Oeschinensee Hike (Oeschinensee Wanderung in German) is a spectacular 15km hike that has the turquoise Lake Oeschinen in Switzerland as its centrepiece. Beginning in Kandersteg, the hike takes you from the bottom of the cable car station up to the lake where you’ll then commence a challenging and exciting circumnavigation of the lake followed by a retracing of your steps to the bottom cable car station. It has narrow ledges, waterfall crossings and some tricky drop downs making this a hike we’re sure you won’t forget!
In this guide, we’ll cover all the key details you need to know about hiking around this epic lake, including the best time to hike, how to get to the trailhead, a route map and much more. It’ll go into great detail about the 15k Oeschinen lake hike we did without the cable car whilst including shorter and less challenging alternatives to suit all.
What is Oeschinensee?
Oeschinensee is an alpine lake within a Unesco World Heritage Site. It is in the Bernese Oberland region of Switzerland, resides at 1,578m above sea level and is accessible by only foot or cable car. Oeschinen lake is natural, having formed following a significant landslide. It has a maximum depth of just 56m and is home to a small number of different species of fish.
Where is Oeschinensee in Switzerland?
Oeschinensee’s nearest town in the Bernese Oberland region is Kandersteg, being roughly 4km from Lake Oeschinen. It is within an hour’s drive of Interlaken, a common destination for travelling adventures, making this an easy day trip for all who choose to stay at this hub town.
Best time to complete the Oeschinensee Hike
Oeschinen lake is frozen between December and May. Combined with residing at over 1,500m, means that the best time for this panorama hike is between May and the beginning of October. This window will provide the best accessibility allowing you to hike safely. We still strongly recommend you plan ahead and check the weather before embarking.
We visited Oeschinensee in mid-July and it was extremely hot (30+ degrees), the following day we had severe thunder and rain, demonstrating the range of weather you can experience in this environment!
Top tip: Our favourite go-to weather app is Accuweather. We use this before planning any hike as well as before setting off. We’ve found it provides a greater level of accuracy than other weather apps and also provides a great radar screen showing the movement over the coming hours.
Additionally, it’s worth checking the Oeschinensee webcam which shows a live view of the lake before setting off if the weather is looking a bit uncertain.
Oeschinensee hike from Kandersteg
As I mentioned in the introduction to this hike, I’ll cover the most detail about the route which leaves and returns to the Kandersteg cable car. This
Whilst below details are about the Oeschinensee hike from the cable car, you’ll find details of some alternative routes later on in this guide.
Key details of Kandersteg to Oeschinensee hike
The total distance of this walk is just under 15km. It’s an out-and-back route, that covers a challenging loop of the lake and may leave you feeling a little worn out at the end, but the enjoyment and memories will override this!
The total elevation of this hike is 874m. This is pretty much covered by the 8.5km mark, with the remainder of the distance being the descent to the lake and then the cable car station. The first 3km take you up 300m with a relatively consistent incline up fire roads and on some single trails, but there are plenty of places to take a quick breathe whilst enjoying the stunning views! Once you get to the lake you’ll resume a steady incline with some steeper sections paired with some gentle declines.
Our elapsed time was 3hrs 45 with a moving time of 3hrs 10. We made a conscious effort to keep the pace up as we knew we’d want to take our time shooting a large number of photos once we got to the lake! We also jogged on some of the flats and declines where it was safe to around the lake as it made for some excellent trail running! We did have a sweat on and found ourselves overtaking a reasonable number of other hikers, so if you wanted to take this as a more leisurely pace we’d recommend budgeting around 4.5 – 5hrs. More if you fancied stopping for lunch or a dip in the lake!
This is definitely one of the more challenging hikes around the lake, however, you’ll spot a wide variety of people on the trail trying to tackle it. We seemed to be having a pretty good day and could push on pretty hard, but by the end, we were certainly feeling the effects. You’ll see some older, more experienced, hikers, on the trail. It’s unlikely you’ll see many children, which is perhaps due to the narrow ledged sections that have a steep drop to the lake. Personally, we wouldn’t say this is suitable for children unless they’re with very experienced hikers and are used to this kind of challenge.
