To reach the mountain by cable car, get 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 55-passenger 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, angular 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. 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. There's also a simpler hotel in a more modern building; it has 19 rooms.
A super variation for the trip from Mt. Pilatus to Luzern 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. The trip to Mt. Pilatus costs 55 SF to 100 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 tracks and climb aboard the small, private Stans–Engelberg train that heads up the Engelbergertal (Engelberg Valley).