The "Via Alpina" is a popular hiking trail of nearly 400 kilometers that crosses 14 passes and 7 Swiss cantons, offering an interesting and varied insight into the landscape and culture of this wonderful mountainous area. In this article, we tell you about the 4 Lakes Hike (in German, 4-Seen-Wanderung), a portion of the "Via Alpina" that starts at Trübsee - near Engelberg in Central Switzerland - and reaches the Melchsee-Frutt hiking and skiing area, and give you some useful tips for your hike.
We love... the 4 Lakes Hike!
The 4 Lakes Hike (in German, 4-Seen-Wanderung) is a wonderful high altitude hike that offers beautiful views of the mountains of Central Switzerland and crosses 4 lakes and valleys. It is a small portion of the famous “Via Alpina”, a nearly 400-kilometer hiking route that crosses 14 passes and 7 Swiss cantons offering an interesting and varied insight into the landscape and culture of this wonderful area. The route is of medium difficulty but also quite flexible: there are several mountain lifts that allow you to cut the sections with the steepest inclines and several dining options along the way for a refreshing break. It is therefore perfect for a summer or late summer hike. So in this article, we tell you about our itinerary and give you some useful tips!
Arriving by public transport
The starting point of this hike – the Trübsee – can be reached by public transportation, followed by a cable car ride. The lower station of the cable car to Trübsee – the middle station of the Titlis Bahn – is located in Engelberg – here – and can be easily reached by train via Lucerne. Once you reach Engelberg, you can take the free bus which connects the trains station with the “Titlisbahn” bus stop. At this link you can check in advance the timetable. Alternatively, from the Engelberg train station the Titlisbahn can also be reached on foot with a walk of about 10 minutes. Ticket information for the cable car is available at this link. 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 hike – the Trübsee – is accessible by car, followed by a cable car ride. The lower station of the cable car to Trübsee – the middle station of the Titlis Bahn – is located in Engelberg – here – and can be easily reached by car. To get there, you can follow the A2 and take the Stans Süd exit before continuing along the road to Engelberg. You can park your car in the large parking area located next to the Titlis valley station. Parking costs CHF 5 per day in summer and CHF 10 per day in winter.
Since this is a linear route that ends in Melchsee-Frutt, we suggest you to check in advance all the public transportation options from Stockalp to go back in Engelberg and pick up your car.
Hike overview & map
The hike we propose is a linear route that starts from the Trübsee, the intermediate station of the cable car that leads up the Titlis. This is a moderately difficult hike with a discrete incline, but it is also very flexible because all the main uphill or downhill sections are easily avoided via chairlifts, which makes the route much easier and enjoyable even for those who are less fit. The total route is about 15 km, which can be covered in just under 5 hours. Alternatively, you can reach the Jochpass with the chairlift from Trübsee and start your hike from there. This way, the total route is less than 12 kilometers and will require about 3 and a half hours of walking. On the way, you will enjoy beautiful views of the Titlis Glacier, the mountains in the area and 4 fantastic alpine lakes, each with its own characteristics and a distinctive water color. You will also find several dining options at mountain restaurants, several picnic areas with grills for a picnic, and a couple of cheese dairies where you can buy cheese, yogurt, and milkshakes.
From the Trübsee to the Engstlensee
From Engelberg, we take the Titlisbahn to the intermediate station at the Trübsee, the first of the four lakes we will encounter along this route. This small alpine lake is absolutely charming – in our opinion one of the most beautiful in Central Switzerland – and offers plenty of outdoor options for adults and children. You can even rent a small rowboat and take a ride on its waters! From here, you can choose to continue to the Jochpass by following the alpine trail from the lakeshore or, alternatively, use the chairlift that takes you to the top in just a few minutes. This first section of the hike is about 3 km with an ascent of about 440 meters. It will take about an hour and a half to reach the Jochpass. It is a challenging but not difficult section of trail, although as always on mountain trails caution is required and it is essential to wear good shoes* and advisable to bring hiking sticks* for a better stability.
Once you reach the pass, you will enjoy a magnificent view of the Titlis and other surrounding mountains, and once you begin the descent on the opposite side, you will be able to admire the view from above of the Engstlensee, the second of the 4 lakes along the route.
