Grachen to Saas Fee (Hohenweg Saas Fee)

Distance: 10.8 miles (one way)

near Saas Fee in Valais

Introduction

View of the peaks across the Saas Fee valley

The Saas Fee Hohenweg is one of the classic walks in the Valais with terrific views over the entire length of the walk. The challenging trail traverses high above the west side of the Saastal enjoying stunning views of the high peaks, draped with glaciers, towering above the Saas Valley and the Bernese Alps to the north.

The journey starts in Grachen, a resort perched on the sunny eastern slopes near the foot of the Mattertal (Matter Valley), beneath the northern most peaks of the Mischabel Range. Here a gondola whisks hikers to Hannigalp where a trail, accompanied by great views of the Bernese Alps rising above the Rhone Valley, curves around the head of the valley.

Soon the trail veers to the south and enters the Saastal, traveling along the valley’s steep western slopes beneath the summits of the Mischabel Range. The Fletschhorn, Lagginhorn and Weissmies rising along the east side of the valley dominate the magnificent panorama. Views of these peaks will only get better as you progress up the valley.

The overlook at Rote Biel, reached after walking about an hour and a half, features wonderful views of Balfrin, the Lammerhorn and the Bigerhorn towering over the Balfrin Valley, a small side valley. The Balfrin Glacier spills down the flanks of the peaks.

After dropping into the Balfin Valley the trail climbs to Bockwang, crosses a large rockslide and then travels to another great overlook at Lammugrabe, with fine views of the Almagellhorn, Stellihorn and the Egginer to the south. Across the valley the Fletschorn-Weissmies group fills the skyline.

Beyond Lammugrabe the path descends along Balfrin’s western flanks, with great views of the Bidergletscher (Bider Glacier). Waterfalls, fed by meltwater, spill down the sides of the mountain. Culverts tunneling under the main torrent of meltwater from the glacier provide safe passage for hikers under the falls. Past the falls, the trail descends down forested slopes to Saas Fee.

This is a very long and demanding walk with lots of ups and downs making it much more difficult than the distance and simple elevation gains and losses may suggest. In places the trail is quite narrow, clinging to the steep slopes. Fixed ropes and chains provide a level of security along steep and exposed sections of the route. This is definitely not a trail for people with a fear of heights.

This hike can be done in reverse from Saas Fee to Grachen but includes an additional 1,000-ft in elevation gain. My recommendation is to do the hike in the Grachen to Saas Fee direction.

Note that there are no places to obtain food and drink along the route. Once on the trail there are very few places to “escape” to the valley if the weather turns foul. So pick a beautiful day, set out early and take plenty of food and water and enjoy this glorious high walk along the Saastal. It is one you will remember for a long time.

Saas Fee from Grachen along the Hohenweg Saas Fee

View of the Bernese Alps to the north

Note: Due to the up and down nature of the trail, the elevation gain and loss is much greater than it appears by simply looking at the trailhead elevation and the high point on the hike.

In Grachen take the Hannigbahn lift, a gondola located a short distance to the northeast of the post office bus stop, to Hannigalp (6,960-ft/2,121m). (See directions below.) Given the length and strenuous nature of this walk it is definitely worth the cost of the lift to avoid the 1.5 mile hike to Hannigalp that climbs 1,640-ft. (500-meters) through forest with limited views. Hikers taking the lift will also get an earlier start on what will be a long day.

At the top of the lift enjoy nice views of the Weisshorn to the southwest and the Beitschhorn, the prominent pyramid-shaped peak in the Bernese Alps, to the north. Find the signpost near the lift station and walk northeast on a broad track signed for Sass Fee (6h 35min). The trail ascends a hillside on moderate grades, passing a small chapel, and then curves to the east, entering a wooded area of larches and pines.

As the path rounds the head of the valley it curves to the south and briefly descends as it starts up the Saastal (Saas Valley). Openings in the trees reveal nice views of the peaks towering above the Rhone Valley to the north. To the southeast, the Fletschorn, Lagginhorn and Wessmies, rising along the eastern side of the Saastal, dominate the view.

Signs along the path point toward Saas Fee or Hohenweg Saas Fee. Ignore trails branching right to Fruggen / Wannehorn and left to a picnic table.

