Our favorite hike in Zermatt never ceases to surprise and delight us. The first leg of the hike climbs the beautiful Trift Gorge beside a gushing stream, traveling through pretty meadows sprinkled with wildflowers to the head of the gorge surrounded by a gorgeous cirque of rugged peaks and glaciers.
The subsequent climb to the high plateau above Trift is rewarded with an extraordinary moment when you crest the hill and the Matterhorn burst onto the scene. Soon the distinct east and north faces of this majestic peak are in full view.
As the trail wanders across the plateau’s grassy meadows hikers are treated to phenomenal views of the 4,000-meter peaks surround the Zermatt Valley. The Dom, Taschhorn and peaks of the Mischabel Range dominate the view the northeast. A massive wall of mountains clad in glaciers, including the Breithorn, Pollux, Castor, Lyskamm and the Monte Rosa massif, fill the skyline to the southeast. Looking to the east, the Findel glacier spills down the slopes Cima di Jazzi on the Swiss/Italian border, flowing west between the Strahlhorn and Rimpfishhorn to the north and the Stockhorn to the south.
The Hohbalmen, the plateau’s popular overlook with breathtaking panoramic views of the high peaks, is a good turn around point for parties looking for a shorter day. We recommend a longer and more challenging hike that continues across the plateau. This trail traverses high above the Zmutt Valley with more magical vistas of the Matterhorn along with great views of the Tiefmatten and Stockji glaciers spilling down the slopes of Dent d’Herens and Tete de Valpelline at the western end of the valley.
The final segments of the hike drop down the Arben Valley, with nice views to the Arben Glacier nestled beneath the Ober Gabelhorn, and then descend the Zmutt Valley to Zermatt through pretty meadows with the Findel Glacier, Riffelalp and Gornergrat areas dominating the view.
While most of the hillsides around Zermatt are bristling with ski apparatus, the Trift gorge and Hohbalm plateau to the west of Zermatt are devoid of such devices and remains wonderfully wild, adding to the pleasure of hiking this scenic trail. Be forewarned that this is a long hike gaining over 3,500-ft. in altitude. Pick a day full promise and get an early start so you can take your time enjoying this glorious hike.
Trailhead to Trift
Distance from Trailhead: 2.3 miles (one way)
Ending/Highest Elevation: 7,667-ft.
Elevation Gain: 2,352-ft.
The Hohbalm hike begins at the corner of Chrum and Bahnhofstrasse (the main street), a quarter mile south of the train station (Bahnhof), in Zermatt. (See directions below.) Start walking uphill on Chrum, a narrow alley. Signs a short distance up the alley indicate you are on Chrum and point toward the Trift, Alterhaupt, Hohbalm and Arbenbach trails.
Bear left where the alley splits and about 500-ft. further along turn left onto Triftweg, a paved walkway. (Look for a blue metal Triftweg sign embedded in the stone wall along the right side of the pavement.) The steep walkway initially climbs south but soon curves to the right (north/northeast) at the corner of the Omnia Hotel. Past the hotel the path turns into a dirt track ascending through meadows with nice view of Zermatt.
Follow the trail as it climbs the hillside toward the Trift Gorge, the obvious cleft in the hillside carved by the waters of the Triftbach. Along the way pass trail junctions at 0.3 miles and 0.5 miles. At each intersection continue in the direction of Trift and Alterhaupt (Edelweiss). Note: Ignore signs pointing to an alternative route climbing the Hohbalm. In my opinion the hike via Trift is the better hike with superior scenery.
After a slight bit of downhill cross the Triftbach on a good wooden bridge and then ascend to join a track coming up from town. Turn right at the signed junction in the direction of Alterhaupt (Edelweiss), Trift and the Hohbalmen, a popular viewpoint on the Hohbalm plateau.
