Lake Lucerne (German: Vierwaldstättersee, literally "Lake of the Four Forested Settlements", French: lac des Quatre-Cantons, Italian: lago dei Quattro Cantoni) is a lake in central Switzerland and the fourth largest in the country.
The lake has a complicated shape, with several sharp bends and four arms.
The entire lake has a total area of 114 km² (44 sq mi) at an elevation of 434 m (1,424 ft) a.s.l., and a maximum depth of 214 m (702 ft).
The Reuss enters the lake at Flüelen, in the part called Urnersee (Lake of Uri, in the canton of Uri) and exits at Lucerne. The lake also receives the Muota at Brunnen, the Engelberger Aa at Buochs, and the Sarner Aa at Alpnachstad.
It is possible to circumnavigate the lake by train and road, though the railway route circumvents the lake even on the north side of the Rigi via Arth-Goldau. Since 1980, the A2 motorway leads through the Seelisberg Tunnel in order to reach the route to the Gotthard Pass in just half an hour in Altdorf, Uri right south of the beginning of the lake in Flüelen.
Steamers and other passenger boats ply between the different villages and towns on the lake.
The name of Vierwaldstättersee is first used in the 16th century. The (three) "Waldstätte(n)" (lit.: "Forested Sites/Settlements") since the 14th century were the confederate allies of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden. The notion of "Four Waldstätten" (Vier Waldstätten), with the addition of the canton of Lucerne, is first recorded in the 1450s, in an addition to the "Silver Book" of Egloff Etterlin of Lucerne.
- Urnersee ("Lake of Uri"): The first part of the lake, at the mouth of the Reuss between Flüelen and Brunnen.
- Gersauer Becken ("Basin of Gersau"): In front of Gersau below the Rigi massif, the deepest part.
- Buochser Bucht ("Bay of Buochs"): The bay of Bouchs, where the Engelberger Aa enters the lake.
- Vitznauer Bucht ("Bay of Vitznau"): The part between the Bürgenstock and Rigi.
- Küssnachtersee ("Lake of Küssnacht"): The most northern arm, west of the Rigi with Küssnacht SZ at its northern end.
- Alpnachersee ("Lake of Alpnach"): the almost separate, southern arm below the southern mountainside of Pilatus near Alpnach.
- Horwer Bucht ("Bay of Horw"): The bay in front of Horw.
- Stanser Trichter ("Funnel of Stans"): The part north of the Pilatus, west of Bürgenstock, and in front of Hergiswil and Stansstad.
- Chrütztrichter ("Cross Funnel"): The meeting point of Stanser Trichter, Luzernersee, Küssnachtersee, and Vitznauer Bucht.
- Luzernersee ("Lake of Lucerne"): Only the bay in front of Luzern as far as Meggenhorn, with its effluence of the Reuss, is called "Lake of Lucerne" in original language German, not the whole lake.
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 (lit.: Lake of the Four Forested Settlements). Many of the oldest communities of Switzerland are along the shore, including Küssnacht, Weggis, Vitznau, Gersau, Brunnen, Altdorf, Buochs, and Treib.
Lake Lucerne is singularly irregular and appears to lie in four different valleys, all related to the conformation of the adjoining mountains.
The Urnersee occupies the northernmost and deep portion of the great cleft of the Reuss Valley, 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 the Riemenstaldener Tal descends to Sisikon, the only village with Flüelen right on the shore on that side of the Urnersee. 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 Gitschen and the Uri Rotstock (2,928 m). In the centre opens the Reuss Valley, backed by the rugged summits of the Urner and Glarner Alps.
The breadth of these various sections of the lake is very variable, but is usually between one and two miles (3 km).
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.
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.
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.
Gioacchino Rossini uses this in his William Tell Overture Section A: Sunrise over the Alps.