Swiss Alps Explorer
Hike the best of Switzerland.
Two weeks in a mountain paradise.
Swiss Alps Explorer is a legendary trip with roots that go back to the 1980s when Overland’s founders, Tom and Liz Costley, hiked the Wasserngrat and marveled at the views from the top, then stopped at the Geltenhutte for a picnic below waterfalls of Alpine snowmelt.
Have you ever thought to yourself: I can’t believe how beautiful this is? Well, that happens a lot on Swiss Alps Explorer.
The Alps are so beautiful, in so many ways: deep green valleys, giant snow fields (in the summer!), enormous glaciers, towering mountains. But there’s small beauty, too, and just as impressive: a flower-decked chalet, a village perched on a hillside, a high summer pasture.
The best way to see, to experience, to fall in love with the Alps is to hike them. And hike them we do. These are great hikes: a day’s worth of work on the trail will give us a summer’s — maybe even a lifetime’s — worth of beauty, fun, and satisfaction.
And we hike them together. We’ll be talking and laughing and singing, telling stories, playing games, and becoming great friends who share every moment, every mile, every laugh, every smile.
In the end, well, in the end, you won’t want to leave. But that’s okay. You’ll come back. We’re sure of it.
Good Things to Know. The 2020 itinerary has been carefully crafted to start with a series of day hikes (light packs with lunch and water) to get the group out on the trails near Gstaad to explore. Then, after this good start, we’ll take a day off from hiking to train to Montreux (about 90 minutes away through a landscape of mountains, hills, and villages) to catch a boat on Lake Geneva, a 60-mile-long sliver of sparkling blue snowmelt. After a day of cruising the lake and stopping at small towns along the shore, we’ll return to Gstaad and prepare for our backpacking trip across the Bernese Oberland. This is why we’ve come here: to put together all we’ve learned about hiking and camping as we traverse the best slice of the Alps. The backpacking trip ends above Kandersteg at the Blumlisalp hut — the high point of our trip. At every step of the way, whether its day hiking or backpacking, the camping is sweet: one of the things that’s really, really nice about hiking in the Alps is that you can stay pretty comfortable because the hiking is from village to village (where there are all the services you might need) and the camping is in campgrounds with full facilities (and that means showers!). And, the meals? Well, even in the tiny villages we hike through there’s just about everything we’d like — granola and fruit for breakfast, fresh bread, cheese, sliced meats, hummus, apples, and plums for lunch, and dinners that include stir-fry and pasta and green salads with lots of great stuff tossed in. What’s it all add up to? Maybe the best two weeks of hiking in the Alps!
Sharing the Moment
Stunning Swiss Views
Backpack the Bernese Oberland
Teamwork & Triumph
Need to Know
Hike the best of the Swiss Alps.
Day 1: Trip Start
We’ll meet in Zurich and travel as a group to the Bernese Oberland where we’ll set up camp for the first six days. We’ll cook dinner, get to know one another, and prepare for our adventure in the Alps.
Days 2-5: Day Hikes
Surrounded by towering snow-draped mountains, we’ll explore the lush, green Bernese Oberland on day hikes. We’ll explore river valleys, scramble up to passes, and stride along ridges. We’ll see a beautiful part of Switzerland as we hike and picnic, laugh and sing and tell stories.
Day 6: Lake Geneva by Boat
We’ll take a day off the trail to rest up for our backpacking trip by traveling by train to Montreux then catching a boat to explore this absolutely beautiful lake with the Alps to the south and vineyards and farmland to the north.
Days 7-11: Hike the Alpine Pass Route
We’ll put on our backpacks and head east, from village to village, and from valley to valley, each day bringing new delights.
Days 12 & 13: The Bluemlisalp Hut and Trip End
To celebrate two weeks of exciting exploration, great fun, and new friends, we’ll lace up our hiking boots for a final challenge hike to the Bluemlisalp Hut. This hut, perched below the giant Bluemlisalp massif, offers a fitting final vantage point to look back on our two weeks together in the Alps!
