Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Murren Mountain View Trail

Bernese Alps rising above the wildflower meadows near Murren
8 km one way, 550 meters elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy-moderate
Access: Grutschalp cable car to trailhead with associated fees

The Murren Mountain View Trail is a lovely walk through meadows high above Lauterbrunnen Valley in Switzerland's Bernese Oberland. On its way from the cable car station at Grutschalp to the mountain-top town of Murren, this hike delivers knockout views of the region's three most famous peaks: the Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau. In summer, the meadows and pastures along this hike explode with amazing wildflowers, making this already enchanting alpine landscape even more magical. This is a quintessential alpine hike and an experience that I recommend to visitors to the Bernese Oberland.

The Murren Mountain View Trail stretches between Grutschalp and Murren. While it's possible to do the hike as a round trip starting at either Grutschalp or Murren, the wealth of public transit options in the area make this a great option for a one-way hike. The Murren area is car-free, so all visitors will either have to take cable cars up the mountain or hike in. Visitors can reach Grutschalp from Lauterbrunnen- the nearest town in the valley below- by cable car and there is a separate cable car running through Murren to Schilthorn from the town of Stechelberg. Grutschalp and Murren are themselves connected by the Lauterbrunnen-Murren Mountain Railway. We did this hike by taking the cable car from Lauterbrunnen up to Grutschalp, hiking to Murren, and then returning to Grutschalp on the railway. Hiking the opposite way- from Murren to Grutschalp- would save 150 meters of elevation gain but require experiencing the best of the hike first.

Riding cable cars and the mountain railway all the time can be expensive, so I recommend that visitors spending a few days in the Jungfrau area buy the Jungfrau Travel Pass for unlimited travel on most of the region's railways and cable cars. If you're planning a longer trip in Switzerland and intend to do much of your travel by train, you can also pick up the Swiss Half Fare Card from SBB for additional discounts to the Jungfrau Travel Pass. Check timetables before your hike to make sure that you make it to your destination before the last train or cable car of the day no matter which direction you're hiking.

I did this hike during a family trip to the Alps. We stayed in Wengen, which is at a unique location on mountain slopes high above Lauterbrunnen Valley, across from Murren. We started our journey for this hike in Lauterbrunnen. Lauterbrunnen is a tremendously scenic and ethereal town: massive cliffs rise above the town, with waterfalls plunging down the steep cliffs into this valley, including Staubbach Fall, a dramatic plunge near the town. Further up the valley, the snowy peaks of Jungfrau and Breithorn made an already unbelievable landscape ever more so. In fact, the valley of Lauterbrunnen inspired a young JRR Tolkein to write of a fantastic valley of snowy peaks and waterfalls that was the abode of elves: Rivendell, featured in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. 

Lauterbrunnen and Staubbach Falls
From Lauterbrunnen, we took the Grutschalpbahn Cable Car uphill to the Grutschalp. The cable car station was directly across the road from the Lauterbrunnen train station and the cable cars ran up the mountain once every quarter of an hour. The ride up featured great views to the south of the great Bernese Alps, including the Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau, which would keep us company on our hike all day. We exited the Grutschalp station to find a colorfully painted cow and an observation platform with great views of the three great peaks.

The Grutschalp-Murren Railway headed south from the Grutschalp station towards Murren. There are actually two routes from Grutschalp to Murren: the lower and easier route simply parallels the railway and spends a good amount of time in the forest, while the the higher and more difficult route ascends into open meadows, delivering good views the entire way. Unsurprisingly, we chose to hike the high, scenic route: the Mountain View Trail. Both trails started on the same initial path: we followed a broad, gravel-covered path south from the station along the railway for about 200 meters. At 200 meters in, as the wide trail made a bend to the left into the forest, we took a forking trail that led off to the right into the forest. This trail immediately began a steep ascent through the forest, making a few switchbacks before exiting into meadows at a half kilometer from Grutschalp.

