Gornergrat Loop

Distance: 7.0 - 8.5 miles (loop)

near Zermatt in Valais

Introduction

Monte Rosa, Lyskamm, Castor and Pollux from the Gornergrat viewpoint

Gornergrat is one of the finest overlooks in Zermatt with glorious panoramic views of 20 peaks over 13,000-ft/4,000-meters high. A network of scenic hiking trails climbs the Riffelalp plateau and the Gornergrat ridge to the viewpoint. This loop hikes combines a short ride on the Gornergrat Cog railway with the best trails to create an unforgettable hike that will have you constantly reaching for your camera.

The hike, starting in Riffelalp, ascends the steep slopes below the Riffelberg plateau accompanied by great views of the iconic Matterhorn towering above the head of the Zermatt Valley. To the northwest a massive wall of 4,000-meter peaks, including Dent Blanche, the Ober Gabelhorn massif, the Zinalrothorn and the Weisshorn, fill the skyline. The Taschhorn and the Dom form a backdrop for the Oberrothorn to the northeast.

As the trail crests and then curves around the south side of the Riffelberg plateau views open to Monte Rosa, Lyskamm, Castor, Pollus and the Breithorn massifs. Glaciers cascade down the flanks of the peaks.

Soon the trail passes by the Rifelsee with more great views of the Matterhorn reflected in its mirror-like surface. Beyond the Riffelsee the trail climbs steeply up a ridge to the summit of Gornergrat, with a railway station, hotel and restaurants.

The lookout above the complex offers superb 360-degree vistas of the high peaks and glaciers showcased on the ascent from Riffelalp. Below the viewpoint are breathtaking bird’s-eye views of the Gorner Glacier, a massive river of ice flowing down the west side of Monte Rosa. Signs at the viewpoint help you to identify the summits.

The return journey drops down the ridge and then crosses the Riffelberg plateau with more wonderful views of the peaks to the north and west. A scenic trail, with wide-ranging views of the valley, descends steeply from Riffelberg to Riffelalp where hikers jump on a return train to Zermatt.

The hike can be shortened by catching the cog railway to Gornergrat, Rotenboden or Riffelberg. Energetic parties may opt to walk all the way back to Zermatt along pleasant, forested tracks dropping down steep switchbacks.

It is best to get an early start on the hike. In the afternoon the Gornergrat viewpoint gets quite windy and the peaks are more likely to be covered in clouds.

To Gornergrat

View of the Matterhorn on the climb to Gornergrat

Distance from Trailhead: 4.4 miles (one way)

Ending/Highest Elevation: 10,138-ft.

Elevation Gain: 3,004-ft.

The 15 minutes train ride from Zermatt to the Riffelalp Train Station ascends along the east side of Zermatt, crosses a bridge with views of a waterfall above Winkelmatten and then switchbacks up forested hillsides to Riffelalp, with some nice views of the Matterhorn along the way.

At the Riffelalp Train Station (7,254-ft/2,211-meters) look for signs on the west side of the building pointing toward a broad trail heading west to Riffelalp (10min), Riffelberg (1h 10min), Rottenboden (2h) and Gornergrat (2h 50min). The trail curves to the southwest on easy grades, paralleling a small cog railway transporting luggage and people to the Riffelalp Hotel. Arrive at the Riffelalp Hotel and Restaurant in 0.25 miles.

Continue along the road through the hotel complex, enjoying beautiful views of the Matterhorn’s east and north faces. At 0.3 miles reach a junction with signs pointing right (southwest) to the road that drops to Winkelmatten and Zermatt and left (southeast) toward a trail heading to Gagenhaupt, Rottenboden, Gornergrat, Gletschergarten and Furi. Turn left and walk along the trail for 0.2 miles, passing a tennis court and chapel, to second junction where the trail to Furi and the Gletschergarten continues straight ahead. Bear left (south) toward Gagenhaupt, Rottenboden and Gornergrat.

Follow the trail as it curves to the southwest on easy grades and soon starts an ascending traverse up the steep slopes beneath the Riffelberg plateau, traveling through rocky meadows with scattered larches. Occasional switchbacks facilitate the moderately-steep climb. Along the way enjoy great views of the Matterhorn towering above the Matterhorn Plateau. A massive wall of 4,000-meter peaks, including Dent Blanche, the Ober Gabelhorn massif, the Zinalrothorn and the Weisshorn, fill the skyline to the northwest while the Taschhorn and the Dom form a backdrop for the Oberrothorn to the northeast. As the trail gains altitude hikers are treated to bird’s-eye views of Riffelalp and Zermatt. In the distance to the north are the peaks rising above the Rhone Valley.