9 nights of comfortable frontcountry camping. Campground facilities will vary but most include access to bathrooms, flush toilets, showers, and laundry facilities.
2 nights in an Alpine hut with access to toilets, running water, and sleeping bunks.
1 night in a youth hostel in Zurich before flights home.Itinerary may vary by group and is subject to change.
"I loved the challenge hike — it was rewarding and had the best views. "
"We cannot believe how much we all grew because of this trip. As parents we had to step back and send her off. Isabelle came back with a new confidence about her. An amazing experience. "
What to PackDownload PDF
We travel light at Overland.
- Internal Frame Backpack
65-85 liters or 4,000-5,100 cubic inches. Before purchasing a backpack, find your backpack size by measuring your torso length and your hips (instructions are available here). We recommend getting fitted at a store and trying on multiple packs.
- Navy Overland T-Shirt (1)
We will send every student an Overland T-shirt prior to the trip. Please wear this T-shirt to trip start.
- Synthetic T-Shirt (3)
- Synthetic Shorts (2)
- Fleece Pants (1)
Please do not bring cotton sweatpants (they are heavy and bulky and will not keep you warm if wet).
- Synthetic Hiking Pants (optional)
Lightweight and quick dry material. Non-cotton warmup style pants are acceptable.
- Synthetic Long Underwear Top & Bottom (1)
- Underwear (5)
- Wool and/or Synthetic Socks (4)
- Winter Gloves or Mittens (1)
Insulated, warm and waterproof. Avoid knit and porous materials.
- Winter Hat (1)
- Hat with Visor (1)
- Fleece Jacket or Pullover (1)
- Lightweight Synthetic or Down Jacket (1)
- Raincoat (1)
Waterproof material (e.g., Gore-Tex, or similar) is required. Your jacket should be large enough to allow layers underneath. Ponchos are not acceptable.
- Waterproof Rain Pants (1)
- Waterproof Pack Cover
If your backpack does not come with a cover, we recommend buying a cover one size larger than your pack.
- Synthetic Sleeping Bag
A lightweight, compact synthetic sleeping bag rated to 15 degrees Fahrenheit or less. A synthetic sleeping bag is required for this trip; down is not appropriate as it does not insulate if wet. Your sleeping bag should compress into a stuff sack no larger than 20" in length.
- Sleeping Pad
¾-length or full-length closed cell foam (thin and firm) or self-inflating.
- Bowl, Mug & Utensils
6" to 8" plastic dish or bowl with top, insulated plastic mug, spoon, fork, and knife. These don't need to be special camping utensils (a Tupperware dish and regular utensils are fine).
Please bring an extra battery/batteries.
- Water Bottle
One 1-liter bottle. A Camelbak or similar water carrier is acceptable.
- Adjustable Trekking Poles
To add stability, reduce strain on the knees and improve balance while crossing unstable surfaces.
- Gaiters (optional)
Calf-height, waterproof gaiters to protect your legs and feet when hiking through brush, across snow fields or streams.
- Waterproof Hiking Boots
Choose comfortable boots designed for hiking with a pack (i.e., mid to high cut for ankle support). Boots should be waterproof. Break them in before the start of your trip.
- Camp Shoes
Closed-toe shoes to wear around camp. Crocs or lightweight tennis shoes are ideal.
- Synthetic Camping Towel
A medium-size synthetic camping towel (synthetic camping towels dry much faster than regular towels).
- Travel Size Toiletries
- Sunscreen (SPF 15+) & Chapstick (with SPF protection)
- Gallon Sized Ziploc Bags (10)
To organize and waterproof your gear and small items.
- Large Trash Bags (4)
To waterproof your gear.
- Package of Moleskin or Molefoam
To protect your feet from blisters.
- Camera, Charger & Extra Batteries (optional)
A digital or disposable camera.
- Personal Journal or Book (optional)
- Health Insurance Card
Please bring an original or copy of your health insurance card.
Please bring a passport that is valid until at least six months after your trip end date.