Follow the trail as it climbs on switchbacks through a forest of larch and fir trees, leaving the river briefly to circumvent a large rock outcropping. Arrive at the Alterhaupt (6,345-ft/1,961-meters) and the Café Edelweiss at 0.9 miles. This beautiful overlooks enjoys bird’s-eye views of Zermatt and nice vistas of the Matter Valley, the Dom (14,911-ft/4,545-meters) and Taschhorn (14,733-ft/4,490-meters) to the northeast.
Just beyond the restaurant the track splits. The trail to the left signed for Höhbalmen (2h) and Arbenbach (3h 40min) is a shorter and steeper route to the Holbalm that is not recommended since it misses some spectacular scenery. Our trail toward Trift (1h 10min) and the Wisshorn (3h 10min) continues straight ahead up the gorge, ascending slightly and then dropping gently down to the river (Triftbach).
When the trail reaches the river it resumes its ascent up the gorge, crossing a bridge to the right (north) side of the Triftbach at 1.5 miles. As you climb, periodically turn around for good views of the Oberrothorn and Monte Rosa massif across the Matter Valley to the southeast.
During late July and early August the meadows along the path leading up the gorge feature an impressive display of wildflowers. Signs along the way identify the flowers and describe their unique habitat. Keep an eye out for the elusive Edelweiss with its delicate white petals.
Not far beyond the bridge views open to the Wellenkuppe’s (12,805-ft/3,903-meters) snow covered peak rising above the head of the Trift Valley. With each step the views improve and soon the pyramidal-shaped Ober Gabelhorn (13,330-ft/4,063-meters) joins the scene followed by the rugged crags of the Unter Gabelhorn (11,125-ft/3,391-meters).
Reach the Hotel du Trift (7,667-ft/2,337-meters) at 2.25 miles. The hotel, situated in a lovely alpine valley at the head of the gorge, is surrounded by a gorgeous cirque of high peaks and glaciers. Views (right to left) encompass the Zinalrothorn (13,848-ft/4,221-meters), Trifthorn (12,230-ft/3,728-meters), Wellenkuppe, Ober Gabelhorn, Mittel Gabelhorn and Unter Gabelhorn. The Trift and Gabelhorn glaciers along with numerous snow fields adorn the flanks of the peaks. Turn around for equally impressive views of the Monte Rosa massif rising above Gornergrat and the Findel valley to the east.
This is a great spot for a break and to contemplate the next phase of your ascent to the Hohbalm. The Trift Hotel provides 30 dormitory spaces and 9 private rooms along with beverages, snacks and meals. Picnic tables in front of the hotel offer a front row seat to the panorama of peaks rising above the valley. Alternately, if you are carrying your own food and beverage, simply find a nice spot in the meadows to enjoy the terrific views.
Trift Hotel to Holbalmen Viewpoint
Distance from Trailhead: 3.8 miles (one way)
Ending/Highest Elevation: 8,750-ft.
Elevation Gain: 3,425-ft.
Just beyond the hotel signs point right to the trail leading to the Wisshorn (2h) and the routes to the Rothhornhütte (2h 30min), Platthorn (3h 05m) and Mettelhorn (3h 40min). Another group of signs point left toward the Höhbalmen (1h 05min) and Schönbielhütte (4h 10min). Looking left the Hohbalm trail is clearly visible climbing the steep grassy hillside forming the valley’s south wall.
To continue the hike turn left (west) at the sign. The trail rambles through the meadow and crosses the nascent Thriftbach on a wood bridge. Just beyond the bridge the path curves to the left (south) and begins a moderately steep ascending traverse of the valley’s south wall.
As you climb enjoy ever improving views of the cirque at the head of the Trift valley. To the northeast the Dom, Taschhorn and Alphubel soar above the Matter Valley.
At 3.25 miles the grade abates as the trail curves to the right (west). The Matterhorn burst onto the scene as you crest the hill, reaching the high alpine meadows of the Holbalm plateau. No matter how many times I hike this trail I am still surprised and delighted by the view.
