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The Swiss National Park

Swiss National Park road sign

Schweizerischer Nationalpark - Parc National Suisse - Parco Nazionale Svizzera - Parc Naziunal Svizzer

(Note: Click on the images for an enlargment.)

Swiss horizontal ruler

Table of contents:

  1. The Swiss National Park at a Glance
  2. Location and how to get there
  3. Park rules
  4. Activities
  5. Trails
  6. Animals
  7. Plants
  8. Geological Features
  9. Further Information

1. The Swiss National Park at a Glance:

Alpine forest Alpine meadow with marmot Rocks
Alpine forest Alpine meadows Rock
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2. Location and how to get there:

Location of the Swiss National Park

The Swiss National Park (SNP) is located in the very east of Switzerland in the Canton Graubünden in an area where the local language is Romansh (see Words and Phrases for more information about languages in Switzerland), therefore its official name is "Parc Naziunal Svizzer".


Train of the Rätische Bahn Postal coach (Postauto)
"Rätische Bahn" (RhB)
Railway of the Romansh area
Postal coach

The easiest way to get to the SNP is by railway, then take a coach of the postal service into the park. It takes about 2.5 hours from Zürich to Zernez (one way), see for time table and price information. By car, it takes about the same amount of time if the road conditions are perfect, but expect delays due to traffic jams or difficult road conditions, especially in winter.


Boundary of the Swiss National Park
Boundary of the Swiss National Park

There is one road that runs through the national park, it is called "Pass dal Fuorn" (or "Ofenpass" in German) and connects Zernez with Müstair, a remote valley close to the Italian border. It is open to public, but we suggest to take the postal bus. There are nine parking lots (P1 to P9) and many bus stops along the road which provide access to the various trails.

Note: We strongly discourage to walk on the Pass dal Fuorn road, it is a small road with a lot of traffic and there is no room for pedestrians !


Lime oven along the park road
Lime oven along the park road

"Fuorn" is the Romansh word for "oven". More than 100 years ago, people built ovens to burn lime. They cut the trees and used the wood to heat the ovens. This caused quite some harm to the sensitive alpine forest.


Visitor Center in Zernez
Visitor Center in Zernez

Zernez is the gateway to the national park, it also hosts the visitor center (see image above). Access to the park is free, but they charge a small fee to visit the exhibition and the 17 minutes film show about the park.

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3. Park rules:

Posted information including a map and an excerpt of the park rules
Posted information including a map and an excerpt from the park rules

Excerpts from the park rules are posted at all trail heads in five languages (German, French, Italian, Romansh and English).
They include the following regulations:

Please follow the motto: Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints on marked trails !

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4. Activities:

The major activities are hiking and watching. There are no bikes, no tents and no fires or stoves allowed in the park and there is no such thing as an overnight permit ! - see also park rules above.
However, there are a number of hotels along the "Pass dal Fuorn" road and there is one great opportunity to spend a night inside the national park: The "Chamanna Cluozza", a beautiful hut with rooms of different sizes. Reservations are required or at least strongly recommended, depending on the season. They provide food, accommodation and a gorgeous view of the clouzza valley and the surrounding mountains. It takes about 3 to 4 hours to get from Zernez to the hut and another 3½ to 4½ hours the next day from the hut to Vallun Chafuol, a parking lot and bus stop at the "Pass dal Fuorn" road. See trip to Chamanna Cluozza for more information and some pictures and check here for reservation.

There are three different categories of trails in the park, they are marked with different colors and require different equipment and skills:

Mark Category Required Equipment Required Skills
Yellow rectangle Regular trail No special requirements No special requirements
White - red - white rectangle Mountain trail Hiking boots, Wind breaker or similar Good shape, may include steep and/or slippery trails
White - blue - white rectangle Alpine trail Technical hike, alpine equipment required Good physical condition, may require climbing or glacier traversal


Easy trail on an alpine meadow Trail with lots of roots in an alpine forest Easy trail with gravel Steep and slippery trail high in the rocks of the Alps
Trail on an alpine meadow Trail in an alpine forest Trail with gravel Rocky, slippery and steep trail

The trails or in good conditions, but sometimes rough, steep and even a bit dangerous. Depending on the environment, roots and rocks may act as natural obstacles. Good hiking boots are required as well as good clothing including a sweater and a rain coat or wind breaker regardless of the season. Dress in layers, the weather conditions may change rapid and unexpected.

Note: We strongly discourage to walk on the Pass dal Fuorn road, it is a small road with a lot of traffic and there is no room for pedestrians !

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5. Trails:

As mentioned above, there are about 80 km (50 miles) of trails available in the park. We (my wife and I plus our three kids at the age of four, seven and ten) have hiked the trails listed below without difficulties:

Route Distance Duration map & pictures
Ova Spin - Champlönch (P1) - Alp Grimmels - Margun Grimmels (P2) - Ova Spin 7.2 km 3 h more ...
Punt la Drossa (P4) - Alp la Schera - Il Fuorn (P6) 6 km 2½ h more ...
Stabelchod (P8) - Val dal Botsch - Val da Stabelchod - Stabelchod (P8) 7 km 4 h more ...
Zernez - Chamanna Cluozza (overnight stay) - Murter - Vallun Chafuol (P3) 8+7 km 5+6 h more ...
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6. Animals:

There live many different animals in the Swiss national park. Below is only a small selection of animals that you may meet in the park:


Huge ant-hill

There are big ant-hills throughout the forests of the park.


