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The Hidden Switzerland – A Gelmersee Adventure!

It’s a funny thing about Switzerland, there is so much to do and see that you never know where you next adventure is going to come from. A few weeks ago I had never heard of Gelmersee and now it’s one of the highlights of my time in Switzerland. But let’s start at the beginning…

Some friends from Holland were coming to visit for a long weekend and I wanted to scope out someplace new to show them (they had visited a few years ago and had seen Stanserhorn and Bürgenstock). I wanted to keep it to something within a 90 minute drive so it would be an easy day-trip. Often I just pull up Google Earth and have a virtual wander-around. This time, I happen to be reading an article about pedestrian suspension bridges in Switzerland which led me to the Trift Bridge and the whole area south of Meiringen. Soon my online path brought me to Gelmersee. I did some more digging and mapped out a trip. I didn’t know quite what to expect but what I found was a rugged beauty that makes you feel like you are at the end of the Earth. It’s a special destination and I hope all of our Living in Luzern readers get a chance to visit! Let’s make it easier by giving you some more details…

What/where is Gelmersee?

gelmersee_routeLake Gelmer is a hydroelectric reservoir in the Bernese Oberland and is part of a series of hydroelectric plants in the Meiringen valley. It lies at 1860m above sea level and is accessible via a very steep funicular train originating in the village of Handeck. The map coordinates are 46°36’58.0″N 8°19’56.0″E

When you reach the top of the Gelmerbahn and see the lake for the first time the color of the water almost knocks you over. I can’t remember ever seeing anything so vividly blue. The surrounding mountains are rugged and beautiful. At the far end of the lake are two waterfalls that feed the lake with clean alpine water.

How do you get there?

Getting there is half the fun! Gelmersee is most easily reached by auto and the route takes you past 4 lakes and a mountain pass. The drive is 71km from Luzern and takes about 75 minutes. Take the A2/A8 from Luzern in the direction of the Brünig pass and turn in the direction of Meiringen (Route 11/6) after the pass. You can follow Route 6 all the way to the Gelmerbahn.

Activities / Attractions

Anything you want to have you’ll need to bring. Unlike many other destinations there is no restaurant or gift shop once you reach your destination. Bring a picnic lunch and let your feet dangle in the blue blue water.

Gelmer Funicular – how would you feel about riding on the steepest train in Europe in what amounts to a glorified rollercoaster car? Then this is the place for you. It never feels unsafe (it is of course Swiss-made) but the steep incline definitely gives you something to think about. Here’s a picture I found online that they use in their promotional materials. Yep.


There is only one track, and 10 minute journey one-way, so that means only one train every 30 minutes. There are limited spots per train so you may need to wait a bit (we waited an hour but found plenty to keep us occupied). You also have to choose your train for the way back down. If you are planning on the hike then leave plenty of time. If you know in advance your schedule I would recommend buying tickets in advance via their website: Gelmer Funicular. The link has all the information about prices and operating times.

Hiking – the route around the lake is rough, sparsley marked, and occasionally treacherous. It is a T3 hike (challenging mountain trail white-red-white according to the SAC Mountain and Alphine Walking Rates. This means:

  • Trail/Terrain : trail not necessarily fully visible. Some parts maybe secured with ropes or chains. Maybe you need your hands for balance. Some parts with exposed crash hazard, screen plots, trackless
  • Requirements: good surefootedness. Good trekking shoes, Average orientation assets, Elementary alpine experience.

I can attest to these conditions. The hike is only 4.5km but the estimated hiking time is 2 hours so you can get a sense of the maximum pace the trail allows. There isn’t that much elevation change to the route so the slow pace is down to the rough condition of the trail. I would not recommend the hike for children under 8 or for those without good balance.

Picnicking – if the hike isn’t of interest and you just want to enjoy the lake I would recommend bringing a picnic lunch and lounging by the rocks at the end of the causeway. Just turn right when you reach the lake and follow the path across the causeway to the other side.


Other Things Nearby

If you have some time before your train takes you up the mountain you can enjoy the suspension bridge which spans the Handeck Gorge. You’ll find it right behind the ticket office for the funicular. Walking the bridge (and looking down at the rushing water) will get your pulse racing. Continuing on that path brings you to the Handeck Hotel & Nature Resort which is a fine place to let the kids run around while you wait for your train slot. Enjoy the adventure!!