Mount Pilatus Golden Round Trip, Lucerne, Switzerland

Mount Pilatus Golden Round Trip

Of the many activities available to me in and around Lucerne, Switzerland, the one everyone insisted I should not miss was the Golden Round Trip to the top of Mount Pilatus. This appealed to me, not only because I wanted to do some mountain hiking, but also because of the many legends surrounding “The Dragon Mountain.” In the Middle Ages, the bleak crevices of the mountain were believed to be the abode of a well-meaning dragon and spirits. There is also a legend that says the body of Pontius Pilate was ultimately disposed of in a tiny remote lake on Oberalp on Mount Pilatus. Once a year, on Good Friday, Pilate allowed himself to be seen, a figure with flowing grey hair and wearing the purple regalia of a judge seated on a chair in the middle of the lake. People so feared this vision that local priests and government officials made it illegal to climb the mountain or use the lake. Finally, in 1585, Lucerne’s priest, accompanied by a band of townspeople, climbed Mount Pilatus to challenge the ghost. They threw stones into lake, churned up the water and waded in it but the ghost did not react, thus the the spell was believed to be broken.

Mount Pilatus Golden Round Trip Tour begins with a ride across Lake Lucerne on a paddle wheel steamboat Switzerland

Mount Pilatus Golden Round Trip Tour begins with a ride across Lake Lucerne on a paddle wheel steamboat

My Golden Round Trip experience began on Lake Lucerne, where I boarded a nostalgic lake steamer for the trip from Lucerne to the town of Alpnachstad at the foot of Mount Pilatus. We pulled away from the pier into the crystalline lake waters, bound for the Alps to the south. Very soon we were sailing past towering headlands that rose straight out of the water and picturesque hamlets carved into the few lowlands that dotted the shores, each one prettier than the last.

Gorgeous scenery along the shores of Lake Lucerne Switzerland

Gorgeous scenery along the shores of Lake Lucerne

Sheer mountains rise from the blue green waters of Lake Lucerne Switzerland

Sheer mountains rise from the blue green waters of Lake Lucerne

We stopped to pick up passengers in Dorf, Hergiswil and Stansstad:

Tiny town of Dorf Switzerland

Tiny town of Dorf

Hergiswil Switzerland on the banks of Lake Lucerne

Hergiswil

Stansstad Switzerland on the shores of Lake Lucerne

Stansstad

Using a hydraulic system to lower the mast and chimney of the steamer, we sailed under the low bridge separating Lake Lucerne from Alpnacher Lake. At Alpnachstad we left the boat and crossed under the highway to the Pilatus cog wheel railway, where we boarded rail cars bound for the top of the mountain. Completed in 1889, this 4618-meter long stretch of railway was and still is the world’s steepest railway. It climbs 7000 feet in 30 minutes, using two horizontally revolving cogwheels to conquer the 48% gradient.

Disembarking at Alpnachstad Switzerland for the cog railway

Disembarking at Alpnachstad for the cog railway

Cog railway that ascends to the top of Mount Pilatus Switzerland

Cog railway

These cute little rail cars were like the “Little Engine That Could,” slowly but inexorably inching up to the top of the mountain. Initially we traveled through tall pine forests on steep slopes until we passed the tree line. The landscape went through several quick transitions. First came sweeping meadows where cows grazed, the big Swiss bells hanging around their necks clearly signaling their presence. Then the lush grasslands turned to scrub grass over rocky scree. Finally even the scrub grass disappeared and everything was sharp, barren rock.

High meadows on Mount Pilatus Switzerland

High meadows

Riding cog railway along the barren top ridge atop Mount Pilatus Switzerland

Riding along the barren top ridge

On top of Mount Pilatus near Lucerne Switzerland

On top of the world

Now we could see the snow covered Alps in the distance. How these cars keep from toppling off the mountain is a mystery. Our train traveled along an impossibly narrow, razor sharp lip of rock on the way to a tunnel carved into the mountain. I had to remind myself to breathe – it seemed as if we were hanging in mid-air, held only by a thread.

When we reached the summit and exited the train my first view was of crazy people jumping off the mountain with nothing more than a silk parachute. Each one waited for a strong gust of wind and at just the right moment, pulled the cords of the parachute, lifting it into the wind. At that same instant, they ran forward and jumped off the edge of the mountain. It was an amazing site to see – they drifted off into a giant void of space with those awesome Alps in the background. I was astounded at their courage but wondered WHY anyone would WANT to do this:

Paragliding off the top of Mt. Pilatus Switzerland

Paragliding off the top of Mt. Pilatus

Paragliding off the top of Mt. Pilatus Switzerland

Paragliding off the top of Mt. Pilatus

Paragliding off the top of Mt. Pilatus Switzerland

Up, up, and away

Paragliding off the top of Mt. Pilatus Switzerland

And another one is off

Paragliding off the top of Mt. Pilatus Switzerland

What a view!

Paragliding off the top of Mt. Pilatus Switzerland

Can’t imagine doing this

This mountains offers pleasures for all levels of outdoor enthusiasts. A bit further along the path, sunbathers were splayed out on orange canvas chairs, availing themselves of the bright sunshine despite temperatures in the 60’s.

Sun bathing at the top of Mt. Pilatus Switzerland

Sun bathing at the top of Mt. Pilatus

Tiny church reachable only by a narrow mountain path on Mount Pilatus Switzerland

Tiny church reachable only by a narrow mountain path

I decided to stick to the middle ground – no extreme sports or lounge chairs for me. I found the first hiking trail and headed out. One of the first views was of this tiny, white chapel perched at the top of the world on cliff accessible only by a narrow dirt track. I mused aloud, wondering WHO attends church here and a man standing next to me gave his opinion, “People with a lot of faith.” Another man added, “And people who are very young,” eliciting laughter from those of us looking down at the church.

Soon the path began to climb and the concrete steps changed to rugged, crooked steps carved out of the rock. By this time, there was only a nominal railing and the combination of thin air and my fear of heights where there are not sufficient guard rails was making me breathless. But, I persevered and, mounting the last step, crossed through a final tunnel carved in the rock to look down on this view:

Uneven trail steps atop Mount Pilatus Switzerland hewn from the rock face

Uneven steps hewn from the rock face

View from pinnacle of Mount Pilatus Switzerland looking down on the cog railway and gondola station

At the pinnacle, looking down on the cog railway and gondola station

And, here I am in the photo, just to prove I was actually there:

Atop Mount Pilatus Switzerland

I was here!

With every step I took the view changed. In the two photo below, the snowy Alps are seen in the distance, with the cog railway and the many hiking trails on the upper flanks of Mount Pilatus clearly seen in the foreground. Just to get an idea of the immensity of the place, look for the tiny red railway car in the second photo, inching its way to the garage at the peak.

Trails leading to the top of Mount Pilatus Switzerland

Looking at the trails criss-crossing the mountain, I wonder whether next time I should walk up?

Tiny red cog railway cars climb the final steep slope before reaching the station atop Mount Pilatus Switzerland

Tiny red cog railway cars climb the final steep slope before reaching the station

With a half hour left before I had to descend, I headed for yet another trail – the one going to the highest point of all, on the peak perched above the Pilatus building. Two-hundred and eighty steps later, with knees quaking, I reached the top and was rewarded with these two views shot from the exact opposite directions, one showing the Alps to the south and the other looking down on Lake Lucerne, where we had begun the journey:

At the top of Mount Pilatus Switzerland above the railway station

At the top of the peak above the railway station

View to the valley below from top of Mount Pilatus Switzerland

View to the valley below

Cog railway and gondola station at the top of Mount Pilatus Switzerland

Looking directly down on the cog railway and gondola station

I raced back down the mountain just in time to catch the last cable car, which swept me down the back side of the mountain to the town of Krienz, where a 15 minute bus ride took me back to Lucerne. The cost for this four-hour excursion was 41.50 Francs,or about $32 US (regularly twice that, but I have purchased a half-price Swiss Pass that allows me to buy tickets for 50% off.). Throughout the trip I kept repeating the words ‘amazing’, ‘astounding’, ‘unbelievable’, and other like adjectives. Without a doubt, this was worth every penny.

16 Comments on “Mount Pilatus Golden Round Trip

  1. hey, so xited by reading ur golden round trip blog to mt pilatus. we r planning to visit lucerne this august. I would like to know from where u booked the ticket for this trip.was it done online ? how much it costs? Is it ok for kids?

    • Hi Lucky: The tour is great for kids. I just went down to the shore of the lake when I arrived and bought a ticket. As I said in my article, the four-hour excursion was 41.50 Francs,or about $32 US (regularly twice that, but I have purchased a half-price Swiss Pass that allows me to buy tickets for 50% off). However that was a few years ago and the price may have changed.

  2. Pingback: Planning Update – May, 2012 » France, Germany and Switzerland Travels

  3. how long does it take to finish the tour?half day or full day??

    • Hi Suma: You can do it in a half day. It all depends how long you want to stay on the mountaintop. I hiked several of the trails, so I made it an all-day outing.

  4. I took this tour in Aug 2010. I was also in awe. It was absolutely an unbelievable experience. I did not see your blog until today and I was amazed at the number of pictures that were the same. I really enjoyed the trip to Mount Pilatus.

    • Hi Kay: So glad you had a similar experience. And welcome to my blog!

  5. Thanks for the info & swift reply 😉 enjoy reading your other travel blogs as well. Cheers!

  6. Hi Barbara,
    It’s awe-inspiring. I plan to visit the place soon. Could u pls give me some advice? You mentioned it’s a 4-hr excursion but from the tour package i found on website, the trip usually takes about 9hrs. Was your package a half-day tour?

    Thanks & Best regards,
    Noelle

    • Hi Noelle: I did it in four hours and wish I’d planned for more time. The boat leaves at various intervals throughout the day, and deposits you at the cog wheel railroad, which carried you to the top of Mt. Pilatus. Once there, you can spend as much time as you like up there and take the cable car down whenever you like. So you could take the early morning boat and hike trails all day, catching the last cable car of the afternoon down. Of course, this ws in 2007, so check first that what I say is still correct. You will love this trip – the views from the top are breathtaking!

  7. I enjoyed your blog and pictures. I want to do this tour also in May. Did you use a tour or did you do it on your own. Can you give me some tips on the best way to go.

    Thanks
    Sharon

    • Hi Sharon: There’s a paddle-wheel steamer at the main dock on the lake – you can’t miss it. They sell the entire package and you just can’t beat it. Although there are some parts of it you could do yourself, if you don’t take the tour, you’ll miss a lot, like sailing from one lake to another in the only boat that has a mast that retracts to get under the bridge. There’s plenty of time to do things on your own – hike, etc. at the top of Mt. Pilatus – and you can stay all day if you wish & take the last cable car down.

  8. Inspiring photos and very reassuring account. Have just booked a holiday on Lake Lucerne knowing very little about it. Can’t wait now!

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