The Hardergrat ridge, above Interlaken, is beginning to get some well-deserved buzz. Dan Patitucci’s evocative photos of running along the ridge are putting in on the hard-core trail runner bucket list. But that’s a big and challenging route, outside the scope of what most of us can do. But the ridge itself is very accessible. A funicular train leads up into the heights where you get unbelievable views of the twin lakes of Brienz and Thun, while off in the distance, the mighty trio of peaks, the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau serve as a spectacular backdrop. It’s beautiful, but it’s not at all one of the main viewpoints in the region. There are many mountaintop trains vying for your time and attention in the heart of the Bernese Oberland, including Jungfraujoch, Schilthorn, Männlichen, Schynige Platte and Brienzer Rothorn, and there’s only so much you can do. Harder Kulm is easy to overlook.
Don’t. Don’t overlook it. This is one trip that’s definitely worth your time, with a fun ride up on funicular train, a good restaurant at the top, easy viewpoints nearby, and a thrilling ridge walk for those who want to explore more, to a rustic and traditional alp farm, Lombachalp.
Interlaken is the gateway to the Bernese Alps, a gorgeous region of mountains, lakes, waterfalls and traditional alp farms that should be high on everyone’s list of places to visit. We normally recommended people go straight through Interlaken to one of the smaller mountain villages like Grindelwald or Mürren, but a lot of people like to use Interlaken as a base too. Regular trains make getting to Interlaken a breeze. Lucerne and Zürich are both under 2 hours again, with idyllic lakeside views as you approach Interlaken from either direction. The Lucerne-Interlaken Express is a particularly scenic journey over the Brünig pass, a part of the longer Goldenpass route to Montreux, with large panoramic windows and comfortable seating. The train leaves hourly, and you don’t need seat reservations, but they are available for 10 francs apiece if you want to secure a spot. The journey to Interlaken is covered from any direction by a Swiss Travel Pass.
You’ll want to get off at the Interlaken Ost train station, come out to the front of the station and turn right. Here you have a 7-8 minute walk across the bridge over the Aare river to the Harder Kulm funicular train station. Harder Kulm is open from mid-April to late November with trains running throughout the day every 30 minutes. Although it’s been here for over 100 years, it’s a modern funicular, a small wagon (with large windows) pulled by a cable at an average gradient of 64%. Step up to the window, buy your ticket, and wait for the next departure. Harder Kulm is CHF 38 round-trip, and you get half price with a half fare card or Swiss Travel Pass. They even have evening trips, so you can have dinner up on top, catch the sunset, and return with last descent at 9:40 in the evening. They also sell one-way tickets, if you don’t plan to come down the same way, but you’ll want to make arrangements for the bus (more on that later).
On the funicular, the views unfold outside as you rise 735 meters above the lakes and the giants of the Bernese Alps slowly come into view. So what do you see at the top? A very nice restaurant, with both indoor and outdoor seating, and a scenic viewing platform (the “Two Lakes Bridge”) from which to admire the turquoise blue lakes of Brienz and Thun far, far below. The mountains are beautiful too, with all the mountains of the Bernese Oberland strung out before you. For many people, this is enough… have something to eat at the restaurant, soak in the views, and descend at your leisure. Check out their live cam to see what it looks like right now. Don’t you want to be there?
This is as good a place as any to try a cheese fondue or Rösti potatoes… two of the most typical Swiss dishes. They also have Sunday brunches (reserve a spot) and traditional folklore performances in the evening that can be really fun.
But there are also trails that beckon, perhaps most of all along the Hardergrat ridge extending east from here. A fabulous 5 hr hike starts right from the Harder Kulm restaurant, running east along the ridge to the peak of the Augstmatthorn, followed by a steep, bucolic descent to Lombachalp. It’s a big hike, and it gives you just enough of a taste of the knife-edge ridge to decide if you like that sort of thing, before heading down to the valley. If this hike is in your plans, you’ll want to buy a one way ticket to the top, and reserve a return to Interlaken by bus from Lombachalpalp via the tiny village of Habkern. Pay attention to the timing of the bus and your pace.
From Harder Kulm, follow the signs of trail “Horetalp / Augstmatthorn”. The trail starts gently uphill, following the wide ridge through a forested area, which can be slippery in wet conditions. Follow always the upper trail and skip turning to the “Hardergrat rundweg”, which will bring you back around to the start. After 4½ km, you will come to crossing with “Horetalp”, where an optional left turn would take you directly down to Lombachalp on a much shorter and easier journey. But keep going straight. Just a few minutes later along the ridge, you’ll come to another trail intersection where you can you have another option, this time a right turn for a quick down-and-back to Balm hut, an unserviced hut (you won’t be able to buy food or drinks there) with a beautiful viewing platform overlooking Lake Brienz. It’s a good viewpoint.
Continuing up the ridge, which has been wide and easy so far, begins to get dramatic now. After another 2 km you will arrive at crossing under obvious mountain of Augstmatthorn. You again have the opportunity to skip the peak and turn left to Lombachalp (saving 800 ft of uphill hiking and a lot of vertigo-inducing edges), but with a good head for heights, the trail up to the peak is memorable. The first viewing stop with the flag is a peak called Suggiturm. Once there, follow the knife-edged ridge walk (which looks harder than it is) to the next peak Augstmatthorn, your high point at 2136 meters, and now over 5000 ft above Lake Brienz. Enjoy the view over the lake and the valley far below. The trail down to Lombach is steep, but easy, and you have to backtrack a minute or two toward Suggiturn to reach it. Many people use Lombachalp as their starting point, so it’s unlikely you’ll be alone on this stretch. There are bound to be people both coming and going. Often on the way down, you can spot ibex mountain goats chilling around on grass and rocky areas.
Lombachalp sits in a peaceful, hidden valley, and the Jaegerstübli restaurant there is the perfect place to reward yourself with a soup or cake or beer after a great hike. The bus runs only 2 times per day (9 am and 5 pm) from Lombachalp, so you will want a reservation. You’ll need to call 033 843 1343 at least 1 hour before departure, or ask for help from a train station before you set out (CHF 10 or covered by your rail pass). It’s also possible to book this route as a private shuttle for CHF 55, or, for the intrepid (or unorganized), the 5 km walk adds a bit over an hour to your day and is pleasant. Lombachalp is known for it’s marshy moors. You’ll reach a tiny village called Habkern, where hourly buses make the 30 minute trip back to Interlaken Ost.
This entire hike is just over 10 km, but with 3300 ft uphill and 2600 ft downhill, it’s no easy stroll. It’s a serious walk. Just skipping the peaks and turning left before the ascent to Suggiture cuts nearly a third of this elevation, skips any of the airy ridge walking, and will likely save 1½ hrs of trail time. It would be a nice choice for a shorter outing.
The Jungfrau region of the Bernese Oberland is one of the most famous mountain areas in all of Switzerland. It’s stunning. It can also be kind of busy. Get a little bit off-track on this modest funicular train, but still enjoy unforgettable views. The hike is a bit of thrill-seekers adventure, with a very narrow stretch near the peaks that will have you feeling the altitude, but that part is both optional and short. The hike thrills with beautiful views of lake Brienz, especially at Balm hut and the peaks of Suggiturm and Augstmatthorn. Lombachalp adds variety – just a pleasant farming valley like hundreds of others in Switzerland – but still beautiful and enjoyable, and Habkern, on the way back, is pretty as well.
You’re likely to see mainly Swiss locals out on these trails, enjoying a bit of nature, Swiss-style. We think you’ll enjoy it too.
Tags: Bernese Oberland