At 1.3 miles the grade eases as the trail veers to the south and soon reaches a junction with a trail branches right (southwest), descending toward the Gletschergarten, Furi and Zermatt. Another trail takes off uphill to the northeast toward Riffelberg. Our path continues straight ahead to Gagenhaupt, Rottenboden, Gornergrat.

The path now veers to the southeast, climbing on moderate grades through pretty meadows. Views open to the Klein Matterhorn and the Breithorn massif. The pyramid-shaped Matterhorn is particularly lovely from this angle.

At 1.9 miles the trail curves to the east and ascends a shallow valley formed by the Riffelhorn’s eastern ridge and the Riffelberg plateau (to the north). The Riffelhorn, a small, triangular-shaped peak (9,603-ft./2,927-meters) rising to the south of the Riffelberg plateau, is a favorite place for climbers to train before tackling the big peaks.

Arrive at Gagenhaupt (8,412-ft./2,564-meters) at 2.0 miles. Here a trail branches to the left (northwest) toward Riffelberg. We continue straight ahead, climbing the small valley toward the Riffelsee, Rottenboden and Gornergrat. As you ascend turn around for nice views of the Matterhorn, Dent Blanche, the Ober Gabelhorn massif and Wellenkuppe.

More signposts are passed at 2.3 and 2.5 miles. As before, ignore the trails to the left toward Riffelberg and continue straight ahead toward the Riffelsee and Rottenboden. After the second signpost the grade abates as the trail approaches a small tarn and then reaches the Riffelsee, a small alpine lake cradled beneath the Riffelhorn, at 2.7 miles. On calm mornings the tarn and the lake a photographer’s delight, with the Matterhorn perfectly reflected in the still waters.

Beyond the Riffelsee the trail climbs toward Rottenboden. Wonderful views open to Monte Rosa, Lyskamm and the Breithorn, with snow-covered summits and glaciers cascading down the flanks of the peaks. Reach the turnoff to the Rottenboden Train Station on the Gornergrat line at 3.0 miles. To the left (north) is a trail to the railway. To the right (south) a trail drops down to the Gornergletcher (Gorner Glacier) viewpoint and the route to Monte Rosa Hut. Continue straight ahead toward Gornergrat.

The trail now climbs steeply up a rocky hillside beside the Gornergrat Railway. Marvelous views of Monte Rosa, Lyskamm, Castor, Pollux and the Breithorn along with the sea of glaciers spilling down the mountains will help take you mind off the steep ascent. Behind you are glorious views of the Matterhorn. It is unfortunate that the railway is so close to this section of the trail but you will likely to be riveted to the views of the mountains and glaciers to the south, ignoring the presence of the tracks and the occasional passing train.

At 3.7 miles the grade eases as the trail contours around a small bowl. Views open to the north to the Taschhorn, Dom, Rimpfischhorn and Strahlhorn in the Mischabel Range. In the distance are the peaks rising above the Rhone Valley.

Beyond the bowl, the trail makes its final short, steep ascent to Gornergrat rail station and hotel complex at 4.3 miles. The complex, set atop the Gornergrat summit (10,138-ft/3,090-meters), is located along a ridge separating the Findel and Gorner Glaciers. The complex includes a hotel, restaurants and observatories (not open to the public).

For the best views climb to the overlook behind the complex for a stunning 360-degree panorama encompassing 20 peaks over 13,000-ft./4,000-meters high. To the south are breathtaking views of Monte Rosa, Lyskamm, Castor, Pollus and the Breithorn, covered in snow and ice. A sea of glaciers, including the Monte Rosa, Grenz, Zwillings and Schwarze glaciers, pour off the flanks of the peaks and down the valleys to combine with the Gorner Glacier, flowing along the west side of Monte Rosa, to form the second largest glacial system in the alps.

Dominating the skyline to the west is the majestic Matterhorn. To the northwest are glorious views of Dent Blanche, the Ober Gabelhorn massif, the Zinalrothorn and the Weisshorn towering above the Zermatt valley. To the northeast, the distinctive jagged peaks of the Mischabel Range rise beyond the Oberrothorn.

On a nice day it is delightful to sit in the sun on the benches around the overlook and soak in the scene. Be sure to take warm clothes. It can get quite windy at the viewpoint.

Back to Riffelalp via Riffelberg

View northwest toward the Ober Gabelhorn, Wellenkuppe and Zinalrothorn

Distance from Trailhead: 8.5 miles (loop)

Ending/Highest Elevation: 7,134-ft.

