If you’ve ever wanted to feel like you are on top of the world, Mount Pilatus is a great place to start.
Mount Pilatus is a mountain massif (range) in central Switzerland. It consists of several summits, including the highest, Tomlishorn, at 7,000 feet. On a clear day from the summit of Mount Pilatus, you’ll get a panoramic view of more than 70 Alpine peaks. Any day with 70-plus Alpine peaks is a good day!
My husband, Dean, and I are glad we decided to visit Mount Pilatus; we loved the whole experience. The day trip from Lucerne (also called Luzern) to the summit, the time spent on the glorious mountaintop, and the journey back to Lucerne. Broadly speaking, it’s all a mountaintop experience! Here are some of the reasons I loved it.
1. The Charming City Of Lucerne
One (tremendous) benefit of Mount Pilatus is that the journey can begin in the charming city of Lucerne. According to the ticket clerk at the train station in Basel where we started our trip, Lucerne is “the crowned jewel of Switzerland.” What? Not Geneva? Not Zurich?
- Skeptical Me: “Do you say that to all the tourists?”
- Optimistic Me: “I can’t wait to see it! And the dramatic Mount Pilatus!”
Lucerne is a beautiful Swiss town with wonderful shops and restaurants. Ducks, swans, and other waterfowl glide on the peaceful Reuss (river). The boulevard between city hall and Chapel Bridge along the Reuss is commonly called Old Town. This historic floral Chapel Bridge is a highlight.
The Chapel Bridge
Built in the 14th century, the wooden Chapel Bridge displays art (some 100 pictures) inside its rafters, depicting scenes from 12th-century Swiss history and city life. The bridge is overflowing with fresh flowers on both sides, even in October!
Tickets To Mount Pilatus
Unless you routinely hike mountains, most people need some help getting to the summit of Mount Pilatus. Pilatus Railways (Pilatus Bahnen) is your link between Lucerne and the summit of Mount Pilatus. They sell tickets from May to October, and you have options (see the route and various modes of travel on this interactive map). For our money, we purchased a Golden round-trip ticket package at the Lucerne Railway Station.
- Getting There: Boat from Lucerne to Alpnachstad and cog railway train to the summit.
- Returning To Lucerne: Aerial cable car from the summit to Fräkmüntegg, a panorama gondola to Kriens, and (our choice) walk back two miles to Lucerne.
Another popular option is the Silver round-trip, which offers a 20-minute train ride or bus ride from Lucerne to Alpnachstad instead of the boat, and the rest is the same.
Pro Tips: Cloudy in Lucerne? Check weather conditions and webcams because chances are the weather at the summit of Mount Pilatus will be different! That’s exactly what happened to us. If we had decided to skip the trip because the weather in Lucerne was cloudy, overcast, and rainy, we would have missed all its wonder. Tell-Pass is another way to explore the Lucerne area. Purchase one ticket and get unrestricted travel on trains, buses, boats, and aerial cableways throughout the Lake Lucerne area.
2. The Spectacular Boat Ride On Lake Lucerne
We took an hour-long boat ride on Lake Lucerne, stopping at four small docks to exchange passengers along the way.
This is one of my favorite photos from the boat. I was admiring this quaint Swiss town on the shores of Lake Lucerne, picturesque and perfect. Suddenly, I noticed a mountaintop suspended above the range of white puffy clouds. The top of Mount Pilatus? That’s where we were headed! It was thrilling!
3. The Resounding Sound Of Alpine Horns
When the boat docked at Alpnachstad, we had a short walk up a paved incline to a plaza area — a hub of activity. This is where we would catch the cogwheel train, but it required a separate voucher.
As we approached the plaza area, we heard horns. We couldn’t have scripted it better. I had never seen these before, but someone said they were alpine horns. Well, of course they are. In what turned out to be a storybook adventure, the sound of alpine horns greeted us at the plaza. Seven adults and one young boy were playing the song “Amazing Grace”, and it was amazing. The Alps towered around us, the weather had completely cleared, and we were one step closer to the mountaintop.
Our train tickets were for 1:10 p.m., so we had about an hour to wait. Dean and I went to the counter of a little outdoor restaurant. The man who took our order didn’t speak English, but we muddled through. We each ended up with a large bratwurst served with two pieces of crusty bread, a generous squirt of mustard on a paper plate, and a bottle of beer. Does everything taste better in the Alps? I bet that can be scientifically proven!
