The one and only Swiss National Park, where you can experience the wilderness as it used to be.
Introduction of the Swiss National Park
Although I was in the Engadin many times, I have never been to the Swiss National Park. Therefore, the idea of finally visiting the one and only national park was intriguing.
The park was founded in 1914 and extends over 170km2 (0.4% of Switzerland 41’285km2). Though it is a rather small area, the Swiss National Park is well known for its extraordinary variety of alpine animals, such as ibex, deer, and marmots. Occasionally, predators such as wolf, lynx and bear make an appearance as well. Interestingly, all three of those were present at the same time in June 2020, according to our guide Arno. Golden eagle and bearded vultures (reintroduced 1991) inhabit the area too.
Good to Know
The Parc Naziunal Svizzer, to name it in Romansh, features total protection. This means the flora and fauna is left to develop freely. Even wildfires are left alone unless they are caused by humans. In order to keep it in its natural state, the slogan could be summarized along these lines: Leave nothing but boot prints on the designated trails and take nothing but pictures. However, the offical slogan reads: to protect, to research, and to inform.
Leave nothing but boot prints on the designated trails and take nothing but pictures.
Visitors are only allowed to visit the Swiss National Pak during day light and there is no admission fee. There is a wide choice of hiking trails, with differing degrees of difficulty. Importantly, one must not leave any designated trails at any time. Rangers throughout the area make sure that people follow the rules, and they willingly help you spotting animals. They are also a great source of information.
For those of you, who would like to stay inside the boundaries of the national park, there are only two options. On the one hand there is the hotel called Il Fuorn and on the other hand the Chamanna Cluozza, which is a serviced mountain hut. I advise you to book far in advance for both, especially if you plan on visiting in September/October.
If beds are unavailable within the National Park, there are many places in the vicinity. Look for accommodation in Zernez, Zuoz or somewhere in between to be a stone throw away. A wonderful place to stay is the Villa Marguerita, which is a lovely bed and breakfast in Zuoz. Though wildlife photographers might prefer to skip the breaky to encounter more wildlife.
Camping is prohibited throughout the entire area of the national park. If you want to sleep under the stars and visit the Swiss National Park, there are nearby options. My favourite camping is the Morteratsch due to the stunning scenery among the fir trees, the many little creeks, and the backdrop of the glacier. Yet, to get to the Val Trupchun it takes about 30 minutes depending on the road conditions. A closer option would be the Camping in Zernez, from where it is about 10-20 minutes to either the Val Trupchun or Il Fuorn.
Best Time to Visit
In spring, the animals are rather shy after the winter break and most trails remain closed for some time until winter recedes. Contact the local authority for up-to-date information. Occasionally, larger predators such as brown bears visit the park at this time in search of food. This was the case in May 2021.
In the brief summer between July and August, the Engadin is blooming all over the place. The display of manifold wildflowers is a delightful sight. Moreover, Ibex fawns are born in June and stay with their mothers for some time.
In autumn, the deer rut is in full swing, which makes them less wary of people. It usually takes place between September and October. Deer gather in the plains and make their presence audible in an impressive display. In this way they vie for the attention of the hinds. I have never seen them fighting, but it occurs at times. Apart from deer, this season allows you to witness the colour change of the vegetation. Especially, the golden larch trees are a feast for the eye.
Access to the Swiss National Park is restricted in winter. Usually, it closes in mid November and reopens in May.
Places to visit in the Swiss National Park
There are many different hiking paths with various degrees of difficulty. Still all of them are in the mountains and thus are prone to sudden weather changes. Make sure to always bring good footwear, a raincoat, and your binoculars along. This is just a selection of routes that are popular to observe wildlife. It is by no means an exhaustive list and current information should be obtained through National Park officials.
As a good starting point for a first visit to the National Park, I recommend taking a guided tour. This allows you to receive first-hand information on the current happenings in the park. However, unless you book a private tour, you usually end up with a bunch of people. Subsequently, the walk becomes more conspicuous, which in turn might scare wildlife. Regardless of this drawback, I enjoyed the tour very much.
There are weekly tours through the Val Trupchun on every Thursday for CHF 35.-. Although observing wildlife is best enjoyed by yourself or a maximum of 2 people, there are several advantages. For example, local guides are great at spotting wildlife and are keen to share their knowledge. Therefore, we joined a tour to get as much information as possible, before heading out there by ourselves.
Il Fuorn is not only the only hotel in the National Park, but also a great place to watch the deer rut. The hotel is easily accessible by car and the phenomenal display of massive male deer can be watched out of the windows on the nearby meadow. For a better view, there are several hikes in the vicinity with varying length.
Another trip worth doing is Margunet. The hike starts close to Il Fuorn on P8 (Parking 8). The path leads through alpine forest until it reaches a clearing, which is a great spot for observations. We then continued all the way up to Margunet with several stops in between to scan the area for wildlife. Even though, there were not as many animals sighted, the appearance of a bearded vulture made up for it. Furthermore, the clouds dancing along the horizon obscuring and clearing the views, made for a majestic mood of the landscape.
The Swiss National Park is a fantastic place to enjoy nature and the great outdoors. Manifold animals can be observed in the area and the chances are much higher than at other places. Having said that, there are also many visitors at times gathering at certain locations. Therefore, it is highly recommended to make the most out of the early morning hours just after sunrise.
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