Gornergrat – Riffelsee Hike in Zermatt

Hiking, Switzerland25 comments

If you were to do just 1 hike in the Zermatt region, make it this Gornergrat hike. The Sun Trail from Gornergrat to Riffelberg descends along the Gornergrat Bahn, the world-famous railway line and takes you along cascading glaciers, stunningly beautiful lakes and lush meadows sprinkled with wildflowers!

The Gornergrat hike is the best to enjoy fantastic views of the mighty Matterhorn and its reflections in the beautiful lake, Riffelsee. It is one of the best hikes in Switzerland and my new favourite!

Have limited time in Switzerland? Here’s a 5-day Switzerland itinerary to take in the best of the country!

The magnificent Matterhorn reflected in Riffelsee
The magnificent Matterhorn reflected in Riffelsee

Continue reading for details on the Gornergrat hike and all you need to know to have a fantastic time.

Here are more ideas for your trip to Switzerland: 25 best places to visit in Switzerland!

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Gornergrat Hike Overview

Gornergrat Hike
The Sun Trail: Gornergrat – Riffelberg Hike

Trail: Gornergrat – Rotenboden – Riffelberg

Starting point: Gornergrat cog railway upper station

Ending point: Riffelberg railway station

Direction: One way

Distance: ~3.5 km

Elevation change: ~500 m descent

Time required: ~1 hr 15 min (budget more time since it’s very difficult to stop taking pictures!)

Season: July to October

Difficulty level: Medium. A sturdy pair of shoes is essential.

How to get to Gornergrat from Zermatt

The Gornergrat Bahn, a cogwheel railway, runs between Zermatt and Gornergrat and is operational all year round. This train was the first, fully electric cog railway in Switzerland, set up in the 19th century and is the highest open-air railway in Europe!

Gornergrat Bahn
Gornergrat Bahn

The Gornergrat train station in Zermatt is located right opposite the main train station, totally unmissable. 

Trains run from 7 am in the morning to 7:30 pm in the evening, every 30-40 minutes. Check the latest timetables before you visit.

Tickets for Gornergrat 

You can buy tickets for the Gornergrat Bahn at the ticket window or at one of the several kiosks.

A one-way ticket to Gornergrat from Zermatt costs CHF 40 to CHF 59 in 2020, depending upon the season.  With the GA, half-fare card, Swiss Travel Pass, you get a 50% reduction on the ticket price. Check the latest fares before you visit.

There is also an option for Priority Boarding which is available at an additional fee of CHF 5. This allows you to board the train before other passengers. I do not think it is worth the extra cost since the views are lovely pretty much everywhere! And it’s not that long a train ride (only ~40 min) so you can even stand if it’s too crowded.  

Matterhorn Riffelsee, Zermatt
Along the Gornergrat trail

If you are doing the Gornergrat – Riffelberg hike, just buy a one-way ticket from Zermatt to Gornergrat. Once you finish the hike, you can buy a return ticket from the Riffelberg station.

A Riffelberg – Zermatt train ticket will cost CHF 32 – CHF 38 in 2020, depending upon the season.  With the GA, half-fare card, Swiss Travel Pass, you get a 50% reduction on the ticket price. Check the latest fares before you visit.

Matterhorn Toblerone
Did you know, the mountain pictured on a Toblerone pack is the Matterhorn?

The train ride to Gornergrat

Try and seat yourself on the right side in the direction of travel for some great views of the Matterhorn. But don’t fret if you don’t find a spot since the views from the other side are lovely too. As it is, all of these views will get overshadowed once you get on the Gornergrat hiking trail!

So, just relax and enjoy the train ride!

We have been on this train both during the summer and the winter and the experience has always been fantastic. While summer holds the charm of hiking, winter has some of the most incredible views with walls of ice around the train!

Gornergrat train during the winter
Gornergrat train during the winter
Gornergrat Bahn
…and during the Summer

Visiting Gornergrat

Before you begin the hike, take some time to visit Gornergrat. 

