If there’s anything Switzerland has no shortage of, it’s mountain trails with stunning vistas. Yet among them, one manages to stand out. Overlooking the vast Rhein valley on one side and the peaks of the Alpstein massif on the other, the ridge hike from Hoher Kasten to Saxer Lücke is undoubtedly one of the best day hikes in Switzerland.
- Why This Hike?
- Hoher Kasten to Saxer Lücke Hike Overview
- Other Variations of the Route
- Hiking from Hoher Kasten to Saxer Lücke
- Preparing for Saxer Lücke Hike
- Final Thoughts
Why This Hike?
The Geological Panorama Trail (the official name of this hike) is located in the beautiful region of Appenzellerland. Widely recognized for its cheeses and (in certain circles) beer, this gorgeous area in northeastern Switzerland is also a thriving destination for outdoor enthusiasts.
Connecting the peaks of Hoher Kasten (1793 m) with the mountain pass of Saxer Lücke (1650 m), the Geological Panorama Trail is one of the most popular hikes in the area, and for a good reason. The scenery here is incredible.
From Hoher Kasten, the path follows the narrow ridge with exceptional views on either side. On the left, the immense Rhein valley stretches to the horizon, split by the silver ribbon of the famous river. In the opposite direction, the Alpstein massif and the charming lake Sämtisersee beneath produce a near-perfect postcard picture.
Towards the end of the trail, the iconic shape of Saxer Lücke comes into view. The towering cliffs vaguely reminiscent of Patagonia are among the most recognizable landmarks of the region and the subject of many photos taken here.
And the best part is how accessible all of this is. Even in its longest variation, the hike from Hoher Kasten to Saxer Lücke can be accomplished in a day. Easier alternatives are also available meaning everybody who is reasonably fit can enjoy the spectacular landscape.
Throw in the possibility of sleeping in a mountain hut (or even your own tent) to witness a fabulous sunrise, and you’ll quickly realize what makes this hike so dear to the hearts of many. If you’re looking to spend a fantastic day in the mountains, it just ticks all the boxes.
I was so impressed with the hike that even made a YouTube video about it. If you’re not convinced, just give it a watch and see for yourself:
Hoher Kasten to Saxer Lücke Hike Overview
As beautiful as it is, the hike from Hoher Kasten to Saxer Lücke is a rather demanding one. You should be reasonably fit to attempt it. Here are some of its key stats at a glance.
- Trail type: a well-marked loop trail
- Total length: 19 kilometers (~12 miles)
- Ascent / Descent: 470 / 1260 meters
- Trailhead: Brülisau
- Difficulty: medium-high – the trail is not technical, but long and strenuous
- Time required: 7-9 hours
- Accessibility: May – October
- Costs: ~CHF 30 per person + food or drinks in the huts along the way (optional)
- Highlights: mountains, azure lakes, alpine vistas
Above is an extract from the official hiking map of the region that shows the route. The journey begins in Brülisau (bottom center) where you take a cable car up to Hoher Kasten. From there, you proceed to Staubern and eventually the Saxer Lücke pass.
You then descend to the Bollenwees hut on lake Fählensee and return to Brülisau through the valley, along lake Sämtisersee. That’s a lot of names, so to make it a little clearer, I’ve also mapped the path on Google Earth.
Difficulty-wise, the terrain isn’t overly challenging. It’s a mountain trail, so you’ll need proper shoes, but it’s sufficiently wide and well-maintained. Plus, you will mostly be hiking downhill. There are a couple of steep sections but don’t expect to do any actual climbing.
That said, it’s a long distance so be a good judge of your abilities. Generally, I’d estimate that for reasonably fit people it’s going to be hard but doable. For beginners in hiking, however, I would probably suggest starting with something shorter.
Some surefootedness is required, but overall, the hike isn’t dangerous in dry weather. You’ll be walking along some sharp drop-offs but those are always a few steps away. You’ll need to make a conscious effort to get yourself perilously close to the edge.
Other Variations of the Route
In this article, I’ll be discussing the variation of the trail that starts on Hoher Kasten. That is not the only way to reach Saxer Lücke. Here are two of the most commonly used alternatives.
Frümsen is a small village on the outskirts of the Rhein valley. From there, you can fetch a gondola to Staubern, a mountain hut halfway between Hoher Kasten and Saxer Lücke. This allows you to effectively cut the distance in half, significantly reducing the difficulty.
