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 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 taking 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.
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 cleary 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 fo 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.