The narrow valley of Sarnen and its homonymous lake is a popular hiking destination during Spring and Summer because of the many hiking trails and the easy accessibility by car or public transportation. Sarnen also offers an elegant old town and many accommodations and restaurants, ideal for those planning a weekend or two-day excursion. In this article we tell you about the hiking route from Kerns to the center of Sarnen via Flüeli-Ranft, a small village located at the entrance of the Melchtal valley - in Canton Obwalden - famous for St. Nicholas of Flue, better known as Brother Klaus, who lived here.
We love... Flüeli-Ranft!
With the mountain trails still not completely walkable, we go to discover more low-altitude but equally fascinating trails. This time we are going to the narrow valley of Sarnen and the lake of the same name. Sarnen is a lovely lakeside town with an elegant old center, many good accommodations and excellent restaurants with outdoor terraces. The town is ideal for those who want to plan a two-day overnight excursion, and the hills and mountains surrounding the valley offer excellent options for hikes of all levels of difficulty. Sarnen – in the canton of Obwalden – is also close to Lucerne and therefore is easily accessible by public transport. In this article we tell you about the hiking route from Kerns to the center of Sarnen via Flüeli-Ranft, a small village located at the entrance to the Melchtal valley in Canton Obwalden, famous for St. Niklaus von Flüe – better known as Brother Klaus – who lived here. Born in 1417, Klaus at the age of 50 settled in nearby Ranft, where he lived in hermitage for 20 years, praying, fasting, and receiving increasing numbers of visitors and pilgrims. And no, you don’t need to be a religious person to savor the atmosphere of peace and serenity that this place still inspires in visitors who come here! So here is our itinerary and some useful tips!
Arriving by public transport
The starting point of this excursion – the “Kerns, Post” bus stop – is easily accessible by public transportation. For travelers from major Swiss cities, the advice is to reach Lucerne by train. From Lucerne, the S5 train leads to Sarnen, and from there, Postbus 341 or 343 will take you to the “Kerns, Post” stop in about 10 minutes. From Lucerne, the train and bus journey takes about 40 minutes, plus the travel time from your city to the Lucerne station. Train tickets can be purchased through the SBB website or through the SBB App and, as always, we suggest to check in advance the updated timetables and the different travel options.
Arriving by car
The starting point of this excursion – the bus stop “Kerns, Post” – can also be reached by car. On Google Maps you can check the best route for you. However, as usual we suggest that you choose public transportation for two reasons: the first is that the proposed route is a linear one, so you will still have to take a bus back to Kerns at the end of your hike; the second is that the area around the starting point of the route does not offer many parking options. Therefore, for those arriving by car we recommend reaching Sarnen and leaving your car there. From Sarnen, you can take the 341/343 postal bus to the starting point of the hike or, alternatively, extend the hike by about 2.5 km and reach the starting point on foot.
Hike overview & map
The hike we propose is a linear route that starts from the post bus stop “Kerns, Post” and, following hillside paths and small pilgrimage churches, first reaches Ranft Gorge and then Flüeli-Ranft, a small village located at the entrance to the Melchtal valley in Canton Obwalden. From here, the trail returns to Sarnen and its elegant old town. During the route, you will have the opportunity to visit several historic chapels and the places where Niklaus von Flüe lived, places still considered – regardless of religious faith – rich of a strong spiritual energy.
The total itinerary is about 13.5 km for a four-hour walk. It is an easy route, with moderate difficulty only in the area of crossing the Ranft Gorge because of the steep descent and the equally steep ascent. But don’t worry! With good shoes and the proper breaks, you will have no difficulty to walk on it! The entire route is also very pleasant to walk as it offers some panoramic views of rare beauty. A good number of dining options are available along the route, mainly around the urban areas. Toilettes are available in the town centers of Sarnen and Flüeli-Ranft and near the Sankt Niklausen Chapel.
