You’ve heard about Hotel Obersteinberg, the wonderfully authentic mountain inn perched high above the Lauterbrunnen Valley. Like a fairy tale combination of mountains, waterfalls, flowers and cows, the Lauterbrunnen Valley is a gem within a gem. This deeply carved gorge was J.R.R. Tolkein’s inspiration for Rivendell, based on a hiking tour he took here as a young man. So how do you get way up there? Unlike many places in Switzerland accessible by train, cable car, or funicular, this route is entirely up to you and your feet. It’s steep, but hiking to Obersteinberg is definitely worth it.
Start from the valley floor in the town of Lauterbrunnen. You can walk along the valley or save some time and take the bus to Stechelberg, a tiny settlement at the end of the road. Here you’ll leave the cars behind and start your hike uphill. Even from Stechelberg, the scenery is incredibly impressive. Vertical cliffs soar 3000 ft above you and the glacial blue Lutschine River tumbles past over chunks of silver rock.
The Jungfrau is the queen of the region, but it’s not alone; a ring of glacier clad peaks circles the valley. As you hike, you’ll soon pass a handsome inn called Trachsellauenen. This is a great place to stop for a snack or a drink. The flowers along the way are fantastic, too. Continuing past Trachsellauenen, you’ll catch your first glimpse of the Schmadribach falls, a powerful 1000 foot waterfall perfectly framed at the back of the valley. It’s a stunning scene, and will be popping in and out of view for the rest of your hike.
Continue back into the valley, past the dilapidated remains of an old smelting furnace and into a section of deep spruce forest. The trail gets even steeper for a bit and comes to a fork, where both directions are signposted for Obersteinberg. The right path is steep and direct, going first to Tschingelhorn inn before leading to Obersteinberg. The left side stays along the bottom of the valley for a while longer. We like to send people left, following the attractive path along the valley floor and past many wild blueberry bushes, alpenrose and horsetails.
You’ll reach a clearing at an old barn called Schürboden where you can refill water from a natural spring in front of the barn, and sit and relax and enjoy the scenery. Do check for stinging nettles before you sit down! They’re commonly found in disturbed areas around barns.
This entire ridge is impressive, extending from the Jungfrau behind your left shoulder, past the Rottal glacier valley topped by the Gletscherhorn, the pristinely white Äbeni Flue, Mittaghorn, Grosshorn, the beautiful haystack symmetry of the Breithorn (one of my favorites), and finally the steep cliffs of the Tschingelhorn. Schmadrifalls cascades just above you to the south.
There are actually many alternate trails here, and wonderful side trips that can be taken to Holdri falls and even above the Schmadribach falls to a tiny hut at the base of the Breithorn. If you ever really want an adventure, a night at the tiny self-service Schmadri hut is hard to beat, with only the Breithorn, the Ibex and your thoughts for company. The continuing trail passes a beautiful little lakelet (Oberhornsee) to reach Obersteinberg a more roundabout way.
But I digress. For today, just go direct. It’s enough. Turning right at Schurboden you continue uphill, following the signposted trail to Obersteinberg. The trail winds up through the woods, with flowers and waterfalls and clearings along the way. Finally, you clear the trees for good and the trail deposits you directly at the hotel at Obersteinberg.