Hiking the Zürichsee-Rundweg Trail – Stage 4 Richterswil to Pfäffikon

Our quest to hike all ten stages of the Zürichsee-Rundweg trail continues! This weekend, we completed Stage 4 – Richterswil to Pfäffikon. We really enjoyed the first threes stages and this stage was just as fun even though it was,  as I expected based on the stats (17 km, and an ascent 780 m and descent 760 m), the most challenging so far. This hike takes you from the shore of Lake Zürich in Richterswil up to the viewpoint on Etzel Kulm and then back down almost to the lake shore in Pfäffikon. There was so much variety on this hike and the views were just fantastic!

Detail Summary

Where:Richterswil to Pfäffikon, Canton Zürich and Canton Schwyz, Switzerland
Train:Zürich HB -> Richterswil – 30 min
Pfäffikon -> Zürich HB – 35 min
What:Zürichsee-Rundweg Trail – Stage 4 Richterswil to Pfäffikon
Skill:Medium – About 5 hr
Length 17 km, Ascent 780 m, Descent 760 m

Additional Info

Photo Stories for All Stages
The Zürichsee-Rundweg is a ten stage trail that starts and ends in Zürich, Bürkliplatz and makes a complete loop around lake Zürich (including the Obersee). Photo stories for each stage here:
Stage 1 – Zürich, Bürkliplatz–Adliswil
Stage 2 – Adliswil–Horgen
Stage 3 – Horgen–Richterswil
Stage 4 – Richterswil–Pfäffikon SZ
Stage 5 – Pfäffikon SZ–Schmerikon
Stage 6 – Schmerikon–Rapperswil SG
Stage 7 – Rapperswil SG–Stäfa
Stage 8 – Stäfa–Meilen
Stage 9 – Meilen–Küsnacht ZH
Stage 10 – Küsnacht ZH–Zürich, Bürkliplatz

Getting There

The Zürichsee-Rundweg trail is best done with public transportation as each stage starts and ends at different points. Stage 4 starts at the Richterswil train station, about a 30 min ride from Zürich HB. After arriving at the train station and a short walk over to the lake shore, we were right back to were we left the trail at the end of stage 3. 

The Trail – Through Richterswil

Unlike stage 3 which hugged the lake shore, this stage immediately heads into town away from the lake.

As the trail meandered through Richterswil, we passed shops, restaurants, schools, the local library, and residential areas – a short but fun tour through the town of Richterswil all while beginning the long climb to Etzel Kulm.

The Trail – Through Farmland and Villages

As we left Richterswil behind, we passed vineyards, fields, and farms. Just before going under the A3 highway, there was an old barn with a tipi next to it. I really don’t know why there are so many tipi in Switzerland.

On the other side of the highway, the trail continues to climb the hills through fields and farmland. A few times, the trail zigzagged through tightly packed residential areas. Here we really needed to keep one eye out for the trail markers and keep one eye on the map. Sometimes the trail would zig down what I thought was someone’s patio or zag up what looked like someone’s driveway. We had to back track a couple of times as we missed the turns. The cows seemed more bored with us passing by than amused but at least they both turned to look at the camera for me.

After about 5km, the trail comes to the town of Schindellegi where it passes by the train station and briefly joins the main road through the town. We stopped at a bakery here for an iced tea.

The Trail – Along the River and Up To Etzel Kulm

As we left Schindellegi, we passed a church. Here, the trail goes under the highway where we got a lovely view of the Sihl river – the same river we hiked along in Stage 2. And, now we were hiking along it again.

This section of the trail is part of a nature preserve (Naturschutzgebiet Dreiwässern (german only website)). After crossing over the Sihl river, the trail joins the road for a bit where it traverses more farmland. After hiking up a steep pasture, we were rewarded with an incredible view of farmland, the Sihl lake, and the mountains.

As pretty as this view was, we weren’t at the top yet.

After a steep, but brief, hike through the forest, we made it up to Etzel Kulm.

The Trail – Etzel Kulm

At Etzel Kulm, there is a restaurant and playground. The restaurant serves typical Swiss fare at typical Swiss prices and there is lots of outdoor seating.

What we were here for, though, was the view and it did not disappoint. From the restaurant patio, there is an outstanding view of the Sihl lake and the mountains and from the other side of the restaurant there is a gorgeous view of Lake Zürich.

From here on out the trail is all downhill.

The Trail – Down to Pfäffikon

The trail down is significantly steeper than the trail up (lots of stairs). The trail went mostly through forest but a few times, the trail passed through fields and farmland giving us a good view of the mountains and in particular a lovely view of the Grosser Mythen peak. I didn’t know which mountain the pointy one was, but I used the PeakFinder app on my phone to find out. It is a really useful app to have when hiking in Switzerland!

As we came out of the forest the trail crosses the summit of Etzel pass. This is the junction of many paths, and it is also the location of the chapel of Saint Meinrad of Einsiedel, who is known as the “Martyr of Hospitality.”  Although Saint Meinrad died in 861, the first mention of the chapel is from the 13th century. The chapel and the nearby inn are part of the pilgrimage route of Camino de Santiago. If the chapel is open when you hike by, it is definitely worth the brief detour to go inside.

As we continued down the trail towards Pfäffikon, we were reminded of the military importance of the Etzel Pass. The toblerone-shaped rocks in the first picture below are part of a tank blockade. There are several of these tank blockades along the trail, but this was the first one I saw with a label on it explaining what the rocks were. As we continued on the trail, again there were many steps and again most of it was through the forest. When we finally left the forest, we were treated to a lovely view of Lake Zürich.

At this point, the trail goes under the highway, before it wends its way to the town.

The Trail – Through Pfäffikon

This was a challenging hike and by the time we got to Pfäffikon we were tired and ready to go home. Still, the trail had its charms right up to the end. The way the architecture of the building across the street from the train station allowed for the use of decorative vines and foliage was quite striking.

Getting Back

The platform for our return train was on the far side of the tracks. From here there is a view of an orchard and a peek at the lake shore.

The trail also continued on the other side of the tracks. The orchard was our final view before boarding the train, and it is where we will rejoin the trail next time when we hike stage 5. Can’t wait!

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