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Squirrel Trail

Most people come to Arosa for the skiing, hiking, bears, or maybe the train, but we came here for the gorgeous squirrels!

I am lucky to have friendly Red squirrels at home that I can visit and feed to relax and photograph (with a "normal" lens rather than a huge / expensive wildlife telephoto), but I often forget how rare that is. If you would like to see some friendly Eurasian Red squirrels up close, there are few trails in Europe. This one, in Switzerland, has squirrels with an unusually dark fur, so even to me they are quite special.

Firstly, I need to talk about the journey to Arosa itself. We did this by flying to Zurich and then getting the train from the airport to Chur. This is a pretty trip and another lovely Swiss city that deserves more of our time. Next time we'll will use Chur as a base, it looks lovely!


The Train Journey

The train to Arosa starts at Chur from platform 2 (costing 14 CHF one way). How do I know it will be platform 2? Because it's actually outside the station, on the street. That's right, this train runs through streets of Chur like a tram for the first couple of kilometres. I have been on a train that goes on a ferry and for some reason this was even more weird and exciting. This hour-long trip climbs 1,180(3,871ft) up to Arosa (at 1,772m5,905ft) where the train terminates. The train uses normal adhesion* at a max incline of 6%. Nowhere near the steepest in the world (one in Portugal is 13.8%), but you will hear those electric motors working. We did this off season, at the end of April. Crossing the snow line on the twisty tracks up to Arosa was breathtakingly beautiful (although I'm sure it looks always looks pretty). Since we were doing quite a bit of moving around in Switzerland for a couple weeks we had the half fare card (120CHF), so this trip cost us 7CHF per person. lorirocks777's video shows the whole journey from the train cab, in a bit more snow.

* Adhesion is the standard type of traction. Steeper tracks use a rack between the rails and cogs on the trains to get sufficient traction

Arosa station | Squirrel Trail markings (inset)

Where was I?... Oh yeah, squirrels. So, you're outside the station and want to head up to the squirrel trail? Hang on, let's prepare...


Good Food

If you don't have squirrel food, you can usually buy it from the Arosa train station. If they have run out there are supermarkets on the main street towards the trail. Note that most shops are closed on Sundays. Although there is a Spar at a gas station (in the opposite direction, on the west side of the lake), I'm just not sure if it sells nuts. For the squirrels get hazelnuts, walnuts or pecans (unsalted). Anything in the shell is better for their teeth (as they never stop growing). They will also eat fruit like apples or grapes (they know not to eat the skin) and vegetables sometimes, they just prefer nuts.


Tip: If you give them large chunks of loose nuts they will likely be triggered into running away to bury it (caching) for later. If you want them to stick around for a photo, break the nuts up into smaller pieces. This is why I prefer walnuts and pecans over hazelnuts (the latter is harder to break).


Aflatoxin free peanuts are fine to give the birds, but... 

Food Warnings

Peanuts should not be given to squirrels! Not even the aflatoxin free ones and certainly not raw peanuts (that's the ones in the shell) as they can contain a toxic fungus that is lethal to squirrels. Also definitely don't give them any sugary, processed or salty foods, no dried fruits (like raisins), wheat, dried maize, bitter almonds, Brazil nuts or peas. Almonds (sweet almonds) are actually OK to give squirrels in small amounts  (they contain cyanide but not too much). If you're confused or concerned, just stick to hazelnuts and walnuts.

OK Go!

Once you are on the trail, if you see or hear something moving in the trees, just rattle your bag of food and you might see them running towards you like this (below). Don't panic if you are not comfortable with them touching or climbing you, they're very polite.

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The Trail

On the right hand side of the town's main street it won't be long until you see the painted squirrel footprints & logos on the ground, as well as the signposts (labelled "Eichhornliweg"). These will direct you to the beginning of the trail. Initially it's a bit steep, but it evens out for the main part of the trail (around 1,950m6,9400ft). If you find walking uphill difficult there is a bus stop at the top of the trail (Maran) so you can walk back down to the town, if you find that easier.

Just before the trail goes into the forest (crossing the main road) you get an epic view of the town and surrounding mountains. Sorry, but the ski lift doesn't take you up to the squirrel trail. Technically you could go up to the top and then walk down, but this time of the year it's not running and the same is true of most shops. Apart from the supermarkets there was one restaurant and a bakery open.


