Hiking the Three Waterfalls Trail – Bönigen(See) to Brienz

Over the Easter weekend, we hiked the “Three Waterfalls Trail” in the Bernese Oberland. This hike took us from Bönigen, along Lake Brienz, past three waterfalls (The Eschwanden, the Mülibach, and the Giessbach Falls), and ended at the train station in Brienz. We did this hike as a single day-hike following the directions on the Interlaken Tourism website. At 17 km, and about 775 m elevation gain, (plus more depending on how much exploring you do around each waterfall to get the best views), it is a long hike. We really enjoyed this hike and I would definitely recommend it, but, as it is a long hike, I’ve noted some shorter options below.

Detail Summary
Where:Three Waterfalls Trail – Bönigen(see) to Brienz
Canton Bern, Switzerland
Train/Bus:Zürich HB -> Bönigen(see) – 2 hrs 12 mins
Brienz -> Zürich HB – 2 hrs 25 mins
What:Three Waterfalls Trail – Bönigen(see) to Brienz

Yellow trail markers
Uferweg -> Erschwanden -> Iseltwald -> Mülibach -> Giessbach -> Brienz
Skill:Medium – About 5 hrs
Length 17 km, Ascent 775 m, Descent 564 m

Additional Info
Interlaken Tourism Site: Three Waterfalls Trail – Bönigen(see) to Brienz
SwitzerlandMobility Site: Weg der Drei Wasserfälle: Stage 1 and Stage 2
Swiss Family Fun post on Giessbach Falls
Grandhotel Giessbach
BLS Ferry Service

Shorter Options

Break the hike into two stages
The SwitzerlandMobility site provides slightly different directions for the same hike, as it breaks the hike into two stages (Stage 1 and Stage 2). If you choose to do only one stage, I would recommend Stage 2 as it includes the Giessbach Falls, the most interesting waterfall of the three.

End the hike at Giessbach Falls
If you time it right, you can end the hike at Giessbach Falls and take the ferry back to either Brienz or Interlaken Ost (BLS Ferry Service). Check the schedule before heading out, service is limited.

Another option is to walk along the forest path above the hotel to the Engi postbus stop, from there you can take the postbus to Brienz. Again, check the schedule before heading out as service is limited.

Hike just Giessbach Falls
If you just want to see Giessbach Falls, this post on Swiss Family Fun has all the information you need.

Getting There

The “Three Waterfalls Trail” is a one-way hike and so best done with public transportation. The starting point for the hike is the Bönigen(See) bus stop. After getting off the bus, we turned right and started down the trail along the shore following the yellow trail marker for Uferweg. And, after a look back at the bus station, we were on our way.

The Trail – Bönigen to Eschwanden Falls

After about a kilometer, we turned right into the forest following the yellow trail marker for Eschwanden. After crossing under the highway, we came to a trail crossing. Here we were a bit undecided about which trail we should follow. The Interlaken Tourism site said to continue following the signs towards Eschwanden and the SwitzerlandMobility site showed a different trail. Looking at the map, the two trails appeared to meet up again before the waterfall, and as the trail suggested by the Interlaken Tourism site appeared to be shorter and with less elevation gain, we decided to take that one.

About 3 kilometers after starting the hike, we were at our first waterfall – Eschwanden Falls. You can view the falls from the bridge crossing the stream (first picture). There is also a a short side-trail up to the falls, so that you can get a better look. To give you a sense of scale, in the second picture below, you can see two hikers near the falls.

There was a picnic area here with benches so we took a break for lunch before we continued on to the next waterfall.

The Trail – Eschwanden Falls to Mülibach Falls

From Eschwanden Falls, we followed the signs towards Iseltwald through the forest and fields, sometimes with good views of the lake. When we came to a trail crossing in Iseltwald Fura, a small farm settlement with paved paths, we took the route towards Mülibach. (If you were doing this as a two stage hike, this is where you would diverge from the path and head down to the stage 1 endpoint in Iseltwald). As we passed by the farms, we came across a self-service cheese kiosk. As always, we could not resist purchasing some cheese. This vendor even accepted TWINT payment, so no need to have exact change! And, although we did not go down to Iseltwald, we did get a good view of it and Seeburg Castle (german) from the trail above.

Fairly quickly, we came to Mülibach Falls. At almost 100 meters, it is taller than the Eschwanden Falls, making it difficult to get a good picture of the full waterfall. The trail goes behind the falls, so you can get an amazing view looking up of the water rushing off the cliff. After passing the falls and hiking a bit further, we turned around to get a picture of the full falls.

After leaving the Mülibach Falls, we followed the signs towards Giessbach.

The Trail – Mülibach Falls to Giessbach Falls

The trail from Mülibach Falls to Giessbach goes through forests and fields high above the lake. We passed another self-service kiosk, where we purchased more cheese and some goat jerky. Then, just past the kiosk, we got another fabulous view of Iseltwald.

As the trail continued, it went through forests and fields. At times, it opened to fantastic views of the lake.

The clouds had blown away and we could now see the tops of the mountains. The sunshine had turned the lake a glorious turquoise color. And, although it is hard to make out in the photo, you can spot a waterfall on the other side of the lake. This was my favorite non-waterfall view of the hike. Just stunning.

Not long after taking the above picture, we came to the most impressive waterfall of the three – The Giessbach Falls. Unlike the first two waterfalls, the Giessbach Falls isn’t a single waterfall, rather it is a series of 14 waterfalls falling over a combined height of 400 m. While the trail continues straight through, we took some time to explore the falls. We first hiked up along the falls, then crossed a bridge behind one of the falls. From the bridge, we got a good view of the Grandhotel Giessbach. We continued heading up a bit more to get a closer view of some of the upper falls before we turned around and headed down to the hotel.

I have heard the patio restaurant here is very good, but I haven’t tried it. It was, of course, closed (coronavirus), when we were there. Perhaps another time. It is definitely worth walking down to the patio anyway as it has the best view of the falls.

From here, we decided to walk down to the lake rather than continuing directly to Brienz. The view over the water was fantastic, and we also got to see where the Giessbach Falls makes its final tumble into the lake.

After walking over to the ferry station, we considered taking the ferry back rather than hiking the rest of the way to Brienz. We decided against it as we wanted to finish the hike for completeness sake (although if I had to choose again, I would choose the ferry). As a small compromise, we took the historic Giessbach funicular back up to the hotel, rather than hiking up to re-join the trail. Because the lake view from the hotel is also fabulous, we took another look before heading on our way.

The Trail – Giessbach Falls to Brienz

The trail from Giessbach Falls to Brienz was my least favorite part of the hike. It mostly followed the road (Axalpasstrasse), and while the views weren’t bad, hiking alongside traffic was a bit unnerving. Then, just before entering Brienz, the area is rather industrial. I took a picture of a parking lot, which I thought would make the point, but I don’t think it does. Anyway, not seen in the parking lot picture are the gravel piles and the much appreciated public restroom building just out of frame.

After entering Brienz proper, there are a lot of campgrounds, so this area was a bit crowded. I can imagine this is a wonderful place to camp as the views over the lake are just lovely. Another bonus? The trail heading down to the train station is lined with carved wooden statues. A very nice ending to the hike.

Getting Back

The hike ends at the Brienz train station. After snapping a picture of the pedal boats for rent, we headed to the other side of the tracks and on to the platform to wait for our train.

Three amazing waterfalls along with gorgeous mountain and lake views. What a great hike!

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