When we lived in the States, we didn’t have a habit of seeking out the oldest, tallest, or biggest of anything, at least not intentionally.  If we did happen to visit a site qualifying as such, it was typically a natural phenomenon, like the world’s largest spruce tree in Washington’s Quinault Valley, the world’s greatest concentration of geysers at Yellowstone, or the world’s longest continuous volcanic eruption, which has been flowing since 1983 in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.  Now that we’re in Europe, we keep stumbling across things like the world’s tallest church and the world’s oldest – well, the oldest of lots of things.

Have the guts to ride Europe's steepest funicular? What if we told you you'll be rewarded with a killer hike around one of the bluest lakes at the top?Click To Tweet

With their crazy, impressive feats of engineering, Switzerland is no stranger to unique sights that stretch the imagination.  When we had a chance to visit the Gelmerbahn, Europe’s steepest funicular, we couldn’t say no; we quite literally jumped on board the superlative train.  Of course, it would seem remiss to have just one little ol’ attraction at a single location.  So the site of Europe’s steepest funicular also a series of stunning waterfalls, a killer hike around an azure blue lake at the top, and a doozy of a suspension bridge spanning the gorge just feet from the Gelmerbahn Talsation, the ticket office for the funicular.

Handeck Suspension Bridge in Switzerland

The Handeck Suspension Bridge at Gelmerbahn Talstation rises 70 meters above the canyon floor to cross the Aare River Gorge.

Handeck Waterfall in Switzerland

From the bridge, the Handeck Waterfall hastily ushers the raucous waters of the Aare River down through the narrow gorge 70 meters below.  The Aare first has to pass through Lake Brienz, the town of Interlaken, and Thun Lake before finally flowing through the capital city of Bern 100 some odd miles to the northwest.

After purchasing our tickets for the funicular, we had an hour to kill before our scheduled departure time, so we investigated the gently swaying Handeck Bridge, then ventured a bit further on the other side of the gorge to a cluster of restaurants and hotels.  Savoring locally made coffee ice cream, we lounged in the grassy shade of some trees for so long we almost missed our train.  Luckily we were with Simone, a Swiss friend who is far more punctual than us.

It pays to have responsible friends!

The three of us set off at a dead run along the trail, arriving just as our funicular car was loading.

Typically it might not be a good idea to thunder across a suspension bridge, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

We filed in to a row of awkwardly tilted seats on the funicular – a specialized type of train that uses a cable and pulley system to pull the cars up a track.  For us, it mostly just seemed like a novel amusement park ride, right down to the lap bar for safety, though I was surprised to see the polite sign asking guests not to open the safety bar.

Isn’t it supposed to lock in place?

Ummm, apparently not in Switzerland.  Clearly nobody would be daft enough to open it.

The Gelmerbahn Funicular in Switzerland

The Gelmerbahn actually only has one car that is winched up the hill, so it’s more accurately referred to as an inclined lift (for all you engineers out there).

Clicking and clacking, our car inched its way up the 3373 foot track, passing a pair of climbers laboriously inching their way up the adjacent rock face.

Climbers near the Gelmerbahn in Switzerland

Climbers above the valley inch their way up the adjacent rock face visible from the Gelmerbahn.

In just over 10 minutes, we’d covered the entire distance over a rise of almost 1500 vertical feet.

We rode comfortably tilted at a slight backward angle or seated upright for most of the ride, but I was grateful for the safety bar along the steepest part of the track where the grade pitched to an impressive 106% – roughly a 45-50 degree angle.

Riders on the world's steepest funicular in Switzerland

Because the lift only has one car and doesn’t turn around, it means riders face downhill on the way up as well as the ride down.

The photos may show how high up we were, but they don’t show how sloooooooooooooooooooowly the funicular actually moves.

Before you think we’re incredibly brave or adventurous (probably only our moms), click on the brief video.  You’ll see what I mean.  I’m pretty sure our “wild and hairy ride” up the Gelmerbahn won’t nab us nominations for the National Geographic Adventurers of the Year award.

Though it didn’t exactly get our hearts pumping, I could definitely see how it would be a challenge for someone with a fear of heights.  For some people, even the Ferris wheel can be scary – this is the Ferris wheel of train rides.

