For members


What you need to know about Switzerland’s only national park

Whilst Switzerland has many natural parks it only has one designated national park. Needless to say it's stunning and well worth a visit.

Switzerland's many parks are worth a visit. Photo by Adrien Stachowiak.

Established in 1914, Switzerland’s one national park based is located in Engadine, an Alpine valley in the eastern Swiss Alps.

It’s imaginatively called the Swiss National Park and was the country’s only nature conservation park for many years and is the oldest national park in the Alps and central Europe.

The park is made up of 28 percent forest, 21 percent Alpine grassland and 51 percent unproductive terrain (scree, rocks, high mountain region).

Following a partial revision of the Federal Law on Nature and Heritage Protection in 2007, additional natural parks were later developed throughout Switzerland.

In addition to the Swiss National Park the country also has 19 natural parks that are perfect for a visit.

Today, a distinction is made between four park categories: the Swiss National Park, the new generation national park, the regional natural park, and the natural adventure park.

Though in principle all parks aim to preserve and maintain Switzerland’s natural and cultural landscapes, their approach is slightly different.

READ MORE: 10 waterfalls you have to visit in Switzerland

Swiss National Park

Extending over 170 square kilometres, the Swiss National Park is the nation’s largest protected area – the park is designated by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature as a category 1 nature reserve (highest protection level) – but that doesn’t mean visitors aren’t welcome.

Hikers looking to visit the Swiss National Park can choose from among 21 routes which are suitable for casual walkers, seasoned hikers and everyone in-between.

You also have the option of discovering the National Park as part of a guided tour for a cool 380 Swiss francs. The tour lasts around 6-7 hours and is usually conducted in German.

While out and about you will have the chance to see around 20 different animal species depending on the season, including red deer, brown bears, snow voles, and ibex.

However, while you are more than welcome to enter the park during its open season (May-October), you must obey the park’s protection regulations before setting out.

Here are some of the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ pertaining to the Swiss National Park:

First, the dos:

  • Pack a pair of binoculars
  • Stick to the marked trails when observing wildlife
  • Pay attention to information boards
  • Keep calm so as not to upset animals
  • Travel by public transport

And now some of the don’ts:

  • Stray from the marked paths or resting areas
  • Pick up or remove any natural object (animals, plants, sticks, stones, etc.)
  • Make a camp fire
  • Litter
  • Disturb nature
  • Bring a pet along (not even on a lead)
  • Spend the night at the park or inside your parked vehicle (including along the main Pass dal Fuorn (Ofenpass) road)
  • Visit in the winter (November-April)
  • Partake in any no winter sports, cycling or flying of any sort
  • Bathe in lakes, pools, streams and rivers

When is the best time to visit?

The best time to visit the Swiss National Park is definitely during the summer months (July-August) when you can observe a large variety of plants and animals and partake in varied hikes.

The park’s visitor season begins between the end of May and the end of June when nature slowly awakens, and you are able to spot a few animals already.

Meanwhile, the deer rutting season starts around mid-September to early October and you can observe them primarily in park’s Val Trupchun area – also known as the stag arena of the Alps. During the summer, the park’s deer population is 1,800 to 2,000.

New app to help you visit 

The new SwissPark app includes an interactive map displaying various activities, and makes it possible to find routes between chosen points. They can be downloaded even without an internet connection.

After seven days of testing the application for free, the cost will be 36 francs per year. 

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For members


What makes Switzerland’s Alpine pasture season worthy of global recognition?

Switzerland's Alpine pasture season has been included in UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. But what makes it so special?

What makes Switzerland’s Alpine pasture season worthy of global recognition?

Why are Swiss Alpine pastures in the news?

On Wednesday, UNESCO announced it had inscribed 45 elements on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity during its annual session held in Kasane (Republic of Botswana).

The list comprises cultural “practices and expressions [that] help demonstrate the diversity of this heritage and raise awareness about its importance.” 

Among this year’s new elements were two Swiss entries, one of which is the country’s popular Alpine pasture season.

What is Switzerland’s Alpine pasture season?

As an exemplary tradition of the Swiss mountain areas, the Alpine pasture season combines traditional skills, customs and rituals related to Alpine farming in Switzerland.

The Alpine pasture season takes place from around May to October in Switzerland when various cattle, sheep and goats are relocated to high-altitude pastures (between 600 metres and 2900 metres) to graze on fresh forage and herbs that thrive in the summer months.

The Alpine farmers, or Alpacists, then look after the livestock and their surroundings, produce different dairy products, and even invite visitors to observe the animals and farming practices.

“The practice contributes to the preservation of natural landscapes and creates economic and social ties between the local populations and the Alpine farmers. It has given rise to the knowledge and skills needed to maintain the sites, as well as to a variety of social and religious practices such as rituals, prayers and blessings, traditional clothing, livestock competitions and local festivities,” UNESCO writes.

Some of these practices also include “traditional clothing, livestock competitions and local festivals” like the Alpine cattle ascent (inalpe) and the Alpine cattle descent (désalpe) where – depending on the region – the most beautiful cow of the herd is crowned.

Festivals to celebrate the herd animals heading to their summer pastures play a vital role for farmers and locals as they highlight craft practices that are otherwise rarely observed in Switzerland.

“The knowledge, skills, and customs of the Alpine pasture season, including farming and cheesemaking, are often transmitted informally, within families and their seasonal employees or among members of Alpine societies and cooperatives. They are also transmitted through regional training centres, cultural events and tourism,” UNESCO says.

READ MORE: Why are cows so important in Switzerland?

UNESCO also recognises Swiss irrigation technology

Switzerland’s cattle weren’t the only ones to join UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity this year.

Its centuries-old irrigation technology from Bern and Lucerne also made the cut.

The multinational agricultural technology was proposed for inclusion on the UNESCO list by Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland and Germany, zentralplus reported.

According to UNESCO, traditional irrigation involves temporarily digging small ditches and channels to distribute water from as springs, rivers, streams, and glaciers to meadows.

This sustainable form of water supply, which serves to cultivate dry areas, also has a positive effect on biodiversity.

In Switzerland, this technology is celebrated with various social gatherings and other festivities to mark the start and ending of the water season.

UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity also includes six other Swiss entries.

These include the Craftsmanship of mechanical watchmaking and art mechanics (2020), the Holy Week processions in Mendrisio (2019), Alpinism (2019), the Avalanche risk management (2018), Art of dry stone walling, knowledge and techniques (2018), the Basel Carnival (2017), and the Winegrowers’ Festival in Vevey (2016).

Since 2020, the craft techniques and customary practices of cathedral workshops, or Bauhütten, in Europe, know-how, transmission, development of knowledge and innovation – which include Switzerland – also joined UNESCO’s Register of Good Safeguarding Practices and falls within the agency’s Intangible Cultural Heritage.

READ MORE: The 13 world heritage sites in Switzerland you need to see