When thinking of Leukerbad, the thermal spas are the only thing that come to most peoples mind, as well as the ski area Torrent and these impressive tank shaped rock walls guarding the village.
But would you think of vast wild mountain landscapes regarding Leukerbad? You should! One thing most people don’t know, there even is a glacier easily to get to over there!
But let’s start slowly. Leukerbad surely is the most known mountain village in Switzerland when it comes to thermal spas and springs. There are two main big spas and a couple smaller ones, the two big ones being Leukerbad Therme and the Alpentherme.
The Leukerbad Therme is suitable for pretty much everyone, it offers a bunch of indoor and outdoor pools, bubble areas, a grotto with hot water straight from the spring, a sauna area, an outdoor swimming pool and some water slides, as well as a restaurant.
The outdoor spa pools are lit with colourful lights as soon as it gets dark and during winter season they even play little light shows with music, fountains and even some fire.
The best views and impressions are to catch in the winter time when it’s snowing and the whole spa is covered in mystical mists rising from the warm water into the crispy cold air.
The Alpentherme is more suitable for adults, with one big outdoor spa pool that offers some bubbles and streams, which you can relax in while gazing at the massive rock faces of the Daubenhorn and its neighbours. I myself find the indoor pool rather uninteresting, but the sauna area downstairs is a little jewel. Entering a huge hall you’ll find a bunch of little wooden huts, each of hem hosting a sauna or steam bath, set up like a little village. A flat pool with body temperatur water, another little pool with cold water, open and closed showers, a little pond with drinking water and a bar add up to village life as well as a little outdoor area.
They frequently do infusions in the saunas and provide scrubs for the steam bath.
If you’re not used to sauna habits, be aware all saunas are nude areas. Yes, you can only enter butt naked equipped with a towel big enough for you to sit/lay on! Also, they’re all relaxation areas, you might want to just enjoy the moment instead of taking the time for a chat and disturbing other visitors.
Now, let’s head for the mountains! My favorite area definitely is the Gemmi and you wouldn’t guess there is such a treasure hidden up behind those rock walls.
Those walls are up to 1000m high and there’s just one cable car, the Gemmibahn. This ride is already an adventure itself, overcoming a rise in altitude of about 900m with just one pillar, the cabin floating up to 300m above ground. Arriving at the top station at 2314m the first thing hitting your eye is the Daubensee, a natural deep blue mountain lake nestling between the rough high altitude landscapes.
The Gemmi actually got the nickname of being the «Swiss Dolomites», this panoramic view will explain why.
Up at the top station you will also find the Wildstrubel hotel and restaurant, which just finished an allover renovation. There also is a little sky walk which opens up a view over whole Leukerbad and a bunch of famous Valais peaks in the distance.
Now, the typical thing to do when visiting the Gemmi for the first time is taking a tour around the lake. Easy to walk on well maintained trails this hike will take you 1-2 hours, passing the back face of the mighty Rinderhorn.
The Gemmi used to be an important mountain pass back in the days and following the path behind the lake further down it will take you to the Bernese Side of the mountains, to Kandersteg.
During summer season the Gemmi is home to about 600-700 sheep all roaming around freely without any fences. If you ever wanted to see this many sheep all in one spot, I recommend coming here the last Sunday of July when the «Schäferfest» is held. The shepherds will gather all the sheep next to the lake, along with some barbecue and traditional music.
Another wonderful wild area at the Gemmi is the Lämmerenboden at the left hand side, which also leads to the Lämmerenhütte at 2507m, a cosy mountain hut overlooking the vast rough landscapes, even owning a little lake called Lämmerensee.
The Lämmerenboden ends in a little rocky gorge including a waterfall, while the Lämmerenhütte opens up even more options of high altitude adventures. Following little rocky trails that wander off in fields of bigger ad bigger rocks you’ll end up at the tongue of the Wildstrubelglacier. The glacier forefield here is so surreal, you might feel like on the moon or beamed into a StarWars movie.
Don’t forget though, this is high altitude wild mountain nature that can neither be tamed nor predicted, watch every step you take and pay attention to everything surrounding you. Rock and ice slides are not unusal.
There is another highlight at the Gemmi, near the cable car station, and wildlife enthusiasts know this. Just from right at the cliffs you can actually watch bearded vultures, if you're lucky enough to pick the right day. On some days photographers line up just like at a soccer game, all in hope of capturing just one photo of these magestic raptors, whose wingspan can be up to 3 meters wide.
The way back down can either be taken with the cable car or by hiking down the impressive Gemmi path right thru the archaic steep rock walls. I highly recommend this trail, but be prepared to have some sore knees afterwards, if you're not used to hike downhill, the Gemmi path is extremely bold and exposed at some points. But if you go for it, you even might be rewarded with some Ibex greetings along the way.
As you can see, the Gemmi holds everything suitable for a perfect outdoor adventure, with many options of discovering even more and more the more you roam.
One more thing, the weather up at Gemmi can change extremely fast, which is normal for the mountains. Nevertheless I have never seen weather changes as rapid as here, once I even had almost every condition possible all in just a couple hours, from sunny to stormy to hail and rail, back to sunny and a sudden thunderstorm.
In fact, I happened to be stuck all alone in the Gemmi wall two times facing a thunderstorm right above. It was an extremely exceptional experience but also quite scary.
On the other side of the village the Torrent Bahn takes you up to the Rinderhütte at 2350m. Mostly known for the ski area in winter season it is also a favored spot for hikers and bikers in summer, the latter will find a flow trail starting here.
If you ever wanted to make a summit in just a couple hours you can go for the Torrenthorn, 2997m at its peak, offering a stunning 360 panorama over the surrounding Alps. It is also possible to cross the mountains and hike over to the neighboring Lötschental.
Back down in the village you can find another little jewel, the Dala gorge. Equipped with metal overpasses you can walk right thru the gorge, explore the hot springs and learn about the way of the water. At the back of the gorge a 35m waterfall welcomes you with roaring sounds.
Following the trails here will take you thru dreamy alpine meadows with little wooden huts, always following the Dala on the left side. At some point the trail ends and leads you to the other side of the creek and the idyllic Majingsee, a little lake inviting to take a break or even some outdoor barbecue (there are premade fireplaces). From here you can follow the gravel road thru the forest back down to Leukerbad.
If you're ambitious to greater adventures, Leukerbad hosts one of Switzerlands hardest and longest via ferratas, set up in the wall of the Daubenhorn. Maybe you already noticed the Swiss flag sitting in the wall, this is where the route goes, up to the Daubenhorn summit. You shouldn't do this one without alpine experience and an excellent level of fitness, the whole tour takes about 6-8 hours.