Located at 3000 m+, the Gornergrat is a ridge overlooking the Gorner Glacier. Some of the best views of the Matterhorn can be enjoyed from here.

At Gornergrat, there is a hotel, a restaurant and a cafe. There is also a lookout point, a short climb up which offers 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains and glaciers.

Gornergrat
Views from Gornergrat during the Summer
Views from Gornergrat during the Summer

(Once you alight from the train, walk up towards the building and take a right where there is an elevator to take you up to the building if you’d rather not take the longer walking route up)

From the summit, you can see the second-largest glacier in the Alps (Gorner Glacier) and Switzerland’s highest mountain peak (Dufourspitze). The views are absolutely epic!

Winter at Gornergrat
Winter at Gornergrat

This is a popular spot so it can get quite crowded as the day progresses. So once you’ve enjoyed the views, it’s time to start the hike!

Gornergrat Hike Details

The hike starts near the Gornergrat train station. There are several trail markers here and you need to follow the one to Riffelsee.

This trail is quite different from the other hikes I’ve been on in Switzerland which are usually through lush green forests/ meadows with snowy mountains somewhere in the distance. The Gornergrat hike though starts with barren, nearly desolate landscapes with a huge glacier nearly next to you. Absolutely incredible and breathtaking!

The Gorner Glacier
The Gorner Glacier

Hike from Gornergrant to Rotenboden/ Riffelsee

A mostly wide, slightly rocky path takes you down from Gornergrat towards Rotenboden. There are trail markers (white & red-painted rocks) that you can follow since for several sections the trail is not clearly visible.

Gornergrat hike start
The trail heading away from Gornergrat
Gornergrat hike

The views over the Gorner Glacier on this trail are spectacular – Glaciers cascading down the mountains, a tiny mountain lake visible far in the distance and the Matterhorn to the side! You may have to pinch yourself to believe they are real, and quite so easily accessible!

Gornergrat hike, Zermatt Switzerland
Views over the Gorner Glacier on the Gornergrat hike
Views over the Gorner Glacier
Views over the Gorner Glacier on the Gornergrat hike

It will be very difficult to put your camera down on this trail. The Glacier is so impressive you almost forget about the Matterhorn for a bit!

Well, just for a bit since the views of Matterhorn are amazing – the absolute best you can get on any of the hiking trails around Zermatt! 

Matterhorn along the Gornergrat Riffelsee hike
The mighty Matterhorn along the Gornergrat hike
Glaciers and the mighty Matterhorn

The great part about doing this hike downhill instead of the other way around is that the Matterhorn is always right in front of you, throughout the trail! You also have the sun at your back (if you start the hike in the morning) so you don’t have to squint or risk a sunburn on your face!

As you walk down you can spot the Riffelsee from quite a distance.

Riffelsee Gornergrat
Riffelsee visible in the distance

Riffelsee is located a very short walk away from the Rotenboden train station (one of the stops on the Gornergrat Bahn). So a lot of people enjoy the lake by alighting here instead of hiking their way down.

Riffelsee

Riffelsee is a picture-perfect lake – especially if it’s not too windy! The reflection of Matterhorn in the lake comes out so beautifully that it’s hard to believe it’s not an actual mirror there.

Matterhorn reflected in Riffelsee on the Gornergrat hike
Matterhorn reflected in Riffelsee

You will be able to recognise many of the classic pictures of the Matterhorn as being shot here.

Riffelsee Zermatt
Riffelsee Zermatt

We spent a long time at this lake – everything was just so beautiful that it was hard to pull ourselves away from there!

Matterhorn, Gornergrat

It could be a little crowded at times at the lake since it’s so easily accessible. But most everyone takes a picture and leaves! So it doesn’t get overwhelmingly busy.

Hike from Rotenboden/ Riffelsee to Riffelberg

As you walk away from Riffelsee, the crowd thins out significantly and you come across another smaller lake – again with fantastic reflections of the Matterhorn and the surrounding mountains.