- Passport Photocopies
Make at least four photocopies of your passport and visa (if applicable). Leave one copy with your family and put photocopies in both your checked luggage and carry-on luggage for the flight, separate from your original documents.
- Spending Money & Miscellaneous Expenses
Each student should bring cash or a debit card to cover spending money and miscellaneous expenses. Spending Money: While all meals and activities are included in the trip fee, we recommend $25/week for spending money (for example: for souvenirs or an occasional drink or snack beyond what is provided to the group as a whole). Miscellaneous Expenses: Most Overland students will incur some expenses while traveling (for example: an equipment repair or baggage fees at trip end). Please add $100 (in addition to spending money), to cover these expenses. Please note: We have found that pre-paid debit cards do not work internationally.
Things to Know
- We travel light at Overland; please only bring the items on this list.
- Your group will have access to laundry periodically.
- Please do not bring your smartphone (or any other electronics).
Please visit the FAQ tab for more information on our cell phone and electronics policy.
- Do not bring any type of knife or multi-tool (such as a Swiss Army knife or Leatherman tool).
- If you are flying to your trip, wear your hiking boots and carry your sleeping bag and sleeping pad on the plane in case your checked luggage fails to arrive on time.
- Pack everything in your backpack. Do not bring additional luggage.
- There are no reimbursements for lost, damaged or stolen items.
Please schedule expensive items—phones, cameras, bicycles, etc.—on your homeowners insurance policy.
Questions? Call us: 413.458.9672.
What is the weather like on Swiss Alps Explorer?
You can expect typical summery weather with lots of sunshine, some rain, warm days, and cool nights.
What are the arrival and departure airports for my child’s trip?
You will need to arrange transportation for your child to and from Zurich International Airport (ZRH) at trip start and trip end. We will provide more specific travel information once we have placed your child on the trip.
How often will my child have access to showers and laundry?
Groups typically shower and do laundry once a week.
How is hiking in Europe different than hiking in North America?
Hiking in Europe is a cultural experience as well as a hiking experience. We will be surrounded by dramatic, awe-inspiring mountains and unrivaled views. Our route will also take us through quaint Alpine towns. We will meet and interact with hikers from all over the world.
Tell me about the currency on this trip.
Students on Swiss Alps Explorer can withdraw Swiss francs from ATMs throughout Switzerland using a debit card.
Please tell me about safety at Overland.
Safety and risk management are at the forefront of our decision-making–from trip planning to leader training to supporting our groups in the field. We cannot guarantee absolute safety–no program can. All recreational activities include inherent risks. Therefore, we strive to manage the risks that we can, knowing we cannot eliminate them. We work hard to recruit, train, and support our trip leaders so they can create the kind of trips that have made us successful for over 30 years. Please click here to read more about our approach to risk management and our accreditation by the American Camp Association.
Does my child need to have previous experience?
While no previous experience is required, we have high expectations of our students. We expect your child–with your help–to select a trip that is appropriate for their interests and abilities. You should spend some time familiarizing yourself with the details of the specific trip and help your child understand what to expect. We also expect our students to prepare ahead of time: to review the packing list, gather clothing and gear, and complete whatever training the trip requires (for recommended training please see the Before You Go tab). Once the trip begins, your child should be ready–and excited–to contribute to a wholesome and enthusiastic group in which each member feels welcomed and valued.
Please tell me about Overland's admissions process.
When we receive your application, if your first choice is available, we will: (1) call you to acknowledge our receipt of your application, (2) send you an email with a link to our enrollment forms, and (3) charge a deposit of $795 to your credit card. If your first choice is not available, we will call you to discuss options. For more information, and to access our application, please visit our Apply page.
What are Overland’s policies on phones, electronics, and communication?
To maximize independence and self-reliance, we do not permit phone calls, emails, or text messages to or from our campers. Your child will call home on arrival and departure with our phones and assistance, and in the case of an emergency. If your child brings a phone for use while en route to Overland, please do not send an expensive smartphone. Instead, an inexpensive prepaid cell phone will do. All phones will be collected on arrival and returned at departure. While we will take reasonable steps to prevent damage, theft, or loss, we take no responsibility for phones and we will not make any reimbursements for lost, damaged, or stolen phones.
