THE FOUR LAKES HIKE IN ENGELBERG, SWITZERLAND
The Four Lakes hike in Engelberg takes you on a high-altitude mountain trail as you visit four lakes on this stunning one-way hike. The trail can be walked in either direction with endpoints being Truebsee Lake and Melchsee Lake. There is also an optional (very epic) sunset viewpoint on this trail we visited by accident that I’ll tell you all about in this blog post.
Hike Distance: 16.95km total distance from Melchsee to Truebsee (including a slight detour up towards Schafberg).
Hike Duration: 6 hours of elapsed time for us from Melchsee to Truebsee and 4 hours and 15 minutes of total moving time.
Hike Difficulty: The trail from Melchsee to Truebsee is relatively easy. There is nothing technical along the way and you almost always have a path, albeit a dirt trail. There is minimal rock scrambling but it does get steep if you add in the viewpoint close to Schafberggraus. Most of the way is a dirt path although there are some sections that are a mixture of rock and path. Most families will easily navigate their way to Truebsee from Melchsee despite the length of the journey.
Hike Incline: Total elevation was 1242m from Melchsee to Truebsee as we recorded. The hike starts in Melchsee at 1,891 meters of altitude and finishes at the Truebsee, which has an altitude of 1,764 meters.
HOW TO GET TO THE FOUR LAKES HIKE
The Four Lakes hike is in Engelberg, which is about a 1.5-hour drive from Zurich or a 2-hour train trip from Zurich. The hike can be started at either end of the trail either starting at Melchsee and finishing at Truebsee (as we did) or doing the trail in reverse. I suggest to start at Melchsee and finish as Truebsee so you can enjoy the sunset viewpoint … at sunset. However, most people will want to be well down the mountain before sunset so in that case, it doesn’t matter what end you start at.
It’s important to note that if you are staying at Truebsee as we were, the trailhead at Melchsee is only 10km away. However, it takes almost 3 hours to get there via public transport because you have to go all the way around the mountain. At least that way, if you are staying at Truebsee you finish the hike at your accommodation as we did.
To get to Melchsee you will need to arrive at Stockalp and then take the Melchsee Frutt Cable car. You can find out all of the timetables and ticket prices here. If you have the Swiss Half-Card you will receive a huge discount on your tickets. I bought mine when I arrived in Switzerland and it has saved me over a thousand dollars.
FOUR LAKES HIKE MAP
As I’ve already mentioned, there are multiple ways to do this hike. You can begin or end at Truebsee. Depending on your finish time, cable car availability, weather and where you want to be during what lighting, you will have to decide what best fits you. I really liked our route because, as you will see in this blog post, we had a sunset in a brilliant spot at Schafberg so in reverse wouldn’t have been as epic. We began in Melchsee at 3:30 pm and got back down to the hotel in Truebsee in the dark at 9:40 pm. I’ve attached our GPX route so you can see where we went. You can download here for use on your Garmin, smartwatch or another app.
MY EXPERIENCE ON THE FOUR LAKES HIKE IN ENGELBERG
The journey to Melchsee was actually a bit of a hassle. You see, we were staying at the Alpine Lodge in Truebsee and even thought Melchsee is just 10km away the public transport mission takes three hours. We missed one of the buses out of confusion so after leaving at 11:30 am we actually only reached Stockalp at just after 3. Once we reached Stockalp we jumped into one of the gondolas and headed up to Melchsee, the first of the ‘Four Lakes’.
Melchsee was a beautiful lake with a great backdrop but you could tell it was a busy ski town in the winter. There were buildings everywhere and although there were signs of what used to be – a quaint church and village- on the far side of the lake, it was a bit overbuilt and we had to work quite hard not to have any buildings in the photos. Lots of people were fishing, rock climbing nearby and enjoying other family activities and it was a fun vibe but not an adventurous vibe whatsoever. As the hike develops it becomes more and more remote so it does actually become an adventure rather than a busy trail.
The trail kicks off underneath the wall of Bonistock. You can take the trail directly through the valley but for a bit more of an exciting route, I suggest heading up on the Bonistock route for a couple of hundred meters of extra incline, to observe the rock climbers and to meet the local cow population. You also get a great view down over the lake, which isn’t possible from the flat trail that leads through the valley.
