Oeschinen Lake UNESCO World Heritage Site

Oeschinen Lake – Switzerland’s Best Kept Secret

In Europe, Inspiration, Switzerland by Jurga39 Comments

In August 2004 we went hiking at Oeschinensee in Switzerland. For years we remembered it as the most beautiful hike ever. Two weeks ago, more than 12 years after our first trip, we went back to Oeschinen Lake with kids, wondering if we would still feel this way now, after so many years of hiking and traveling all over the world. At the end of the day we all agreed that it’s as good as it gets!

This hike at Oeschinensee UNESCO World Heritage Site is still the most beautiful hike. Ever. 

Kids hiking at Oeschinensee Kandersteg Switzerland

Our favourite hike – Oeschinensee, Switzerland

 

Oeschinen Lake – the hidden gem of Switzerland

We accidentally stumbled upon Oeschinen Lake years ago when we were looking for a place to stay in the Berner Oberland region in Switzerland. We found that staying in Kandersteg was one of the best options price/quality wise and we figured that we could drive to the other must-see places from there.

Berner Oberland is probably Switzerland’s best-known region with places like Interlaken, Grindelwald, Mürren, Lauterbrunnen and Wengen high on the top-destinations-list among the tourists from all over the world. But Kandersteg is hardly known as a tourist destination, not only outside Switzerland, but among the Swiss themselves. When our Swiss friends heard that we were going to Kandersteg they just shrugged their shoulders and said that Kandersteg is only known for the car train connecting Kandersteg to Goppenstein on the other side of the mountains.

Since we were in Kandersteg anyway and our Michelin guidebook showed this 3-star place nearby, we decided to check it out.

By the way, if you are not familiar with Michelin Green Guides – they have this star-rating system that helps you plan your trips and shows you the most amazing places at your destination. We use Michelin Guides for each of our trips (when available) and have discovered some hidden gems that were not in the travel brochures or other travel guides. So check them out and certainly for European destinations!

So why have you never heard of Oeschinen Lake? It must be one of those places that just has the bad luck of being in the neighbourhood of so many other amazing places that it gets forgotten. The tourism boards of Interlaken, Grindelwald and Wengen are just more successful at promoting their place than the tourism board in Kandersteg. Or the Swiss really want to keep it to themselves!

We didn’t see one single Asian tourist in Kandersteg and didn’t meet any non-Europeans during our hike around the lake. Actually, almost everyone we met hiking were Swiss.

So, let’s stir things up a bit and tell the whole world about this hidden gem of Switzerland!

Hiking at Oeschinen Lake with kids

There are several options when it comes to hiking to and around Oeschinensee. I’m going to tell you about the hike we did, twice: 12 years ago and then again this summer. It’s also by far the most beautiful hike you can do at Oeschinen Lake – with our without kids. So if you only have a day in the area, look no further!

Oeschinensee – Oberbärgli – Heuberg is not an easy hike, but you can hike at Oeschinen Lake with kids if they have some hiking experience. We had been hiking quite a lot this summer (here you can read more about our summer adventures), including a pretty difficult hike to the Delicate Arch in Utah, a hike to Inspiration Point at Grand Teton National Park, and the Four Lakes Hike in Engelberg Switzerland, but this hike at Oeschinensee was the most strenuous walk we did with kids so far.

Our boys of 5, 5, and 7 managed just fine, yet I don’t think they could have done it a year ago. Also, it’s a pretty steep climb, the path is very narrow at places and you have to negotiate some mountain streams and big rocks along the way. I think that 5-6 years is about the minimum age for this walk, unless you only do the lower part of the walk and go back the same way (see more information at the Practical Tips section below).

Children hiking at Oeschinensee in Switzerland

This walk is not exactly family-friendly, but our kids loved the challenge

 

Our hike at Oeschinensee with kids: map and itinerary

I prepared this map to help you plan your trip. The walk we did is described below, but it can be done in the opposite direction as well – more explanation below.

Oeschinen Lake hiking map and itinerary suggestions

Click on the map to enlarge

 

Part I: Kandersteg gondola to Oeschinensee

We started our day around 10AM by taking the cable car from Kandersteg to the top of the mountain.

