Why Lake Lucerne is the Ultimate Outdoor Destination in Switzerland
Imagine a scene from Lord Of The Rings with an idyllic lake surrounded by soaring mountains. The lush greens of the forested slopes offset the blue water and sky.
Now put a modern town at the north end of that lake, and you have Lucerne, Switzerland. With the mix of water and mountains, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that Lake Lucerne is not only the ultimate outdoor destination in Switzerland but also one of the best in all of Europe.
Just about all mountain and water sports are available in the area. From hiking the peaks and ridgelines to paddling the sparkling water, you have a world of options at your disposal. All you need is time and fitness. For the more adventurous and experienced, there is epic rock climbing and mountain biking.
Located 50 kilometers south of Zurich, Lake Lucerne is the getaway spot for locals and a destination for international adventure seekers.
Best Outdoor Adventures to do Around Lake Lucerne
Walking Tour Of Lucerne
Once you get to Lucerne, a great way to work out the kinks from traveling is to walk around the town. Medieval architecture on the shore of a lake offers endless sights to see. From churches to the oldest covered bridge, which was built in 1333.
The Musegg Wall is part of the old fortification surrounding the original town. Nine towers still stand along the wall and can be accessed for tours during the warmer months.
As you tour the town, don’t miss the sculpture of the dying lion, which commemorates the Swiss Guardsmen who fell in 1792 defending the French King during the Revolution. This sandstone carving is breathtaking in its detail and emotion.
And no tour is complete without exploring the side streets and alleys of the Old Town, where artisans have crafts, food, and especially chocolate for sale.
Lake Lucerne Hiking
A lake surrounded by mountains with hundreds of kilometers of trails is a perfect destination for hikers. Hiking in the mountains may sound daunting from a technical and fitness level, but one of the great things about Lake Lucerne hiking is that the mountains are highly accessible.
Switzerland has a unique relationship with its mountains, with expansive rugged trails interspersed with restaurants and cable cars. The high mountains are more accessible here than almost anywhere else on earth. You will be walking on a trail that feels wild and isolated, only to turn a corner and find a spot for a gourmet meal and a glass of wine. Truly the best of both worlds.
The Lucerne hiker looking for a challenge can hike from the valley floor to the summit and back for an epic day, but that isn’t your only choice. Many mountains are accessible most of the way up by road, cable car, or train. This can save you thousands of feet of elevation. You will be able to enjoy the views and stunning scenery even if you aren’t ready to put in hours of ascending.
Below in the post, you will find some of the best hikes around Lake Lucerne. We sample just a few as there are hundreds of options for all levels of hiker.
Mountain and Road Cycling
Mountains covered in trails are the perfect place to go for an epic bike ride. Whether you travel with your bike or rent one, there is a ride from everyone near Lake Lucerne.
If you are very fit, you can climb and descend the mountains on roads or trails, but if you are just into the thrills, you can take your bike up in a cable car or trail and let gravity do the work on the way down.
Check out the trails on Trailforks to see the various mountain bike option near Lucerne.
And if you want to test your legs, you can ride around the lake and through the mountains on smoothly paved roads. The terrain is challenging in places, but the area is cycling friendly, so feel comfortable exploring.
While bringing your bike is possible, you can also rent high-quality road and mountain bikes from Bcyclet.
One of our favorite routes is the tour of the lake, which is a challenging 95 km route. While fast cyclists can do this in less than 4 hours, all the sights along the way will likely turn it into a full day’s outing. Along the route, there are many opportunities to fill your water bottles and get tasty snacks to fuel your ride.
Camping By The Lake
While most of the stays in Lucerne are hotels and hostels, there are opportunities to go camping by the lake. Just south of Lucerne in Buochs is TCS Camping Buochs Vierwaldstättersee on the shore of the lake. Getting to Buochs is possible by bus, train, ferry, or taxi.
This clean, modern campground is next to the beach and playground, so great if you visit with your family. Buochs has restaurants, boat rentals, and shops, all a short walk from the campground.
They offer nice shaded spots to set up your favorite camping tent with enough room for cooking and relaxing around the fire pit. If you don’t have your camping gear, they have ready-to-go accommodations, including trailers and cabins.
