Riffelsee is a small mountain lake close to Gornergrat in Zermatt, Switzerland. Located in stunning surroundings at 2,757 meters altitude, Riffelsee lake is widely known as the best place to see and photograph the most beautiful reflections of the Matterhorn.
In this guide, you can find all the information and tips for visiting Riffelsee Lake and taking the same beautiful pictures that you see in the travel brochures. You can learn about the easiest way to get to Riffelsee, the best season and time of the day to visit, and the best hikes at Riffelsee. We also include tips on how to plan your time so that you can make the most of it.
In addition, you can find info about camping at Riffelsee (hint – it’s not allowed) and the two best hotels near Riffelsee. If you want to take pictures at the lake at sunrise or at sunset, consider staying at one of the hotels on the mountain.
Why Visit Riffelsee Lake
Riffelsee Lake is really tiny, just about 100 meters long and 50 meters wide. But when the conditions are right and the surface of the water is calm, the reflections of the Matterhorn on Riffelsee are truly picture-perfect. If you have seen images of the Matterhorn and its mirror image on the lake, they are likely taken here.
And while Riffelsee is not the only lake in Zermatt where you can see Matterhorn reflections, it’s the best one and the easiest to get to. In addition, there is another small lake just nearby where the views and the reflections are just as good. You can find more info about this ‘sister lake’ of Riffelsee further below.
The area around Riffelsee is also known for its rare alpine flowers, some of which grow at the shore of the lake giving a nice foreground for your pictures. And if you are lucky, you might also run into the famous Valais Blacknose sheep here.
Some popular hiking trails pass Riffelsee. The nearby Riffelhorn mountain (2,927 m) is also a popular climbing area. Many mountaineers come to practice here before attempting to climb the Matterhorn.
How to Get to Riffelsee
Riffelsee is located just near the Rotenboden train station along the Gornergrat Railway. It’s the second-last station, just before you reach Gornergrat. It takes 28 minutes to get to Rotenboden from Zermatt.
You cannot see Riffelsee from the train station, but it’s just 5-10 minutes walk from Rotenboden. The lake is on the same side of the railway where you leave the train, just behind a small hill. But because it’s a bit lower down the mountain, it’s just a bit out of sight.
There are hiking signs indicating ‘Riffelseeweg’ and once you start walking in that direction, you’ll quickly see the tiny lake further below. It’s just a short walk on a mud path, nothing too strenuous. And while hiking shoes are always a good idea in the mountains, we saw people in sneakers and light summer sandals at Riffelsee as well.
You’ll see people walking a bit everywhere, but try to stay on the marked paths – there are lots of rare plants and flowers here and it’s a conservation area.
Taking a train to Rotenboden is by far the easiest and the quickest way to get to Riffelsee. So if you are coming here for the reflections and want to get to the lake as early in the morning as possible, simply take a train. Afterwards, you can go back to Rotenboden and take the train to Gornergrat, or explore the area more and do some hiking at Riffelsee. Further below, you can find more info about the best hikes near Riffelsee.
Best Time to Visit
Needless to say, you won’t see much on a cloudy day. And even if there are just a few clouds, the Matterhorn peak might not be visible. So ideally, you come here on a sunny day, when there are hardly any clouds.
The best time to visit Riffelsee is on a sunny day, early in the morning or late in the evening. That’s when you have the biggest chances that the surface of the lake is completely quiet and the reflections are at their best.
That’s also when the light is best for photography. In the morning, the sun is right behind you, and the colors of the sky in the direction of the Matterhorn are really intense – perfect for photography. And in the evening, you can take some nice sunset pictures with the Matterhorn peak lit by the setting sun.
TIP: Take a train to Gornergrat early in the morning and visit Riffelsee first, before doing anything else. The first train is at 7 AM and you can be at the lake by 7.30 AM, which is one of the best times to be here in summer.
