To celebrate its 300th anniversary, Liechtenstein unwrapped the perfect gift: a 75-kilometer / 46-mile trail that passes through all 11 of its municipalities.
There are an increasing number of long-distance and thru-hikes in the world. This one is particularly fantastic.
It’s not too long or too short. It’s not too technical or too mundane. And it’s not too crowded or too remote, too urban or too rural.
Every day on the trail is fresh and new. And by time it has the potential to lose its allure, it’s over.
We hiked the trail for five days in October. Every day, the leaves turned into deeper jewel tones. The weather was mild and comfortable, and, except for a single overcast day, the sun shone.
Logistically, we made the decision to rent an apartment in Vaduz, then we used the country’s bus system to travel back and forth to the starting and ending points of our daily hike. This meant we only had to carry day packs. Plus, we got to see even more of the country as the bus drove along roads we didn’t hike.
My dad hiked with us, and averaging about 10 miles a day was just about perfect. I’m still toying with the idea of pulling together a complete guide with tips for hiking the Liechtenstein Trail. In the meantime, here are 20 insights from our trek across the country to celebrate its 300th anniversary.
5 Lessons About Long-Distance Hiking
1: There are different kinds of long-distance hikes. The term “thru-hiking” refers to walking a long-distance trail end-to-end with footsteps moving in one direction. But I want to take a moment to make an important point: We’ve thru-hiked a few trails now, and there’s a big difference between thru-hiking a back-country trail like the John Muir Trail and thru-hiking a trail that passes through cities. I use the terms “long-distance hike” and “thru-hike” interchangeably.
On the JMT, we literally carried our homes (and everything else!) on our backs. On the Alpe-Adria Trail, we carried everything we had with us, but we stayed in actual accommodations every night, so we didn’t have tents, sleeping bags, or sleeping mats. Because of the way we hiked the Liechtenstein Trail, we only carried day packs, which are significantly lighter and easier to manage.
All of these are legitimate options for long-distance or thru-hikes. But depending on the experience, there is a big difference in what you carry, how you plan, and how self-sufficient you have to be.
2: Anyone can do it. Here’s the thing: You certainly don’t have to do what anyone else is doing. And if you don’t want to become a long-distance hiker, you won’t be able to do it. Heck, you shouldn’t do it.
But, if you want to take up thru-hiking, it is totally possible. You don’t have to go fast. You don’t have to be graceful. And, you don’t have to have fancy gear. All you need is the interest and determination to put one foot in front of the other, day in and day out.
3: Don’t forget to eat. You’d think after pounding mile after mile food would be the only thing on our minds. And, on the John Muir Trail, it was — probably because we were running at a pretty hefty calorie deficiency in the back country. But generally speaking, it’s easy not to eat enough while hiking. We often build in pre-arranged snack points to make sure we get enough fuel. A good mix of salty and sweet foods helps. If you’re staying at accommodations, we find it’s possible to make a lunch while eating breakfast.
4: Use hiking poles. We are hiking pole evangelists. They make every uphill and downhill easier. They ensure you move your arms and blood doesn’t pool in your hands. And for anything remotely technical, they ensure aching and fatigued bodies get through the day safely.
5: Preparation only goes so far. Building up to a long-distance hike is important, but nothing actually prepares you for the trail. You have no real idea how you’ll wake up feeling, how different parts of the body will react, what the trail conditions (physically and mentally) will be, what the weather will be like. Some days your bag just doesn’t sit right. Other days you feel like you could double the miles without a problem. Getting your body into good endurance condition is important, but the only real way you know if you’re ready to hike a trail is to do it.
5 Facts About Liechtenstein
1: The country’s population is probably smaller than you think. You probably know that Liechtenstein is a small country. You may know that it’s sandwiched between Austria and Switzerland. But even I was surprised to find out that only about 38,000 people live there. Nationals make up about two-thirds of the population; the other one-third is made up of folks from about 90 other countries.
2: The University of Liechtenstein is housed in an old spinning mill. It’s a relatively small but lovely campus. Students can take bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate courses in business administration and architecture. The country has a few private institutions as well.
3: The prince lives in the Vaduz Castle. That means you can’t visit it. But, sitting on a hill above Vaduz, it really is stunning. One morning as we were hiking, we noticed the lights were on inside. We imagined the prince reading his news while sipping a cup of coffee. Because, isn’t that what you’d do if you were the prince of Liechtenstein?