The worst of the climb is now over and it is time to enjoy the fruits of your hard work. The Hohbalm plateau, located 3,400-ft. above the Zermatt valley, offers phenomenal views in all directions. To the south the Matterhorn’s distinct east and north faces command your attention. A massive wall of 4,000 meter peaks, including the Breithorn (13,665-ft/4,164-meters), Pollux (13,425-ft/4,092-meters), Castor (13,864-ft/4,228-meters), Lyskamm (14,852-ft/4,527-meters) and the Monte Rosa massif (15,203-ft. / 4,634-meters) fill the skyline to the southeast. To the east the Oberrothorn towers above the Findel Valley. The Mischabel Range, with the Dom and the Taschhorn, dominate the view the northeast.
These marvelous views, from different perspective, will be your constant companion for the next 2.8 miles as the trail traverses the Hohbalm plateau, a broad shoulder extending from the Unter Gabelhorn’s southeast ridge.
Follow the trail as it heads southwest, gently ascending broad grassy slopes dotted with tiny wildflowers. Views soon open to the Findel Glacier to the east. The glacier starts on the slopes of the Cima di Jazzi (12,477-ft/3,803-meter) on the Swiss/Italian border and flows west between the Strahlhorn and Rimpfishhorn to the north and the Stockhorn to the south.
At 3.8 miles reach a trail junction at Hohbalmen, a wonderful viewpoint at 8,750-ft/2,665-meters. Here a signs point left (southeast) to Alterhaupt (1h 05m) and Zermatt (1h 45m) and straight ahead (southwest) toward Arbenbach (1h 40 min) and Schönbielhütte (3h). The junction is a popular lunch spot and a good place to turn around if you want a shorter hike.
If you decide to turn around at this point there are two options. We recommend simply retracing your steps to Zermatt via the Trift Gorge for a very satisfying 7.6 mile day. Alternatively you can take the trail to the left towards Alterhaupt. The narrow path drops very steeply to Alterhaupt where it rejoins the trail down the Trift Gorge to Zermatt for a 6.5 mile round trip hike.
Complete the Loop
Distance from Trailhead: 12.3 miles (loop)
Ending/Highest Elevation: 9,016-ft.
Elevation Gain: 3,690-ft.
If time, energy and the weather permit we recommend continuing along the Hohbalm plateau in the direction of Arbenback and the Schönbielhütte (Schönbiel Hut). Beyond the viewpoint the trail follows a gentle ascending traverse in the direction of the Matterhorn, gradually bearing to the right (west/southwest) along a narrow shoulder below the Unter Gabelhorn.
This portion of the trail offers numerous lunch spots with stunning, front row views of the Matterhorn. The Findel Glacier and its surrounding peaks fill the skyline to the east while the snowcapped peaks between Monte Rosa and the Breithorn dominate the view to the southeast. At 4.2 miles the trail curves to the right (west) around a grassy outcropping and views open to the Tiefmatten and Stockji glaciers spilling down the slopes of Dent d’Herens and Tete de Valpelline at the western end of the valley.
At 5.0 miles the path begins a westerly traverse along steep, grassy slopes beneath the south face of the Unter Gabelhorn, crossing occasional rock slides and avalanche chutes. The trail is narrow in spots and may feel a bit exposed but is quite safe.
Reach the high point of the trail (9,015-ft. / 2,748-meters) at 5.8 miles. The trail initially descends west on moderately easy trail for 0.2 miles to a broad grassy knoll directly across from the Matterhorn’s north face, another great overlook, and then drops on moderately steep grades toward the Arben Valley. As you descend, views open to the Arben Glacier nestled beneath the Ober Gabelhorn at the head of the Arben Valley.