The trail continues underneath the cliff wall for a few kilometers, transitting your from Melchsee Lake to the second lake, which is Tannensee Lake. You can, of course, head down to each lake but with no desire to touch the freezing water, we admired this one from a safe distance.
After Tannensee the trail veers down into the valley. We must’ve missed the signs as we found ourselves a hundred meters above the trail and needed to scramble down to reach it. We weren’t too worried as the views were incredible and our goal was to time the run for sunset at Schafberg so we had plenty of time. The glaciers on the mountains in this part of the trail were spectacular and they all felt so close.
After leaving Tannensee, we actually came across another smaller like and thought it was the third. Wrong we were. It was just a small lake with apparently no name according to Google Maps. I tell you what though, it had some pretty wild reflections and was almost my favorite of the lot!
After this small lake, we ventured down towards the small village of Engstlenalp. This small village has an incredible backdrop of mountains and is the gateway from Tannensee to Engstlensee, which is the third lake on the route. The trail was mostly a dirt path and through this section, it was frequented by cars of the locals who were tending to the many cows in the region.
We didn’t head down to the shores of Engstlensee but instead enjoyed the views from the trail above the lake. Here we could see the countless layers of mountains in the distance creating an incredible backdrop for the third alpine lake of the day. The suns was fast fading and we decided to push on up to Schafberg rather than heading down to visit the lake although we did find a couple of viewpoints of Engstlensee along the way.
The race was now well and truly underway to beat the sun to the top of Schafberg. This section of the trail is not actually part of the ‘Four Lakes’ hike but it was by far the most epic part. It is only a 30-minute detour up to the top and 20-minutes back down so definitely add it in. It was peak golden hour now and the scenes on the hike up this steep hill were incredible!
Before the hike we never even knew that Schafberg existed, we purely came up to the summit out of curiosity. It turned out to be incredible with views of Truebsee and all the way out to Brunni. The last light faded over the valley as we stood alone atop the Schafberg summit. We were on eye-level with the glaciers to our left and Titlis was just a mere few hundred meters higher than us. Now it felt like an adventure.
After enjoying this amazing sunset by ourselves on top of the summit, we decided to make a run for it down the mountain to use as much daylight as possible before we had to bring out the torches. We were still about 2 hours away from Truebsee at this point and it was almost dark. Running down the hill was probably the most fun part of the day. I’ve embedded my Instagram post of us running down at this specific moment!
We ended up making it back to the alpine lodge just before 10 pm, which wasn’t too bad and only required about one hour of walking in the dark down the Jochpass trail from Jochpass to Truebsee. Highly recommend staying up at Schafberg for sunset if you are looking for an adventure.
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BEST WAYS TO GET AROUND WITH TRANSPORT IN SWITZERLAND
In Switzerland, the most popular form of transport is the train (and sometimes bus). It always arrives on time, is comfortable, efficient and covers almost all parts of the country. It’s damn good and one of the best public transport systems in the world. But it’s not cheap. A one-way ticket for a 1.5-hour journey can quickly rise to 70 USD. The best option is to buy a 3-day, 8-day or 15-day pass with the Swiss Travel System Pass, which gives you unlimited train rides during that period. It will pay itself off very quickly and makes the train (and bus) travel very convenient without requiring you to buy a ticket each time. I used this myself and used the trains and buses for almost my whole time in Switzerland. To head to the page where you can book your Swiss Travel Pass online you can click HERE and select how many days you would like to purchase the pass for.
The other option (Which I also purchased) was the Swiss Half-Fare Card, which gives you half-price tickets on all transport including buses and trains. This ticket lasts for a month and is much cheaper than the full pass obviously but will pay itself off in a matter of a few days as we quickly found out! To visit the page where you can book your Swiss Half-Fare Card you can click HERE and select the date you want it to start.
The other option is renting a car. After our first few expensive train tickets, we started to think this might be the better option and to our surprise, the train can often be far more expensive than renting a car in Switzerland. For example one day we went from Zurich to hike Mount Pilatus and back to Zurich and our total train tickets for four people was $300 USD. The car rental per day was $90 USD. If you are in a group of two (definitely three) or more, I highly suggest renting a car if you are covering a lot of ground as it will give you scheduling freedom and likely be cheaper as we found.