It had been a lifelong dream of mine to visit the Swiss mountains. Not to scale the peaks, but to run and roll around in the green valleys. But I had always assumed (quite rightly) that Switzerland would be too expensive for me and (wrongly) that all the mountains would be difficult to get to.
One day, I saw a video circulating online. It was of something like a roller-coaster ride through one of the valleys in Switzerland. And it suddenly reignited my desire to visit the country. I decided that I was going to go, no matter how hard or expensive it was going to be.
Apparently, that ‘roller coaster’ ride is called a summer toboggan run and there are many of them scattered all over Switzerland.
But the longest summer toboggan run in the country is located in a place called Fräkmüntegg, on the lower slopes of Mount Pilatus. And surprise, surprise — the mountain is not far from the city center and is easily accessible using public transports.
Mount Pilatus is centrally located and can easily be reached from Basel, Zurich, and Lucerne (Luzern). The base start locations are approximately an hour from Basel or Zurich, and 15 minutes from Lucerne.
There are two possible starting points to go up Mount Pilatus: one in Kriens and one in Alpnachstad. If you choose Kriens, you will take a scenic cable car ride to go up. If you choose Alpnachstad, you will travel on the steepest cogwheel railway in the world. From Lucerne, you can reach Alpnachstad either by train or by boat.
To get the most from the experience, you might consider starting at one location and returning to the other (there’s a Golden Round-Trip ticket for this). This way, you’ll get to experience it all — cable car, cogwheel, and boat. Do note that the cogwheel train is not operational on certain months.
However, if you’re short on time and only want to do the toboggan run, I recommend going from Kriens, as the cable car can take you directly from there to Fräkmüntegg (where the toboggan is). In contrast, if you start from Alpnachstad, you have to go to Pilatus Kulm first, and continue with a cable car to Fräkmüntegg.
Going to Mount Pilatus from Kriens
Since I didn’t have much time in Lucerne, I chose the Kriens route. If you’re driving, the valley station in Kriens can be reached via Autobahn A2.
If you’re taking public transports, take Bus No. 1 from Lucerne railway station, and stop at Kriens Zentrum/Pilatus. From the bus stop, it’s only a five-minute walk to the cable car station.
Because I didn’t do my research properly, I ended up taking the wrong bus. It did take me to Kriens Zentrum eventually, but through a longer route that took me at least a half hour longer than it should. It was actually quite a treat for me though, as I got to see more of the suburb.
Mount Pilatus Cable Car Ride
Because of the mistake I made with the bus, I arrived much later than expected — close to 4 p.m. At the ticket counter, I asked the lady if she thought I could make it to Fräkmüntegg before the toboggan run closed.
She said she wasn’t too sure but I could try my luck. Not a very encouraging answer, but I did as she told me, all the while trying to convince myself that the cable-car ride alone was still going to be worth it even if I didn’t get to go on the toboggan run.
The ride was indeed spectacular, if a little anxiety-inducing. But I figured if I could trust the rickety cable cars in my own country, it would be silly not to trust Swiss technology.
What I enjoyed most was watching and listening to the grazing cows down below. Cows in this part of the world wear cowbells around their necks, which produce loud (but not very annoying) chimes with every little movement the cows make.
Fräkigaudi Toboggan Run
The Fräkigaudi Rodelbahn, the longest summer toboggan run in Switzerland, features a 1,350-metre (4,429-feet) long curved steel channel.
You slide down the channel on special wheeled sleds with a handle beneath your legs, with which you control the speed (if you let go of the handle, the sled will come to a complete stop). Two-person sleds are available for adults with young children.
From Fräkmüntegg cable car station, you need to hike uphill for about 5 minutes to reach the toboggan starting point. I was practically running up the slope, with my backpack and all, to get there before they closed.
And I was happy to find out that I wasn’t too late. The workers there told me they were in no hurry to go anywhere — there were several more people waiting in line for their turns on the toboggan. So, I went to pay for my ticket and keep my stuff in the locker.
I had been hoping to record a video like the one I saw on the internet, but just as I was about to shut the locker door, I saw this notice on it:
Unfortunately, cameras are not allowed on the Frakigaudi toboggan run. Mine was a tiny GoPro knock-off that would have barely been noticeable if I sneaked it with me in my pocket, but I would rather not take the risk.
Apart from the hefty fine, the rule is there for a reason: if you accidentally drop your gadget on the track, it may cause serious accidents. You would also be a huge nuisance to others if you keep stopping or slowing down to take pictures.
For safety reasons, the following are prohibited:
- Two adults or two children on the same sled
- Cameras of any type
- Bags or backpacks
- Alcohol or drugs
- Sledding too slow
- Making stops along the run
- Not using the brakes at the finish line
Before they release you on the sled, the employees will give you safety instructions. The facility is under constant surveillance, and by purchasing a ticket, you irrevocable acknowledge the terms and conditions, and agree to abide by the rules.
