From the train Niesen certainly looks like our laidbackhikers logo. It’s like that perfect triangle shaped mountain that we all drew as kids. And I think that’s one of the main reasons why when I first saw this mountain many years ago I looked at my fellow laidback hiker with googly eyes and said, I want to hike up that one! And hike up it we did ☺.
Time: 5 h 15 min
Distance: ~ 9.5 km
Altitude: ~ 1750 m ↑ 50 m ↓
There are several ways up Niesen, including a ‘no effort’ way using the Niesenbahn (Niesen railway) to pull you up. The main hiking routes though head up to the summit from the east and the west, and we mainly considered starting from Wimmis or from Mülenen. We opted for Wimmis for two reasons. The first is that this route is partly on the northern side of the mountain and perhaps a bit cooler – on a day with temperatures above 30°C this was much appreciated! Second, it’s probably also a quieter path as more hikers will opt for the route via Mülenen or from Schwandegg, the halfway station on the Niesen railway. It’s not more difficult or easier, it’s just quieter and shadier. And by quieter we mean that you still meet people but there isn’t a line of them like you might get coming up from Mülenen…
Now the thing to remember with Niesen is that it’s about 1750m up (5700 feet) from the bottom. So once we got out of Wimmis the path started heading up and doesn’t quite flatten out until you get most of the way to the top. We started hiking around 9 am and the sky was bright blue with relentless sunshine, so the tree covered forest was a welcome respite from the heat!
In general the first 1000 meters up, so roughly the first 2.5-3 hours, is through the forest. As you head up the first 500 meters you’ll catch glimpses of the valley and lake around you. After about 900m up at 1525m you’ll come to a clearing with a hut, a Swiss flag and a gorgeous view of the Thunersee lake ahead of you! It’s a good spot for a well-deserved break if you fancy one!
From here on it’s another 100 meters till the forest tapers off and you’re out in the open for the rest of the hike. The path briefly flattens as you skirt around the steepest bits of Niesen towards the western flank of the mountain. Once this mini-respite of flat walking is over though, it’s upwards and onwards again. As we neared the peak, I remember seeing the last 200 meters stretch of up to go and thought – aww man this is gonna burn!!! Which it did :D.
Once we got to the building at the top of Niesen it suddenly went from being a handful of hikers to an explosion of people! There were loads of fellow hikers and tourists around enjoying the views and the weather.
But before we talk about the summit, here’s the deal with the Niesenbahn. It can only take so many people at a time. As a result, there’s often a long queue to go down. This wasn’t an issue for us since the real peak was still a few minutes away and we planned to sit down and get a drink as well. We did however get our ticket and queue number before heading to the peak. We recommend you do that too, otherwise it’s a properly long wait!
Anyway, tickets in hand, we went up the last little bit to the peak. Finally, I was on top of pyramid mountain! The child in me was happy. The view was fantastic with both the Thunersee and Brienzersee lakes and loads of mountains all around. We eventually headed back to the outdoor terrace for some well-earned grub! I still remember sitting in that chair, sipping on a glass of wine and just soaking in all those views. What a day!
And it wasn’t over yet as there was one more piece of adventure awaiting us – the Niesenbahn! Now you’ll see from the picture below that the Niesenbahn is coming up a relatively steep hill side. It turns out that the Niesenbahn is over 100 years old, so made in a time before modern engineering and helicopters were a thing! It covers 1,642 meters of altitude change and unlike us hikers it does so in 30 minutes instead of 5 hours! AND it has a maximum slope of 68% which pretty much sounds like a cliff…
If that weren’t enough, alongside the route of funicular is also the world’s longest stairway with 11,674 steps! And of course, every year some super-duper athletes take part in the annual Niesen stair run. It’s the only time that you are allowed to walk up those stairs.
OK – that’s enough of side tracking! Niesen proved to be nearly everything I’d imagined about triangle shaped mountains and a ride on the Niesenbahn was the icing on top of a really nice day! And though I later learned that Niesen is only really triangle shaped from one particular angle – it still is one of my favorite mountains in Switzerland!
Practical Information for this Hike
|Wimmis Train Station
|Niesen Kulm Funicular Station. The funicular takes you down to Mülenen Station.
|5 h 15 mins
|~ 9.5 km
|~ 1750m ↑ 50m ↓
|4/5 – popular
|Summer (Jun – Oct)
|Niesen Summit 2362m
|To & from Wimmis Station: Bern 40 min, Zurich 1h 45 min, Lucerne 2h, Lausanne 2h
|If you’re coming by car then your best option is probably to park in Mülenen & head up from there.
Address: 3711 Aeschi bei Spiez, Niesenbahn Parking
|Cost of Niesenbahn
|For 2021: No Swiss Travel Card: 38 CHF single, 59 CHF return.
Half-card: 19 CHF single, 30 CHF return.
See website below for details.
|Point of Interest
|Steep funicular & fantastic views!
for prices and more
In blue is the top part of the alternative path up via Mülenen.
Mülenen to Niesen: 8 km, ± 1700 m ↑10 m ↓, 4h 40 min, difficult
This route is about 30 mins faster and 1.5 km shorter than the route we took and described above. It’s also probably your best option if you’re coming by car. In summer this route can be really hot as most of this path is through open fields in direct sunshine. So if you’re OK with that then lap on that suncream, and enjoy your hike up!
Schwandegg to Niesen: 3 km, ± 700 m ↑ 0 m ↓, 2h, medium
Niesen is a big hike but there is one way of shortening it. There’s an intermediate stop on the funicular up from Mülenen called Schwandegg. This stop is for alighting only. In other words, you can only get off but not on at this station. Once you get off you’re on the path with all the others starting from the bottom. It’s well marked and you’ve got up 700 m of altitude to get to the top. It’s a pretty decent amount if you’re looking for something not too taxing :).