The Mattenalpsee and Gaulisee Hike, Switzerland – an overnight adventure with a hiking sheepdog!
Welcome to one stunning and isolated corner of Switzerland! Mattenalpsee and Gaulisee are two alpine lakes you can only hike to. Here you will discover an often overlooked, beautiful corner of the Bernese Oberland. Alpine Lakes, Glaciers, steep and jagged mountains you will most likely be able to top enjoy in blissed and peaceful solitude. This place is quite hard to reach. No shortcuts available, i.e. no cable cars or roads nearby. Only a long hike over rugged terrain. Still, that makes such a sight even more rewarding:
Also, to me, this was a very special and unusual hike for another reason. I came across a sheepdog a couple of kilometres into the hike. A huge, mixed-breed sheepdog taller and heavier than me that could climb like a mountain goat.
That dog somehow decided to follow me wherever I went. Perhaps, like me, the dog wanted to explore more of the magnificent surrounding landscape. Or, it just wanted to take a day off from herding sheep. Whatever the reason, it followed me for an entire day and spent the night next to my tent. The dog then returned to the pastures it was supposed to guard the day after, where our ways departed. So here’s the furry mountain friend, enjoying some rest after a long day hike:
I have added an extra section about the doc here below. Read on for the full story, and if you visit this location, perhaps the hiking dog will follow you too ;)!
Table of Content
Overview of the Mattenalpsee and Gaulisee Hike
This is a hike for experienced hikers only. There are several steep, exposed and challenging terrain. Therefore, an overnight stay is recommended, and this can be done at the Gaulihütte, which is currently closed for renovation until March 2023.
The trail encompasses T2, T3 and T4 tracks. None are particularly exposed, but there are a lot of loose rocks and steep sections where a fall would mean serious injuries. Early in the season, there may also be a few avalanche fields to cross. I had to cross two the first time I visited Mattenalpsee in May.
|Max Altitude||1,500 m|
|Elevation gain||1,500 ↑ / 1,500 ↓|
|Hike time||10:00 / 11:00 Hours|
How to Get to Mattenalpsee and Gaulisee and Parking
Both the Mattenalpsee and the Gaulisee are located in a remote valley in the Bernese Oberland. There is no cable car option or road nearby, and the long hike is the only option to get there.
- Driving Directions: To get to this beautiful location, one would first have to drive toward or across the Grimselpass. Either way, you would have to drive to Innertkirchen fires and, from there, follow the directions to Urbachtal. Keep following the narrow road up the side of the mountain until the fenced end of the road.
- Parking: there is a relatively big, free (2022) parking area at the trailhead by the end of the road. You can leave the car there.
- Public Transport: there isn’t any good public transport option. Still, it is possible to take the train to Innertkirchen and walk to the trailhead from there. However, the walk is 5.5 KM, which would add considerable length to a lea ready long and demanding hike.
The Mattenalpsee and Gaulisee Trail
As mentioned, this is a long hike, and I’d recommend breaking it into two legs. The first day stops ad the Gaulihütte. Then, on the second day, you can continue to the Gaulisee and head back from there. You also hike to Mattenalpsee as a day hike. I did it on one occasion, and it was more than worth it.
Hiking to Mattenalpssee
The first part of the trail is a dirt road that will lead you through alpine pastures into a narrow valley surrounded by steep mountains. Gradually the dirt road will turn into a trail in the forest, and after a while, it will reach a fenced wide area where there may be sheepdogs. ..yes one of them is my new friend :)
The trail will become steeper and moderately exposed as you cross the fenced area and keep heading uphill. There may be some remains of avalanches from winter early in the season. Be careful crossing those, as they may collapse.
The trail will also split before reaching Mattenalpsee. One goes up the mountain to the Gaulihütte, and the other continues on the side of the mountain until it reaches Mattenalpsee. Take the latter to get to Mattenalpsee.
After more hiking, you will finally reach Mattenalpsee, the first beautiful lake – a reservoir, actually.
