Trift Lake and Rhone Glacier Lake, Switzerland

Lake Locations:

Switzerland - Bern - Valais -

Also known as:  Triftsee

Trift Lake and Rhone Glacier Lake are two of newest attractions in the Bern and Valais regions of the Swiss Alps. These two recently-formed glacier lakes are the result of water from melting glaciers trapped by the surrounding terrain. Only about 10 miles apart in air-miles but 30 miles by road, the two lakes have formed in recent years as the Trift and Rhone glaciers melt. Trift Lake, also known as Triftsee, dates back to 2002 when the peak of the glacial mass burst into many pieces, having shown signs of cracks for over 10 years. The resulting water was trapped in a hollow instead of flowing downhill.

A spectacular suspension footbridge across the lake (Triftbrucke) makes Trift See a popular spot for hikers. The former hiking trail to the Trift Hut of the Swiss Alpine Club was no longer passable across the melting glacier. The pedestrian bridge, built in 2004, made the popular trail available again, but with an additional spectacular view of the lake and the glacial valley from the bridge high above. The trail itself is reached by the Triftbahn cable car, offering even more aerial views of the unusual scenery. A bus station is conveniently located near the cable car access, making the beautiful views available to those who wouldn’t ordinarily take the long hike across the glacier to see it. There are no measurements of water depth or even size of the lake at this point, although it is assumed to be quite deep. The lake is still growing and its size will no doubt change in coming years.

Trift Lake adds to the number of tourism attractions in the central Bern region. Bus service can be accessed from Meiringen, about 10 miles to the west. Meiringen is a popular destination for holiday visitors, with nearby attractions such as the Sherlock Holmes Museum, excellent ski resorts, two of Switzerland’s most popular boating lakes, plus a variety of glaciers, waterfalls and scenic overlooks. South of Meiringen, the small Rosenlaui Glacier gives rise to the Reichenbach Brook, which thunders below a catwalk footpath secured above a narrow ravine with steep rock walls up to 250 feet high. The brook becomes a seven-tiered waterfall known worldwide from a scenario in one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels. A cable car travels to the observation platform. An excellent public transit system gets visitors nearly anywhere they want to go by train or bus.

Meiringen also makes a great base for visiting Rhone Glacier Lake just over the border in the Valais region, but visitors will also be well-served finding lodgings around the old village of Gletsch or Furka Pass. In years past, the Rhone Glacier was within sight of the hotel in the town. Now, it has receded more than a mile up the valley but still accessible by a short hike. Ample car parking is available near Rhone Glacier Lake. The lake itself was formed in 2005 when rock, freed from its stabilizing coating of ice, created landslides down the side of Eiger Mountain. The landslides trapped the melt water, creating Rhone Glacier Lake. The Rhone Glacier itself is still popular for hiking. The newly-formed lake has changed the topography and created some concerns as well. Thawing caused the lake to overflow in 2008, and there are concerns that a major overflow could flood hotels, railroad tracks, campsites and roads.

Besides hiking, skiing and glacier viewing in the area, the Rhone Glacier Ice Grotto is carved out each year to give visitors a chance to walk inside a living glacier. Over the course of the tourism season, the 300 foot-long cavern loses as much as 100 feet in length to ice and must be re-carved each year. Other popular activities in the area include a steam excursion train. Originally beginning operation as a necessary mode of transportation across the Furka Pass, the Furka Mountain Route was scheduled to close in the 1980s, but a large voluntary organization keeps the scenic route in operation. The original engine and carriages provide a historic ride from June to October through long tunnels and over folding bridges with a stop at Furka Station at the base of Rhone Glacier.

The entire area surrounding Trift Lake and Rhone Glacier Lake is well-supplied with holiday cottages, ski cabins, farm stays, camp grounds and small and quaint hotels, often more like inns or bed-and-breakfasts. The glaciers are awe-inspiring, the surrounding Alps majestic, and the well-established tourism facilities well-organized and convenient. Based on computer modeling of the land contours underneath the glaciers, scientists believe that Aletsch, Gorner, Otemma, Corbassiere, Gauli and Plaine Morte glaciers could eventually produce some of the world’s largest lakes. While some mourn the melting glaciers, others see possibilities of increased hydroelectric potential from the newly-forming lakes. As the Rhone glacier melt water has been the source of both Lake Geneva and the Rhone River for thousands of years, such water potential isn’t to be overlooked in planning for the future.

Other scientists are concerned over the possibility of a glacial dam giving way and releasing massive amounts of water, drowning everything in its path. Such catastrophes have occurred among glacier-formed lakes in Nepal. Therefore, scientists are carefully monitoring the stability of the structures holding back the water and have already built a water tunnel from Rhone Glacial Lake to release water should a breach appear imminent. In more remote nations, the United Nations has a team of scientists monitoring glacial-melt lakes to prevent loss of life in such instances.

Although many attribute the new lakes to recent climate change, the glaciers here have been melting and receding for at least 200 years. The question is whether the melting is occurring faster than in the past. Science has little factual basis for past ice thickness over periods of hundreds of years. The two lakes are simply the latest evidence of how climate changes the landscape. A mid-20th century scientist attempted to explain glacial changes based on astronomical cycles in what is called the Milankovitch Cycle. Many of the world’s largest lakes and a large number of its most scenic landscapes have been created by glacial lakes, some of which burst forth with a resulting wall of water hundreds of feet high, destroying everything in its path and carving a new landscape in a matter of days. Careful monitoring and modern technology can now prevent the worst damage. Meanwhile, the opportunity to enjoy these new scenic lakes isn’t to be missed. Put Trift Lake and Rhone Glacial Lake on your bucket list to be seen at your earliest opportunity.

*No statistics are available for these very new lakes.

Things to do at Trift Lake and Rhone Glacier Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Camping
  • Cabin Rentals
  • Hiking
  • Waterfall
  • Museum

Trift Lake and Rhone Glacier Lake Photo Gallery

Trift Lake and Rhone Glacier Lake Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Dammed

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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