Between 0.5 km and 1 km into the hike, the trail ascended steeply through a rocky meadow. Views here were already excellent. The Eiger's steep profile, the Monch's lofty summit, and the Jungfrau's massive form rose to the southeast, with the Sphinx Observatory visible on the icy saddle of Jungfraujoch between the Monch and Jungfrau. The part grassy, part rocky ridge that included Mannlichen, Tschuggen, and Lauberhorn rose across Lauterbrunnen Valley, with Wengen's idyllic cottages nestled on the ridge's green slopes above the cliffs of the valley below.

Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau
At 1 km into the hike, the trail briefly reentered the forest. Here, we passed by a farmhouse; cows were grazing in the forest nearby, the clanging of their cowbells carrying for a distance. At 1.3 km, we came to two successive trail junctions; at the first junction, I took the left fork to stay on the Mountain View Trail, while at the second junction I took the right fork (the left fork here led down towards the Winteregg Train Station). At this point, the trail had already brought us uphill nearly 300 meters; the most prolonged uphill of the hike was over.

Most of the rest of the hike to Murren was out in the open meadows and pastures of the Bernese Alps. This was a spectacular mountainside trail with almost continuous views. The Mountain View Trail made a steady but more gentle ascent from 1.3 to 2.5 km as it gradually climbed higher and higher in these alpine meadows. Views of Schynige Platte to the north and the Jungfrau massif to the southeast kept us constantly entertained. Above us, the rocky slopes of Bietenhorn were lined with snow fences for avalanche control in winter. Blooming pink rhododendrons, Queen Anne's Lace, and phlox near the trail here hinted at the glorious wildflower displays that awaited us near Murren.

Schynige Platte from the high meadows above Grutschalp
After about 2.7 km, the trail was relatively flat, with occasional undulations as it delivered stunning view after stunning view of the Bernese Alps. The farther south that we hiked, the more we were able to appreciate the incredibly steep north face of the Eiger. This landscape was, however, not a particularly quiet or natural-sounding one: we constantly heard the ring of cowbells and the loud cogwheel train to Kleine Scheidegg across the valley. And while the meadows and mountains were beautiful natural surroundings, we also hiked by chairlifts around the 4 km mark, a reminder of the heavy human use of this landscape.

Wengen and the Eiger
Some of the best views of the hike came around the 3.5 km mark, where we came to the high point of the hike. Cresting a hill, views opened up to include not just the Eiger-Monch-Jungfrau massif, but also a wall of peaks to the south: Gletscherhorn, Mittaghorn, Grosshorn, and Breithorn. Glaciers adorned these steep mountain walls, which formed a formidable Alpine front along with their three more famous sibling peaks. 

Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau
The trail network became a little messier in this area around the 3.5 km mark; we passed junctions with a few road traces but stayed on the Mountain View Trail. After passing the high point at 3.5 km, the trail began a gradual descent through meadows and ski lifts, passing a small marsh and then crossing over a stream, Agertenbach, at 4.4 km. Agertenbach dropped out of a rocky gorge into the beautifully green pastures near Allmendhubel in a pretty cascade.

Agertenbach waterfall and meadows near Allmendhubel
After crossing Agertenbach, the trail made a short but steep ascent- perhaps the steepest of the hike- up a hill to reach the a junction with the trails leading to Allmendhubel. This was a complicated junction with five trails intersecting atop a ridge; there are a number of options for hikers here. While our hike itinerary would eventually take us downhill past the Pension Sonnenberg to Murren- which could be reached by the two trails descending down the other side of the ridge, including the wider road trace- we decided to first visit Allmendhubel, a low hill on the end of the ridge to the east. As I felt that the side trip to Allmenhubel was just okay, you can feel free to skip it and shave a half kilometer and 30 meters of elevation gain off this hike.