Some of the loop does require you to scrabble upwards on all fours within the vicinity of drops as well as cross some narrow metal bridges over waterfalls. These aren’t physically challenging but do require concentration. It is worth noting that in the riskiest sections there was a metal guide cable available which we advise you use!
Kandersteg to Oeschinensee Hike map
Once you’ve parked up there are signposts from the car park that show the correct direction to the lake. Once you’ve found the first signpost pointing to Oeschinensee, the route is very easy to follow up to the Lake. The only times for confusion are at 3 points, firstly the path junction where the third restaurant, Berghaus Unterbärgli, resides. You need to take a right-hand turn as opposed to the standard choice of left, and up via a large number of switchbacks (we’ll talk about this alternate route in a bit). The second is as you cross over a feeder stream, the direction isn’t entirely clear, but you head upwards and you’ll rejoin the path. The third and final is close to the lake amongst the trees where the path spits you out into what looks like a rockfall or river bed. Here you just need to follow your nose to the restaurant as you’re close enough to hear people and almost see the end itself.
It’s worth noting that all hikes in Switzerland are marked by a red and white marking as shown below, you should these fairly frequently so if you haven’t seen one in a while and you’ve been looking out for them, it’s best to retrace your steps until you see one,
To help us, we always use AllTrails or Strava when following a route. We will use AllTrails with shorter hikes but for something longer and more complex such as this we will plan the route on Strava so we have a good understanding of the route before heading out. With both, you can load the route whilst within signal/wi-fi and it will still be there when you’re offline as long as you don’t close the app. This has been super helpful in the past and is definitely one of our top tips!
Route map: Kandersteg -> Oeschinensee Circular
Kandersteg to Oeschinensee hike logistics
Getting to the trailhead
As mentioned, the start of this walk is from the Kandersteg cable car and starts right from the car park.
If you fancy missing out on the climb to the lake and want to catch the cable car to Oeschinensee it will cost you 30 Swiss Francs for a return ticket, and 22 Francs for a single. However, if you have a Swiss pass then you’ll receive 50% off. Something like the Swiss Travel Pass or the Jungfrau Travel Pass will save you a ton of money in the long run if you’re exploring Switzerland so recommend getting one of these as early into your trip as possible. You should be able to collect one of these from your host if you’re staying for more than a couple of nights in your area.
If you’re travelling around the area by public transport, then you’ll need to get the train or bus to Kandersteg train station. This is only a short 12-minute walk from the bottom cable car station.
If you’ve got a car, then the best place to park is the cable car station itself. We did this hike on a Sunday and the main car park was filled by 10 am, however, there seemed to be a fair amount of extra overflow areas that open as required. The cost is super cheap – or at least it is compared to the parking prices in the UK – at approximately 1 swiss franc an hour. You can pay by either coin or by downloading a parking app. There was a large queue to pay when we arrived so we downloaded Easypark and then are there. It’s a popular app and we’ve used it in many parking locations since.
What to expect on the day of your Oeschinensee hike
Up to the lake
Once you’ve arrived at the cable car you can begin the walk straight from the car park and you’ll join a fire trail that immediately starts to take you up. It initially hugs the Oschibach river that drains Oeschinensee before you leave the fire trail and enter the trees on a specific hike trail. This maintains the incline and adds some extra challenges of roots, steps and switchbacks that help to break up the climb.
You’ll be provided with some natural flats and tree breaks that offer a place to rest whilst giving you an opportunity to take in the views around you.
You’ll return to the fire trail and some steeper, less forgiving inclines for the next kilometre or so. This may seem a bit relentless but you’ll be hitting the flatter sections into the lake before you know it where you’ll be rewarded with the postcard landscape that is Oeschinensee. You’ll also see the large rockface that sits opposite where you’re standing, something you’ll be traversing very soon!
You’ll now have the opportunity to admire the spectacular view as well as refuel as required in either of the two restaurants at the top. When we were there, a herd of cows were on the coast of the Lake which made for some great photos and viewing as they interacted with the people and the lake.
Around the lake
When you’re ready to continue you’ll begin to follow the main trail clockwise around the lake. This path will be obvious as many will be walking along it. From here the stunning views won’t let up and you’ll be wanting to take a new photo every 5m! From here you’ll have the opportunity to access the Oeschinensee viewpoint. You’ll need to navigate a mega steep incline to get to it but it offers an unrivalled view from this side of the lake.
The path begins to climb again and you’re now on your way up to Berghaus Unterbärgli, the third and final restaurant on this loop. The restaurant sits on a path junction that overlooks Oeschinensee and would be our recommended place to stop if you wanted to break up the hike. There is also a water bath that you can refill your bottles from if you don’t fancy having a sit-down refuel. The water is amazingly refreshing and chilled, just want you’d want following the tough incline you’ve just completed and what you’d hope for from the alpine landscape!
The route will now begin to decline towards the shear rockface that overlooks the lake. This is less travelled than the other path but still obvious enough to easily follow. As you get closer to the rockface the drop towards the lake becomes more apparent and ever closer. This is where the paths become really exciting as you’ll soon be hiking on a narrow path between the face and drop. The path hugs the face whilst dropping down and stepping up as it goes. Next up you enter the ‘cave section‘ as we called it where you step into the rock briefly whilst navigating the narrowest section. The drop is very present here and you’re provided with a metal guidance cable as a backup should you want to use it.
The cable is with you over the next ~800m as you navigate narrow ledges, some drops, rock traverses and some scrambling. It may not be at the forefront of your mind during this section but you the view of the lake from this angle is breathtaking and only gets better as you begin to climb the last stint of incline towards the peak of this Oeschinensee hike. You’re surrounded by either lake or rock faces with waterfalls, it’s a special place that you’ve just made your way to!
Back down to the lake
At the time of writing this section of the walk (August 2022), this section of the walk is technically closed to hikers due to the threat of rock falls. This became apparent as without warning we came across the sign signalling the closure. We (as well as another hiker) decided to push on, having already committed this far to the walk without any prior knowledge of this closure. We would have taken another route if this was available but the only other route takes you back up in the wrong direction. The path and bridges themselves are still very much intact and usable and we completed this section without any issues.
The descent to the lake is less technical but does have some narrow metal bridges over some small waterfall cutouts. These are secure and have a hand cable for guidance and are a fun addition. The associated waterfalls also add to the experience. The first half of the descent is as exposed but you’ll soon make your way down to the tree line where you’ll go through a number of switchbacks. There are loose rocks and a few step downs but all should be very manageable having already made it this far!
Alternative Oeschinensee hike routes
Variations of the Oeschinensee Hike we’re recommending
If you do choose to get the cable car both up and down then the circular route will shorten down to just over 10km with roughly 450m elevation as there’s an extra bit of distance from the top cable car station down to the lake.
If you fancy getting the cable car up only then it’ll be around 12km with roughly 350m elevation.
Below are some alternative routes which you may want to consider. These are all point-to-point routes which will require you to make your own way back to the start of the trail.
Short Oeschinen Lake Hike
This hike is 8.7km long, has 490m of elevation and should take between 3 – 3.5hours to complete
This is another circular hike that’s possible. It begins and ends at the top cable carstation and takes you up away from the wake to a higher ridge that follows the curvature of the lake. This loops you back down some great switchbacks and a descent down to the lake. Unfortunately, this doesn’t loop around the lake but it takes you up high for some fantastic views and hiking.