Elevation Gain: -3,004-ft.

Finally you will need to pull yourself away and return to Zermatt. Retrace your steps back to Rottenboden (5.8 miles) and around the Riffelsee and the tarn to a sign post at 6.3 miles. Turn right (north) and head toward Riffelberg.

The trail now follows a descending traverse on moderately-steep grades across the Riffelberg plateau’s rocky meadows with lovely views to the north and west of the peaks surrounding the Zermatt valley. Reach Riffelberg (8,471-ft./2,582-meters) at 7.0 miles. Here you can either catch the train back to Zermatt or continue walking to Riffelalp.

To continue to Riffelalp, find the sign post near the train station pointing left (west) toward Riffelalp, Winkelmatten and Zermatt. Walk west and circle around the south side of the Hotel Restaurant Riffelberg (pink Victorian building with red shutters). Here a trail drops steeply down the grassy slopes forming the west wall of the Riffelberg plateau.

The descending traverse, facilitated by switchbacks, offers bird’s-eye views of Riffelalp and Zermatt. Initially the trail heads west but soon swings around to the north as it drops down the steep slopes. Near the bottom of the descent the trail crosses a small stream, turns to the west and then meets a dirt road above Riffelalp.

Travel down the dirt road for a short distance to a sign post. To the left (southwest) is the road descending to Winkelmatten and Zermatt. We turn right (northeast), walk by the Riffelalp Hotel and Restaurant (8.25 miles) and then continue along the broad track that leads back to the train station at 8.5 miles.

Hop on the next train to Zermatt or cross the tracks and take the trail, which drops down through larch and pine trees to Winkelmattern in 2.2 miles for a total round-trip hiking distance of 10.7 miles). (See the directions below for direction for walk from Zermatt to Windelmatten and Riffelalp.)

Hike Facts

  • Distance: 7.0 - 8.5 miles (loop)
  • Elevation: 7,254-ft. - 10,138-ft.
  • Elevation Gain: 3,004-ft.
  • Difficulty: moderate-strenuous
  • Basecamp(s): Zermatt
  • Region: Valais

 

Elevation Profile

Gornergrat Elevation Profile

 

 

Driving Directions

Walking Directions From the Zermatt Train Station (Bahnhof): The Gornergrat Cog Railway is directly across the street from the Zermatt Bahnhoff. In the height of the summer the trains run from 7am until 8pm. There are also some special sunrise trains that start as early as 5am (advanced booking required). Check at the station or the main tourist office for current schedule.

It takes 15 minutes to reach Riffelalp, 23 minutes to Riffelberg and 33 minutes to Gornergrat. During the height of the day the trains get crowded and you may need to wait to board a train. It is best to get an early start and beat the crowds.

Walking From the Zermatt Train Station (Bahnhof) to Riffelalp: The hike to Riffelalp is about 2.8 miles (approx. depending on route) and gains 1,930-ft. Walk south/southwest on Bahnhoffstrasse, the town’s main street for 0.3 miles and then turn left onto Kirchstrasse (Church Street). You will pass the Matterhorn Museum just before the turn. The Pfarrkirche St. Mauritius (church) is located on the southeast corner of Bahnhoffstrasse and Kirchstrasse.

Walk down Kirchstrasse for 0.15 miles, crossing the bridge and turn right on Steinmattstrasse (Steinmatt Street), the second street past the river. The Hotel Bellerive is at the northeast corner and the Hotel Julen at the southeast. Signs at the corner now point toward Winkelmatten.

Follow Steinmattstrasse for 0.2 miles as it ascends along a narrow street and then climbs steps. At the top of the steps continue along Staldenstrasse for 0.3 miles to the small church at the center of Winkelmatten, essentially a suburb of Zermatt.

Head around the front of the church and follow the signs pointing southeast toward Riffelalp. After crossing a bridge you will see signs pointing to two routes heading to Riffelalp. One continues along the road, ascending long switchbacks. The other turns left and climbs steeply up a forested trail. The road ends at the Riffelalp Hotel while the trail ascends to the Riffelalp train station and then follows a broad track to the hotel (see the trail description above).

I prefer the trail. Note: Both trails travel through forest with occasional glimpses of the surrounding peaks. My advice is to take the train, saving your time and energy for wandering the broad open meadows between Riffelalp and Gornergrat.

 

Trail Resources

Trail Photo Gallery / Trail Map

Basecamp(s) Information:
Zermatt

Region Information:
Valais

Other Hiking Regions in:
Switzerland