At 0.5 miles the trail starts a steep ascending traverse. Over the course of the hike the trail will rise and fall to circumvent rock outcroppings and other obstacles, finding the path of least resistance as it traverses ridges and valleys along the valley’s steep hillsides.

Near the top of the climb the trail passes a second trail branching right to Fruggen / Wannehorn. Continue straight ahead toward Stock and Saas Fee. The grade abates at 0.9 miles and the trail now travels along an undulating landscape with great views of the Fletschorn, Lagginhorn and Wessmies.

Near a gate at 1.4 miles fixed ropes provide handholds along an exposed section of the trail. Past the gate care should be used as the trail crosses a small rock slide.

Beyond the slide the narrow path clinging to the hillside climbs and drops steeply as it travels around two ridges beneath the Wannehorn. Fixed ropes and pipes drill into the rock face along steep sections of the rocky trail offer a level of security, especially if ice were present on the track. A short tunnel at 1.7 miles allows hikers to bypass a rock outcropping.

Reach Stock (7,775-ft/2,370-meters), a grassy overlook with wonderful views of the peaks towering above the Saastal, at 2.0 miles. A bench at the viewpoint provides a comfortable spot to rest and enjoy the panorama.

Beyond Stock descend steeply down a grassy hillside and then climb again as the trail traverses beneath the Distelhorn. Soon the path curves to the east as it navigates a rocky cirque below the southeast ridge of the Seetalhorn. Exercise caution crossing an avalanche chute at 2.6 miles that is often wet and muddy.

As the trail crosses the Seetalhorn’s southeast ridge the grade eases and fine views open to the Saastal and the peaks towering above the Rhone Valley to the north. The trial now descends on moderate grades through lovely meadows clinging to the steep hillside.

Reach Rote Biel (7,480-ft/2,280-meters), a popular overlook, at 3.6 miles. Here a sign (Schweibbach 20 min / Saas Fee 3h 40min) point toward the continuation of our trail. Near the sign you may see vestiges of an old trail climbing the hillside. This trail, previously known as the Hohenweg Seetal, is now closed.

A short distance past the sign is a grassy knoll with wonderful views of Balfrin, the Lammerhorn and the Bigerhorn towering over the Balfrin Valley, a small side valley. The Balfrin Glacier spills down the flanks of the peaks while the tip of the Farichhorn rises above the head of the valley. Senggchuppa, the Fletschorn, the Lagginhorn and the Wessmies fill the skyline to the southeast.

Beyond the overlook the trail heads southwest on a descending traverse through larch and pine trees, crossing a few boulder fields along the way. The path loses almost 600-ft. as it drops to the floor of the Balfrin valley where it crosses a bridge over the Schweibbach stream.

Past the bridge the trail turns left (east) and ascends the slopes along the south side of the Balfrin valley on moderate grades that grow steeper as the path gains height. At 5.0 miles the trail enters the trees and curves to the south around the end of a ridge, returning to the Saastal Valley. For the next half mile the trail dips up and down as it travels along a rock face high above the valley.

Start a very steep climb at 5.5 miles up rocky meadows on an exposed slope. The open slopes offer terrific views of the Saas Valley and the peaks to the north. Reach Bockwang (7,411-ft/2,259-meters) at 5.9 miles where red and white blazes mark the best route through large rock slabs.

The trail drops briefly and then follows an ascending traverse across a large rockslide. Pay careful attention to the red/white blazes on the rocks to find the easiest route through the boulders.

Beyond the boulder field the narrow trail climbs along a rock face. Fixed metal pipes and ropes bolted to the wall provide a handhold along exposed section of the trail. A metal ladder at 6.3 miles facilitates the climb over a man-made rock wall intended to block livestock.

The trail now descends as it crosses a few small rockslides before curving around the end of a ridge to a great viewpoint at Lammugrabe (7,533-ft/2,296-meters) at 6.8 miles. From the overlook enjoy terrific views of the Almagellhorn, Stellihorn and the Egginer to the south. Saas Grund sprawls on the valley floor while Saas Fee lies nestled in a hanging valley along the west side of the valley. The Fletschorn, Lagginhorn and Wessmies dominate the view across the valley. Signs at the overlook point toward Stafelalpji (25 min) and Saas Fee (2h).

The trail now drops through trees that give way to meadows where views open to the Bidergletscher (Bider Glacier) clinging to the western flanks of Balfin. Cascades of melt water spill down the rocky hillside below the glacier.