Hiking to Gaulisee
Keep following the trail up the mountain to the Gaulihütte and Gaulisee. It won’t take long to reach the hut, probably about 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the pace. From the hut onwards, the trail will turn from T3 (white-red-white) to T4 (white-blue-white). T3 and T4 trails can have exposed areas, but T4 starts to get closer to Alpinism than hiking. A decent amount of scrambling and navigation skills through rugged terrain are required here. Still, if you are used to this terrain, it is not too bad of a T4.
At times cairns will replace the colour-coded trail marks. Also, I’d recommend having a GPS track here, which you can download from the Komoot map below. The trail keeps following the side of the mountain, and you get a view of Gaulisee once you reach a ledge above the lake. From there, you have a full view of the lake and the glacial valley below and a good view of what remains of the Gauligletscher.
Two cairns make the location. I stopped there for the night. As I discovered, it is also possible to hike down to the lake from there and loop back to Mattenalpsee without going back the same way you came from. It is a steep path down the mountain, so if you decide to go down that way, make sure you plan and research that trail accordingly.
From there, the view over the glacial lake, the valley below, and the surrounding mountains is incredible. One can most likely enjoy views alone and away from the Swiss mountain crowds. This is a remote and pristine location, well worth the effort of getting there.
The Mattenalpsee and Gaulisee Hike Photos and Photography tips
There is a lot of beauty along the trail. Both lakes are classic, deep turquoise alpine lakes encased in narrow glacial valleys. The mountains around are impressive, plus the glaciers. There’s plenty to shoot at.
Still, I’ve found this to be a difficult location to capture properly. Due to weight constraints (a 20 kg backpack), I opted to bring only my 24-70. However, I can see uses for both wider and longer lenses, anything between 14 to 200. It is challenging to fit the lakes in a 24mm frame, so a wider lens would help. On the other hand, with telelens, you’d be able to close in on distant waterfalls and the surrounding peaks. Still, this is a beautiful location I’ve had fun shooting at.
If you are looking for a good sunset or sunrise location though, this is not it. The valley is completely surrounded by mountains, so it gets dark early in the evening and bright late in the morning.
Here are my favourite photos from this overnight hike.
My new friend, the hiking sheepdog of the Bernese Oberland.
This was a little weird but fun. I met the dog on the trail. It was one big beast too. Taller than me when standing up and definitely heavier, this dog is supposedly expected to protect the sheep in the valley but evidently preferred making friends with hikers.
The dog jumped on me like pets do when seeing their owners after a long time. I am not sure what clicked in the dog’s instinct, but from there, it somehow decided to follow me everywhere I went. At each crossing point, I closed the gates fencing the pastures, but the dog found a way through and reached me again after ten minutes or so.
I also greeted the dog goodbye several times when I had to scramble up the mountain, but it somehow managed to climb up too. Never underestimate the climbing abilities of Alpine sheep dogs!
When I reached my destination for the night, the dog laid down next to the tent, probably exhausted. I shared some crackers with it too, for dinner and breakfast. The next day we hiked down the mountain, and it disappeared in the exact same location where we met the day before. This is a hike I will cherish and remember as one of my best hikes due to this unexpected encounter.
If you also are a dog lover, here are also some additional photos of my new furry friend you may enjoy:
Map of the Mattenalpsee and Gaulisee Hike
Here is the map of the Mattenalpsee and Gaulisee Hike. If you need a GPS track, you can download the .GPX file from the Komoot activity. However, note this track is a one-way only.
Where to stay
- The Gaulihuette is an excellent option to break the hike into a two days trek. It will be open again from March 11th, after a one-year-long renovation.
- Check out more awesome Swiss Alpine lakes hikes here: Gelmersee, Oeschinensee, Göscheneralpsee, Limmerensee, Bannalpsee, Triftsee, or Glattalp.
- Check out my main Switzerland page for more info and hikes in Switzerland.
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