Complete Guide To Visiting Mount Pilatus In A Day

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Nestled in the heart of Central Switzerland, the awe-inspiring Mount Pilatus awaits your exploration—a testament to nature’s boundless beauty. Gazing down upon Lucerne, this rugged pinnacle reaches a breath-taking elevation of 2132 meters above the tranquil sea.

From the summit, a panorama of unparalleled grandeur unfolds before your eyes, showcasing not only the picturesque city of Lucerne but also the majestic Swiss Alps in all their splendour. A visit to Mount Pilatus is nothing short of an unforgettable experience, a journey to one of Switzerland’s most captivating and scenic treasures.

What is Mount Pilatus

Mount Pilatus comprises a collection of peaks within the Emmental Alps. Its highest summit stands at 2,132 meters above sea level. Among these peaks, Tomlishorn reigns as the loftiest point, while Esel reaches 2,118 meters and Oberhaupt reaches 2,106 meters above sea level.

The Legend of Mount Pilatus

Legend weaves a fascinating tapestry around Mount Pilatus, an enchanting tale that reaches back to the 15th century. According to local folklore, a colossal dragon rock descended from the heavens, settling upon the earth’s embrace. Standing sentinel before this enigmatic relic was none other than the Roman governor Pontius Pilatus, his presence lending an aura of mystique to the scene.

As the chronicle unfolds, Pontius Pilatus’s mortal journey reached its end, and his lifeless form found its resting place atop these very mountains, nestled within a tranquil lake. It is here, amidst the serene waters and soaring peaks, that whispers of the supernatural were born, rendering this realm a domain believed to be touched by the ethereal. This legacy of tales has bestowed upon the land a sense of haunting allure that continues to resonate.

In the tapestry of explanations, some contend that the mountain’s name, Pilatus, was etched in homage to the Roman governor. Others, however, find resonance in the Latin term ‘Pileatus,’ a moniker that conjures visions of clouds that lovingly caress the mountain’s crown. This mystique, veiled in cloud-capped wonder, paints the backdrop for the narratives that define Mount Pilatus—a place where history, legend, and the whispers of the unknown converge.

Why Visit Mount Pilatus?

When you’re in Switzerland, the pinnacle of your journey is undoubtedly Mount Pilatus—a destination that captures the very essence of this mesmerizing land. Within the span of a single day, a symphony of experiences awaits you: a serene cruise, a scenic bus voyage, a succession of cable car ascents, and a ride aboard the steepest cogwheel train on the planet. All converge to weave a tapestry of breath-taking moments that will forever define your Swiss adventure.

What to do at the top of Mount Pilatus?

At the top of Mount Pilatus, there is plenty of opportunity for exploration and adventure. There is an observation deck with stunning views of Lake Lucerne, a restaurant and a couple of trails.  There are two viewpoints close to the observation deck, Oberhaupt and Esel. Each are reached with some stairs, only about a 5 min walk up.

If you want to hike, we recommend the trail to Tomlishorn, the highest point at Pilatus at 2129m. The well maintained path is about 3 km round trip with side rails for safety.

How To Reach Mount Pilatus From Lucerne?

Embarking on a day trip from Lucerne to Mount Pilatus entails an exciting journey across various modes of transportation. To get to the top of Mount Pilatus you can choose the iconic cog railway which leaves from Alpnachstad or the cable car from Kriens.

Travelling from Lucerne to Alpnachstad can either be by train, car or boat; while travel to Kriens would be by bus.

Getting to Mt. Pilatus from Lucerne by Cogwheel Train

Commencing from Alpnachstad, your passage to Pilatus presents two options: a serene steamer boat voyage across Lake Lucerne or a scenic train expedition via Zentralbahn’s Brünigbahn line.

Lucerne To Alpnachstad By Boat
Lucerne To Alpnachstad By Boat

Alpnachstad serves as the gateway for the Pilatus bahn, the 30 minutes train journey to the top. This railway line boasts the world’s steepest gradient and operates its services from May to November, although occasional inclement weather can lead to temporary halts.

Mount Pilatus By Pilatusbahn
Mount Pilatus By Pilatusbahn

Getting to Mt. Pilatus from Lucerne by Cable Car

An alternative way to reach Mount Pilatus from Lucerne is by embarking on a journey from Kriens, where the cable car service seamlessly connects Kriens and Pilatus.

To Kriens

To follow this route, commence your adventure by catching Bus number 1 at Bus Stop A in Lucerne—a conveniently located stop opposite the main train station. From there, a brief 10-minute stroll leads you from the Kriens bus stop to the cable car station.

