Pigniu Lake and Waterfalls

One of our favorite lakes is Lag da Pigniu in Graubunden, a bit west of Flims/Laax. There’s a loop trail around the lake, leading you to two dramatic waterfalls on the far side of the lake. Only the east side of the trail is suitable for strollers, so plan accordingly. There’s a lakeside picnic area with fire pits near the waterfalls. We love this in late May when the yellow dandelions are out and the lake level is low so we can play in the riverbed. It’s an easy, beautiful day in nature.

Location: Graubünden
Address: , Surselva, Switzerland
GPS: 46°49’25.6″N 9°06’40.6″E
Car: ~1hr45 from Zurich
Train: ~2h30 from Zurich, plus 2km walk to trail head
   
Trail: 4 km loop, about 1 hour
Condition: dirt, obstacle-free
Skill: easy
Open: May through October
More info: www.surselva.info

Overview

The below map shows the loop trail around the lake. You park below the dam, walk up to the dam, then follow the trail around the lake. With strollers and very little walkers, you’ll need to stay on the east side of the lake, where the trail is wide and flat. The west side of the lake is a narrow alpine trail, which can be a bit tricky in spring when some snow packs haven’t melted yet.

There is a picnic area with tables and fire pits at the north side of the lake. There is sometimes wood at the picnic area, but not always. 

FYI, the bridge on the far end of the lake is taken down during winter. They rebuild it in summer not sure exactly when. In 2017, we went the first week of June and the bridge was there. But every time we’ve gone in May, it had never been there. So during May, if you want to continue walking the loop, you must walk through the icy river that is about a foot deep and powerful enough to knock over a little kid. Not recommended. We went in July one year and voila, the bridge was intact and you could easily walk around the whole lake.

Getting There

By car: Put the town of Pigniu in your GPS, which is a tiny village in the alps. The lake is 2 km bit past this town. Drive south of Zurich, past Chur, past Laax, to Reuen, then up a curvy road thru Pigniu, then a few minutes further on a lumpy dirt road to the dam. It might look like you shouldn’t drive on this road, but it’s fine. People here speak Romansh, so even if you understand German, don’t expect to be able to read most of the signs here.

By public transport: This is difficult to access by public transport because you can only take the bus as far as the town of Pigniu, then you must walk on the dirt road 2 km to reach the dam. First take a train to Ilanz in the valley, then bus 423 to Pigniu. Then walk on the dirt to road. The bus runs infrequently, so check the schedule beforehand.

Some of the pretty huts you’ll see on your drive up to the dam.

Trail Details

There are a few parking spots just below the dam, where we took this picture in mid-May. The dandelions are amazing at this time of year, but sometimes they mow them.

Here is the dam.

Here is a view of the reservoir from the dam. The waterfalls are on the far side of the lake, about 2 km from the dam, about 30 min with little kids walking. The trail on the east side is a dirt road, good for little kids and strollers, shown below.

The eastern trail looks like this, a wide dirt road. You can see the different in water level and green from the above picture at the end of the May and the below picture at the beginning of May.

In summer, the trail is obstacle free. But in spring, the trail isn’t maintained and any debris accumulated during winter may still cover the trails, as shown below with a landslide still blocking the trail the last week of May. We just climbed over it.

The view from the north side of the lake. The fire pit and picnic tables are on that gray area in the middle.

Sometimes the water level is very low the first week of May, as shown below

When the water level is low, many rocks are exposed. We like to build our fire here.

We build a little higher when the lake is higher.

When the water is low, we also like to play near the icy river. It’s usually too deep and cold and moving to fast to wade around in the water. But we build dams and float sticks. Careful in the lake bed mud, which is spongy and can feel a little like quicksand. My boys shoes got stuck in the mud and they came running back in muddy socks asking me to dig out their shoes.

There is one set of waterfalls on the east of the fire pits and lake. You can scramble up the hillside to get a closer look but there’s no defined trail and it can get slippery and steep. We did it anyway and got a very nice view.

To continue the loop trail, you have to cross a river on a bridge. However, this bridge is taken down during winter and not rebuilt until summer season. We’ve gone many times in May and never seen the bridge. But we went once in July and the bridge was there.

Without a bridge, you have to walk through the river, which is icy and can be a foot or so deep, with fast moving water. We carried our kids and stroller over the river, not recommended. One time we had the bad idea to cross on the ice pack over the rushing river (shown below). I was terrified that we would crack through and fall into the river. Instead, my foot cracked through the surface and dropped down over a foot and I twisted my ankle and had to wear a brace for several weeks. Don’t do that. Just turn around and walk back the way you came.

If you cross the bridge, you can get closer to the bigger waterfalls on the northwest side of the lake. You get a nice view from the trail. But you get a better view by leaving the lakeside trail and scrambled up a grassy hill (about 5 mins) to get a little closer to the waterfall and find a nice picnic spot on the grass, with a view of the lake from above. It’s steep without a proper trail, but our little kids were fine. Just stay from the river’s edge, which is dangerous. One time we had our picnic up there.

If you are continuing the loop on the west side of the lake, scroll down to see more about that part of the trail. Otherwise, just turn around and take the same dirt road back to your car.

View from the dam back to our car and our trail through the yellow flowers, maybe my favorite part of the outing. With a stroller, just take the paved road back down to your car instead of walking through the grass.

West Side of Trail

The trail is technically a loop around the lake, but snow packs will likely be covering parts of this shady side of the trail in May and possibly June. You can always walk back the way you came on the east side of the lake. But just fyi, here are some pictures what happened to us when we tried that west side in mid May a few years ago.

The west side started wide and seemed fine. But it narrowed quickly and had stairs and obstacles, quite rough with a stroller.

We were there in mid May before they clean up the trail after winter. So I hope this part of the trail is in better shape in summer.

Three times our trail was covered by a huge patch of snow (it’s covered with dirt, but it’s still about a meter of snow under there). It was a little tricky to cross and I was nervous about breaking through the crusty surface. Not recommended.

When we finally arrived at the waterfall, we had to cross this scary bridge with no handrails. It dropped down about 40 feet to a roaring river. Since then, this bridge has been improved. But again, in spring, the trail hasn’t been cleaned up yet after the winter snows have ravaged some of the trail.

In early May, the bridge was still missing so we had to walk in the river to continue the loop trail (bridge is rebuilt in summer but not sure the exact date). The water was icy, about a foot deep, with fast moving water. We carried our kids and stroller over the river, not recommended.

Don’t be scared off. Just stay on the east side of the lake and you’ll be fine.

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