Swiss hiking trails | How to choose your right level

Photo of signs for Swiss hiking trails

Yellow? Red? Blue? Which colour trail sign should you follow?

You probably already know these colours indicate the three levels of walking and hiking trails in Switzerland: recreational (yellow), mountain (red and white) and alpine (blue and white). But do you know exactly what to expect on each — and their sub-levels?

It’s vital that you do! Some Swiss hiking trails are steep and very exposed. There may be chains or ladders, the path may not always be clear, and you may need specialized knowledge or equipment. Attempting a hike that’s beyond your capabilities is extremely dangerous.

Here you’ll find an overview of Swiss hiking trail signage and brief descriptions of the different trail levels. We’ve also indicated the trail level on each of our walk and hike descriptions using the Swiss system.

Please remember this is only a guide — what’s classified as easy may be extremely difficult for you. So you must ensure you are physically and mentally capable of every hike you attempt, and that you have the right clothing, equipment, technical skills and knowledge. See the other hiking resources section for info on how you can do this.


Overview of Swiss hiking trails

The 65,000+ km of marked hiking trials in Switzerland are generally well-maintained and well-marked. The three levels (recreational, mountain and alpine) are clearly indicated by their corresponding colours (yellow; red and white; blue and white) on signposts and trail markings — as well as on SwissMobility maps. Many signs also give the current location, altitude and estimated time to the next destination, including to train stations, bus stops, mountain huts and cable cars.

The Swiss Alpine Club has defined 6 levels of difficulty (T1-T6) within the three basic levels (descriptions below). Note that these sub-levels are not indicated on signposts or trail markings, but are usually mentioned in hiking trail descriptions.

Note too that the harder the trail, the less obvious and/or well-marked it will be. You will need to look out for the colour markings as well as cairns and poles… and for many alpine routes there is no trail at all; you’ll need a map to find the way.


Recreational trails — easy walks

Signs | yellow 
Trail markers | yellow diamond or arrow

T1 – hiking

  • Cleared and well maintained trails
  • Flat or a gentle slope
  • No/low risk of falling
  • Often between villages and towns
  • No special shoes or equipment necessary (although I’d still recommend good walking shoes)
  • No special skills necessary

Mountain trails — medium to difficult hikes

Signs | yellow with red and white points
Trail markers | red and white stripes

T2 – mountain hiking

  • Generally marked trail
  • Possibly steep in parts
  • Possible risk of falling
  • Equipment: Hiking shoes recommended; all-weather clothing; hiking sticks could be useful
  • Abilities: Some sure-footedness, elementary map reading skills

T3 demanding mountain hiking

  • Mostly marked, but trail not necessarily always visible
  • Steep in parts, climbing to higher altitudes
  • Some exposed areas, scree slopes and/or rocks, with ropes or chains on more difficult sections
  • May need to use hands for balance
  • Risk of falling
  • Equipment: Good hiking shoes; all-weather clothing; hiking sticks could be useful
  • Abilities: Sure-footedness, map reading skills, basic alpine experience

Alpine routes — very difficult hikes & mountaineering

Signs | blue with blue and white points
Trail markers: | blue and white stripes

T4 – alpine hiking

  • Trail does not necessarily exist
  • Exposed and sometimes precarious (steep drop-offs, grassy slopes, jagged rocks, snow fields, easy glacier crossings)
  • May need to use hands to move forward
  • Risk of falling
  • May be difficult to return in bad weather
  • Equipment: Good trekking boots; all-weather clothing; hiking sticks could be useful
  • Abilities: Sure-footedness, some terrain assessment, familiarity with exposed terrain, map reading skills, alpine experience

T5 – demanding alpine hiking

  • Often no trail
  • Exposed and demanding terrain (steep drop-offs, jagged rocks, snow fields, dangerous glacier crossings)
  • Some climbing
  • Risk of falling
  • Dangerous in bad weather
  • Equipment: Mountaineering boots, clothing and gear; map; compass
  • Abilities: Sure-footedness, good terrain assessment, map reading skills, strong alpine experience, elementary knowledge of ice axe and rope handling

T6 – difficult alpine hiking

  • Mostly no trail, mostly not marked
  • Often very exposed (steep drop-offs, jagged rocks, snow fields, glaciers with increased risk of slipping)
  • Climbing sites up to II UIAA
  • Risk of falling
  • Dangerous in bad weather
  • Equipment: Mountaineering boots, clothing and gear; map; compass
  • Abilities: Sure-footedness, good terrain assessment, map reading skills, very strong alpine experience, familiarity with technical alpine equipment

Other resources for choosing the right trail

The following resources can help you know whether to set out on a particular trail:

  • Online self-assessment | This short test indicates whether you are sufficiently prepared for mountain hiking trails (T2 and T3). It was launched by the Swiss Council for Accident Prevention and Swiss Hiking, in response to a survey showing that an alarming percentage of hikers and walkers do not adequately prepare and/or overestimate their abilities. The test is available in German, French and Italian.
  • MeteoSwiss | Even a great trail can be dangerous in bad conditions. The best way to check the weather is through Switzerland’s national weather service. Both the website and mobile app give detailed forecasts by town and even mountain, in English, German, French and Italian. You’ll also see any hazard warnings, e.g. for heavy rain, high winds or avalanches. Check regularly throughout the day, especially for storms which can be less predictable than other weather changes.
  • Webcams | Many cable car stations, ski resorts and mountain huts have webcams, which are another good way of assessing weather conditions.
  • Local tourism offices & mountain hut wardens | You should check current trail conditions with locals whenever you can — and then follow their advice! You don’t want to be the next person lost for 2 days in a crevasse
  • Trail reports | Another option to check current conditions is sites like hikr.org and camptocamp.org, where mountain enthusiasts post descriptions of their routes. These are less useful if no one has posted anything recently on your planned trail.

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