Gelmersee: Steep Funicular and Lake Hike

We love the Gelmersee and go every summer. You might have to work a little harder on this one, but it’s doable with kids and it has lots of fun features that kids will enjoy. The main attraction is the ridiculously steep Gelmerbahn funicular (feels more like an elevator) that takes you up to the Gelmersee reservoir. There’s a very nice hike around the lake. Even if your kids aren’t up for the whole loop, it’s pretty no matter how far you walk, with lots of nice picnic spots. Since the funicular only takes 24 people up at a time, you should buy advanced tickets so you don’t have to wait. If you do need to wait, there there is a hotel/restaurant with a big playground and near that, a short barefoot trail through the woods, plenty to keep you busy for an hour or two.

Location:   Bernese Oberland
Address: Guttannen, Kanton Bern, CH
Car: 1hr45 from Zurich
Train: 3hr20 mins from Zurich
Trail: 4 km one way, about 1 hour
Condition: dirt, obstacle-free
Skill: moderate
Open: early June thru mid October
Prices: Adult CHF , Child CHF
Services: restaurant, playground
More info: www.grimselwelt.ch

Overview

The funicular drops you off at the Gelmersee lake. You can walk around the lake on a narrow rocky alpine trail, very nice, about 4.5km.

No strollers. Also, I would probably not have children under 4 walking on this trail as there are several sections that are very narrow and drop off steeply down to the lake. I’ve seen at least one family tied together with climbing ropes as they walked on the steep sections. I didn’t go that far, but I was very nervous on these sections.

With small kids, you might want to just walk a short section to the picnic spot marked on the map below, where there is a rock sticking out into the lake. This took us about 30 mins with a 4 year old walking.

If you don’t want to hike at all, you can also just enjoy the lake from the dam and sandy areas on both sides of the dam.

Getting There

The Gelmerbahn is after Meirignen, just before you reach the Grimselpass. It doesn’t have an address. By car, drive to Innertkirchn, then to the small town of Guttannen, then continue toward the Grimselpass. In your GPS, use the address of Hotel Handeck, Grimselstrasse 19, 3864 Guttannen, which is a just past the Gelmerbahn. A minute before you reach the hotel, look for a sign on the main road, pointing left to the Gelmerbahn.

After turning off the main road, there is a small parking lot, which is usually full. Don’t worry; drive past the lot and turn down the narrow road on your right and there’s a grassy field with plenty of spots. Then a walk back the way you came, up the paved road a minute or so the base of the funicular. Buy your tickets here.

I’m sorry to say that the Gelmerbahn is strangely not easily reachable by public transportation. You can take a bus from Innertkirchen to Guttannen, but then you must walk about 25 minutes uphill to reach the Gelmerbahn. But if you do come with public transport, you get a 15% discount on the funicular, perhaps to make up for that long walk from Guttannen.

Tickets

The funicular only takes 24 people every 15 to 25 minutes, so it fills up quick. On past visits, we have had to wait over 2 hours to go up. Happily, they now sell advanced tickets online, which is highly recommended. Buy advanced tickets here.

In 2016, tickets costs 32 CHF/Adult, 12 CHF/Child 6 and over, no reduction for SBB Half-fare or Junior cards.

When you buy your ticket, you have to also pick a return time since there are only so many spots. So you’ll need to estimate how long you expect to stay at the top. If you are doing a short walk and picnic, 2-3 hours is probably enough. If you plan to hike around the lake, I recommend 4 to 5 hours. Estimate longer than you expect. You don’t want to miss your return trip slot because you didn’t make it all the way around the lake in time.

The first ride up is 9:00, last ride down 16:00 or 17:00 depending on the month. They are closed briefly during lunch. They always leave a couple extra spaces on the down car for spontaneous hikers that are hiking down from a mountain hut or other areas. So you can often squeeze in on an earlier or later car if necessary.

Detour: Barefoot trail before you go up

If you go spontaneously, they might have spots, especially for the very early times. If you have a long wait at the bottom, there is some hiking and a restaurant on the other side of the suspension bridge. There are several maps and brochures in the ticket office, one with a map of a barefoot trail on the other side of the suspension bridge. The bridge starts just below the ticket office, crossing crosses a gorge and the road you drove up on.

After crossing the bridge, you follow a short trail through the grass and trees to reach the restaurant. To find the barefoot trail, turn right before reaching the playground and follow the road/trail past a cafe/cheese shop into the meadow to find the barefoot trail, marked by the trail sign by the lamppost in above pic.

Here is the restaurant and playground on the other side of the suspension bridge.

