MOUNT PILATUS HIKE IN SWITZERLAND
Mount Pilatus is a 2073m summit, which you can reach with a 2-hour hike or by using the worlds steepest cogwheel train to the summit where you will find a hotel, restaurant and of course amazing views. From the summit, you can venture a little higher to Mount Tomlishorn, which is another stunning view and the highest peak in the region at 2,128 meters.
There are many routes up to the peaks and I will detail how we made it to Mount Pilatus and Tomlishorn in this blog post. I will also detail the other options available including using a mixture of cable cars and trains.
Hike Distance: Alpnachstad to Mount Pilatus: 8km – Alpnachstad to Tomlishorn: 1km – Tomlishorn to Kriens 13km
Hike Duration: Alpnachstad to Mount Pilatus 3.5 hours + 30 minutes to Tomlishorn + 3 hours to Kriens.
Hike Difficulty: Steep but safe and not technical. Moderately tough because of the incline but a path the whole way.
Hike Incline: Starting point at Alpnachstad: 464m – Mount Pilatus height: 2,073m – Mount Tomlishorn height: 2,128m
HOW TO GET TO MOUNT PILATUS
Mount Pilatus is located in central Switzerland near Lucerne. It can be reached by car or train quite easily and because of its centrality is a great hike from most locations.
From Zurich to Mount Pilatus (Alpnachstad): To travel to Mount Pilatus from Zurich the train will take 1.5 hours while driving in a car will take one hour.
From Lucerne to Mount Pilatus (Alpnachstad): To travel to Mount Pilatus from Lucerne is even shorter with just a 15-minute car ride or 25-minutes on the train.
There are multiple ways to access Mount Pilatus such as from the Kriens hiking route or cable car and the Alpnachstad hiking route or cable car among others. For this blog post, I will detail our experience hiking up from Alpnachstad and down to Kriens on the other side. This is not a loop hiking route.
MOUNT PILATUS CABLE CAR
The cable car station is located near the parking lot and you can buy a one-way or return ticket. Here you can use your Swiss Half-Fare Card so you only need to pay half of the ticket price. The cable car runs every 15 minutes from 7:30 am to 6 pm. To be sure of the current operating times you can check here. The ticket prices range from $10 to $70 depending on where you stop and where you start as there are multiple stations. However, to give you an example, from Alpnachstad to Pilatus Summit and to Frankmuntegg one-way is $26 USD.
It is the steepest cog-wheel train in the world at 48% incline, which makes for a very interesting ride up … and down!
OUR HIKING ROUTE:
Our hike up to Pilatus took a few detours up to all of the peaks along the way like Matthorn, Esel, Oberhaupt, and Tomlishorn. None of these are required but are all short detours of less than 30-minutes so you may as well explore the area while you are up there. The map below will show your route clearly and all of the different spots you can visit.
- Alpnachstad Train Station to Amsigel
- Amsigel to Matthorn
- Matthorn to Esel
- Esel to Tomlishorn
- Tomlishorn to Oberhaupt
- Oberhaupt to Klimsenhorn
- Klimsenhorn to Kriens
ALPNACHSTAD TO AMSIGEL
Once departing the train in Alpnachstad, we found the entrance to the hiking route just behind an old shed and began the walk up the mountain. It was steep from the first moment and we were enjoying great views of the lake before we had even been hiking for long. This part of the trail was hot with a steady incline.
The trail quickly wound up alongside the cable car, which sporadically cruising past full of passengers glad they were inside the carriage rather than sweating it out on the trail. Our path had now ventured inside the forest and we had some respite from the sun, although the humidity was tough as the 34-degree day began to take its toll. The incline was relentless and we put in a solid effort to emerge from the forest to Amsigel after about an hour.
AMSIGEL TO MATTHORN
At Amsigel, there was a small shop with supplies and a trough, where we filled up our water from the tap. That’s a great little winner when in Switzerland. There is almost always quality drinking water no matter where you are. The forest was now long behind us as we continued up the hill in the open sun. The bright red cable car continued to slide past us every now and again, almost taunting us as we battled on.
The scenery was opening up and we were now surrounded by huge cliffs rather than trees, it was a welcome change and a truly beautiful setting.
