Summary: cable car up, then downhill hike to lovely lake
Ebenalp is a mountain area near Appenzell, where you'll find lots of hiking options. This time, we rode up the Wasserauen-Ebenalp cable car, then hiked down a steep mountain trail to Seealpsee, a pretty lake with stunning views all around (took us about 1hr30min). This lake is very popular, so don't expect to be in an empty, remote spot after working so hard to get there; many people simply walk up the service road from the parking areas. But you can hike around the lake and find a nice quiet place to relax and wade in the water. At the lake, you'll find a couple restaurants with large outdoor seating areas, a small playground.
Later, we hiked down more steep switchbacks all the way back to the valley station (took us about 1hr15mins). This hike is possible with children, but requires a motivated crew and some caution (more on that below). I also recommend walking sticks to provide stability as you navigate many stairs and some slippery slopes. This hike is a bit longer and more challenging than most hike I post here, but it's worth it.
For those of you with kids that are too small to walk and too big to carry, you can take the paved road from Wasserauen up to the lake (about 1 hr one way), which is appropriate for strollers unlike the other trails. The paved path is steep in parts, but completely doable with a stroller. For a less demanding option, see the Ebenalp-Wildkirchli Hike post that describes the short trail to the cliff restaurant.
|Car:||~1:30 from ZH||Trail:||~2.5-3hrs||Restaurant:||yes|
|Train/Bus:||~2:10 from ZH, 1 change||Stroller:||no||Fire pit:||yes|
Details. Drive to Wasserauen and park near the base station of the Ebenalp cable car. There are a couple large parking lots, but on sunny weekends, it can fill up quickly. We usually go here in May when it's very quiet. So when we went on a sunny Saturday in late June, we were disturbed to see a couple hundred cars filling up two lots, a farmer's field and lining the main road (shown below), all requiring a small parking fee. Wasserauen is easy to reach by public transportation, as the train drops off directly across from the cable car station. It only requires one change from Zurich HB.
At the cable car station, buy a one way ticket as you will be hiking all the way down. It's relatively inexpensive and they accept Halbtax and Juniorkarten. In 2014, it was 20CHF/adult, 6.50CHF/child for one-way. We were worried about the crowds, but happily, we didn't have to wait in a long line for the cable car. It was packed with people at the top and along the short trail to the Wildkirchli (wild church) and restaurant. Once we split onto the trail to Seealpsee, there were less hikers and they were more spread out.
At the top, follow signs to Seealpsee, Wildkirchli-Höhlen, and Gasthaus Aescher. Pretty much everyone else is walking the same way at the beginning, so you shouldn't get lost. This part looks like you might be able to take a stroller, but no. It gets very lumpy and narrow. It also briefly passes through a dark, wet cave, that can be wet and slippery.
After a few minutes, you'll reach the hermit cave and this little house and a church built into a cave.
A few minutes later, you'll reach the Gasthaus Aescher (shown below), which has a restaurant and some outdoor seating. The food is typical Swiss fare, nothing special, but the views are fantastic. On busy days, expect the small restaurant to be completely packed, as this is the main destination for most visitors.
To continue the trail to Seealpsee, walk through the patio seating and rejoin the trail on the other side, always following signs to "Seealpsee."
There are a couple paths going down the mountain, but ignore them until you see this sign below, with the yellow trail sign pointing to Seealpsee. At this point, the trail splits. The right fork goes back up the mountain on a narrow switchback and eventually ends up back at the Ebenalp top station. The left fork goes down the mountain to the lake. Take the left fork.
This warning sign says: "Descent to Seealp lake is a dangerous mountain trail! Secure children with a rope. Ropes are available in Gasthaus Äscher!" I was quite worried by this sign and imagined us scuttling along the edges of sheer cliffs. We proceeded with caution, but no rope. It wasn't nearly as bad as I imagined.
As shown in these pictures, it is a steep narrow mountain trail, with lots of stairs, but no more than other steep mountain trails we've been on. There are sections where the mountain descends steeply on one side of the trail (look at the pic above right), but no drop-offs. We kept our kids (6 and 10 at the time) close but I never felt that they were in danger. I wouldn't recommend it for very small kids (like under 5), particularly those that run off, don't always heed your warnings, trip a lot, etc. This is a trail for confident walkers that can go the distance.
After about an hour, the mountain path with join the paved road, where you'll probably encounter more people walking up that road, those who didn't want to hike down like you did.
After about 10 mins after you join the paved road, you'll see a few barns, buildings and cows.
A couple minutes later, the road ends at the lake. The day we were there, lots of families were spread around this area, splashing in the water. It's a nice spot, but you'll probably want to walk around the lake a bit to escape some of the crowds. A narrow dirt path circles the lake. It's easy walking but not particularly stroller-friendly.
There are 2 restaurants with outdoor patios overlooking the lake. Directly to your left is Gasthaus Forelle, with lots of outdoor seating and a small playground. We didn't eat there, so I can't tell you about the food.
You can rent rowboats from the Gasthaus. I think it was 8CHF for 30 minutes. It's very informal; we didn't have to sign anything or leave a deposit or check in when we were done. But they wouldn't let us rent it for longer than 30 minutes because they want other people to have an opportunity to use the boat. That's not much time, but we managed to row our crew around a bit and drop them off on the other side of the lake. I rowed back and returned the boat, then walked around to meet my family. They didn't have life vests, so use at your own risk.
If you walk through the restaurant patio and follow the path through a small forest, you'll end up on the narrow eastern leg of the lake. Lots of people were sunbathing here and some even splashing around in the water. It's shallow here and probably the best section if you have small kids that want to get wet.
I didn't see any official fire pits, but there were lots of informal ones around the lake. It was a little tricky to gather up enough firewood, but we managed it in the end. We tried to swim, but it was so icy cold, none of us got in very deep.
A little more of the view, this time looking north back to Ebenalp.
When you are ready to walk back to Wasserauen (and your car or the train), you can either take the paved road you came up on.
Or you can take a hiking trail, which I'll show you below. This trail starts on the east side of the lake, a little southeast of the restaurant, at the same spot I mentioned above that was shallow and good for splashing around. Below we are just starting the trail away from the lake.
The trail starts through some wide open fields.
Then lots and lots and lots of stairs and some switchbacks through a dark forest. I thought this was the hardest part of the trail. Some of it was under construction and was a little difficult to manage. But it looked like they are repairing the trail, so hopefully it will be in better condition when you go.
A little more than an hour after leaving the lake, we had the car park in sight. Our knees were hurting a bit from all the downhill. But it was a great day and I'd definitely recommend it.
Our 2.5 year old was about to fall asleep in the backpack so we decided to take that as an opportunity to do a more strenuous hike & try to lose some of the crowds. The trail from Wildkirchli to Seealpsee is down a lot of steep steps and is definitely not child friendly. I thought a quiet & remote Alpine lake would be the reward for the punishment that my knees were taking. However, our trail merged with a paved trail just before the lake & we were once again amongst the crowds.
Note: This is my update to a 2007 post written by my good friend Inga, who has since left Switzerland and is hiking in other parts of the world now. We miss you!