Our experience: The first time we visited Riffelsee, we were at the lake at 7.30 AM and the reflections were amazing. On another occasion, we went to Riffelsee lake an hour later, with the 8 AM train, and the reflections were still good (but the Matterhorn peak was behind the clouds). We also visited Riffelsee at around noon on that same day and there were no reflections to be seen at all.
Best Season to Visit
The best season to visit Riffelsee is in summer and early fall. The lake is usually snow-free from the end of June – the beginning of July to the end of October.
Riffelsee in Winter
Riffelsee is covered by snow in winter, so you won’t be able to see it. You can go skiing or snowshoeing in this area and the scenery is amazing, but you can’t see the lake.
That being said, in the late fall, when the surrounding mountains are already covered by snow and the lake isn’t frozen yet, you can still see some of the most beautiful wintery scenery at Riffelsee. Also in early summer, when the snow starts to melt, you might be able to see some stunning reflections.
So even if you are visiting the area in the shoulder season, it’s well worth going to Riffelsee, also because it’s so easy to get to.
Hiking to/ near Riffelsee Lake
The scenery in the area around Riffelsee is stunning, so it’s well worth exploring the area a bit deeper. There are two best hikes that you can do in this area – (1) Gornergrat to Riffelsee (and on to Rotenboden) and (2) Rotenboden to Riffelberg via Riffelsee. And you can easily combine them both.
The hike from Gornergrat to Riffelsee (trail nr. 15) is a downhill 2 km (1.25 mi) hike that takes about 40 minutes. The views here are spectacular and it’s also one of the best places to take some nice pictures of the Gornergrat Railway with the Matterhorn in the background.
This is probably the busiest hiking trail in Zermatt, or at least it felt like that to us, because you are constantly running into other people. Many tourists do this hike and many of them walk really slowly because they are either not used to hiking or don’t have the right shoes for this rocky terrain. I think this hike will be much more enjoyable if you can do it early in the morning or later in the evening when it’s not as busy (and be sure to wear good hiking shoes!).
The hike from Rotenboden via Riffelsee to Riffelberg (trail nr. 21) is also known as Riffelseeweg (Riffelsee Lake Trail). It’s an easy downhill hike of 3 km (1.86 mi) that takes 45-60 minutes.
The scenery here is stunning, you can see marmots and sheep along this hike, AND this trail brings you to another small lake, just below Riffelsee. This lake is not nearly as known as Riffelsee and doesn’t even have a name, but it also has the most amazing reflections of the Matterhorn.
- If you have at least 2 hours, do both hikes – so start at Gornergrat and walk all the way down to Riffelberg.
- If you are have at least 1 hour, do the hike from Gornergrat to Riffelsee.
- If you are mostly interested in the reflections and have limited time, arrive early in the morning, visit Riffelsee, and walk a bit further down in the direction of Riffelberg. In just a few minutes, you’ll see another small lake with beautiful reflections of the Matterhorn. You can then return back to Rotenboden train station the same way you came.
How to Plan Your Time
Below, is my personal recommendation on how to best plan your time when visiting Riffelsee and Gornergrat. It’s not the most ‘logical’ way, but it allows you to experience the best views, wildlife, and scenery at the most optimal times and without the crowds.
Of course, a lot will depend on your interests and on how much time you have, but this gives you an idea of how to do it if you want to make the most of it.
Good to know: First, be sure to get a day ticket for the Gornergrat Railway. This will allow you to take the train and hop on and off at the stations along the way. If you are staying in Zermatt longer than 3 days, get Peak Pass that includes all trains and gondolas in Zermatt.
- Take one of the first trains to Gornergrat (ideally at 7AM, or at the latest at 8 AM – see the train schedule here).
- Disembark at Rotenboden.
- Walk to Riffelsee and enjoy the reflections.
- Walk further down in the direction of Riffelberg and visit another lake with nice reflections. This is also a good place for a picnic breakfast with a view.
- Hike all the way to Riffelberg. Early in the morning, you’ll likely be completely alone here and it’s magical. It’s also a great time to see marmots (there are many of them in this area). And you might also run into some blacknose sheep in this area.
