The Alpstein is an attractive limestone massif in the Appenzell Alps in northeastern Switzerland.
This compact range, made up of three parallel chains, captivates hikers with its vertical towers, climactic ridges, velvet-green mountain pastures, and storybook landscapes.
The northernmost range of the Swiss Alps is a very popular destination for day hiking. However, a very interesting and perhaps “efficient” way to experience the Alpstein is on this 3-day hut-to-hut hike.
This U-shaped point-to-point route runs along the high trails of the Alpstein mountains, starting in Wasserauen and ending in Hoher Kasten, Brülisau. Much of the route traverses rugged alpine terrain and clings to spellbinding ridges. For that reason, we’ve named this Appenzell hut-to-hut hike the “Alpstein High Trail.”
The Alpstein High Trail links together the most striking landscapes and attractions in Appenzellerland including Lake Seealpsee, the Aescher mountain inn, Ebenalp, the Schäfler mountain inn, the Schäfler ridge, the Altenalp Towers, Mount Säntis, Lisengrat ridge, the Rotsteinpass mountain inn, the Zwinglipass Hut, the Saxer Lücke saddle, the Kreuzberge viewpoints, Staubern mountain inn, and the Hoher Kasten summit.
Hikers can also detour to Lake Fählensee and the summits of Altmann and Mutschen along this trek.
We absolutely loved this short Alpstein hut-to-hut hike, because of the exciting trail engineering, the breath-stealing scenery, and the authenticity and charm of the region. There are no boring moments. The only downside to trekking in the Alpstein is that there are very few quiet areas.
If you’re keen on exploring the Appenzell Alps on a longer hut-to-hut hike, check out these self-guided treks: thematic Swiss Whiskey Trek, moderately-paced 8-Day Hut to Hut in Appenzell Alps Standard Itinerary fast-paced 6-Day Hut to Hut in Appenzell Alps Active Itinerary (difficult), and the easy 6-Day Easy Appenzell Alps Relaxed Itinerary.
Alpstein High Trail Hut-to-Hut Trek in the Appenzell Alps of Switzerland
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Alpstein High Trail Hiking Map
In the map above, each stage of the trek is marked in a different color.
Stage 1: Coral Red
Stage 2: Orange
Stage 3: Yellow
Alpstein Trek Difficulty
This Alpstein hut-to-hut hike is moderately difficult.
Exclusively following white-red-white trails, this alpine hike is a great option for surefooted, fit mountain hikers who enjoy ridge paths and limestone terrain (uneven surface, scree, loose rocks, etc…).
This hike would be far more difficult were it not for the generous installation of aids (fixed cables, rungs, metal-braced stairs, etc…). All exposed areas are well-secured. Seasoned hikers will feel very comfortable along this Alpstein route.
In our opinion, there are no scary, or sketchy areas.
But, this hike is not suitable for anyone with a fear of heights.
This is a great trek to tackle before hiking the challenging high trails of Slovenia (e.g. Triglav National Park traverse and Kamnik Alps traverse) and Austria (e.g. Eagle Walk: Lechtal Alps, Berlin High Trail, Karwendel High Trail, Venediger High Trail).
Where Does the Alpstein Trail Start and End
This 3-day Alpstein trek starts in Wasserauen, a settlement in Schwendetal Valley, in Appenzell Innerrhoden (Appenzellerland region).
Wasserauen is one of the end stations of the Gossau–Wasserauen line of the Appenzell Railways. From the town of Appenzell, it’s only a 15-minute direct train ride to Wasserauen.
The Alpstein trail ends at the Hoher Kasten summit. From Hoher Kasten, you’ll descend to Brülisau village via cable car. From Brülisau, you can take a bus to the village of Weissbad, which lies on the Gossau–Wasserauen train line. From Weissbad, it’s only a 5-minute train ride to Appenzell.
Which Direction to Hike the Alpstein High Trail
You can hike this Alpstein trek in either direction.
There are a few things to consider.
