One of the benefits of being a geologist in Switzerland is that I can sample, drill and wander through spectacular high alpine areas, complete with edelweiss, fresh mountain air and pristine glacial lakes far removed from tourist crowds. An absolute (and accessible) highlight for families, in my experience, is Lake Oeschinen (Oeschinensee), which is surrounded by Blümlialp, Doldenhorn and Oeschinenhorn; it is in a mountainous region near Kandersteg in canton Bern, just south of Interlaken. This summer I plan to visit once again with my family, including my two grandchildren, for a couple of days of hiking, swimming, boating and simply enjoying the majesty of Lake Oeschinen and the surrounding peaks. This area has belonged to the UNESCO Jungfrau-Aletsch-Bietschhorn World Heritage site since 2007 and yet remains a little-known gem.
There is a plethora of trails and several ways to reach the lake from Kandersteg, in addition to all-day hikes that traverse along creeks and the lake up to local mountain peaks. Below I have listed some hikes that reach Lake Oeschinen from Kandersteg and activities for different levels of ability.
Families can hike 3.3 km from Kandersteg in the valley up to the lake along the Oeschine creek route. The hike starts at 1200 meters above sea level (m a.s.l.) and finishes at the lake at 1600 m. The elevation difference between start and finish is achieved steadily, without any truly steep intervals. We hiked the trail in under an hour last year with a teenager in tow but without young children. I would allocate one-and-a-half hours for a hike if you like to walk and have school-age children with you. After all, why hurry? Enjoy the scenery. The trail is not suitable for strollers, wheelchairs or walkers, though! And remember: even if the hike is easy, you are in the mountains, so wear proper hiking footwear, take water and snacks with you, and follow all safety regulations and instructions if inclement weather approaches. DO check the weather before starting the trip and don’t go to the mountains if bad weather is predicted. If you get caught in an unexpected storm, take all precautions to protect yourselves from lightning.
For those who prefer not to walk up the mountain or are not able to walk long distances, there is a cable car from Kandersteg that reaches a short and easy stroller-friendly path to the lake. You can find details for this path here.
Once you arrive at the lake and catch your breath, just take in the beautiful scenery! Put on your swimsuit and enjoy the cold, glacial waters of the lake. If the water is too cold for comfort, then rent a rowboat and just float along, or row your way around the lake.
There is a Berghaus (mountain lodge) where you can purchase a meal or a picnic. I have stayed at this lodge in the past. It is rustic but provides all necessities with rooms for couples, families and a so-called Massenlager (dormitory-type accommodation). Some of my friends might call it primitive; then again, the idea is to avoid leaving too big a footprint in this fragile alpine environment.
If you and your family members are experienced hikers and enjoy adventure, then there are some challenging hikes that lead you to huts of the Swiss Alpine Club, such as the Fründenhütte SAC (for “families with hiking experience,” according to the website) or the Doldenhornhütte SAC (“doable with children”…”family-friendly hut,” according to the website). Each of these hikes requires a minimum of six hours to complete (more than 14 km round trip), with elevation differences of over 1300 m (which include some steep passages). You can book ahead to stay at the huts; see this website.
Some other activities:
In addition to swimming in the lake, as I mentioned above, you can rent a rowboat (26 CHF per hour, but beware – there are substantial late fees!) or even fish. You can buy a fishing license on-site at the Berghaus. And, of course, life jackets are a must for a boat ride.
In the area there is a mountain coaster that extends for 750 m from the lake to the mountain gondola. You can purchase tickets for as many rides as you like.
For more information see the Oeschinensee website.
By Dr. Teresa Bingham Müller
Teresa is a geologist and educator who currently works as an instructor and science editor. She has three sons ages 18, 21, and 34, and two grandchildren.
Featured image used with permission. By Felix Brönnimann [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons