Mount Rigi, the "Queen of the Mountains" as it is lovingly called by the locals, has a long and proud tradition of hospitality. In the 19th century, it was already well known in Europe as a holiday destination. Even Queen Victoria decided to visit this place in September 1868! Surrounded by three lakes, Lake Lucerne, the Zugersee and the Lauerzersee, the 1797-metre-high Rigi is a popular destination both for tourists, because of its easy accessibility, locals and summer and winter sports lovers, which here are regularly practised throughout the whole year.
We love... Rigi!
From its 1797-metre peak the Rigi, the “queen of mountains” as it is affectionately called by the locals, has a long and ancient tradition of hospitality. As early as the 18th century, the mountain was already famous in Europe as a holiday destination thanks to its incredible panoramic location, and as early as the 19th century, many resorts and high-class hotels were opened along the lower slopes of its valleys for the aristocracy of the time. But it was only in 1875 that the way was really opened to modern mass tourism, with the construction of the two railway lines Vitznau-Rigi, the first mountain railway in Europe, and Arth-Rigi. Even today the two lines are still used to transport the thousands of visitors who come here from all over the world and, with a bit of luck, you might have the chance to travel on one of the historic steam trains, restored and put back into circulation for special occasions or public celebrations.
This route starts at the top of the Rigi mountain (Rigi Kulm) and leads through scenic spots and green valleys to Rigi Scheidegg. It is a variant of the better known “Panoramaweg”, the panoramic trail that starts lower down from Rigi Kaltbad and leads to Rigi Scheidegg, partly following the route of the old railway line and using its existing infrastructure such as bridges and tunnels. It is an easy route of about 10 km, which can be covered in about two and a half hours. The path is well indicated along the entire route and the gradient, with the exception of the first section near the Kulm, is well distributed throughout the entire itinerary so as to seem almost imperceptible. Most of the trail runs along well-trodden gravel roads, so no trekking poles or special precautions are required. There are also many picnic areas along the route with public barbecues, benches for relaxation, restaurants and toilets. In summer you can also buy cheese, juice and must from local farms from small self-service fridges at the edge of the path. On the official website you will find all the latest information about the status of the trails and of the railways. It is also possible to have access to many webcams, for a more detailed check of the weather conditions in the area.
A budget-saving tip: since you need to use several means of transport during the day, we recommend you to check the official Rigi website for day passes or discounted offers. You can find all the information here.
Arriving by car
The Rigi mountain is not accessible by car. For this hike, you will therefore have to reach the Rigi Kulm area via one of the two railway lines from Arth-Goldau and Vitznau. Both stations have convenient interchange parking areas. You can get to Arth-Goldau by following the A4 motorway and taking exit 38. Here, after about 200 m, turn right onto Gotthardstrasse and immediately right again you will find the Goldau A4 car park. Alternatively, you can use the Eichmatt car park on Rigistrasse 17, which is a little further away from the train station. At exit 38 of the A4, turn left at the Gotthardstrasse intersection and continue for about 600 metres. From here, turn right into the parking area. Both car parks are chargeable and offer hourly and daily rates. You can get to Vitznau via the A4 motorway, taking exit 36 for Küssnacht and then following the signs for Vitznau or via the A2 motorway, taking exit 36 for Altdorf / Flüelen, continuing to Brunnen and then following the signs for Vitznau.
There are two covered car parks in Vitznau, one on Seestrasse and one on Altdorfbachweg. Here too, both car parks are chargeable and offer both hourly and daily rates.
*** PLEASE NOTE ***: At the end of this route, the cable car from Scheidegg will take you to Rigi Kräbel and from there, the cogwheel railway will take you to the Arth-Goldau station. We therefore strongly recommend that you choose the same train line and station for the outward journey to Rigi-Kulm.
Arriving by public transport
As mentioned before, for this excursion you will need to reach the Rigi Kulm area via one of the two railway lines from Arth-Goldau and Vitznau. Both departure stations can be reached by public transport, but probably the most accessible option is to arrive in Arth-Goldau, choosing one of the frequent train connections with the main Swiss cities. If, on the other hand, you choose the Vitznau downstream station, you should be aware that Vitznau is not accessible by train, but only by bus (line 502 connects the town with Schwyz, Brunnen, Gersau, Weggis and Küssnacht) or by boat from Lucerne, with convenient connections every 60 minutes. We’ve had the opportunity to do both and would definitely recommend taking the boat and using the Vitznau-Rigi train line, which we think is much more scenic. However, as mentioned on other occasions, the boat ticket is much more expensive than the train or bus options. So take this into account when making your choice! Both the routes 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.