If you start in Wasserauen, like us, you have to tackle far more elevation gain than if you start in Brülisau (Hoher Kasten). And obviously, if you start in Brülisau (Hoher Kasten), you have to tackle far more elevation loss in this direction.
If your knees don’t appreciate long descents, you should start in Wasserauen. Also, if you like to tackle more technical sections in an uphill direction, it’s best to start in Wasserauen as well.
Both ways unfold sublimely.
If you start in Wasserauen, you’ll enjoy a more scenic approach to Lake Seealpsee and the Schäfler Ridge – Altenalp Towers. If you start in Brülisau (Hoher Kasten), the views of the Kreuzberge peaks unfold more beautifully as you approach Saxer Lücke.
How to Book the Alpstein Hut Hike
Stay in Appenzell Village.
It’s a 1:50-2:00 hour transit journey, or 1:15 hour drive from Zürich to Appenzell. From Innsbruck, it’s a 4:15 hour transit journey, or 3 hour drive to Appenzell. From Munich, it’s a 3:40 hour transit journey, or 3 hour drive to Appenzell.
The town of Appenzell is the capital of the Swiss Canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden. The charming town center is a tangle of streets lined with colorful gabled houses. It serves as the main tourist hub and commercial center of the Appenzellerland region.
It’s a lovely jumping off point for this 3-day trek. We recommend eating at Gass 17 (contemporary Appenzeller cuisine), Chanh (Vietnamese cuisine), or Hotel Appenzell (traditional Appenzeller cuisine). If you have time, visit the Museum Appenzell, located in the same building as the tourist office.
Alternatively, we recommend staying in Weissbad, or Schwende, two villages on the Gossau–Wasserauen train line.
Budget | Alte Metzg – Hostel offers 3 spotless rooms with communal bathrooms and kitchen facilities. This intimate hostel is walking distance to the Appenzell village center and train station. On-site parking is available, but must be reserved in advance (fees apply). They also run the neighboring midrange Alte Metzg Boutique Pension with private single, double, and family rooms.
Midrange | Blattenheimat – im traditionellen Appenzeller Haus (2 nights minimum stay) is a traditional, gabled house with 2-3 bedroom apartments and free private parking, very close to the Hauptgasse (pedestrain main street of Appenzell). Guests have access to a washing machine and dryer in the basement.
Midrange | Located very close to the Appenzell train station, Hotel B&B Stossplatz is a darling bed and breakfast with free private parking, free bikes, and a shared lounge. Rooms either have shared, or private bathrooms.
Luxury | Hotel Appenzell is located on the historic Landgemeinde Square in the center of Appenzell village. Boasting an excellent restaurant with an outdoor terrace as well as a confiserie (patisserie), this traditional Appenzell hotel is a great option for your stay. Breakfast and parking are included in the rate.
Luxury | Adler Hotel is centrally located at the start of the pedestrian Hauptgasse (main street), across from the Parish Church of St. Mauritius and the Metzibrücke Bridge. This traditional hotel with two restaurants is a great place to stay if you’re traveling without a car. No parking available on-site.
Recommended Schwende Accommodation: Hotel Frohe Aussicht (midrange).
Stay in Berggasthaus Schäfler (private and dormitory rooms available). If Berggasthaus Schäfler is fully booked, you can stay in Berggasthaus Ebenalp. Note: wild camping in this area of Alpstein is forbidden.
Reservation | Online booking
Payment | Cash or Card in CHF (Swiss Francs). Payment is collected in the evening during your stay.
Stay in Zwinglipasshütte SAC (dormitory rooms only), or Rotsteinpasshütte (private rooms available). Bring bread if you stay in Zwinglipasshütte. They provide coffee, jam, butter, and cheese for breakfast, but cannot provide bread due to their setup.
Reservation | Alpsonline
Payment | Cash only (EUR or CHF). Payment is collected in the evening during your stay.
