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Hike – Biaufond to the Saut du Doubs

    Hike Biaufond Saut du Doubs

    Photo: Approaching La Rasse from the French side.

    A long hike through a remote and quiet gorge on the Swiss/French border.

    This is a route which I have been meaning to do for years, with the bonus that it lets me tick off another Jura Red hike.

    Key Information

    Route: Biaufond – Saut du Doubs – Les Brenets. A slightly longer version of Stage 1 of the Route 95 Au Fil du Doubs.

    Length: 22km, + 800m, – 530m.

    Date: 2024-June-06.

    Hike Biaufond Saut du Doubs map

    For more hikes in Switzerland see my list of hikes.


    Practical Information

    Season: Sping to Autumn. It would likely be doable during winter too given that much of the route is below 700m and it doesn’t even reach 900m, however the valley is deep and likely to be cold and icy.

    Arrival/Departure: Bus to ‘Biaufond, douane’ / train from Les Brenets. Both of these are very out of the way spots, so unless you are staying in La Chaux-de-Fonds it will be quite a long journey with a number of changes. The bus between La Chaux-de-Fonds and Biaufond only runs twice a day in each direction so plan carefully.

    Supplies: The hike starts in the middle of nowhere and then goes even more remote so stock up before starting. The Le Caprice Buvette à Maison-Monsieur near the start is only open on Wednesdays and weekends. Then there is nothing until the little Relais du Châtelot after 14km which offers basic refreshments. Closer to the end there are some restaurants around the Saut de Doubs and Les Brenets has a small supermarket and bakery.

    Alternate routes/shortcuts:

    • There isn’t an easy way to get off this hike. The only option to carrying on or turning back is to climb out and head to La Chaux-de-Fonds (typically about 2 hours in itself).
    • Getting off the bus a few stops earlier and starting at the La Maison-Monsieur would save 3km.
    • One option is to take the bus to Les Planchettes, or a stop along the way to it, and drop down from there to Châtelot or another point in the gorge. This would save up to 10km.
    • There is a boat from the Saut du Doubs to Les Brenets which would save a few km at the end (and likely be very scenic).
    • If you simply want to see the waterfall then a round hike from Les Brenets (possibly taking the boat one or both ways) would be much much easier.

    Exposure/Hazards: The path can be a bit rocky/uneven but was never exposed or dangerous. The biggest hazard is probably slipping on the limestone if it is wet (especially in sections where water runs down the cliffs next to the path).

    Other points:

    • This was one of the quietest hikes I have done in Switzerland. I was entirely alone for the first 14km up to Châtelot, after that there were a few other hikers around as I went along the Lac de Moron, then it briefly got relatively busy around the Saut du Doubs, before ending up with almost nobody again on the final walk into Les Brenets.
    • Keep an eye out for ticks. Maybe I was just unlucky with the spring growth spurt of plants crowding the path and warm weather waking them up, but I found two ticks crawling on me in the first km, and spotted 3 more waiting in ambush in their ‘questing’ position on blades of grass by the path.

    Notes along the route

    Just getting to this hike is quite an effort, it is only 50km from me as the crow flies but takes 2.5 hours of transit to reach. The ride up the Vallon de Saint-Imier from Biel is always beautiful at least, then the bus after that to Biaufond was even better. La Chaux-de-Fonds already feels like the end of the world, the bus takes this a step further climbing through scattered farms before diving deep down into the Doubs valley.

    The suggested start point for this section on Swiss Mobility is the Mainson Monsieur (presumably to offer accommodation for multi-day hikers) but I stayed on until the end so I could link the hike up with my hike to the Combe de Biaufond last year.

    The douane bus stop really lives up to its name being right the start of the short bridge into France. I crossed over the bridge and followed the French side of the river for the first few km until the bridge at La Rasse (and this is the last bridge for about 12 km). The path on this side follows directly alongside the river, whilst on the Swiss side it climbs up into the forest to avoid the road resulting in more effort for less views. The road was very quiet with only the occasional car passing by, however this was a normal Thursday morning and it probably isn’t the case on weekends with motorbike and sport cars touring the region.

