Swiss Alps: The Gasterntal and Klus Gorge hike

  • Distance: 13km
  • Refreshments: Selden (start of walk), Hotel Waldhaus (midway through) and then back in Kandersteg

This is a lovely walk, going down the canyon, the Klus Gorge and back to Kandersteg. Following a river all the way down made it easy to navigate and added to the sense of serenity. Having been to Canada numerous times, it really did remind me of a little piece of Canada. The smell of pine trees, the sound of water and rushing waterfalls and the colour of clear blue rivers! Bliss!

The Gasterntal, with its steep high rock faces and many waterfalls, is a classic Alpine trough valley. The UNESCO-recognised Gasterntal is Kandersteg’s ‘hidden valley’, with snow-fed waterfalls splashing down sheer cliff faces. It was formed by the glacial meltwaters of the River Kander, which lower down in this nature reserve flows through the striking ravine, the Klus Gorge. Towards the end of the 1700s there were still 50 year-round inhabitants in 12 households living in the valley. However, today people leave late in the year as soon as the stocks of summer hay are exhausted.

The road journey

View when got off the bus

The starting point of the walk is in the tiny hamlet of Selden, 1537m above sea level. There is a minibus which leaves from Kandersteg train station at ten to the hour. We decided to book onto this exhilarating 20-minute minibus ride along a narrow road carved out of the rock wall. You need to get your hotel to book you a place the night before you plan to go. We did literally do it the night before, and still got a place on the 0950 bus. We were also allowed the VIP seats in the front of the minibus – which gave us a very clear view of the road! I think the driver took pity on my taped up knee – I knew it was useful for something!

It is possible to drive yourself up if you have a car. However, be aware that due to the narrowness of the road and the overhanging cliff faces, you need to be happy getting your car round small corners. There is an alternating one-way section for the first kilometre. Traffic is allowed up between 45 to 5 minutes past every hour, and down from 15 to 35 minutes past. It is a toll road, approximately 12 Sfr. You can buy your ticket at a ticket machine at the bottom of the road in Kandersteg. Personally I would always get the minibus up. You can then enjoy the journey, and also walk the route down rather than having to backtrack to your car. Have a look here for a short clip of part of the road journey.

Selden

The first of many bridges!

The bus dropped us off in Selden. Bizarrely he stopped to let out the majority of the passengers at Hotel Gasterntal, but he didn’t open our door so we stayed on the bus. He then drove 100m to Hotel Restaurant Steinbock and opened the door for the rest of us to get out. I am not quite sure why there are two stops so close together – especially as everyone on the bus was a walker! I think the second stop is meant for the Kanderfirn Glacier, the route of which also starts from Seldon, and the first was for the Klus Gorge.

However, it only took us 2 minutes, to walk back down the road. We stopped at Hotel Gasterntal to take a quick photo of the stream that had two wooden characters on a bridge. Before following the signpost opposite the hotel down a little track with the stream running beside it. (Ignore the signpost pointing down the road.) This was a short path leading to a suspension bridge over the fast-flowing but shallow River Kander. It was a nice long suspension bridge, but pretty study, so you should be fine with it. It has great views of the mountains and down the gorge.

Path of bridges

Turning right after the suspension bridge, we continued to follow the river. At times the path gets close to the river, and there is the chance to go to the water’s edge. Above the meadows and tree line, the mountainsides are bare and rear up vertically. Crisscrossing numerous bridges, mainly wooden, we continued to make our way down the gorge.

At one stage you will rejoin the track the bus came up on for about 300m before you bear left onto a narrow path downhill. Once again there are seats along the whole route, for you to rest and soak up the views. We walked down this gravel path back to the river and another bridge. The path now curves to and from the river, giving you some nice varied scenery. It was on this 1.5km stretch that we found lots of wild strawberries. They were absolutely delicious and we spent quite a bit of time picking them! Mid-morning snack sorted, we then continued on our way!

Reaching another bridge (surprise, surprise!) we could now see the Fulegletscher glacier and above it the Klein Doldenhorn and Doldenstock. As we crossed this bridge and bore left admiring the spectacular view, we could see an impressive waterfall cascading down the bare mountainside opposite.

Taken from one of the many bridges

Nature reserve

After crossing some further bridges, and doing some skimming practice with stones, we eventually emerged into an open meadow. There was a lovely seat at the start of the meadow, overlooking the river and the mountains beyond. So, we decided to have our picnic lunch here. I could just imagine a black bear wandering into the meadow at this point. But, maybe thankfully, this was something we didn’t need to worry about whilst walking in Switzerland!

This area is the Waldhaus Nature Reserve – look out for lady slippers, fire lilies and over 25 varieties of orchid. We continued to follow the path around the meadow and then turned right towards a farm. On the farmhouse, and Hotel Waldhaus, which we came to just after the farm, we could see enormous cowbells hanging on the front of the building. These are traditionally used on the cows during the Alpabfahrt (Swiss cow parade). This is where the cows are brought down from their summer pastures high in the mountains, to the more sheltered winter pastures in the valleys.

Klus Gorge

Klus Gorge

Walking behind the hotel and into the tall pine trees, it was clear this was the busier section for locals and day-trippers. There are lots of opportunities here to have a paddle in the water, and quite a few people were doing so! We eventually emerged into a big car park, and turned left at the ‘Wanderweg’ sign over the bridge. Turning right after the bridge, we could hear the roaring of water! Here was the beginning of Klus Gorge. As our voices got drowned out, we watched the glacial meltwater rushing down the narrow gorge, crashing over big boulders and tumbling over thunderous waterfalls.

Upon meeting the vehicle track, we turned left for a couple of metres until we reached the path on the right. If you time it well, you can stand on the vehicle bridge and get a good view up Klus gorge, and also of the recently rebuilt footbridge over the gorge lower down on the path. It is possible here to follow the road, for 250m, walking through the vehicle tunnel, but, for safety reasons, I would advise taking the footpath down. The path isn’t too steep, and there are some nice steps leading up after the bridge…and you get better views from the footpath. There is a view here of the spectacular old stone bridge and the Kander Valley in the distance between the cliffs.

Klus Gorge

We rejoined the vehicle track very briefly, taking the next path on the right. We continued to follow the river’s journey, with us also descending steps. The torrent is again spectacular here, with some rocks having been polished smooth by the force of the water. As the river started to flatten out, we turned right at the Wanderweg sign, staying close to the river. We then reached the road at the bridge for the River Kander. If you want to walk back into town, then go straight across the road, and follow the Wanderweg sign.

Return to Kandersteg

However, if you wanted to catch a bus back into town, then turn left at the road, following it round to the carpark of the Sunnbüel cable car. This is where the bus leaves from.

However, having done the walk on the first day back into Kandersteg, we knew it was a pleasant, easy walk by the river, and today it was sunny! So, crossing over the road we followed the path until we reached the ‘main’ road. Here we stopped for a little rest, and also because we were struggling to get Indie, Ana and Jones to come back from their adventure! Click here to find out more about them.

Indi, Ana and Jones

Turning left onto the road briefly, we then turned right, and continued to follow the footpath signs, as we had done on the first day’s walk. We went past the International Scout Centre, and continued along the path by the fast flowing (but now smooth) river, admiring the flower-bedecked chalets we passed. Walking through meadows, with lovely views and the bubbling of the water…what better way to end the walk?

I can highly recommend this walk for walkers of any ability. It is a nice change to the walks in the mountains. It has something to get all the senses going and who wouldn’t love to have the River Kander as their companion for a walk?

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