Gelmerbahn & Gelmersee Hike
Some places simply look like they are cut out of a storybook, and the Gelmerbahn & the Gelmersee hike in the beautiful Grimsel Valley is one of these places.
For us, without a doubt, the Grimsel Valley belongs to one of the most beautiful Valleys in Switzerland.
Snow fields and snow-covered mountain peaks can be seen nearly all year round, alternated with lush deep green forests and craggy rocks.
Where is the Gelmerbahn & Gelmersee Hike?
Deep in the Grimsel Valley in the Berner Oberland and close to the border with the Canton of Valais, one can find the Gelmersee. A breathtaking mountain lake nestled within the beautiful mountains. When driving along the Grimsel valley from/to the Grimsel Pass you wouldn't guess that such a beautiful hike lies up in these mountains. It is in Handegg where your adventure starts with a ride on the steepest open funicular of its kind in Europe, the Gelmerbahn.
The Gelmerbahn – Why it is such a Special Funicular?
Actually, this is very simple answer. The Gelmerbahn is the steepest open funicular of its kind in Europe with an incline of 106%. Originally the Gelmerbahn was built to transport the heavy construction materials for the Gelmer dam. When you are there, take a moment and imagine the building process. Impressive engineering without a doubt.
We can now luckily say thank you that the Gelmerbahn is open to all hiking enthusiasts and adventure-seekers, to reach the Gelmersee with ease.
The bottom station of the Gelmerbahn is at Handegg and there are parking places nearby. I have marked the places on the map.
If you love suspension bridges then you must cross over the “Handeckfallbrücke”.
The bridge connects the Hotel Handeck to the bottom station of the Gelmerbahn. Hanging 70 meters above the Handeck gorge, the Handeck suspension bridge offers a fantastic view of the Handeck waterfall.
Around the Hotel you can also find parking places should the other parking be full.
The walk from either parking place to the Gelmerbahn station is about the same time.
We did a circle, walked up the normal road through the forest and then crossed over the Handeckfallbrücke at the end of the day.
Once we had taken our seats in the Gelmerbahn, the train starts to ascend in reverse and soon climbs very steeply. Seeing how the station is getting smaller and smaller, we felt at times like we were falling forward.
If you do not like being confronted with the direct exhilarating ascent, then I do not suggest to sit in the 1st row. It did feel a bit like being on the edge of the abyss. The cables creaked and we could feel the power of the engine. As we started to relax we could marvel at the amazing view over the valley and the surrounding mountain panorama.
Make a reservation at the Gelmerbahn
Unlike many Swiss mountain trains/funiculars you need to Pre-Book the Gelmerbahn!
You need to book an exact time slot for both the up and down rides. Do not push your luck to arrive and hope there is a space, especially during peak times. The Gelmerbahn is so busy due to its sheer exciting ride up to the Gelmersee, that people come and just ride the funicular without even considering doing the beautiful hike around Gelmersee.
If you are already in the area, I suggest you book an early ride up. And if you’re lucky you might even be able to sit in the 1st row like we did. If I remember right we did something like 9h00 up and 16h00 down. It was just perfect this way as we had plenty of time for the hike, photos and a bbq.
If you are just planning to do the ride, consider going later in the afternoon. Take a quick walk over the dam wall and enjoy the vistas, then book your return for around one hour later. This way you have more chance of not having too many people in the funicular.
Hiking up to Gelmersee from Handegg
In Switzerland most peaks can be reached on foot, and this is also the case for the Gelmersee. If you could not book a ride up with the Gelmerbahn or you are simply fancying a challenge, you may want to consider to hike up. Especially if the Gelmerbahn was fully booked and you only have one day to hike around Gelmersee.
Park your car either at the Gelmerbahn parking place and walk to the Handegg- Kunzentännlein or drive to it and park there. You can then follow the narrow old mule track up to the Gelmersee. It is a shorter hike but steep. If you are visiting during off season when the Gelmerbahn is closed, hiking up gives the possibility to have Gelmersee for yourself.
It is about a 1.6km path with an altitude gain from Kunzentännelein of 250m
What to Expect from the Gelmersee Hike
If you love hiking in a stunning location surrounded by mountain peaks with unbelievably pretty vistas, then the Gelmersee loop hike is for you.
If you are comfortable with red-white-red mountain paths, have some common sense and even take the kids by the hand in some places, this hike is in my opinion, a nice family hike.
We were quite early and for a good 2 hours it felt like we were alone in paradise. Nobody on the path and the whole area was quiet.
Let’s start the Gelmersee hike..
Our choice was to start the Gelmersee hike anti clockwise. Not sure if it was better but as the kids wanted to first cross the dam wall it led in this direction.
If needed, there are toilet facilities just before the dam wall on the right.