From Staubern, it’s only 3.5 kilometers to Saxer Lücke, most of it on rocky but relatively even ground. Or just over 4 kilometers if you wish to continue a little further to lake Fählensee.
Note that Frümsen is on the opposite side of the mountain range from Brülisau. So unless you’re ok finishing in a completely different spot from where you started, the hike becomes a there-and-back type rather than a loop. After reaching Saxer Lücke, you return to Staubern and take the same gondola down.
The cable car runs from May till November between 7 or 8 in the morning and 10 in the evening. It also operates in winter but with some restrictions. Return ride costs CHF 36 for an adult. You can check the latest schedule and prices over here.
This variation is a perfect option for those who prefer something less demanding or don’t want to spend an entire day in the mountains. It is also great for photographers. With the cable car running until late, there’s enough time to get to Saxer Lücke for sunset and be back before the last departure.
From Hoher Kasten Through the Valley
Some people hike from Brülisau without taking a lift to Hoher Kasten. Instead, they walk the same route in both directions — through the valley, past Sämtisersee to Bollenwees hut, and eventually Saxer Lücke.
It’s a decent alternative for those on a budget because it eliminates expensive ticket costs. Likewise, it’s an option to consider for those who already attempted the classic variation and now want to try something new.
Keep in mind, however, that this is the most challenging variation, because of the additional elevation gain. So to most people, I would recommend starting at Hoher Kasten. It’s easier and the views from atop the ridge are well worth the money you pay for the ticket.
Hiking from Hoher Kasten to Saxer Lücke
With logistics covered, let’s dive into the hike itself. For some context, we did it on a weekend in mid-August during the continuous spell of good weather. It was warm and dry. Quite a few people were doing the trail but it wasn’t too crowded.
We started rather late, at around 2 pm. The idea was to take it slow and be at Saxer Lücke for sunset and best light, do the photos, then go back in the falling darkness.
Cable Car to Hoher Kasten
The cable car to Hoher Kasten is located in a small village of Brülisau. In the summer season (April to October), it runs every 20 minutes from approximately 8 am to 5 pm. A one-way journey costs 28 francs. As always, check the official site for up-to-date info.
You can reach Brülisau by bus 192 from Weissbad or by car. There’s parking directly in front of the station but I suggest using another one a little further south. Simply keep driving the same road for another kilometer or so until you see it on your left. I also marked it on the map above.
Why? You’ll be returning down this very road, so the further you park the less you’ll have to walk on the way back when you’re tired. That’s especially handy if you plan on staying on Saxer Lücke until late and returning after dark.
Parking costs 5 CHF, payable by cash (put it in a little box near the entrance) or via the TWINT app. Finding a slot shouldn’t be a problem — even at 2 pm, there were still spaces available.
The ride to Hoher Kasten lasts some 10 minutes and provides the first taste of the impressive landscapes. But the real views await at the top. The gondola brings you to an excellent panoramic viewpoint proudly named The Top of Appenzell.
On a clear afternoon, you can see 6 countries from here: Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Italy, Liechtenstein, and even Grand Ballon in France. There is also a rotating 360-degree restaurant for those who wish to relish the vistas in style.
With still a lot of ground to cover that afternoon, we decided against it. But I would surely like to give it a visit on another occasion.
From Hoher Kasten to Staubern
The trailhead is situated just north of the station. It’s a little tricky to find — look for stairs and a signpost detailing all the various hikes in the area. The one we need is for Bollenwees, a mountain hut just beneath Saxer Lücke.
The hike begins with a long smooth descent. So long in fact that at some point I was getting worried we took the wrong turn.
But eventually, the trail becomes a bit more even. Uphill sections alternate with downhill ones so the path never feels too challenging. I have posted the detailed elevation profile to Komoot for those who wish to check it out.
Landscapes are a mixture of open ridge walks with breathtaking vistas and charming forest segments. Although very different, both are beautiful in their own right. The views change frequently too, so you never get bored.
The initial stretch to Staubern is less than 6 km but took us nearly 3 hours to complete. We just didn’t want to rush it, doing a lot of stops for pictures and to admire the scenery. I loved it. To me, it felt like a perfect hike where the journey itself is already a handsome reward.
Staubern is a mountain hut with a restaurant and the starting point of a shorter variation of the trail from Frümsen. It’s a lovely place to rest (and have a beer!) before pushing further to Saxer Lücke.