*** PLEASE NOTE ***: At the end of this route, the cable car from Scheidegg will take you to Rigi Kräbel, and from there the cogwheel line will take you to Arth-Goldau station. We therefore strongly recommend that you choose the same railway line and station for the outward journey to Rigi-Kulm. If you decide to make the outward journey from Vitznau, remember to plan your return journey as well!
Our hike & map
“The view is beautiful with the lake – Pilatus, the Rigi etc. – I can’t believe my eyes when I look at it! It looks like a painting or an ornament: a dream!”.
This is how Queen Victoria described the landscape on Lake Lucerne during her long visit to Lucerne in September 1868. And it is hard to argue with her. The view from the Rigi is probably one of the most beautiful in Switzerland. We return here frequently, not only for the beauty of the landscape that surrounds the mountain, but also for the proximity to Lucerne, where we live, and for the wide and varied range of hiking trails that really does allow for excursions for all tastes and all levels of fitness. Whatever you’re looking for, you’ll find it on the Rigi. Of course, the mountain certainly attracts many visitors, and it is said that the mountain railways and cable cars carry around 600,000 visitors each year. This means that some areas may be more crowded than a true nature lover would like, but never fear! The mountain is big and you only need to get off the beaten track to find peace and quiet. For this hike, we choose to arrive at Kulm via Arth-Goldau. Getting there is undoubtedly easier and cheaper than the alternative, by boat, to Vitznau, an option that we had already chosen on a previous visit. But, it must be said, both the lakeside route from Lucerne and the cogwheel route from Vitznau are decidedly more fascinating and scenic. So if you have the opportunity to choose and if your travel budget allows, we definitely suggest opting for a departure from Vitznau. When you arrive in Arth-Goldau, the Rigibahn station is easily identifiable, as are the characteristic cogwheel trains. From here, a 45-minute trip takes us to the summit, where our hike begins.
From Rigi Kulm to Rigi-Staffel
We arrive at Rigi Kulm on a sunny Saturday in October. When we arrive at the summit, it is still early and the view from the top is still partly covered by a few low-lying clouds and a light mist. Soon, however, the panorama will be clearly visible in all its splendour. The air is cooler than expected, so we put on our jackets and start our walk. But first we definitely need a coffee! If you don’t want to walk all the way to the restaurant, which is a little higher up than the rack, there is a convenient self-service bar and souvenir shop opposite the train stop. There are also toilets a little further on if you need them. After coffee, we start our descent to Scheidegg … with a slight climb! We opt for a very short diversion upwards in order to admire the view of the lake from the mountainside that drops steeply down to Seebodenalp. Don’t worry, it’s not dangerous! The path follows the edge of the mountain safely, bordered by a solid wooden fence. This short section of the trail runs over ground, rock and grass and is slightly inclined. After just 350 metres, however, we return easily to a more comfortable gravel path from where we begin our descent. The 900-metre stretch to the Rigi-Staffel stop continues to follow the sheer mountainside and along the way offers small kiosks and old restaurants serving food and drink from the early hours of the morning. Definitely too early even for us, who are eternally hungry!
From Rigi-Staffel to Rigi-First
At Rigi-Staffel, we cross the railway and reach the path on the opposite side of the road. From here, with a bit of luck you will be able to see one of the cogwheel trains quietly ascending from Arth towards Kulm a little further down. After about 400 metres you will come to a fork in the road: to the left the path leads to Rigi-First, to the right you have the option of reaching the Rotstock summit, a vantage point at 1658 metres. If you choose the path to the right, be aware that after only 200 metres you will again come to a fork. For Rotstock, keep to the left (the path to the right descends to Rigi-Kaltbad). The route from here is steep but not long, only about 400 metres. However, we really recommend that you make the small effort to get here. If you are tired, there are comfortable benches in Rotstock where you can catch your breath. The view from the top is wonderful. Take a few minutes to catch your breath and then continue on your way. From Rotstock, we follow the signposts across a pasture among the cows and return to the gravel path, the same path we would have taken if we had gone left at the first fork after Staffel. Here there is also a large picnic area with benches, tables and a public barbecue. From this point, the path continues uncomplicated to Rigi-First, where you will find the Bärenstube restaurant.