- From Riffelberg, take the train to Gornergrat. If you started your day at 7 AM, it will likely be around 9 AM by now and still very quiet at Gornergrat. You can have some coffee with amazing views at the restaurant here.
- Explore all the viewing platforms at Gornergrat and be sure to take a 20-minute walk at the top – 360° Loop Gornergrat. Then visit Zoom the Matterhorn experience and do the virtual reality flight.
- Hike from Gornergrat via Riffelsee to Rotenboden.
- From Rotenboden, take the train to wherever you are going next.
READ ALSO: How to See the Best of Zermatt in One Day
Riffelsee with Kids
You can easily visit Riffelsee with kids of any age.
The path between the Rotenboden train station and Rifelsee is not accessible to strollers. However, the hike is so short that you could even carry your child if they can’t do this short hike by themselves yet.
Camping at Riffelsee
Even though it might be tempting to experience the best views of Riffelsee at sunrise or at sunset, please note that camping at Riffelsee is not allowed because it’s a conservation area.
Wild camping is actually not allowed anywhere in the Zermatt – Matterhorn area (see more info here).
Simply get up early or take one of the last trains in the evening and you can experience the beauty of this area just the same.
Alternatively, stay at one of the hotels on the mountain and you can easily hike to the lake any time you want. See below.
Hotels near Riffelsee
There are many hotels in Zermatt and, as already said, you can easily take the earliest/ latest trains to Riffelsee and experience the lake at its best. So you can visit Riffelsee from Zermatt.
However, even though the trains start at 7 AM and run late in the evening (the last train down is at around 8 PM in the summer and around 6 PM in the shoulder season), you won’t be able to get to Riffelsee for sunrise or stay for sunset unless you actually stay on the mountain.
So if you want to see sunrise and sunset at Riffelsee, it’s best to stay at one of the hotels on the mountain, from where you can easily hike to Riffelsee.
There are two hotels close to Riffelsee:
1. 3100 Kulmhotel Gornergrat is located at Gornergrat peak itself. It’s the highest hotel in the Swiss Alps. Staying here is an amazing experience in itself and the views are spectacular. You can easily hike to Riffelsee from this hotel via the earlier mentioned trail nr. 15, and it takes about 40 minutes. Going back up will be a bit tougher, so it will likely take a few minutes longer. And, depending on the hour, you can also take the train back to the hotel.
2. Riffelhaus 1853 hotel is located at Riffelberg, one train station lower than Riffelsee. Staying here, you can also easily hike to the lake in less than an hour. This hotel is the more luxurious of the two, with nicer rooms, a hot tub, and a sauna overlooking the Matterhorn.
Both of these hotels are really nice and recently renovated. They have good restaurants and offer some of the best views of the surroundings. In winter, you are right on the ski slopes here, and in summer, you can experience the beauty and tranquility of the surrounding mountains at the most magical times and without day tourists around.
So, this is our guide to visiting Riffelsee.
I hope that it answers all your questions and helps you plan your visit, no matter if you’re just coming here for a quick picture, are planning to do some hiking, or are staying in the area longer.
Have a great trip!
Best Things to Do in Zermatt
More inspiration & hiking guides for Zermatt:
- Things to Do at Gornergrat
- Matterhorn Glacier Trail (best longer hike)
- Gornergrat Scenic Trail (best short hike)
- Riffelsee Lake Trail (best easy hike)
- Charles Kuonen Suspension Bridge
Some of our favorite places in Switzerland:
- Jungfraujoch, Top of Europe
- Mt Titlis
- Mt Pilatus from Lucerne
- Trübsee (Engelberg)
- Schynige Platte
- Skiing in Wengen & Skiing in Engelberg
- See also our Switzerland travel blog – it contains an overview of all our destination guides for Switzerland.
If you found this post useful, don’t forget to bookmark it and share it with your friends. Are you on Pinterest? Pin these images!