A round trip to Mt. Pilatus is a great day trip from Lucerne. One of the easiest accessible mountaintops in Switzerland, it offers sweeping panoramic views of Lake Lucerne.
I walk you through the things to see at Mt. Pilatus, how to get there and how to arrange it yourself.
I’ll explain the difference between the Silver and Golden Round Trip to Mt. Pilatus, and add in practical tips so you can have a perfect day trip from Lucerne.
As Mt. Pilatus is close to Lake Lucerne and the city of Lucerne, it makes perfect sense to visit Mt. Pilatus on a day trip from Lucerne. But with the amazing train and motorway connections in Switzerland, it is also possible to visit Mt. Pilatus if you’re coming from Zurich or other parts of Switzerland.
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Mt. Pilatus Lucerne
The Pilatus Mountains close to Lucerne are a mountain massive that consists of several peaks. The tallest one, Tomlishorn, sits at 2,128 m (6,982 ft.). Because of the Pilatus Railways system, the mountain is easily accessible from Lucerne. Due to the stunning views from Mt. Pilatus, this is a popular day trip from Lucerne.
The name “Pilatus” either comes from Roman Pontius Pilatus or it’s a loose translation from “Pilaetus” which means ‘cloud-topped’. The logo of the Pilatus Railways and the name of the aerial cable car (Dragon Ride) refer to the legend that dragons roamed in the mountains and flew over Lake Lucerne to hide their nests in the nooks and crevices of Mount Pilatus.
How to get to Mount Pilatus from Lucerne?
If you want to take a day trip up Mt. Pilatus from Lucerne, you have several options. If you’re fit and into Alpine hiking, you can set out and hike up the mountain, or down. But most people will look into ways to go to the top of the mountain without hiking.
You can book a tour that arranges all the details and logistics for you. Find the perfect tour for you here.
But you don’t have to take a tour to get up Mount Pilatus. It can easily be arranged by yourself and here is how:
Lucerne to Alpnachstad
From Lucerne, you’ll have to travel to the town of Alpnachstad. Located on the shore of Lake Lucerne, this small village can be reached either by local train or by scenic boat tour to Alpnachstad.
A boat tour on Lake Lucerne is magical, especially in the early mornings when the lake is flat like a mirror and the receding haze is climbing up the mountains. If you’re in Lucerne for a short period and don’t plan on any other boat trips, I’d definitely recommend the boat ride from Lucerne to Alpnachstad.
Since we already planned to take a boat ride on our Gotthard Panorama Express tour from Lucerne to Lugano, we saved the boat ride and took the local train from Lucerne to Alpnachstad.
The advantages are, the trains run more often and more regular.
Alpnachstad to Mt. Pilatus
Once you reach Alpnachstad, either by train or by boat, you’ll get a ticket for the cogwheel train to Mt. Pilatus. Both the train station and the docks are opposite the cogwheel railway, so it can’t be missed. The schedules are aligned in such a way, that you never have to wait long for the train journey up the mountain. More on that below.
Mount Pilatus to Kriens
Once you’re done enjoying the views at the top of Mt. Pilatus and it’s time to head back down, you can continue your journey down the other end of the mountain. You can hop on board the Dragon Ride. A state of the art aerial cable ride that brings you in just 5 minutes from the top of Mount Pilatus, halfway down the mountain.
You have to get off at Frägmüntegg, where you can either enjoy the mountain views or the adventure rope park or continue down by panoramic gondola to Kriens.
Kriens to Lucerne
Once you’ll get off in Kriens, you’ll leave the station and you have to walk through the town of Kiens. I’d say it is about 10 minutes of leasure some walking. 5 minutes if you pick up the pace. As you leave the cable cart station, you head right and follow the road down. Once you reach the square with the school, you’ll cross the road and walk to the right of the school buildings. A road slowly goes downhill to the busy streets of Kiens. There, you’ll find the bus stop for Bus number 1 to Lucerne Station.
Steepest Cogwheel Train in the World
If you arrive in Alpnachstad you’ll travel up the mount Pilatus on the Pilatus Cogwheel. This is the steepest Cogwheel railway in the world. Say what? On average, the gradient is 38% but at some stretches, it reaches 48%. This is a true masterpiece of engineering.
The Pilatus Cogwheel Train transfers the 1,600-meter altitude difference in only 4,6 km. And, maybe the most stunning thing is: the railway was built in 1889! For more mind-blowing details on the steepest cogwheel train in the world, check this link.
