To reach the mountain by cable car, first take a bus from the train station in Luzern to the suburb of Kriens, where you catch a tiny, four-seat cable car that flies silently up to Fräkmüntegg (4,600 feet). From there, change to the 40-seat cable car that sails through open air up the rock cliff to the summit station (5,560 feet). A 10-minute walk takes you to Esel, one of the central peaks that make up Pilatus. From a platform here views unfold over the Alps
and the sprawling, crooked Lake Luzern. Once you reach the top, glorious views are everywhere. The flat main trail on the top leads in and out of the mountain, and comes replete with striking cavern windows that offer drop-dead gorgeous vistas. The main view takes in Luzern, which looks like a toy village from way up here. The refurbished mountaineer's hotel, once graced by Queen Victoria, features 27 rooms and three suites done up in alpine chic decor. Meanwhile, it still feels like the 19th century in the restaurant, where the food is spiced up by the views just outside the elegant sash windows.
A super variation for the trip between Luzern and Mt. Pilatus involves riding one of the steepest cogwheel trains in the country—often down gradients inclined nearly 48%—through four tunnels that pierce sheer rock, to Alpnachstad. From there, take the train or the ferry, which leaves from the jetty across from the train station, back to Luzern. Prices range from 68 SF to 96 SF, depending on the route you take. To go on to Engelberg, get off the Luzern-bound train at Hergiswil, where you can cross the track and climb aboard the small, private Stans–Engelberg train that heads up the Engelbergertal (Engelberg Valley).