Spending the Night in a Mountain Hut
If you enjoy hiking in the mountains and would like to do multi-day hikes, you should get to know the Schweizer Alpen Club (Swiss Alpine Club, SAC). Among many other services and activities, the SAC operates 153 mountain huts with over 9,200 beds in the Swiss Alps. The huts offer simple and cozy accommodation in a unique mountain scenery for mountaineers, climbers, hikers, families, and nature enthusiasts. A visit to a SAC hut is an unforgettable way to experience first-hand mountain nature, environment, and culture in the cabin environment. All cabins are open year-round; two-thirds of them are manned by a hut warden in the winter and summer seasons.
As the huts typically are in remote locations, few offer separate bedrooms or showers—these are not hotels but rather are meant for the adventurous traveler! They provide simple meals and drinks at very reasonable prices. Accommodations at standard huts range between CHF 20-40 per night, or CHF 50-90 including breakfast and dinner, with reduced prices for kids and teens. If you want to enjoy these activities more frequently, you may want to become a member of the SAC to pay half the regular price. To join the SAC, you need to choose a section online and pay an annual membership fee of CHF 85-175 (depending on the section), or CHF 125-273 per year for a family membership.
Choosing an alpine hut for an overnight stay is less about the accommodations than about how to get there—that is, will you be hiking, mountain climbing, snowshoeing, or skiing, and what level of difficulty can you handle. If you want to hike to a hut, you will have to choose between a difficulty level of T1 to T6. T1 is the easiest level with little difficulty and risk; these trails are labeled with yellow markers. T2 and T3 are a little more difficult and have some steeper parts, with the occasional ropes or handrails to assist you; these trails are marked with white-red-white symbols. T4 and T5 trails (sometimes marked with white-blue-white signs) require more skill and experience, as well as a good sense of direction, and are not recommended for families with children. Finally, T6 is the most difficult level with steep, sometimes rocky slopes, glaciers, and risk of slipping. The more difficult paths are often unmarked.
To choose a hut you would like to visit, go to the SAC website. You can make reservations for beds and meals online, but be sure to look at the difficulty level when choosing and reserving your accommodations; if you are travelling with young children, be sure to choose huts that are deemed family friendly (at most a T2 level of difficulty). They also list the amount of time it takes to reach the hut, but if you are travelling with young children, you should add about 50% more time to that estimate to be on the safe side.
Families can now also book stays of several days in a hut! The adventure begins at the cabin when children look for marmots, spy ibexes or chamois, play by mountain streams, and scramble on rocks. Depending on the altitude, accessibility, and environment, the hut wardens offer a varied program for young and old. Whether it’s a first climbing attempt on the rope, an impressive glacier hike, watching wild animals with a hunter, or a visit to an alpine cheese dairy—there is something for each family member. All five huts listed under “Ferien für Familien” have accompanied and unaccompanied programs where hut teams care for the children for one day so that adults can enjoy a day of hiking or climbing to a summit with a mountain guide. If you will be doing this for the first time, especially if you will be going with children, it is recommended that you choose one of the easiest levels and work your way up as you gain experience and confidence. Also, before heading out, be sure to check whether the hut is currently reachable as this is at times weather dependent.
If you would like to try the remarkable experience of hiking to a hut with your kids, we highly recommend you pick up the book, “Fresh Air Kids Switzerland—Hikes to Huts” (https://www.freshairkids.com/hikes-to-huts). This second book in the series by Melinda and Robert Schoutens is an ideal travel guide for families with older kids who are looking for hikes to Swiss mountain huts and multi-day adventures. It offers recommendations on where to go, with hiking routes, GPX files, and loads of practical tips and everything you need to know about staying overnight. In addition to SAC/CAS huts, it also covers mountain inns and mountain hotels, and is available in English, French, and German.