Cameras are welcome but please do not bring any other electronics (e.g., iPods, iPads, Kindles or other readers, GPS or similar devices). All electronics (except cameras) will be mailed home on arrival (at your risk and expense).
We are committed to providing extraordinary support to you and your child. To that end, the Overland office is staffed from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. seven days a week during the summer. Outside of office hours, our answering service provides emergency coverage. Our leaders in the field are in touch with our office regularly; they carry cell phones (and in some cases satellite phones). Anytime a camper is treated for an injury or illness by a doctor or other medical personnel, parents are notified by our office. A director will call the parents to explain the nature of the injury or illness, the sequence of events leading up to the injury, and/or the steps leading to the treatment. Parents are typically able to speak with the medical personnel, with the leaders, and with their child.
Can I send mail to my child during a trip?
Getting a letter, card, or postcard while on an Overland trip is always exciting. Please keep in mind that sending mail to your child on an Overland trip is different than sending mail to a traditional camp because your child will be on the move. Our experience has been that mail often does not arrive on time, and, sometimes, even when it does, post offices, campgrounds, and other mail stops do not reliably deliver mail to our groups. For these reasons:
1. Please do not send anything valuable – please send letters, cards, or postcards only. If mail is late, lost, or misdirected, Overland’s leaders and staff are not able to return to the post office (or other mail stop) to collect it.
2. Please use the US Postal Service first-class mail only; do not use UPS, FedEx, or DHL (many of our mail stops accept US Postal Service mail only).
3. Please do not send overnight letters: many overnighted letters arrive before or after we arrive and are then sent back. For this same reason, please do not send mail that requires a signature upon delivery.
4. Please allow one week for postal delivery to U.S. mail stops.
5. Please allow two weeks for postal delivery to international mail stops.
Before you Go
Get ready for an Alpine adventure.
Students going on Swiss Alps Explorer should prepare for:
- Full days of outdoor activities led by two caring Overland leaders
- Day hikes to viewpoints and mountaintops
- A multi-day backpacking trip designed for first-time backpackers
- A fun, supportive, and wholesome Overland experience
We expect you to arrive to your trip fully prepared for all activities.
Preparing for the Hiking
On Swiss Alps Explorer, you will hike on well-established trails over a wide range of terrain, from meadows to hills to mountains. You'll start with day hikes where you'll carry just the essentials for the day (snacks and lunch, water, a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen, bug spray, and a raincoat). As the group's skills and fitness increase, you'll set out on a multi-day backpacking trip. While backpacking, you will carry all of your belongings (clothes, sleeping bag, and pad), some group gear, food, and water. Typically when backpacking, pack weights average about 30% of a hiker's weight. In the month before your trip, you should break-in your hiking boots (wear them a lot!) and complete the pre-trip training (see below). Once on your trip, you'll find that enthusiasm and a positive attitude will help to make the trip a success for you... and for everyone in your group.
- 4 weeks before your trip: three 45-minute hikes or walks in your boots.
- 3 weeks before your trip: three 60-minute hikes or walks in your boots.
- 2 weeks before your trip: three 90-minute hikes in your boots with a backpack loaded with 10% of your body weight.
- 1 week before your trip: four 2-hour hikes in your boots with a backpack loaded with 20% of your body weight.
Preparing for an Overland Experience
Overland trips are wholesome, structured experiences with high expectations of each student’s behavior. You are expected to be supportive, enthusiastic, positive and helpful. We ask that you leave your cell phone and electronics at home (cameras are always welcome), so you can fully engage with your group and your trip (you will have the opportunity to send letters and receive mail at designated mail stops, which are shared in the spring). Arriving ready for a challenge — and prepared to contribute to an enthusiastic group — will go a long way toward creating a successful trip. Please contact us if you’d like to discuss preparing for your Overland trip.
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