Hut Tour In The Mountains
Nothing is more Swiss than a mountain trek that has you spending a night in a mountain hut. While you scale the lofty summits above the clouds, you know you will find sanctuary in a cozy hut with warm food and a comfortable bed.
This version of lightweight backpacking is fast and fun with the right mix of wild trekking and civilized living. Make sure you pack a warm jacket, as it can get cold and snow at higher elevations, even in the summer.
The Swiss Alpine Club maintains several huts in the mountains around Lake Lucerne. Book your stays as they can fill up quickly, especially in the summer.
Rock Climbing near Lake Lucerne
With mountains in all directions, it isn’t surprising you will find an exposed rock face for climbing. There are several climbing areas around lake Lucerne.
To the South East of Mount Rigi, you will find the Fallenflue, a single-pitch mountain crag that feels very remote. There is also an unsupervised Via Ferrata so you will need to bring your own gear or rent. Mount Pilatus is home to many crags with mostly single-pitch sport routes, but there are a few moderate multi-pitch trad adventures.
If you need equipment, Lucerne has a number of outdoor stores that sell and rent gear.
Paddling Lake Lucerne
A big lake surrounded by mountains is a perfect place to explore by boat. While we will talk about the boat tours later, nothing beats seeing the sights from the seat of a kayak or canoe. The water is generally calm and well-protected in the various bays and inlets that make up the shoreline of Lake Lucerne.
Your paddling trip can be as relaxing or challenging as you want to make it, with miles of shoreline to explore. You can paddle across the lake and enjoy a meal in Vitznau at the foot of Mount Rigi.
Kayaks and canoes can be rented from Kanuwelt Buochs in Buochs, around 20 km south of Lucerne. Rentals include a life jacket, paddle, safety kit, and a map of paddling routes on the lake. They also offer guided kayak trips, including a sunset tour on Thursday evenings.
6 Lake Lucerne Hiking Trails You Must Try
1. Mount Rigi Hiking
On the north side of the lake towers Rigi, a broad mountain with various peaks on a ridge line. There is 120 km of trails on this mountain alone. From the short (1.1 km) hike from Rigi Kulm to Rigi Staffel to multiday backpacking trips, you can have any adventure on Mt. Rigi. They even groom 35km of trails in the winter for an easily accessible alpine experience.
Aside from hiking, Mount Rigi has trails suitable for mountain biking. You can take your bike up the cable car or train for rides on the ridges, and long downhill runs. For the very fit among you, there are also trails you can ride up from the valley.
For more details, check out the website for Mount Rigi.
Getting to Rigi is a fun jaunt even before you start hiking. From Lucerne, you take a boat ride to Weggis or Vitznau, where you can take a cable car, train, or hike from the valley.
2. Rigi Lake Lucerne Panorama Trail
The Rigi Panorama Trail from Rigi Kaltbad to Rigi Burggeist is a 15 km trek with beautiful views of the lake below and the surrounding mountains. You can take the Lake Lucerne boat to Weggis, and then take the cable car to Rigi Kaltbad from Weggis and the cable car and train back from the trail’s end. The hike is moderate, with only a few hundred meters of elevation gain.
If you’d like a more moderate to advanced hike with incredible panoramic views you can keep going from the mountain inn at Rigi Burggeist you can hike along a section of the “Tells Trail” to the cable car at Urmiberg Timpel. From there, take the cable car down to Brunnen. This extension make the hike approx. 12.5 km, ↑ 590 m ↓ 900 m.
3. Mount Pilatus Hiking
Mount Pilatus is an outdoor playground with everything from hiking trails for all fitness and skill levels to a high ropes obstacle course in the trees.
After you’ve burned off your spare energy, you can recharge with a nice meal and a good night’s sleep. Mount Pilatus to the southwest of Lucerne is easily accessible with the various public transit methods in the area.
Like most of the mountains in the area, Mount Pilatus is covered in trails offering everything from leisurely strolls to mountaineering adventures. When a mountain has its website, you know there will be lots to do once you get there.
To get to Pilatus from Lucerne, the easiest way is to take the bus to Kriens and the gondola from Kriens to the summit of Pilatus. When coming back, you can make a loop of it and take the cog railway from Pilatus to Alpnachstad and boat across the lake. You’ll need to book your tickets for each leg of the trip, or you can book them as a package.
