Hiking to Matterhorn Base Camp (Schwarzsee to Hornlihutte)
Updated: Mar 1
The Matterhorn base camp trail is an amazing half day hike from the beautiful town of Zermatt. If you have a spare day in this stunning part of the world, it's a great idea to combine this hike with a ride on the highest gondola in the alps, which takes you all the way to the Klein Matterhorn & Glacier Paradise.
Table of contents
Key facts about the hike
4.3Km (each way) – 8.6km in total
Medium – The first section is a red and white mountain trail rating, so although steep, it is classified as accessible to most walkers. About half an hour in you reach the blue and white alpine trail markers to highlight that the trail is not for the inexperienced walker. There were people of all ages walking when we did it, but if you are bad with heights or unsteady on your feet this is not the walk for you. The terrain is rocky and the incline steep, so a good level of fitness and supportive walking boots are required.
The sign at the start states 2 hrs 15 mins to the summit however we covered it in 1hr 45 mins on the way there & 1hr 30 mins on the way back. It is probably best to allow 5 hours, if like us, you plan to have lunch at the top.
Schwarzsee – 2570m
Hornlihutte – 3260m (however the ideal spot for a photo of the iconic mountain is just past the hut so more like 3280m)
Packing list for hiking to the Matterhorn Basecamp
Water - There is a restaurant at base camp so you can buy food and drinks there, but there is no drinking water on the trail so make sure you take plenty with you.
Snacks – It goes without saying you may need a boost on the way up so take snacks. We took a packed lunch to enjoy at the top too.
Walking boots – A good pair of supportive shoes is a good idea for this trail as the terrain is rocky and uneven.
Be prepared for weather changes – In the mountains the weather can change very quickly, even in the summer months and at higher altitudes the air is colder, despite the sun. We took a jumper and waterproof even though we were hiking in August. Thankfully we didn’t need the waterproof, but we did wear our jumpers at the top.
Suncream – Even though the air is colder on the mountain the sun is just as strong.
Getting to the Hornlihutte Hiking Trail
You can start your hike from Zermatt to save paying for the cable car, but as it is the highest cable car in Europe we opted to stump up the 120 CHF each (you can get 50% with the Swiss travel pass/Swiss Half Card) for the ride up to the Glacier Paradise at the top of the Klein Matterhorn. We had also read that the views during the hike up & down from Zermatt are nothing compared to the trail to base camp so decided to save our legs. Although, if you want to experience sunset at Hornlihutte you will have to hike back down to Zermatt as the last cable car down is just after 4.30pm.
I would advise getting as early a cable car as you can (they start running at 8.30am), it will mean the trail will be a little quieter with fewer people coming the other way. Also, if you are travelling around Switzerland in the summer months it can get pretty warm later in the day when the suns out. Another thing to consider is if like us you plan to continue the cable car after the hike up to the glacier paradise, the last car down from there is 4:30pm as well!
Schwarzsee is the 2nd stop on the cable car from Zermatt & as soon as you walk off the cable car you can see the signpost for the start of the trail.
What to expect when hiking to the Matterhorn basecamp
The trail naturally falls into three sections. The first section is a red and white trail which means whilst challenging mountain hiking, there are no drop offs, and no alpine walking experience is needed. The first 10 minutes is relatively flat as you make your way from the cable car station around the small lake. The path then starts to climb steeply uphill. The ground is uneven, but no scrambling is required.
The start of the second section is marked by another cable car station, it wasn’t in use when we were there but there were men doing work on it so I’m not sure if it is a new section being built. It is here that the trail changes from a red and white marked path to a blue and white alpine trail. This means the path is not for the inexperienced walker. There are some sections that have drops off and so have ropes or hooks attached to the rock to help you and some metal ladders to climb. If you are fine with heights, sure footed and in good shape you will have no problem at all.
The incline is probably similar during this section as the path winds its way up. The ground is very rocky and there are some switch backs as you climb. You are then greeted with about 10 minutes of flat ground, enjoy it as it is the only part!
As you come to the end of the flat you spot the final section of the walk zigzagging its way up ahead of you. This is the hardest part; it is unforgivingly steep, with quite a few drop-offs & the switch backs make it feel endless. Also at this altitude, whilst you would be very unlikely to suffer any form of altitude sickness, the air is definitely thinner. Just take your time and keep plodding on, the views from the top are worth it!
Time required to hike to Matterhorn Basecamp
It took us 1 hour 45 minutes to reach Hornlihutte, where we spent 45 minutes taking in the view, getting some trick shots with the Toblerone that we lugged up the mountain (it had to be done!) and enjoying our well earnt sandwiches.
You take the same path back down the mountain and can enjoy the smugness of going down while others are panting their way up! It took us nearly as long to get down, 1 hour 30 minutes. You can probably do it a lot faster but we were enjoying the views and Dave had a back knee so we always take the downhills slowly.
A visit to Glacier Paradise
Upon returning to Schwarzsee we jumped back on the cable car, heading up higher to the Glacier Paradise at the top of the Klein Matterhorn at 3883m. It is the highest cable car station in Europe and the views across the mountains and glaciers are incredible.
At the top you can take pictures from the panoramic viewing platform, have a walk out on the snow (there is snow up here all year round), grab a drink or something to eat in the restaurant (if you can stomach the insane prices) and take the lift down under the ice to the glacier paradise.
In a series of underground ice tunnels, you can marvel at the painstaking craftsmanship of the ice sculptures. You can also try out the small, not so exciting (well maybe for children) ice slide 😊!
The cable car ride down to Zermatt takes 40 minutes, sit back and enjoy the view!