Hiking Down Mount Pilatus – Kulm to Alpnachstad

We recently took a trip to Pilatus Kulm and decided that rather than taking the cogwheel train or the gondola back down the mountain we would hike down. The views are gorgeous but the trail is steep – 1,627 meter elevation change. (I can only dream of being in shape enough to hike up!) This post is a look at the trail from Pilatus Kulm down to Alpnachstad. You can read more about our time at the top in this post on Hiking at Pilatus Kulm – Tomlishorn Wildflower Trail + Esel Viewpoint.

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:Trail from Pilatus Kulm to Alpnachstad
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.) We took the train up the day before our hike and stayed overnight at the Pilatus Kulm hotel. You can read more about our trip up and our time at the top in this post on Hiking at Pilatus Kulm – Tomlishorn Wildflower Trail + Esel Viewpoint.

The Trail – Pilatus Kulm to The Middle Station

The trail starts at the Pilatus Kulm viewing terrace. The sign says it will take three hours to hike down to Alpnachstad, and perhaps if you are a good hiker that is true. I am slow, so I planned on taking twice as long, and in the end it took me five hours. You can can see the first part of the trail from the terrace, as it zigzags down the hill over the ridge and then zigzags down the other side. The trail here is loose gravel and hiking sticks would be nice to have to help keep your balance.

After going down the first set of switchbacks, the trail flattened out briefly before getting to the first intersection. After the intersection, the trail headed over a ridge and down another long set of steep switchbacks.

As the second set of switchbacks flattened out, we found a small structure that turned out to be a portable fridge with cheese for sale on the honor system. How could we resist!

After purchasing a small block of cheese, we continued on the trail as it headed into the forest. It was so nice to get some shade – a welcome break from the sun. As the trail continued through the forest, it paralleled the cogwheel train.

Just before getting to the middle station, the trail entered a field. From here there was a very lovely view of the lake.

At the middle station, we took a look at the time. As my children and husband needed to get back in time for a few errands (orthodontist appointment, computer repair appointment, etc.), they decided to take the train the rest of the way down and head home. The weather was so nice, and as I really didn’t need to go with them, I decided to hike the rest of the trail on my own.

The Trail – The Middle Station to Alpnachstad

From the middle station, the trail continued down with steep switchbacks through fields. From here, there were more fabulous views of the lake.

After some time, the trail wound back into the forest. The switchbacks continued to be steep, but with more soil they were not as tricky as the loose gravel we saw at the top of the trail. As the trail wound through the forest, there were peeks at the lake through the trees, some downed trees I needed to climb over, and a small bridge over a tiny stream to cross.

Coming out of the forest, the trail joined a paved path for a bit. Walking on the paved path, my brain sort of went on autopilot and I almost missed the yellow trail marker where my path diverged from the main path. Luckily, I spotted my mistake in time and did not need to retrace my steps very far before getting on the right path again.

As I continued down to Alpnachstad, the path wove underneath the cogwheel train tracks and though a field, with one last perfect lake view before heading down into town.

Once in town, it is a short walk back to the Pilatus-bahn and the train station.

Hiking down such a steep trail was a bit hard on my knees, but the views were worth it!

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