The prices are quite high — it’s Switzerland after all — but the food is delicious. And, they accept credit cards.
The Hike to Saxer Lücke
The last stretch to Saxer Lücke is mostly even but slightly rougher so allow sufficient time for it. I would plan around 50 minutes or so, more if you stop to take pictures.
Saxer Lücke is most famous for the towering rock slab dominating the landscape that becomes visible long before you reach the pass. It’s like a beacon, small at first but growing larger with every step. Until you finally emerge on an opening with a direct view of its prominent shape.
That’s the main viewpoint. In summer, you can quickly recognize it by a bunch of tents set up in rather precarious positions along the ridge. People love to camp here to watch the sunrise light up the cliffs with fiery morning colors.
We were aiming for sunset instead but unfortunately arrived a little too late. The sun goes down behind the mountains and by sunset, most of the landscape is in the shadow. It was still a gorgeous sight, but I wish we were there a bit sooner.
To me, Saxer Lücke is the highlight of the hike so don’t be in a rush to leave. Have a picnic, eat your packed lunch if you brought it, or simply stay for a while and admire the magnificent view. It doesn’t get any better than that.
Down to Fählensee and Back
From Saxer Lücke, a steep 25-minute descent leads to Bollenwees. It’s a cute mountain hut in a gorgeous setting — right on the shore of charming lake Fählensee beautifully framed by the nearby mountains.
It’s another lovely area for a snack or a drink and a perfect place to stay overnight if you don’t have a tent. There’s just one problem — for weekends, Bollenwees sells out months in advance. Unless you travel during the week or are extremely lucky, securing a spot will be tough.
We couldn’t book a room, so after a brief stop, we began our descent. The path back to Brülisau is a wide dirt road and is easy to follow even in complete darkness. The last couple of kilometers is quite steep but other than that it’s pretty straightforward.
The main challenge here is that by then the fatigue starts to kick in. It’s a long way down and in darkness, without the views to entertain us, it felt more like a chore. I imagine it’s a little easier if you don’t linger on Saxer Lücke until sunset and complete the hike during daylight.
We got back to where we started at around 11:30 pm, exhausted but happy and satisfied. And, extremely happy about two things — that we finished the hike and that we left our car where we did. Hiking that extra kilometer to the station this late would’ve been brutal!
Preparing for Saxer Lücke Hike
As a day hike, Saxer Lücke doesn’t require much planning and preparation. That said, there are a few things to keep in mind to ensure a smooth and safe experience.
- Try to pick a clear sunny day. When it’s cloudy, the ridge might be so engulfed in fog that you won’t be able to see anything. The hike is still doable, but it won’t be as breathtaking. If your schedule is flexible, check the conditions through the Hoher Kasten web camera before you head out.
- Weather in the mountains can change quickly so have sufficient clothing. Even on a warm sunny afternoon, it might be chilly up above. Having a jacket and fleece layer is not a terrible idea.
- Bring comfortable shoes. I recommend proper hiking boots, but when it’s warm and dry, this hike can be completed in any sports shoes. Just make sure it’s those you can walk for hours in without getting blisters. Don’t put on recently bought shoes or ones you’re not confident in.
- You can normally refill your water bottle in any of the huts. Just ask for tap water and they’ll give it to you for free. So only carry as much as you need to.
- Snacks are optional depending on whether you’re willing to pay for food in the huts. It’s excellent but expensive. If you prefer to minimize the costs, pack sufficient calories. You will need lots of energy on this hike.
- There is cell phone coverage on the trail but I always recommend having a reliable offline maps app in case you get lost or to track your progress. Mapy.cz and Maps.me are both good choices I use myself (not sponsored).
- It’s a long hike, so I suggest packing a headlamp and a power bank. Even if you don’t plan on sticking around until darkness you might underestimate your speed. Better be ready.
- We didn’t need any cash anywhere on this hike except when paying for parking — which you can also do through the app.
When to Do This Hike
The Geological Panorama Trail is accessible from late May till October. Both Hoher Kasten and Staubern cable cars run also in winter (weather permitting) but the trail is covered in snow and not maintained.
July, August, and early September are probably the best months. The weather is at its finest with lots of dry warm days. It is also a perfect season for camping.
