The small lake of Lungern in the canton of Obwalden is one of the most popular excursion destinations for nature lovers, who are enchanted by the emerald green waters and lush pastures that surround it. But the lake's waters, which can reach up to 23 degrees Celsius in summer, are also the perfect destination for swimming enthusiasts or lovers of water sports such as sailing or surfing, who will always find the perfect wind here.
We love... Lungerersee!
If you’ve ever looked for pictures of Switzerland on Instagram or the web, you’ve probably already come across Lake Lungern and its incredibly intense colours. The Lungerersee is a true Swiss icon, thanks to the emerald colour of its waters and the green of the surrounding pastures. This idyllic landscape is further enhanced by the railway, which passes right through the pastures, allowing travellers to admire the beauty of the lake from the comfort of a train carriage.
We dedicated an entire sunny Sunday in May to this special destination, choosing to walk along one of the many hiking trails that are available around the lake and supplementing it with small but scenic diversions.
Hike overview & map
The circular trail around Lake Lungern is a hiking trail of about 10 km, which can be covered in about three hours. It is an easy route on the whole, suitable for everyone and offering several interesting viewpoints over the lake and the surrounding mountains. Of course, in light of its duration and given the optional detours described below, a bit more complex than the average path, it can be considered of medium difficulty by some. It is possible to start the hike either from Kaiserstuhl OW or from the town of Lungern. The east side of the lake is crossed by the railway line, which allows access to the route on both the north and south sides of the lake. While on the west side the route follows a hiking trail a little higher up the lake and closer to the woods, on the east side the walk from Lungern towards Kaiserstuhl OW first runs along the lake and then climbs up the surrounding hills, a privileged observation point for the surrounding landscape. There are several resting areas, benches and barbecue areas along the way.
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The alarm clock sounds early: at Luzern’s station a train is waiting for us. In about 40 minutes, it will take us to Kaiserstuhl OW, where our walk today begins. As always, we chose public transportation to get there. Not only because it’s more comfortable and environmentally friendly, but also because traveling on the Zentralbahn train is an experience in itself! This train line crosses one of the most beautiful alpine views in Switzerland. Although, we must say that this line offers its best just after the Brünig Pass, that lies after our stop. Nevertheless, even reaching Kaiserstuhl is something that must be tried.
After arriving in Kaiserstuhl and getting off the train, the Lungern Lake welcomes us with the spectacular glance of its intense colored waters on which are reflected the tops of the mountains still covered with snow that sits on the opposite side of where we are. The sunny day and the warm weather give us a great boost of energy! So we set off on the route that, from the Kaiserstuhl OW station, will take us back to the same station for the return journey along the west coast of the lake and then, through Lungern, along the entire east coast.
Lungerersee and its history
The Lungerersee, a small natural alpine lake located in the canton of Obwalden, has a long and troubled history. Since as early as 1700, there has been a long debate about whether the water level should be lowered in order to increase the area available for grazing for the local population. This proposal could become reality only in 1836 and after solving many strong political contrasts and economic difficulties, when the construction of a tunnel on the north side of the lake allowed to lower the water level of about 20 meters.
Only a century later, the entire lake and its land were purchased by the Centralschweizerischen Kraftwerke (CKW) of Lucerne, which, in order to exploit the water for the production of electricity, dammed the lake again in 1922 and then in 1926, thus raising its level again.
Today, the water level varies according to the season. In winter, the water level drops to more than 40 meters due to the reduced inflow of water from the surrounding glaciers. In summer the lake becomes a popular destination for campers and bathers.
The west coast and the Diesselbach waterfall
From Kaiserstuhl OW station we take the Bürglenstrasse, an asphalt road that leads to the village of Bürglen and its chapel. The road runs along the embankment that closes the lake to the north and whose presence, to tell the truth, would go completely unnoticed if it were not for the small observation tower along the shore. After about 700 meters, on the left, the lake offers a first small beach for those who want to take a bath and refresh themselves. This is the only access point to the lake as far as Obsee. A little further on, the western slope becomes steeper and steeper. From the small white chapel in Bürglen, the wide asphalt road becomes a footpath that leads through freshly cut pastures (all this area is used for hay production) and well-kept houses. In this stretch, the scents of nature become more intense and the colors of the landscape more vivid. After about another kilometer, the trail dives into the woods and becomes shady. The view of the surrounding landscape is hidden at times but the walk is still pleasant and relaxing. This stretch also offers several benches for relaxation and a space for grilling with wood already available to patrons. Of course, we took the opportunity to eat a sandwich and take a short break.