Kandersteg cable car to Oeschinen Lake

Gondola ride from Kandersteg will save you a steep climb and lots of time

 

Once at the top, it took us about half an hour to reach the Oeschinen Lake, our first stop. It could have been 10 minutes less if we had spent less time admiring the Swiss cows – the first ones during this trip.

Swiss cow in the mountains

Could the landscape be any more Swiss?

 

There were only few people around the lake in the morning. But we saw quite a few cows that were finishing up their breakfast with a sip of fresh water from the lake. Boats were standing empty waiting for the day tourists to arrive and we even contemplated renting one, but then decided to move on as we had a long walk ahead of us.

Boats for rent at Oeschinensee

Boats waiting for day tourists

 

If for whatever reason you cannot or do not want to walk any further, the view of the Oeschinen Lake is worth the trip by itself!

Oeschinen Lake Restaurant

Oeschinen Lake Restaurant

 

Part II : Oeschinensee – Unterbärgli

The walk from Oeschinensee to Unterbärgli starts on the left side of the lake. With all the stops we made, it was 11AM by the time we started the actual walk. And, almost immediately we had to stop again – the kids saw some little fish in the water and were trying to catch them. And we tried to convince them to carry on before they would get soaking wet.

Just before entering the forest, there was an exposition of wooden art works by the lake, quite impressive actually.

Wooden sculptures at Oeschinen Lake

Wooden sculptures at the beginning of our walk

 

After just a few minutes the path became steeper and we had to stop once in a while to catch our breath and enjoy the views. The kids were chasing butterflies all the time, so for every step we took, they took at least two. No wonder they started asking if it was still far! Yes, it was – we only just started.

We passed a few minor water streams and the higher we climbed the more beautiful it became. Some parts of this walk are steep, but there are benches where you can rest along the way.

Kids hiking over a mountain stream at Oeschinen Lake in Switzerland

Negotiating a minor waterfall along the way

 

What makes the walk at Oeschinensee to Oberbärgli and Heuberg so special is that you are surrounded by the most spectacular landscape all the time.

What makes the walk at Oeschinensee to Oberbärgli and Heuberg so special is that you are surrounded by the most spectacular landscape all the time. It’s not one of those walks where you have to walk for hours in a forest with nothing to see hoping for a big reward at the end. At Oeschinensee, the whole walk is one big reward – you climb a bit higher and the view is even better than before. And when you think it cannot get better, it does again, and again, and again.

Hiking from Oeschinensee to Unterbergli

Fantastic views during the entire hike

Family hiking at Oeschinen Lake with kids

Enjoying the view along the way

 

Just before we reached Unterbärgli, at noon, we had picnic by one of the many streams with amazing views all around us. This is a beautiful relaxing part of the walk – it’s not as steep and there are beautiful mountain flowers all over the place while cow bells are ringing all around – it’s the Swiss Mountains at their best. I read that cows and sheep have been grazing in this area since 14th century.

Kids with Swiss cows at Unterbergli

You cannot go hiking and not meet a cow in Switzerland

 

At Unterbärgli we decided to stop for a drink (Rivella, of course) at the mountain restaurant and two mountain goats joined us at the table. The boys didn’t get a chance to get bored yet!

Swiss mountain goats at Unterbergli Oeschinensee

Swiss mountain goat enjoying the view at Unterbergli

 

Part III: Unterbärgli – Oberbärgli

The climb between Unterbärgli and Oberbärgli is probably the most strenuous part of the hike – it’s really steep.

12 years ago we had to use chains to safely cross some sections here. We were glad to see that the chains had been replaced by a proper path – so much easier and safer with young kids.

We started the climb at around 1PM and reached Oberbärgli half an hour later.

We all had to take quite a few short breaks before we reached the top, but I wouldn’t say that kids had any more difficulties than us. In fact, often we had difficulties trying to keep up with them!

Climbing to Oberbergli with kids

Steep climb to Oberbärgli

 

Part IV: Oberbärgli – Kandersteg cable car

At Oberbärgli the path splits. You can continue to the right, towards the Blüemlisalphütte for even more amazing views of the glacier and another, smaller lake. If you are planning to add this section of the walk to your itinerary, you should probably leave very early in the morning, as it will be at least 2-3 hours there and back.

