The Schäfler ridge hike is not just one of the best routes in the Appenzell region, but in all of Switzerland.
Its peak sits at an altitude of 1925 meters, and whilst it’s not the tallest peak in the area, it’s one of the most popular due to the demanding snake-like trail that cascades around the rugged mountain.
There are many routes to the summit, however, the route I’m going to cover is, in my opinion, one of the best.
In this guide, you’ll find everything you need to know before you head out on this hike.
I’ll cover all of the key details about the route and let you know how to get there and what to expect on the day.
You’ll also find some alternative hiking trails, a route map, some information about the facilities and some suggestions on where to stay.
I’ve put an FAQ at the end of the guide, however, if you have any questions then pop them in the comments box if there’s anything I’ve missed.
Schäfler ridge hike details
The distance of this walk is 9.5 kilometres if you take the cable car from Wasserauen to Ebenalp which is what we did.
If you choose to avoid the cable car, then you’ll be looking at a 14-kilometre hike.
Unless you’re up for a seriously big day, then I’d recommend that you take the cable car.
Whilst 9.5 kilometres – and even 14 kilometres – may not sound like a seriously big day, as we get into this guide you’ll soon see that 9.5 kilometres is more than enough.
The total elevation of this walk is 380 meters.
You may be scratching your head a little after what I just said about 9.5 kilometres being enough when this walk is only 380 meters of elevation.
However, this elevation is covered in just over 2 kilometres and so it’s very intense.
If you decide not to take the cable car on top of this, then you’ll need to add another 725 meters of elevation.
If you’re pushing on, then you could complete this walk in around 3 hours.
However, we spent some time taking pictures and stopped for some lunch and we arrived back in Wasserauen after 5 hours.
Since the elevation and distance of this walk isn’t too crazy, you wouldn’t be mistaken for thinking that you’re in for an easy ride.
But, this walk was actually way more difficult than what I was expecting.
The incline over the first 2 kilometres is pretty intense, but it’s the descent that’s a killer.
As soon as you’ve zipped along the impressive ridgeline, the surface becomes very loose and you’ll rapidly descend down to Seealpsee.
What looks like a zig-zag trail below is incredibly steep and, at times, has a rope to cling onto.
This is fairly tough on the legs but the scenery is worth every ache the following day.
In terms of the Schäfler ridge section that attracts most people to this hike, I was surprised by how easy this was.
I was expecting a super narrow trail that would have my palms sweating.
There is one small section that does this, but once that’s out the way it’s not a trail that you’d look at with concern.
How to get to Schäfler ridge
To get to the trailhead of this walk, you’ll need to head to Wasserauen before taking the cable car or walking up to Ebenalp.
If you’re heading to the Appenzell region, then the likelihood is that you’ll be staying in Appenzell (the town, as well as the region).
The routes below assume this, however, if you’re staying elsewhere then using Rome2Rio is the way forward.
It will provide a variety of different options for you as well as an estimated cost.
Getting to Wasserauen
You can head to Wasserauen by train or by bus from Appenzell and they’ll both take around 10 minutes.
If you choose to head there by bus, then you’ll need to hop on the B23 which leaves once every hour and it will cost around 3 Swiss francs each way.
If you opt for the train, then you’ll need to catch the Appenzeller Bahan which leaves twice every hour and it will cost around 6 Swiss francs each way.
Regardless of which option you choose, you’ll be dropped just across the road from the Waaserauen to Ebenalp cable car.
If you’ve got a car then driving from Appenzell to Wauserauen will take just under 10 minutes.
There is a very small car park right outside the cable car entrance, as well as a larger one outside the train station.
During peak times, these will be full by 10 AM.
However, there is also a large field just down the road which has plenty of parking available for 5 Swiss francs for the day if you get stuck.
If you manage to get a spot in the official car parks, then you can pay by app or cash, however, if you end up landing in the field then you’ll need to have some cash.
Wasserauen to Ebenalp
Once you’ve arrived in Wasserauen, you’ll need to take the cable car up to Ebenalp which is where the trail begins.