4: There is no homeless population. Liechtenstein’s social safety net is so strong that everyone in the country has a home. All people have a right to adequate housing, and those who need it are supported with subsidies. A facility for homeless people closed several years ago due to lack of use.
5: Liechtenstein has train stations but no train stops. In the late 19th century, train stops throughout Liechtenstein pumped up the economic well-being of the country. This rail line, which runs through Liechtenstein from Feldkirch, Austria, to Buchs, Switzerland, no longer stops in the country, though, and these train stations are now just picturesque ghost towns.
A bonus interesting fact: The sections of land that the rail line sits on are owned by Austria.
5 Tips About The Liechtenstein Trail And App Experience
1: The app adds to the experience. Hiking Liechtenstein’s trail in and of itself is rewarding. However, to get the full experience, download the LIstory App. Along the trail there are 147 points of interest that “unlock” as you approach them. The written content highlighted every possible aspect of the country’s culture, history, and landscape you can imagine. These stops gave us a good reason to stop, think, and engage with our surroundings. And, once the stops are unlocked, you can revisit them off the trail. Additional imagery and content make sharing the trip with others easier and more interesting.
Oh! And that Vaduz Castle you can’t visit? There is an awesome augmented reality experience of the castle in the app that lets you see what the inside looks like.
2: Unlocking stops is iffy. Yes, download the app, but then identify the service that works best for your cell provider. We have the European provider Vodafone, and the Sunrise provider in Liechtenstein worked best for us. We could follow the GPS with other providers but we could only unlock points of interest with Sunrise. Close to the Austrian and Switzerland borders, we had more difficulty unlocking stops.
3: The Liechtenstein Trail is incredibly well maintained. We’re used to doing some creative navigating on our hikes. Despite being “well marked,” let’s just say that’s not always the case. In Liechtenstein, every single turn or shift in the trail was very well marked and the path was cared for. In one place we found ourselves off trail, and I think we just got going too fast and missed a turn.
4: Get “off the beaten path” in Malbun. The Liechtenstein Trail passes through all the country’s municipalities, but there’s one little corner of the country also worth visiting. Malbun is a ski destination located high in the mountains and a steep bus ride up from Treisenberg. Take the gondola to the very top of the mountain, then follow the seven-kilometer trail back down to the gondola station. This part of the trail doesn’t tie in with the rest of the Liechtenstein Trail, but Malbun is a unique and different part of the country worth visiting.
5: Give yourself an extra day. It’s always a good idea to build in an extra “cushion” day on a long-distance hike. In Liechtenstein, you can use this to visit Malbun, or you might need to unexpectedly bunch a few legs together. If we had an extra day, we would have visited a few of the museums located in Vaduz.
5 Lessons We Learned About Ourselves
1: Every time we hike, we remember why we do it. Hiking is not easy. Long-distance hiking is even harder. Sometimes, we question our sanity. Then, we start hiking and we remember why we love it so much. Traveling in this way allows for a certain kind of introspection and appreciation for ourselves and our bodies while also giving us such an incredibly unique perspective of the places we visit.
2: Consistency counts. Whether we’re trekking across Austria or thru-hiking the John Muir Trail, we’ve learned one key thing: It doesn’t matter how different the hikes are, it’s the similarities we enjoy. Yes, the trail changes with every step, but we generally know what each day is going to bring. Long-distance hiking comes with a routine, process, and pattern. Everything falls into its place, and there’s a certain amount of comfort in that. It’s almost meditative and relaxing, which seems odd given the strenuous nature of hiking.
3: You can hike with others while still hiking your own hike. We love to hike together — and sometimes with a third person — but we’re still able to hike our own hike. It is so nice to have someone else to chat and share such an awesome experience with. But we both have lots of time to be silent, lost in our own thoughts and observations. I think it’s important to realize that thru-hiking with someone else provides such a meaningful joint experience but can still very much be your own experience.
4: Good gear makes a big difference. We should know better. But, sometimes we get lazy too.
We knew this particular hike would be fairly simple for us, so while we had proper boots and poles, we didn’t think through our choice of day packs. Both of our bags were ill-fitting and uncomfortable. We aren’t interested in being gear heads, but being well-equipped with quality gear can be a game changer on the body.
5: Trail tourism is our favorite form of “slow travel.” Even though long-distance hiking takes a lot of preparation and it is hard — so hard — it is so incredibly rewarding. Every time we embark on trail tourism, we have deeper, more meaningful encounters with locals and see places most travelers will never see. We like that we’re able to spread our financial resources across several small business owners while having a minimal environmental footprint.