On a brighter note, the ride was more harrowing for our operator’s lack of attention to the job at hand.

Hang up and DRIVE, woman!

Our train conductor chats on a phone while driving

Since we don’t speak German, we’re just going to assume our funicular driver is chatting business.

Imagine our reaction when we later saw the last funicular departure of the day leave with no driver.

Apparently the rail car drives itself, so our lives were never in any real danger.  Bummer.

Feeling like we’d already enjoyed a fun little adventure from our funicular ride, we still didn’t realize the best was yet to come.  Ahead of us was a superb hike around the spectacularly glacial-blue Gelmersee, along which we would discover…

HUCKLEBERRIES!!!

Picking huckleberries at Gelmersee, Switzerland

Trav scours the trail above the lake in search of the ripest, bluest, sweetest huckleberries.

These are the first – and only – huckleberry bushes we’ve found in Europe.

I would absolutely never encourage anyone to eat wild berries if you’re not familiar with them, but any Two Small Potatoes worth their salt can identify huckleberry bushes by sight.  Not only is the huckleberry Idaho’s state fruit, but it’s my personal favorite food  – tied with Alaskan king crab.

Let’s just say we grazed like grizzlies and left with the purply stained fingers to prove it.

Hikers on the shores of Gelmersee, Switzerland

Hikers visible on the left are dwarfed by the mountains rising above Gelmersee, Switzerland.

Simone, our energetic Swiss hiking buddy, tears up the trail like there’s no tomorrow.

Before we’d hiked far, we found the ideal boulder in the lake for having lunch.  We dined with our feet submerged in the frigid water for as long as we could stand, removing them occasionally to restore feeling to toes in the warmth of the sun.

Few restaurants offer a setting this sublime, even in Switzerland.

Hiking back up to the trail after lunch, we continued along the western edge of the lake.  From every angle, the water was impossibly blue, glinting in the sun.

Simone and I are but specks on the trail in the mountain face above Gelmersee.

The water really is that blue.

Scattered with loose dirt and rocks, our trail was narrowly sandwiched between vertical cliffs above, and a steeply sloping rock slide to the lake below.

A boulder field with giant slabs of granite artfully laid out led us beneath the shadows of a hanging waterfall high above in the valley.

Half way around the lake, we encountered my favorite little section of trail – a narrow ledge built directly into a steep cliff face high above the water.  Not surprisingly, a cable affixed to the rock face along the ledge makes it quite safe.

Simone and I take a breather along the rock ledge overlooking Gelmersee.

While I have no illusions as to our videography skills, Trav took a short video crossing this part of the trail.  It was a fun little section!

From the ledge, we swung around the northeastern corner of the lake, crossing a couple of grated bridges before taking a moment to enjoy the views over the raging Alplibach stream.

Stumbling across a creek with an icy waterfall, I can’t resist taking a wee dip.

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Growing short on time, we continued on over the creek and down the eastern edge of the lake.

Everywhere we’re reminded of Swiss engineering, a constant taming of nature.

Simone crests the last rise in the trail.

By then we were hiking against the clock.

Because seating on the single funicular car is limited to 24 passengers, it’s required to choose your return time when you buy your ticket.  For us, the only return time available was the last lift down shortly before 5 pm, which was perfect, but we’d rapidly whiled away almost 4 hours along the lake.

Arriving at the final stretch of trail over the dam’s causeway, we were surprised to see that it was blocked off to hikers with an alternate route marked below the dam.

The final segment of our trail leads us down below the dam to cross near the spillway.

Balancing on planks and narrow raised concrete walkways through the sludgy slack water, I eyed the dam to our right, half expecting the floodgates to open at any minute and sweep us over the cliff on our left.

Considering that the Gelmerbahn funicular was built in 1926 specifically to transport materials up the mountain to build the dam, hiking beneath it was the perfect ending to our day’s adventure.

Hiking below Gelmersee Dam, Switzerland

We arrived back at the upper funicular station a few minutes before our rail car arrived.  We had just enough time to coax Touille, our dog, back into her traveling backpack.  She rode quietly on my lap for the steep ride back down.

