Hike or bike?
This is a description of a nice and very popular hike which is every year done by thousands. It can be even found in guidebooks, covering the whole Alps, such as Hüsler's Bergwanden Atlas.
The idea is to descend from Bernina Pass, 2300 m, down to the beautiful town of Poschiavo, 1000 m, by very panoramic paths and away from the valley where the road goes. You are visiting meadows and settlements, but the primary attraction is actually the famous Bernina railroad, which you are accompanying all the time. No wonder that at the end of the tour you then simply step on one of the ascending trains and in less than one hour you are above, on Bernina Pass again. As the paths are broad, not only hikers can use them. The whole altitude difference is even more often done by mountain bikers who comfortably just descend down and then take a train up. In some areas the trails are common for hikers and bikers, in other areas they are separated.
Getting ThereThe trailhead is on Bernina Pass. Visit the main page of Bernina group to see how to get there. You can park below the highest point of the road, just above the train station Bernina Hospiz.
Route DescriptionYou start walking through the train station, where you will pass an interesting exhibition about the famous Bernina railroad. Then you continue along the lake (towards the SE), just to the crossing below the dam.
Below the dam you can choose a path which goes directly down on Alp Grüm, but it is advicable to visit also the very panoramic Sassal Mason. A narrow mountain road crosses the slopes of Piz Arlas and in half an hour you reach the mountain hotel. It has a nice, very panoramic terrace. The view flies up the glacial valley to the shining glaciers of Piz Palü, Varuna and Bellavista. The two rounded stone houses are used today as a store for drinks, so no worry that your beer would not be cold.
From Sassal Mason you start descending towards the west, towards the long glacial valley of Palü. In a few turns the path descends enough to turn around and starts crossing the slopes of Sassal Mason back, towards Alp Grüm. Finally it descends comfortably to a nice meadow, where on the crossroads you continue in the same direction towards Alp Grüm. You cross the railroad two times, finally by it you reach the famous station. It is certainly worth waiting at least one train to take a picture how it does the famous 'loop' on the edge of the plateau.
From Alp Grüm you can descend to Cavaglia plateau either directly or by a little detour to the Lake Palü. The direct path is shared with bikers, but both species today can still get along with each other. The path does several turns, crosses the railroad a few times and you lose a lot of altitude. Watching those steep forrested slopes you can hardly imagine how the train overcomes them.
On Cavaglia, there are a few restaurant and also a road reaches there. But you will not be disturbed by any traffic, the place is very remote. So, you walk down the plateau and just before the creek jumps down into a gorge, you will find the parc 'Marmitte dei Giganti'. You cross the creek and ascend in a few minutes a small plateau in which glacial waters had carved excellent examples of so called 'glacial mills'. When in holes in a terrain rocks are caught and driven by water, they can carve up to 10 meters deep cauldrons, on bottom of which you can still see perfectly round rocks.
The whole hike is easy, just a walk down by broad, well marked (inscription tables) paths. The times are approximately these ones:
> Bernina Pass, 2300 m, - Sassal Mason, 2355 m: 1 h 15 min.
> Sassal Mason - Alp Grüm, 2091 m: 30 min.
> Alp Grüm - Cavaglia, 1693 m: 1 h.
> Visiting Marmitte dei Giganti: 30 min.
> Cavaglia - Poschiavo, 1000 m: 1 h 45 min.
Altogether: 5-6 hours for descent.