Best Hikes in the Appenzell Alps

Planning a Swiss hiking vacation, but want to veer a bit off the beaten path and escape the tourist trail? Looking for great hiking, traditional alpine charm, and authentic experiences? Appenzell in northeastern Switzerland is a great choice. It offers superbly crafted mountain trails, great wildlife viewing, and wonderful regional cuisine.

The Appenzell Alps, or Alpstein Massif as it’s known locally, is a sub-range of the Alps. It’s separated from the higher, better-known, and more crowded alpine hiking favorites in Switzerland like the Bernese Alps, the Pennine Alps, and the Bernina Alps.

You won’t see tour buses or throngs of foreign tourists arriving en masse at these trailheads. Instead, the dozen or so small mountain guesthouses in the Alpstein are bustling with locals. The hikes are adaptable, with a few aerial trams that serve the region. These select hikes include ridge routes, cable-protected ascents, and can be done as dayhikes or multi-day inn-to-inn routes.

Hike 1: The Lisengrat

The Lisengrat is the ridge route running between Säntis (8218 ft), the highest peak in northeastern Switzerland, and the neighboring Altmann (7989 feet), a shining spire to the east. It’s a rocky chain-protected stretch of ridgeline and can be done as a challenging dayhike or part of an inn-to-inn multi-day hike in the Alpstein range. The most precarious portions are protected with chains and ladders—so it’s something any fit hiker can enjoy. Approaching the Rotsteinpass, you’ll have as good a chance of spotting chamois and ibex as anywhere in the Alps. On the Säntis side you can stay at the Altersäntis Berggasthaus and on the Altman end, the Rotsteinpass Berggasthaus awaits.  

Weaving through limestone outcroppings, we hiked the stunning Lisengrat, a sinuous chain-protected trail from Rotsteinpass to the summit of Säntis.
Photo by: Tom Dempsey

Hike 2: Saxer Lücke

The Saxer Lücke is promoted locally as a “geological theme hike” and the hike is named for fault in the Alpstein Massif which creates a gap in the ridgeline (Lücke=gap). But this trail offers so many stunning views, wildflowers and other highlights, that it’s easy to miss the geology entirely. From the ridge you have eastward views to the Rhine, Liechtenstein, and Austria’s Tyrol, while to the west you’re overlooking the Bollenwees basin. Taking the tram from Brülisau to Hoher Kasten makes a great starting point and you can conclude at Berggasthaus Bollenwees or hightail it back to Appenzell for the night.

Switzerland. get natural. Hikers in the stunning Kreuzberge in the Alpstein massif in Eastern Switzerland. Copyright by: Switzerland Tourism By-Line: swiss-image.ch/Roland Gerth

Hike 3:  Äscher-Ebenalp and Wildkirchli caves.

You have several ways to tackle this ridge, but as an easy-going dayhike with lots of variety, I’d suggest taking the aerial tram from Wasserauen to Ebenalp. It’s a short descent to Wildkirchli caves where you’ll see the skeletons of cave bears and tools dating to the Stone Age, and the Altar Cave with its chapel and 19th century bell tower. Berggasthaus Äscher is set into the sheer rock face of Alp Sigel and makes for a memorable lunch stop. Your descent can take you directly down through the forest (listen for cuckoo birds) or a return to Ebenalp and a tram ride back down to Wasserauen.

Switzerland. get natural. The Alpine restaurant Aescher-Wildkirchli in the rock face of the Ebenalp, Canton Appenzell-Innerrhoden. Copyright by Switzerland Tourism By-line: swiss-image.ch/Robert Boesch

These three hikes aren’t just Appenzell standouts, they rank among some of the very best hikes in the Swiss Alps and can hold their own against any hike you’d find in the Bernese Oberland or the Pennine Alps.

They are featured hikes on Alpenwild’s  Best of Lucerne and Appenzell Swiss Hiking Vacation, or can be arranged as part of a private group tour or self-guided tour in Switzerland.

Greg Witt

About Greg Witt

Greg Witt is the Founder and Chief Adventure Officer of Alpenwild, the leader in active travel in the Alps. Greg first hiked in the Alps in 1970 as a teenager backpacking through Europe. A best-selling and award-winning author, he lives most of the year in the Swiss Alps, near the border of France and Italy. He’s currently in rehab for his addiction to Gruyère cheese. It hasn’t been successful.

8 Replies to “Best Hikes in the Appenzell Alps”

  1. I should add Hoher Kasten to my list of hikes also. In addition knowing I am interested in Innerrhoden, Schaefler and Hoher Kasten in two days. Thanks 🙂

  2. AvatarKimberly says:

    Hello from USA. I am looking for the most scenic hike. I am up for a challenge but not a great fan of heights, meaning walking on a narrow ledge. I am interested in staying in Appenzell one night and doing the Appenzell Innerrhoden hike on day one. Would love any suggestions to add to this loop hike and curious about the elevation. This is day one of arriving in Switzerland. Day two was thinking of staying in a mountain hut, Alpenblick possibly. Taking the cable car to Ebenalp and considering either going to Schafler or Saxer Lucke – which ever has less ledge climbing. Thanks for your suggestions. Goal is to get the photos I want in two days. Thanks! Kim

    • alpenwildalpenwild says:

      Hi Kimberly–We’d love to have you join us in the Alps. The Alpstein Range, or Appenzell Alps as they are often known, is a great hiking destination. Both the hikes you mentioned, to Schäfler and Saxer Lücke, are great. They are both along ridges and have panoramic views, but no unprotected ledges or serious exposure. I would give my preference to the Saxer Lücke, with views that extend across the Rhine and into Austria’s Tirol.
      For Saxer Lücke, take the train/bus connection from Appenzell to Brülisau, then the aerial tram up to Hoher Kasten. The hike continues to Staubern then descends through the Saxer Lücke to Berggasthaus Bollenwees on the Fälensee, an incredibly beautiful spot for an overnight. The next day descend to Seealp and Wasserauen for the train back to Appenzell.

  3. AvatarKirk says:

    The Alps would be amazing to explore. Very different than the Uintas here in Utah. Are there many challenges for visitors who don’t speak Swiss German? I could manage the basics of “Please” and “Thank You” but after that I’d be stuck!

    • alpenwildalpenwild says:

      Kirk, the language difference are usually only a problem in more remote villages and towns. Many Swiss-German speaking people are fluent in English. If you’re worried about not knowing the languages, book one of our guided tours and know you’ll be in the best of hands.

  4. AvatarSteve Allinson says:

    I am looking for locations of where I can plan a 3 day round trip hiking in the Alpstein mountains. Any thoughts welcome

    • alpenwildalpenwild says:

      Hello Steve! The Alpstein range is widely considered to have some of the most scenic, finely crafted, and exquisitely maintained trails in all the Alps. We recommend taking a tram ascent to Hoher Kasten and traversing Saxer Lücke to Bollenwees. You can also go to Meglisalp. We usually direct people to go to Säntis from there, but the mountain hotel Säntis is closed this summer because they experienced an avalanche this last winter and are rebuilding. We also recommend a hike along the Lisengrat ridge, taking a cable car down from there to stay at the hotel at the bottom or traveling back to Appenzell from there. Hopefully, that helps!

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