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Lake Lucerne

Lake Lucernban
View of Lake Lucerne from the Pilatus
Location Central Switzerland
Lake type freshwater fjord, recent regulation[1]
Primary inflows Reuss
Sarner Aa
Engelberger Aa
Primary outflows Reuss
Catchment area 2,124 km2 (820 sq mi)
Basin countries Switzerland
Max. length 30 km (19 mi)
Max. width 20 km (12 mi)
Surface area 113.6 km2 (43.9 sq mi)
Average depth 104 m (341 ft)
Max. depth 214 m (702 ft)
Water volume 11.8 km3 (9,600,000 acre·ft)
Residence time 3.4 years
Shore length1 143.7 km (89.3 mi)
Surface elevation 433 m (1,421 ft)
Frozen in the 17th and 19th century; Lucerne Bay and Lake Alpnach in 1929 and 1963
Islands Altstad-Insel
Sections/sub-basins Urnersee
Settlements Lucerne (see article)
1 Shore length is not a well-defined measure.

Lake Lucerne (German: Vierwaldstättersee, lit. "Four Forested-Cantons Lake") is a lake in central Switzerland and the fourth largest in the country.

The lake has a complicated shape, with bends and arms reaching from the city of Lucerne into the mountains. It has a total area of 114 km² (44 sq mi), an elevation of 434 m (1,424 ft), and a maximum depth of 214 m (702 ft). Its volume is 11.8 km³. Much of the shoreline rises steeply into mountains up to 1,500 m above the lake, resulting in many picturesque views including those of Mount Rigi and Mount Pilatus.

The Reuss enters the lake at Flüelen (in the canton of Uri, the part called Urnersee) and exits at Lucerne. The lake also receives the Muota (at Brunnen) Engelberger Aa (at Buochs), the Sarner Aa (at Alpnachstad).

It is possible to circumnavigate the lake by road, though the route is slow, twisted, and goes through tunnels part of the way. Steamers and other passenger boats ply between the different towns on the lake. It is a popular tourist destination, both for native Swiss and foreigners, and there are many hotels and resorts along the shores. In addition, the meadow of the Rütli, traditional site of the founding of the Swiss Confederation, is on the southeast shore of the lake. A 35 km commemorative walkway, the Swiss Path, was built around the lake to celebrate the country's 700th anniversary.


  • Geography 1
  • Settlements 2
  • Navigation 3
  • Cultural references 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


Lake Lucerne borders on the three original Swiss cantons of Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden (which today is divided into the Cantons of Obwalden and Nidwalden), as well as the canton of Lucerne, thus the name Vierwaldstättersee (Lake of the Four Forested Cantons). Many of the oldest communities of Switzerland are along the shore, including Küssnacht, Weggis, Vitznau, Gersau, Brunnen, Altdorf, Buochs, and Treib.

View from the Uri arm near Morschach

Lake Lucerne is singularly irregular and appears to lie in four different valleys, all related to the conformation of the adjoining mountains. The central portion of the lake lies in two parallel valleys whose direction is from west to east, the one lying north, the other south of the ridge of the Bürgenstock. These are connected through a narrow strait, scarcely one kilometre wide, between the two rocky promontories called respectively Untere and Obere Nase. It is not unlikely that the southern of these two divisions of the lake—called Buochser See—formerly extended to the west over the isthmus whereon stands the town of Stans, thus forming an island of the Bürgenstock. The west end of the main branch of the lake, whence a comparatively shallow bay extends to the town of Lucerne, is intersected obliquely by a deep trench whose south-west end is occupied by the branch called Alpnacher See, while the north-east branch forms the long Bay of Küssnacht, Küssnachter See. These both lie in the direct line of a valley that stretches with scarcely a break parallel to the chain of the Bernese Alps from Interlaken to Lake Zug. At the eastern end of the Buochser See, where the containing walls of the lake-valley are directed from east to west, it is joined at an acute angle by the Bay of Uri, or Urner See, lying in the northern prolongation of the deep cleft that gives a passage to the Reuss, between the Bernese chain and the Alps of N. Switzerland.[2]

