The Engadine, an enchanting and pristine Swiss valley bordering Austria and Italy, is among the most beautiful places in the world. Defined by peaceful countryside, medieval villages, and stunning glaciated mountains, hiking in the Engadine is truly a magnificent experience.
The Steinbock trail is a stunning panoramic trail that runs between the Muottas Muragl funicular, which is one of the original funiculars in Switzerland, and the resort town of Pontresina. The hike starts well above treeline in the rocky and barren landscape under the shadows of Piz Muragl and Piz Vadret. Immediately the views open up to reveal the heart of the Bernina Massif, the major collection of glaciated peaks that dominate the upper Engadine. These frozen and silent mountains provide a stunning backdrop to the entire day that feels almost Himalayan in terms of scale and grandeur. Along the hike there are multiple mountain huts that offer refreshments and warm meals, such as the regional specialty of Gerstensuppe – a barley, cream and bacon soup that is as filling as it is delightful. The hike can also be expanded to include the Paradis hut, a high alpine hut that serves award winning cakes and offers weary climbers a place to sleep in the high mountains. Of course, the Steinbock trail also provides plenty of opportunity for the quiet and wary hiker to spot herds of the trails namesake – Steinbock, or Ibex. These shy animals love the rugged boulder-fields that this excellent trail traverses and can often be spotted napping or playing precariously close to the mountain’s edge.
The hike to the summit of the Piz Lunghin is a day hike out of Sils Maria, a dreamlike village surrounded by peaceful alpine lakes. Piz Lunghin rises thousands of feet above the valley floor and while it is an accessible summit by the region’s standards, hiking to the top is still a major accomplishment. The journey to the summit takes you through multiple biomes including pristine alps, forests, alpine wetlands, and finally into the rocky high alpine region beneath the summit. Piz Lunghin itself is a remarkable location, referred to as the “roof of Europe,” because the alpine lake and pass just below the summit are the high point of a triple watershed feeding into Rhine, Po, and Danube rivers, which in turn join the North Sea, Adriatic Sea, and Black Sea! The summit rises 3000 ft. above the valley floor but because the southern side looms above the Val Bregaglia, a full 2000 feet below the Engadine Valley to the north it boasts 5000 ft. Of fantastic exposure!
The Val Roseg is an enchanted valley situated behind the town of Pontresina. Hiking up the Val Roseg is one of the most charming hiking experiences available in the Alps. There are multiple birdfeeders along the path so dozens of regional species of bird gather in the valley, while the local wildlife of Gämsen (Chamois) and Steinbock can also be spotted on the valley’s rocky walls. The journey up the valley, which can also be completed by horse drawn carriage, approaches the astounding Piz Roseg an ice-capped dome that sits just below 13,000 vertical feet. At the head of the valley sits the Hotel-Restaurant Roseg, which you arrive at just in time for coffee and cake from the restaurant’s extensive dessert buffet. From there the trail ascends steeply up the valley’s side, with a panorama of the immediate majesty of the Bernina massif opening up all around. The trail ascends to a high point at the rustic and simple mountain hut of Fuorcla Surlej, where the nearby Murtels cable car offers a fast descent into the village of Surlej (of course, for a very gentle day you can return to Pontresina on pleasant single track). Surlej mirrors the lakeside town of Silvaplana, and the lakeside neo-romantic castle “Crap de Sass.”
Finally, the hike up the Val da Cam into Soglio is one of the finest hikes in the world for walkers with sturdy knees. Starting in Casaccia, the trail climbs steadily into the heart of the more Italian rim of the Engadine Valley, with views overlooking the significantly warmer Val Bregaglia which runs southward towards Lake Como. The hike up the Val da Cam offers a slice of some of the Alps most pristine and hard to reach wilderness, free from the ski areas and lift services that populate much of the Alps. Here the wildlife and wildflowers are plentiful and the pastoral nature represents everything hiking high in the Alps should be. Views open up towards the foreboding north face of the Piz Badile, which appears as a single massive granite slab and holds the honor of being among the 6 great North Faces of the Alps. The hike ends with a descent into the village in Soglio. Soglio is a village lost in time with much of the street plan and architecture remaining unchanged from the middle ages. Here, in this charming village where vines and roses creep over many of the ancient buildings, is a perfect place to drink a cold beer and reflect on the splendid adventure of journeying up the Val da Cam and of course the rest of the dazzling Engadine.