The cable car from Wasserauen to Ebenalp costs 22 Swiss francs per adult, however, it is possible to walk instead if you’re looking to save some money.
You’ll need to bear in mind that this will add 4.4 kilometres to the route, 775 meters of elevation and take around 2 hours to achieve.
You can also save money on the cable car if you have one of the many travel cards which are offered in Switzerland.
Below are some of the options and these are well worth the money if you’re planning to travel around by public transport, take the gondolas and tick off many of the big attractions in Switzerland.
- Swiss All-in-one Travel Pass
If you’re travelling around Switzerland between 3 and 15 days and you’re expecting to get around by public transport and tick off as many attractions as possible, then this ticket will save you some serious money. Not only will you get access to public transport, but you’ll also benefit from multiple scenic trains such as Glacier Express. A ticket for this alone is almost half the cost of the Swiss All-in-One Travel Pass. In addition, you’ll be able to access over 500 museums and enjoy many other mountain excursions as part of this ticket, or at 50% off.
Check prices: Switzerland: Swiss All-in-One Travel Pass
- Swiss Half Fare Pass
The Swiss Half Fare Pass is valid for 1 month and will give you a 50% discount on all public transport in Switzerland. In the long run, this will save you a tonne of money if you’re planning to explore Switzerland extensively.
Check what’s included: map of inclusions
Check prices: Swiss Half Fare Pass
Before we go any further, I just wanted to jump in and tell you about SafetyWing – they’ve been my go-to travel insurance company since I started travelling full-time because they’re ridiculously affordable (around 80% cheaper than my previous insurance and they offer basically the same thing).
I won’t say too much more, but here’s the link if you want to check them out: SafetyWing
What to expect on the day of your Schäfler Ridge hike
Once you’ve parked up or hopped off the bus/train, you’ll need to make your way over to the Ebenalp cable car.
If like us, you arrive during peak season, you may have to queue, since it is just one gondola which runs up and down the mountain.
Either way, this shouldn’t take too long and you’ll soon be on your way.
As soon as you’ve stepped out of the cable car, the route wastes no time getting into an incline.
It’s a short but steep hike up to the first mountain hut: Berggasthaus Ebenalp.
Here you’ll be able to grab some snacks and drinks for the journey if you haven’t already got some in your backpack.
You’ll also get your first glimpse of Seelapsee encapsulated by rugged mountains.
In my opinion, this is definitely one of the best views of the walk that you’re lucky to get so early on.
After a brief moment of descent, you’ll quickly begin your climb to Schäfler which begins with a trail that removes the mountain views on your left and leaves only the views of the rolling hills and countryside on your right.
These are still great, but nowhere near as impressive as the dramatic mountain landscape.
Before long, you’ll spot the summit of Schäfler way above.
It looks very close but’s actually at least another 30 minutes away.
You’ll pass another mountain hut named Chlus and you’ll follow a long zig-zag trail which can get heavily congested with traffic.
But not human traffic.
Goats and cows love to clog this section of the route up.
Once you’ve made it to the summit, you’ll find Berggasthaus Schäfler: a mountain hut as well as a popular restaurant.
A lot of people take this opportunity to dine among some incredible views.
It’s a pretty epic spot if you haven’t bought any lunch with you, however, just a few minutes further along the route is the perfect picnic spot.
The route will come to a fork, where you’ll be presented with two options.
Option 1 is to continue along the trail.
Option 2 is to pass the sign which says ‘danger’ and take a short diversion to the very best viewpoint of the Schäfler ridge hike.
I can see why there is a danger sign here, as there is a huge drop-off at the ledge.
However, as long as you keep your distance and you aren’t messing around, it’s not very dangerous.
Perhaps if you have children or a dog it’s not wise, but otherwise, you should be fine.
The next section of the walk is a little tricky as you’ll need to descend down a narrow trail to get to the long path which hugs the edge of the mountain.
To help hikers, some metal steps have been put in place, along with a metal cable to hang onto.
As long as you are being mindful of where you’re putting your feet then I wouldn’t consider this super dangerous.