Oberbergli at Oeschinensee near Kandersteg

Oberbergli

 

We went left, back towards the cable car that would bring us back to Kandersteg. It sounds as if we were almost done; nothing could be more true. By this point we did just a bit over half of the walk and had been walking for 3,5 hours.

The good thing is that the walk became much more flat and our heart rate could get back to normal again. The less good news was that some sections of the path were very narrow and with the kids walking way ahead of us, it was not the most relaxing part of the hike.

Everyone was getting a bit tired, but we had something to look forward to – the most amazing panorama of Oeschinensee was still waiting ahead of us.

Stunning Oeschinensee panorama

The view from the top

 

The last part of the walk was the most difficult for us. It was a steep descent on a narrow path with lots of small stones and a big risk of slipping. We had to hold our kids by their hand all the time here. There was also a rather steep section with a waterfall to negotiate, but everyone did just fine. It’s these most challenging parts of the walk that the kids enjoyed the most!

Kinds hiking in the Swiss Alps crossing a mountain stream

Kids loved the challenges of this hike

 

At 3 PM we were back at approximately cable car level and the path split. I chose to walk back to the Oeschinen Lake, while my husband and the kids continued straight to the cable car. It took them another 20 minutes – so about 5,5 hours for this walk in total.

It took me about 20 minutes to get back down to the lake and then another 20 minutes to reach the cable car from there. I have to admit that I liked the lake more in the morning – it was much busier in the afternoon and the light was not as nice. On top of that, I still had a steep climb back to the cable car. Why in the world didn’t I just go back with the rest of my family?!

Oeschinen lake with summer flowers

Now I know why I went back – for this picture

 

Part V: Kandersteg summer toboggan run

Located near the gondola rail, summer toboggan was the cherry on the cake at the end of the beautiful day for our kids. They were looking forward to it all day and I think it was the main motivation that kept them going through the difficult parts of the hike.

It was the first time we tried the summer toboggan and it was quite fun. The kids loved it. Ok, I liked it too – it was fun.

Toboggan ride in Kandersteg Switzerland

Toboggan ride in the Swiss Alps

 

Practical info for hiking at Oeschinen Lake with kids

How to get to Oeschinensee

Oeschinen Lake can be reached by cable car from Kandersteg. I strongly suggest you take the cable car and not hike to the lake – you’ll save at least 1-2 hours each way and the hike is really steep. Better spend the time and the energy hiking where it’s most beautiful.

Return ticket for the gondola: 26 CHF for adults and 13 CHF for kids of 6 and older. TIP: if you stay in Kandersteg, ask for a ‘guest card’ at your hotel – it gives you a small discount for the cable car ride.

There is a little electric bus that runs from the top cable car station to Oeschinen Lake. It’s quite expensive and the walk is only 20 minutes, so we skipped it. It is, however, a great way for people with restricted mobility to visit Oeschinen Lake.

How long is the Oeschinensee walk and which direction is best

The walk at Oeschinen Lake can be done in two directions. We walked counterclockwise and started at the lake, then climbing up for the best views before heading back down. If you go clockwise, you will have a steep climb in the beginning, but it will be easier afterwards. If you choose to go this way, you will first see the Oeschinen Lake from above and end your walk at the lake itself.

I really don’t know which direction is better – we saw people doing both. I think clockwise has a bit less climbing as you start higher already and afterwards it’s mainly down all the way until you reach the lake, so it’s probably easier that way. On top of that, you can end your day sitting by the lake, rent a boat, etc. But you have to wait longer for the nicest views and it will probably be busy by the time you reach the lake in the afternoon.

We started our walk at the lake and it was really beautiful and tranquil in the morning. It got much busier during the day and in the afternoon it was pretty busy (not like Vatican-busy, but busy like in all the chairs at the restaurant and all the rowing boats were taken).

This walk is described as a 3,5 hour walk Heuberg – Oberbärgli – Oeschinensee. It’s some 8 km round trip with some 480m change in elevation. Note that the 3 hours is an actual hiking time (without any stops) for very experienced hikers. It took us 5,5 hours with kids, but we took many breaks, picnic- and photo stops.

Oeschinen Lake with young kids 

If you have very young kids, you can still visit Oeschinensee. The road from the cable car to the lake is gravel, but can be easily done with a stroller.