Reach Stefelalpji (7,130-ft/2,173-meters) at 7.5 miles. Ignore signs pointing left/downhill toward Bideralp, Saas Balen, Saas Grund and Saas Fee. Instead, continue straight ahead toward Balmiboden (30min) and Saas Fee (1h 35min).

After a brief ascent the trail continues its descending traverse, crossing several streams carrying glacial meltwater. At 7.9 miles the trail reaches a culvert going under a torrent of meltwater from the Bidergletscher. The trail actually goes through two culverts to safely bypass this obstacle. Signs nearby explain the construction of the culverts.

Shortly after passing through the culverts the trail enters the woods and starts descending toward Saas Fee. At Balmiboden (6,955-ft/2,120-meters) at 8.25 miles, ignore the signs pointing toward Hannigbahn / Gibidum and Mellig. Instead continue in the direction of Saas Fee (1h 5min).

Bear right in the direction of Saas Fee at Senggboden, a small clearing at 8.7 miles. Soon you reach a second sign for Senggboden. Here a trail sign points straight ahead for Saas Fee.

After a short uphill stint the trail drops steeply through trees. At the next sign there are two routes listed to Saas Fee. Avoid the route pointing right toward Hohnegg/Melchboden/Saas Fee and instead continue straight ahead following the sign listing Saas Fee only.

At Barenfalle (6,178-ft/1,883-meters), travel along the trail toward the Saas Fee Post (30min), which crosses a dirt road and then continues downhill, skirting a horse corral to join a broad dirt track. This track eventually turns into a wide dirt lane which goes by several exercise stations before coming to houses on the outskirts of Saas Fee.

At a “Y” intersection take the walkway marked as Carl Zuckmayer Weg that passes between two houses on the northern edge of Saas Fee. Walkways now head south toward downtown Saas Fee. When in doubt, walk in the direction of the signs pointing toward Dorfzentrum or the Tourist Information Bureau, which is located near the bus station. Reach the center of Saas Fee after walking 10.8 miles.

This hike can be done in reverse from Saas Fee to Grachen but includes an additional 1,000-ft in elevation gain. My recommendation is to do the hike in the Grachen to Saas Fee direction.

Note that there are no places to obtain food and drink along the route. Once on the trail there are very few places to “escape” to the valley if the weather turns foul. So pick a beautiful day, set out early and take plenty of food and water and enjoy this glorious high walk along the Saastal. It is one you will remember for a long time.

Hike Facts

  • Distance: 10.8 miles (one way)
  • Elevation: 6,973-ft. - 7,945-ft.
  • Elevation Gain: 1,980-ft.
  • Difficulty: strenuous
  • Basecamp(s): Saas Fee / Zermatt
  • Region: Valais

 

Elevation Profile

Elevation Profile for the Hohenweg Saas Fee

 

 

Driving Directions

From the Grachen Post: Walk to the front of the post office. With your back to the post office turn right and walk along main street (Dorfweg) to the corner. At the “Y” intersection, head up Barglistrasse, the street branching to the right (east/northeast). You will be walking between the Haus Allain / T-Rex Restaurant (on the left) and the north side of the post office (on the right). Walk up the street for one block and turn right (south) on Spieli Strasse (street). The cable car station is clearly visible ahead. Walk up the street a short distance to the Hannig Cable Car Station on the left (north) side of the street. Signposts along the way will direct you to the Hannig lift.

From Saas Fee: Take the Post Bus and train to Grachen. From Saas Fee, board an early morning bus headed for Brig and get off at the Stalden-Saas Bahnhoff (train station). At the train station catch a train headed for Zermatt and get off at the St. Niklaus station. At the St. Niklaus train station take the Postbus to Grachen, getting off at the Grachen Post stop. The entire trip takes 1-hour 40-minutes. You can buy a combined ticket to cover all the transportation at the bus station in Saas Fee. In Grachen, follow the directions above.

From St. Niklaus: Take the Post Bus to Grachen, getting off at the Grachen Post stop. In Grachen, follow the directions above.

From Zermatt: Take the train to St. Niklaus. Trains run every half hour and the trip takes about 36 minutes. In St. Niklaus catch the Post Bus to Grachen and get off at the Grachen Post stop. In Grachen, follow the directions above.

 

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