At 6.6 miles the trail turns to the left (south) and descends along the east side of the Arben valley on long switchbacks with wonderful views of the Matterhorn and the peaks rising along the head of the Zmutt valley. Reach the signed junction with the trail to Schönbielhütte, which heads right, at 7.2 miles. We turn left (east) toward Chalbermatten, Zmutt, Furi and Zermatt.
The trail descends on moderately-easy grades for a short distance along the left side of a small stream before curving around and dropping down a gully on a series of tight, moderately steep switchbacks, passing a photogenic waterfall at 7.4 miles.
At the bottom of the falls the trail briefly travels beside cliffs along the valley’s north wall before arriving at a trail detour. (The original trail was wiped out by a rockfall and the area is still unstable.) Turn right (southeast) at the detour and follow the rerouted trail as it descends through larch trees, passing a somewhat confusing sign for a route to Zermatt and Furi branching off to the right. Ignore this trail and continue straight ahead in the direction of Chalbermatten, Zmutt and Zermatt.
At 8.0 miles reach a bridge crossing the Zmuttbach (Zmutt River). Do not cross the bridge but instead go left (east/northeast), following the trail as it drops around the bottom of the landslide and then climbs steep, dusty switchbacks to the continuation of the main trail at 8.5 miles.
A good path now descends steadily heading east through meadows to Chalbermatten (6,906-ft. / 2,105-meters), with an old defunct restaurant, at 9.0 miles. The Findel Glacier, Riffelalp and Gornergrat dominate the view to the east.
Beyond Chalbermatte the trail continues it moderate descending traverse, passing the Zmutt reservoir and then traveling through pastures to Zmutt at 10.2 miles. The small village is a popular lunch spot and a favorite destination for tourist seeking a short walk from Zermatt.
For the rest of the hike you will see many people on the trail, which descends along a wide, pleasant track passing some old buildings and grain storehouses. At 10.6 miles the trail drops steeply down a few switchbacks and then curves left (northeast) as it heads back to Zermatt.
Reach the south end of Zermatt at 11.9 miles. From here you can either hop on an electric shuttle bus (fee required) or walk 0.4 miles through town to the start of the hike. (When in doubt, follow signs pointing to the Zermatt Bahnhoff.)
Walking directions from the Zermatt Train Station (Bahnhof): Walk south along the main street, Bahnhofstrasse, for 0.25 miles and turn right on Chrum, a small alley. As you walk along Bahnhofstrasse watch for the Mont Cervin Hotel on your left. Chrum is the first street on the right after you see the Cervin. The Unique Hotel Post is located across from Chrum Street. Gees Cockoo Club, with Grampi’s on the second floor, is located at the southeast corner of Banhoffstrasse and Chrum.
Walk about 0.1 mile (500-ft.) up Chrum alley to Triftweg, bearing left where the alley splits. As you head up the alley you will see signs indicating you are on Chrum and pointing toward the trails to Trift, Alterhaupt, Hohbalm and Arbenbach.. Turn left on Triftweg, marked with a blue metal sign embedded in the stone wall running along the right side of the street. Follow the hiking directions above.
Walking directions from the Church in Zermatt: If you are staying in southern end of town, from the church at the corner of Kirchstrasse and Bahnhofstrasse, walk 0.15 miles (820-ft) north on Bahnhoffstrasse and turn left on Chrum, a small alley. As you walk along Bahnhofstrasse watch for the Hotel Monte Rosa. Churm is the first street on the left after you see the hotel. The Unique Hotel Post is located across from the street. Gees Cockoo Club, with Grampi’s on the second floor, is located at the southeast corner of Banhoffstrasse and Chrum.
Walk about 0.1 mile (500-ft.) up Chrum alley to Triftweg, bearing left where the alley splits. As you head up the alley you will see signs indicating you are on Chrum and pointing toward the trails to Trift, Alterhaupt, Hohbalm and Arbenbach. Turn left on Triftweg, marked with a blue metal sign embedded in the stone wall running along the right side of the street. Follow the hiking directions above.
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