Engstlenalp – A Perfect Day out between Bern and Central Switzerland

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Engstlenalp is one of our favorite alps.  An historic inn and scenic farm, tucked at the end of a pretty valley above Meiringen.  There are lakes, views, lifts, cheese and great walks.   A visit to Engstlenalp is a great day out anytime, but being right above Meiringen, it works particularly well as a warm-up day before our Bernese Oberland Traverse.

There are no rotating cable cars, no bus loads of tourists to overwhelm you.  But while Engstlenalp is beautiful and typical, and all the things you want in a Swiss valley, it’s also pretty quiet.  Mellow.  Relaxing.  In the words of the local tourism page, “If you are searching for peace and quiet you will find it here.”  I don’t know about you, but I think that sounds like a reason to go right there!

The Journey

So how do we get there?  Getting to Engstlenalp is a fun journey in itself.  The most straightforward route is to start by taking a train to Meiringen, a pretty village in the Haslital valley on the upper reaches of the river Aare.  If you’re coming from Lucerne, you’ll take the Luzern-Interlaken Express train (part of the longer Goldenpass route between Lucerne and Montreux) over the Brünig pass.  Coming from Zürich, you’ll either go via Lucerne or via the beautiful twin lakes of Thun and Brienz surrounding Interlaken.  The Susten pass to the east is particularly striking, and buses run this route directly from Andermatt.  The Grimsel pass to the south is also very pretty and accessible by bus from Andermatt or the upper Valais.  Whereever you start from, get your rail pass, and get going!

Meiringen is about as central as you can get in Switzerland.  It is just upstream of Lake Brienz in the eastern Bernese Oberland region and is close to a lot of very fine attractions, like the Ballenberg museum or the Reichenbach waterfalls (of Sherlock Holmes fame).  The area surrounding Engstlenalp also borders on the Cantons of Obwalden and Nidwalden, and you can also get to Engstlenalp from Engelberg in Obwalden, via a combination of cable cars and chairlifts over the Joch pass.  From Meiringen, the most direct way up to Engstlenalp is by bus, of which there are generally 4 departures/day.  Only 1 is direct from Meiringen (the first one up and last one back).  At other times, you’ll take a short 7-minute train to Innertkirchen and catch the bus there.

But we think it’s nice to vary the trip up and take a nice walk in the process.  For this, from Meiringen train station, come out the main road, turn right, then left a couple blocks later, for the 10-minute walk to the Hasliberg cable car station.  Here you get a round trip ticket for Engstenalp.  You’ll get a discount if you have a half-fare card or are using a free travel day on a Swiss Pass or Swiss Flex pass.  The round-trip ticket includes the cable car followed by 2 gondola rides up to the Alpen tower in Planplatten (where your hike will start), plus the bus ride from Englstenalp to Innertkirchen then train back to Meiringen.  Make sure to ask for the return bus schedule when you purchase your tickets here as there are not many buses in the afternoon returning from Engstlenalp to Meiringen.

Hiking and Sightseeing

To begin, take the cable car to Hasliberg-Reuti station, then the gondolas to Planplatten and Alpen tower (as is the case with most lifts in Switzerland, these lifts are mainly used in winter months for skiing but they also operate some of them in summer for hikers, mountain bikers and sightseers).

Once you get off the gondola in Planplatten, you will see the sign for the panoramic view restaurant, Alpen tower.  At 2,250 meters above sea level, you will get a 360-degree panoramic view far into the Bernese Oberland and the Central Swiss Alps on a clear day. This is also where your hike will start.  Follow the sign to Melchsee/Englstenalp along a beautiful ridge walk all the way to Balmeregghorn lift station, which you will reach in a little over an hour. From here, you will see Melchsee lake, at nearly 2000m above sea level. In the summer months, people can rent a boat for rowing or go fishing and there are a few barbeque sites at the lake, too. In the summer months, there is also a sightseeing train called Fruttli train (they are adorable) that operates between Melchsee-Frutt and Tannalp.

There are plenty of opportunities for hikers from from Melchsee-Frutt area. You can take the high route back to the ridge walk, and Tannalp and Engstenalp will be in your sight. When you get to Tannalp, you are now in canton Obwalden. Right next to the Tannensee, there is a restaurant, a cute little chapel and a few farms. From here, the route will descend a short way to Engstlenalp. Engstlenalp is still an important mountain farming region. The valley’s farmers send over 400 head of cattle a year to graze on its summer pastures.

The Engstlenalp hotel is the epitome of a traditional mountain inn, and it is also an ideal place to break a long-distance hike.  If you’d like to stay the night, staying at Hotel Engstlenalp is like taking a trip back in time with beautiful historic furniture (it was built in 1892 and hasn’t changed much), and a beautiful slow pace that we don’t find often enough in today’s world.  Even if you’re not staying, stop for a soup, Rösti (hash-browned potatoes) or a bratwurst, or if it’s fall, try the wild game when it is in season with a nice Swiss wine.

Walking past the hotel, you’ll find Lake Engstlen, a beautiful mountain lake filled with trout and surrounded by wildflowers, like alpenrose and wild blueberries.  You can rent a boat from the hotel, or just dip your feet in the water and enjoy the calm.  The cheese dairy there is a Schaukäserei, that is, it’s open to the public to come in and take a look, to see how the local alpine cheese is made.  You can buy some samples of cheese and joghurt there.  If you’re up for more hiking, the Jochpass is 300 meters above you (perhaps an hour at a steady pace), with views down to Engelberg.

When you’re ready to return, come back to the hotel.  This is where your bus stop back to Meiringen is.  You will hear a loud horn when the post bus is coming (Swiss post buses play a snippet from the William Tell Overture as they come up to blind corners, and you can’t miss them).  The bus will drive down the Gental Valley, a remote and very beautiful valley on the edge of the Bernese Oberland.  Depending on your departure, you’ll either transfer to a train in Innertkirchen, or stay on the bus all the way to Meiringen.  Welcome back.  We hope you found some peace and quiet on your walk!

Beyond the Guidebook

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