    Hike Biaufond Saut du Doubs
    Maison-Monsieur.

    After the Maison-Monsieur the road turns away and the gorge and the valley is mostly left to nature. There is not really a whole lot to say about the next section: it was a long walk through forest with the river off to one side and the sides of the towering overhead. Lovely, but not very varied.

    The only thing that disrupted this was the Usine électrique du Châtelot hydroelectric plant and the Barrage du Chatelot dam. Both of which are big ugly bits of infrastructure that the path had to climb around.

    One thing that amazes me is the number of mills that were built along the river in the past. All of them are long abandoned and only a few foundations remain to show where the buildings once stood. The amount of effort required to carry grain down in the steep valley, grind it, and then carry it back up again (nevermind maintaining the paths) says something about the hardship of life in the past.

    Hike Biaufond Saut du Doubs
    Sometimes a gentle path by the river.
    Hike Biaufond Saut du Doubs
    At other times a bit more dramatic.

    At the 14km mark as the river turned south and approached the dam I was surprised to come across the Relais du Châtelot cafe which must be one of the loneliest and most hidden in the country. I stopped for a quick drink and chance to cool down inside in a rather cosy room which felt more like a private lounge than public cafe.

    I missed it until I went back on Google Maps to get the details for the cafe, but next to it is the Le Gué du Doubs which gives you the chance to cross between Switzerland and France on series of stepping stones and must be one the of the more interesting border crossings around Switzerland.

    After the cafe the path climbs up to the dam and along the Lac de Moron. I didn’t enjoy this section so much. I had passed by this section before on a path the top of the cliffs with more impressive views, and the lake wasn’t as interesting as the narrower sections of the gorge with fast flowing water. Still, it was perfectly pleasant walking with only a few other people around.

    After the lake the path followed a rather dull gravel road through forest until the sound of roaring water announced the fact that I was finally getting close to the Saut du Doubs waterfall. After being almost alone for hours it was suddenly surrounded by what seemed to be a tour bus of people who must have arrived on the boat just before me. It seems to be a popular trip to get the boat from Les Brenets, spend an hour walking around admiring the falls, and then taking the boat back.

    At 27m the falls are fairly impressive but not a must see, this isn’t something that you would drive hours to reach in itself when there are plenty enough other waterfalls in the country. From the Swiss side you only get a view of the rapids leading up to the fall, and then looking down from the top of it. To get a view across from the falls you need to cross the footbridge over to the French side and follow the path back downstream (about 600m each way).

    Hike Biaufond Saut du Doubs
    The Saut du Doubs from the Swiss side.

    The previous few weeks of wet weather meant that the lake was full to the high water mark and the falls were thundering. This isn’t always the case, it has actually dried out multiple times during the summer in recent years., so set your expectations to the recent weather conditions.

    From the falls the path follows along a very lively series of rapids for 5 minutes before joining the end of the Lac des Brenets (marked by a landing point for boats and multiple restaurants). I crossed the little footbridge into France to enjoy the view of the river from above (and just for the novelty of it) then pushed on for Les Brenets.

    Despite being almost at the end it is still over 3km from the Saut to the station at the end of the hike. This last section to Les Brenets on the direct path is a paved (but traffic free) road which climbs up above the cliffs and offers some good views of the lake and cliffs through gaps in the trees. One option I didn’t take is a short detour to the Tête de Calvin which offers an unobstructed view of the lake and is probably more interesting than walking on the direct road.

    Hike Biaufond Saut du Doubs
    The Lac des Brenets.

    Les Brenets has a fairly handsome village centre, a nice view up the valley, and a few little shops. It isn’t anything special, but it isn’t a bad place to wait for a train. There is a 2 hour gap in the trains to Le Locle between 13:30 and 15:30, but on a 20km hike which you can’t start until almost 11:00 you would have to run the whole thing for that to be a problem.

    The most memorable thing about the place is the train which makes the 8 minute journey to Le Locle. It is only a single wagon and is more like an old fashioned tram with the driver sat to one side so you can clearly see the track ahead.

    Hike Biaufond Saut du Doubs
    The valley opening up on the final approach to Les Brenets.

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