All right, it is not Grand Canyon, even if the German Bergsteiger magazin dubbs it so, but it is a nice patch of landscape in the eastern Switzerland, and as it is very popular for hiking too, why not posting it also on a mountaineering site. The most beautiful part of Ruinaulta canyon stretches between Ilanz and Reichenau, so west of Chur, the capital of Graubuenden canton. Perhaps the distance between these two town is too big to walk it in one day, so the most hikers do the distance between two railroad stations: Castrisch and Digg/Trin. It's a nice, scenic, 12 km long walk by easy, well marked paths. The canyon is of course also the playground for rafters and kayakers. Unfortunately its up to 300 meters high walls are so crumbly that they are completely inappropriate for harder climbing. As the whole area is densely forrested it is also a heaven for all kinds of wildlife.
The Origin of Canyon
In the last ice age the whole area was covered with a glacier. After it retreated, between Flimserstein and Piz Grisch a huge landslide, the biggest in the Alps, consisting of some 12 cubic kilometers of stone masses, went some 1000 meters of altitude down into the valley. Rhein, actually its northern source branch Vorderrhein, first formed a big lake and then had to cut its way through the barrier again. Of course this happened in many stages, across the period of a few hundred years.
The Ruinaulta canyon can be easilly reached by side roads, which deter from the main road Chur - Ilanz. The main road goes up over Flims, leaving the landslide masses on its southern side. From the central Switzerland the Vorderrhein valley can be reached from Andermatt over the Oberalp pass. From Ilanz towards Chur a local road runs also above the southern side of the canyon. It can also be used for reaching various points in the canyon.
Through the canyon, mostly just above the river, the line of Rhaetian Railways goes. So, most of visitors uses this option, or simply enjoy the scenery through the train windows. From the west, the railway stations follow in this order: Ilanz - Castrisch - Valendas/Sagogn - Versam - Digg/Trin - Reichenau. The four small stations between Ilanz and Reichenau have no personnel, so there you can't buy a ticket, it is written that you even need to push a button to give a sign for a train to stop. But the train passes there with the Swiss reliability each hour.
The Ruinaulta Hike
Although also some other shorter or longer options are possible, here is the description of the hike from Castrisch to Digg/Trin station. It is also recommended by Bergsteiger magazine, Huesler's hiking atlas etc.
Altogether the hike lasts some 5 hours (in one direction) and on it we shall do some good 300 meters of altitude difference. It is easy, appropriate also for families with young children, only the ascent from the canyon up to the plateau near Digg goes by a bit steeper, but well beaten path. All paths are well marked. If too long, this hike can be shortened by returning with train from any of the stations in-between.
From Castrisch, 705m, we go along the railway towards the east, then slightly down to the river bank. The place is called Isla Sut and is also a protected ornitologic area. Along the river we soon reach the Valendas station, 669m. After it we hike to the point, where from the right the wild Carreratobel creek comes down into Rhein. There we go below the railway and across the creek. Continuing a bit up we reach the big Isla meadow. The cart-road goes directly to the farm, while our marked path avoids the peace of the farm ascending some 50 meters right up and then making a broad detour. Later it descends again, we reach the river level just opposite of big, picturesque rock walls. We continue along the river (allways by the right, southern side) till Versam station, 635m. Not much changes in the hike course after Versam. We continue by the river bank, the scenery hre is really nice. Soon we reach the river bend, where Vorderrhein is stopped by a vertical rock wall. No chance for a path there and also probably a place, where rafters need to be especially careful. Our path goes steeply up the slope, in a few switchbacks we reach a panoramic place on this small ridge, on the other side the river comes back again. So, we descend almost to it and continue almost till the confluence of Rabiusa creek and Rhein. There we need to leave the canyon. The railroad crosses the Rhein and continues along its left bank, but our path goes over the bridge and starts ascending the steep northern slopes of the canyon. In many switchbacks we gain some 200 meters. Left of our path, on the forrest edge there are a few nice viewpoints down on the canyon, and also the point, where we reach the plateau is quite panoramic. From here on many marked trails cross the country, so we must be quite careful to follow the inscriptions for Trin. All crossings are well marked, but in sime 3 or 4 cases we need to pay some attention to marks. Across the nice plateau, over meadows and woods, slightly up and down we firs cross the creek, coming down from Mulin and then reach the houses of Digg, 814m. We probably will not go up into the village centre, neither up to the even more remote Trin village. We simply follow the marks right down and by a road reach the Digg/Trin railway station, 609m, in next 25 minutes. We return to Castrisch by train.