From the pass, the descent continues on a well-marked and easily recognized mountain trail. The elevation gain is about 400 meters and you will have to walk about 2.5 km to reach the lakeshore.
From the Engstlensee to Tannalp
The Engstlensee has a wonderful blue-turquoise color and is really photogenic. In the western part of the lake you can also find small green corners where you can have a picnic or lay out a towel to rest or sunbathe. Alternatively, also near the west shore of the lake is a small mountain restaurant – the Rossboden Hütte – that offers good local food, drinks, and toilets. It is a regular lunch date for us whenever we decide to walk this route! For those who would like to stay overnight in the area and explore the lake in the afternoon – when the throngs of tourists give way to absolute quiet – just a short walk from the Hütte is the Hotel Engstlenalp, a mountain guesthouse that offers a variety of room types and a truly relaxing experience: no TV, radio, or Internet (except for your cell phone network). From the Hotel Engstlenalp, the trail continues flat for a little more than 800 meters, after which it begins a gentle climb of about 1.8 km, 150 meters in elevation gain. Some sections of the trail are rather narrow but never too exposed or dangerous. The next valley, Tannalp is just behind the mountain: you will realize this because you will start to see small wooden houses and a small white church, the Tannalpkapelle, in the distance. The Tannalp area is definitely popular with occasional hikers and families because it is easily accessible from Melchsee-Frutt. However, here in Tannalp you will find a Berggasthaus – mountain guesthouse and restaurant – where you can have a snack or coffee. In addition, we suggest that you don’t miss a visit to the nearby cheese dairy (Käserei Tannalp), one of the few Alpine dairies at over 1,900 m. above sea level that uses traditional methods to produce fresh products such as mountain cheese, Sbrinz, butter and yogurt. If you come here during the summer, you will find the dairy open to visitors and it will be possible to buy all their products on site. We bought some Sbrinz and enjoyed a very fresh strawberry milkshake! Really tasty!
From Tannalp to Melchsee-Frutt
After a short stop in Tannalp, we started walking again to Melchsee-Frutt. We chose to take the path on the left side of the Tannensee, which is less frequented and not covered by the Frutt-Zug, a tourist train that shuttles from Melchsee-Frutt to Tannalp during the summer months. So, having walked the 600 meters of paved road that leads to the Tannensee, once we arrive at the fork we take the road to the left shore. This is a flat section of trail of about 1.5 km, but it gave us some of the most beautiful photos of the entire day! It had happened to us before on our last fall hike in the area – we talked about it in this article. Clearly there really is something special about this lake! Having reached the dam, this time we opt to walk across it and back to the right shore of the lake. From this point, a path of about 2 km starts with destination the Melchsee, the last lake of the route. This section of the hike runs along pastures at the edge of the rock face of the mountain. You will come across many cows along the route, some of them sitting comfortably in the middle of the trail. If necessary, you will simply walk around them: they are used to humans and are not normally a danger. But if you have any doubts, and especially if you have a dog with you, please read our article on hiking safely! At the end of the trail, when you reach the banks of the Melchsee, you will find a large barbecue area and a small kiosk for food and drinks. Just opposite is also a hut with toilets. If you have some free time, we recommend you walk the 400 meters to the photogenic Fruttkapelle, a small mountain church that stands on a peninsula along the shores of the lake. Truly lovely. If, on the other hand, you don’t have enough time, from here you can take the Panoramalift, a panoramic elevator that will take you from the lakeshore to the village of Melchsee-Frutt – slightly higher up – where you can take the cable car back down the valley to Stockalp.
If you want to make the route lighter, you can cut all or part of the way back from Tannalp to Melchsee-Frutt by taking the Frutt-Zug, the tourist train that shuttles between Melchsee-Frutt and Tannalp during the summer.
This route can also be done in the opposite direction, starting from Melchsee-Frutt and reaching Trübsee. In this case, you can do the entire route or reduce its duration or effort by taking one of the different lifts or means of transportation in the area: the Frutt-zug, the chairlift between the Engstlensee and the Jochpass, and the chairlift between the Jochpass and the Trübsee. The choice is yours!