Not Just Squirrels

The little cluster of trees on the right of the above image is where you will walk through to get to the beginning of the trail from the town. If you come this way, keep an eye out for squirrel related art on the houses before you enter the trees. You may have been greeted by friendly squirrels already in there, but it's not just squirrels that you will encounter, there are friendly birds too. Great Tits, Coal Tits, Crested Tits and even a Nutcracker will eat from your hand. We got the first two, but the others were feeling shy.

It could have been the quietness of the season, or that we came nice and early (the earlier the better for squirrels), but fortunately the squirrels were not so shy. They were hungry and quite eager to see what we had. My wife made a couple of reels on IG / FB (here and here) showing our journey and some of the squirrel interactions.

Before I show more photos of the Arosa squirrels, I want to show some of the variety of colours that we get in Sweden for comparison.



The Arosa squirrels look a little different compared to the ones I am used to in Sweden. Both are Eurasian Red squirrels (Sciurus Vulgaris), although the Scandinavian squirrels are the 'Vulgaris' subspecies (yes, they named it 'common' twice), whereas the Central European ones like this are 'Sciurus Vulgaris Fuscoater'. This doesn't have a drastic effect on the look of the squirrels however. The darker fur of the Arosa squirrels is likely due to the darker tree bark at higher altitudes (Swedish pine is red at the top). This camouflage doesn't help them much in the snow, so they need to be extra careful with predators while caching and eating in the winter. That said, everything stands out in the snow...

Note: All of these images were taken when the squirrels had their winter coat. In the summer they will shed their thicker fur and lose those gorgeous tufted ears. With the Swedish squirrels I am used to they change colour quite a bit with the summer coat, getting much deeper red, but I'm not familiar enough with the Arosa squirrels to know how much that happens with these yet.

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Vibrant Colours

There were some squirrels with a very bright red coat in Arosa (above). They were actually more vibrant than the ones I'm used to. Apparently as you descend into the lowlands here they will look more like this, then the dark fur variants will be less common. There were also some mixed coloured versions which had more saturation on the front, where their fur transitions to the bright underbelly. 


Another interesting colour characteristic was a slight leucistic tendency. Some of the darker squirrels had white paws. We saw one with both front paws in white, but it ran away too quickly for me to get any photos. Fortunately I saw another with only one white paw which fortunately was a bit more photogenic...


Extra Whiskers

Did you know that squirrels have extra long hairs on their arms?

Just like the ones on their nose, these whiskers are for sensing proximity to things that they cannot see (or see well). Their vision has a large radius for spotting predators, but they have a blind spot behind and underneath their skull (If a squirrel turns their back on you they are trusting you to look out for predators in the other direction). Under their arms is a perfect place to have some more sensors. However, they are not the only ones, it's just the other locations are harder to spot.

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Special Digits

Did you know that squirrels have adorable little thumbs?


They sometimes have little nails on them, but not claws. Set quite far back on their arm, they're less likely to touch messy surfaces when climbing or running around and thus they stay cleaner for holding and manipulating food. After eating they will vigorously lick their hands, making especially sure to have clean thumbs.

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More Squirrels

I have been following Eurasian Red squirrels for about three years now. I have found two locations in my home city (Göteborg) where I can hand feed them and I have set up feeders for my local squirrels to get them used to people as well. if you would like to see more of my normal Swedish squirrels and info that I have discovered about them along the way, you can check out my main squirrel page.


Here are some of the photos I took a bit bigger. This won't work on a phone though, so I recommend viewing these on a PC with a large 4k monitor if you can.


Final Thoughts & Info

All in all this was a fantastic experience from the perspective of someone who is nuts about squirrels. Although I also highly recommend a visit if you like: mountains, trains, relatively easy hikes, skiing and wildlife in general. My wife and I spent two mornings on the trail feeding and photographing the squirrels. A week later and I already have withdrawal symptoms. I need to come back next year to get some more photos and maybe videos next time too... 


Looking on the official Arosa website shows some info about the squirrel trail. It has a shop, but I wanted to buy something squirrel related and unfortunately there was not much of that. I wanted a black squirrel plushy, a t-shirt, or a poster or something... I think I would have bought everything squirrel related that they had and I never usually go in for that sort of thing.

For photographers: These were taken with a Sony A1 and a Samyang AF 135mm f/1.8 lens (click the links to see my reviews of each)

Here are a few more images that I processed into square format for Instagram...

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