We’d recommend doing this loop clockwise (the opposite to the common direction) as this way you leave the lake to last, making it a great reward and incentive to keep going. You will also pass the restaurants towards the end for a post-hike refuel. This clockwise hike will also take you past the Berghaus Unterbärgli restaurant at the 5km mark.
The descent down to the lake from the high point of the hike is a bit steep in places when taking the clockwise hike, but with plenty of places to rest for a scenic break, we still think this is worth doing in the unconventional direction. This route would also work well if you caught the cable car up one way, making for a nice extension on this loop without having to pay for 2 cable car trips.
And as already mentioned, the cable car costs 30 Swiss Francs for a return ticket, and 22 Francs for a single. However, if you have a Swiss pass then you’ll receive 50% off.
Route map: Oeschinen Lake Hike
Kandersteg to Oeschinensee (reduced distance)
This hike is 9.7km long, has 551m of elevation and should take between 3.5 – 4hrs to complete.
This circular walk begins and ends at the bottom cable car station. It takes you up the fire road and single track as the main 15km route does but won’t take you around the lake. This hike means you don’t have to pay for the cable car as with our other alternative route.
After arriving at the lake you will walk around a small section but quickly turn back towards the top cable car station via a well-trodden trail. You’ll then bypass the cable car station and restaurant and descend down practically underneath the cable car route for the next km. You’ll then take a left turn to head back and rejoin the path you took up earlier to return to the bottom.
This route doesn’t take you through the same views as the one above but does save cable car fairs as mentioned, so it depends on your priorities. You could always decide to extend the loop at the top as you see fit, up to the viewpoint perhaps which would be a couple of extra km’s and elevation.
Route map: Kandersteg to Oeschinensee
Kandersteg, Oeschinensee, Oberbargli Loop
This hike is 13km long, has 846m of elevation and should take between 4 – 4.5hrs to complete.
This last alternative hike essentially combines the 2 routes suggested above and really is the closest alternative to the main hike we’re talking about in this post. As parts of the lake are closed, this would be a great alternative route for those not wanting to risk hiking the closed section.
It begins and ends at the Kandersteg cable car and takes you up round a section of Oeschinensee and up to the Oberbargli restaurant. It will then loop back after the steep switchbacks towards the top cable car station before taking you back down under the cable car and re-joining the Firetrail to the bottom station.
You will have the best of these 3 hikes, no cable car fares, great views and a more risk-averse experience having avoided closed sections. It’s worth noting that the main circular route is our favourite but understand that not all will be prepared to enter closed sections of the path.
Route map: Kandersteg, Oeschinensee, Oberbargli Loop
Tips for the Oeschinensee Hike
Consider the best day to do this hike
This a popular weekend destination and having done this on a Sunday, we could have picked a better day to do this hike! The main trail was busy all the way up to the lake and on the core trails around the lake. However, once we left there and headed around the lake the number of people we saw fell dramatically.
If you have the opportunity to do this Oeschinensee hike during the week then we’d recommend you do this as you can hike at your own pace without being held up, wait to let others past and who wouldn’t want this place to themselves?
If you don’t have the option to go during the week then don’t be put off, but we’d recommend doing this hike either as early as possible or a bit later in the day to avoid the peak of the crowds. Doing this would also increase the chances of securing a parking spot at the bottom.
Wear the correct footwear
Whilst you may see a few naive ‘hikers’ on the main trail in a pair of trainers, the later sections mean that this is definitely not the trail for that.
As you head away from the Oberbargli restaurant towards the more challenging sections the surface is loose, uneven and with the drop, you need to ensure you have footwear that provides high levels of grip. On the return down to the lake, you’ll be trying to balance the steep downhill sections with where to put your feet as it’s heavily obstructed by tree roots in parts. There were definitely one or two times where we put a foot wrong as always happens on a hike and we were appreciative of our supportive boots!
If you’ve got a pair of poles, these would also come in handy.