In addition to hiking, you will find a large selection of rock climbing on Mount Pilatus. Since you can take the cable car or cog rail up, it makes getting to the climbs relatively easy. From single-pitch bolted sport routes to multi-pitch alpine trad climbs, there is climbing for almost all skill levels. You can even book a trip with a climbing guide for instruction if you want to experience rock climbing in the mountains.
4. Frankmuntegg to Pilatus Klum Hike
This easy hike takes you from Pilatus to Frankmuntegg on an out-and-back trail. It is 3.4 km each way, with breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. At both ends of this hike, there are restaurants and attractions to make a whole day of it.
5. Burgenstock and the Hammetschwand Lift
When you combine Europe’s highest outdoor elevator with a mountain that overlooks Lake Lucerne, you have a destination you shouldn’t miss. A hike around the mountain leads to many lookouts, but the best and most memorable is atop the Hammetschwand Lift.
To get from Lucerne to Burgenstock, the easiest is on the ferry, which takes you straight across the lake in about 25 minutes.
The tram from the water and the lift run from Easter to Autumn. Once you get off the ferry, the funicular car will take you up the escarpment and set you on the walking path near the Burgenstock resort.
A short stroll will lead you to the elevator for the trip up through the rock to a point 450 feet up. You will be rewarded with stunning views of the lake and surrounding Alps.
6. Hike Rütli -Bauen – Altdorf
This Lake Lucerne hike offers stunning lake views, and charming villages. After a climbing switchbacks up from Rütli you’ll find yourself hiking a gentle path through forests, and farms. Once you descend down into the small village of Bauen (a great lunch stop), you can decide to go on to Altdorf or hop on a boat to Altdorf and get the best of hiking and boating.
This hike is part of the well-known Swiss Pass and you can find more information here.
Organized Adventure Tours Around Lake Lucerne
If you’d rather have someone take care of the logistics for you on your Lake Lucerne adventures – you can! This is great when you have limited time and want to be as efficient as possible with your vacation days.
Eurotreks specializes in adventure travels both self guided and guided and they are experts in the region. Hike the high altitude hikes around Lake Lucerne with Eurotreks on this self guided hike that will take you to the best panoramic views around the lake. All of your lodging and transport is taken care of – all you have to do is hike!
Or if biking is more your style, try the Eurotreks 1291 Cycling Route that starts in Lucerne and climb up the high passed taking you around much of Lake Lucerne and then onward to other challenging passes. Don’t worry, they rent electric bikes for those her are more moderate bikers.
The Best Time to Visit Lake Lucerne
For fair weather, the best time to visit Lake Lucerne is from June to September. Due to the effect of the lake and mountains, summer temperatures are moderate (20-25C) compared to a lot of Europe. But if you like the cold and snow, consider a winter trip to Lucern, as the snow-covered peaks are perfect for snowshoeing and skiing, followed by a cozy evening by a fireplace.
Travel By Boat Around Lake Lucerne
With all the jumping-off points for adventure around Lake Lucerne located on the shore, it is convenient to just hop on a ferry to get to most of your destinations. The trips are relaxing with beautiful views, and the prices are reasonable.
If you are heading to Mount Rigi, Burgenstock, or camping in Buochs, the boat is the most direct way to get there.
There are three boat companies to know for your trips:
Travel By Train Around Lake Lucerne
The Swiss love their trains with one of the most comprehensive rail systems in the world. If you are coming from Geneva or Zurich, you will usually have reached Lucerne by train, and it is an excellent way to get around the area as well.
Prices vary depending on the type of ticket you buy, but a Swiss Pass will give you access to trains, buses, and boat over the whole country, plus many discounts at attractions and partner retailers.
The train station in Lucerne is central to the town, with a few train stops on either side of the lake. Combined with trains up the mountains, you can cover much of your adventure by train.
Jump into Adventure Around Lake Lucerne
Nestled in the middle of the mountains in the middle of Switzerland, Lake Lucerne is the ultimate outdoor destination due to its variety of activities, breathtaking scenery, and easy access.
Almost every mountain has a trail and cable car to the top, making your adventure as challenging or easy as you want to make it. You could go back to this area many times and never exhaust the possible things to see and do.