A DAY TRIP TO GELMERSEE IN SWITZERLAND
One of the first “challenging” hikes I did in Switzerland was hiking Gelmersee. And I fell in love. Fell in love with the lake. Fell in love with hiking in Switzerland (okay, it is a love-hate relationship with hiking.) But that hike made me realize that going the extra mile is REALLY worth it… And visiting Lake Gelmersee is totally worth it.
Today, I share my tips on using the Gelmerbahn (funicular), hiking around Gelmersee + more travel tips.
Gelmersee is one of Switzerland’s gems. I actually called it a hidden gem in Switzerland, even though it is only partly true. Gelmsersee is a popular destination you can easily reach via a funicular. Thus, it is packed with tourists.
However, if you hike around Lake Gelmersee, it is a hidden gem because most people just come to ride the funicular and quickly see the lake. Most people do not hike around the lake. Those people miss out! Hiking around Gelmersee is one of the most beautiful hikes you can take in Switzerland.
INFO GELMERSEE, GELMERBAHN + HANDECKFALL BRIDGE
Here is some info for the three attractions at Gelmsersee (in English Gelmer Lake).
LOCATION / HOW TO GET TO LAKE GELMER
Gelmersee is in state of the Bernese Oberland and in the region of Jungfrau (Interlaken).
It is in the Grimselwelt area (which is also home to the fantastic Trift Bridge or the Grimselhospiz) in the Bernese Oberland and is accessible via car or public transportation.
BY CAR: It takes about one hour to get to Gelmersee from Interlaken (50 km), from Lucerne it takes almost two hours. There is a parking slot in front of the funicular station, but it was full when I arrived during the day, so I parked at Handegg Hotel and walked a few hundred meters to the funicular station. I am not sure that was allowed, so I highly suggest getting there early to secure yourself a parking spot.
BY BUS: First, take the train to Meiringen. There is a regular train service from places like Interlaken Ost, Lucerne, Thun, Brienz, etc. Take the 161 post bus from Meiringen to Handegg/Gelmerbahn.
Gelmersee lies at 1,850 meters above sea level, but it is not a natural lake. It is a hydroelectric reservoir and was completed in 1932. The reservoir’s volume is 13 million m³ with a surface area of 64.5 ha.
Its color is its most striking feature. Even though the lake is man-made, the turquoise glacial meltwater is real. And it is stunning! So stunning.
The funicular got famous because it was Europe‘s steepest funicular railway for the longest time with a gradient of 106%!
It takes visitors a vertigo-inducing almost 1800 meters above sea level from Handegg to Gelmersee.
- Prices for adults are CHF 18 ($19), a retour ticket is CHF 36.
- Prices for kids (6-15): CHF 9 ($9,50)
- Younger kids do not have to pay
- Small dogs do not need a ticket. Dogs taller than 30cm pay 50%
When I checked for this post, there were NO discounts for Swiss Travel Pass or Half Fare Pass Holders.
When you book your ticket, you will get a fixed time for your rides. You need to take the funicular at the exact time and be there at least 15 minutes earlier to pick up your ticket (if you have an online ticket, you need to exchange that).
- 9.00 am – 4 pm – June, September, October
- 9.00 am – 5 pm – July, August
A ride takes about 12 minutes, and it can be a fun activity!
Personally, I did not think the ride was thrilling or exciting. Yes, it is steep, but if you do not sit in the front row, you will not realize that (at least, I did not). So if you like a bit more thrilling, try to catch a seat in the front.
So, it was pretty disappointing, and it was not something I would happily pay money for again. Overall, the reviews are pretty good for the Gelmerbahn, so maybe my expectations were just too high.
Once you are at the mountain station, there is another attraction. An attraction I loved. Here is where you can get some adrenaline if you did not sit in the funicular front row.
The Handdeckfall Suspension Bridge connects the Valley funicular station of Gelmerbahn and the Handeck Hotel.
It is 70 meters long and offers beautiful views of the Handeck Waterfall. The waterfall itself lies on the River Aare and plunges 45 meters down into a gorge. But the bridge is also a pretty scary suspension bridge, though it is nothing compared to the Trift Suspension Bridge which is also in the area. It is free to visit and very easily accessible to people and thus, quite popular.
BEST TIME TO VISIT LAKE GELMERSEE
If you want to hike the lake, I recommend visiting between June – October. Check the weather forecast and try to visit on a sunny day – the lake will then wear its best dress, and the views will be incredible.
GELMERSEE WITH KIDS AND DOGS
I saw a couple of families – with kids as young as 5-6 years old. They seemed to enjoy the hike. However, I guess they were Swiss kids. And I might be very judgmental, but Swiss kids are used to hiking. If your kids are used to hiking – and are also sure-footed – it might be a great activity for the family.
I would not hike Gelmersee with my 7-year-old nephew though (he is not used to hiking).
However, I visited Gelmersee with my little dog Puppygak. He is used to walking, but he is not used to doing a lot of crazy hikes but he did well. And I saw one or two more dogs, and in general, hiking with dogs should be fine. I carried my dog for a few minutes because he seemed tired at times (like me!). But in general, Gelmersee is dog-friendly.
TIPS FOR HIKING GELMERSEE
- Wear proper hiking boots
- Bring hiking poles (if you have some)
- Do not forget a water bottle to refill (I just refilled it with the water from the waterfall along the hike)
- Bring sunscreen (there is hardly any shadow)
- Plan in enough time and book your ticket a few days in advance
HOW TO SEE GELMER LAKE – DIFFERENT OPTIONS:
There are different options to see Gelmer Lake. Whether you want to avoid physical exercise at all costs, enjoy some hiking, or are any experienced Apline hiker, there is something for everyone.