It’s hard to imagine finding a similar place that offers quite the same experience; suspension bridge, crazy steep funicular ride, the unexpected surprise of huckleberries, a beautiful and accessible lake hike, interesting views of a dam, and a final impressive descent back to the norms of daily life.

So does our visit to the steepest funicular in Europe mean we’ll continue on the superlative trend?  Do we now feel the need to visit sites like the world’s largest ball of twine?

Perhaps not, but then again, if we’re ever in Cawker City, Kansas, why not?

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Gelmerbahn Funicular in Switzerland

Know Before You Go
  • The ticket price of 32 chf per adult is a bit of a shocker, so be prepared.
  • They don’t accept coupons, discounts, or the Swiss Half Fare card.
  • The trail around the lake is about 4 km.  It has minimal elevation gain, but does have steep drop offs, boulders, and uneven ground.  Be extra cautious when hiking with young kids and dogs.
Gelmerbahn and Gelmersee Hike Map

36 Responses

  1. Nur

    Hi! I want to know your honest opinion, is it really worth it? Since you mentioned the ticket price of 32 chf per adult is a bit of a shocker. I’m planning to go there this June and if you strongly recommend this then I would like to buy the tickets in advance. Thanks! 🙂

    Reply
    • Carrie, Two Small Potatoes

      Hey Nur!

      So I’m not sure how helpful our answer will be since my husband and I don’t agree! I definitely think it was worth it – 75% because of the hike and 25% because of the funicular ride. My husband, however, said to tell you he doesn’t think it’s worth it, but it’s mostly because so much of Switzerland is absolutely stunning and many of the hikes are free if you know where to go and have a car. Public transit tends to take you right to a lift, but most of the lifts are equally spendy. There’s always the option of hiking up just to hike around the lake, but be prepared for a doozy of a hike!

      Despite the cost though, the Gelmerbahn still makes it on my husband’s “Best of Switzerland List.” We don’t often splurge on such expensive activities, but we’ve realized that in the past when we opted out of a fun activity because of the cost, we regretted it.

      Another thing to think about is that Switzerland is flat-out insanely expensive to normal working stiffs like us. When we lived there, we developed a “Rule of Halves.” If something cost more than twice as much in Switzerland as it would in the US, it was too expensive. Less than twice as much, it was a go. So if you’d be willing to pay $16 per ticket for the Gelmerbahn in the US, then it just might be worth your money.

      We hope you have a wonderful time in Switzerland, whatever you decide to do!

      Reply
  2. Kristina

    Hahhhaa oh my god that is so steep I’d be so scared. I fully appreciate the view, but I would be trembling the whole way.

    Reply
  3. Sia

    Now that looks more like a rollercoaster than a means of transport! Thank God I don’t have fear of heights, though I might be a bit scared of this one. Amazing views around you and the water is so blue, it is surreal!

    Reply
  4. Christina Dwiggins

    Great experience! We did a couple Funiculars while in Europe and they never seem to move fast haha. The suspension bridge will be a must on our next trip to Switzerland.

    Reply
    • Carrie @ Two Small Potatoes

      That’s so true, Christina! We had a tiny one in Fribourg where we lived that people could ride from “Old Town” down by the Sarine River up the hill to the rest of town. You could WALK up the steps faster. Haha! Plus, it runs on human poo, which is a a creative and eco-friendly idea, but the smell was always terrible!

      If you’re looking for an even more stunning suspension bridge on your next trip to Switzerland, we’ve heard that Trift Bridge is the mother of all death-defying suspension bridges. We were actually planning to visit Trift on this particular day but they didn’t have enough tickets for our entire group. It’s right down the road from the Gelmerbahn, though, so you could do both in the same day if you wanted!

      Reply
  5. Snigdha

    Wow.. This must have been one adventurous trip… Looks so interesting.. But scary… Glad you enjoyed your trip. Thanks for the share. Loved your journey through pictures.

    Reply
  6. Indrani

    Wow what a steep… good the speed was low else that would be scary for many. The views are mind blowing. I have done a couple of funicular drives, one in a salt mine, another in Salzburg. It was fun.

