It is not every day that you find a hike that combines a cable car, a paragliding school, a cave/tunnel, a natural history museum, a chapel in a cave, a restaurant on a cliff and a beautiful lake, all surrounded by a range of small mountains rivaling those in Aspen, Colorado in their beauty. Ebenalp is a real find for parents with children who are old enough to hike or for anyone who has a visitor in town who would like an adventure in the mountains. It is easy to get to and everything is well marked.
Once you arrive in Wasserauen, the town below Ebenalp, expect to see a valley packed with cars. Do not be put off! The Paragliding School is the primary reason the cars are there, and you will not see many of these folks on the trails. I recommend taking the cable car up if you have children under 10 or visitors who are not in great physical shape. The cable car center cannot be missed and the staff is most helpful, offering maps and information in English.
The beauty of Ebenalp for parents is that it is exciting for children almost immediately. The cave/tunnel is only about 10 minutes down the trail from the top of the mountain. The natural history museum is just at the lower entrance to the cave, as are the chapel and the restaurant. The hike down to the lake–Seealpsee–is a mere 45 minutes or so and the hike (which is flat) around the lake is another 30 minutes. There are two restaurants at the lake, both of which have lovely views. From the lake it is about a 45-minute walk down to the parking lot.
Some hiking tips:
If you are new to hiking, make sure to bring the following items: a day pack, water bottles, snacks, rain gear, good socks and hiking boots that cover your ankles, band-aids, sunscreen and insect repellent.
Hiking etiquette requires that those going down move out of the way of those going up; be sure to explain this to your child.
Do not allow your child to run ahead especially through the cave, which is well lit, but can be slippery.
The trail going down is quite eroded in places and they have had to install metal supports, which can also be slippery.
If you have toddlers with you, plan to bring a harness for them. If you have your dog, keep it on a leash.
If you bring along your binoculars and a magnifying glass you will give your children an opportunity to become budding naturalists. Children love to inspect all kinds of things (dead and alive) so allow plenty of time for them to check out the wildflowers and insects. Be on the lookout for other animals both large and small.
Do not forget your field guides! The alpine-level meadow flowers are magnificent in the late spring, as are the rather vocal cuckoo birds.
To get to Ebenalp by car from Zurich (roughly 1.5 hours):
- Take the highway towards the airport.
- After the tunnels go in the direction of Winterthur and St. Gallen.
- Go past Winterthur and Wil.
- Take the exit for either Gossau or Herisau.
- Once you are off the highway follow the signs to Appenzell (the town).
- When you are near Appenzell you will start to see signs for Wasserauen.
- Follow the signs for Wasserauen and once you are there you cannot miss the station for the cable car that takes you up Ebenalp.
By train from Zurich (about two hours): There is a train every hour, and sometimes two. Change in Gossau (SG). The Wasserauen station is directly across the street from the cable car station.
The SchauKäserei and the Appenzeller Volkskunde-Museum: On your way home, if you drive through Stein on your way back to the highway, you can’t miss the bright yellow cheese wedge sign/play area advertising the SchauKäserei (the Appenzell Demonstration Dairy) and the Appenzeller Volkskunde-Museum (Folklore/Folkart museum). The dairy is a great place to pick up bread, cheese and souvenirs (as long as you can stand the strong smell), and you can let the children play in the giant cheese wedge outside.
By Susan Riedo
Susan Riedo has two nearly “grown up” children and has enjoyed hiking her whole life. Currently Susan spends a great deal of time outdoors as part of her job working with young people with autism. Susan and her Swiss husband also enjoy walking along the Rhine near their home in Eglisau.
Updated version: 2015 and July 2018. Originally published in the May/June 2006 issue.
Photos by Tanya Deans.
Tanya runs the blog Moms:Tots:Zurich, which has more pictures and detailed information about Ebenalp trails.