The Riffelsee (Riffel Lake) Hike may just be the best spot in Zermatt to find the perfect reflection photo of the mighty Matterhorn. A train takes you to Riffelalp before you hike around the mountain with constant views of the Matterhorn until you end up at Riffelsee and witness the amazing reflection.
RIFFELSEE LAKE: COMPLETE GUIDE
Riffelsee Lake is a natural gem situated high in the Swiss Alps, near the renowned mountain town of Zermatt. This alpine lake, set at an altitude of approximately 2,757 meters, is known for its pristine, crystal-clear waters that reflect the imposing Matterhorn, creating a breathtaking mirror image on calm days.
RIFFELSEE LAKE HIKE DETAILS
- Hike Distance: The total distance from Riffelalp train station to Riffelsee via the Riffelseeweg is just 4.1km. You can then catch the Gornergratbahn back down to Zermatt. However, I suggest you continue hiking up to Gornergrat and keep exploring. My total loop was 20km from Riffelalp to Riffelsee to Gornergrat to Hohtalli to Zermatt.
- Hike Duration: From Riffelalp to Riffelsee you are expecting it to take about 1.5 hours.
- Hike Difficulty: The hike difficulty for Riffelsee from Riffelalp was very low. There was some incline but the path was always very clear and quite flat. Suitable for children.
- Hike Incline: From Riffelalp to Riffelsee the incline is just under 600m of climbing. Riffelsee is at 2,762 meters above sea level.
HOW TO GET TO RIFFELSEE
Riffelsee is an alpine lake that can be reached either via train or by hiking or with a combination. I took the most scenic route, which involves booking a ticket on the Gornergratbahn to Riffelalp and then hiking 4 kilometers to Riffelsee. However, there is a train station right next to Riffelsee and Gorngergrat Restaurant is just above Riffelsee so the majority of visitors don’t hike at all. They miss out on a lot of the action and beautiful Matterhorn views along the way.
Recommended option: Catch the Gornergratbahn and get off at Riffelalp. Then follow the Riffelseeweg along the edge of the mountain with 600m of incline over 4 kilometers to the Riffelsee.
GORNERGRAT COGWHEEL TRAIN
Skip the line and book a ticket online for the Gornergrat Cogwheel. Cross stunning bridges, ride through galleries and tunnels, idyllic forests, past gorges and mountain lakes as your climb the Gornergrat on the cogwheel train with the Matterhorn continually in view. At the summit, explore the picturesque alpine world of the Swiss Alps.
With a sunny observation deck that remains accessible throughout the year, the Gornergrat at 3,089 meters above sea level provides spectacular views. The Gornergrat is surrounded by 29 four-thousand-metre peaks including the highest Swiss mountain, the Dufourspitze, which has an altitude of 4,634 meters, and the third-largest glacier in the Alps, the Gorner Glacier. The mountainscape panorama you’ll experience is completely unique.
SUNRISE AT RIFFELSEE
You’ve probably seen lots of epic reflection photos with beautiful alpenglow, oranges, and purple when you search the Riffelsee. Sunrise is the best time to be at the Riffelsee, but that means being there at around 6 am depending on the time of year. To be at Riffelsee at sunrise you have a few options.
- Camp at the Riffelsee and brave the cold. I found a few guys there who had camped that morning. They said it was worth it but freezing. This was in the summer.
- Hike up from Zermatt Town, which would be a 3-hour hike with 1200 meters of incline. Not impossible but a big effort.
- Spend the night at Riffelalp Resort (2,222m) and then you will have basically the same hike as you would from Riffelalp train station. 4kms with 600m of incline to reach the lake taking about 1.5 hours. Be warned it is about $500 USD a night at Riffelalp Resort. That’s an expensive sunrise.
- Book a place on the sunrise train. In the summer, a train goes up in time to catch the sunrise at Riffelsee. It’s not a normal train ride though and you need to book in advance. It’s $99 per person and includes a breakfast buffet at Gornergrat Restaurant above Riffelsee. If you consider the price of the regular train ticket anyway, and the buffet breakfast it’s not ridiculously expensive but it all depends on your budget. This is the best pick in my opinion but I decided I didn’t want to pay $100 for sunrise and hiked up at a normal hour. If you are interested to book this train, you can do so on the official site here.
MY EXPERIENCE HIKING TO RIFFELSEE
I began the adventure in the town of Zermatt by heading to the Gornergratbahn, which is next to the main train station. I bought a ticket to Riffelalp and enjoyed the 20-minute ride up the steep hill before jumping out. Everyone else on board seemed to stay on and headed onwards to Gornergrat. That made me feel better about not hiking up from Zermatt.
The signs you will find at the train station look like the following. Follow the signs to Riffelalp, a small village where you pass through. There is a lodge here for $500 a night if you have cash to splash.
The views of the Matterhorn are constant throughout this hiking route to the Riffelsee and I spotted the peak through the trees before I even reached Riffelalp. It’s best to do this hike on a clear day so that you get to enjoy the Matterhorn, which is the main focus of the trail even though the Matterhorn is on the other side of Zermatt.
