Gelmersee hike – How to visit the lake for free
Gelmersee is a real swiss gem. It is surrounded by snow kept mountains, glaciers and waterfalls. The lake has a beautiful blue colour and wildflowers make the scene even more colourful. If you are brave and don’t mind the cold water, you can even go for a dip in this magical environment. This might feel particularly refreshing after the Gelmersee hike. Gelmersee is actually a hydroelectric reservoir in Bernese Oberland. There are two ways to reach the lake: you can hike up in an hour from the parking lot for free, or book tickets for the steepest open-air funicular called Gelmerbahn, which very much resembles a roller coaster. Which one would you choose?
How to get there
By car: The road is a windy mountain road, but it is not a single track, so it is a relatively easy drive to the parking lot.
Parking: There is free parking at the beginning of the hiking trail. Coordinates: 46°35’52.1″N 8°19’29.8″E
By public transport:
Take the train to Meiringen. There is a regular train service from most swiss towns including Interlaken Ost, Lucerne, Thun, Brienz, etc. Take the 161 post bus from Meiringen to Handegg, Kunzentännlein. This stop is where the hiking trail starts.
Hiking to Gelmersee
The hike up to Gelmersee is an ascend all the way. Some sections are exposed on one side, but the other one has chains to hold onto providing some security. We set off from the parking lot on a weekday around 9 am. The trail goes past a little lake called Stockseewli. It has a greenish colour and there are definitely nicer lakes in Switzerland, but it still creates a nice environment. It is 1.8 km hike to reach Gelmersee, which took us 40 minutes at a steady pace. When we got there half the lake was still in the shade. It was still quiet, but there were already a few people up who came with the Gelmerbahn funicular.
Suitable for children: With younger children (under 7) I suggest taking the funicular, as that is really fun for kids. The trail up to Gelmersee isn’t that interesting and it can be exhausting for little children. If you also want to hike around Gelmersee, I would save their energy for that instead. However, with older kids hiking up to Gelmersee is completely possible. There are a few sections where there is a drop on one side, but the trail isn’t super narrow and there is a chain to hold onto on the other side.
Circular hike around Gelmersee
The hike around Gelmersee is 4.5 km and can be completed in 2-3 hours. It is a popular hike with children as there are some fun elements and the lake has easy access with the funicular. We started the hike to the right when facing the lake, but you can do it the other way around as well. We stopped several times along the way to just admire the scenery. It is truly beautiful here. If you are a very keen hiker, you can even make your way up to Gelmerhutte, but this will add an extra 3 hours total to your hike.
Suitable for children: The path is not suitable for a stroller, but there were many parents using a baby carrier backpack. It is a narrow and rocky alpine trail. I saw several children on this hike, but please be aware that there are several sections that are very narrow and drop off steeply down to the lake. If your children are used to hiking, then you should definitely give it a go. I saw a little girl as young as 3 walking with his dad holding hands. They were very slow, but there is no rush! The older ones (6+) can probably manage on their own most of the way, but younger ones will need assistance several times. You can always just visit the lakeside and have a picnic there if you don’t want to do the whole hike.
Toilets: There are toilets 300 m from the Gelmerbahn upper station in the stone building near the dam.
Restaurants: There are no restaurants at the top, so bring a picnic or you can eat at the bottom of the Gelmerbahn at the restaurant.
Gelmersee hike map with GPX file
The Gelmerbahn was originally built in 1926 to transport heavy material for the construction of the dam. Later they saw a business opportunity when they realised it could be a good tourist attraction and in 2001 they made some changes to it to make it safe for tourists. The track is 1028 m and it takes 10 minutes to get to the top. It has an inclination of up to 106%. The funicular is closed during winter and spring.
Booking tickets for the Gelmerbahn
We didn’t use the Gelmerbahn funicular, as we decided to hike up instead, but I did my research about booking tickets. The funicular can only carry 24 people at a time, and it is a popular attraction, so it is advised to book ahead. You can just book one journey and hike the other one, or buy tickets there and back. If you do that, you will need to select an exact time slot and you won’t be able to use your ticket any other time (unless you are lucky and there are empty seats on the funicular – then you might be able to come back earlier or later, but this is not guaranteed). So when you book your ticket do some calculation on how long you think you will want to spend on the top. Will you want to have a picnic? Will you go for a swim? Will you hike around the lake? You should take all these things into consideration.
Adults return CHF 32.- / single trip CHF 16.-
Children 6-16 return CHF 12.- / single trip CHF 6.-
How to get there
Parking: There is free parking at the Gelmerbahn. If you can’t find a spot at the first parking area, keep driving over the small bridge and there is overflow parking with plenty of spots.
Public transport: Take the train to Meiringen. There is a regular train service from most swiss towns including Interlaken Ost, Lucerne, Thun, Brienz, etc. Take the 161 post bus from Meiringen to Handegg, Gelmerbahn.
Don’t miss Handeckfallbrücke. It is a really cool suspension bridge 70 m above Aare river. You can also spot the Handeck waterfall right under you! The bridge connects the Hotel Handeck to the bottom station of the Gelmer funicular. If you decide to hike up instead of taking the funicular I suggest still visiting the bridge. You can drive over from the parking lot (5 minutes) and then park for free at the Gelmerbahn parking lot.
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