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Switzerland is a hiker’s paradise with the best marked trails in the world. With 60,000 km of hiking trails (compared to 71,400 km of roads, and 5,100 km of railways), not only is there an abundance of choices for hiking and walking trails, but the trails themselves are surprisingly easy to navigate due to the uniform system used by the Swiss to mark and differentiate trails.
About 50,000 signs and trail markers inform hikers of the difficulty of the trail, its final destination, and the time estimated to arrive there. Yellow signs, often in the shape of a diamond, indicate a pedestrian or walking trail, red and white signs or paint marks on trees and rocks tell you that you are on a hiking or mountain trail with more significant elevation gains and losses than a pedestrian trail, and blue signs indicate technical alpine routes and require additional safety equipment.
The signs are the work of the Swiss Hiking Association (Schweizer Wanderwege/Suiss Rando) which in 1934 designed and installed the first signs at junctions along popular Swiss trails. All trail signs and markers are installed and maintained by volunteer employees of the cantonal associations hiking or municipal employees, through a public-private partnership. Each sign and hiking trail is inspected in detail each year.
Trails and the corresponding signage are divided into three types:
1.Pedestrian trails which are suitable for any walker are standard yellow signs. This type accounts for about 64% of all trails.
2.Hiking trails, marked by a red and white bars are more challenging routes, and comprise about 35% of all trails.
3.Technical alpine routes, marked by blue and white bars require special gear such as ropes, harnesses, carabiners and helmets, and comprise just 1% all of trails
In the winter you’ll also see magenta signs to mark winter walking trails, though these signs are in place only during the winter season.
You’ll find well maintained trails and the familiar trail signs in cities, towns, rural areas, and in remote alpine settings. About 36% of the hiking trails are located at an elevation below 1000 meters. Most of the hiking trails, about 55%, are located between 1000 and 2000 meters and 8% of the hiking trails are located above 2000 meters.
Every year, hikers and walkers spend approximately 41.5 million days hiking in the Swiss network of hiking trails. Of this total, 39.4 million days can be attributed to the Swiss population and 2.1 million foreign visitors. Maintaining the national trail network comes at a price. The costs necessary to maintain a hiking trail network in good condition in Switzerland amounted to a total of about 53 million francs a year.