From Rigi First along the Panoramaweg
In Rigi-First we cross the “Panoramaweg”, which starts in Rigi-Kaltbad and ends in Scheidegg. If you want to walk the whole trail, perhaps on a different occasion, you should know that Rigi-Kaltbad can be reached by the cogwheel train from Vitznau or by a comfortable cable car from Weggis on Lake Lucerne. For the more adventurous, the “Felsenweg” rock path also starts at Rigi First, a panoramic trail carved into the mountainside overlooking the Bürgenstock. It is around 900 metres long and joins the Panoramaweg at the end. On this occasion we chose to continue along the Panoramaweg. If you decide to go along it, please remember to check its condition beforehand: this path is normally closed in winter or in bad weather. Remaining on the Panoramaweg, we follow the route of the now disused railway from Rigi Kaltbad to Rigi Scheidegg. The trail also uses the existing infrastructure, such as bridges and tunnels, which makes it very interesting. From here, the route is essentially flat and is therefore also ideal for those looking for a more leisurely hike. A practical tip on what to wear: while the first part of the route is generally exposed to the sun, if your hike takes place in the morning until early lunchtime, be aware that from this point until you reach your destination the route will be almost entirely in the shade and the temperature will therefore generally be lower than that encountered up to here. So take this into account when choosing what to wear. From Rigi-First, the view opens up over the valleys of Canton Schwyz and, on the last stretch, towards Lake Zug. There are also plenty of benches at the Panoramaweg, ideal for a short break or a picnic lunch. After about 500 metres from where the Panoramaweg and Felsenweg meet, we reach what is probably the most obvious reminder of the old railway line: the Unterstetten bridge. This characteristic structure, which connects two ridges of a valley about 100 metres wide, rests on iron towers vaguely reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower. The bridge, which is considered to be a historic landmark that should be preserved, was completely renovated a few years ago and is now used as a hiking trail. Walking over it is a pleasure for the eyes (the view is beautiful from here), as is reading the information signs that tell its history.
Just past the bridge, on the right, you will find another barbecue area, equipped with wood, and public toilets. After a kilometre’s walk we come to a short tunnel, another vestige of the old railway line, and then a small bridge. A little further on, a refrigerator cabinet with the unusual shape of a small house invites us to buy fresh produce from the local farms, such as cheese, juice and must, to take home with us. We give in to temptation and continue at a brisk pace towards the last section of the route.
Rigi Scheidegg and way back
After another 800 metres of walking, the last part of our hike begins. From here, the path leads mainly through forests and along rocky slopes. The last section, towards Scheidegg, also shows a strong human presence: winter sports facilities, which are very popular here, and many houses. Shortly before Scheidegg you come to a fork in the road. The path to the right descends to Rigi-Burggeist, but you can continue to the left towards Scheidegg. Don’t worry! The route is well signposted with the usual yellow signs. From the fork, a road with a couple of hairpin bends leads up to the summit, but if you want to cut the route short, shortly after the fork, a narrow staircase on the left cuts across the mountainside to the Berggasthaus Rigi-Scheidegg, which will welcome you at the summit for a coffee and some refreshments. If you have the time, a viewing platform has been built just behind the restaurant to take in the view across Lake Zug. But be sure not to lose sight of your watch! There is a train waiting for you and unfortunately it is not so frequent! Don’t risk missing it! Take the Scheidegg cable car, which will take you to the Rigi Kräbel station of the cogwheel railway back to Arth-Goldau in about 6 minutes.
On this visit, we chose not to climb to the summit when we arrived at Rigi Kulm. We had already been there on other occasions and were keen to explore something new. But if you happen to be coming here for the first time, we definitely recommend a short diversion to the summit. It can be easily reached via a comfortable, slightly uphill path from the cogwheel station. At the top, in addition to the 360° view of central Switzerland, you’ll be able to climb the antenna that dominates the summit, for an even wider and more impressive view!
The Panoramaweg is truly a trail for all seasons! We have been here many times and have walked it both in summer, on a beautiful sunny day, and in winter, completely covered in snow. Unfortunately, we have not yet had the chance to walk it in late autumn and see the colours of the foliage in this area. If you get the chance to do this for us, please let us know by leaving a comment below or, if you like, by writing an article about it to be published on our blog!