Check your timings
Whether you’re heading out on the same trail as us or an alternative one that requires you to get some mode of transport, you’ll need to check your timings to ensure they align with at least the last cable car down and bus/train home. If you’re looking to go later in the day, but by car, check the closing time of the car park.
Always re-fill your water when possible
Even though there are around 3 opportunities on this hike to re-fill your bottles, we recommend using all of them. This is a long hike with lots of elevation and on a hot day you’ll be sweating more than you can take in, so ensure that at each restaurant or water fountain you take a big drink and then re-fill. There have been times when we’ve not done this thinking we’d be ok not to and we always regret it, so don’t make that same mistake!
Cable car opening times
Although the main route we’re talking about doesn’t use the cable car , it’s still worth knowing before setting off. Opening times vary throughout the season, but the shortest open window on this timetable is 8.30 am to 5 pm.
Take some swimmers
There’s nothing worse than pushing yourself on a big Oeschinensee hike, seeing the stunning turquoise lake and not being able to cool off in it, especially when it’s the height of summer. There are a lot of people doing it so don’t be left out!
Explore Oeschinensee further
The mountain coaster sits next to the top cable car station and is an exhilarating way of viewing the spectacular landscape around you. It is 750m in length and you drop around 150m. It’s an absolute must if you have kids. You can ride solo or in pairs. It’s worth noting that the coaster is only open in dry weather, and must be dried after it has rained so bear this in mind if you’re planning to have a go.
Opening Times – 9.30 am to 16.30
Cost – A single run will cost 6 francs and 5 runs are 27 francs. These are adult prices, and children’s tickets are cheaper.
A daily or weekly fishing permit can be picked up at local restaurants. A daily permit will cost an adult 32 francs, children and sub-adults are cheaper. You can also rent a fishing boat for 75 francs for a full day, and 40 for half. Fishing on what many believe to be the most beautiful lake in the Alps has got to be a bucket list for any keen lake fisher!
There can’t be many more romantic places to go for a row than Oeschinensee. It’s been a popular spot for couples for over 100 years and will continue to be for many years to come. Renting a boat will cost 28 francs per hour or 17 francs for 30 minutes.
If you’re a family then don’t worry, there are up to 4 people per boat.
BBQ with a view
If you’re wanting to relax at Oeschinensee instead of doing any of our recommended hikes, or perhaps you’ve done them and you want to appreciate another aspect of the lake? Then relaxing and having fun with friends around a BBQ sounds like a great place to start. There are numerous dedicated BBQ sites dotted around the lake for all to use. The height of the lake determines which ones are open so check on the linked site before going.
Explore Switzerland further
If you’ve enjoyed this Oeschinensee hike article and you’re thinking of heading to Switzerland for an extended period of time then we’ve got heaps of guides coming up that may be handy for your trip. We’ve spent plenty of weeks in Switzerland over the years and our last trip was spent exploring the country for an entire month.
Below are just some of our guides, but if you’re looking for an extensive list then you can navigate through our site using the search bar.
More in the Jungfrau Region:
- Schynige Platte / one of the most spectacular areas in the Jungfrau Region with more than just hiking trails to explore
- Lauterbrunnen hike / an easy walk to the waterfalls in one of the most idyllic villages in Switzerland
- Harder Kulm hike / an epic hike up and down the mountain to the most popular viewpoint near Interlaken
- Augstmatthorn hike / one of the most challenging yet highly rewarding trails in Switzerland with unbelievable views
- Things to do in Interlaken / a full list of some of the best things to do in the area
Explore the unbelievable Appenzell Region:
- Schäfler ridge hike / an impressive snake-like trail around the rugged mountains in Appenzell
- Seealpsee hike / a waterfall trail to one of the most accessible lakes in the area
Stay Wild Travels.
Disclosure: just a heads up that some of the links within this blog are affiliated which means that we may receive a small commission. We only recommend things that we truly believe in. If you use any of these links, it really helps support our blog, so thank you!