    Reply
  7. esther

    Wow!! Switzerland is amazing! I lived in Zúrich for a short period and did a treeking quite similar to this one the Viamala Gorge (without funicular, though). The Alps are the perfect mountain landscapes for hiking lovers…!! Nice to know of this Gerlmersee one 🙂 Best travels, E!

    Reply
    • Carrie @ Two Small Potatoes

      It really is, Esther! That’s really neat you lived in Zurich. Did you like it? We’re not city people so it seems every time we’ve been near Zurich, it was just to pass it to head into the mountains. It’s a shame because we’ve heard it’s an incredible city! We didn’t visit Viamala Gorge, but you’re right, the Alps are perfect for outdoor fans. Happy travels to you as well!

      Reply
  8. Wanderlust Vegans

    That funicular looks pretty fun but scary if you are afraid of heights. The hike at the top looks like the best part. I like that rock ledge with the cable, that looks cool.

    Reply
    • Carrie @ Two Small Potatoes

      For sure. A gal sitting behind us on the funicular was terrified of heights. She rode almost the whole way up with her hands over her eyes, but she made it to the top!

      The rock ledge was definitely the coolest part of the trail.

      Reply
  9. Swati

    The ride looks scary but it would have been sheer fun. This is the first time am hearing about the bridge and the ride, not many bloggers write about it.

    We are planning to visit Switzerland in May, hope we can brave this ride 🙂

    Reply
    • Carrie @ Two Small Potatoes

      I’m glad to hear you haven’t heard about this attraction before, Swati. As a travel writer, sometimes it seems hard to write about places that aren’t already saturated with tourism.

      How exciting that you’ll be visiting Switzerland! After living there for a year, the touristy highlights for us were hiking Aletsch Glacier, camping beneath the Matterhorn, touring Gruyeres Castle, St Beatus Caves, and hiking in the Lauterbrunnen Valley with a visit to Trummelbach Falls.

      Have a wonderful trip! We’d love to hear about it when we you get back.

      Reply
  10. Soumya Nambiar

    It looks like you had more fun at the lake hike than the funicular ride. Did your dog have fun as well? Or was he/she scared? It looks quite high for me but I would love to try the funicular ride one day.

    Reply
    • Two Small Potatoes

      I think we did, Soumya. Our dog didn’t mind the funicular ride other than having to get in her pet backpack, which she almost never has to do. She loved the hike, though! We put her on the leash for part of it since the trail is narrow in parts with steep, slippery drop offs into the lake. If you don’t like heights, you can still walk part way around the lake on flat ground.

      Reply
  11. Emily

    Thats crazy that the transport had no driver?! Not sure if i would like that too much… I would love to visit here if i were ever in Switzerland, and i hope to be soon!

    Reply
  12. Siddhartha Joshi

    What a lovely little trip! The views are impressive even if the speed was not 🙂 I did a couple of funicular rides in Switzerland but missed this one…but I guess your story actually made me take the journey along with you 🙂

    Reply
    • Carrie @ Two Small Potatoes

      That’s such a nice thing to say, Siddhartha. We’ve been constantly impressed with Swiss engineering. There is just no place they won’t build a restaurant, a gondola, or a hiking trail. I’ll have to pop over to your site to read about your experiences in Switzerland! 🙂

      Reply
  13. neha

    Looks like you had fun. Anyone would miss their train in such a beautiful place. But that funicular looks so steep..I wonder if I will ever have courage to take a ride on it

    Reply
    • Carrie @ Two Small Potatoes

      If heights aren’t your thing, Neha, it’s totally ok. Switzerland definitely offers lots of other stunning attractions, though it does seem that many of them tend to be perched on a mountain. 🙂

      Reply
  14. Local Nomads

    This looks like such an amazing trip, you guys! I’m so glad you found some huckleberries along that trail. Definitely one of my favorite berries, and so hard to find in the states outside of places like Idaho and Oregon.

    Reply
    • Carrie @ Two Small Potatoes

      It really was, Local Nomads. That’s awesome to hear you like huckleberries too! So many folks we meet have never heard of them. This is still the only time we’ve found them outside the Pacific Northwest, so we were happy campers.

      Reply

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