From Kerns to the Chapel of Sankt Niklausen
Our route starts from the bus stop “Kerns, Post”. It is located in the center of a small town just over two kilometers from the main urban center of the area: Sarnen. From the bus stop, we go to the nearby roundabout and turn left along Dorfstrasse. From here we proceed for about 200 meters to the St. Gallen Catholic Parish Church. If you have not already done so, in front of the church you will find a stone fountain to fill or refill your water bottles with fresh water. From here begins the trail that will lead us out of the city and into the hills around the valley. This first part of the trail is on paved ground. We continue for about 1.2 km and turn first right and then left. A few meters ahead we reach the small Kapelle St. Anton, which is normally open and can also be visited inside. From Kapelle St. Anton the path proceeds along the hillside, with a panoramic view of the valley below and – more later – of Lake Sarnen. Walking here is really pleasant. Occasionally, a few benches offer refreshment in the shade of large trees. To reach the Chapel of Sankt Niklausen we follow the path for about 4 kilometers, of which the first one and a half kilometers are gently sloping and the rest almost flat. There is no effort here!
From the Chapel of Sankt Niklausen to Flüeli-Ranft
A short climb from the small center of Sankt Niklausen leads us to the Chapel of Sankt Niklausen. The church is the oldest building in the municipality of Kerns. Built in 1350, its interior is decorated with medieval frescoes restored in the 1940s. Moreover, from here there is an amazing view of the valley below, the lake, and the imposing silhouette of the Paxmontana Hotel, a large art nouveau hotel built in the late 1800s. At the foot of the Chapel you will also find a public toilet. We stop here for a few minutes to visit the interior of the church and catch our breath and then we continue on our route. From this point the descent to the Ranft Gorge begins, at first softer and then steeper as we approach it. Just 800 meters ahead we encounter the small Mösli Chapel. The chapel was built in 1484 and is a little jewel. From here, a few meters separate us from the water and the iron footbridge that allows us to cross the river and begin the ascent to Flüeli-Ranft. Along the little less than 700 meters that separate us from the town center we encounter the Untere Ranftkapelle, built after Niklaus’s death in 1487 to better handle the large flow of pilgrims, the Obere Ranftkapelle, where the saint retired to hermitage, and finally, at the top of the climb, the House of Niklaus and Dorothee, his wife. All buildings are open to the public and can be visited. At this link (in german, french and italian) you can find more information about this places.
From Flüeli-Ranft to Sarnen
Flüeli-Ranft is a small town in the middle of the mountains that is decidedly quiet and scenic. Here you will find the Flüeli-Kapelle Karl Borromäus, a striking chapel built on top of a cliff. The church is definitely the town’s landmark and a perfect panoramic point of the valley and surrounding mountains. In Flüeli-Ranft you will also find several dining options and a picnic and grill area. We took a short snack break at the café in the center of the square before resuming our return journey. We chose to head back toward Sarnen, but from Flüeli-Ranft there are many other routes leading to the small town of Sachseln on the lake. You can find all the information on this interactive map (in German, french and italian). Along the way, we first encounter the large Hotel Paxmontana*, a good choice for an overnight stay or for an afternoon drink or snack, and next the Hohe Brücke, Europe’s highest covered wooden bridge. The bridge allows you to cross the Grosse Melchaa Gorge at a height of about 100 meters and was built in 1943 to replace the old 1893 bridge. Past the bridge, the trail travels along some paved roads before entering the forest and continuing along the river to Sarnen.
If you intend to reach the starting point of the hike by car, due to the limited parking availability in the area, we suggest that you leave your car in Sarnen and, from there, take the post bus to “Kerns, Post” or extend the hike by 2.5 km to reach Kerns on foot.
For a more spiritual and immersive experience, the meditation path ‘Weg der Visionen’ leads from Flüeli-Ranft to Sachseln. Along the way, six metal sculptures by artist André Bucher invite you to meditate and reflect, following the footsteps of Niklaus von Flüe and his wife Dorothee Wyss.
After four months on the alpine pasture, the dairymen bring their cows back to the valley in September. The ‘Alpabfahrt’ in Kerns usually takes place in the second half of September and is a real celebration, perfect to combine with this hike! At this link you can find more info about it and the dates of the event as soon as they are available.