4. The Steepest Cog Railway Train In The World
The railway from Alpnachstad to the Mount Pilatus summit isn’t just any cog railway. It’s the world’s steepest cogwheel railway with a 48 percent grade! As we started the incline, we gazed out over small farms, alpine meadows, and forests, until that all gave way to views of mountains, rock walls, and rock faces.
Hearing Alpine Horns: Part Two
At the summit, we departed the train through a walkway and out to a large outdoor viewing platform. As if sweeping views of neighboring mountains and Lake Lucerne weren’t enough, we heard the unmistakable sound of more alpine horns. That beautiful sound!
Pro Tip: When you go, dress in layers. It can be windy at 7,000 feet above sea level.
5. Thrilling Hiking And Expansive Views
On the mountaintop, we took a self-guided tour. It’s easy. Plenty of hiking trails took us to several vantage points, all with spectacular views.
The Esel is the second-highest peak in the Mount Pilatus range. The hike starts behind a circular-shaped building, the (20-room) Hotel Bellevue Kriens. We took our time and used the railing when it was available. On top, we overlooked Lucerne and Lake Lucerne in one direction.
In the other direction, we could see the viewing platform and Hotel Pilatus-Kulm. Birds soared overhead. Large signs helped us identify nearby mountains, and we could see the zigzagged hiking trails for those ambitious souls who chose to travel on foot.
On the way back down, I noticed a sign I hadn’t noticed before. It was Psalm 66:5, written in German and bolted right into the side of the mountain: “Come and see what God has done, his awesome deeds for mankind!”
The third highest Pilatus Mountain peak is Oberhaupt, to the East. It takes only a few minutes to hike to the viewpoint. The hiking at Oberhaupt is an easy incline and popular. The round, state-of-the-art building is the Hotel Bellevue Kriens.
Corridor Through The Mountain
As we hiked around, we noticed a corridor that went toward one of the mountain peaks from the inside. We ended up on a lovely path that led through the rock to a place where we could see additional mountain lookout points in the distance.
6. Paragliders Soaring Overhead
From the viewing platform, we saw paragliders soaring above Mount Pilatus. When I showed this photo to a friend, she joked, “You and Dean?” No, these people were far braver or crazier than we are. It appeared to be one instructor or guide and one person, risking life and limb. There was no landing zone and no easy descent area. Just a series of big, magnificent, and unforgiving mountains.
7. The Trip Back To Lucerne
All good things must come to an end, and so it is with a mountaintop experience like this one. Getting back to Lucerne is different, and yet as interesting, varied, and beautiful as getting there.
Aerial Cableway “Dragon Ride”
We started our descent from the summit by a cable car, called the “Dragon Ride.” Holding about 20 people, the cable car has top-to-bottom windows in the front for amazing views. It’s also fast! In less than four minutes, the cableway transports you from the top of Pilatus to the little hamlet of Fräkmüntegg.
Pro Tip: If this isn’t the mode of travel for you, the cogwheel train can also get you back down the mountain.
In the small town of Fräkmüntegg, we transferred from a cable car to a panoramic gondola that seated four people (we had one to ourselves). This 30-minute ride took us through Krienseregg to our next destination: the small hamlet of Kriens. As we neared town, we saw cattle grazing in fields, dirt hiking paths changed to paved ones, and a few ambitious hikers and one ambitious young man on a bike heading up.
Pro Tip: Fräkmüntegg has a lot to offer. We just passed through but two highlights here are the Toboggan Run, the longest summer toboggan run (almost three-quarters of a mile long) in Switzerland; and the Pilatus Rope Park, featuring 10 courses from zip lines to “monkey trees,” for more memorable experiences.
8. Church Bells Of Lucerne
From Kriens, we had an easy two-mile (flat) walk back to Lucerne, and it was a beautiful day. In Lucerne, church bells were ringing. Their melodious peals filled the air. Like the sound of the alpine horn in the Alpnachstad plaza and atop the mountain, this was another feast for our ears. It was idyllic — like a dream!
A Mountaintop Experience
We loved every little thing about Mount Pilatus. Can’t get to Switzerland? This virtual tour video highlights some of the experiences (note: it’s shown in reverse of the way we did it). I hope you can go see it in person, and if you do, these travel tips will help. The whole thing is a mountaintop experience and you’ll have so many reasons to love it, just as we did.
Pro Tip: Looking for another mountaintop experience? Mount Titlis is another popular day trip from Lucerne. Titlis Rotair sounds amazing; it’s the first revolving cable car in the world.
For more tips on traveling to Switzerland, check out these articles: