Photo: Watching the cable car sail by from the Klimsen-Kapelle.
A short but steep hike up to Pilatus.
I used a mix of photos from two different days, both in August but from different years. The difference should be obvious.
Route: Fräkmüntegg – Pilatus.
Length: 4.2km, +800m, -150m.
For more hikes in Switzerland see my list of hikes.
Season: Late Spring to Autumn.
Arrival/Departure: Cable car to Fräkmüntegg / Cable car from Pilatus.
Supplies: Restaurants at Fräkmüntegg and Pilatus.
Alternate routes/shortcuts: You could walk the whole way from Kriens (6.5km, +930m), or go down the otherside to Alpnachstad (8.2km, -1650m). Another option is to take the Postbus to/from Eigental to climb up Pilatus from the north. This includes some interesting options like going to Oberalp along the ridge from Pilatus itself – which takes you past the Pilatussee where Pontius Pilot is said to be buried.
Exposure/Hazards: The path is steep and can be rocky, but it isn’t exposed to any big drops. This is probably doable in trainers but I would really recommend boots (and sticks wouldn’t hurt especially if you are going down). Between the cable car stations there is nothing but mountainside so come prepared. The path isn’t crowded but there should be enough people about that you will find help if you need it.
The main thing to be aware of is that Pilatus is busy. Like seriously busy. It is one of the main tourist attractions in one of the main tourist spots in Switzerland, not to mention being an easy day-trip for a good chunk of the Swiss population. On a nice day the transport up and down is usually full, the top is also crowded with people, and a steady stream of hikers are going up and down.
This is for a good reason. The views over the lake and Alps (and also with much less interest of the Mittelland) are rather impressive. At 2132m it is a bit higher and feels more actual-rocky-mountain like than the 1798m high (and also very busy) Rigi across the lake. That said it is worth remembering there are many other impressive peaks you can easily get up in the area – those two are not the be-all-and-end-all of central Switzerland.
Notes along the route
From Lucerne train station take bus number 1 from Kante A to “Pilatus Zentrum” in Kriens (arrives about once every 10 minutes and it is about a 10 minutes ride) and follow the signs up to the cable car station (about 5 minutes). Kriens itself is the picture of blandness whose main redeeming feature seems to be that it has regular buses to Lucerne – so don’t worry yourself about missing out on anything.
We arrived at 8:30am and were surprised to find that there was already a fairly large queue to buy a ticket at that early hour (I mentioned it was popular right?). We took the gondola to Fräkmüntegg, then followed the 2hr 40 signs to Pilatus that lead to the right and up past the top/entrance of the mountain coaster.
There are a number of signs saying that the path is closed with danger of stone-fall and you proceed at your own risk. However these date to 2009 and they don’t make much of an attempt to actually stop you, presumably it must just be a legal cover but it is odd to see that in Switzerland.
This takes you through some woods around the north side to the valley above the village of Eigenthal. You can see this valley from above at the peak, but it is so much more interesting and pleasant to actually be down in it. Farms are scattered around on pastures and other than the clanking of cow bells it feels very quiet and remote.
After 1.2km you reach the lowest point (yes you did just drop 120m), then from here you are constantly climbing until you reach the peak (a fairly steady 30% gradient gaining over 700m in 2.5km). On the climb your only options are keep going up, or turn back down. On the plus side you get some fantastic perspectives on the interesting rock formations around there.
Starting early in the morning meant the steep mountain protected us from the sun which was rather nice.
After what feels like endless steep climbing you start a slightly less steep climb to the Klimsenhorn (the peak visible with a cross on it from the cable-car station below) and the iconic lonely Klimsen-Kapelle (despite the location services do run in summer). The view down to the lake finally opens up here, as does the impressive sight of the larger cable car dangling in thin air as it floats past. There used to be a Hotel Klimsenhorn here too but it burnt down in 1967.
The final section from the kapelle up to Pilatus is sign posted as 40 minutes and, other than being more up and up, isn’t too bad. You reach the top at the “gallery walk” and pop up to find yourself in a hotel complex with quite a few people around. Here you can grab food and drink, buy a watch or other tourist tack, stay in one of the two hotels, or buy transport tickets and head down.
You can also climb the Esel (donkey) which is the highest mini-peak behind the round hotel building to get the best views from Pilatus. Just don’t pick the wildflowers on the way up.
The top itself is dominated be a hotel/restaurant complex and a short tunnel walk with a few views and info boards. This is pretty much what most people will do up there. You can also follow the ridge along to Tomlishorn which is fairly flat and easy and offers some more views and less people. Otherwise the options are the cable car/funicular, or a steep and long path down.