"When you’re with your family, you're a team. There’s a lot of bonding that goes on the trail. A good hike is when I feel like we've exchanged stories, and we feel closer and more connected as a family after the hike."
I am speaking with Tanya Deans, the San Franciscan founder of Moms:Tots:Zurich. Packed to the brim with hiking tips to keep parents and kids happy, this is a great resource with detailed instructions for more than 200 Swiss hikes.
Behind the success of Moms:Tots:Zurich
"I find that so many families come here but they’re not hikers, and then they realize that that’s what you do in Switzerland: you go hiking," explains Tanya.
Having moved to Switzerland in 2005 with no German, Tanya spent time setting up a website for parenting tips in Switzerland. Part of the success of Moms:Tots:Zurich is that it gives you all the information – from travel time (car or public transport) to pictures of every turn, and maps of where to grill, picnic or buy food.
For parents having this piece of mind is a life saver, and it is what keeps users coming back to the site for more. I am desperate to find out if there is a formula for a great hike, and of course, Tanya has it: "It’s the sense of accomplishment, the connection – oh, and you have to come back with a great photo!"
Seven tips for hiking with kids in Switzerland
With so much experience sitting across from me, I wanted to find out Tanya’s advice on making hiking with kids fun - and tantrum-free. Here are her top tips for hiking with kids in Switzerland:
"With kids, you have to know what you’re getting into. You can’t show up at the bus stop and find the bus isn’t coming for two hours, you can’t realize you’re down the wrong trail and hike back an hour. Kids will melt down, so you’ve got to have an exit plan."
Start them young
You can start hiking with babies in a sling, and you will never look back. "Having your kids thinking that it’s a normal thing to go hiking on the weekends is so important. You want them to feel like that’s what they do on Saturdays."
Involve them in the planning
Get your kids to check webcams before the hike - either online or on the live stream on Swiss TV. They will get excited about finding the best weather or views. Or get real maps and let the kids explore them.
Make hiking fun
There are many themed hiking trails for kids in Switzerland. The classic one is the Toggenburg Tone Trail – or Klangweg – with around twenty interactive music stations along the trail. "The kids can see them or hear them, and they run ahead to the next station. They don’t even realize that they’re hiking – it’s great."
"It’s like working out. If you go out and run a 10k today, you’ll never do it again. But if you do 2k – it’s not that bad."
"Take the kids out for a 1 km or 2 km hike, and give them ice-cream afterwards. They’ll think it’s a fun way to start the day, not a way for my parents to punish me! Then, over time, they can walk longer distances and they’ll start to love it."
Not having a time schedule is really helpful with kids. "You don't have to finish a hike in two hours, let them go at their pace. So, if they want to sit by a lake and throw rocks into it for two hours, let them do it!"
"Once they’re about four or five years old, if they bring a friend, they don’t know they’re hiking. They’ll run ahead and have a great time..."
Tanya suggests these family hikes in Switzerland
With so many hikes to choose from, I challenge Tanya to select just three Swiss hikes that she recommends to novices.
Toggenburg Tone Trail
This 6 km hike, ninety minutes from Zürich, features over 20 interactive musical installations which will delight kids. Basically, they will not even realize they are hiking. The Toggenburg Tone Trail is the perfect place to practice those family hiking tips above - and ease your kids in gently.
Stoos Easy Panorama Trail
"I used to send everyone to Stoos as a hidden gem, but now it’s super popular because of the new funicular," explains Tanya, somewhat wistfully. Situated high above Lake Lucerne, the views here are amazing. There is a pedestrian village with no cars, and a new playground for kids at the top. A short panorama trail at the top is suitable for strollers, too. In Tanya's words: "Stoos ticks all the boxes."
"It's a lot cheaper than Rigi or Pilatus. Now that there's the new Stoos funicular, it's super fun. The ridge trail is fantastic. It's only 4.5 km, which is enough workout so that you feel like you did a hike - but it hasn't killed you." From Zurich, the Stoos funicular is only a 45-minute drive. Alternatively, take the train to Schwyz and get on the dedicated connecting bus.
Mürren Mountain View Trail
The only time Tanya is stumped is when I ask for a tip for a world-class hike: "I took my older kids on the five-lake tour in Pizol... No, Chäserrugg is also really nice, on the other side of Walensee... But maybe Kleine Scheidegg... No no no, I know: it’s the Mürren Mountain View Trail!"
Tanya explains that this hike is very affordable for the Jungfrau region, coming in at under 30 francs. And it is spectacular, too, featuring "huge views" of the Eiger. "It’s one of our favorite places,” Tanya continues. "We went in October and there was not a soul there. One of my favorite times to hike is during autumn. There are fewer people, lots of sunny days and crystal-clear skies. I think anyone would enjoy the Mürren Mountain Trail, but it does have a special reward for families at the end: a huge playground..."