You will find yourself at an intersection at the top of the picture above. Here you can either head right and go straight up to Pilatus or do as we did and visit Matthorn. I highly suggest visiting Matthorn as the view is quite different and you actually look back towards Pilatus. The climb up isn’t dangerous or technical but there are parts where you need to hold onto a chain and walk on a bit of a ledge. Nothing too drastic but definitely to be noted for those looking for easy paths.
Once you reach the summit of Matthorn you have panoramic views. You get a great understandng of where you came from and what lays before you for the rest of the journey. We took a lunch break here as the sun beamed down. Note to drone pilots (as I found out): this position is to close to Lucerne airport to fly and the drone won’t let you take off. You can fly from Tomlishorn as I found out later in the day.
MATTHORN TO ESEL
After our lunch break, we headed back down from Matthorn and made the crossing up to Pilatus and over to Esel. This is no easy journey with the switchbacks slowly leading you up to the gravel mountain. It’s incredibly steep and even though it is just several hundred meters it seemed to take at least half an hour.
Once at the top of Pilatus you will be at the Bellevue Hotel, which would be a crazy place to stay for the sunset and sunrise. From here you can continue on to Tomlinson, head down to Kriens or head up to Esel viewpoint as we did. It’s just a short journey up the stairs on your right, which by now will be pretty hard on your legs as they have done some significant climbing already.
Esel looks back out over the trail up to Pilatus and over towards Matthorn. You can also get a nice angle down towards the town of Kriens.
ESEL TO TOMLISHORN
This is probably the easiest and shortest leg of the journey. You pretty much just walk along the ridge towards Tomlishorn. Without too much incline, you will duck under several arches and caves on your way to Tomlishorn, which looks out over one of the most epic ridges in the region. Josh ventured down to the ridge and encountered a goat, while I flew the drone for some new perspectives.
TOMLISHORN RETURN TO OBERHAUPT
It was full swing golden-hour now and we quickly hurried back towards the Bellevue. It only took about 20-minutes to return despite the sign suggesting it would be fifty minutes. There is one more small viewpoint above the Bellevue called Oberhaupt. Here we were lucky enough to time our run to witness a wing-suit flyer to jump off the viewpoint and fly down into the valley below. It was crazy watching him psyche himself up before sending off the edge. A few small goats also made their way along the cliff as we also caught glimpses of Klimsenhorn Church in the distance.
OBERHAUPT TO KLIMSENHORN
By now it was the end of the golden hour, the last cable car had gone down at 6 pm. It was now at 9 pm. We had a long journey ahead of us but the golden hour at the top of Pilatus was worth it. We began the walk down towards Kriens, which involves heading past Klimsenhorn church as pictured above. I don’t really advise this to anyone as we actually made it to Kriens at midnight after walking through the forest in the dark but that is just the price we had to pay for staying up for sunset in the mountains.
It is a 3-hour walk down to Kriens town that involves some slightly technical downhill work.
KLIMSENHORN TO KRIENS
This part of the journey begins with gravel switchbacks that are very, very slippery. You will likely share this track with the mountain goats. It was now really starting to get dark and we were almost jogging our way through some rough terrain. After an hour we made our way down to what we found out was Krienseregg, which is the cable car that will take you to Kriens. Of course at 10:30 pm it was well and truly closed. We began to head towards Kriens and our map sent us into the forest. It was pitch black but we followed the red and white signs with our phone lights. We had already walked 30km’s by this point and the map told us we had another 12 to go. It was a blood adventure this one!
We were making a good pace through the forest. I highly suggest not doing this one solo as you will poop your pants. It is genuinely a horror film type of forest where you weave in and out of trees. We finally made it to Kriens around midnight with very tired legs having completed a marathon equivalent distance of 44km’s and over 2,500m of total incline climbed throughout the day.
One and a half hours of trains left and we made it back to our place outside of Zurich at 2 am and we were just happy that the trains were still going!
I definitely advise heading down on the last cable car unless you want a massive effort like us. Otherwise, if you are keen to hit the golden hour, just be prepared for a long, dark, tiresome journey that will more than likely be worth it. Pilatus was a memory I will never forget. A great adventure with the boys to one of Switzerland’s great regions.
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.