Mt Pilatus, Switzerland: Day Trip with Kids
Sure, Mt. Pilatus is touristy, but it is still a great day trip from Lucerne with spectacular views and a host of activities packed into an easy day trip. Where else can you experience the world’s longest summer toboggan run and the steepest cog railway in the world? Even better – the whole journey is covered by your Swiss Rail Pass.
We used a half day of our time in Lucerne for Mt. Pilatus. This gave us plenty of time to explore and complete the Golden Round Trip. To avoid crowds though we did the round trip backwards (gondola first, cog railway and boat last) and early in the morning.
We arrived at the gondola station by bus from Lucerne just before they opened. It’s a bit of a walk, uphill, from where the bus drops you off. There was already a line. You’ll need to get in the ticket line to exchange the Swiss Rail Pass for your all day pass on the mountain.
The line moved quickly though and before we knew it we were scanning our tickets to board the gondola. The line continued to grow behind us, so we were glad to be in line at opening and headed up the mountain before the tour buses pulled up.
The ride takes 30min and goes through several stations. We hopped off at the first station to check out Pilu Land, an adventure playground based on the dragon legend of Pilatus.
There is a small cafe, which was not yet open when we arrived. You have to hike down from the gondola station to the playground. Kids can take the amazing tube slide down.
It is a great slide and even Jeff had to give it a try. I think the kids would have ridden it over and over if it weren’t for all the steps you have to climb to get back to the top!
The playground is pretty incredible. The kids could have played here all day. Had the cafe been open, enabling me to have my cup of coffee while supervising them I may have let them! There were plenty of options for each of the kids to enjoy and we saw many kids looking down from the gondolas longingly as they passed by overhead. This playground is only visible after you pass the station (going uphill). So you need to know where you’re going in order to get off at the right station. Luckily, this playground is clearly marked on all Pilatus maps.
We love the European playground system. There were plenty of items for the little kids, but also some challenges for our Big Little. He loves these low ropes courses. They are hard for him, but he just loves the challenge. Any morning we can start with some honest exercise for the boys ends up with better behaved kids and an easy bedtime. One of our expat friends in Delft always says that if you run ’em hard, they learn more and sleep better.
They were sad to say goodbye to this amazing playground, but excited about what other adventures might lie ahead. We had a bit of trouble finding an open gondola to continue up the mountain, as most people take the 30 min ride in one chunk. There were several people getting off to start their hikes though and we took their empty car.
The gondolas terminate at the next stop, heading back down the mountain. Again, most people just transfer to the Arial Cableway, known as the flying dragons. We hopped off though, grabbed some coffee (yea!) and snacks and were waiting at the toboggan run when it opened. Now, I need to explain that Jeff is a summer toboggan junky. It’s perhaps his favorite thing in the whole world. He tries to plan our trips around toboggan runs and this particular one was at the top of his list.
The Fraekigaudi toboggan run is the longest summer toboggan run in Switzerland. Tickets are purchased at a little kiosk at the entrance. We were told by the staff that the line can grow to over two hours in the afternoons. When we arrived there was no line.
Y’all! This thing is fun! They have special carts for two persons making it super comfortable. We each took a turn riding with one of the littles, while my mom sat up top with the Little Little.
Surprisingly, it was our Middle Little who kept shouting “faster mom” as we went down the hill. The Big Little preferred to drive himself keeping us moving but not too fast and heeding all warning signs on the track.
At the bottom a guy helps you transfer your sled to a separate track where you are pulled backwards back up the mountain. Going down was fun, but going up gives you the most incredible views.
You’re literally moving up through a cow pasture. There are plenty of wildflowers to enjoy (and pick) as well as just enjoying the scenery as you move up the mountain.
We probably would have ridden it all day, but two times seemed like enough. We had to move on to other things. If you have older kids there is also a family ropes course here that looks amazing. Our littles are too little, but check it out if your kids are a bit older.
One last look at this incredible toboggan run, as seen from the aerial cableway.
The aerial cableway, known as the Dragon Ride, is supposed to give you the sense of flying. The windows surround you as you go above the clouds to the peak of Mt. Pilatus. The ride takes just under four minutes.
The kids loved sitting at the window watching us soar into the sky. Amazingly the summit sits at about the same elevation as our old house in Monument Colorado.
Here, though, this means sitting well above the clouds.
When you step out of the cable car you are swept into a world of activity. The cable car and cog train both drop off up here. There are several hiking trails, restaurants and even a hotel.
There are a few short walks up top that are suitable for all ages. The first we embarked on headed though the mountain tunnels. There are several windows you can peak out of and look into the valley.
You also get the most stunning views of the aerial tramway. You can watch the tram emerge and disappear into the clouds over and over.
Another path takes you up a bit higher to the the missile detection facility. It is fenced so you can only get as close as the fence line. When else do you get to see ground to air radar? Although Switzerland is traditionally an isolationist country they take the threat of the current state of the world seriously and are ready to respond.
These paths also provide the best views of the surrounding mountains.We picked out a picnic table on the terrace and enjoyed our packed lunch.
We boarded the cog railway for the trip back down. They board quickly. There were three cars available, but they only boarded one. They literally crowded us all on to one car but then drove all three back down the mountain. (This is the sort of thing that makes me annoyed.)
We were packed into the car, which has several small carriages each with people facing backwards and forwards. The grade reaches 48% in some areas and the ride takes about 30 min.
Once again you’re passing through cow fields and the cows are up against the tracks. You can hear their bells long before you can see them.
The boys thought the cow spotting was quite fun. We loved hearing all the different bells, even when we couldn’t see the cows.
The ride is, of course, incredibly picturesque. We did stop at the halfway point for our three cars going down to pass the three packed cars going up. This gave us plenty of time to enjoy the surroundings.
We paused for a fun little photo before making our way through the crowds to the boat. If you plan on doing this outing in the afternoon plan on waiting in huge lines. There were more people waiting than could fit on the three cars going up. Some would have to wait 30 min for the next set of cars.
There is a tunnel under the highway and railroad line to the boat dock. The boats are timed with some of the cog railway trips. Timetables are posted everywhere so make sure you check to time your outing. The boat is covered by the Swiss Rail Pass. As is customary in Switzerland the upper decks of the boat are accessible only to first class passengers.
We sat at some outdoor seats and ordered a few treats to share for the hour boat ride back to the main boat dock of Lucerne.
I ended up taking the Little Little down to the first class lounge on the main level. We were the only ones in the lounge so the little guy was able to crawl around while I enjoyed the stunning scenery passing by.
If you have been reading the blog I know I’m going on and on about just how beautiful these train and boat rides are, but I was seriously stunned by our surroundings at all times.
Even as we pulled into the main dock in Lucerne the most stunning views are from the water. The other ships coming and going hint at the tourist mecca, but from the water it is serene and picturesque.
We got a final parting view of Mount Pilatus as we left it behind. This attraction packs so many ‘wins’ into your itinerary it’s a must do if you can get there as things open.