNT SÄNTIS HIKE
The Schäfler Hut hike begins in Wasserauen. There is a train station directly at the foot of the hike, which is also where you will find the cable car if you decide not to hike the whole way and take the cable car to Ebenalp. When you arrive at Wasserauen, you will find yourself in a giant parking lot. A damn pretty parking lot but you will soon realize, this is not an off-the-beaten-path trail. There is a cable-car to Ebenalp that I will detail later, which means you get a lot of tourists rather than hikers, which is fine but we are here to detail the hike.
From the Alpen Rose hotel, walk away from the Seealpsee direction and away from the parking lot. The trail is on the left side next to a wooden house and heads directly up into the forest.
The map below shows the entire Alpstein Loop hiking region from Wasserauen. As you can see there are so many different connecting trails, which makes it a great spot for all different abilities and schedules. In this blog post, I’ll share how to do the Mount Säntis Hike and return but in the Alpstein region, there are always many options for how to make a loop or visit multiple spots in one day. The below checklist is for including Mount Säntis Peak in your Alpstein Loop.
- Begin in Wasserauen
- Hike up the hill through the forest to Bommen
- Arrive at Ascher Cliff Restaurant
- Head up the cliff to Wildkirchli to see the Church and Cave
- Continue up the hill to Ebenalp Viewpoint
- Continue further to Fuessler Viewpoint
- Continue further to reach Schäfler Hut
- Hike onwards to Ohrli
- Ascend up to Säntis
- Descend along the Lisengrat Ridge
- Down to Rotstein Hut
- Descend to Meglisalp
- Pass by Seebergsee
- Hike back down to Wasserauen
The maps below show the overall hiking routes for Alpstein and the cropped map shows the route from Ebenalp to Schäfler.
MY EXPERIENCE HIKING TO MOUNT SÄNTIS
The trail begins through the forest with a very steep set of switchbacks. The forest was beautiful with towering trees giving us some much-needed shade and an incredible scene as hikers in the distance ducked in and out of the tree trunks. The incline was relentless for a good 20-30 minutes before we finally reached the open field atop the hill. (For reference some of these photos are from a summer trip to Ebenalp and some are from during the first snowy weeks of the season in October)
As we left the forest and entered the farming fields above, we were welcomed with our first view of the surrounding mountains. With lactic acid in the legs and epic mountain vistas in all directions, we sat down and took it all in while re-hydrating. The trail would flatten out for a while as we made our way through Bommel to the sound of the bells, ringing from the necks of the local cows.
After making our way through the fields of Bommel, we began another ascent up the hill towards the famous Ascher Cliff Restaurant. With some shade from the mountain, we took a reprieve from the harsh Swiss sun while enjoying the mountain-range to the left of the Wasserauen valley.
The Ascher Cliff restaurant is rather famous due to its incredibly scenic position and was featured in National Geographic, which instantly made it a favorite location for tourists. We thought it might be quite expensive given it is Switzerland and this was an in-demand spot but to our surprise, it was on par with average cafe prices from the city. We chilled out at the restaurant for half an hour enjoying a coffee amongst other hikers, families and trail runners.
It is of note to mention that you can take the cable car up to Ebenalp and then walk the short way down to Ascher Cliff Restaurant if you aren’t intending to do much hiking but still want to enjoy this iconic restaurant location.
Once you finish your last sip of coffee at the Ascher Cliff Restaurant, you can head up the stairs towards the church and the caves. Inside one of the caves are pews and a shrine within the church. To my surprise, an actual service is held here once a month, which would be quite the pilgrimage for many who make the journey.
Beyond the church are some caves you need to walk through to make it to Ebenalp. Inside the caves are lights showing you points of interest with placards explaining important parts about the caves, such as the fact that bears used to live inside.
After passing through the caves, you are just about at the Ebenalp viewpoint. However, you still need to push through a little more incline to make it up to Ebenalp, which sits at 1,644m above sea-level. At the viewpoint, you will find a restaurant and several small buildings selling souvenirs. We took this chance to sit down on the benches, take the whole scene in and even send the drone out for a scouting mission.
From Ebenalp to Schäfler the journey is just under three kilometers with a couple of hundred meters of incline. The route gives you several great views along the way on either side of the trail before sending you into a series of switchbacks set to test out your legs on what should be the final moments of incline for the day.
From Ebenalp to Schäfler Hut you can expect to take just under an hour to complete the hike. Once you reach the hut you may want to stop for a drink or a snack before venturing on for a few more moments to the viewpoint, which is one of the best spots in the Alpstein region.
The first viewpoint is just above the Schäfler Ridge and is only 1-minuet up the hill from the Schäfler Hut. Here you can get great views of Schäfler Ridge, Santis and the valleys on either side without having to venture much further. I took the following shot here about 1.5 hours before sunset.
I had decided to visit the Schäfler Ridge for golden hour and stay for sunset. Schäfler Hut had no more spaces but I’d managed to book a night at Ebenalp Mountain Hut so I only had a 2-kilometer hike back in the dark. If you plan to do sunrise or sunset at Schäfler Ridge, I suggest staying in one of these two huts and obviously the best one to stay at is Schäfler hut but you will need to book in advance, especially if it is a weekend.
The golden hour had arrived so I ventured down from the top viewpoint and began to wander along the path on Schäfler Ridge capturing other hikers and exploring the different angles as the light continued to change.
As the peak moment of the sunset came, I decided to head up onto the spine of Schäfler, which is off the path. Be careful if you do this as there is a drop-off on both sides but particularly to the right. Here I found some beautiful red foliage and some incredible little viewpoints that looked great both on the camera and the drone.
I hiked back to Ebenalp in the dark with my head torch but returned the next morning for sunrise. I was lucky to get great conditions for both sunset and sunrise. It was much quieter at sunrise with just a few other people up to witness the first light rather than the crowd for sunset.
A little bit of alpenglow and early lit hit Santis and the surrounding peaks, which was the perfect way to start the day.
It was now time to cross the Schäfler Ridge and head on towards Ohrli. From this point on the trail was very empty. There were just one or two other hikers out that moment that had decided to venture past Schäfler Hut. The hut was full so it was still quite busy there in the morning but not many people tend to venture past the hut especially this late in the season. I really enjoyed walking on the inside of the Schäfler Ridge and even spotted a few Ibex. It would be a sign of things to come as I would encounter a huge pack of Ibex just around the corner.
Once up and over Schäfler Ridge we now entered the Ohrli section of the Alpstein Loop, which was among my favorite parts of the journey to Mount Säntis. This was for two reasons. Firstly, I loved how from Ohrli the Schäfler Ridge was perfectly framed. Secondly, this is where a huge pack of alpine Ibex is often found and on this day I bumped into more than 20 very close to the trail. In no rush, I hung out here shooting some photos of them for half an hour or so.