Photo: Arriving at Rigi Kulm.
A weekend doing some gentle walks on a (slightly) snowy Rigi.
When: 15-16th February 2020.
This was a very warm and dry winter so there was only a bit of snow and the ski slopes were closed. It hasn’t gotten much better since; the winter of 2022/2023 saw only 6 days of skiing and it closed early at the start of March.
- Official tourism website (quite good).
- Rigi is one of the most popular tourist spots in Switzerland. It has been popular for centuries with many famous names visiting (Queen Victoria was carried up), and was the first mountain in Switzerland with a train going up it. Slow Train to Switzerland by Diccon Bewes has an interesting account of this. Mark Twain’s absurdist account of walking up in 3 days rather than 3 hours is worth a read (see Chapter 28).
- Rigi is actually a massif stretching from Brunnen to Küssnacht. The highest peak with the radio tower that everyone visits is Rigi Kulm. Rigi isn’t actually geologically part of the Alps, but rather part of the flatter plateau.
- There is Rigi beer which is brewed on the mountain.
There are various little villages and hotels scattered around the massif. These are nice, but unless you are a family looking for somewhere your kids can learn to ski then more than 1 night is overkill in any of these.
There two trains up to Rigi Kulm:
- The route via Vitznau far nicer. Taking the boat from Luzern, then the train up, is scenic the whole way.
- Arth-Goldau goes from the station which has train connections to many major cities (even down to Milan). However the ride up is firstly in the ugly arse-end of Arth-Goldau included going over a motorway, and then you are mostly in a valley (though that might make the sudden views at the top even better).
Most people will only visit Rigi Kulm. But the mountain is actually quite long and has far more to it. As soon as you move away from the Rigi Kulm/Staffel area you will see a big drop in the numbers of tourists.
- Another option is to hike. I did The Mark Twain route up from Weggis, but the whole Massif has lots of trails.
- There is also the cable car at Rigi Scheidegg which goes up from near Arth-Goldau.
The question tourists will care most is usually about which of Rigi or Pilatus to go up. Both are very popular as they offer an easy and scenic ride up from Luzern, with mountain and lake views from a prominent peak. But there are differences:
- Rigi isn’t quite as high as Pilatus (1798m vs 2128m), nor as rocky and “mountain-like”. Instead it feels more like a high meadow for the most part. This means it is not as impressive in some ways, but on the plus side much easier to go hiking all over it. In addition there are a number of stops on the trainlines that offer plenty of places to start or end hikes.
- During winter especially Rigi has lots of walking options (plus some sledging and skiing too) whereas Pilatus is really limited to just the cable car up and views from the summit.
- The fact that the boat, trains, and Scheidegg cable car are included in the GA/Swiss Travel Pass is a big bonus for Rigi meaning you don’t need to queue for a ticket or pay extra.
Day 1 – Boat ride and Rigi Kulm
It was almost 5 years since I was up on Rigi, so I was curious to go back up and see a bit more of the ridge (I have also been thinking about hiking the whole way from Brunnen to Rigi Kulm sometime in the summer). This was decided based on a last minute search for accommodation that wasn’t too far from home as the weather looked to be better than expected. Despite being mid-February it was abnormally warm. There was a bit of snow higher up on Rigi, but all the ski infrastructure was closed and there were flowers out.
Route: Rigi Kulm – Rotstock – Rigi First – Hotel Rigi Klösterli.
Length: 5km, +125m, -560m.
This tour is rather easy and Rigi Kulm to Scheidegg could easily be done in a day by most people, but we split it over 2 days to allow for a relaxed trip. Especially as whilst Rigi Kulm is only just over 70km from my house it takes 3 hours to get all the way up.
We took the train to Lucerne then hopped straight onto the waiting boat to Vitznau. A few minutes after leaving Weggis we went to wait to be among the first off and so quick onto the waiting train with a good choice of seat (sit on the left side). This was a bit busy, but nothing like in summer (when I would probably avoid doing this).
The official website listed a number of winter paths as being closed, despite offering no problems (or in some cases even any snow). The only real closed path to pay attention to is not getting too close to the tower which will drop dangerous chunks of ice as it warms up during the day.
We followed the path down from Kulm to Staffel, then took the direct route to First with a diversion up to Rotstock (1659m). I think that Rotstock is far better than Kulm itself: it is much quieter, has a better lake view than Kulm, is easier to see the full view from a single point, and the part of the view which is blocked by the higher Kulm isn’t very interesting anyway.
Stopped for a beer at the Bärenstube to catch the last bit of sun before heading down into the valley for the night.
On the way down to Klösterli we passed the Alpwirtschaft Heirihütte which had a cat who came out to meet us and if we stopped it instantly stood on our feet to try and keep us in place.
We stayed at the Hotel Rigi Klösterli which was chosen just by the fact that it a spare room at the last minute, but is highly recommendable. It feels quite remote being hidden in the valley below Rigi (and 20 mins from First by foot) and not having much around it (but it does have a train stop on the Arth-Goldau/Rigi line). The style was simple but nice. Good food was offered for both dinner and breakfast.
I took an evening walk back up to above First to see the stars and the snowy peaks in the night.
Day 2 – Along the Panorama Trail to Rigi Scheidegg
Route: Hotel Rigi Klösterli – Rigi Scheidegg.
Length: 6.9km, +350m, -25m.
Back up to First then followed the Rigi Panorama Trail to Rigi Scheidegg. As the name would suggest it had very good views, and being a former train line the path was very wide and the gradient gentle. This path is kept open and prepared for easy hiking in winter.
If we had snow shoes (or it was summer) then a detour up the Dosse would have been a good way to extend the walk and get some more extensive views.
Rigi Scheidegg was much quieter than I expected despite being easy to get to and having extensive views. There isn’t much to it beyond a collection of holiday-rentals, a cafe, and a restaurant.
From Rigi Scheidegg a cable car takes you down to Kräbel where you can catch the train down to the well connected Arth-Goldau a few minutes later. There are two cable cars per hour, but only one train, so take the half-past(ish) car down to ensure an easy transfer (otherwise it is a 3km, 45min walk to the station).