View toward Uri

The Bay of Uri occupies the northernmost and deepest portion of the great cleft of the Valley of the Reuss, which has cut through the Alpine ranges from the St Gotthard Pass to the neighbourhood of Schwyz. From its eastern shore the mountains rise in almost bare walls of rock to a height of from 3,000 to 4,000 ft (910 to 1,220 m) above the water. The two highest summits are the Fronalpstock and the Rophaien (2078 m). Between them the steep glen or ravine of Riemenstalden descends to Sisikon, the only village with Flüelen on that side of the lake. On the opposite or western shore, the mountains attain still greater dimensions. The Niederbauen Chulm is succeeded by the Oberbauenstock, and farther south, above the ridge of the Scharti, appear the snowy peaks of the Uri Rotstock and Brunnistock (2,952 m). In the centre opens the valley of the Reuss, backed by the rugged summits of the Urner and Glarus Alps.[2]

The breadth of these various sections of the lake is very variable, but is usually between one and two miles (3 km). The lake's surface, whose mean height above the sea is 434 metres, is the lowest point of the cantons of Uri, Obwalden and Nidwalden. Originally the lake was susceptible to variations in level and flooding along its shoreline. Between 1859 and 1860, the introduction of a needle dam in the Reuss in Lucerne, just upstream from the Spreuerbrücke, allowed the lake level to be stabilised.[3] The culminating point of the lake's drainage basin, as well as Central Switzerland, is the Dammastock at 3,630 metres above sea level.[4]


View from Weggis
West shore ¹ East shore
¹ At the entry of the Reuss: the western, later southern shore.


Passenger boat on the lake
A nauen barge in use on the lake

The lake is navigable, and has formed an important part of Switzerland's transport system for many centuries, and at least since the opening of the first track across the Gotthard Pass in 1230. This trade grew with the opening of a new mail coach road across the pass in 1830. This road had its northern terminus at Flüelen at the extreme eastern end of the lake, and the lake provided the only practical onward link to Lucerne, and hence the cities of northern Switzerland and beyond.[5][6]

Whilst the development of Switzerland's road and rail networks has relieved the lake of much of its through traffic, it continues to be used by a considerable number of vessels, both private and public. Much of this usage is tourist or leisure oriented, but the lake continues to provide practical public and cargo transport links between the smaller lakeside communities.

Passenger boats of the Schifffahrtsgesellschaft des Vierwaldstättersees (SGV) provide services on the lake, including many run by historic paddle steamers. The SGV serves 32 places along the shore of the lake, with interchange to both main line and mountain railways at various points. Under separate management, the Autofähre Beckenried-Gersau provides a car ferry service between Beckenried, on the south bank of the lake, and Gersau on the north.

Cargo barges, to a local design known as Nauen, are still used on the lake. Some have been converted for use as party boats. Other barges are used by the gravel dredging industry that operates on the lake, using large dredgers to obtain sand and gravel for use in the construction industry.[7][8]

Cultural references

The Lake of the four Cantons by Alexandre Calame, c. 1850, National Museum, Warsaw

Beethoven's "Moonlight" Sonata derives its name from an 1832 description of the first movement by music critic Ludwig Rellstab, who compared it to moonlight shining upon Lake Lucerne.

Gioacchino Rossini uses this in his Overture to William Tell Section A: Sunrise over the Alps.


  1. ^ The weir in Lucerne keeps the water level 2–3 m (6.6–9.8 ft) above the natural average, see (PDF)Die Regulierung des Vierwaldstädtersees – Der Ausbau der Reusswehranlage in LuzernCanton of Lucerne, department of traffic and infrastructure (2008):
  2. ^ a b John Ball, The Alpine guide, Central Alps, p. 153, 1866, London
  3. ^ Stadler, Hans. "Lake Lucerne".  
  4. ^ 1:25,000 topographic map (Map).  
  5. ^ "Paddle Steamboat Uri" (PDF).  
  6. ^ "Geschichte SGV" [SGV History] (in German). SGV. Retrieved 2012-09-12. 
  7. ^ "WABAG Kies AG" (in German). WABAG Kies AG. Retrieved 2012-09-10. 
  8. ^ "Arnold & Co. AG" (in German). Arnold & Co. AG. Retrieved 2012-09-11. 

External links

  • Waterlevels Lake Lucerne at Brunnen
  • Waterlevels Lake Lucerne at Lucerne
  • Lake Lucerne Region
  • Nidwalden Tourism
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