Some of the most beautiful hikes in Switzerland are in the country’s sunny southern canton, the Valais. In particular, the alpine trails surrounding the resort village of Zermatt are popular, and for good reason. One of the best ways to see the Matterhorn is a Zermatt hike called the 5-Seenweg, or Five Lakes Trail.
Part of the 5-Seenweg’s popularity lies in the simple fact that it’s easily accessible from Zermatt, and the hike isn’t terribly long or difficult. An underground funicular (inclined railway) from town offers quick access to the official starting point of the hike. The trail then circles around five small alpine lakes, making it one of the best ways to see the Matterhorn in Switzerland.
Even if you have unlimited time for hiking in Zermatt, it can be difficult to decide which trails to do. The 5-Seenweg is often listed as the #1 hike in the entire area, but is it? What are some pros and cons that might help you decide whether to add it to your own Switzerland itinerary?
After trekking the trail ourselves, we’re sharing everything to know about hiking the official 5-Seenweg trail, as well as several insider travel tips for the longer, better hike we did. It offers fewer crowds, a challenging trail route, and a more unique and memorable experience than the official trail.
Language Tip: In this German-speaking region of Switzerland, “seen” means lakes and “weg” means path or way.
How do you hike the official 5 Lakes Trail (Nr. 11)?
We’ll start with explaining how to hike the official trail since a lot of folks will just want to stick with that. Swiss tourism sites usually refer to this hike as the5 Lakes Trail (Nr. 11).
To do the official trail route, you’ll either start hiking at the Sunnegga funicular station or the Blauherd cable car station. A cable car connects the two, so you can choose which direction you want to hike the trail. One option is mostly uphill; the other is downhill.
Travel Tip: The cost of a one-way adult ticket for the Sunnegga funicular is 16 CHF. If you have the annual Swiss Travel Pass (Swiss 1/2 Fare Card), the ticket is only 8 CHF.
Map of Official Five Lakes Hike Zermatt
Trail length: 9.8 km (6.1 miles)
Lowest elevation: 2130 m (6988 ft)
Trail difficulty: Medium
Highest elevation: 2584 m (8478 ft)
Time required: 2.5-3 hours
Elevation difference: 454 m (1490 ft)
Option 1: Hiking Blauherd to Sunnegga
The easiest way to complete the 5-Seenweg trail is to hike from Blauherd to Sunnegga, which is the highest point to the lowest point. To do that, you’ll first have to get from Zermatt o Blauherd. Take the Zermatt (Matterhorn Talstat.) funicular from Zermatt up to the Sunnegga station, get off, and from there, take the aerial cable car to Blauherd. The hike starts at Blauherd.
The five alpine lakes along the hike are Stellisee, Grindjisee, Grünsee, Moosjisee, and Leisee.
When you hike the trail this direction, the first lake of the five that you’ll pass is Stellisee, which is just off the main trail and is accessed via the wanderung Zermatt. It’s the highest altitude lake on the hike and one of the three along the route in which you can see Matterhorn reflections.
As is the case with most hikes in Switzerland, the trails are well sign-posted, so once you’re on the trail, you can easily find your way from lake to lake.
Photography Tip: The best light for photography for a 5-Seenweg day hike is to start early from Blauherd. You’ll then hike mostly west with the Matterhorn full-on in the morning sun.
Option 2: Hiking Sunnegga to Blauherd
The other option for hiking the official 5-Seenweg walk is to take the funicular from Zermatt to Sunnegga, get off there, and hike from west to east mostly uphill, ending at Blauherd. From there, you can catch the cable car to Sunnegga and the funicular from Sunnegga to Zermatt.
The main reason you might want to hike this route is if you’re a photographer and you aren’t able to control the time of day when you hike. If you’re hiking in the evening, it’s better to start at Sunnegga and keep the sun at your back rather than shooting the Matterhorn backlit.
Of course, the Matterhorn will still be backlit, so this isn’t the ideal, but if the peak isn’t your main subject or if you want to play with the lighting, this route might be perfect.
How can you enjoy a longer, more memorable 5-Seenweg hike? (Like we did!)
First off, the hike we did is definitely not suited for everyone. It’s more than five kilometers longer than the official trail and has about twice the elevation gain. If you have health problems (especially walking long distances uphill), are short on time, or are traveling with small children, the official 5-Seenweg trail route is probably better for you.
For those looking for a longer, more challenging hike than the official 5-Seenweg though, we definitely recommend our DIY hiking route!
It’s doable as a day trip, but for those who are feeling really adventurous, you can plan for a night of wild camping, which is what we did.
Wild camping along the 5-Seenweg is unforgettable!
*Note* We only recommend wild camping for those skilled in the outdoors who practice Leave No Trace.
