Family Vacations to Swiss National Park, Swiss Alps
|Alps in autumn usher for a different spectrum of colors in these iconic Swiss mountains (PhotoDisc)|
It was founded in 1914, one of Europe's first national parks. It covers 66 square miles and preserves a variety of environments, from alpine forest and meadow to desolate rocky slopes and peaks. Unlike the United States with dozens of national parks, Switzerland has just this one, and it is well protected. There's no overnight camping or use of camp stoves or fires, biking is not allowed, and violators face a hefty fine for breaking the rules (this is Switzerland; rules are important).
What is allowed is walking and bird- and wildlife-watching on more than 45 miles of marked trails.
Before visiting the park, go to the National Park House in Zernez, park headquarters and information center. The center has permanent exhibits, an auditorium where films are shown, a digital information area, and staffed information desk. Expect young children to love the Marmot exhibition, which offering a marmot's-eye-view of the world.
Among the 30 species of mammals and 100 species of birds that call the park home are ibex, deer, elk, marmots, and golden eagles. A great success story of the park has been the re-introduction of bearded vultures. Once prevalent, the bearded vulture became completely extinct in the Alps in the 19th century. In 1991 the vultures were introduced to the park and are thriving.
A top walk for families is the Nature Trail, which takes about three hours. Boards with illustrations and information to inspire learning and understanding of the park environment are posted along the trail. Information is in five languages, including English. You can also get an 80-page guidebook, Along the Nature Trail, at the National Park House. If you look carefully you might see marmots or other critters.
Elevation in the park varies from 4,593 to 10,498 feet so challenges are available. A moderately challenging route for families with older children (who are used to hiking) might be Route 2: Fuorcia Trupchun, which takes about two hours on the ascent and one hour for the descent. Hikers on this trail might see ibex and they'll definitely be treated to rewarding views over the Trupchun Valley and into Italy. There's a complete listing and description of all 21 of the park trails at www.nationalpark.ch. One reminder: Hiking off the trails is strictly verboten.
Families can also take many of the park's guided walks. Typically they're run on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with Tuesdays the day for the Nature Trail.
There's only one road through the park and one hotel, Hotel & Restaurant il Fuorn. Built at the turn of the last century, it has approximately 60 beds in moderately priced accommodations, as well as a dormitory. Even if you don't stay overnight, go for lunch and chow down on the delicious hearty alpine fare. Families who want to walk three hours into the Cluozza Valley can also overnight at the Cluozza Hut, a large log cabin built in 1910 with 44 dormitory beds and 24 beds in rooms for two or more people.
Tips: One place to see the now-famous bearded vultures is at the bearded vulture nesting site along the Nature Trail.
Trains from Scuol and the Engadine go into Zernez, and the Swiss long-distance buses also make stops in the park.
Recommended Side Trips: St.Moritz/Pontresina, Arosa, Bolzano, Italy, Liechtenstein
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication