The Hardergrat Trail is one of the most challenging and rewarding hikes in Switzerland, if not the world. It is a 24 km (15 mi) ridge hike that offers stunning views of the Jungfrau region, Lake Brienz, and the Alps. The trail runs from Interlaken to the Brienzer Rothorn, with an elevation gain of about 3000 m (9842 ft). It is not an official trail, but a faint path that follows the ridge, sometimes with fixed cables for support. The trail is very exposed and narrow, with steep drops on both sides. It requires sure-footedness, a head for heights, sturdy shoes, trekking poles, and plenty of water. It should never be attempted when wet or in bad weather conditions.
Hiking the Hardergrat Trail: A Guide for Adventure Hikers & Trail Runners
The Hardergrat Trail is not for everyone. It is only suitable for experienced hikers and trail runners who are in excellent physical shape and willing to take risks as the full length from Brienz to Interlaken covers 35km and over 3000m of vertical gains. You can shortcut part of it by taking the Brienzer Rothorn train and Harder Kulm funiculaire but the trail will still take you 10 hours or more to complete, depending on your pace and fitness level. You need to start early in the morning to avoid the heat and catch the last train from the Brienzer Rothorn to Brienz. Alternatively, you can descend 1700 m (5577 ft) to Brienz on foot, which adds another 2 hours to the hike.
If you are up for the challenge, you will be rewarded with an unforgettable experience of hiking along one of the most unique and scenic ridges in the Alps. You will see some of the highest peaks in the Jungfrau region, such as the Eiger, Mönch, Jungfrau, Schreckhorn, and Finsteraarhorn. You will also encounter wildlife such as ibexes, chamois, marmots, and eagles. You will feel like you are on top of the world, literally and figuratively.
How to hike the Hardergrat Trail
There are two ways to hike the Hardergrat Trail: from Interlaken to the Brienzer Rothorn or vice versa. Both options have their advantages and disadvantages.
Option 1: Interlaken to Brienzer Rothorn
This is the most common and recommended way to hike the Hardergrat Trail. You start from Interlaken, where you can take a funicular to Harder Kulm, the first viewpoint of the trail. From there, you follow the ridge eastward towards the Brienzer Rothorn. This option has several benefits:
- You hike towards the sun, which means you will have better lighting for photos and views.
- You hike with the wind at your back, which means you will have less resistance and dust.
- You hike downhill for most of the second half of the trail, which means you will save some energy and stress on your knees.
- You finish at the Brienzer Rothorn station, where you can take a train down to Brienz or continue hiking down. ATTENTION, the last train down from the Brienzer Rothorn is around 5pm.
The main drawback of this option is that the train down from the Rothorn is a lot earlier (5pm) than the last train down from the Harder Kulm (9pm) if you would do the trail the other way around meaning you will need to start a lot earlier to be able to take that train.
Another con of this route is that you have to tackle the hardest and steepest section of the trail at the beginning, when you are still fresh and energetic. This section is between Harder Kulm and Augstmatthorn, where you have to climb about 1500 m (4921 ft) in 6 km (3.7 mi). This section also has some exposed and unprotected parts that require careful attention.
Option 2: Brienzer Rothorn to Interlaken
This is the less common way to hike the Hardergrat Trail but because of the fact that you have less vertical uphill distance and can catch a later train / funiculaire down at the finishing line at Harder Kulm this is our preferred option. You start from Brienz, where you can take a train up to the Brienzer Rothorn station, the highest point of the trail. From there, you follow the ridge westward towards Interlaken. This option has some benefits:
- You hike away from the sun, which means you will have less glare and heat.
- You hike against the wind, which means you will have more cooling and ventilation.
- You hike less uphill on the entire trail and a lot of downhill on the second half o the trail.
- You finish at Harder Kulm and then down in Interlaken, where you can enjoy more amenities and attractions and its easier to have your accomodation sorted at places like the Adventure Hostel or Guesthouse that cater to adventurous souls like you
Tips for hiking or trail running the Hardergrat Trail
Whether you choose to hike or trail run the Hardergrat Trail, you need to prepare well and follow some tips to make your experience safe and enjoyable.
- Check the weather forecast and trail conditions before you go. Avoid the trail if there is rain, snow, fog, or strong wind. The trail can be slippery, muddy, icy, or snowy depending on the season and altitude.
- Start as early as possible, preferably before sunrise. This will give you more time to complete the trail, avoid the heat and crowds, and catch the last train from the Brienzer Rothorn. You will also witness a spectacular sunrise over the mountains and lake.
- Bring enough water and snacks. There is no water source on the ridge from Harder Kulm to the Brienzer Rothorn, so you need to carry at least 3 liters of water per person. You also need to replenish your energy with snacks such as nuts, bars, fruits, or sandwiches.
- Wear appropriate clothing and footwear. You need to dress in layers that can adapt to the changing temperature and weather. You also need to wear sturdy hiking shoes or trail running shoes that have good grip and support. Don’t forget to bring a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and a rain jacket.
- Follow the trail markers and signs. The trail is not well marked in some places, so you need to pay attention to the red and white signs, cairns, or flags that indicate the direction. You can also use a GPS device or app to track your progress and location.
- Stay on the ridge and don’t wander off. The trail is very exposed and narrow, so you need to stay on the path and avoid getting too close to the edge. You also need to be careful of loose rocks, roots, or branches that can trip you or cause you to fall.
- Respect the nature and wildlife. The trail is part of the Thunersee Hohgant Nature Park, which is home to many plants and animals. You need to respect their habitat and not disturb them. Don’t litter, pick flowers, feed animals, or make loud noises.
- Enjoy the views and have fun. The trail is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will leave you breathless and amazed. You will see some of the most beautiful scenery in Switzerland and feel a sense of accomplishment and adventure. Don’t forget to take photos, videos, or notes of your journey.