Packing Essentials | Bread for Breakfast, Cash, Alpine Club Membership Card (optional, if you have one), Plug Type J Adaptor (three round pins), E-Reader (e.g. Kindle Paperwhite), Ear Plugs, and Sleeping Bag Liner (e.g. Sea to Summit liner)
The final stage ends in Brülisau village. You can stay in Brülisau village at Gasthaus Rössli, but you’ll likely have sufficient time to journey onwards to Appenzell village.
Stay in Appenzell. Look for accommodation in Appenzell.
If you’re eager to explore more of the Alpstein mountain range, we recommend hiking to Marwees (difficult day hike).
Swiss Hut Etiquette and Rules
Bring a sleeping bag liner. Pillows and blankets are provided. We love this lightweight Sea to Summit liner.
Do not consume your food, or drinks on hut premises.
Remove your hiking boots before entering the hut.
Alpstein Hut to Hut Hike Overview
Stage 1: Wasserauen – Klein-Hütten – Seealpsee – Berggasthaus Äscher – Ebenalp – Alp Chlus – Berggasthaus Schäfler
The Alpstein trek begins with a moderate ascent through a beech forest and across a storybook-like mountain pasture, grazed in summer, to Lake Seealpsee.
After hiking around this picturesque mountain lake, the ascent continues to Berggasthaus Äscher, the legendary mountain inn built into the cliff of Ebenalp.
Pass the Altarhöhle Wildkirchli chapel cave and hike up the illuminated Eremitenhöhle Wildkirchli cave to reach the Ebenalp plateau.
Now, you’re on top of the northern chain of the Alpstein.
Follow the wide ridge of Zisler to Alp Chlus and then zigzag up Mount Schäfler to Berggasthaus Schäfler.
The sunset and sunrise views from the hut and along the Schäfler ridge are to die for.
Learn More: Alpstein Trek Stage 1
Stage 2: Berggasthaus Schäfler – Lötzlialpsattel – Mount Säntis – Lisengrat – Berggasthaus Rotsteinpass – Zwinglipasshütte SAC
Stage 2 of the Alpstein trek twists down the cable-secured Schäfler ridge towards the Altenalp Towers.
The path runs along the base of the Altenalptürm and crosses over the Lötzlialpsattel to the right side (north side) of the ridge.
The path rises and falls across depressions and karst rockscapes to the base of Mount Säntis.
It’s a continuous climb up rock slopes, cable-secured rock walls, and finally the Heaven’s Ladder (Himmelsleiter) to Mount Sänitis.
Follow the tunnels to Berggasthaus Alter Säntis (lunch break option).
The way to Berggasthaus Rotsteinpass follows the riveting, well-secured Lisengrat ridge trail.
From Rotsetinpass, the trail steeply ascends Fliswand wall to reach a crest. From here, you can hike to Altmann (white-blue-white / optional detour), the third highest summit in the Alpstein (2435 m).
It’s a 40 minute descent to Zwinglingpasshütte, a Swiss Alpine Club hut, which stands below the Zwinglingpass mountain pass, at the foot of Altmann’s southern flank.
Learn More: Alpstein Trek Stage 2
Stage 3: Zwinglipasshütte SAC – Chreialpfirst – Mutschen-Sattel – Roslenalphütte – Saxer Lücke – Berggasthaus Staubern – Hoher Kasten – Brülisau
The final stage of this Alpstein multi-day route follows the wide, grassy spine of Chreialpfirst.
From the Mutschen-Sattel, the trail drops down a high valley, between the stunning Kreuzberge spires and Roslenfirst, to the Saxer Lücke mountain pass.
You can detour to Lake Fählensee and Berggastaus Bollenwees from here (25 minutes one-way).
Following the undulating eastern ridge of the Alpstein, the trail leads to Berggasthaus Staubern and all the way to the Hoher Kasten summit.
Ride the Hoher Kasten cable car down to Brülisau. You can purchase the ticket at the mountain station with cash, or card.
Learn More: Alpstein Trek Stage 3
When to Hike the Alpstein High Trail
We recommend hiking this route when most of the trail is snow-free, which is usually between June and October.