Below the dam wall people have made their names with stones and constructed large cairns. Quite a pretty sight. The view over to the other side of the Grimsel Valley is breathtaking. You can see the Grimselsee, far up to the Grimsel Pass and across is a waterfall cascading into the river Aare.
You then follow a path with the lake on your left side. Sometimes the path narrows and is close to the lake. At other times it is a normal mountain path perfectly safe on both sides. However there are some tricky passages on the Gelmersee hike, in other words, maybe not a hike where the younger kids should run ahead. Therefore my suggestion is to keep together and if needed take them by the hand.
We realised that the path is guiding us through blueberry bushes. Unfortunately they were not ripe when we visited in late June but if you are up there in the late summer months bring a bowl and pick your dessert. Also, during the autumn months, it becomes a stunning colourful scenery as all these blueberry bushes turn red.
The path is leading away from the lake and heads slightly uphill. It was here where we found a great BBQ fire station and decided to have an early lunch. Later we would take a break by the water.
Half way by the beach…
At the far end of Gelmersee, on your left side is a wide-open place ideal to have a play by the water or if you are brave enough even a swim. 🙂 No, sorry we’re not a brave glacier lake swimming family, that is not to say we did not test the water. We bravely dipped our toes and it was freezing!
It is also here where one of the water falls is cascading into the Gelmersee. The mountain Jackdaws are very cheeky and are eagerly trying to pick the crumbs of your sandwich.
Pretty to see them hovering so close to us.
After a nice break. we continued our hike around Gelmersee and came to an area where caution is needed.
The path is narrow and crosses a concrete wall with a direct drop into the lake. I would like to say that all members of our family are experienced enough to cross this section without any problem. But we each took one child by the hand and crossed carefully. There is a chain to hold on to, just walk it slowly and concentrate. It is only a short section before you’re back on the normal path again.
On the other side of Gelmersee and the end….
After that particular section there is another beach access and also the junction if you are heading up to the Gelmer Hut. A SAC Mountain hut where you can marvel at some more stunning views and even stay for the night.
We carried on along the Gelmersee lake path which was at certain places again a bit narrow. Therefore be cautious.
I loved in particular this side of the lake path as the views were wide over the Grimsel valley and with the turquoise lake in front and the stunning mountains as a backdrop it was stunning.
We reached the end of the Gelmersee path just in time for our ride back down with the Gelmerbahn .
Happy kids, happy parents. A hike we will definitely do again and maybe even hike up to the mountain hut to stay the night.
Suggestions & Tips
- Maybe not a place to visit in peak season as it can get quite full. Or be early.
- Make sure you pre-book your Gelmerbahn tickets.
- Should the front of the Gelmerbahn paking lot be full, there are further places over the bridge but do not park along the forest road. You will be ticketed.
- If you are visiting with younger kids which are not able to hike the whole loop of the Gelmersee, don’t worry, you should still go up there walk over the dam wall and enjoy the front side of the lake and the amazing vistas.
- You can hike up to Gelmersee whether you are visiting during off season when the Gelmerbahn is closed, or if all tickets are sold on your day, or even if you just fancy a workout. See info above.
Hiking Map for Gelmersee
How the map works: Click on “Learn More” to get to the full map layout with profile and interactive route indicator.
Location:: Gelmersee loop hike, Grimsel Valley, Berneroberland
Length:: 4.5 km, some places you must be careful with kids
Level:: easy to medium – hiked with kids of nearly 5 years old.
Highest point:: 1891 m
Ascent 79m / Descent 79m
Good to know
- Parking lot is free of charge but it is not very large. There is further parking past the Handeck hotel.
- Make sure you have booked your slot for the Gelmerbahn
- Toilet facilities by the dam wall
- No restaurants up at the Gelmersee
- Small snack kiosk at the Gelmerbahn bottom station
- If you want to take a push chair or a mobility aid up to the Gelmersee with the Gelmerbahn, check directly with the responsible person.
- There are a few places where kids need to be held by their hands. I do not want to scare you but at some places the path has no fence and there is a drop straight into the lake. Just be cautious at these places. It is after all a red-white-red alpine hike.
You may also like the following Hikes within Switzerland
- La Grande Dixence Dam – A Family Hike
- Lake Sanetsch – Easy Hike around the Lake
- Tseuzier Lake – Best family friendly hike with little kids
- Zermatt – Matterhorn Glacier Paradise – An Epic Family Experience
- Zermatt – World’s Highest Glacier Palace – Why you should visit
- Evolène – Ferpècle – Bike ride to the Mont- Mine Glacier, Val D’Hérenes
- Zermatt – A Family Day trip to Zermatt
- Nendaz – Family Skiing Les 4 Vallées (maps & Video)
I hope that the information provided here will prove itself useful when planning to go up the Gelmerbahn and hiking Gelmersee in the Grimsel Valley.
If I have left anything out or you have a question, please ask your questions in the comments below so that other readers can join in the conversation and benefit from your queries also.