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The Legendary Furka Pass in Switzerland

Last Updated on October 20, 2023 by Admin

Furka Pass is one of the best mountain passes in the Swiss Alps at an altitude of 2,429 meters (7,960 feet). As one of the highest mountain passes in Switzerland, it connects the Cantons of Uri and Valais. It is a popular tourist destination, attracting visitors from across the globe.

Furka Pass has a long history, but what made it famous is the car chase scene in the 1964 James Bond film Goldfinger featuring Sean Connery and Tania Mallet.

Overview: Furka Pass

View of the Furka Pass
Image is taken from Furka Pass by TouringSwitzerland.com

The Furka Pass is one of the most famous climbs in the Swiss Alps along with Nufenen Pass (between Valais and Ticino), Flüela Pass (between Davos and Lower Engadine), Bernina Pass (between St. Moritz and Val Poschiavo), and Albula Pass (between Thusis and La Punt in Engadine).

Furka Pass is close to three other mountain passes – Grimsel Pass, Gotthard Pass, and Oberalp Pass. Its roads are steep and winding; its views are breathtaking and memorable.


Furka Pass Road Conditions

Furka Pass is steep and snowy in winter. Therefore, it’s only open during the summer, usually from late May to early November. Nevertheless, it is recommended to check the weather forecast prior to driving over Furka Pass.

Every year, thousands of people cross Furka by bicycle, motorbikes, private cars, and camper vans. Due to the narrow paths, sharp turns, and steep drops, drivers should exercise caution while driving and overtaking other vehicles and cyclists.

Summertime is the best time to drive on Furka Pass due to favorable road conditions and weather. With its breathtaking views and exciting journey, it’s easy to see why Furka Pass is so popular. And it’s no wonder scenes from Goldfinger were filmed here – the Furka is one of the most impressive Alpine crossings in the world.


Furka Pass between Valais and Uri

Andermatt connected to Furka Pass
Furka Pass connects Andermatt (pictured above) with Valais. Image by Kecko from flickr

Furka Pass is located in one of the snowiest areas in Switzerland, stretching between Gletsch in Valais and Andermatt in Uri. Among Switzerland’s paved roads, this is the fourth-highest located within the country.

You’re going to see a lot of hairpin turns in Furka Pass, so make sure you’re ready for them (not everyone can handle them). It also has a gradient as high as 11%. Bigger vehicles and nervous drivers may have a hard time navigating the pass. It’s fun if you’re up for the challenge.

Surrounding Furka Pass are several peaks of the Urner Alps including the Tiefenstock (3,515 meters) and the Galenstock (3,586 meters).


When is the Furka Pass Open?

Furka Pass is only open during the summer, usually starting late May to early November. Whenever the Furka Pass is closed in winter, you can go by train using the Furka Base Tunnel, which connects Realp in Uri and Oberwald in Valais.  

Furka Pass also closes when weather and avalanche conditions are bad. Check https://www.alpen-paesse.ch/ to see if it’s open.

The Furka Base Tunnel is a replacement for the Furka Summit Tunnel that goes from Uri to Muttbach-Belvédère in Valais. Today, the Furka Summit Tunnel tunnel is part of the Furka Cogwheel Steam Railway, the longest unelectrified line in Switzerland, and the second-highest rail crossing in Europe, after the Bernina Railway in Graubünden.

You can take the Furka car transport all year round from Realp to Oberwald or vice versa. The journey takes just under 20 minutes, so you’ll save time in summer compared to the Furka Pass’ 45-minute trip.


Best Tourist Attractions on Furka Pass

1. Iconic Hotel-Restaurant Belvédère on Furka Pass

The Famous Hotel-Restaurant Belvedère in Furka Pass
Image of Hotel-Restaurant Belvédère by TouringSwitzerland.com

The Hotel-Restaurant Belvédère sits at one of these hairpin bends of Furka Pass. Originally built back in 1882 by Josef Seiler, it used to be the best base for exploring the Rhône Glacier. It was built after the mountain pass was completed.

The iconic hotel in Switzerland that’s in so many travel photos offers a great view of the Rhône Glacier. 

Through the 20th century, visitors to the glacier and hotel grew steadily. A landslide between Göschenen and Andermatt prevented the hotel from opening in 2015. After that, the tenant couldn’t open the hotel anymore and it hasn’t reopened since.  Until further notice, Hotel-Restaurant Belvédère will be closed (as of April 2022). 

Despite that, visitors can still park their cars next to the Hotel-Restaurant Belvédère. From there, you’ll just have to walk a few minutes to get to the Rhône Glacier Ice Cave. The car park also looks out over the valley, so you can take some awesome pictures. 


2. Rhône Glacier on Furka Pass

Rhône Glacier as seen on Furka Pass
Image of the Rhône Glacier by TouringSwitzerland.com

During the last ice age, the Rhône Glacier covered most of the Rhône Valley of Valais. It converged with the neighboring glaciers from the Mont Blanc Massif, the Bernese Alps, and Fribourg Alps. Despite that, the Rhône Glacier in the Swiss Alps is one of the oldest in the Alps. Additionally, it gave birth to one of Europe’s most important rivers, the Rhône River, which flows through Switzerland and France before emptying into the Mediterranean Sea.

Rhône Glacier as seen on Furka Pass
Image of the Rhône Glacier by TouringSwitzerland.com

The glacier’s tongue is about 200 to 300 years old. Over the last 150 years, the glaciers that feed the Rhône and Geneva rivers have shrunk. It is currently around 7.65 kilometers long, less than the nation’s largest, the Great Aletsch Glacier, which is 23 kilometers long. 

In the Swiss Alps, blankets are used to keep glaciers from melting.  Swiss mountain resorts like Gletsch, which rely on the Rhône glacier’s attraction, are reportedly doing their best to protect the glacier during hot summers by covering the end of it with insulation blankets to slow the melting. Hence, every spring, locals go there to cover it in a huge thermal blanket. When you’re in the glacier area, you’ll see these blankets.

In the last few decades, the glacier has lost a lot of ice and is expected to disappear completely in the next 50 years.


3. The Glacier Grotto

Glacier Grotto in Furka Pass
Image of the Glacier Grotto by TouringSwitzerland.com

This Glacier Grotto in the Rhône Glacier is a big tourist attraction that the Carlen family runs. Every year, digging into the ice is very expensive and physically exhausting. Around 100 meters long, the tunnel is cut using an electric chainsaw and ice pick. You can see it during summer.

The Glacier Grotto located in the Rhône Glacier near Furka Pass allows visitors to actually walk inside an ice glacier. 

The glacier has already lost ice over the last few decades and is expected to disappear completely within the next 50 years.


How To Get to the Furka Pass

A view of the Furka Pass by TouringSwitzerland.com
Image of a pothole overlooking the Furka Pass road taken by TouringSwitzerland.com

The best way to get to Furka Pass is by car between late May and early November. You can also use a motorcycle or a bike. You can reach it from Andermatt, Uri or Gletsch, Valais.

During summer, buses run between Andermatt and Gletsch, Post. There’s a bus stop at the Belvedere Furka.  It’s important to note that the bus runs only twice a day, so you’ll want to make sure you know the bus travel times. Due to this, I highly recommend going in a private car.


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Darla is the owner of TouringSwitzerland.com. Her home is in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. Having lived almost 20 years in Switzerland, she's traveled extensively all over the country. Darla's favorite regions to visit in Switzerland include Engadin, Lake Geneva, Bernese Oberland, Ticino, and Valais. She loves spending time with her family, hiking, visiting museums, and reading books.

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