Common viper (Kreuzotter) Common viper (Kreuzotter)
Common viper (Kreuzotter)

The common viper is one of the few poison snakes in Switzerland. Its bite is painful but usually not deadly for humans.

Bearded Vulture and Golden Eagle:

Bearded vulture (Bartgeier) Golden eagle (Steinadler)
Bearded vulture (Bartgeier) Golden eagle (Steinadler)

The bearded vulture was once extinct completely in Switzerland. It was hunted because people believed this bird would kill sheep and goats and it would even prey on little babies.
Today, we know these stories are nothing but fairy tails. Like all vultures, the bearded vulture feeds on dead animals only. However, unlike dogs and wolves, the bearded vulture cannot chew on bones to break them. Therefore, this bird developed its own technic to break large bones: It drops them from high in the air onto rocks. It can then swallow the fragments of the bone.
The bearded vulture has been re-introduced at the Swiss National Park very successfully in 1991 and has now something like a "star status"..

The golden eagle is the largest bird of prey in Switzerland. In the national park, it can often be seen gliding high in the air, trying to spot a marmot and to catch one before it makes it into its den.
You can distinguish a golden eagle from a bearded vulture by the form of its tail: The golden eagle's tail has a shape like a rectangle, while the bearded vulture's tails has a shape more like an arrow (see images above).


Entrance to a marmot's den Marmot
Marmot (Murmeltier)

You can't miss the marmots in the Swiss National Park. They have their dens everywhere on open meadows. While the group feeds on grass, a few marmots keep an eye on the sky. As soon as they spot a golden eagle, they produce a sharp sound and each marmot will disappear in its den instantly. The sharp sound is often referred to as whistling, but the marmot is actually shouting.

Marmots spend a lot of time looking for food, especially in late summer and in fall. During winter, they hibernate in their den. During hibernation, their heart beat drops to as low as two beats per minute, the whole life system is almost on hold.

Chamois and Elk:

A group of chamois A group of elks
Chamois (Steinbock) Elk (Hirsch)

Chamois and elk are very typical animals for this area. They life above or close to the tree line, feeding on grass, shrubs and small trees. They are extremely well adapted to the steep and rocky mountain area.
Due to the lack of natural predators, the number of the chamois and elk tends to grow and they will be hunted outside the park area to stabilize the population.

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7. Plants:

Shrubs and Trees:

Mountain shrub (Strauch) Fir (Foehre)
Shrub near the tree line Coniferous tree (Nadelbaum)

In Switzerland, the tree line is usually around 1900 meters above sea level. In the Engadina - the valley where the Swiss national park is located - the tree line is around 2200 meters. Shrubs tend to be more resistant to rough weather conditions than trees and therefore may grow at higher elevations than trees. In the Swiss national park, you will find almost only coniferous trees.


Alpine Androsace (Mannsschild) Gentian (Enzian)
The alpine androsace (Mannsschild) (Androsace alpina) is a typical alpine flower with small blossoms and short stalks. It grows in small packs up to 3000, in some rare cases even up to 4000 meters above sea level. The gentian (Enzian) (Gentiana) grows in dry meadows. It grows up to 3500 meters above sea level.
Hairy Alpen-Rose (Rhododendron) MäNegritella or Vanilla Orchis (Maennertreu)
The hairy alpen-rose (Rhododendron) (rhododendron hirsutum) grows in clear areas of alpine forests up to 2500 meters above sea level. The negritella or vanilla orchis (Männertreu) (Nigritella) grows on open meadows at lower elevations and has a strong vanilla like smell.
Edelweiss Bell-Flower (Glockenblume)
The edelweiss (Edelweiss) (Leontopodium alpinum) is the (inofficial) national flower of Switzerland. It is strictly protected, not only within the national park, but throughout the whole country. This rare plant grows on dry meadows and rocky areas with lots of sunshine up to 3100 meters above sea level. The bell-flowers (Glockenblumen) (Campanula) grows on alpine meadows up to 2800 meters above sea level.
Thorny Thistle (Dorndistel) Fungi (Pilz)
The thorny thistle (Silberdistel) (Cirsium spinosissimum) grows on dry rocky areas on lower elevations. Edible or not ? It doesn't matter because it is strictly forbidden to break off or collect any plants, including fungi (Pilze).
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8. Geological Features:

A rocky mountain side A hoodoo like rock formation
The Alps are a relatively young mountain range and are still growing. They exist, because the European and the African tectonic plates are moving against each other and therefore push up part of their surface. Geological features like this occur, if the lower, relatively week layers are protected by some more resistant objects. Over the centuries, the week layers get washed away by rain while a small fraction remains and forms a tower like formation.
Very well visible layers A group of small rock needles
At some locations, the various layers get exposed and are clearly visible. These needle-like features exists for the same reason as explained on the image above.
A valley carved by an ancient glacier A new valley develops
This valley was carved by a ancient glacier and has a very typical U-shape, whereas valleys carved by rivers are V-shaped. A new valley develops in an unstable area. Water from rainfall washes small rocks and sand downhill while the little valley grows backwards uphill.
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9. Further Information:

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