Regional Comparison: Berner Oberland

Trail Running in the Berner Oberland

The Berner Oberland, and specifically the Jungfrau Region, aren’t well known names outside of Switzerland. But, a few names within this region are certainly on many trail runners’ radar: Interlaken, Lauterbrunnen, Grindelwald and of course, the Eiger. The Jungfrau Region encompasses all of these locations and is named after the highest peak towering above it all, the Jungfrau. The Jungfrau Region itself is located with canton Bern while the mountainous part of the canton is, voila, the Berner Oberland.

We call Interlaken home, so the Berner Oberland is the region where we have spent the most time. It got a lot of attention, and deservedly so, in our Run the Alps Switzerland guidebook which includes mega-classics like the Lauterbrunnen to Grindelwald run, Lauterbrunnen to Kandersteg, and of course one of the Alps, if not the world’s, most unique trails, the Hardergrat.

There are more details about the region in our Berner Oberland Trail Running Guide, but for the sake of comparison, we’re looking at six key categories to see how the Berner Oberland stacks up against Chamonix, the Valais, and Graubünden.

Cows, lots of cows

Vibe

Vibe in the Swiss German part of Switzerland is already lacking, but the Berner Oberland takes it one step further and finger-wags into the negative vibe. It seems the service sector’s hospitality was inspired by prison guards or grumpy grannies.  

Sure, this isn’t always the case, but it is consistent enough that we hear about it from many visitors. The good news is that the region is absolutely crawling with foreigners who bring some cheer to the trails and town atmosphere.

To be fair, the Jungfrau Region is one of the busiest areas in the Alps, and not just from mountain tourism. Nowadays, locals are inundated year round by busloads of selfie stick-toting tourists on Rome yesterday, Interlaken today, Paris tomorrow schedules. Dealing with so many tourists who urgently need to consume a bucket of melted cheese and buy a Swiss luxury timepiece, it’s no wonder the locals can get pretty irritated. 

Traffic

As busy as the region’s towns are, the trails are relatively sane once away from areas with train or tram access. Similar to all of the Alps hotspots, like Zermatt or Chamonix, if you want to run in the iconic locations, it’s going to be swamped. But, move beyond the major landmarks and you’ll often be alone. 

We’ve included the famous trails in our guide, but also some locals only routes because okay, I’ll share a couple.

Logistics

For a large region, it might be the least complicated to access trails using public transportation. Trains access nearly all our runs and where they don’t go, a bus does. But the trains get you close, minimizing time on the slower bus rides up long valleys like you’ll find in the Graubünden and Valais. 

Finally, the Berner Oberland’s primary running zone is the Jungfrau Region, which also happens to be a major ski area. There are many lifts running in the summer months that can provide shortcuts for runners wanting to avoid big climbs or big descents.

The icon of the Berner Oberland, the Eiger Nordwand

Scenery

Unlike so many famous mountain towns with their single iconic peak, the Jungfrau Region’s skyline includes the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau. From Interlaken, the gateway valley perfectly frames the Jungfrau, and in Grindelwald, no matter where you are, there’s 3000 meters of dark, sinister Eiger North Face looming above. 

And then there’s the Lauterbrunnen Valley, a kind of Swiss Yosemite, that’s littered with waterfalls and massively steep limestone walls on both sides protecting car-free villages perched above. The next level up, glaciers cling to the sides of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau. It’s overwhelmingly beautiful.

As Swiss as it gets

Variety

The Berner Oberland has a variety of trail running terrain to choose from. Run Sound of Music style grassy hillsides beneath the peaks, or, rise higher into rocky, glacier-covered alpine terrain. 

Leave the Jungfrau Region for the broader Berner Oberland and you’ll be more likely to find solitude on equally good trails that include distant views of where the crowds are.

Arguably the most scenic trail in the Alps sits above Interlaken, the (in)famous Hardergrat

Trails

Thanks to this being our home, we’ve dialed in our trail selection for the Berner Oberland and are keeping you on the best of the best. Overall, the trails are not as good as the Valais, but they are not too far behind. However, if you stray from what we recommend, be warned, it’s a rocky and rooty place, and even on the best routes, you’ll get to experience at least a bit of the rocks and roots. 


Where to Run in the Alps

If you’re trying to understand the Alps different trail running hotspots, we’ve created a Regional Comparison series that looks at Chamonix, the Valais, Berner Oberland, and the Graubünden.

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