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The Brienzer Rothorn Via A Scenic Trip By Steam Train

The Brienzer Rothorn via a Scenic Trip by Steam Train

Visit Brienzer Rothorn, the highest mountain of the Emmental Alps in Switzerland via an outrageously scenic ride on the Brienz Rothorn steam train. You can of course hike up if you’re feeling energetic – or down, but the train is a fun experience and a great way to enjoy the landscape.

Sitting at an elevation of 2,350 metres, the Brienzer Rothorn enjoys superb views of Lake Brienz – the lake that lies directly east of Interlaken. On a clear day it’s also possible to see an incredible 693 peaks – at least according to the Interlaken website, though I can’t say that I tried to count them. Without a doubt, this is a quintessential mountain experience in Switzerland.

Grand scenery from the summit

Grand scenery from the summit

Meiringen to Brienz using our Swiss Travel Pass

On our 10 day trip to Switzerland we had a first class Swiss Travel Pass. It allowed us to hop on and off any train in Switzerland. Once you figure out how it works (and that doesn’t take long) and what to look for on the schedule posted in the train station, it’s a breeze. And of course the trains runs like clockwork. 

John and I had to travel on the local train to the town of Brienz from Meiringen – our base for several days, to get on the Brienz Rothorn Railway. We were there in 11 minutes.

As a side note the Swiss Travel Pass also includes a 50% discount on scenic trains like the Brienz Rothorn Railway, discounts on cable cars and free admission to over 500 museums around the country.

The trip up to Brienzer Rothorn

The journey to Brienzer Rothorn starts in the beautiful town of Brienz on the shores of Lake Brienz, not far from Interlaken. The station for the steam train is located across the road from the main train station. 

We missed our hoped for departure time on the train because of the summer crowds. Fortunately in Brienz that isn’t a hardship. Across from the railway station there’s a lakeside path that seems to go on for kilometres. I explored a short section of it before heading back to catch the train while John went looking for birds.

Hiking sculpture on the shores of Lake Brienz

Hiking sculpture on the shores of Lake Brienz

What's a walk in Switzerland without a cow sighting

What’s a walk in Switzerland without a cow sighting

The Brienz Rothorn Railway

The spectacular 7.6 kilometre train journey takes one hour to climb on a cog railway from Brienz (elevation 566 m) to the summit of Brienzer Rothorn (elevation 2,244 m). The steam train has been doing this scenic journey since 1892 – though it’s been through three generations of steam engines. The  maximum grade encountered is an astonishing 25%.

Hop on board open-air, bright red cars. Try to score a seat at the side of the car rather than the middle to enjoy better views. As the train pulls away, enter the forest with peek-a-boo views of the lake. Pass a few fine looking Swiss homes, bedecked with red geraniums and enjoy the ride as you continue to chug your way up. All told you go through five tunnels and make one brief stop above treeline at Planalp. The engine’s tank needs to be refilled here for the final stretch to the summit. 

At the summit on a clear day the panoramic views are take-your-breath away beautiful. Reportedly you can see the 4,000 metre plus peaks of the Bernese Alps including the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau – peaks we’d see a few days later from a very different perspective while hiking the Via Alpina.

Enjoy peek a boo views in the forest section

Enjoy peek a boo views in the forest section

View of Lake Brienz

View of Lake Brienz

Beautiful views once you get above treeline from the Brienz Rothorn Railway

Beautiful views once you get above treeline from the Brienz Rothorn Railway

Getting off the steam train the summit

Getting off the steam train just shy of the summit

Hiking from Brienzer Rothorn 

Enjoy fabulous hiking trails off the top of the Brienzer Rothorn. There’s lots of choice no matter what your hiking ability. Choose from easy 15 minute strolls to full day hikes. 

When we visited we had time for about a 75 minute hike. That was enough to get our heart rate up and our legs moving after a solid day of travel. I think the exercise helped us get on the time zone too. Though it wasn’t a tough hike that we did off the summit, we thoroughly enjoyed the views and the wildflower displays that were at their peak in the beginning of August.

Plan your hiking trip ahead of time by visiting the Brienz Rothorn Bahn website. They have route suggestions along with a trail map. The Swiss have done an incredible job signing the trails but note that its time not distance that is provided. I have found that their posted hiking times match my pace. 

Superb hiking - much of it family-friendly off the Brienzer Rothorn

Superb hiking – much of it family-friendly off the Brienzer Rothorn

Mountain views from hiking off of the Brienzer Rothorn

One of the views you can enjoy from a hike off of the Brienzer Rothorn

The alpine ibex

It was a treat to see the alpine ibex

Views of Lake Brienz

Views of Lake Brienz 

Where to eat…and sleep

Of course you can bring a packed lunch with you to enjoy on a hike from Brienzer Rothorn but there’s a lovely restaurant near the summit where you can also enjoy the views. If you want to appreciate the landscape with far fewer people around, book in for a night at the Berghaus Alpine Lodge.The sunsets from up here would be glorious.

Scenic dining near the summit of Brienzer Rothorn

Scenic dining near the summit of Brienzer Rothorn

When is the Brienz Rothorn Railway open?

The steam train runs from May 1st until the third week of October. Be sure to check the Brienz Rothorn Bahn website for exact dates. Departures are frequent – up to eight times a day beginning at around 8:30 AM. The train only goes as far as Planalp, well below the summit, during the month of May.

The Brienz Rothorn Railway in Brienz

The Brienz Rothorn Railway at the starting point in Brienz

How much does it cost to ride the steam train?

There are all sorts of variations and permutations when it comes to pricing for the train ride. Are you doing a one way trip, a round-trip or traveling with your dog? Perhaps you’d want to catch the first train in the morning for the best prices. The bottom line – check out the website for detailed pricing. But count on about 92 Swiss francs per person without the discount with a Swiss Travel card.

Further reading on travel in Europe

A huge thank you to Switzerland Tourism for hosting my stay and developing the fantastic itinerary. All opinions are mine.

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

The Brienzer Rothorn via a scenic ride on a steam train

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 57,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

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