A Creux du Van hike in the canton of Neuchâtel is one of the top things to do in Switzerland. We show you which three hikes and walks will take you to the natural wonder.
Pictures and text by Marc Gottwald
Creux du Van – the Grand Canyon of Switzerland
The „Creux du Van“ – the jewel among Switzerland’s natural wonders. An absolute must-see and a spectacle that is hard to beat. In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about the „Creux du Van“. From knowledge about nature to descriptions of the three top excursions, including two hikes (easy and difficult) and a short 10-minute walk.
If the rock arch, which is also called the Grand Canyon of Switzerland, is overcrowded in summer, there are sometimes almost no people in winter, spring and late autumn.
The three excursions all have one goal: the spectacular rock arch. If you want to learn a lot about nature and the formation of the „Creux du Van“, you should definitely read through the whole text, even though the hike is only suitable for good hikers.
1). Spectacular hike along the Areuse Gorge to the “Creux du Van” (approx. 4.5h; for good hikers only)
Probably one of the most beautiful hikes in Switzerland and in the canton of Neuchâtel is the route from Noiraigue to the Saut de Brot (where after a few minutes the well-known bridge of the Gorge de l’Areuse comes), further to la Ferme Robert, the Fontaine Froide and the arch of the „Creux du Van“. From there, the most beautiful circuit hike in Switzerland takes about 1h 15 minutes via les Oeillons back to Noiraigue. You can find the exact route on the Switzerland map.
We start in Noiraigue, where we take a leisurely stroll through the village. In a few minutes we reach the river, the Areuse. It was used commercially early on, for example for mills, sawmills or blacksmiths. But the water of the river was also used to generate electricity. Again and again you see hydroelectric power stations that interrupt the natural course of the Areuse. A total of seven have been built on the 32 km long way of the Areuse, which shows the intensity.
But the Areuse also has natural passages of alluvial landscapes. This is what rivers used to look like. Floodplain landscapes are biodiversity hotspots, because 40% of all plant and animal species occur on only 0.3% of the country’s surface. This is because the low nutrients and harsh conditions have allowed specialists to establish themselves.
The Areuse Gorge – one of the most beautiful places in Switzerland
We pass the Gorge de l’Areuse, one of the narrowest parts, the Saut du Brot. And soon we see the stone bridge, which is a brilliant photo motif and still an insider tip in Switzerland. And not only that. If you’re lucky, you might even see a kingfisher.
Now comes the strenuous part of the hike. Are you ready? This spectacular hike should only be done when there is no snow and the ground is not too wet. The ascent to the „Creux du Van“ takes around 2 hours. Passing la Ferme Robert, where you could theoretically park and there is a fountain to fill up your bottles, we see the imposing stone arch on our Creux du Van hike for the first time.
We now move on to another insider tip: the Fontaine Froide, a fountain that has water that is 4 degrees cold all year round. Because of the step rock formation and the trees, the sun doesn’t reach every spot, so there is still permafrost here. What an experience to drink from this fountain!
We continue on the last section of our hike to the „Creux du Van“. Once you reach the top, it’s just a great feeling, the more metres in altitude you’ve covered. It looks like a horseshoe, the arch with the 160-metre-high rock walls. How do you think something like this could have been created?
It’s a really tough question. Here for you, the “Origin of Creux du Van explained simply”:
This rock arch was created in 3 phases:
Phase 1: Stream created by the glacier after the Würm Ice Age (140 million years ago) and eroded away material, making a V-shaped valley.
Phase 2: During new ice ages, glaciers came again and again and literally hollowed out the valley. The material was then eroded away by the meltwater during warm periods.
Phase 3: Removal of the last rocks to the geological fault. Here is a different rock, so the erosion is much heavier and slower.
But it is not only the relief of the “Creux du Van” that is fascinating. The flora and fauna are also fascinating. Here you can meet various wild animals, such as a whole herd of ibexes but also lynx, foxes and many more. If you see a wild animal, it is important not to leave the paths, keep your distance and never feed the animals.
But now it’s time to take some photos, right? I have marked the best photo spots of the „Creux du Van“ on the map for you.
After a well-deserved break on the rock arch or in the Ferme du Soliat restaurant, you return to Noirague via Les Oeillons. This concludes the circuit hike with around 4.5h of hiking time and whets the appetite for new adventures.
If you want to do this hike in a 1 day trip from Zurich, you arrive the starting point “Noiraigue” in just 2 hours.
2). Easy hike along forests, dolines and farms to the “Creux du Van”.
This is the insider tip for a great and leisurely hike of approx. 2h to the Creux du Van.
On „Lake Neuchâtel“, spring fever is already in the air. Around 600 metres higher it feels like we are still in the middle of winter. After all, we are also in the coldest region of Switzerland. The snow is frozen, but never icy.
At this time of year, snowshoes are essential for a hike up the „Creux du Van“.
Geologically, the area is fascinating. And in terms of the panorama anyway.
If you hike in the direction of the destination, you will repeatedly come across small areas in the field that are round. What could that be?
Sinkholes in the Jura highlands
Correct. Those are sinkholes. These are holes into which the water flows and is conducted in an underground system. Of course, these holes are also very dangerous for people and animals. I wonder what would happen if someone fell into them?
The Jura consists largely of a karst area and therefore sinkholes are relatively common.
Despite the sinkholes, the hike is really harmless.
As the mobile phone network in this region is very poorly developed, we recommend printing out the map in advance or downloading it to your mobile phone. Especially in winter it can be very confusing when no paths are visible due to snow.
You hike alternately through deciduous forests and alpine pastures. Alpine pastures were created because many forest areas were heavily cleared before and in the 19th century to satisfy the demand for coal.
The closer you get to the „Creux du Van“, the more beautiful the view. A unique panorama awaits you, where the Swiss Alps show themselves from their most magnificent side.
And now you see it, the unique rock arch. You could think it was created by gods, it radiates such power and magic.
By the way, “Van” means rock, which describes the uniqueness of the terrain very well. The rock arch is about 4 kilometres long and the walls are up to 200 metres high.
Although sometimes quite crowded in summer, in spring and autumn, and especially in winter, you have the best chance of enjoying idyllic tranquillity in pure nature.
In summer, however, I would advise against visiting this magical place on a weekend because of the many people. But it’s worth it either way.
The parking for the hike:
Arrive directly in front of the „Creux du Van“ – 300m walk to the Grand Canyon of Switzerland
This is the easiest way to visit the „Creux du Van“. In winter, the roads are not cleared and you can only get as far as the car park I marked for you in the second hike. Otherwise, drive directly to the Ferme Soliat restaurant, the famous rock arch is then only about 300 metres away by foot.
No matter which excursion you choose, you will enjoy unforgettable “Moments of Switzerland” and love that place.