Unlike other barefoot trails that have manmade collections of funny things to walk on, this was simply a nice little trail through the woods on which they suggest you walk barefoot. So we took off our shoes and gave ourselves into the experience. It was really fun to feel the different textures and temperatures on our feet as we walked. It’s narrow, bumpy, and uphill, not suitable to strollers. But it’s pretty short (maybe 45 min with kids) and our 4 year old did it without much coaching.

It was a real treat to spot wild blueberries along the barefoot trail. Lots of other people were there gathering berries so we did too. We spent almost an hour gathering, eating and squashing berries.

Main Event: Going up to the Gelmersee

Finally, it was our turn to ride up the super steep funicular ride! It’s totally safe, but still a little unnerving. There wasn’t room for much cargo, so don’t plan on bringing your stroller up. The stroller is no good on the trail either.

We made it safely to the top and started on the trail. When you reach the lake, you can turn right or left on the trail that goes around the lake. I give three hiking options below. We like to hike around the lake starting on the right, but those with little kids may need shorter, safer options that I’ve outlined below.

Short safe walk for very little kids

If you have very little kids and don’t feel safe on the alpine trail, I recommend taking the trail to the right, walking to and across the dam and having a picnic in the sandy spot on the far side. Here is the dam.

Here’s a picture taking from the start of the dam, looking back at the trail. There are toilets in the building shown below.

Some pics on the dam.

Here’s a view from the dam.

The sandy, rocky picnic area on the far side of the dam, appropriate for little kids to safely wander around.

Short trail to picnic area

If you want a short hike, you can take the trail to the left when you first reach the lake. After about 20 minutes, you’ll reach the big picnic spot that sticks out into the middle of the lake.

Below is the start of the trail on the left.

More pics of the trail on the left. It’s a narrow bumpy trail that can be slippery and dangerous. Hold tight to your little ones.

If you take the left trail, you will reach this big rocky grassy area in about 20 minutes. Unlike the trail, kids can run around this area relatively safely without falling off a cliff. They might fall in the water, so bring extra clothes. There are blueberry bushes to pick from and places near the water to build fires, but no wood, so bring your own.

Fantastic view from our picnic spot

We spent a lot of time climbing rocks

Full Trail Around Lake

If you want to walk around the lake, I recommend turning right when you first reach the lake and following trail to the dam, as shown in the pic below. Walking this direction will get you to the picnic spots an hour or two later when you are hungry from walking. It is 4.5km and usually takes us about 2 hours with lots of breaks.

Here’s the start of trail on the far side of the dam.

About halfway around the lake, you’ll pass some big and small waterfalls. It can be tricky to hop over them on the slippery rocks, so be prepared to help your kids. This is a nice area for a picnic.

Shortly after the waterfalls, there is a short section, where the trail skirts along the cliffs with a steep drop into the lake on one side. There is cable to hold onto but this section always makes me nervous. There are life preserver rings on the walls in case of emergency.

After this scary section, there’s a river flowing down the mountain and another big area where lots of people picnic.

Then the trail goes up the mountain and skirts along the rocky slopes as shown below. The big area sticking out into the lake is where we like to stop for a picnic and pick blueberries.

Here’s a closer look at the picnic area. It’s very rocky and full of blueberry bushes, with some small grassy spots.

There are lots of places near the water to sit and build a fire if you brought wood. It gets really windy, so bring a jacket even if it’s a nice day.

My kids like to jump around on the rocks that are partially submerged, then of course, they fall in. So bring extra clothes. The water is icy cold and not for swimming.

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2 comments

  1. Hi. Thanks for your kind comments. We went to the Gelmersee a couple weeks ago and it was just as great as I remember. We didn't hike all the way around, but now you've inspired me to do it next time. I haven't been to Monte Tamaro yet; it's been on my list for awhile. If you're interested in doing a guest post, let me know.

  2. Hi Tanya,

    I would like to thank you for your awesome blog. We have moved from SFO to Zurich for a year and every weekend I make it a point to check your blog for ideas for trips. I have 2 daughters, 5 and 7 years old. We did the Gelmersee hike y'day and managed to do the hike around the lake. My husband was worried about the rocky trail.. but since I saw your blog..was a bit more confident and we finished the whole trail in 2.5 hours !! It was an awesome hike that we all enjoyed. Thanks for your recommendations. Thanks for your detailed blog !!

    I noticed that you had visited the Lugano area.. but did not have a posting about Mt.Tamarao.. wanted to tell you about it.. we went there a couple of weekends ago and is an awesome place for kids.:)

    Thanks and keep the blog posts coming 🙂

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