Alpstein Trek Waymarking and Signage
There are trail signs at most if not all junctions.
All hiking trails in the Alpstein are waymarked with standard Swiss trail markers (e.g. white-red-white blazes).
Rules for Hiking in the Alpstein
When hiking in the Alpstein, please adhere to the following rules:
1. Do not leave officially marked hiking trails.
2. Do not fly drones. There is a ban on drones in the whole Alpstein mountain range.
3. Do not touch, or in any way disturb livestock (cows, sheep, goats).
4. Do not litter.
Note: It’s allowed to swim in all of the Alpstein lakes, including Lake Seealpsee and Lake Fälensee.
Pros and Cons of Hiking this Alpstein Hut to Hut Hike
This multi-day route strings together the legendary landscapes of the Alpstein in only 3 days. Aside from the arresting views, the trail itself is thrilling and fun.
The secured scrambles engage your whole body. So, it’s an active type of hiking, which requires concentration.
Another advantage of hut hiking is experiencing sunrises and sunsets in the mountains.
The main disadvantage of multi-day hiking in the Alpstein is the amount of people in certain areas.
Much of the route is accessible to day hikers, due to the cableways. The only stretch of trail that felt quiet and remote was the end of stage 2 (between Berggasthaus Rotsteinpass and Zwinglipasshütte) and the beginning of stage 3 (between Zwinglipasshütte and Saxer Lücke).
Keep Reading about Appenzell
- Best Hikes in Appenzell
- Schäfler Ridge Trail
- Marwees Ridge Trail
- Hoher Kasten – Saxer Lücke Hike
- Berggasthaus Aescher
- Lisengrat Ridge Trail
- Lake Seealpsee
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Alps Trip Planning Essentials
When to Visit the Alps
We recommend visiting the Alps in summer (June – mid September), fall (mid September – late October) or winter (late December – March).
Read Alps in Summer to learn everything you need to know about visiting the Alps between June and mid/late September.
Alps Hiking Guides
Hiking in the Alps is our passion.
For region specific trail inspiration, read:
- Bavarian Alps: Best Hikes in Garmisch-Partenkirchen
- Italian Alps: Best Day Hikes in the Dolomites
- Austrian Alps: Best Day Hikes in Austria
- Slovenian Alps: Best Hikes in Slovenia
Hut to Hut Hiking in the Alps
Learn more about hut to hut hiking in Austria, Italy, and Slovenia:
- Hut to Hut Hiking: An Introduction
- Hut to Hut Hiking in Slovenia
- Mountain Huts in Slovenia
- Hut to Hut Hiking in Austria: Essential Tips
- How to Visit an Austrian Mountain Hut
- Hut to Hut Hiking in the Dolomites
Hut Hiking Packing List
Read our complete hut-to-hut hiking packing list.
Mountain Hut Essentials
Pack these mountain hut essentials in addition to a Kindle, sun protection, cosmetics, and ear plugs.
- Sleeping Bag Liner: Sea to Summit Silk-Cotton Blend Travel and Sleeping Bag Liner (what we use). Other options: Cocoon Cotton TravelSheet and Yen’s Mulberry Silk Sleeping Bag Liner
- Waterproof Slippers: Crocs. I also like bringing these Crocs Women’s Swiftwater Sandals, because they’re more versatile.
- Headlamp: Black Diamond Equipment Spot 350 Headlamp
- Hut-to-Hut Hiking Backpack: Osprey Kyte 36 Women’s Hiking Backpack / Osprey Kestrel 48 Men’s Hiking Backpack
- Grade B/C high-cut hiking boots: Meindl Schuhe Island Lady (Kati’s Boots), Women’s Hanwag Tatra II GTX (Sabrina’s Boots), Men’s Hanwag Tatra II GTX (men’s equivalent)
- CAT 4 Sunglasses: Julbo Shield Mountain Sunglasses
- Hiking Poles: Black Diamond Trail Trekking Poles
- Reusable Water Bottle: Ion Leakproof 32 oz Water Bottle