Once you get through Riffelalp you will come across another set of signs. Continue on the edge of the mountain and don’t turn left at the signs. At this point follow the Mark Twain Weg sign
The Matterhorn kept following me throughout the hike and I kept photographing it. The trail wound up the hill with some solid incline at this point as Matterhorn remained on the right-hand side. The early morning light and views down into Zermatt made this part of the trail the most spectacular. I even spotted a little Marmot grabbing some morning sun.
The path now takes a turn at the following sign as you head left up the hill. At this stage, you are more than halfway to Riffelsee. Follow the red and white trail markers to the left. At this part of the tail, I still hadn’t seen anyone else at all. It was just me, myself, and the Matterhorn.
Before you reach the official Riffelsee, there is a small lake that is even better for reflections. Most of the tourists didn’t get down to that lake and only went to the one closest to Gornergrat but I found this first lake the best for finding a nice reflection of the Matterhorn and much less crowded. Just a couple of us hun around the lake admiring the view.
Continue hiking up for another 10 minutes and you will reach the much larger, Riffelsee Lake. Hike up to the far side of the lake and look back for the best reflections of the Matterhorn.
There is a train station just above this lake and Gornergrat Restaurant a bit further again so expect a lot of tourists. It was actually pretty cute to watch as a group of Chinese tourists all walked up together to the viewpoint and at a certain point, one by one, they entered the zone where the reflection appeared and they all loved it ooohing and aaahing. It’s always cool to watch other people enjoying the highlight of their day or the trip whether they are a touristy tourist or a crazy adventurer.
At this point, you can catch the train back down to Zermatt or you can continue hiking up to Gornergrat. It’s only another 20 minutes and is an incredible view of the Gorner Glacier (Gornergletscher). You really should keep going and you may even be able to take the train up from Riffelsee to Gornergrat but I don’t know how that works with the tickets considering you got off in Riffelalp and then back on again at Riffelsee. I’m sure there is a possible way.
At Gornergrat Restaurant and Hotel, you can enjoy lunch and take in the incredible views.
I then continued on again to Hohtalli and then hiked back down to Zermatt but it wasn’t super interesting that way, in my opinion, considering it is an extra 12 kilometers worth of hiking. I think most people will at this point want to catch the train back down to Zermatt.
MY MAP FROM MY RIFFELSEEE/GORNERGRAT HIKE
I caught the train to Riffelalp and the hiked to Riffelsee, continued to Gornergrat and then pushed on to Hohtalli before deciding to walk all the way back to Zermatt for a total of 20 kilometers in five hours. You can see my start and finish points aswell as my route on the map below. You can download my map as a GPX file for your Garmin or smartwatch here.
SWISS TRAVEL PASS or HALF-FARE CARD
OPTION 1: Buy the Swiss Half Fare Card: Switzerland trains, buses, and cable cars are EXPENSIVE! I found the best way to get around cheaply was to buy the Swiss Half-Fare Card before I arrived. It gives you 50% off every regular train, bus, and even many cable cars. It only costs $150 USD but pays itself off in just a few days with many train tickets in Switzerland costing close to $100 alone. If you are staying for more than 5 days, I suggest buying the Swiss Half-Fare Card.
OPTION 2: Buy the Swiss Travel Pass: The second option is to get the Swiss Travel Pass, which gives you unlimited train, bus, and (many) cable car rides but it’s pretty expensive at around $100 USD per day so if you don’t travel each day it isn’t worth it.
OPTION 3: Buy the FLEXI Swiss Travel Pass: The final (BEST) option is to get the FLEXI Swiss Travel Pass, which allows you to buy 8 days’ worth of transit but you can choose the night before if you want to activate the next day. That way you don’t need to travel every day to get your money’s worth, you can just activate the FLEXI Swiss Travel Pass on the days when you are doing sizeable transits. My advice is to book the Swiss Half-Fare Card or the FLEXI Swiss Travel Pass in advance before your trip so it’s ready to go when you arrive.
MY SWITZERLAND HIKING GUIDES
I spent 100 days hiking in Switzerland and created a guide for different regions around the country. You can click on one of my Switzerland hiking guides below to help you plan your trip.
- The Complete Guide: 50 AWESOME HIKES IN IN SWITZERLAND
- The Via Ferrata Guide: 4 EPIC SWITZERLAND VIA FERRATA COURSES
- Lauterbrunnen Guide: 10 AWESOME HIKES NEAR LAUTERBRUNNEN
- Interlaken Guide: 15 AWESOME HIKES IN INTERLAKEN
- Grindelwald Guide: 12 AWESOME HIKES NEAR GRINDELWALD:
- Mürren Guide: 7 AWESOME HIKES IN MURREN
- Appenzell Guide: 9 AWESOME HIKES NEAR APPENZELL
- Chur Guide: 7 AWESOME HIKES NEAR CHUR