Camping Tip: Have questions about wild camping in Switzerland? In general, camping is allowed above the tree line in unpopulated areas. Avoid wetlands, floodplains, and allow a buffer between your tent and any body of water.
Our Five Lakes Trail Map
Click our custom Zermatt hiking map to enlarge.
Trail length: 14.3 km (8.9 miles)
Lowest elevation: 1607 m (5272 ft)
Trail difficulty: Hard
Highest elevation: 2511 m (8238 ft)
Time required: 5-6 hours
Elevation difference: +904 m (2966 ft)
Some Quick Insider Tips for Hiking the 5-Seenweg
Start hiking in the late afternoon or early evening to avoid the crowds.
Know when the funicular/cable cars stop running, so you’re not left stranded in the mountains.
Hike from Zermatt rather than taking the funicular.
Hike from Blauherd to Sunnegga (or vice versa) rather than taking the cable car between the two. Just don’t hike the main 5-Seenweg trail between them since it’s wide, gravel, and heavily used. We recommend following the more rugged side trail we hiked instead. See on our map above.
Plan to stay overnight. This is probably the single thing you can do for a truly intimate experience with nature on this hike. It made it more memorable for us than anything else.
Lodging Tip: While there are no hotels in these parts, a great option for visitors who want to stay overnight while hiking the 5-Seenweg is to book a reservation at a mountain lodge in Findeln.
Hiking from Zermatt to Findeln: 3.5 km (2.2 miles)
Now, did we plan to hike all the way up into the Alps from Zermatt?
Well, no. No we did not.
But planning is just not really our travel style. And even when we have a plan, we usually don’t stick to it. Almost all of our most rewarding travel experiences came about because of our lack of planning.
We don’t make mistakes. We just have happy accidents.
We actually hiked from Zermatt because we’d been having drinks with new friends in town and missed the last tram up to the Sunnegga station. We had no choice but to hike! The next tram wouldn’t leave until the following morning.
Since most folks vacate the slopes with the last lift of the day, our decision gave us the opportunity to enjoy the trail with very few hikers. In hindsight, it was an absolute blessing.
Not sure how to even find the start of the trail on the outskirts of Zermatt, we followed Christine – a Swiss friend – as she expertly wound her way through narrow, unnamed streets, only occasionally referring to her map for guidance. We walked with her as far as the upper outskirts of Zermatt, then parted ways.
She’d led us to the Findeln trail, which leads all the way up to the alpine hamlet of Findeln. There, the trail merges with the more main Gourmetweg trail for a short distance before intersecting with the 5-Seenweg.
The trail from Zermatt takes hikers past rustic Swiss huts on precarious wooden and stone stilts.
Within minutes of leaving Zermatt, we passed a small group of smartly dressed party-goers returning to town from a wedding in the mountains. Many of the women were walking barefoot, high heeled shows slung loosely in hand, kids in tow.
I didn’t envy any of them, hiking in the heat of the evening in painfully uncomfortable attire, but they were friendly and jovial, stopping to say hi to our rat terrier, Touille, and smiling at us in greeting.
We delighted at their British accents, grinning at each other after they’d passed and firing back and forth bad impersonations of our favorite British lines from movies.
Any Pirates of the Caribbean fans out there?
After about an hour of hiking from Zermatt, you’ll come to a bench along the Findeln trail.
It’s perfectly placed, with superb views of the Matterhorn. It’s a great place to stop for lunch or just to enjoy the insane views.
Famished, we needed no further encouragement to take a break, mowering down generous chunks of marinated pork and veggies we’d packed from home. Somehow, leftovers always taste better when you’re adventuring.
The sun skipped from cloud to cloud as the shadows grew long in our valley. Mobs of mosquitoes and flying insects finally drove us to hastily re-pack our bags and get back to the trail.
The Hamlet of Findeln
Almost as soon as you clear the tree line, you’ll hike through the tiny alpine community of Findeln. Findeln is a cluster of small villages sprawling across the slope beneath the 5-Seenweg loop trail. Eggen and Ze Gassen are two of the bigger hamlets in this cluster, though they still each only consist of a handful of buildings.
Whether you follow the Findeln path or the Gourmetweg east toward the 5-Seenweg, you can’t miss Findeln. The old larch barns and homes are a photographer’s dream, and the entire slope spread out before the hulking Matterhorn is unreal.
The scattered buildings also hide some of the best restaurants in Zermatt. Probably the most well known is Chez Vrony, a Mediterranean restaurant with glowing reviews. Of course when we passed it, it was closed for the evening.
C’est la vie!
Hiking Findeln to Grindjisee: 2.9 km (1.8 miles)
Just above Findeln, we were excited to see our first glimpse of Valais Blackneck goats making their way along the steep grassy slopes. With their distinctive half black, half white markings, Travis dubbed them Happy Halfsies.
