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!
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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
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
(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!
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!
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.
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!
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!
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 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 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.
You will be able to recognise many of the classic pictures of the Matterhorn as being shot here.
We spent a long time at this lake – everything was just so beautiful that it was hard to pull ourselves away from there!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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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More information for your trip to Switzerland:
BUCKET LIST DESTINATIONS: 25 best places to visit in Switzerland
HIDDEN GEMS: 10 hidden gems in Switzerland
TRAIN RIDES: The Golden Pass train line
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