Once you’ve made it down what is probably the most technical part of the walk, you’ll be able to enjoy the epic ridge that snakes around the mountain.
It slowly becomes wider and easier to navigate, and the drop-off to the right also becomes less daunting.
The trail then arrives at a big rubble of rock. It’s at this point that I was questioning whether we took a wrong turn somewhere as it becomes less clear where the trail is.
However, somewhere along the way, you’ll spot a sign which says ‘Altenalp’ and you’ll want to head this way.
This is a gentle descent until you arrive at the Altenalp restaurant.
From here, the route gets significantly harder as you’re about to descend to Seealpsee.
Initially, you’ll begin to descend with fantastic views of the surrounding mountains and Seealpsee shining below.
The route then finds some shelter and heads through a forest. It’s a nice break if you’re hiking on a hot day, but if it’s been stormy – which is very common in Switzerland, even during the summer – then it will be quite slippery.
As the route steepens, there will also be some metal steps and rope to help you reach the bottom safely.
Although this part of the walk is quite technical and requires some strong legs, it’s very doable and we reached the bottom pretty quickly.
The only annoying part here was being held up by slower hikers as there is not much room to get past people.
You’ll now have reached Seealpssee, which is a little different from the turquoise lakes in Interlaken.
Instead, they’re emerald green and match the moody mountain vibe in this area.
Either way, it’s a stunning lake that many people hike to.
You can rent a boat, go for a swim, grab a bite to eat or just chill out for a bit here.
Once you’re done with doing all there is to do at Seealpsee, you’ll now be on the final descent back to Wasserauen.
Don’t be fooled that once you’ve reached Seealpsee that you’re done for the day, as whilst the surface is merely tarmac, it’s a steep descent.
However, this is short-lived and before long you’ll be walking beside the river that leads all the way back to Wasserauen.
Schäfler ridge hike route map
Once you made it to the top of Ebenalp the cable car, this trail is easy to follow if you remember the sequence correctly: Ebenalp, Schäfler, Seealpsee and then Wasserauen.
Most of the time, you’ll see clear signposts the each of these destinations, with the exception of the section of the walk where you are walking across the rubble – the bit where it looks like you might have taken a wrong turn.
At some point, you’ll reach a signpost which has none of the destinations you’re looking for.
Instead, you’ll follow the signpost to Altenalp. From Altenalp, you can’t go wrong.
When putting together this walk I struggled to find a route map which I could download to my phone ahead of time.
I wanted to follow a specific route to ensure that I ticked off Ebenalp, Schäfler and Seealpsee without the route being horrendously challenging in length and elevation.
As such, I created my own route on Alltrails which is available for everyone to follow.
Route map: Ebenalp – Schäfler – Seealpsee – Wasserauen
Facilities along the trail to Schäfler ridge
Despite being deep into the mountains, this route has plenty of facilities throughout the trail. Below you’ll find a list of what’s available and at what point.
- Wasserauen: kilometre 0/9
At the base of the cable car, you’ll find a kiosk where you can grab some sandwiches, snacks and drinks for the hike. You’ll also find some portaloos here. By the train station, you’ll find a couple of hotels and restaurants where you can have a sit-down meal.
- Ebenalp: kilometre 0
At the top of the Ebenalp cable car, you’ll find Berggasthaus Ebenalp. This is both a mountain hut and a restaurant. You’ll also find toilets here.
- Schäfler: kilometre 2.4
Once you’ve reached the summit of Schäfler there will be another mountain hut and restaurant with toilets.
- Altenalp: kilometre 4.6
Altenalp has a small restaurant where you can get something light to eat. You’ll also find a toilet.
- Seealpsee: kilometre 6.5
Around the edge of Seealpsee, you’ll find a couple of restaurants where you can have a light lunch or grab some snacks and drinks to take away. You’ll also find some toilets.
Best time to hike to Schäfler ridge
The best time to do this hike is between late May and early October.
The trails in the region will undoubtedly be busier during July and August, however, we did this hike over a bank holiday weekend in July and never felt the trail was too busy.