In winter, you can still ride up to the ridge to enjoy the views (maybe even while eating dinner in the revolving restaurant on Hoher Kasten) but you won’t be able to go anywhere far without proper winter Alpine gear.
If you’re a photographer, sunrise is the best time to photograph Saxer Lücke. In summer, the sun will be rising from the far end of the valley opposite the cliffs, painting them with magnificent crimson light.
Sunsets could work too but you need the conditions to be right. We visited on a clear day and it was rather uninspiring. The sun sets behind the Alpstein massif covering Saxer Lücke in shadows long before dusk.
Don’t get me wrong, it is still a majestic sight, but you won’t be getting anything dramatic unless the sky cooperates. If anything, I’d say the golden hour might be a better bet in the evening.
With regards to gear, weight is the name of the game here. You will be lugging your stuff for hours so try packing as light as possible. I recommend a single universal zoom lens such as 24-105 mm. It should be sufficient for most shots.
Tripod is optional. Ideally, you want it for the blue hour and sunset shots if you intend to stay until late. But whether those shots are worth the additional weight is something only you can answer. I used mine but only a couple of times.
If you have a drone, the area around Saxer Lücke is a fantastic place for aerial photography. There are no flight restrictions and plenty of excellent compositions to pursue. Just be careful around Hoher Kasten — it’s a popular paragliding launch spot.
Finally, as with any hike, it’s nice to have a model, someone to place into the frame, even if that’s yourself. Having a human presence in the photo helps to convey the anticipation of adventure, exploration, and something exciting ahead.
Can You Hike Saxer Lücke with a Dog?
Yes, it is very possible to hike to Saxer Lücke with a dog, provided it can handle such a distance. We did it with our dog Rocky and despite being obviously tired by the end of the trail he enjoyed the quality time outside in the fresh air.
The path is well-suitable for dogs, there aren’t any climbing or dangerous sections. Our little guy didn’t require any help from our side whatsoever. Forest sections provide welcoming shade even in the height of summer, so your pet won’t be constantly in the heat.
Dogs are also very welcome in the huts and restaurants. That said, if you want to stay for the night, you are normally required to book a double room rather than a bed in a dorm. You also need to buy a separate ticket for them on the gondola.
That makes the trip a bit more expensive. But if that’s not a problem and your dog loves long walks, don’t hesitate to take him on an adventure. Bring enough food and water (and a bowl to drink from) and let him appreciate the beauty of the Alps with you.
The amount of money you spend on this hike may vary from fairly high to none at all, depending on your preferences. So I thought I’d finish this article with a quick rundown of potential costs to take into account. Here’s what to expect:
- One-way gondola from Hoher Kasten: CHF 28 (14 with half fare card)
- Return gondola trip from Frümsen: CHF 36
- A meal for two in one of the huts: CHF 50-80
- Accommodation in Bollenwees hut: CHF 44-96 per person
- Parking: free / CHF 5
Let’s take an example of a couple traveling from Frümsen who hike to Bollenwees, eat dinner, and spend the night there, then return the say way the next day. With all that, they are looking at a rather hefty commitment of 200-300 francs.
On the other hand, someone with a tent and their own food, who is hiking from Hoher Kasten without taking the cable car, won’t spend a penny. In the end, it’s largely a matter of what’s important to you and what kind of experience you’re after.
All I’m saying — keep this in mind when preparing for a trip. Depending on your travel plans, perhaps it makes sense to invest in a Swiss half-fare card or spend a night in a tent instead of a comfortable room.
I had immense fun hiking the Geological Panorama Trail from Hoher Kasten to Saxer Lücke. Not only is it a fabulous trail with stunning views but it also provides a great sense of achievement and satisfaction once complete.
It’s not an easy endeavor but I would gladly do it again. Or, who knows, some other trail nearby? Appenzell is a lovely region to visit and I’m already looking forward to returning there next season.
If you get a chance, I highly recommend it. There are plenty of lovely hikes in Switzerland but this one is undoubtedly among my favorites. Challenging, but not extremely so, with great variety and amazing scenery. Is there anything else to wish for?
I hope you enjoyed this guide to the Saxer Lücke hike and got something useful out of it. If so, share it with your friends and on social media, and let me know in the comments below. And if there are any questions I can answer, let me know.
I have plenty more articles on the blog both about Switzerland and beyond. Have a look at the selection below or roam around to your heart’s content. I’m sure you’ll find something valuable.
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