|The highest Alps peak with no need for mountaineering equipment | Strenuous normal route to Inners and Üssers Barrhorn from Gruben (T3–T4) | Harder option from St Niklaus (T5) | Rock climbing nearby|
Going above 3,000 m is usually the realm of mountaineers — but not in the case of the Barrhorn hike. In summer you can walk all the way to its two peaks, Inners Barrhorn (3,583 m) and Üssers Barrhorn (3,610 m), without any need for rope, crampons or other equipment. If that sounds too easy then hike up from the other side, where a short glacier crossing and via ferrata will spice up the ascent.
The Swiss Alp views are amazing whichever route you take. Three 4,000 m peaks and their glaciers tower above the Turtmanntal — the Weisshorn and twin peaks of the Bishorn — with several more across the valley on the St Niklaus side, including the Dom and Täschhorn.
Two trails to the summit are described below, starting from different valleys on opposite sides of the Barrhorn. You can do either as a long return hike, but most people break them up by staying overnight in either the Turtmann or Topali hut. Alternatively, combine the two routes for a one-way hike over 2 or 3 days.
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Practical info – Barrhorn hike
Getting there & away
The Barrhorn is located in Wallis/Valais, Switzerland. The two trails described here start from different valleys on either side of the mountain: the Turtmanntal and the Mattertal.
Turtmanntal side: Gruben/Meiden
If you come by car, then skip the tiny hamlet of Gruben/Meiden and park directly at the Parkplatz Sänntum at the end of the road in the Turtmann valley. This will save you 6 km of walking.
By public transport, take the train to or bus to Turtmann-Seilbahn LTUO, then a tiny cable car to Oberems, then a bus to Gruben — and then walk 3 km up the valley to the trail head at the car park. You can ask the bus driver to take you further up the valley, but this will not always be possible.
Mattertal side: St Niklaus
St Niklaus is located in the famous Mattertal — home of Zermatt and the Matterhorn — and is easily accessible by both car and train. But don’t choose your hiking route by ease of access: the climb from St Niklaus is more difficult and requires basic mountaineering abilities.
The trail head is at Ze Schwidernu, around 2 km up the road from the train station. If you are coming by car you should be able to park here.
What to bring
You don’t need any special equipment to climb the Barrhorn from Gruben/Meiden in summer or early autumn, but will need snowshoes or mountaineering equipment if there’s ice and/or a lot of snow on the track.
The route from St Niklaus requires a helmet (to protect against rockfalls — Kai was nearly hit but a large rock while traversing under a cliff); crampons and an ice axe in case of deep snow and/or ice; and a harness and gear to attach yourself to the via ferrata if you are uncomfortable climbing ladders.
Whatever the season and whichever route, this is a high alpine walk so be prepared for the altitude and sudden changes in weather. You’ll also be above the treeline for most of the hike, so don’t forget sun protection! You can eat at the Turtmann and Topali huts when they are open, but will also need to take snacks and enough water.
Dangers & annoyances
The hike from Gruben/Meiden is not dangerous in good weather in summer, but be aware of:
- Heat stroke/dehydration
- Stomach bugs & parasites
- Sudden river-level rises downstream of the Turtmannsee
- Altitude sickness
If you hike from St Niklaus then additionally be aware of:
- Falling rocks
- Exposed cliff sections with a danger of falling
Trail descriptions & maps: Üssers Barrhorn
Strenuous return Barrhorn hike (normal route)
The hiking trail for the normal Barrhorn route from Gruben/Meiden is clear, well marked, and not too steep or exposed. It ranges from a road at Gruben (T1) to a T4 alpine route after Turtmann hut. But while high, the T4 section is more like T3 — there is one part with chains and some walking on loose-ish small stones, but it’s not very technical. There may be snow on the track into summer, but you should be able to cross it with regular hiking shoes during the day. Note that trail sections with snow or snow melt may be icy in the early morning.
- Vorder Sänntum
- Üssers Barrhorn
- Inners Barrhorn
- Return to Gruben/Meiden
From Gruben follow either the road or hiking track along the river to Vorder Sänntum. If you come by car, you can save these 3 km by parking at the Parkplatz Sänntum at the end of the paved road.
From Vorder Sänntum you can reach Turtmann hut either by staying on the valley trail to Turtmannsee (as per the map below), or by taking the 185 trail via Holustei (where there is a small chapel). Both routes join again closer to the hut; see our description of the hike to Turtmannhütte for further details.
From the Turtmannhütte, the path traverses under the mountainside to the right of the hut before climbing up to Gässi via a gully then a short, easy cliff section with chains and metal steps. It next follows a morraine followed by a rocky section to the flank of the Barrhorn. For the less steep option, take the left path and climb Üssers Barrhorn first.
Return to the saddle then take the left (upper) trail to climb Inners Barrhorn. This is a rougher path; to skip the summit take the right (lower) path which traverses below Inners Barrhorn. Both trails take you to the base of Schöllijoch, from where there is a fabulous view back to the two Barrhorn summits.
From the base of Schöllijoch either:
- Follow the same path back down to Turtmann hut and Gruben. Alternatively, take a different trail back to Gruben/Meiden from either the hut or Turtmannsee. The high routes along the valley side offer amazing views of the Turtmanntal; see the Turtmannhütte hike for trail details.
- Continue to St Niklaus by heading down the ladders and ropes on the other side of the pass, and following the trail described below in reverse.
Very strenuous return hike
The route from St Niklaus is also clear and well marked, but rougher and very steep in parts with a rating of T3. From Topali hut it’s T5, with a brief (but easy) glacier crossing and a short (also easy) via ferrata-like section up a cliff. This route has more snow later into summer, and there is a danger of rockfall; check what to bring above.
- St Nicklaus
- Inners Barrhorn
- Üssers Barrhorn
- Return to St Nicklaus
From St Nicklaus, follow the road up the valley to the trail head at Ze Schwidernu. There are several paths to Topali hut; we took the one via Wälkerschmatt and Boden, both of which are marked on the signs. (Follow the trail to Schweideren if you are coming down). The trail is steep and rough in parts, winding up through the forest, rhododendrons and beautiful cliffs towering over St Nicklaus.
The trail flattens out a little once you are above the treeline, traversing the valley side through grassy pastures. After crossing a rocky stretch, the trail climbs again to Topali hut which sits precariously on a rocky spur.
The trail becomes T5 after the hut, climbing up through increasingly rocky landscapes to Schölli Glacier. Watch out for falling rocks when walking under cliffs. Once you reach the glacier, it’s a direct line across the snow and ice to the cliffs at the valley end. Look for the blue ladder to get off the glacier and onto the cliff, then follow the ropes and ladders up to Schöllijoch. The twin peaks of Barrhorn are to the right — follow the trail up Inners Barrhorn then Üssers Barrhorn. Coming down you can traverse under Inners Barrhorn and return the same way to St Niklaus. Alternatively, after the Topali hut take the trail via Unnerbächji to St Niklaus.
Nearby mountain fun
Eating & sleeping
Gruben has one hotel, the Hotel Schwartzhorn. There are also eating and sleeping options in Oberems and St Niklaus.
Other hiking options
For trails around St Niklaus, see SwissMobility.
Two trails of note:
- The long-distance 6 “Alpine Passes” trail runs through Gruben and St Niklaus
- You can walk from St Niklaus up the Mattertal to Zermatt
You can go rock climbing, mountain biking and mountaineering skiing in the Turtmanntal; see the Turtmannhütte hike description for more details.
St Niklaus and the nearby town of Grächen also offer many mountain activities, including a ski area with lifts.