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Lake Lucerne, Switzerland
Lake Lucerne Information and Facts
The star-shaped Lake Lucerne, often called the “heart of Switzerland” because of its central position, is the 4th largest lake in the country.
The lake borders three original Swiss cantons (Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden), and the canton of Lucerne, thus it was often referred to as “the lake of the four forested cantons”. It lies between steep limestone mountains, bordered by Mount Rigi (to the North) and Mount Pilatus (to the West). A number of peaks project into its waters: Horn on the West, Meggenhorn on the North, Burgenstock and Seelisberg on the South.
The lake is made up of four basins with two side basins. These basins represent four glaciated valleys, which are topographically different and connected only by narrow and tortuous channels. The central portion of Lake Lucerne is composed by two parallel valleys heading towards east. One lies in the north, and one in the south of the ridge, connected through a narrow strait. The two parts are called Untere and Obere Nase.
The western end of the principal branch is interrupted by a deep trench, whose southwestern end is occupied by the Alpnacher See, whilst on the northeastern branch the Kussnachter See can be found. They are located in direct line of a valley, which stretches parallel to the Bernese Alps, from Interlaken to Lake Zug.
The culminating point of the Lake Lucerne drainage basin is the Dammastock Peak at an altitude of 3630 meters, whilst the two tallest summits in the proximity of the lake are the the Fronalpstock (1921 meters) and the Rophaien (20178 meters). The surface of the lake is the lowest point of the three Swiss cantons.
Although the lake is reminiscent of a fjord landscape, it is mainly characterized by a mild microclimate. Its shoreline consists of fertile hillsides, meadows and valleys. Its shores are home to forests inhabited by deer, chamois, foxes and marmots. Mount Rigi is covered in chestnut and almond trees as well as alpine flowers on the sunnier slopes.
Some of the oldest Swiss communities lie on the lake’s shores, such as Kussnacht, Weggis, Vitznau and Gersau. The towns of Bauen, Treib, Buochs and Stansstad lie on the west, whilst Fluelen, Sisikon, and Greppen can be found on the southern coast of Lake Lucerne.
The Reuss River enters the lake at Fluelen and exits at the town of Lucerne. Its other main tributaries are the Muota, flowing in at Brunnen, the Engelberger Aa, entering at Buochs, and the Sarner Aa, arriving to the lake at Alpnachstad.
Originally the lake was susceptible to variations regarding its water levels, often resulting in flooding along the shoreline. They managed to stabilize it through the introduction of a needle dam in the Reuss River in Lucerne, which was constructed between 1859 and 1860.
The Southern Springs, marked by the Kaltbad, have curative properties, located in the proximity of Lake Lucerne.
Uses and Navigation
Lake Lucerne has played a significant role in Switzerland’s transport system since 1230, when the first track across the Gotthard Pass was opened. The trade area grew with the opening of a new mail coach road in the 1830s, which had its terminus at Fluelen, at the eastern end of the lake, thus the lake served as the only practical onward link towards the town of Lucerne.
Today Lake Lucerne is used by a number of both private and public vessels, mainly for tourism and leisure purposes, as well as public and cargo transport between the numerous small communities scattered along the coast. Cargo barges are still frequently used on the lake; many of them were actually converted into party boats.
The eastern shore of the lake is the site of the infamous folk hero, William Tell’s leap from the boat in which the bailiff Gessler was taking him to prison. The lakeshore is also the legendary meeting place of the founders of the Confederation, who basically set up the base of the Swiss Confederation on the western bank of Lake Lucerne, in the meadow of Rutli. The Everlasting League of 1315 was formed at the Hollow Way at Brunnen, close to Lake Lucerne.
Tourism and Recreation
Lake Lucerne is a popular tourist destination among both locals and foreigners, with many hotels and resorts along its coastline. There’s a long commemorative walkway around the lake, called the Swiss Path, which was constructed to celebrate the country’s 700th anniversary.
You can enjoy a ride on the world’s steepest cogwheel railway to get to the peak of Mount Pilatus, which offers stunning views above the lake and the amazing scenic variety surrounding it. Numerous day cruises run from different towns, offering on-board meals and another angle from which one can admire the lovely lake. The peak season at Lake Lucerne occurs between mid-May and the end of September.
Several biking and skating paths surround the lake, whilst numerous trails lead hiking enthusiasts toward a day full of adventure in the Alps. Fishing is a popular activity, with catches ranging from catfish and bluegill to largemouth and smallmouth bass, crappie and yellow fish. The town of Lucerne is home to many shops, the Swiss Museum of Transport and Glacier Garden, a local history museum with ice glacier exhibits.