A terrific climb over a well-made Alpine pass, with an enjoyable descent hugging the cliff edge, then continuing along the aquamarine waters of Lake Lucerne.
Max elevation: 1962 m
Total climbing: 2363 m
Total descent: -2445 m
Location & Terrain
Nestled in the Glarus Alps, the Klausen Pass rises to 1,948m between Linthal, in the canton of Glarus, and Altdorf, in Uri. The roads are wide and well made, with a small enough volume of traffic to make it a comfortable journey. The pass is easily accessible by train at both ends, with various options available to extend the route to a variety of distances and elevation gains. For the particularly keen (on riding > 120km), it’s possible to ride from Zürich to Altdorf at the end of a summer’s day, tackle the pass (the reverse of that shown here) and jump on a train back to Zürich before dark.
This variation starts at the station of Schwanden GL, the village itself being marked as Glarus Süd on Google Maps, providing a gentle warm-up ride up the valley to Linthal, where the real climbing starts. Alternative starting points to crossing the pass in this direction include Linthal, Glarus and Ziegelbrücke, all of which have direct trains or fast connections to Zürich HB. Water and toilets are available at Linthal.
Warming up along the valley
Cycle route 4 (the Alpine Panorama route) marks the entire route over the pass itself: look for the signs outside Schwanden station. The main road is still busy at this point, and the marked trail provides a relaxing excursion through the radiant green fields of the Linth valley, with the mountains at its head looming ever closer. Passing Linthal station is your last chance for local services for a good 1,000m of climbing, so stock up on water if it’s hot.
The first climb
After gaining some 150m along the valley in 10km, the real work begins. Exiting Linthal you are greeted by a small cobbled section as the switchbacks begin, gaining 700m over the next 10km. With each hairpin the view improves, quickly rising above the tree line for views across mountains in several directions. What follows is somewhere around an hour of moderate alpine entertainment.
It’s certainly scenic!
Leaving the switchbacks behind, your legs feel the gradient start to decrease, with some false flats convincing you that you’re going downhill again. Crossing the cantonal border into Uri, a wide, green-sided valley opens out in front of you, the valley walls crowned with rock formations. It doesn’t feel like you’re 1,300m up at this point, and you’d be forgiven for wondering if you’d climbed anything at all. You can take comfort from your sore legs that you did actually do the first climb, and are now over half-way there. Enjoy 4km of relative flat, in beautiful surroundings.
The second climb
Approaching the village of Urnerboden, it becomes clear to the naked eye what awaits. A smattering of buildings marks a settlement in the col ahead, and the road becomes emerges from the greenery, winding its way up and around.
The final climb begins, winding up the hillside on a stone-lined road, with some steep, sharp switchbacks that would provide good sport if travelling the other way. In this direction, however, they provide an opportunity to enjoy the increasingly mountainous views, with a number of opportunities to pull over and take photos.
Reaching the col, a small hut offers drinks and the ever-present Alpkäse, if the climb has proven too much. If you’re just in search of water, there’s a fountain a bit further along, as an opportunity to see the winding road below presents itself. Despite the rather odd location for this fountain (it’s not that near the settlement), the water was good, with no ill effects. A welcome respite on a hot summer’s day.
The top of the pass is unremarkable, but does offer a restaurant and a Kiosk for food and snacks, and a sign. The pass is a popular place for hiking, and there’s a car park up here as well.
With around 1,400m of climbing under your belt, it’s time to enjoy the descent. Shortly after leaving the summit you’ll encounter Hotel Klausenpasshöhe, which seems to be a popular tourist stop. A large parking area serves as a turning area for buses and coaches – keep an eye on these. If it looks like you’ll get stuck behind one on the descent, just wait at the hotel for a bit. Sitting behind a bus crawling down the hill isn’t a huge amount of fun, and the scenery will keep you occupied!
On this side of the pass, the mountains fall away quickly, the road clinging to the edge. Descending between a rock face on one side and a steep drop on the other certainly adds excitement.
For extra excitement, the roads swings left and right, with tight corners and it hugs the mountainside. The road is narrower at this point, but easily fits a car and a bike with safe room to spare. If there’s a bus coming in the other direction, it’ll sound its 3-tone horn before it rounds the corner so you shouldn’t be surprised by one. Buses have priority here, and you probably don’t want to argue with them.
It’s safe to say the barriers by the road will not stop a car, and are likely to send a cyclist over or under them, with or without the bike. So, take care!
I confess, I was enjoying the descent so much I didn’t take many pictures, hence the slightly smudged photos taken from the helmetcam.
There is a small sting in the tail – half way into the descent, at Unterschâchen, the road levels off before climbing slightly again, with tired legs complaining that they thought it was all over. This ascent is brief, however, and you’re soon on the way back down to Altdorf.
Arriving at Altdorf station it’s possible to take a train (one per hour), or continue alongside Lake Lucerne (Vierwaldstättersee in German) heading north towards Brunnen until you get tired of the views. The lake looks amazing, but sadly the cycle route follows a major road. It is segregated in parts, and has some interesting tunnels through the mountains surrounding the lake, but the noise does create some extra weariness.
In the end, my enthusiasm waned at Sisikon, where I decided to sunbathe until the train arrived.
Verdict: a beautiful journey in either direction, and worth following Lake Lucerne for a bit at the end. Just keep an eye on the bus timetable before you descend and get stuck behind a bus!