If your kids can hike a little bit, but you are not sure if the long walk is for them, you can opt for a shorter and less steep version of the walk. Start by the lake, walk to Unterbärgli and return back the same way (parts I and II in my description above). It’s not an easy walk either as you have to climb quite a bit, but the views are amazing and I’d say it’s a family-friendly walk.

Hiking from Oeschinensee to Unterbärgli with young kids

Hike from Oeschinensee to Unterbärgli is doable with young kids

 

Prepare for your hike at Oeschinensee

  • This is a summer walk: June – September +- a couple of weeks.
  • Don’t attempt this walk when it’s wet.
  • The walk is not suitable for hikers with a strong fear of heights.
  • Wear sturdy hiking shoes.
  • If the weather forecast says 16°C and sunny, you’re ok in shorts and t-shirts. With temperatures higher than 20°C it will be hot. We were a bit doubtful as it felt cold in the morning (6°C), but we really could have left all our sweaters and long pants in the hotel room – 16°C felt warm enough for this hike.
  • Sun hat and sunscreen are a must – there is hardly any shade.
  • Take plenty of water (hint: take a reusable water bottle and refill it along the way – tap water is good in Switzerland). Carry a picnic for more flexibility.
  • There are dining and bathroom facilities at the top cable car station, at Oeschinen lake itself, and at Unterbergli.

Where to stay for Oeschinen Lake

The best option is to stay in Kandersteg for at least two nights. That way you have one full day to truly enjoy this beautiful hike at Oeschinen Lake.

Kandersteg is actually pretty close to Interlaken, Wengen and Grindelwald so you can use it as a ‘home-base’ and explore the rest of the area from there. As I said, Kandersteg is not very well-known among the tourists and the accommodation prices are generally lower than in the other nearby towns in Berner Oberland. You can find the best deals for Kandersteg accommodation here.

We stayed at a beautiful Belle Epoque Hotel Victoria. It’s a charming hotel with lots of history, beautiful common areas, an indoor swimming pool and several play areas for the kids. They also have several family rooms and the food was excellent – what more can you wish.

If you enjoyed reading this post, please share it and pin these pictures!

Oeschinen Lake UNESCO World Heritage site the most beautiful hike in Switzerland and probably in the world
Oeschinen Lake UNESCO World Heritage site the most beautiful hike in Switzerland and probably in the world. Read all about our hike at Oeschinesee with kids!

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Oeschinen Lake – Switzerland’s Best Kept Secret was last modified: January 12th, 2017 by Jurga

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Comments

  1. That looks like an absolutely amazing hike – I will definitely look into adding this onto my next visit to Switzerland. The scenery is beautiful – love your photographs!

  2. Your kids do so well, that’s a pretty tough day of walking for me even! You have them well trained 😉 such stunning views.

    1. Author

      Yes, they are great little hikers. Sometimes I wonder how they keep going at the end of the day, but they have so much energy, always ‘on the move’. It’s a boy thing I suppose. 🙂

    1. Author

      Thanks, Mel. We learned that you can do pretty much anything with kids, just need to adapt a bit and make it fun for them too.

  3. Last august i was in Kandersteg for 4 days. I went to the Oeschinensee on my first and last day. Its so beautiful! I still enjoy looking to my pictures ervery day.

    If you stay longer in Kandersteg a visit to the Blausee and Almenalp are also recommended.

    I stayed in Hotel des Alpes. A fine, low budget hotel with great services and nice food.

    I traveld alone with the train. All the way from the Netherlands..

  4. I really don’t know much about Switzerland but these are all the reasons I am draw in BC in Canada PLUS A TOBOGGAN! Real work of wanderlust you have here!

    1. Author

      Yes, indeed Gemma. Switzerland has a lot in common with British Columbia. I loved hiking in Jasper and Banff.

    1. Author

      You are so right, Bryony. Many popular places really suffer from tourism. It’s a bit a dilemma when you find a truly beautiful place that is not yet known by many. Should you keep it to yourself and hope that the rest of the world never discovers it?

    1. Author

      Yes, indeed Punita. We find some new amazing places every time we visit Switzerland. But it’s probably the case for every country in the world, we only see the must-see sights and move on leaving so many undiscovered gems.

  5. I love hiking and I love mountain scenery, and your stunning photos capture this beautiful part of the world perfectly 🙂 Switzerland is only a short flight away for me so this is definitely going on the list!

