Photo: The meadow at Rütli.
Rütli is the spot where (supposedly) the three original cantons of Schwyz, Uri, and Unterwalden agreed to support each other in 1291 and what is called “the oath of the Swiss Confederation”, leading to the spot being called “the birthplace of Switzerland”. Whether this is true or not (it probably isn’t) the image has stuck; helped by the play William Tell by Friedrich Schiller (Tell himself is also probably not real), and the “Rütlirapport” where the Swiss general made a speech in 1940 to rally the country to defend itself in the event of invasion. These days there is an event there on the Swiss National day every August 1st.
Even now it is fairly a remote spot: surrounded by cliffs and on a very mountainous part of the lake it is certainly a good spot for a secret meeting.
We reached Rütli via an easy and scenic walk. Our aim was visit the meadow for the sake of visiting it, and enjoy the scenery along the way. We certainly achieved this. I wouldn’t call Rütli a “must visit” but if you are looking for a nice spot with some local history/meaning then this would be a good option.
Route: Treib – Rütli.
Length: 4.5km, +/- 275m.
For more hikes in Switzerland see my list of hikes.
Season: This is probably doable year round unless there has been very heavy snowfall, but it would be much nicer in the Spring/Summer.
Arrival/Departure: Boat to Trieb / Boat from Rütli. There are a few means of getting there. Ships going both ways along the lake stop once an hour during the summer at “Rütli”, which is requires only a 15 minute uphill walk to reach the meadow. Otherwise the village of Seelisberg is above the meadow (300-400m vertically above) and can be reached by road/bus or even boat via the stop at Trieb and a funicular up.
Supplies: Restaurant at the start and end.
Alternate routes/shortcuts: The Swiss Path (Weg der Schweiz) is a 35km path to celebrate the 700th anniversary of Switzerland which passes by Rütli. The path has sections dedicated to each canton ordered on when they joined, and by length based on their population. This passes near to Altdorf (the town where William Tell shot the apple off his son’s head) and the Tellskapelle (where Tell escaped his captors during a storm), and ends close to Schyz where you can find the Bundesbriefmuseum which has the original Federal Charter from the three cantons.
Notes along the route
We took the train to Brunnen which is well connected from Zürich and Lucerne, and usually gives you ample time to walk into town and enjoy the handsome waterfront before the next boat arrives.
We got on the boat going towards Lucerne, then got off the boat 8 minutes later on the other side of the lake at Trieb, and followed the footpath signs for Rütli with an estimated time of about 1:30.
The first 1.5km is a fairly stead climb of 200m with views down the lake towards Pilatus. You then find yourself on the clifftop directly across from Brunnen with views back to where you started. And as you move on from there you find yourself looking down the Fjord-like Urnersee part of the lake. Before finally dropping down through the forest to Rütli.
At Rütli we stopped at the restaurant Rütlihaus for lunch and a few of the house beers. Both were good if a little pricey (standard Switzerland really). For midday on a nice Saturday in July I was surprised at how quiet it was here and in the area in general.
The site at Rütli itself is fairly understated. There is a flagpole in the meadow, and a little sign for the Schwurplatz (oath making place), but otherwise there isn’t anything to suggest it was anything but a standard meadow. Which is an appropriately Swiss way of handling it really.
After a walk around the site (which really doesn’t take long) we went down on the dock and caught the ship going towards Lucerne.
Whilst always a pretty and interesting ride in itself (despite being over 2 hours the dynamic nature of the lake keeps it interesting), this day the ride was livened up even more by an impressive and unexpected thunderstorm suddenly blowing through and providing some beautiful and memorable lighting (and a surprisingly lively lake).