Photo: Doubs by the Mill of Death.
Checking out a new (and rather lonely) corner of the county and ticking off a few more of the Jura Reds.
Route: Les Bois – Le Moulin de la Mort – Biaufond – Combe de Biaufond – Combe du Valanvron – La Chaux-de-Fonds
Length: 25km, +800m, -840m.
For more hikes in Switzerland see my list of hikes.
Season: Most of the year, but this would not be advisable if it covered in snow.
Arrival/Departure: Train to Les Bois (note it is ‘stop on demand’) / Train from La Chaux-de-Fonds.
Supplies: Shops/restaurants at the start and end, otherwise nothing. The only restaurant that was on the route in Biaufond has closed.
Alternate routes/shortcuts: Two buses a day run in each direction between La Chaux-de-Fonds and ‘Biaufond, douane’. Doing this as two separate hikes would make the valley going up much more enjoyable rather than endless.
Exposure/Hazards: The path down to the Le Moulin de la Mort and up the Combe de Biaufond are steep and slippery at times. Getting up the Combe de Biaufond requires climbing a ladder which some people really might not enjoy.
- Signage isn’t the best in this region. Some signs were in obscure spots so they were easy to miss or overgrown. Keep an eye out at junctions and download the map to your phone.
- Signal is a bit hit and miss in the deep valleys and your phone might try and be in France. Download the map before setting off.
- This was VERY quiet. I hardly saw a soul all day.
Notes along the route
Very scenic train ride up. The high Jura plateau is very far from the typical Swiss idea of the Alps. This is rolling hills and horses.
From Les Bois the path leads through fields with fantastic views over the plateau and off to France. Then by the Maison Rouge horse foundation (this is the last chance for a coffee).
From there it was a slow descent down through some villages (more like hamlets) and very pretty farmhouses. The short detour to the view point just after leaving is well worth it.
The path along the Doubs here is actually quite high above the river. The exception being the dead-end down to the Le moulin de la Mort (literally the Mill of Death). This was one of the red mountain paths and certainly deserves the title, it is steep and slippery/loose (though oddly it has been downgraded on the SwissTopo and Switzerland Mobility to footpath).
The rather distinctive name possibly comes from the harsh landscape or something about the water. The mill itself burnt down in 1893 and all that remains now are are some ruins in the forest by the river. It is worth the effort of going down and back up again just for the beautiful view of the Doubs. I sat on a rock by the river having a snack and could have almost shaken hands with the fisherman across the border in France.
Climbing back up and following the path along the Doubs towards Biaufond the path stayed up in the forest for the most part (with quite a bit of up and down). Then suddenly it opens up to meadow and I emerged into the sun at Biaufond. A rather beautiful spot with open views of the Lac de Biaufond.
The restaurant in the village is closed, but I did at least take the chance to walk a few meters further along the river and cross the bridge into France just for the novelty of it.
From Biaufond I turned up the Combe de Biaufond and followed the valley all the way up to La Chaux-de-Fonds. Interestingly the canton changes as you enter the valley and this is the closest Canton Bern gets to France; 250 meters away from having an international border but blocked by Canton Jura having a tiny direct connection to the rest of the Romandie.
The first part of the valley up to the lake is also listed as a red mountain path. Most of the time it is just a bit uneven, but there are a few steep ladders to climb which might well be too much for anyone with a fear of neights.
The valley just keeps going for 11km. After the lake it broadens out and the path becomes a gravel road, then for the final section it narrows down again to winding single trail. It was very lush, too lush if anything – I haven’t been stung by so many nettles in years.
It ended with some narrow bits of gorge and then a scenic walk most of the way around a sewage treatment plant. From there it was a short section of forest and then La Chaux-de-Fonds started. La Chaux-de-Fonds doesn’t make the best first impression here. Ugly and indistrial, but heading to the station does pass through some of the nicer parts of town. I still don’t know what to make of the place – it is handsome in it’s town way, but rather cold and ugly at the same time.