  6. This reminds me of hiking in Whistler, we took the cable car up and then did hiking, but I don’t think it was a scenic as this is. Your pictures are stunning! I hope to make it there at some point and do this hike.

  7. This is wonderful! I’ve spent about three months in Switzerland, done a few hikes there and even been in the Interlaken-Grindelwald region… and this is stunning 🙂
    As you say it must be a hidden gem because even the Swiss I talked to didn’t mention this place!
    Thanks for the wonderful photos and useful tips, if I have the chance I’d like to go there! 🙂

    1. Author

      Indeed – Oeschinensee is not widely known. But the whole region is so beautiful that it’s difficult to choose where to go if you only have a few days, so it’s not abnormal that some places don’t get the attention they deserve.

  8. I love how you’re travelling and keep on going while you have kids. That’s great! I mean it’s a part of you, so why stop when you get kids right? The photos are truly beautiful!

  9. Hi, thank you for this description. I love mountains and I regret I’ve never been in Switzerland. Prices in this country discourage me but it’s so beautiful I have to go there! 🙂

    1. Author

      Hi Maja, don’t get discouraged by the prices. Switzerland is not cheap indeed, but if you plan well you can find a way to see a lot without spending a fortune. Our day at Oeschinensee cost us much less than a day at a theme park with kids.

  10. I truly appreciate this post. I’ve been looking everywhere for practical info for this hike! Thank goodness I found it on Bing. You’ve made my day! Thank you again!

  11. We followed your recommendation and hiked at Oeschinensee last week. Thank you so much for sharing this place. We never heard of it before we saw your picture on IG. The views are phenomenal and we are so glad we went. Thought I would let you know.

  12. Wow this lake looks so beautiful! I adore Switzerland and love the beautiful hikes you can take there. I’ve added this hike to my list of places to go

  13. Hi!
    Looking to do this hike in the fall (September 10) and realized we’d be taking a train from Paris that morning. If we had to start the hike around 1pm, do you think it’d be ok, business aside? I’d LOVE to see Oeschinensee Lake, but the way we have it set up right now, we’d take the train early morning from Paris, then head to Kanderstag most likely, check in, then head to Oeschinensee. Any thoughts are appreciated. I’d love to spend the entire day there but the next day we’re headed to Zermatt for snowboarding. Thanks!!

    Kirsten

    1. Author

      Hi Kirsten, I’d say leave it to the day itself to decide what you do. If you get there on time and the weather is nice and you’re good hikers, then yes, in principle you can do this walk in the afternoon. Just see what time the last gondola ride is, otherwise you’ll have to walk back down to the village and that will add another 30-50 minutes (not sure about the time, we hadn’t done this).
      If you’re a bit short on time, just take the gondola to the top, walk to the lake and maybe to Unterbergli and back. This will be maybe 2-3hours in total.
      If you’re really short and time just go to the lake and don’t do the hike. This will take you a bit more than an hour.
      It’s beautiful and worth a trip either way. Of course, the views from the top are different than at the bottom, but just try to make the best of the time you have.
      TIP: if you’re staying in Kandersteg ask your hotel for a tourist card, it gives you a small discount for the gondola.

      1. Thank you for the tips! I’m looking at a few hotels in Kandersteg right now, including the ones right on the lake. Hoping to take an ULTRA early train ride to get in at a decent time and then we’ll go from there. Found this beautiful place and figured I can’t cross the pond and miss it!

  14. Thank you!! We’re taking our kids (7 & 9) to Switzerland for Spring break next month. While we have fun stuff planned, I’ve been searching Pinterest and the Internet for something unique, less touristy for us to do. This hike is it! I absolutely loved reading this article as it was so informative! Hope you don’t mind but I’m going to mimic your itinerary.

    1. Author

      Hi Lisa, thanks for your great feedback. But I am afraid I’ll have to disappoint you. I don’t think you’ll be able to do this hike so early in the year. It’s really a summer hike, June-September as I said in my post. I think next month they’ll be still skiing in the area… It’s a nice area in any season, so I’d still check what your options are: skiing, sledding or similar. Maybe you can rent snowshoes and walk from the gondola upto the lake or so. You won’t be able to do much hiking in the Swiss mountains next month, it’s really still very much skiing season.

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