A Walker's Guide to Switzerland's Five Lake Hike

Visiting five crystal clear alpine lakes and offering stunning views of the Swiss Alps, the 5 Seen Wanderung, or Five Lake Hike, is one of Switzerland's classic mountain circuits  

14th August 2020 | Words by HB Mertz

Before I had even made plans to visit Switzerland, I knew that if I was ever fortunate enough to travel there, there was one place in particular I had to see in person, no matter what it took. After a friend sent me a photo of a stunningly blue, glacier-fed lake called Wildsee, located some 2,493m (8,179ft) high in the Swiss Alps, I instantly put it on my bucket list.

5 Seen Wanderung - Five Lake Hike

The quest to see and visit this spot is a challenge, but it is worth it in every way.

Baschalvasee, 5 Lake-Hike, Pizol

Wildsee is located near the small town of Pizol, tucked at the base of the Swiss Alps. The hike begins high up in the mountains – you have to take a chair lift to reach the trailhead.

Schwarzsee, 5 Lake Hike, Pizol, Switzerland

The hike itself is known as the 5 Seen Wanderung, or the Five Lake Hike. It is an 18 km loop which takes you past five stunning lakes high in the mountains. Over the course of the hike, you experience a climb of 650m (2,100ft) and a descent of 1,100m (3,609ft). The lakes are all descriptively named. Wildsee appropriately translates as the “wild lake”.

Schwarzsee, 5 Lake Hike, Pizol, Switzerland

Once you get off the chair lift, the trail is visible before you. It quickly climbs pretty much straight up and around a mountain peak, which will give even an experienced hiker a good challenge. While it's wise to be prepared for variable weather, try not to take too heavy a pack!

5 Lake Hike, Swiss Alps

Halfway through the first hill, I had doubts about even being able to complete the hike. I was already exhausted from a gruelling day of travel the previous day, and the extra weight on my back and the ridiculously steep incline of the hill were not doing me any favours. I thought several times about turning around and calling it quits, but I knew it was something I had to do – and something I would remember as a moment of strength and perseverance.

Schwarzsee, 5 Lake Hike, Pizol, Switzerland

Slowly, I made it up the first mountain, which turned out to be the hardest of the hike. Once I saw the sprawling mountains around me, and Baschalvasee, the first of the five lakes below me, I was floored. I couldn’t believe what my eyes were seeing – it was just as epic as I had imagined it would be.

Schottensee, 5 Lake Hike, Pizol, Switzerland

I came down past Baschalvasee, and kept on. I somehow found the energy to make it up the incredibly steep hills, using the lakes as landmarks for how close I was to seeing Wildsee, the very last, and the most impressive, lake on the hike. The stunning landscapes all around me helped to provide a much needed distraction from the aches and pains.

Schottensee, 5 Lake Hike, Pizol, Switzerland

The weather on the hike can be extremely volatile – when I walked the route, it was sunny as I began hiking, but later clouds moved in, and it started to rain. It is incredibly important to be prepared in situations like these, as a serious storm could move in and leave you stranded. Pack spare layers, including waterproofs, as well as plenty of food and water, as well as a first aid kit and head torch.

Schottensee, 5 Lake Hike, Pizol, Switzerland

Eventually, I grew so tired and exhausted that the only thing keeping me going was the mental image of what Wildsee would look like when I finally saw it. As I passed Schottensee, I knew what was ahead. I looked up at the steep climb, the last one on the hike, knowing that I was so close. I knew that what I had come so far from home to see was finally in reach. As I willed myself up the last peak, I was not prepared for what I saw before me.

Wildsee, 5 Lake Hike, Pizol, Switzerland

I’ve seen Moraine Lake in Alberta. I’ve been to Diablo Lake in the North Cascades. I’ve hiked (and fallen in) Iceberg Lake in Glacier National Park, Montana. With all these epic lakes under my belt, it’s a wonder how I could be this excited to see Wildsee. Not only was I excited, but it was one of those times where you can’t believe how incredible what you are seeing truly is.

Wildsee, 5 Lake Hike, Pizol, Switzerland

As I came around the last bend, I laid my eyes upon Wildsee, one of the deepest, bluest lakes I have ever seen. The lake was surrounded by incredible snow-covered crags, making the lake that much more impressive. I was in awe.

It was worth it. It was worth the ridiculous train rides. It was worth almost sleeping on the streets the night before. And it was certainly worth the hike that I willed my body against all odds to do.

Technical information

Start and finish Wangs-Pizol (Pizolhütte to Gaffia)

Ascent 640m (2,100ft)

Descent 1,100m (3,609ft)

Distance 10km (6 miles)

Duration (out) 3h 50min

Duration (return) 4h 15min

Technical requirements Medium

Physical requirementsDifficult

Walking season June to October

HB Mertz is a freelance photographer and adventurer. He enjoys solo road trips, hiking mountains, and doing anything to get the shot. He’s probably thinking about where his next adventure will lead him right now.

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Images: 1, 5, 9: vogelsp/Adobe; 2, 4, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11: HB Mertz; 3: Michael Szönyi/Alamy; 12: lehvis/Adobe

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