Author: Peter Watson

6 of the Best Hikes in Brig-Simplon Switzerland

Hikers in Simplon-Dorf
Photo: Brig Simplon; Pascal Gertschen

The mist swirls around the stone eagle monument above us. The air is heavy, filled with the sharp scent of meltwater and the chill of height. Cowbells chime on the breeze, emanating from unseen cattle scattered across the slopes beyond. As the breeze stirs, snow-capped peaks in the distance appear and then dissolve again into the haze.

I’m in Brig-Simplon, in the canton of Valais in Switzerland, trying out the Stockalper Trail (also known as the ViaStockalper or Stockalperweg), a 65km (40-mile) historic trade route linking Brig in Switzerland to Domodossola in Italy. The trail is the region’s flagship attraction with trekkers coming from all around to complete the classic multi-day Alpine crossing.

Chances are, like me, you’ve never heard of Kaspar Stockalper, known locally as the “King of Simplon”. More than 300 years ago, the silk merchant from Brig built a mule track over the Simplon Pass, thus laying the foundation stone for his trading empire. Today, there are several landmarks in the region bearing his name, but none so impressive as the whimsical Stockalper Palace in Brig – one of the most beautiful towns in Valais and the perfect place to base yourself for hiking excursions in the region.

Fast-forward a few centuries and the Stockalper Trail is now the centrepiece of a region famed for its quiet hiking, placid mountain lakes, historic landmarks, quaint villages and panorama-defying Alpine ridges.

If you’re planning a trip to Brig-Simplon but don’t fancy taking on Stockalper’s full pilgrimage, here are six of the best day hikes in the area. Whichever one you opt for, you are guaranteed delightfully empty trails and stunning scenery that delivers a sense of calm so rarely found in our all-too-often hectic lives. It’s everything hiking should be – rich in nature, culture and peace.

Hopschusee LakePhoto: Valais/Wallis Promotion; Christian Pfammatter

1. Simplonpass to Simplon Dorf

Distance: 9km
Duration: 3 Hours
Difficulty: Easy
Start/finish: Simplonpass/Simplon Dorf

If you want a taste of Stockalper’s old mule track, the second stage from the Simplonpass to the picturesque mountain village of Simplon Dorf showcases the best of the route. The trail begins at the 2,006m Simplonpass, the highest point of the entire trek, and weaves its way downhill to the charming 13th-century village of Simplon Dorf.

Encircled by rocky hillocks, verdant pastures and snow-capped summits, from here, we begin our hike along the second stage of the storied Stockalper Trail. The trail continues downwards, passing farmhouses, the Barralhaus, an army accommodation, and a hospice named Alter Spittel, which was built by Napoleon for his soldiers. The hospice has now been converted into a lodge.

Trail Hike Brig-SimplonPhoto: Brig Simplon; Pascal Gertschen

2. Bortelhütte

Distance: 11km
Duration: 3-4 hours
Difficulty: Moderate
Start/finish: Rosswald/Berisal

The car-free village of Rosswald, located at 1,819m, can only be accessed by cable car which makes it a naturally quiet and secluded spot. The verdant little plateau of pastureland, overlooking the Rhône Valley, is ringed by thick larch forests and enjoys a particularly sunny but sheltered spot on the eastern slopes of the Bortelhorn.

The trail leads up to the Bortelhütte, which at 2,100m is an idyllically positioned alpine hut with striking views from the ridges of the Glishorn massif all the way down to the spectacular Ganterbrücke viaduct. En route, hikers will weave their way in and out of larch forests and over alpine grassland. Get your timings right and you can have lunch at the Bortelhütte before dropping down to the little town of Berisal where you can hop a bus back to Brig.

Two hikers in BortelhuttePhoto: Brig Simplon, Pascal Gertschen

3. Glishorn

Distance: 17.7km
Duration: 4-5 hours
Difficulty: Hard
Start/finish: Simplonpass/Brig

This is a challenging hike but it rewards hikers with a superb view across the vineyard tapestry of the Rhône Valley and the rooftops and spires of Brig. After hopping off the bus at the Simplonpass, hikers are confronted with the magnificent 9m Simplon Eagle. The stone monument was built to commemorate the Swiss soldiers stationed there to protect the country from a potential Axis invasion.

From here, it’s a tough slog up and along some precipitous cliff edges to the 2,525m summit of Glishorn. If you’re lucky, it’s possible to see ibex and chamois roaming the massif or even golden eagles soaring above. The steep descent off the summit to the picnic spot at Mattustafel is a rocky affair. From here, you can either continue down the steep rocky path or opt for a wider, more gradual track back to Brig.

Hiking in Glishorn, Brig-SimplonPhoto: Brig Simplon

4. Bärgeri bisse

Distance: 11.5km
Duration: 3-4 hours
Difficulty: Moderate
Start/finish: Schallberg/Holzji

This delightful forest trail follows the historic mountain water irrigation channel, the Bärgeri bisse. Originally, bisse were designed to divert water from the rivers in this dry region of Switzerland to the mountainside crops. Today, it forms a mellow waterside walk along the gentle lower slopes of the Glishorn, making use of rustic wooden walkways as it meanders through quiet woodland and peaceful meadows. The trail is mostly downhill and finishes in Holzji – just a 20-minute short walk or 10-minute bus ride from central Brig.

Two hikers near a stream in sirwoltuseePhoto: Brig Simplon

5. Simplon to Sirwoltusee

Distance: 11.3km
Duration: 3-4 hours
Difficulty: Moderate
Start/finish: Engeloch/Simplon Dorf 

After crossing exposed moorland, this trail quickly gains height ascending the rocky slopes up to the Wysse Bode ridge at 2,113m. From here, the trail follows the ridge, climbing steadily and passing the aquamarine waters of the Sirwoltusee Lake before a final hairy scramble up to the 2,623m Wyssbodehorn summit off the main trail. Naturally, the summit boasts breath-taking views of Simplon banked by the snow-capped peaks of the Valais Alps.

The good news is that from here, it’s all downhill along the switchback path which reveals occasional glimpses of the immense Rossbode Glacier. The trail emerges from some woods onto a gently sloping pasture above Simplon Dorf. Nestled in a small fold of the hills, the cute village has retained its 17th-century village square with an elegant church tower surrounded by narrow cobbled streets and three-storey stone houses. And with a clasp of traditional bakeries and cosy restaurants, it makes for the perfect place to linger and recover from your exertions before catching the bus back to Brig.

Sirwoltusee Photo: Brig Simplon

6. Rosswald

Distance: 4.7km
Duration: 1-2 hours
Difficulty: Easy
Start/finish: Rosswald/Rosswald

This short and sweet circular walk is one that the entire family can enjoy. Considering its length, this little hike packs a lot in, providing a pocket slideshow of everything the region has to offer. Beginning on the Rosswald pastures the trail gently works its way up to the aqueduct above the village by way of some narrow forest tracks. From there, it joins some wider paths and hops across some streams back to Rosswald.

Hikers in the mountains of RosswaldPhoto: Brig Simplon

Get Hiking in Brig-Simplon

Find out more information about hiking in Brig-Simplon at this link or adventuring in Valais at the Valais online shop. You can also check out our other favourite hikes from across the beautiful canton here.