About 4 kilometers away from the Kaiserstuhl station, our route takes a detour from the circular route to reach the Diesselbach waterfall viewpoint. From the main route, we turn right along a narrow forest path. After just 250 meters, we turn left onto an even narrower path that winds its way up the side of the mountain in several sharp bends until we reach the viewpoint just below the waterfall. From here the view of the water flowing along the rocks is thrilling. However, the short trail to get there is decidedly more challenging and, in places, unstable. In several places the path becomes slippery and to help the ascent and descent, ropes and chains have been installed. Therefore, we do not recommend this detour to those who do not have a stable and safe pace and good shoes. After the usual photos, we go back on our steps to the point of the last detour, where we resume our climb to the second point of observation of the waterfall. To get there, we continue for about 800 meters along a path that first develops in the woods and then flows into a large sloping meadow. From here the view of the lake is magnificent, as well as the meadow blooming in spring. It is certainly worth the effort to get up here! However, even here, the path is slippery at times and the slope becomes higher along the meadow: be careful!
Finally, we reach the top and a safer gravel road. It is the right moment to take some pictures and continue our walk. The second observation point of the Diesselbach waterfall is nothing more than a road bridge from which you can watch the water flowing down into the valley. Of course it has its charm, but we admit that after having admired the jump from the first observation point, we were much less impressed by the second one. In any case, the view from the meadow a few minutes earlier definitely made up for the disappointment.
Lungern, Inseli and the east coast
From the waterfall, we choose to continue into the woods along the paved road, down to Obsee. Here you will find a large camping area, a bar and restaurant, and the Turren cable-car. Parking lots are also located here for those who decide to start the hike from Lungern. The small town of Lungern with its gothic church is not exactly on the hiking trail, which instead runs closer to the lake shore. So, if you want to visit it, you’ll have to make a little detour. Otherwise, continue along the path and past the campground and you’ll find the first real summer entertainment area, with its own beach and even a slide! At the time of our visit, however, the whole area was dry because of the low lake level in the winter time and until late spring.
After about a kilometer from Obsee, the trail leads us to Inseli Lungern, a curiously shaped little island connected to the mainland by a narrow footpath. The island, with its green lawns, picnic areas and benches is the best place to relax on the eastern side of the lake.
Here we make a short stop before continuing for another kilometer to the last panoramic point on the lake. From this point we leave the coastal path behind us and begin a gentle climb along the hills that flank the lake. We then cross the Brünigstrasse road and reach the beginning of the Mülibachersträssli.
This section of the hike is certainly the most scenic. Standing on a higher observation point gives you a wider view of the surrounding landscape and makes the colors even more vivid and the contrasts stronger. The path crosses meadows, pastures and small clusters of characteristic houses. We also took the opportunity to visit the small, self-service farmhouse food store, which is located in a small wooden house at the top of Mülibachersträssli.
Once over the hill, the path descends, after about a kilometer, towards the coastal path, which is reached through an underpass. From here we continue along the lake for about a kilometer more. This last stretch is a favorite area for fishermen. We passed several of them along the shore or in the water on their small boats. From here on, however, the route becomes less interesting. The proximity to the busy road just above the trail breaks the tranquility of the place and makes its magic fade away. In about 20 minutes we return to Kaiserstuhl, our starting point, where we take a well-deserved rest and refresh ourselves with a delicious piece of cake from the Kaiserstuhl bar-restaurant before taking the train back to Lucerne.
Arriving by public transport
Arriving by car
If you don’t have much time and don’t feel like doing the whole route, you can opt for the eastern side of the lake, which is certainly the more interesting and scenic of the two. Take the train to Lungern, visit the church and walk back to Kaiserstuhl OW. This 5 km route takes an hour and a half to walk.
The hotel restaurant Kaiserstuhl is ideally located for a Sunday lunch or dinner after the walk. We, unfortunately, arrived there too early for a dinner and too late for a lunch, so we just ordered a coffee and a slice of cake, which was actually great. During our stay, however, we had our eye on several dishes, destined for other tables, looking quite inviting. So if you decide to try its cuisine during or after your excursion, please let us know by leaving a comment below!
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