Pilatus Cogwheel Train
Ok, so much for the details, but what is it like? I found it exhilarating! As soon as we arrived at the cogwheel station, the fun began. First, we had to take some mandatory goofy pictures before we got in line. As the train arrived in the station, we quickly found a seat. The train consists of small cabins with room for 6 persons per cabin. I was sitting in the opposite direction so this gave me amazing views of the ground as we climbed higher and higher. We sat in the first cart after the driver and because of the gradient, you don’t have that many good views facing forward. We sat on the right side as we entered and I found this gave some spectacular views as the left side (going up) is facing the mountain most of the time.
As we started climbing, Lake Lucerne and Alpnachstad slowly turned into a miniature land. The railway cuts through a thick forest and we passed the occasional tunnel. Half-way through the ride, we had a stop at a small Alpine hamlet. Wooden houses, cows with bells on roaming around, lumberjacks and fog rolling in. You can get off here and hike the remainder of the journey if you want to.
The 2nd part of the train ride up Mt. Pilatus gave wider views of the mountains. We saw brave people hike up the mountains and the trees resided. After almost 40 minutes we arrived at the Mt. Pilatus terminus station (Pilatus Kulm). The station is a large area on top of the mountain where the Cogwheel railway had its station, but in the same building, you’ll find also the Dragon Ride station and a restaurant and souvenir shops.
Aerial Cableways and gondolas
If you travel via the other way off the mountain, you’ll whirl through the air on the Pilatus Dragon Ride and their gondolas. This stretch is divided into 2 parts. If you leave Mount Pilatus via this side, you’ll first board the Dragon Ride. A state-of-the-art futuristic gondola with 360 degrees aerial view, front row seating and it feels like you’re flying off the mountain. In less than 5 minutes, you’ll descend from 2.132 meters (6,995 ft.) to 1.420 meters (4,659 ft.)!
The route down Mt. Pilatus continues in smaller gondola-style cable carts. There is room for 4 adults, but when it is not busy, it is perfectly normal to take a gondola with just 2 persons. The ride down takes a bit longer than on the Dragon Ride and you follow the main road and hiking route up Mt. Pilatus. The view of Lucerne and the lake are stunning and this part is much greener.
Different routes to Mt. Pilatus and their advantages
When we first arrived in Lucerne, we didn’t even know all the different places and towns. What is what? Why are there so many stops and how does it work? I try to list the different routes below to make things more clear:
Day trip from Lucerne to Mount Pilatus
Assuming you’re not hiking, you want to travel from Lucerne to Mt. Pilatus and back the same day. To do this, you’ll follow the following route:
Same way return
With this route, you go up one side of the mountain and come down on the same side. This means you can buy return tickets but only experience one type of transportation.
You can do:
- Lucerne- Alpnachstad- Mt. Pilatus- Alpnachstad- Lucerne
- Lucerne- Kriens- Mt. Pilatus- Kriens- Lucerne
This is the only option during the off season (March till May and November-December).
Circular Round Trip to Mt. Pilatus from Lucerne
On a circular round trip, you go up one side of the mountain and return via the other side. The advantage is that you experience the different types of transportation and see more of the Lucerne region. The options are:
- Lucerne- Alpnachstad- Mt. Pilatus-Kriens- Lucerne
- Lucerne- Kriens- Mt. Pilatus-Alpnachstad- Lucerne
Golden Round Trip Mt. Pilatus
The Golden Round Trip to Mt. Pilatus is the name of the tour that shows you the best of the region. With one purchase, you’ll get several tickets for different parts of the journey. The Golden Round Trip to Mt. Pilatus includes the boat ride on Lake Lucerne.
In 1 hour you’ll travel by boat from Lucerne to Alpnachstad and take the cogwheel train up the mountain. You’ll return via the other side and take the cable ride and bus back to Lucerne.
Advantages of the Mt. Pilatus Golden Round Trip
- boat tour of Lake Lucerne included
- boat, train, mountain, cable ride and bus in 1 day
- the most beautiful sights of the region
Disadvantages of Golden Round Trip
- it is the most expensive option out there
- the boat doesn’t go as often as the other options
- it can get crowded as it is the most popular option
Silver Round Trip to Mt. Pilatus
The Silver round trip is just as spectacular, it only swaps out the boat for the local train. As we would take the boat on another day, we saved a few Swiss francs by taking the train. As I love trains more than boats, this was a win-win for me.
What is the best way to travel up Mount Pilatus?
The best way really depends a bit on your preferences.
If you love boats: then please, book the Golden Round Trip to Mt. Pilatus.
If you absolutely love cogwheel trains: take the route up and down the mountain from Alpnachstad.
