Mount Pilatus is a very famous summit with an elevation of 2,128m in Central Switzerland that overlooks Luzern. From the summit, you can see 360° views of the nearby mountain ranges and multiple lakes.
Pilatus is home to the steepest cogwheel railway in the world with a gradient of 48%! The railway was commissioned in 1889 and has continued to run from Alpnachstad to Pilatus Kulm ever since. You can ride up with the cogwheel train for 36 CHF (72 round trip) and enjoy the 30 minute ride to the top!
The other day, I discovered there is also a hiking trail that roughly follows this steep railway up to the top of Pilatus. After doing a bit of research and learning that the hike was 7.5km long and would take approximately 5 hours, we decided to give it a try and set out on the adventure of conquering this mountain.
Our trip, however, did not go quite as planned…
We set out in the morning for Alpnachstad where the cogwheel railway station is. We arrived by car and parked in the large parking area that is right next to the station. If you decide to start from Alpnachstad like we did, make sure to bring change for the parking meters!
We knew the trail roughly started in the same area as the railway station so we followed the yellow signs pointing towards Mount Pilatus. The signs told us that the hike would take us about 4 hours from the base.
From the very beginning of the hike, we knew it was going to be strenuous. We were somewhat prepared for the 7.5 kms of uphill terrain ahead of us… However, we were not as prepared for the 30° C heat. We chose probably one of the hottest days of the year so far to do this trip and it was really demotivating.
After hiking for about 30 minutes, we already started to discuss if we should turn around and head back. I was feeling really defeated and didn’t know if I would be able to push through.
We decided to keep going for as long as we physically and mentally could. The first half of the hike takes you through a zigzagging forest trail which was a great shield from the scorching sun. It was more manageable once we were in the forest due to the shade. Once we emerged from the forest, we immediately felt the sun beating down on us and once again felt very demotivated to continue on.
After hiking for 2.5 hours, we decided to take another break to refuel and decide what our next step would be. Should we continue on despite the exhaustion? Or turn around and accept our defeat for the day…?
Suddenly, we heard a distant chugging coming our way. The cogwheel train was moving slowly down the railway towards us. We had an idea!
We remembered that there would be a train station in Ämsigen, just 400m ahead of us! The train only stops there on request and only picks up passengers if they have enough space… but we figured we would try our luck and head to the station to wait for the next ascending train.
We quickly packed up our stuff and pushed on until we reached the station. We then saw the train coming up the hill towards us and slowing down! It stopped at the station and luckily had enough space for us inside for us to hop in.
Although it wasn’t how we planned on finishing our hike to the Pilatus Kulm, we were so happy when we finally got there. Despite feeling like we failed ourselves a little bit, we were proud of the progress that we had made anyway.
For a little technical information, it is possible to buy a train ticket at the Ämsigen station but due to the coronavirus situation, you have to buy it online. From this station, the ticket costs 25CHF to get to the top of Pilatus (one way).
Once we finally arrived at the summit, we enjoyed cappuccinos and apple cake at the restaurant. We also decided to do a short little cliffside walk and check out the view. You can spend quite a bit of time at the summit and even start other hikes from there. There are lots of options for hiking trails that you can find here. I think many people take the train up from the start and then start their hikes from the summit or just enjoy a leisurely afternoon on the Pilatus Kulm.
This hike was the hardest one I have ever attempted so far but it is totally doable. My advice is: choose a nice day with some cloud coverage to do the hike. Also, bring lots of water and snacks! We wished we would have had more food with us along to way for an energy boost.
I would recommend this hike if you are looking for a real challenge, but make sure you know what you are getting yourself into and be prepared! There is also nothing wrong with take a leisurely train ride up the mountain on the steepest cograilway in the world 😉
So that concludes our wonderful, crazy, exciting adventure to Mount Pilatus! I hope you enjoyed this story about a hike gone wrong and if you are planning to go here and check it out for yourself, feel free to message me with any questions and I will try my best to help 😊
Thanks for following along on my adventures!