The breed is native to Switzerland. It’s no surprise that they’re quite popular with tourists, and during the summer months, a small herd of them is paraded twice daily through the streets of Zermatt.
Though ours were too far away to attempt a decent photo, we were beyond excited to see them romping in the peaceful solitude of the mountains. We stood and watched them for awhile until they eventually disappeared over the ridge.
Lake #1: Moosjisee, or Mosjesee
Nearly as soon as you climb above Findeln, the trail merges with the 5-Seenweg. From there, it’s less than a kilometer to the first of the five lakes: Moosjisee.
I can’t lie. We were disappointed when we arrived to find how small it is. The lake is used as a small reservoir for making snow in winter and to generate electricity, so the natural setting is marred by manmade structures.
You can see the Matterhorn behind it, but this lake is definitely one you want to catch during the daylight with blue skies to appreciate its best feature: the pretty pale turquoise color from glacial silt.
We didn’t stay long.
Lake #2: Grünsee, or Gruensee
From Moosjisee, the trail angles down to cross Findeln Creek, then zigzags up the adjacent slope until it meets a gravel road, which becomes the trail for a ways. We’re not fans of hiking on roads as “trails,” and it’s worth noting that several kilometers of the official 5-Seenweg are in fact narrow gravel paths wide enough to be roads. This is one of those sections.
Rather confused at the lack of signage and abrupt disappearance of our trail, we turned right and followed the road for a ways until it reappeared on the left, almost immediately taking us past Grünsee, the second of the five mountain lakes.
Though the tip of the Matterhorn was still visible in the distance, we were again disappointed with the lake’s tiny size. It also lacks the pretty color of Moosjisee. With its proximity to Berghaus Grünsee, a restaurant and mountain lodge that would likely be swarming with tourists in the morning, we again didn’t stay long.
In fact, I didn’t even take a photo of this little guy.
Poor little lake. Unloved. Unphotographed.
Lake #3: Grindjisee
Crossing our fingers, we decided to press on even further to the third lake, Grindjisee, knowing we’d have no choice but to hike in the dark. We were about out of daylight.
Hiking on a sizable gravel road, plainly visible in the darkness, we continued at a decent clip to the lake. From there, only the dark outline of the Matterhorn was visible in the distance, but we knew we’d found our camping destination for the evening.
Camping at Grindjisee
Finding a grassy spot large enough for our small tent turned out to be a challenge. The only flat areas were sogged with water from the stream flowing to the lake, and the steep hillsides tumbling directly into the lake were rife with boulders.
Finally breaking out our headlamps, we scoured the area until we found probably the only circle of grass in the entire valley that would fit even our small tent.
Grateful as always for our REI Half Dome tent, we assembled our castle for the evening mostly by feel within a few minutes. Tossing in our sleeping bags, we were asleep in seconds.
As soon as the first morning rays hit our tent, I was awake, curious to see our surroundings in the light of day.
Perfectly reflected in the opposite end of the lake, the Matterhorn – Switzerland’s Mountain of Mountains – lay suspended between a heavenly blue sky and the otherworldly depths of the lake, which still lay in shadow.
It’s one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen.
Leaving Travis to sleep, I sat for some time in the stillness above the lake and watched the sun climb higher, golden rays creeping ever closer to our tent.
Boiling some water for coffee and a breakfast of chicken and rice, Trav joined me, and we climbed up a giant boulder to enjoy the views while we had breakfast.
Since I typically am too lazy to backpack with my full-sized tri-pod and always forget our GorillaPod, we propped our camera on the rock for a quick selfie before returning to our tent to break camp.
While breaking down our tent, we were both rather surprised to see a hiker step out from behind our breakfast boulder. It was barely 8 am, and the lack of visitors all morning had leant us an erroneous sense of privacy.
With his hands already moving to unzip his fly, it was clear that the poor hiker was even more startled to see us and hastily moved on after an embarrassed wave.
Several hikers followed him as we finished packing our bags, and as we returned to the trail to continue on the 5-Seenweg, we could see a trickle of folks on the trail high above us. The mountain lifts had started running, depositing their first batch of hikers for the day.
Hiking Grindjisee to Sunnegga: 7.9 km (4.9 miles)
Once you leave Grindjisee lake, the beautiful narrow dirt trail almost immediately merges once again with the wide gravel 5-Seenweg trail. The trail continues like this for the entire 2.2 km up to the Blauherd cable car station.
But you’re not ready to call it quits yet, are you?
If you do, you’ll miss the best section of our entire DIY hiking route!
Lake #4: Stellisee
As soon as you merge onto the main 5-Seenweg, it’s just a straight shot 1.7 km up the trail to the fourth lake, Stellisee.
