The Gornergletscher (Gorner Glacier) viewpoint offers a unique experience to get up close and personal with the second largest glacial system in the Alps. The lookout, perched on a grassy knoll atop the moraine wall, offers a bird’s-eye view of the convergence of two massive rivers of ice, the Gorner and Grenz Glaciers, spilling down the flanks of Monte Rosa.
Towering above this spectacle of ice are the Monte Rosa, Lyskamm and Breithorn massifs along with Castor and Pollux and the Kleine Matterhorn, capped in snow and ice. The tributaries of the Gorner Glacier, the Grenz, Monte Rosa, Zwillings and Schwarze glaciers, spilling down the slopes of the peaks, combine with the Gorner Glacier to form an imposing glacial sea flowing in motionless waves down the Gorner Valley.
Further down the valley the Breithorngletscher, Triftjigletscher, and Unter Theodulgletscher, former tributaries of the Gorner Glacier, no longer reach the valley floor but instead hang from flanks of the Breithorn and Klein Matterhorn. Completing the scene the majestic Matterhorn stands alone, rising to the west of the Gorner Valley.
The hike to the viewpoint, starting at Riffelberg, is filled with scenic delights. The Gornergrat Cog Railway and the extensive network of hiking trails allow parties to tailor their day and modify itineraries on the fly. This description includes return routes to Riffelberg, Riffelalp (recommended) and Zermatt.
Get an early start on this hike. In the afternoon clouds often move in, covered the tops of the peaks and obstructing the views.
Gorner Glacier Viewpoint
Distance from Trailhead: 3.9 miles (one way)
Ending/Highest Elevation: 8,670-ft.
Elevation Gain: 782-ft.
From the train station in Riffelberg (8,471-ft/2,582-meters), walk a short distance south/southwest on the broad path between the railroad tracks and the Hotel Riffelberg to a “Y” intersection. Here two trails lead to Rotenboden where we pick up the trail to the Monte Rosa viewpoint. Take the trail branching right (southwest) in the direction of Gagenhaupt (20min), Riffelsee (1h 10min) and Rottenboden (1h 20min). While this route is 0.8 miles longer, in my opinion it is more scenic. The trail to the left (south) heads over the plateau to Rotenboden (45m) and Gornergrat (1h 40min).
Follow the trail through meadows with great views of the massive wall of 4,000-meter peaks, including Dent Blanche, the Ober Gabelhorn massif, the Zinalrothorn and the Weisshorn, towering above the Zermatt valley to the northwest. The Matterhorn dominates the skyline to the south. At 0.3 miles pass a pretty little stone chapel with a slate roof.
The trail continues southwest, ascending the undulating plateau on moderate grades. Ahead the tops of the Klein Matterhorn and Breithorn appear above the plateau. At 0.8 miles the trail curves to the south as it drops into a shallow valley formed by the Riffelhorn’s eastern ridge and the Riffelberg plateau (to the north). The Riffelhorn, a small, triangular-shaped peak (9,603-ft/2,927-meters) rising to the south of the Riffelberg plateau, is a favorite place for climbers to train before tackling the big peaks.
Arrive at Gagenhaupt (8,412-ft./2,564-meters) at 1.0 mile where our path joins a trail coming up from Riffelalp. Continue straight ahead, climbing up the valley on moderate to moderately-steep grades toward the Riffelsee, Rottenboden and Gornergrat. As you ascend, turn around for nice views of the Matterhorn, Dent Blanche, the Ober Gabelhorn massif and the Wellenkuppe.
Pass trail signs at 1.3 and 1.5 miles, ignoring the trails to the left leading back toward Riffelberg. Our route is straight ahead toward the Riffelsee and Rottenboden. After the second signpost the grade abates as the trail approaches a small tarn and then reaches the Riffelsee, a small alpine lake cradled beneath the Riffelhorn, at 1.8 miles. On calm mornings the tarn and the lake are a photographer’s delight, with the Matterhorn perfectly reflected in the still waters.
The trail now curves around the east end of the Riffelsee below the Rotenboden train station. Ignore trails climbing uphill toward the train station or ascending east toward Gornergrat. Instead follow the trail heading southeast on easy grades toward the edge of the plateau. Trail signs on a path coming down from Rotenboden will point toward the Monte Rosa Hut (a blue route sign) and Gornergletscher (a yellow sign). This is our trail.
At 2.3 miles the trail reaches the edge of the plateau and turns left (east). Follow the trail as it traverses along the south face of the Gornergrat ridge and then the Gorner glacier’s lateral moraine, along the way enjoying marvelous panoramic views. Monte Rosa, Lyskamm, Castor, Pollus and the Breithorn, covered in snow and ice, dominate the view across the valley. Glaciers, including the Monte Rosa, Grenz, Zwillings and Schwarze glaciers, pour off the flanks of the peaks combine with the Gorner Glacier, flowing down the west side of Monte Rosa, in the valley below.
Initially the trail ascends 120-ft. over 0.2 miles to a rock outcropping at 2.5 miles before descending to the Gornergletscher viewpoint (8,670-ft./2,643-meters) at 3.9 miles, losing over 550-ft. Along the way pass a route at 3.3 miles that ascends on very steep grades to Gornergrat. Note that this is a route, not a trail, and is only recommended for experienced, sure-footed hikers.
