Gotthard 5 lakes circular route

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Gotthard 5 lakes circular route

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The Gotthard Pass, in German Gotthardpass, is one of the main Alpine passes and one of the regions richest in history and legends. At an altitude of more than 2,100 meters, the Gotthard region is characterized by numerous natural and man-made alpine lakes. With their bizarre shapes and bright colors, they are the perfect destination for a challenging but certainly impressive summer hike. They are framed by a barren high-Alpine landscape.

Gotthard Pass

We love... Gotthard Pass!

Located at an altitude of over 2100 metres, the Gotthard Pass is one of the main Alpine passes. It forms the border between the cantons of Ticino (Italian-speaking) and Uri (German-speaking) and its area is characterized by the presence of numerous alpine lakes, natural or artificial, which with their bizarre shapes and bright colors represent the perfect destination for a summer excursion.
The pass is usually only open and accessible by car or public transport between June and November. However, due to the high altitude, the type of route and the possibility of snowfall, we recommend that you only try this hike in July, August and September, depending on the weather conditions.

Hike overview

The circular route that we propose starts from the Ospizio San Gottardo and returns to the starting point, passing by five alpine lakes and a few other pools of water surrounded by a barren and wild landscape typical of high altitudes. This is a medium-difficulty itinerary, which we nevertheless consider to be demanding because of the more than 14 km that can be covered in more or less five hours. The path is marked with the usual red and white stripes, although in some cases we had to use the GPS to find the correct route. However, it is a rocky mountain path, steeply sloping in short sections, exposed or slippery due to rainwater. It is therefore advisable to take trekking sticks with you, which will help prevent falls. There are no refreshments or toilets along the way, so make sure you have enough food and water for the entire hike.

Arriving by car

Gotthard Pass: parking area

During the months when the pass is open, getting to the Gotthard by car is easy: from Airolo, you can take the new road, which climbs up to the pass in about 20 minutes. If you like old-fashioned charm, the old granite-paved Tremola road is just the thing for you. Built between 1827 and 1832, it is a fascinating route with more than twenty hairpin bends. It takes about half an hour to reach the top. Either way, there are several parking spaces available at the top of the pass.

Arriving by public transport

Gotthard Pass: parking area

The starting (and finishing) point of this hiking proposal is also easily accessible by public transport. From the main Swiss cities, you can reach Olten, Lucerne or Arth-Goldau, all of which are served by the Gottardo train to Airolo. From Airolo, the postal bus number 110 will take you up to the pass, leaving you right in front of the “Ospizio San Gottardo”(bus stop: Gotthard Passhöhe). The entire route can be purchased through the SBB website or through the SBB app. As always, we suggest you use the same website or app to check timetables and different travel options in advance.

Our hike & map

Autumn is here and very soon the Swiss mountains will be dressed in winter, covered in snow and opening up to a new skiing season. In addition, some excursion destinations will not be accessible until Spring and, in some cases, until Summer. So why not take advantage of the last weekends of September for some high-altitude hiking? This time the destination chosen is the Gotthard Pass, and more specifically the five-lake walk, a high-altitude trail that passes many Alpine lakes and a sometimes lunar landscape. We chose this hike after a careful assessment of the weather conditions (one of the ten rules for safe hiking!), which promised a sunny day with a few clouds and most importantly no rain. On our arrival, however, the pass was covered by a thick layer of fog. We doubt that we have even made the right choice in coming this far! In any case, the visibility is good. The fog also gives the place a mysterious charm. We decided to start walking anyway, optimistic that the fog would soon disappear as it did.

5 lake gotthardpass hike altitude

From "Ospizio San Gottardo" to Lake Lucendro

Our hike starts at the Ospizio San Gottardo, right in front of the PostBus stop. A few steps from the stop you can also have a coffee, eat a snack or use the public toilets (for a charge of 1 CHF / 1 EUR per person). The real hiking trail, however, starts about one kilometer further on. If you arrive by car, therefore, you can shorten the hike by parking closer to the starting point. However, the short stretch from the Ospizio San Gottardo to the hiking trail is quite easy and mostly follows the road.
The hiking trail begins behind the Felsenhotel La Claustra. Here, an approximately one-kilometer-long incline leads first to the Lucendro dam and then along the side of the lake of the same name. With the exception of the first 350 meters or so, this section of the trail follows a partly asphalted and partly gravel road. From the path along the side of the lake and turning towards the St. Gotthard forecourt, there is a magnificent view of the lake itself, the Sasso San Gottardo area and the recently installed wind turbines, which are made particularly fascinating by the fog.