Another lake near Riffelsee, Gornergrat Hike

You also come across the next trail marker here. There are 2 routes to Riffelberg from here – s shorter route marked as Riffelberg and a slightly longer route marked as Riffelseeweg. Both of these lead to the train station in Riffelberg from where you can catch the Gornergrat Bahn back to Zermatt.

You can optionally also continue down to Riffelalp, an additional ~4 km on a slightly more challenging trail and then take the Gornergrat Bahn from the station at Riffelalp.

Gornergrat - Riffelberg hike
Taking the shorter route to Riffelberg

We took the short route to Riffelberg and it turned out to be one of the best sections of the entire hike. The trail takes you through wide-open meadows with stunning views all around – you can even see Zermatt far away in the valley below! 

Zermatt visible far below in the valley

To our pleasant surprise, we had this trail almost to ourselves! It was such a joy to just stretch out on the grass and take in the tranquil scene.

Gornergrat hike
Gorngergrat hike

While stretched out on the grass, we decided to check the schedule for the train down from Riffelberg and it turned out there was one leaving in the next 5 minutes! It was already mid-afternoon and we still had to make the 3.5-hour train journey back to Lucerne so we did not want to miss this train.

All tranquillity forgotten, we ran down the last stretch of the hike, managed to buy tickets at the station and caught the train! 

Where to stay in Zermatt for the Gornergrat hike

We have often visited Zermatt on day trips, though with a 3.5 hour travel time each way from Zurich or Lucerne it can get really tiring. This time we decided to stay over since we had 2 hikes we wanted to do in the Zermatt area – this Gornergrat Riffelsee hike and the famous 5 lakes hike.

We stayed at Overlook Lodge by CERVO, a cozy apartment. We enjoyed the place so much we almost didn’t want to leave it the next day! The views of the Matterhorn from our balcony were stunning and we were able to capture the sun rising over the mountain – a beautifully magical experience.

Find more places to stay in Zermatt here.

Overlook Lodge by CERVO
Overlook Lodge by CERVO

Practical tips for the Gornergrat hike

  • Pick a clear, cloudless day for the Gornergrat – Riffelsee hike. Check the Gornergrat weather cams before you head out.
  • Wear sturdy shoes. The trail is steep in parts and quite rocky so you need a good foothold.
  • Dress in layers. With the sun beating down it can be very warm but it can get chilly fast.

What do you think of this hike? Would you add it to your Switzerland bucket list? Let me know in the comments below!

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25 Comments

  1. Oh my gosh! The Gornergrat hike is really pretty! Like you said, I will do it more than 1 h 15 m because I will take lots of pictures. Haha… The photo of Matterhorn with its reflection in the lake is really gorgeous!

    Reply
  2. Some beautiful views on this trail, the Matterhorn reflecting in the lake is an amazing shot! I hope it wasn’t too busy. These views tend to attract too many instagrammers…

    Reply
  3. What an incredible hike, this makes me want to head back to Switzerland right now!! I wish I could!! This is one of the areas of Switzerland that we’ve always wanted to go to so it’s great to know of this amazing hike to make the most of a visit here.

    Reply
  4. Gornergrat looks amazing and hiking on the trails would be like cherry on the cake! That picture there of Toblerone and the peak is so well conceptualized. That the mountain in the chocolate packing is called Matterhorn could very well be a trivia question for the books! 🙂 Love the gorgeous views in your pics and would be lovely of course to live in a country as beautiful as Switzerland!

    Reply
  5. So please excuse my language when I say this but I actually said, “Oh Crap, that is amazing” like 4 times out loud when I looked at all the pics. My wife, is yelling at me what is wrong!
    I especially LOVE all of the Matterhorn reflected in Riffelsee lake pics. I actually also had NO CLUE that the Matterhorn is the mountain of Toblerone! To think, all this time I have been eating it and had no clue!
    So the hike sounds amazing yet easy enough that Darcee would want to be able to do it, is it 3.5kms each way or round trip? I mean even it is one way that is still less than 5 miles for a fun day of lakes, wildflowers, and amazing views of the Matterhorn.