Kriens to Fräkmüntegg via Krienseregg

Pilatus Cableway 3 Kriens Switzerland
Pilatus Cableway Kriens to Fräkmüntegg via Krienseregg

Begin your ascent by stepping into the panorama gondola, transporting you from Kriens to Fräkmüntegg via Krienseregg. This picturesque leg of the journey lasts for approximately 30 minutes.

Dragon Ride from Fräkmüntegg to Pilatus Kulm

At Fräkmüntegg, the journey continues as you transition to a second cable car, affectionately known as the Dragon Ride, propelling you towards the summit of Pilatus Kulm. This leg of the journey takes a mere 5 minutes.

Dragon Ride From Fräkmüntegg To Pilatus Kulm
Dragon Ride From Fräkmüntegg To Pilatus Kulm

Embarking on the 646-meter cableway journey between Fräkmüntegg and Pilatus Kulm is nothing short of a remarkable and distinctive experience. The cabin, designed akin to a cockpit, envelops visitors in an immersive environment. With floor-to-ceiling glazing, it’s as if you’re suspended in mid-air, granting you the sensation of soaring through the sky. As you indulge in this captivating ride, the panoramic vistas that unfold before your eyes are simply breath-taking.

The dragon ride is named after the mythical Mount Pilatus dragon that you read about earlier.

Bus Ride from Kriens to Lucerne

This is a 15-minute ride to Lucerne, you ae picked up just outside the gondola station and taken to the bus station in Lucerne.

Organising and Buying Tickets for your trip to Mt. Pilatus

Hopefully you now know how you wish to get to Mt. Pilatus. You need to purchase your tickets. You have the option of buying and organising each stage separately or going with a company who will do it for you.

Golden Round Trip from Lucerne

The Golden Round Trip is a popular choice for tourists, this trip starts with taking a boat from Lucerne to Alpnachstad. The boat departs from the pier that is located directly across from the train station, and drops off at a pier that is a quick walk to the cogwheel station. his trip includes four different forms of transportation: bus – cable car – cogwheel train – boat ride. You start at the Lucerne to Kriens in a bus, then take the cable car to Mt Pilatus, a cogwheel train down to Alpnachstad and a scenic boat ride back to Lucerne. This trip starts and ends at Lucerne Railway Station – the bus stop is near the station and also the boat terminal is right at the station as well.

You may purchase tickets in advance from a third party here: Self Guided Golden Ticket Tours, Guided Guided Golden Ticket Tours or there is the option to go on a Private Guided Tour.

Silver Round Trip from Lucerne

The second most popular way to visit Mt. Pilatus is by taking the ‘Silver Round Trip’. Here the entire tour has a bus – cable car – cogwheel train – regular train ride included in the package. You start at the Lucerne to Kriens in a bus, then take the cable car to Mt Pilatus, a cogwheel train down to Alpnachstad and a regular train back to Lucerne. The only difference between the silver and in the Gold is you that you take a train instead of the scenic boat ride between Alpnachstad and Lucerne.

This trip is 20% cheaper than the Golden Round Trip and you are not restricted by the rather limited boat schedule! Purchase your Silver Round Trip Tickets.

Organise the trip to Mt. Pilatus from Lucerne Yourself

Take the Cable Car up Mt. Pilatus from Kriens

Drive from Lucerne to Kriens: If you have your own transport then you may want to ditch the bus ride and drive to Kriens yourself. This would cheapest way and/or in the shortest possible time. There is a big car parking at the gondola station in Kriens and parking here costs just 5 CHF per day.

Bus from Lucerne to Kriens: From Lucerne Railway Station, take a (trolley) bus nr. 1 to Kriens. It’s a bus line in the direction of Obernau Dorf. There are many buses at the station and it looks a bit overwhelming at first. Be sure to look for a TROLLEYBUS, so not a regular bus number 1. The bus ride between Lucerne Railway Station and Kriens takes less than 15 minutes. You will need to purchase your ticket from the ticket machines at the bus stop. If you have the Golden or Silver Ticket this is not needed.

Purchase your Cable Car Ticket from Kriens: Your next stage is to purchase your cable car ticket. The cable car ride from Kriens to Mt Pilatus actually involves two different cable cars. The first is a 4-person gondola to Fräkmüntegg, then the Dragon Ride (a big aerial cableway) to Mt Pilatus. The entire journey to the top takes about half an hour. As already mentioned, you can buy a ticket online in advance, or you can just buy it at the ticket desk once you get there.