If you don’t want to miss out on anything: do one of the circular round trips to Mt. Pilatus
In my personal opinion, I found the route Lucerne to Alpnachstad and then down to Kiers preferable. Here is why:
- Assuming you’ll leave early morning, you have the sun on the right side the whole way
- Taking the boat early mornings gives great light on the Lake Lucerne
- I find riding cable carts down more exciting than up
- In Kriens, you can walk down to the bus (I’m very lazy).
- If you ready to leave Mt. Pilatus, you can hop aboard the aerial cable car every 5 (or so) minutes. Whereas, the train and boat only go on set times during the day.
For more details on the timetable or schedule, check the dates and routes here.
Things to do at Mt. Pilatus
Overall, we spent nearly 3 hours up the mountain. We first did a toilet stop and put on some extra clothes as it was colder than I expected up the mountain (duh, rookie mistake). We enjoyed a number of things on Mt. Pilatus:
- Watch the paragliders take off from Mt. Pilatus. If you’re brave enough, you can book a flight yourself!
- Take a helicopter flight over Mt. Pilatus! Wow. I’d love to do that one day.
- We hiked around the side of the mountain, the part facing Lucerne. Here we enjoyed lovely views of Lake Lucerne, the city of Lucerne, and the region.
- Go up the “Esel/Donkey” viewpoint which had amazing views of Alpnachstad and the far Alps in the distance. We had to wait and gaze a long time but finally could even see the Eiger and Jungfraujoch.
- We enjoyed a picnic lunch of homemade sandwiches but there are plenty of food options at the restaurant or snack bar.
- Enjoy hot chocolate with delicious chocolate cake with views of Mt. Pilatus.
- We contemplated what it would be like to sleep on Mt. Pilatus. There are 2 hotels and they are open for booking! Wouldn’t it be great to sleep there? Check for rates and discounts at the Pilatus Kulm hotel here or the Hotel Bellevue here.
Of course, there is so much more to do. You can book specific themed options like sunset tours, photography tours, Christmas market visits. There are also a dozen hiking routes and kids adventure opportunities. For more information, check the website.
Practical Tips for your day trip to Mt. Pilatus
A day trip to Mt. Pilatus is easy and I feel anyone can do it. It doesn’t involve any hiking if you don’t want to and the altitude is not that high to get you into trouble. As I’ve already explained the logistics of getting there, here are some additional practical tips for your Mt. Pilatus day trip from Lucerne
- Look for discount tickets! The trip is quite expensive. It is worth every penny but it is a lot of money. Lucerne has many discount options for families or discount passes like the Tell Pass. See if your Swiss Railway Pass offers you a discount.
- Book ahead. For some reason, we forgot to pre-book our ticket for Mt. Pilatus. As we arrived at the SBB travel center, we had to wait 15 minutes for our turn. After all the administration was done, we missed our train and had to wait for the next one. Not a big deal but this gave us less time at Mt. Pilatus. Buy your Golden Round Ticket or Silver Round Trip to Mt. Pilatus by clicking the links.
- Bring some snacks and drinks. Yes, you can buy your beverages on top of the mountain but the ride up there takes some time and it is always good to have things ready, especially when you travel with children.
- Pack some extra warm gear. We only just arrived in Switzerland and I’m not that familiar with mountains. With 28 degrees in Lucerne, I wore sandals and packed a thin vest. Luckily, my boyfriend brought extra and let me borrow his Columbia Sweet softshell jacket, which kept me warm under those windy circumstances. You’ll be very cold if you don’t bring something warm (preferable something that stops the wind).
- Only go up when the weather is good. Duh. This sounds like a no-brainer, but Mt. Pilatus is actually quite high. Although the weather was really nice when we left, we did encounter a fair amount of clouds. Turns out, you really can’t see much with those clouds as you’re really right in the middle of them.
Day Trip from Lucerne to Mt. Pilatus
We only visited Mt. Pilatus for the day, but it was spectacular. I’m still not sure what I liked best, either the steep cogwheel train up the mountain or the spectacular views on Lucerne and the Lake Lucerne from the top of Mt. Pilatus. I was happy we took this day trip as we got a lovely bird’s eye view of the region and it was my first encounter with the Swiss Alps.
Have you ever been to Lucerne? Did you take the cogwheel railways up to Mt. Pilatus? Did you take the boat or the train? Let me know what your experiences are in the comment section below. I’d love to hear them.
Images in the post have been taken by myself or my boyfriend unless stated otherwise. Pinterest images above are with special thanks to & copyright by (L) Copyright by Pilatus-Bahnen AG By-line: swiss-image.ch/Urs Wyss, (R)Copyright by: Pilatus Bahnen/Swiss Travel System By-Line: swiss-image.ch/Christian Perret.