    Reply
  6. It’s bonkers to think that you’ve got something so beautiful only a few hours away! I’m so envious of you! It’s certainly going on my list

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    • What an incredible area! Thank you for the tip about sitting on the right side of the train! We will definitely add this hike to our list of things we want t I do In Switzerland! I love the glaciers and reflection lakes.

      Reply
  7. Wow, those are spectacular photos and the sun reflecting off the Matterhorn looks extra special. It seems that the trail is well marked and there is no chance getting lost. Correct?

    Reply
  8. It blows my mind that you had such a gorgeous trail to yourselves! I mean woooooow! The views are truly amaaaazing. Did you dip your toes into the lake to see how flipping freezing it was!?

    p.s. I knew you were a hiker really. 😉

    Reply
  9. Gornergrat is so beautiful. I can never forget the train journey from Zermatt to Gornergrat, it was simply amazing. Your post brings back lovely memories of Gornergrat.

    Reply
  10. Gorgeous photos and that’s so cool to know about the mountain pictured in the Toblerone packaging! A friend of mine stayed in Zermatt last year but got really unwell because of the altitude and had to relocate (which wasn’t easy during peak season) but he said how beautiful it was there indeed. So great you got to visit!

    Reply
  11. Wow such a stunning and beautiful place to visit. Your photos are amazing and it’s fab to see places like this…even just virtually!

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  12. That view of the Matterhorn reflected in the lake! Wow – no wonder you stopped so often. It must have been hard to tear yourself away.

    Reply
  13. Oh wow, this hike looks incredible! I was due to go to Switzerland this year, but for obvious reasons I didn’t make it so it sits very high on my list. Your post has made me even more eager to get there 🙂 I think I would end up spending the whole day on this trail taking hundreds of photos! It just looks so beautiful everywhere you look!

    Reply
  14. The views on this hike are stunning. I’m not sure which looks like more fun; seeing the reflection of the Matterhorn in the still lakes or hiking from Gornergrat to Rotenboden and seeing the Gorner Glacier and the tiny lake.

    Reply
  15. Oh wow, this hike is so beautiful and picturesque. Thank you for sharing this! I love the views that you’ve captured here – your photos are all breathtaking. I can only imagine how much prettier this must be in person!!

    Reply
  16. wow! the place looks so dreamy! I love mountains and lakes and the place looks so peaceful so I think it might be a perfect destination to me

    Reply
  17. I love how detailed and practical your descriptions always are! I haven’t been to the Zermatt region much, but it looks absolutely lovely. Last week, I did a hike by the Niesen, which was also really lovely. Switzerland has so much to offer!

    Reply
  18. How does one return to a normal town or city after facing such breathtaking views?!

    Reply
  19. Switzerland is such a beautiful country! I love this detailed post and I love your pictures. I can see why we would need a lot more time on this hike, then normally assigned. Your pictures are outstanding!

    Reply
  20. That view of the Matterhorn is spectacular! So scenic! Adding this to my travel bucket list.

    Reply
  21. From this post, it’s not hard to see why Switzerland has such an amazing reputation as a country with so much natural beauty. Interesting to see how much the mighty Matterhorn dominates the landscape here and everything looks so beautiful along this hike. Love the tip about heading out in the morning to be facing the Matterhorn with the sun to your back. Great for capturing such brilliant scenery in the best light.

    Reply
  22. So beautiful. I would love to visit, and experience such tranquil, and breathtaking views. -And the train ride looks like that would be so relaxing. Thanks so much for sharing.

    Reply
  23. Those views are breathtaking, this is a gorgeous spot to hike. Thank you for sharing this.

    Reply

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About me

Gruezi! My name is Smita, a part time traveller and a novice travel writer, currently living in Switzerland. So far I’ve been what you might call a serendipitous traveller! I got a chance to visit several amazing places more by chance than by design. I would love to put all my extensive travel planning to good use by sharing it with you and hope that these inspire you to visit all those famous, and not-so-famous locations! Read More

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