Mt. Niesen, with its unmistakable pyramid shape, is rightly considered the most beautiful mountain on Lake Thun. At 2,362 meters above sea level, it offers one of the most beautiful panoramic views of the Berner Oberland. Shortly after I posted a few photos from my trip to Niesen in a WhatsApp status, our neighbor, the lovely Mrs. Therese, wrote to me. “My grandfather was the first operations manager of the Niesenbahn (I think it opened in 1911) and my mother (born in 1905) grew up with her three siblings in this valley station building. I could tell you about that time…” Well, you can’t say no to an offer like that, so today’s article will be interwoven with not only a description of the route but also a story from the time.
By car: it takes about 40 minutes to get there from Bern. Take the A6 highway, follow the signs for Interlaken/Kandersteg/Spiez. Take the exit Kandersteg/Adelboden/Frutigen. Pass through the Spiezwiler tunnel and after about five kilometers you will reach the valley station of the funicular (Talstation Mülenen, Niesenbahn, 3711 Mülenen).
Parking: there are 3 car parks at the funicular station. The minimum price for parking is CHF 5 (for 5 hours). All-day parking costs CHF 8. You can pay with coins or via the ParkingPay mobile app.
By train: from Bern, you can get to Mülenen either by direct train or by changing trains in Spiez. The funicular station is a 5-minute walk (400m) away.
Opening hours and fares
The funicular runs from mid-April to mid-November. In good weather, its operation can be extended until the end of November. So before you go, always check the website for up-to-date information to be sure.
The funicular runs every 30 minutes from 8:00 a.m. The last ride down from the top of Niesen-Kulm is at 5:45 p.m., from the middle station Schwandegg at 6:00 p.m.
For this hike you will need a so-called Wanderbillett – a hiking ticket that skips one section of the funicular, the part you hike. It costs 48 CHF, 24 CHF with Halb-fare card. While you wait for the cable car, you can get a coffee or ice cream from the kiosk next to the ticket office.
Niesenbahn with a story
In 1902 the federal government approved the construction of a funicular railway from Mülenen to the top of Niesen. Construction of the railway started in 1906 and opened in 1910. Interestingly, a funicular railway from Wimmis was also planned, but it was never realised. The track has two sections – at the intermediate station Schwandegg you have to change to a second car which takes you to the top.
And now the promised story
“Every spring, when the snow was slowly melting away, my grandfather had to walk up along the railroad line to the Niesen-Kulm to check for any damage to the railroad system and then have it repaired. One of the children was then allowed (or rather had to) go along.
Grandfather also had to go to the rescue of injured climbers from time to time, once even bringing back a dead man, who was then laid out in the valley station. Helicopter rescue didn’t exist back then. (This must have impressed my mother very much, because she often told this story).
When the train leaves the valley station, it crosses the Kander over a viaduct. Children occasionally played on it – almost unthinkably dangerous! (certainly without the knowledge of the mother!)
In former times the women washed the laundry in a wooden tub. My mother once let such a tub slide on a string into the raging Kander (a lot of meltwater from the glacier). Into the tub climbed her little brother, who could swing joyfully on the waves . . . When my grandmother saw this with great horror, she could hardly breathe for fear . . .”
In 1906, Niesenbahn AG bought the existing mountain house together with the Hegenalp property from the Weissmüller brothers from Wimmis. The dining room was added, the kitchen enlarged, several rooms renovated, and electrical lighting installed. On the 50th anniversary of the Niesen funicular, the mountain house was restored and renovated.
On May 5, 2002, the rebuilt and extended mountain house could be opened. The most important features of the new building are the 700m2 terrace and the all-around glass extension with its aluminum roof.
From the restaurant, head up to the children’s playground and the observation deck, which is surrounded by a fence. Here you will also find the photo spot of the Grand Tour of Switzerland. From the panoramic terrace, you can enjoy views of the entire Berner Oberland region: Lake Thun and Lake Brienz, the Stockhorn peak, and the valleys – Diemtigtal, Simmental, and Kandertal.
The trail to the middle station Schwandegg
Below is a hiking map of the Niesen area. You can see that there are two routes from the Niesen-Kulm to the Schwandegg middle station. I chose route number 6 via Oberniese for my descent, which is not as steep as route number 5. The trail starts at the top of Niesen, runs along the ridge at first, then follows a 700 m descent to Oberniese and for the last kilometre or so follows the contour.
The trail starts behind the restaurant and runs along the ridge.
In the Alp Oberniese, you can buy local mountain cheese at the self-service locker. Then turn left in the direction of Schwandegg. Cows may get in your way, but keep calm, don’t provoke them and walk slowly past them. The last few dozen metres to the Schwandegg intermediate station are uphill through the forest.
- The route is 5 kilometers long.
- It is a mountain trail, so I recommend wearing sturdy footwear and looking well under your feet.
- The trail is suitable for average hikers and children with hiking experience (no strollers).
- Always check for up-to-date information before you set out (for example, last fall the Schwandegg station was not open for boarding).