We did have to park in the farmer’s field and queue for the cable car, but this only set us back by about 15 minutes or so.
In terms of the weather, even in the summer months, it can be hit and miss – particularly up on Schäfler where the clouds just seem to cling to the mountain.
It’s worth checking the webcam to see what it looks like on the day, alongside an app such as Accuweather.
In my experience, this gives the most accurate view of what’s on the horizon.
As long as it looks half decent, my advice would be to just go for it and make sure you’ve packed enough layers and some waterproofs if things do take a turn for the worse.
If you’re going to get a bout of bad weather then this trail isn’t a bad one to be on since there are plenty of mountain huts to hide in. 9 times out of 10, storms pass fairly quickly in Switzerland anyway.
Alternative routes to Schäfler ridge
With the mountain range being so vast, there are plenty of alternative routes to Schäfler ridge.
Below are some alternative routes that I’ve picked out that may be better suited to your requirements.
Easy: Ebenalp to Schäfler
The Ebenalp to Schäfler route is the easiest route that you can take Schäfler ridge.
However, that doesn’t mean it’s super easy, as you’ll still need to do the same climb which we did at the start of the route as there is no way of getting around this.
If you choose this route, you’ll take the cable car up from Wasserauen to Ebenalp and hike 2.4 to the ridge, before turning around and coming back again.
This would make the total walk just under 5 kilometres and you’d need to take the cable car back down to Wasserauen.
For a return trip on the cable car, it’s 34 Swiss francs.
Route map: Ebenalp – Schäfler
Hard: Seealpsee Lake – Ebenalp – Schäfler (free – no cable car)
This route is very similar to the route which we took, however, you don’t take the cable car at all.
Instead, this route takes you in a loop to and from Seealpsee which is 9 kilometres.
However, you’ll also need to factor in getting to Seealpsee to and from Wasserauen, which is at least another 6 kilometres.
Whilst this is a cheaper option, it’s a challenging walk that will cover over 1000 meters of elevation.
Route map: Seealpsee Lake – Ebenalp – Schäfler
Super hard: Wasserauen – Ebenalp – Schäfler – Säntis – Rotsteinpass – Meglisalp (free – no cable car)
If you choose this route then you can expect to be on your feet for at least 12 hours.
It’s a huge day and not one for the faint-hearted.
You’ll cover 27 kilometres and over 2000 metres of elevation over tricky terrain, but you’ll have conquered some epic mountains and reap the rewards with some outstanding views.
What to wear for hiking in Appenzell
As this trail begins at 2000 meters, it’s going to be a little colder than it is in Wasserauen, but nothing crazy.
I didn’t wear anything different to what I would wear if I was hiking at the base of the mountain, however, I did pack a rain jacket just in case the weather turned nasty.
If you’re heading to the Swiss Alps in May, September or October then you’ll probably need to wear trousers or leggings with a long-sleeved top.
And, if you’re heading there at the end of September or October then you’ll need a warm jacket too.
If you’re hiking in June, July or August then it’s typically shorts and t-shirt weather, however, it’s always worth checking the weather ahead of time.
As I mentioned earlier on, the weather in Switzerland can be unpredictable, even in the height of summer.
It’s best to check the weather apps as well as the webcam before you head off.
Where to stay near Schäfler in Appenzell
If you’re heading to the Appenzell region for more than a day then the two areas which that people typically stay in are St Gallen and Appenzell town.
If you’re heading to the region purely to do this hike, then you might want to consider staying in Wasserauen or making this a hut-to-hut hike.
St Gallen is a city that a lot of people seem to love, however when we visited I struggled to see what the fuss was about.
It was pretty quiet, most things aside from fast food restaurants were closed, and it wasn’t the pretty city I was expecting.
Perhaps we were just in the wrong area at the wrong time, but I wouldn’t rush back.
However, one thing it did have was a huge train station and after a quick bit of research, it looks like you can get from Zurich to St Gallen in under an hour.
From St Gallen to Wasserauen it’s another hour, so you could easily do this hike as a day trip from Zurich if you wanted to.