Although they attach great importance to guests’ safety, you have to accept that the use of the facility will be at your own risk, and it is your responsibility to make sure that you’re sufficiently insured.
Despite being a scaredy cat, I didn’t find the toboggan run too terrifying. The sled was easy to control and for the most part, I kept to a prudent speed. Since there weren’t many other people around, I didn’t feel pressured to go any faster than I was comfortable with.
You must remember not to sled too fast or too slow, or follow too closely the sled in front of you. Otherwise, you can be held liable for all consequences.
Along the way, you will encounter several steep twists and turns, deep dives into dragon’s dens (tunnels), and two inbuilt jumps. Once you reach the end of the ride, you will be slowly pulled back up the slope using a lift.
I used this opportunity to enjoy the fantastic alpine views around me. Finally, my dream came true.
Best Time to Go to Mount Pilatus
Mount Pilatus is open for visitors all year round if the weather is good. Their website has a live webcam that shows current weather conditions on the mountain and which facilities are open. The cogwheel railway is closed from mid-November to mid-May.
The best time to visit Mount Pilatus depends on what you plan to do there. In winter, you can ski, snowboard, sled, or even have fondue on the gondola. In summer, you can go hiking, paragliding, or do the rope-park challenge.
Best Time for the Frakigaudi Toboggan Run
The Frakigaudi summer toboggan operates daily between mid-April and mid-October (check out their website for exact dates).
Peak season falls between June and September, but this is also when it is the most crowded with people on summer vacation. So if you don’t like big crowds, April, May, and October are the perfect months to go.
The toboggan run is open from 10:00 until 17:30 provided the weather is dry. Evening rides for groups are also possible with advance notice. The ticket vending machine closes at 17:00.
How Much is It?
Cable Car Ride (Kriens – Fräkmüntegg – Kriens)
(Valid from 13th December 2020 to 11th December 2021. Please refer to the official website for latest updates and promotions.)
- Adults: CHF 40.00
- Children (6 – 16 y.o.): CHF 20.00
Groups (10 or more)
- Adults: CHF 28.00
- Children (6 – 16 y.o.): CHF 14.00
Frakigaudi Summer Toboggan
- Adults: CHF 9.00
- Children (6 – 16 y.o.): CHF 7.00
Group Tickets (min. 20 rides)
- Adults: CHF 7.00
- Children (6 – 16 y.o.): CHF 6.00
For safety reasons, children below the age of 2 are not permitted to use the toboggan run. Children aged between 2 and 8 years old may ride on a twin toboggan if accompanied by an adult.
Other Things to Do on Mount Pilatus
- Complete a rope-course challenge at the Seilpark Pilatus, the largest suspension rope park in Central Switzerland. The park boasts seven suspended exercise trails that feature ladders, platforms, cables, aerial log bridges, and other challenges for people with no fear of heights (or those who are trying to get over it). Prices include equipment and instruction. You can also book a private guide if you need expert guidance to help you overcome your fear.
- Hiking. Next to Hotel Pilatus-Kulm on top of the mountain, there are several well-marked summer hiking paths that will take you to the peaks along the summit ridge. The paths are graded “easy” or “moderate” and take between 10 to 40 minutes to complete. You can also hike up to Tomlishorn, the highest peak of Mount Pilatus. This hike is an easy one and only takes 40 minutes. Get a free Pilatus map at any Pilatus-Bahnen ticket office or visit their website for more details.
- Walking the Flower Trail. One of the marked trails on Mount Pilatus is called the Flower Trail, where you will find countless species of rare wildflowers. These flowers defy all odds and continue to bloom despite the wind and extreme weather. Some of them have roots over a meter deep. Signs along the path provide information on the plant species.
- Pilatus Tubing. Slide and spin your way down a 60-meter (197-foot) slide while sitting on a large inner tube. You will pass through several steep bends along the way and at the end of the ride, a conveyor belt will haul you back to the starting point.
- Eat some fondue. Eating cheese fondue is something that you must try when you visit Switzerland, and why not do it on the Swiss Alps? Dip some bread in melted Swiss cheese and pair it with a glass of champagne or a cup of coffee, while you enjoy the mountain view. Mount Pilatus has a number of restaurants, cafes, and hotels to choose from.
Additional Tips for Visiting Mount Pilatus
- If you’re going in the peak season, try to be there as early as you can to avoid long queues.
- All transportation systems on Mount Pilatus close by 5.30 p.m., and you should leave by 4. So, the earlier you arrive, the more you can get out of the trip.
- If possible, book tickets online, or you may not get any during peak season.
- Mount Pilatus can be chilly even in summer. Make sure you bring a light sweater, especially if you’re not used to cooler climates.
- Wear good walking/hiking shoes, as you may need to hike to some of the viewpoints. It is a 5-minute hike from the cable-car stop to Frakigaudi.
- If you have a Swiss Travel Pass, you can use it for the cable car and cogwheel train.
Have you been on a toboggan ride or something similar? Share your experience in the comments below.