Lauterbrunnen Valley – Traveling to the world of “The Lord of the Rings”
Lauterbrunnen Valley is more than just a beautiful landscape
Switzerland is known for its beautiful and dramatic landscapes. But there is more than just the natural aspect to it. Some of its most famous places have served as great inspirations for authors and movie directors. One such place is the incredibly picturesque valley surrounding Lauterbrunnen, a small village deeply nested within an alpine mountain chain. The almost perpendicular limestone walls on both sides form an unreal-looking cleft around the town. Such natural beauty obviously never goes undiscovered for long. In fact, when traveling the world to collect ideas for the creation of the Lord of the Rings’ “Middle Earth,” English writer J.R.R. Tolkien illustrated the location of Rivendell purely based on his impressions of the Lauterbrunnen Valley. For people like me, who are both movie-lovers and nature-addicts, Lauterbrunnen Valley is a must-see when traveling Europe.
Accommodations available but expensive
During my trip to Switzerland, I stayed in a cozy Airbnb right at the edge of Lake Thun, only 30 minutes northeast of the Lauterbrunnen Valley. Although Lauterbrunnen itself offers several hotels, prices can be on the higher end due to high demand and the small size of the town. Instead, I highly recommend staying in or around Interlaken, a small city between two beautiful lakes (Lake Thun and Brienzer Lake) just 20 minutes away.
Arrive by car, continue by train
Coming from Lake Thun (or Interlaken in general), the only road into the valley leads right into Lauterbrunnen. I followed the road by car until I reached a parking structure. After stopping the car, I realized that I had accidentally found the parking structure closest to the viewpoint of the Staubbach waterfall, one of the valley’s main attractions. I arrived early and was one of the first five cars. While the morning fog started to gently lift, I quickly grabbed my camera and tripod and stepped outside.
Although this wasn’t a free parking situation, I decided not to get a ticket since I only intended to stay for about 15 minutes. Within those 15 minutes, the parking slots filled up almost entirely, so I really encourage you to arrive early when visiting this town. After a brief consultation in the tourism office, I followed their recommendation, drove back to the outskirts of town, and used the official Lauterbrunnen parking garage for all-day parking, which costs about $15-$20 USD. There are uncountable hiking trails starting in the valley itself. However, for people who just want to spend one day there, I recommend using the local tram to gain some elevation for two reasons. First, slowly climbing up the winding mountains on the aerial cableway is an unbelievable experience, and second, it gives you an amazing view while traveling.
Visit the alpine village of Wengen
Although Lauterbrunnen Valley is gorgeous from town level, its best views are guaranteed from higher locations, such as the alpine village of Wengen. Wengen can only be reached by a 15-min ride on the cogwheel train departing from Lauterbrunnen and has lots of cool things to offer. Besides typical tourist shops and restaurants, the hiking trails are extremely pretty. Once I exited the tram, I immediately made my way to yet another tourism office and asked for the best and most beautiful hike that can be done in a half-day trip for a hiker with intermediate experience. The answer was, “You should definitely check out Leithorn Viewpoint.”
Elevation is rewarded with priceless views of Lauterbrunnen Valley
Following the advice of the friendly lady inside the tourism office, I started making my way towards the viewpoint. Although the 2.5-mile (4 km) loop hike was described as generally easy, I found it quite demanding during the beginning stretches, which consisted only of strong uphill sections. However, the views were insane and worth stopping more often than I usually would. The first half-hour led me over open fields and curvy trails pointing towards an evergreen forest ahead. What I saw in front of me was beautiful, but the image behind me was even better. I put down my backpack and sat in the saturated green grass, which was covered with thousands of dandelions, to stare down into the valley for about a half-hour.
It looked unreal. The valley’s gradient of dark green colors slowly turned into an icy white on the mountaintops, all in one field of view right in front of me. Once I continued my hike and reached the forest, I had gained about 750 feet of elevation and was able to enjoy unobstructed views of the mountain range located on the far side of Lauterbrunnen Valley. I stopped and sat down, got up, walked two more minutes, and sat down again – not from lack of fitness, but to drink in the incredible views that changed every few meters.
Postcard-like views of a snow-covered mountain range
Since I was traveling during the month of October, weather conditions could have played out to be literally anything. And when it comes to successful picture-taking, visibility is usually everything. While wandering around Lauterbrunnen Valley and hiking towards the viewpoint, I hadn’t really put much thought into it, but boy was I lucky! Not only was it a perfectly sunny day, but the visibility allowed me to see all the way to the mountain ridge, enthroned on the south side of the valley. Mutthorn, Tschingelhorn, Breithorn, Grosshorn…I could clearly see every single snow-covered mountain peak and couldn’t believe my eyes.
They were so far away and yet so impressively large in front of me. I felt small – small and tired. After I completed the 2-hour round-trip hike and returned to Wengen, I appreciated a delicious dinner and took the tram back to my car. What an amazing day!
Explore Lauterbrunnen Valley for multiple days
From what I saw during my short trip, this location is best experienced over multiple days. Sure, a day trip like mine is always possible, but the availability of hiking trails is unbelievable. Experienced hikers and adventurers can go for multiple-day trips up in the mountain ranges. On the other hand, since several trains, trams and gondolas allow for certain “shortcuts,” all fitness levels can enjoy the views up high in the mountains. From beginner to pro, there is something to do for everybody. To make most of the time, I recommend getting familiar with local logistics beforehand. Especially when traveling in a shorter time frame, reconciling available parking, transportation possibilities and hiking trails can be time-consuming and misleading. Accurate advance planning will guarantee a stress-free time when entering the beautiful landscapes of “The Lord of the Rings.”
COVER: Close-up of Staubbach falls, taken from Leithorn view point. Photo: Thomas Später
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Thomas Später, PhD, is an experienced backpacking traveler that specializes in adventurous trips around the globe. He has traveled to remote and exotic places, such as Namibia or Mongolia and focuses on landscape and wildlife photography to share the beauty of our planet with others. In 2021, Thomas published a (German) book about Overpopulation and Over-consumption (Die Überbevölkerung). With his awareness of current global issues, he uses his travels to support particularly local hotels and restaurants to raise awareness for the nature and culture of his destinations. Follow Thomas´ adventures on Instagram as well as on his website, World In Frames.