Take the Cogwheel Train up Mt. Pilatus from Alpnachstad

Drive from Lucerne to Alpnachstad: If you have your own transport then you may want to ditch the train or boat and drive to Alpnachstad yourself. There is parking available in Alpnachstad just by the Cogwheel Train station and parking also costs just 5 CHF per day.

By Train from Lucerne to Alpnachstad: From Lucerne train station: Take the S5 train to Alpnachstad train station (17 minutes).

By Boat from Lucerne to Alpnachstad: Or from Lucerne by boat from jetty no. 2 (50 – 90 minutes) to Alpnachstad. The ship only operates from May to October.

Take the Cable Car up Cogwheel down, Boat and Train back to Kriens

If you are driving and do want to organise the equivalent of a Golden Ticket Trip a round trip, I recommend parking in Kriens and starting with the cable car to the top. Then take a cogwheel train to Alpnachstad and from there, either a train or a boat to Lucerne. From Lucerne city centre, take RBus no. 1 back to Kriens where you left your car!

Mt Pilatus from Lucerne or Zurich

You can catch the train direct from Zurich to Lucerne in about 45 mins then join the Golden Ticket Tours or the Silver Ticket Tour. Tours do go direct from Zurich by bus: You can either choose the Lucerne & Mount Pilatus Day Tour or the more exclusive Private Trip From Zurich to Mt. Pilatus Through Lucerne!

FAQ for Visiting Mount Pilatus

What’s the duration for a trip to Mount Pilatus from Lucerne?

Depending on your chosen route, mode of transportation, and activities, you should allocate at least 4.5-5 hours for a visit to Mount Pilatus from Lucerne. If you opt for the Golden Round Trip and wish to savour the panoramic vistas at the summit, plan for approximately 5-6 hours.

How much time is needed for the cable car journey from Kriens to Mount Pilatus?

The cable car journey from Kriens to Fräkmüntegg takes approximately 20 minutes. Subsequently, the aerial cable car ride from Fräkmüntegg to Mount Pilatus (also known as the Dragon Ride) lasts around 3.5 minutes. However, typically, there might be a brief wait for the Dragon Ride. Overall, you should allocate a minimum of 30 minutes to reach the summit of Mount Pilatus from Kriens.

What’s the duration of the boat trip from Lucerne to Alpnachstad?

Depending on the specific stops along the route, the boat voyage between Lucerne and Alpnachstad lasts between 1 hour and 1 hour 20 minutes.

How much time does the cogwheel train journey from Alpnachstad to Mount Pilatus take?

The ride aboard the steepest cogwheel train globally, traveling from Alpnachstad to Mount Pilatus, has a duration of 30 minutes. Conversely, the descent from Mount Pilatus to Alpnachstad requires approximately 40 minutes.

How long is the bus ride from Lucerne to Kriens?

The bus journey connecting Lucerne Railway Station to Kriens typically takes about 12-15 minutes. Additionally, you’ll need around 5-10 minutes to walk from the bus station to the Kriens-Mount Pilatus gondola station.

What is the best time to visit Mt Pilatus?

The sunny months between March and September are the best time to visit Mount Pilatus. If you want to see the Alps covered with snow, then plan a visit in the winters. During peak winters the temperatures drop really low and there are high chances that the cogwheel rail and cable cars are closed during this time, hence check before planning your visit.

Is Mount Pilatus included in Swiss pass?

If you have a Swiss pass, then you get a 50% discount to travel up Mount Pilatus. You can either choose to go up in a gondola and cable cars from Kriens or on a cogwheel from Alpnachstadt. These Swiss passes can be purchased from tourist offices in Zurich, Berne, Geneva and Lucerne or from any major railway station in Switzerland. 

Which is better, Mt Rigi or Mt Pilatus?

They both offer different views from top, hence you won’t be replicating your experience. Mt Rigi offers spectacular views of the Alps, the Swiss lakes, and a variety of alpine flora, while Pilatus offers stunning panoramic vista and beautiful hikes that will give you a chance to see the Swiss Alps from different angles. 

Tips for Visiting Mount Pilatus

  • Book your tickets to Mount Pilatus in advance to avoid last minute disappointments.
  • Start your trip as early as possible to avoid long queues and to make the most of the trip. 
  • All transportation options close by 5 in the evening, so make sure you finish all Mount Pilatus activities and leave by 4:00.
  • Wear a light coat over a t-shirt during summer and make sure to wear good walking shoes or trekking shoes as this trip requires short hikes to a few viewpoints.
  • The weather up in the mountains is very unpredictable, so pack some warm clothes to handle sudden weather changes. 

Tours and Activities from Lucerne