If you’re just using St Gallen as a hub to explore the surrounding areas, then it will definitely be ok for a few nights, it just wasn’t our vibe.
The best places to stay in St Gallen are:
The obvious place to stay if you’re thinking of exploring the Appenzell region is Appenzell town.
Although it’s a small town, it’s very beautiful and is filled with cute restaurants, coffee shops and bakeries.
There are quite a few hotels in the town and there is also a train station, so it’s really the ideal place for those exploring without a car.
The best places to stay in Appenzell are:
If you’re heading to Appenzell to tick this hike off the list, as well as others that may start in Wassaueren, then it would be very convenient to stay here.
There are only a few hotels, as well as a farm stay which is referred to as ‘sleeping in the hay’ in Switzerland.
These are at the base of the mountain and benefit from incredible views, but you’ll need to be mindful that you won’t be near any shops or amenities.
However, the train station is just a few minutes walk, so if you did need to reach the shops then it’s just 10 minutes into Appenzell.
The best places to stay in Wassaueren are:
There are a fair few mountain huts scattered across this mountain range.
Below are a list of mountain huts that are situated along the route which we took from Ebenalp to Schäfler to Seealpsee to Wausseraueren.
To book, you’ll need to ring the mountain hut directly.
- Berggasthaus Ebenalp is situated at the very start of the walk
- Berggasthaus Schäfler situated at kilometre 2.4
- Berggasthaus Seealpsee is situated at kilometre 6.5
Schäfler Ridge Hike FAQ
Is this walk suitable for dogs?
There are definitely some sketchy sections on this hike that you’ll need to be mindful of it you’re taking your dog, however, we did see dogs on this trail.
It’s possible to take them on the Wasserauen to Ebenalp cable car, but you’ll need to pay an additional 8 Swiss francs.
Is this walk suitable for children?
If it was me, I wouldn’t be taking a child up here, however, it all depends on the child’s hiking capabilities, as if they’ve been hiking from a young age and you’re confident in their abilities then it would be probably be ok.
If you’re keen to head up to this mountain range then you could always miss out Schäfler ridge as this is the only real part for concern.
Can you fly drones in this mountain range?
Yes, you can fly drones up here.
Is it safe to do this hike solo?
If you’re heading on the hike during the peak of the summer season then even if you’re hiking solo you won’t be alone, but if you’re hiking in the shoulder season then the story may be a little different.
However, it’s still a popular area and I wouldn’t say the risk is any greater than most other hiking destinations.
If anything, hiking in Switzerland is fairly safe as there are helicopters which are constantly flying around to ensure hikers aren’t in any trouble – even during the storms!
Can you swim in Seealpsee?
Yes, you can swim in Seealpsee, however even in the summer months it’s very cold since it’s glacier water.
Before you reach the end of the guide, don’t forget to grab your SafetyWing travel insurance that I mentioned at the start of the guide.
I use them on every trip because they’re around 80% cheaper than what I was paying previously whilst still offering more than enough coverage!
Explore Switzerland further
If you’re heading to Switzerland and are looking for some more adventures similar to the Schäfler ridge hike, then the below guides may be interesting to you.
Over the years we’ve spent plenty of weeks exploring the country and our latest trip was over a month long and these were some of the best hikes in Europe that we did.
Explore the Appenzell Region further
- Saxer Lücke / a dramatic panoramic trail that includes one of the best rock formations and alpine lakes
- Seealpsee hike / a waterfall trail to one of the most accessible lakes in the area
Explore the Jungfrau Region
- Schynige Platte / one of the most spectacular areas in the Jungfrau Region with more than just hiking trails to explore
- Lauterbrunnen hike / an easy walk to the waterfalls in one of the most idyllic villages in Switzerland
- Harder Kulm hike / an epic hike up and down the mountain to the most popular viewpoint near Interlaken
- Augstmatthorn hike / one of the most challenging yet highly rewarding trails in Switzerland with unbelievable views
- Things to do in Interlaken / a full list of some of the best things to do in the area
- Oeschinensee Hike / a stunning panoramic hike around Lake Oeschinen
Stay Wild Travels.
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