Matterhorn: Gornergrat & Riffelsee Family Hike

The Matterhorn is so famous that one simply must see it, especially if you are living in Switzerland. The Gornergrat area is the best area to enjoy classic Matterhorn views and easy to access for families. After admiring the spectacular glaciers at the top, the easy hike to the Riffelsee and beyond allows you to leave the crowds behind and enjoying amazing Matterhorn views on the trail. Although we’ve visited many other mountains that were just as pretty, the Matterhorn was something special and worth the extra effort.

Location:   Valais
Address: Zermatt, Valais, Switzerland
GPS: 46.023867, 7.748509
Car: ~3hr30 from Zurich
Train: ~3hr30 from Zurich
Trail: 3 km, about 1.5 hours
Condition: dirt alpine trail
Skill: easy
Open: train open year round
hiking open July through mid October
Prices 2017: Adult CHF 94, Child CHF 47, under 6 free.
SBB Half-fare and Junior cards accepted.
More info: www.zermatt.ch  –  webcam

Overview

The Zermatt Summer Map shows where the Gornergrat is in relation to other attractions in Zermatt.

The Gornergratbahn is a train that goes from Zermatt up the mountain to the Gornergrat complex at 3089m. From here you have a great view of the Matterhorn and two fantastic glaciers, not to mention all the surrounding alpine landscape. There are a lot of services as well, including restaurants, gift shop, hotel, etc. More details below.

There are a variety of hikes that start from the top at Gornergrat, as well as from other stops along the trail line. We like the Riffelseeweg, which starts from the Rotenboden station (one stop below Gornergrat), as shown below. It’s a short walk to the Riffelsee, where you can get the famous reflection of the Matterhorn in its calm waters. The trail continues past the lake, down and around to Riffelalp, as shown below, about 3 km. With a 3 year old walking half the time, it took us about 2 hours but normal speed will take less than an hour. More details below.

Getting There

Assuming you’ve found your way to Zermatt, you should be at the main train station, since Zermatt is a car-free village and you have to take a train in from Täsch. From the train station, follow signs to the Gornergratbahn and buy tickets. It’s only two blocks away: take a left from the station, then your first right. On very busy days, it can fill up and you may have to wait awhile for the next available train.

To reach Zermatt by car: Zermatt is a car-free village, so first you drive to Täsch then take a short train ride to Zermatt. In Täsch, park in the large parking lot next to the train station (over 2000 spots). It costs about 16 CHF per day to park there. Buy return train tickets to Zermatt, which cost in 2016 16.40 CHF/adult, 8.20 CHF/child, children under 6 free, SBB Halbtax and Junior cards accepted. The train runs about every 20 minutes. See current prices and train schedule on www.zermatt.ch.

By transit: Simply ride the train directly to Zermatt. You don’t need to change trains in Täsch.

Tickets & Prices

At the Gornergrat valley station, buy return tickets to Gornergrat. In 2016, this cost 90 CHF/adult, 45 CHF/child, children under 6 free, SBB Halbtax and Junior cards accepted. The train runs about every 30 minutes in summer and once an hour in spring and fall. See current prices and schedule at www.gornergratbahn.ch. Some trains may be full before you even get there. So consider buying tickets online if you are confident about the good weather.

Make sure to check the webcam before going up. There’s no reason to pay the big bucks if you will be stuck in a cloud.

Gornergrat Viewpoint

The train slowly winds its way up the mountain, taking about 30 minutes to reach the top. At the top, there is a large complex with a hotel, restaurant, cafe, souvenir shop, etc. We had lunch at the self-service cafe, which was adequate. The next time we went, we brought a picnic and ate it by the Riffelsee.

After you take a million pics of your kids and the Matterhorn, you can take a little rocky trail above the hotel (shown below) that gives up a closer view of the Gorner glacier.

The trail along the glacier looks like this. We spent about 30 mins walking around and building rock towers.

Riffelsee

Next you should take the train back down to Rotenboden (first stop down from the top) and walk down to the Riffelsee. Many of the classic pictures you’ll see of the Matterhorn are taken here, with the mountain reflected in this lake. This a popular choice, but still not nearly as crowded as the top. The trail is not stroller-friendly, but it’s super short (5 mins) and worth the effort. Here is the trail down to the lake.

Great spot for a picnic.

Perfect spot for a family pic.

Very often clouds cover the Matterhorn, so if it’s clear take as many pics as you can right away. Clouds can move in fast!

If you make the small effort to walk to the far side of the lake, you’ll be practically alone.

Don’t forget to take this classic pic.

Here’s where the Matterhorn broke my camera. This was the last shot I got before the shutter died. I had to rely on my camera phone for the rest of that trip. Boo hoo.

Hike to Riffelalp

If you are done for the day, you can simply walk back up to Rotenboden and ride the train down.

If you’re up for a bit of a hike, follow the Riffelseeweg trail, about 3 km to Riffelalp. It’s not suitable for strollers, but it’s easy walking (see trail map for Riffelalpweg). I loved this hike! We were practically the only ones on the trail and the Matterhorn was in view almost the entire trail.

There are a couple different trails that head off to Riffelalp. We took the third one as shown in the trail map below.

To take the trail we took, follow the Riffelalp trail that has the longest time, as shown in this trail sign. It took us about 2 hours. It’s a lumpy trail, but relatively easy and mostly downhill. Our 6YO hiked it with a few complaints, mostly that his feet were too hot. It’s not stroller-friendly, so I carried our 3YO on my back about half the time.

A second smaller lake right after the Riffelsee.

If you can take your eyes away from the Matterhorn for a second, the other mountains in this area are pretty too.

Some sheep along the way.

It looks like we worked hard for this shot, but didn’t.

Last view of the Matterhorn as we round the corner.

The trail wraps around the mountain, with a view up the valley away from Zermatt.

In Riffelalp, there’s a hotel and restaurant. But we just caught the train back to Zermatt and headed back to our holiday home.

How about you? Any kid-friendly suggestions for the Zermatt area?

Don’t forget to Pin this for later…

Ride a train up to Gornergrat for spectacular views of immense glaciers and Matterhorn. Then do a family hike to Riffelsee and beyond to enjoy the views away from the crowds. Zermatt, Switzerland. www.momstotszurich.com

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15 comments

  1. damn you Matterhorn!! (for that camera, lol) .. such amazing pictures and great adventure for kids!! As soon as mine are bit bigger we shall start as well… My friend just moved to Zurich I passed her your blog for inspiration 🙂

  2. Planning a trip for September when my sister is in town and we will have an extra set of hands (3:2 is a decent ratio with our 3 yo and 5 yo). Thanks for the post…this will give me a great start for researching our trip. Now, hopefully I can find accommodations and nice weather!

  3. Tanya, thanks so much for the helpful advice. We will be traveling to Zermatt the first week of July and now I know the best way to go about it. Hopefully, we will be have a sunny day like you. It is always tricky in Switzerland.

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