From Lake Lucendro to the Orsirora Pass

We continue for about one kilometer. Here we come to the first junction: our plan at this point is to begin the ascent to the lakes at altitude by taking the path to the right at the junction. If you continue straight ahead along the lake, you can follow part of the famous “Four Springs Trail”. Maybe next time! From the junction, a long uphill path begins that takes us to the highest point of the hike, the Gatscholalücke / Passo d’Orsirora. This section of the trail leads over rock. It is narrow in places but never exposed. We walked it safely with the help of trekking sticks in places where the rock was wet and slippery.
After about two kilometers we leave Lake Lucendro behind us and reach the first of the two Valletta lakes. Here it is time for a short break and, above all, to recover energy with a good packed lunch!
From this point, a gentle descent begins, leading first around the lake and then along a small, very photogenic stretch of water, surrounded by many Eriophorum, white cotton-like flowers.
After about 500 metres we are at the second lake Valletta. Here the main feature of this hike becomes evident: each lake, with its waters, has its own particular shade of colour, from green to blue. The barren environment that surrounds us, typical of the high altitude, if possible, makes them appear even more garish and vivid to our eyes. We then take the usual photos and continue on our way.
The route continues to the right towards Lake Orsirora. However, we have planned a short diversions of about 15 minutes to the Gatscholalücke / Passo d’Orsirora. To get there, you follow a short, not too demanding uphill path. We definitely recommend taking this small diversions! From up there you can admire the Valletta lakes behind you, and above all the high mountains up to the Furkapass on the opposite side.
Once at the top, we stay for a few minutes to admire the view. We also try to identify all the high mountains around us, but there are so many! Fortunately, the Swisstopo app helps us. With its “Panorama” mode, it allows us to identify mountain peaks and their altitude using the smartphone camera. A real gem if you love high-altitude landscapes!
Up here, however, the wind is strong. A little chilly, we decide to return to our route which, after a short descent, takes us back to the previous crossroad.

From Lake Orsirora to Lake Orsino

The funny signpost on the rock shows us the way to Lago d’Orsirora. From here, the route continues along meadows, rocks and some Eriophorum. This section is not demanding, as the descent into the valley has now begun. After about 400 metres we reach Lago d’Orsirora. Here the path follows the edge of the lake. It would be nice to explore the lake for a longer time, reaching the areas furthest from the path, but it is getting late and some clouds on the horizon worry us. So we decide not to linger and continue our walk towards the next lake. After about 300 metres of path, a descent of about 400 metres begins along a steep and rocky path, not dangerous but challenging. From here it is also possible to admire from above the second lake of Orsirora, which is not touched by the official route. Continuing between the rocks, after the descent, the path becomes more uniform and safe. After about 500 metres, we finally see the last lake on our route, Lake Orsino. Here the path splits. The official path, in fact, passes high above the lake. However, there is also clearly another, unofficial path that runs along the lake shore. We, probably a little distracted by the landscape, miss the diversions and in a few minutes we find ourselves on the unofficial path along the shore. However, it is an easy and comfortable path, which passes right next to the water and allows you to get closer to the lake and the Eriophorum meadows that surround it. The small hut near the water, with the ever-present Swiss flag in the wind, is also very characteristic. We then continue along the path for about 500 metres and quickly reach the end of the lake. Here, however, the landscape becomes more rocky and our path becomes less obvious. We decide to check with the GPS and realize that we are not on the right path, but slightly lower. We have no intention of returning to the junction! So we decide to climb up the side of the hill to reach the top and, from there, try to reach the official path. Fortunately, we succeeded without difficulty! Here we are back on the right path!

Return to the Gotthard Pass

From here, a rocky descent begins that runs parallel to a small watercourse and it is also again possible to see the Passo San Gottardo and its five wind turbines. After about 800 metres of walking, we cross the watercourse and continue along some gently sloping meadows.
There are still around 600 metres to go before we return to the easy road that leads to the Lucendro dam. The last section of the route is the most demanding. With the exception of a short stretch that runs along the side of the mountain on a wide, flat path, the rest of the route runs between uneven rocks that in some places form a rather exposed path. And although very short (23 metres of ascent in about 100 metres of path), the last stretch was a cause for concern for us. The advice is always to wear good shoes and if necessary help yourself to trekking sticks which increase stability. Finally back on the road, we continue downstream for another 800 metres until we reach the base of the Lucendro dam. From here, we continue along the road that is first dirt and gravel and then asphalted, which, in about 20 minutes, takes us back to the San Gottardo Pass where the PostBus awaits us.

Tips

1

Many maps of the route found online suggest doing the hike in the opposite direction to the one we suggested, thus starting from Lake Orsino and going back to Lake Lucendro. We, on the contrary, are satisfied with our choice: we think it is safer to walk the last part of our route, which is definitely exposed and slippery, uphill rather than downhill.

2

Although the route is well signposted, the lay of the land makes it difficult to find the correct path in some places. Also, in some areas, the mobile phone signal is unstable or absent. We therefore suggest downloading your maps offline so that you can use GPS whenever you need it.

3

If you are in the proximity of the Gotthard but don’t feel like doing the whole hike, we recommend the Energy Trail, a circular educational trail that will take you to the heart of the Windpark and the Lucendro hydroelectric plant in about 2.5 hours, surrounded by the magnificent landscape of the Pass. You can also combine the walk with a visit to the Sasso San Gottardo, the legendary underground fortress, one of the largest and most impressive in Switzerland! Absolutely not to be missed! And if you decide to follow our advice, let us know by leaving a comment below or, if you like, write an article about it to be published on our blog!

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