In the Swiss National Park, humans are merely passive spectators – and the spectacle all the more thrilling as a result! Homo sapiens intervened actively just once in recent times: 105 years ago, to be precise, when nature lovers founded the first national park in central Europe, a milestone in the history of conservation. Today, this magnificent reserve in the easternmost corner of Switzerland, with its 100 km of footpaths and nature trails, offers visitors of all ages the chance to witness pure wilderness in action.
Humans like to make rules; to pass directives, formulate regulations and follow laws, more or less. Usually humans also determine how nature is to behave. Where are trees allowed to grow, how exactly should a river flow, how curved should a banana be? The alpine animals and plants of our Parc Naziunal Svizzer are fortunate in that they are able to live their lives undisturbed by humans – and follow only the laws of nature and their own instincts.
Their home is 170 magnificent square kilometres of wilderness, extending from 1,400 to 3,200 metres above sea level, from near Scuol, S-chanf and Zernez in the west to the Ofen Pass and the Val Müstair in the east. This vast open-air laboratory provides us with important scientific findings that enable us to act in a considerate and sustainable way in other habitats; at the same time, it gives its 150,000-odd annual visitors a concentrated and thrilling experience of pristine nature.
Within the limits of park regulations, visitors can explore freely to experience nature in all its glory. But if you would like to really get to the bottom of the unique secrets of the Swiss National Park, the best option is to join one of the many guided excursions.
Here are some tips for where to go for the best chances of spotting ibex, chamois, marmots, red deer and golden eagles:
You can spot marmots frolicking just about everywhere. “They love visitors,” says Swiss National Park warden Fadri Bott with a smile, “otherwise they almost get bored.” He recommends a walk up to Alp Stabelchod, where you can enjoy a particularly good view of the marmots.
In high summer, ibex climb to higher areas, so it takes a longer walk to reach them. Best option is to hike to Alp Trupchun, the “Serengeti of the Alps”, where with a little luck and patience you can observe the ibex at leisure.
Six pairs of golden eagles currently live in and around the Parc Naziunal Svizzer; by nature, they are more difficult to observe than marmots or ibex. However, up at Alp Grimmels, you have a good chance of spotting these majestic birds. The mobile info centre by the Hotel Il Fuorn gives the latest information on where best to see golden eagles – and an eyrie is even visible from here, 500 m away. However, this is not necessarily a breeding site every year: even eagles need a change of scenery now and again. As you explore the park, listen for marmot whistles: these can be an alarm signal, warning of the presence of birds of prey. Quick, look up, you might spot one! To see red deer, you could head for the Hotel Il Fuorn in the evening: the impressive mammals often gather on a nearby meadow. Alternatively, if you walk about another 20 minutes beyond Alp Trupchun towards Fuorcla Trupchun, a view opens up of the whole head of the valley – with up to 300 grazing deer.
The long hike into the Val Cluozza is worth making for anyone who loves the sight of chamois, as you can see herds grazing throughout the valley. A wonderful bonus: stop at the Chamanna Cluozza mountain cabin, look through a pair of binoculars, and you can make out 220-million-year-old fossilised dinosaur footprints on a rock ledge.
Like to know more? You should definitely call in at the visitor centre by the entrance to the Swiss National Park in Zernez. Highlight is the exciting interactive exhibition (800 sq. m); the venue also features temporary exhibitions, a shop and additional information systems.