A small side trail peels off for a short detour down to the lake. You can walk around it in a few minutes and see the Matterhorn reflected in the lake. Just be prepared for a small lake and a lot of people.
Our Awesome Side Trail to Sunnegga
Since we always prefer the path least followed, we didn’t stay on the main trail for long, not to go to Blauherd and not even to take the easiest route to Stellisee lake.
If you’re like us and prefer a prettier, less crowded but more challenging trail, this next detour will likely make a huge difference in how you experience the entire 5-Seenweg.
Instead of staying on the main trail, we immediately took the first trail that branches to the left off the 5-Seenweg after leaving Grindjisee.
The sign post at the intersection shows this trail leads to Leisee and Sunnegga. While it does, it will first zigzag back to Stellisee, so you don’t have to worry about missing this lake. You’ll end up hiking further but avoiding most of the gravel trail.
The Stellisee detour aside, the remainder of the trail route all the way back to Sunnegga is mostly sidehill, parallel with the main 5-Seenweg trail above (gravel, ick) and the lower section of the trail you hiked to get to this point.
It does have some elevation changes, and it’s rocky and narrow with one set of switchbacks. If you’re in good physical condition though, none of it is challenging.
If you’re hiking with dogs, this side trail is also a nice option.
Touille was happy to be off leash, running ahead and snuffling every inch in her never-ending quest to find the elusive Swiss squirrel or the much more common marmot. The savvy little critters always disappear in a hole long before she reaches them.
We saw few enough people on the trail that we were actually grateful to run into a couple of gals hiking together. Asking if they’d take a quick photo of us, we returned the favor and took one of them, then continued the last few kilometers of our hike.
Lake #5: Leisee
Once you arrive at Sunnegga, another short side trail leads down to the fifth and last lake on the Five Lakes hike, Leisee.
It’s not far, but again, it’s small. It’s up to you to decide if you want to hike to and around it or if you’re content to see it from the surrounding hiking trails.
Sunnegga to Zermatt Funicular
Whether you decide to hike the official 5 Seenweg trail or our longer route, you’ll likely end up at the Sunnegga station to take the underground tram back down to Zermatt. If you already have a round-trip ticket that you purchased in Zermatt, you can just board the next available car back to town.
Since we had hiked up rather than taking the lift up, we arrived at Sunnegga and were stumped as to how to buy a one-way ticket down. After thoroughly searching around the entire building, we finally just got on the next train.
It wasn’t until we reached the bottom that we realized the station is only manned at the bottom. Before we could exit the turn-style at the station in Zermatt, we had to pay for our one-way ride down from Sunnegga.
The underground tram ride from Sunnegga to Zermatt only takes about four minutes.
So do we think the 5-Seenweg trail is worth hiking?
We do recommend the 5-Seenweg, and most visitors would likely be content with the main route, despite the crowds and gravel road/trail. For anyone wondering how to see the Matterhorn easily, quickly, and without breaking the bank, this hike is a great option.
Personally, we would have been disappointed if we had just hiked the official trail as a day trip. Both of the the trails we did that extended our trip – Zermatt to Findeln and the side trail to Sunnegga – offer better views of the Matterhorn, more of a connection with nature, have far fewer hikers, and are perfect if you’re hiking with a dog, which we were.
Spending a night in the mountains also allows you to experience the beauty of the area without crowds. You’ll have time to soak up the mountain solitude in the early morning and evening, which is better for photography or just for the spirit. We both absolutely crave that connection with nature when we’re outdoors, free of any evidence of human impact.
The final big plus (like Switzerland’s flag!) to our route is that it’s cheaper than hiking the official 5-Seenweg. You don’t have to pay for the Blauherd cable car, and you only have to pay to take the Sunnegga funicular one way.
Who doesn’t love saving a few bucks on budget travel?!
Back in Zermatt, we wandered past the Mountaineer’s Cemetery before wearily dropping our packs under a shady tree in an adjacent park. We gratefully pulled off our sweaty hiking boots, and I burrowed my feet in the soft, cool grass with a sigh before throwing together a quick cold lunch from our packs.
We were both so tired at that point that we debated about whether to head home or maybe even camp in town.
I still really wanted to hike at least part of the way up to the Hörnlihütte, though. The chalet is the last alpine hut on the route to summit the Matterhorn that’s accessible without technical climbing gear.
Though I don’t think Travis gave a whit at that point about the hike, he knew how much I wanted to do it, so he sucked it up for me.
Shouldering our packs, we set off across Zermatt in search of the lift that would take us up to Schwarzsee. From there, we would hike the Hörnlihütte Matterhorn trail, which would end up being quite possibly the most stunning and memorable hike (and night of camping) of our entire year in Switzerland.