M has been a classic tourist excursion in Central Switzerland since the early 19th Century, when British and German tour groups climbed its slopes on foot or by mule. The mountain is easy to reach from Lucerne, and it offers fantastic views of the Alps and the Vierwaldstättersee (in English, the "Lake of the Four Forest Cantons" or Lake Lucerne).
There are several ways to ascend the mountain, which has a maximum elevation of 2,132 meters or 6,995 feet:
The world's steepest rack railway climbs to Pilatus Kulm from Alpnachstad, which you can reach by boat, train, or road from Lucerne. (Maximum gradient is 48%.)
From Kriens, a suburb of Lucerne, four-seat gondolas take you to the Fräkmüntegg, where you transfer to a large cablecar that whisks you to the summit station.
From Alpnachstad, it's a hike of 5-1/4 hours to the summit. The downhill hike is only 3-3/4 hours, so you may want to consider riding the train up and hiking down. (NOTE: You'll huff and puff less in the downhill direction, but the uphill hike may put less stress on your knees.)
For most visitors, the best option is the "Golden Roundtrip" excursion fare, which combines a trip by lake steamer to Alpnachstad, a 30-minute cogwheel train ascent, a 5-minute descent by aerial cablecar to Fräkmüntegg, a leisurely ride in a "panoramic gondola" through the treetops to Kriens, and a 15-minute bus ride back to the Lucerne train station. The Goldene Rundfahrt ticket is available from May to October, and you can buy it with 1st or 2nd class transportation on the boat section.
Holders of the Swiss Pass, Swiss Flexi Pass, and Interail/Eurail passes get discounts on the "Mt. Pilatus Excursion" cogwheel and cablecar fare, with free transportation between Lucerne and Alpnachstad (either boat or train) and on the local bus between Kriens and Lucerne. See the English-language Pilatus-Bahnen Web site for details.
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