Riding Grimsel Pass: Exploring Switzerland’s “Big 3” Mountain Passes

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Riding Grimsel Pass is one of the world’s true riders rights of passage. Next to the passes of Furka and Susten, it makes up one-third of Switzerland’s Big 3 mountain passes.

Just saying the words Grimsel, Furka and Susten ignites a little something inside my belly!

Like many bikers across the world, these Alpine passes occupy a special place in my heart.

The riding is phenomenal, without a doubt. But the scenery is majestic and the internal fuzziness from everything combined is something that will stay with me forever.

riding grimsel pass
Riding Grimsel Pass is sure to reward you with epic scenery and stunning vistas (image via EpikDrives)

Riding Alpine Passes: What You Need To Know!

If you’re currently casting your eyes over routes in the Alps for the first time, chances are you’re eying up the prospect of riding the passes of Grimsel, Furka and Susten.

You’ll be excited. But you’ll probably be doubting yourself a bit as well.

And that’s the reason for this mini guide.

In this series, we’ll break down all three passes into little nuggets of knowledge that will hopefully answer any questions you might have.

And today, we’ll start with riding Grimsel Pass.

The next two installments will take on the passes of Furka and Susten – two equally life-affirming passes but for very different reasons!

At the end of this series, we’ll also provide you with a route which takes in all three passes.

switzerland's big 3 mountain passes
Riding Grimsel Pass

Riding Grimsel Pass: One Of Switzerland’s Iconic Mountain Passes

You’ll be pleased to hear that despite its notoriety, riding Grimsel Pass can be really quite relaxing and serene.

Additionally, there are some juicy switchbacks to keep you on your toes. But none of them are beyond the realms of any half-decent rider.

There are also a few blind bends and unexpected crests. But again, none of these should really pose a problem if you’re switched on.

In general, riding Grimsel Pass is quite easy-going with epic views of the Bernese Alps, snow-topped mountain peaks, luscious pine forests and wonderfully sparkly Alpine lakes.

riding grimsel pass summer
A lovely way to spend a day! (image via hpgruesen/Pexels)

Grimsel Pass: At A Glance

Grimsel Pass on the map

Where is it? Switzerland

Where does it start/end? Gletsch / Meiringen

How far is it? 38 km (23 miles)

How high is it? 2614 m

When is it open? May to October (ish)

What’s the road surface like? Paved – generally very good

grimselpass
Take time out for the views (image via Sam Ferrera)

Location

Essentially, Grimsel Pass crosses the Bernese Alps – from Gletsch to Meiringen. The pass connects the cantons of Bern (in the north) and Valais (to the south) whilst the summit lies on the cantonal boundary.

The northern slopes of the pass are in Guttannen (Bernese) and the southern slopes can found in Obergoms (Valais).

History

It’s fair to say that Grimsel Pass has a rich and varied history with its first documented use going back to the 14th century. It has even been suggested that it was used as far back as the 1200’s.

It was traditionally used as a trading route – with Swiss cheese being transported to Piedmont in exchange for wine, leather, corn and rice.

More recently, it’s promoted as a tourist attraction.

gelmersee - riding grimsel pass
Grimsel Pass is now known as a tourist hotspot. But it has a rich and varied history (image via Yves Moret)

Riding Grimsel Pass: The Details

We prefer riding Grimsel Pass from the north (from the lovely town of Meiringen.)

This approach will take you through the village of Innertkirchen (where you’ll also find Susten Pass), and continues alongside the Aare valley to Guttannen.

Heading south, you’ll leave the lush green trees behind before crossing the stunning Aare valley.

As the road climbs, you’ll pass through beautiful canyons crafted by mother nature herself; a natural work of art formed and re-formed through the ages.

Continuing, you’ll pass through glorious tunnels which form the dam wall of Räterichsbodensee Lake – and later, Grimsel Lake.

Besides the lakes, the effortless hairpins, clear visibility, and stunning scenery make riding Grimsel Pass one of those experiences that you never want to end.

But end it must as you ascend the ever-twisting pass to the 2614 m summit.

From here, the road will plunge down towards Guttannen and into the open arms of another classic pass: The Furka.

biker at gelmersee
Exploring Alpine mountains and lakes (image via Dutchie)

Things To See

As mentioned above, riding Grimsel Pass is a blessing of spectacular scenery.

Consisting of mountain top views, rugged rock formations, panoramic valley vistas and crystal-clear lakes, there’s an awful lot to see!

At the dizzy height of 2165 m sits Totensee (the Lake of the Dead) – a natural lake which acquired its name from the soldiers which were driven into it after the Battle of Ulrichen in 1211.

At 1759 m, you can expect long, sweeping views of the winding bends to Gletsche as well as stunning views of the Rhône glacier and Furka Pass.

And finally, don’t miss out on the Gelmer funicular – which was the steepest funicular in Europe until 2017 with a staggering gradient of 106%

The funicular isn’t for the faint-hearted (I’m good with heights yet I must admit to feeling just a touch queasy!) But the views of Gelmersee and its inviting, turquoise waters are truly breath-taking.

If you don’t fancy the funicular, there is also a hiking route up to Gelmersee which takes around 2 hours.

gelmersee - riding grimsel pass
Enjoying a day off the bikes and hiking around Gelmersee with my dad

Next Up:

In the next instalment of this guide, we’ll be heading over to the fearsome Furka Pass!

But riding the Big 3 doesn’t come without its problems, so we’ll be looking at those as well.

Planning your own Alpine route? Be sure to check out these:

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