The glacier viewpoint, atop a grassy knoll, offers amazing views of the massive Gorner glacier as if spills down the west flanks of Monte Rosa to the valley floor where it flows west to a point just below the Klein Matterhorn. In the valley it is joined by the Monte Rosa, Grenz, Zwillings and Schwarze glaciers to form the second largest glacial system in the Alps, after the Aletsch Glacier. Further down the valley the Breithorngletscher, Triftjigletscher, and Unter Theodulgletscher, former tributaries of the Gorner Glacier, no longer reach the valley floor but instead hang from flanks of the Breithorn and Klein Matterhorn.
The Monte Rosa, Lyskamm and Breithorn massifs, along with Castor, Pollux, the Klein Matterhorn tower above the sea of ice. Across the valley, on the ridge extending northwest from the Monte Rosa massif, is the new hi-tech glass and aluminum clad Monte Rosa Hut. A pair of binoculars will help you to spot the hut perched atop the bare rock on the rugged ridge.
A route, using ladders to drop down to the glacier, crosses the glacier and then climbs 1,200-ft. to the hut. Only properly equipped, experienced parties should venture out onto the ice. Over the past decade melting has created major crevasses in the ice flow. Hikers interested in trekking to the hut should inquire about guides at the Zermatt Tourism Office near the train station.
From the Viewpoint to Riffelalp
Distance from Trailhead: 8.6 miles (round trip)
Ending/Highest Elevation: 7,254-ft.
Elevation Gain: -2,000-ft.
When you are done enjoying the views, retrace your steps to the Riffelsee (9,087-ft./2,770-meters) at 6.0 miles. Walk in the direction of the signs pointing to Gagenhaupt, Riffelberg and Riffelalp. Reach a sign post at 6.3 miles pointing right (northwest) toward Riffelberg. This alternate path follows a descending traverse across the Riffelberg plateau for 0.7 miles to Riffelberg for a total round trip hiking distance of 7.0 miles.
To return to Riffelberg along the original route or walk to Riffelalp, continue straight toward Gagenhaupt, Riffelberg and Riffelalp. Ignore a second sign pointing left to Riffelberg at 6.5 miles. Follow the trail as it drops down the narrow valley between the Riffelberg plateau and the Riffelhorn’s eastern ridge.
Reach Gagenhaupt junction at 6.9 miles. To return on the original route, take the trail branching right (northwest) and climbing the hillside to the Riffelberg plateau. From the signpost back to Riffelberg is 0.9 miles for a total hiking distance of 7.8 miles.
Alternatively, if time and energy permit, continue straight ahead toward Riffelalp and Zermatt. Soon the trail curves northwest and then north on a descending traverse down the steep slopes beneath the Riffelberg plateau, passing through rocky meadows that are soon populated with scattered larches. Occasional switchbacks facilitate the moderately-steep descent. Ignore any signs pointing toward the Gletschergarten, Furi and Zermatt.
Along his section of the hike enjoy great views of the Matterhorn towering above the Matterhorn Plateau. Dent Blanche, the Ober Gabelhorn massif, the Zinalrothorn and the Weisshorn, fill the skyline to the northwest while the Taschhorn and the Dom form a backdrop to the Oberrothorn to the northeast. As you descend, views open to Furi, Riffelalp and Zermatt.
At 8.3 miles, just above Riffelalp, our trail joins with a path coming up from the Gletschergarten. Soon the trail breaks out of the trees, passes a small chapel and a tennis court to meet a road in the Riffelalp Resort complex (7,454-ft./2,272-meters) at 8.5 miles. Here signs point toward the Riffelalp train station and a trail back to Winkelmatten and Zermatt.
To take the train back to Zermatt, turn right (northeast) and walk through the resort complex on a broad trail. Beyond the hotel continue along the trail, which parallels the course of a small cog railway used to transport luggage and passengers to/from the train station to the resort. Arrive at the Riffelalp Train Station (7,254-ft./2,211-meters) at 8.6 miles where you can hop on a train back to Zermatt.
To walk back to Zermatt from Riffelalp follow the signs pointing towards Winkelmatten (a suburb of Zermatt) and Zermatt. The trail descends on moderately-steep grades through forests and meadows, passing a few chalets along the way. Intermittent openings in the trees offer nice views of the Matterhorn. Reach the small church in the middle of Winkelmatten at 10.8 miles. In Winkelmatten follow the signs back to Zermatt and the Zermatt train station. Walking all the way to the Zermatt Bahnhoff (train station) will add another 0.6 miles to the day.
Walking Directions From the Zermatt Train Station (Bahnhof) to the Gornergrat Cog Railway: The Gornergrat Cog Railway is directly across the street from the Zermatt Bahnhoff. In the height of the summer the trains run from 7am until 8pm. There are also some special sunrise trains that start as early as 5am (advanced booking required). Check at the station or the main tourist office for current schedule. It takes 23 minutes to reach Riffelberg.
Note: During the height of the day the trains get crowded and you may need to wait to board a train. It is best to get an early start and beat the crowds.
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