What to do in Swiss Alps

The Swiss Alps aren't just for skiers. In summer, the sky-piercing mountains, tumbling waterfalls, crystal-clear lakes, and fast-flowing rivers provide a stage for plenty of adventures. Whether you like your thrills mild or wild, your family will find much to do.

The Berner Oberland, south of Berne, encompasses the Alpine massif. Within that stretch of foothills and snow-capped mountains is the Jungfrau region, dominated by the towering peaks of the Eiger (Ogre), Mönch (Monk), and Jungfrau (Virgin). With access to these mountains, plus plenty of hotels, Interlaken, situated between Lake Thunersee and Lake Brienzersee provides a good base for explorations.

Have teens and twenty-somethings? They can challenge themselves—and test your nerves—by trying some of Interlaken's extreme sports. Some choices include bungee jumping, shooting rapids on the Lütschine (minimum age 14), or the Simme and Saane (minimum age 12), and canyoneering in river gorges. Not for the faint-hearted or non-swimmers, canyoneering involves rappelling down slick rock ledges, jumping into waterfalls, and rolling downstream with the currents.

But, you don't have to go extreme to get an Alpine workout. There's plenty of hard time to be had on a mountain bike tour or an uphill climb to a scenic overlook or waterfall. The region's trails offer a wide variety of difficulty. There are trail maps to help you go it alone as well as guides to provide background and assurance. For a relatively flat stroll, walk along the Kanalpromenade (boat canal) from Interlaken to Neuhaus.

For a fun family challenge, split into competing teams to conquer Interlaken's Foxtrail course, which consists of reaching a series of information posts. Allow two hours for the easier Unspunne trail, but block four hours and bring a bike (rentals at the train station) for the more difficult Schaukel trail.

There's a reason why the train trip to the peak of the Jungfrau is so popular: spectacular views. The Jungfraujoch train station, at 11,300 feet, is Europe's highest. En route the train climbs up the mountain and then passes through a thick rock tunnel. The reward at the top: breathtaking views (on a clear day) of picturesque peaks, the Aletsch Glacier, and Germany's Black Forest.

Take young kids to Brienz's Ballenberg. This 50-acre open-air museum features 100 traditional, Swiss dwellings and farmhouses, some from the 16th century. Cows, chickens, and horses meander about and interpreters demonstrate such country crafts as carving wood, sewing bobbin-lace, weaving baskets, baking bread, and, since this is Switzerland after all, fashioning watches and making cheese.

Tip: Before you go to the Jungfraujoch, check the weather to make sure the peak will be relatively clear. Also, bring sweaters and jackets because it's cold at the summit. Avoid going if you are prone to altitude sickness.

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