Turning left at the five-way trail junction, we followed a wide road trace along the ridge to Allmendhubel, arriving at the top of the hill after a short ascent over 0.3 km. At Allmendhubel, there is a restaurant, a funicular station, and a playground. The view from Allmendhubel was certainly nice: Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau were their usual impressive selves, with Breithorn and other impressive peaks to the south and a glimpse of Wetterhorn and the more westerly Bernese Alps through the gap of Kleine Scheidegg. However, some trees to the south made the views a little less open than what we had enjoyed earlier in the hike. Hikers wishing to cut their hike short can take the Allmendhubel funicular down to Murren and save some wear and tear on their knees, but I found the final downhill stretch of the hike a pleasant and enjoyable experience as well.

We returned to the five-way junction; after the detour to Allmendhubel, we were now 5.2 km into the hike. From atop the ridge, we could look down below into a hanging valley with farmhouses and cottages. While a number of paths led down into the valley, we followed the broad dirt road downhill through a switchback and then a broad turn around the west side of the valley. The descent into the valley was one of the most scenic stretches of the hike, with constant views of Breithorn and the other Bernese Alpine peaks as we crossed through mountainside pastures filled with wildflowers, passing cows grazing on the alpine grasses.

Descending through the meadows near Allmendhubel
At just over 6 km into the hike, we passed Restaurant Hotel Sonnenberg, a nice place to stop for refreshments and snacks at the bottom of the hanging valley on the way into Murren. The hamlet at the valley's bottom was one of the most idyllic spots I've been to in the Alps: here, old wooden farmhouses and cottages were interspersed through grassy fields packed with wildflowers in front of a backdrop of glacier-capped Alpine peaks. The rocky peak of Birg rose to the west of the valley; the cable car to Schilthorn ran along the south side of the valley, carrying visitors to a high alpine summit with sweeping views of the Bernese Alps made famous by George Lazenby's only outing as James Bond in On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

Wildflowers above Murren
From the Restaurant Hotel Sonnenberg, there were two routes down to Murren. The most direct route was simply to follow the road downhill to the town; this might have been the more scenic route as well, as it stays completely out in open pastures. We chose to take the Murren Flower Trail, which branched off to the right from the main road about a hundred meters after we passed the Restaurant Hotel Sonnenberg. This trail started off by passing through some more meadows, with another round of views of Eiger, Munch, and Jungfrau- this time with a impressive stack of clouds building up on the nearly vertical north face of the Eiger. 

After the meadows, the trail returned to the forest and then alternated between wooded and open over the next kilometer as it dropped downhill towards Murren with a fairly steep grade. There was a maze of trails here and it's not terribly important that you follow an exact path; just pick a direction that indicates Murren at each of the many trail junctions encountered here and you'll be fine. At 7.4 km into the hike, we found ourselves on a street in Murren that was just above the Murren cable car station. Here, we turned left and walked north through the charming streets of the car-free resort town. 

We passed by houses with flowers hanging from the windows and enjoyed the town's spectacular views of the Bernese Alps. Jungfrau looked absolutely massive from here, towering high directly across the valley from Murren. From the literal edge of town, we could see down massive vertical cliffs to Lauterbrunnen Valley directly below. These vertical cliffs make Murren one of the most popular places for wingsuit BASE jumping in the world, where daredevil adventurers come to throw themselves off cliffs and glide above Alpine valleys. At the north end of town, we came to the train station; here, we hopped onto the train and took it north back to Grutschalp to end this wonderful hike. On our train ride north to Grutschalp, we made a short stop in Winteregg to buy some cheese from a local cheesemaker.

Breithorn from Murren
This is a superb hike. While it lacks the high drama of Jungfraujoch, the Murren Mountain View Trail from Grutschalp to Murren delivers idyllic pastoral scenes of wildflowers and grazing cows coupled with views of the great Bernese Alps. Visitors to the Bernese Oberland should have this hike- along with Jungfraujoch and Bachalpsee- on their list, and any hiker who has yet to come to the Bernese Oberland should plan to do so to avoid missing some of the most spectacular mountain scenery of our planet. 

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