1) Easiest Way to See Gelmersee
Take the funicular – Gelmerbahn – to get to Gelmsersee. The lake is just a stone’s throw away from the mountain station, and it does not require much walking. If you like, walk a bit around – the lake looks incredible from there.
2) Intermediate Hike Around Gelmer Lake
The start- and endpoint is Handegg – the valley station Gelmerbahn. Get up and down by the funicular and then do a circular hike around the lake.
It takes about 2-3 hours to walk around the lake.
The uphill/downhill parts are moderate. There are exposed parts, the exposed parts make the hiking a bit more difficult, and you need to have a sure foot. Also, there are many narrow parts – you will appreciate the ropes.
3) Intermediate Hike + Extra Hike
Hiking to the Gelmsersee + circular hike around Gelmersee
This option means you will skip the funicular and get up to Gelmer Lake on foot and then do the circular hike around the lake. You can skip the funicular altogether or just use the Gelmerbahn one way.
This is what I did: I got to Handegg Bus Station by car. There is the funicular valley station, and I got up via funicular. I did the circular hike around the lake and then hiked down to Chüenzentennlen bus station (you could also hike the same way back to Handegg bus station). There I took the bus to Handegg (just a few stops).
The hike from Handegg to Gelmersee should take about 40-60 minutes. The circular hike takes about 2 hours, and hiking down takes about 45 minutes. This is the cheapest option to see Gelmersee.
4) Strenuous Hike – Alpine Hike
This is probably the most scenic yet the most challenging hike. Hike to Gelmersee (or get up via funicular) + walk around the lake + hike to Gelmerhütte (a mountain hut offering even more stunning views). This option is only for experienced alpine hikers!
The hike from the valley funicular station to Gelmerhütte is about 4-5 hours (ascent of about 1000 meters!)
Or, a bit less, strenuous, you start from the mountain station. The hike from the mountain valley station to Gelmerhütte is about 2-3 hours (ascent of about 550 meters). If you plan to do so, start super early (or plan an overnight stay at Gelmerhütte).
CIRCULAR HIKE AROUND GELMERSEE + MORE
I did the circular hike and also added a downhill hike at the end. I started my trip clockwise because I just like clockwise hiking… But I do not think it actually matters much.
Right from the start, you will have amazing views of this beautiful, beautiful lake. Do you know those hikes where you have to hike for hours until the views get great? Those are not fun. At least, not that much fun. But this hike is fun. Walking, and climbing cannot be much better than with such views…
Disclaimer: I have a slight obsession with the lakes of Switzerland. I enjoy waterfalls, but I chase lakes. Lakes are why I adore Switzerland. Lakes are one of the main reasons for visiting places. And Switzerland has many stunning lakes – Oeschinensee, Lake Brienz, Lake Thun, Lago di Saoseo, Lake Blausee and many more. However, Lake Gelmer´s impressive color stands out.
The most challenging part of the hike is the uneven rocky terrain with steepish drop-offs to the lake.
I loved that “challenges,” but if you are afraid of heights, this might be scary at times. There are enough options to sit down, go into the lake (though it probably is cold), and rest. If you plan to do so, bring snacks and drinks.
Yes, I was “scared” at times. I traveled with my little dog, and he – like me – had not been an experienced hiker. Now, we both are doing okay, but I was constantly worried about him at that time. It is a bit like hiking with a kid. They do better than we think, but it can be nerve-wracking. He loved it, though. I can tell he was totally into the hike. Also, because I carried him for short parts, I am certain that dogs will have the time of their lives – especially if you let them go to the water.
Experienced hikers will probably need about one hour to do the loop hike. It took me about 2-3 hours, but I also had a couple of photo stops along the way.
I cannot remember why I did an additional hike after doing the circular walk around Lake Gelmer. For 30 minutes (or maybe much longer), I did a steepish downhill hike to Chüenzentennlen bus station. From there, I took the bus back to Handegg, where I had my car parked.
Maybe the funicular tickets were sold out. Maybe I wanted to save money. Maybe I wanted to be sporty…I cannot remember why I did not take the funicular to get back down. In hindsight, this additional hike was kind of… unnecessary.
If you are a sporty person, do that extra hike. Especially, if you use public transportation, this might make sense. If you travel in your car, it is a good extra exercise but not a phenomenal hike. It does not even come close to being great but it is okay.
IS GELMERSEE WORTH VISITING?
My short answer is: Yes. Yes, Gelmersee is definitely worth visiting.
My long answer is: Gelmersee is one of the gems in the Grimsel area. The lake has a great color. The circular hike around Gelmersee is one of my all-time favorites because of the views along the hike. The Handegfall Bridge is fun to cross (and a bit scary).
However, the lake is not located directly in Interlaken and getting there might be time-consuming. If you stay in Interlaken for a few days only and do not enjoy hiking (or crossing suspension bridges), I probably will not recommend visiting.
Yes, the lake is impressive from all angles, but the hike is what makes a day trip to Gelmersee stand out! If you are into hiking, then Gelmersee will make a fantastic day trip.
- Check out my post on some of the very best day trips from Interlaken.
- If you use Interlaken as your base, check out my recommendations on where to stay in Interlaken.
- Check out some of the best things to do in Switzerland.
Stay safe and enjoy!