Hiking at Pilatus Kulm – Tomlishorn Wildflower Trail + Esel Viewpoint

This summer, we spent one night in the hotel at the top of Mount Pilatus, a towering peak in eastern Switzerland over-looking Lake Lucerne. The legend holds that Mount Pilatus is the home of dragons. One look at the the mountain panorama and stunning lake views, particularly from the Esel peak and Tomlishorn peak viewpoints and it is easy to imagine the legends are true – dragons once lived here.

Detail Summary

Where:Pilatus Kulm, Cantons Obwalden and Nidwalden, Switzerland
Train + Cogwheel railwayZurich HB -> Alpnachstad – 1 hr 25 min
Alpnachstad -> Pilatus Kulm – 32 min
Train + GondolaZurich HB ->Kriens – 1 hr 20 min
Kriens – Pilatus Kulm – 36 min
What:Tomilshorn Trail and Esel Viewpoint
Cost 2020:Kriens/Alpnachstad–Pilatus Kulm–Kriens/Alpnachstad
Adults/72 CHF, Children/ 36 CHF
SBB Half-price card and Junior Cards accepted
Open:Cogwheel train runs from May to October.
Gondolas open year round (closed for one week in November for maintenance.)
Check pilatus.ch for trail conditions.

Additional Info

Getting There

There are two easy ways to get to the summit of Mount Pilatus – the cable cars from Kriens and the cogwheel train from Alpnachstad. (You can also take the hard way, and hike up to the top.) Both Kriens and Alpnachstad are easily reached by public transport but if you plan to drive, there is paid parking at both locations. Plan on arriving early as the lots do fill up in the summer.

Can't decide? Try the Golden Round Trip!

With the Golden Round Trip you can do it all – boat, train, and gondola. You start with a boat trip on Lake Lucerne, then you take the cogwheel railway up the mountain. After your visit to the top, you return by aerial cableway and Panorama Gondolas. More info here: Pilatus Gold Round Trip

We chose to take the cogwheel train because we like trains and it is the steepest cogwheel train in the world. With a maximum gradient of 48% and an average gradient of 35%, it was a significant engineering feat when it was first constructed in 1889. It has even been named a Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

Pilatus Kulm Viewing Terrace

At the top, is a visitors complex with restaurants, a gift shop, and two hotels. The visitors complex also has an interactive experience called Dragon World that tells the myth of the Pilatus dragons. We decided to skip this as it seemed geared toward younger children and we had perfect weather and wanted to spend more of our time outside.

The visitors complex also has, of course, a big observation terrace. I have heard from other people that the terrace can become very crowded in the summer months. While it wasn’t very crowded when we went in early August, coronavirus effects everything, so I can’t say what it is normally like. These views of the complex are from the Tomlishorn trail, and the Esel viewpoints.

The views from the terrace are extremely lovely with the mountains on one side and Lake Lucerne on the other. As we stayed overnight, we had the opportunity to view the sunrise from the terrace the next morning, which was absolutely stunning.

Tomlishorn Wildflower Trail

When we arrived at Pilatus Kulm, we decide the first thing we wanted to do was hike to Tomlishorn peak as it is the highest point on Pilatus. From the terrace, we walked past the Piltatus Kulm Hotel, down a short flight of steps and then on to the start of the trail. The first part of the trail is paved and easy walking. The trail hugs the side of the mountain and there is a safety rail. There are also several benches along the way where you can stop, as we did, for a picnic lunch with a view.

This trail is called the wildflower trail, because the alpine flowers growing along the trail have been helpfully labeled so you can learn what they are.

As the trail continues, the path is no longer paved and becomes bumpy and rocky. Just before reaching the peak, there are two climbs up stairs and switchbacks. The first when the trail changes which side of the ridge it is on and the second as it heads up to the final peak.

Once you reach the peak, there is an amazing 360 degree view.

After enjoying the views at the peak, we headed back the way we came and returned to the viewing terrace. There and back plus a lunch break took about two hours.

Esel Viewpoint

Right next to the viewing terrace is the the Esel peak viewpoint, this is the second highest point, so we headed up there next.

It takes about ten minutes to walk up the steps to the top, but the views of the mountains and Lake Lucerne are worth it, especially as they are a very different view than the view from Tomlishorn peak.

Getting Back

After we got up the next morning, we chose to hike down from Pilatus Kulm to Alpnachstad. If you aren’t planning to hike, be sure to pay attention to the gondola and cogwheel train schedules as you really don’t want to miss the last ride down. It is a long hike back to Alpnachstad and it is not an easy trail.

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