Well, that was pretty spectacular. Much to the chagrin of our legs, we spent 10 days traversing 7 high passes across the Swiss Alps on the Walker’s Haute Route, staying the night in a wide variety of huts, hotels and gites along the way. And enjoying some of the most incredible scenery we’ve ever had the pleasure to experience. Truly epic.
Joined by Walter and Sybille, Swiss/Canadian friends we first met in Guatemala, the Walker’s Haute Route was a very intense trek with exhausting climbs and knee-crushing descents but, most importantly, phenomenal mountain scenery, unbelievably ideal weather and a very friendly, social vibe.
“Haute” is simply the French word for “high” and, yes, this hike was certainly that. One of the most famously beautiful – and famously difficult – multi-day treks in the world, the Walker’s Haute Route is an essential adventure for anyone who loves big hikes in the Alps. Much like its nearby neighbour, the Tour du Mont Blanc, this Alps Haute Route features incredible mountain scenery while passing between European countries.
Sure, there were some blisters (even nostalgia couldn’t save Walter’s old Swiss backup boots once they started affecting his productivity), some questionable dorms, yet another bed bug incident, an unanticipated injury break (Sybille’s foot) and day after day of hiking the Haute Route and looking up at high passes that never seemed to be getting any closer, then trudging every upward with a long, resigned sigh.
But, on the other hand, there were exceptional views every single day, some surprisingly posh hotel rooms, mostly great meals, a good many very satisfying after-hike beers, lots of fun people and even a suspiciously attentive ibex our final night.
Now, yes, it was very expensive. But, you know, Switzerland*.
* A recent study found Switzerland to be the most expensive country in Europe, so it’s not like this was ever going to be a cheap trip.
The classic Walker’s Haute Route starts in Chamonix, France (home of Mont Blanc) and finishes in spectacular Zermatt, Switzerland (home of the Matterhorn). Typically involving over 200 kilometres of hiking, across 11 difficult mountain passes and a wide variety of terrain, the Walker’s Haute Route nonetheless offers comfortable accommodation and excellent meals every stop along the way.
We had previously hiked the Tour du Mont Blanc (see our Guide to the Tour du Mont Blanc ) so rather than retrace our steps up to and past Champex-Lac, we took the train from Chamonix and started our WHR in Verbier, making for a somewhat shorter 10-day version.
We were lucky enough to enjoy fantastic weather, only bothering to dig out our rain ponchos twice for about 5 minutes each time before realizing we had jumped the gun and that the tiny bit of drizzle was less a harbinger of an impending storm and more a crafty ploy to convince Walter to purchase some expensive rain pants on our way to the Day 1 trailhead (which never again made it out of his bag).
Most people require 10-14 days to complete the WHR – although you can easily extend it by adding two or three rest days in some of the beautiful stops along the way – while speed hikers have been known to complete it in as little as 7 days.
Although often simply referred to as the Haute Route, it is officially called the Walker’s Haute Route to distinguish it from the other versions. The original Haute Route is a more direct mountaineering route that cuts across glaciers at higher altitude and requires special skills and equipment. The Ski Touring Haute Route follows a similar trail but is suitable for, well, skiing, and then there is the Cycling Haute Route, a series of cycling courses crossing high mountain passes. We did none of those. But we sure did a lot of hiking.
Walker’s Haute Route Details
There are many different Walker’s Haute Route variations to choose from that can make the entire trek anywhere from 175 to 225 km long. Some are more difficult than others but the total elevation gain and loss combined will always be at least 21,000 metres and is usually much closer to 28,000.
However, the “classic” Chamonix to Zermatt hike involves the following:
Distance: 200 km (124 miles)
Total Elevation Gain: 14,000 metres (46,000 ft)
Highest point: 2,987 metres (9,800 ft)
Mountain passes: 11
How hard is the Walker’s Haute Route?
The Walker’s Haute Route is one of the most difficult long-distance treks in Europe because of the distance, altitude and number of strenuous mountain passes that need to be crossed. However, it does not require any mountaineering skills and can be done without providing any of your own food or accommodation.
Overall, most reasonably fit hikers should be able to complete the Walker’s Haute Route as long as they are able to hike 6-8 hours per day, choose a realistic itinerary and aren’t afraid to adjust their plans if the weather turns bad on them.
While it is roughly one level harder than the Tour du Mont Blanc, anyone who has completed this even more popular Alps trek should be capable of finishing the WHR (maybe ending up just a little bit more exhausted at the end of each day).
Is the Walker’s Haute Route Crowded?
The Walker’s Haute Route is much less crowded than the Tour du Mont Blanc, especially in the middle sections. In the areas around Chamonix and Zermatt you will run into large crowds of day hikers but between Trient and St. Niklaus (so basically 90% of the trek) you will probably only encounter a few dozen other hikers per day.
Of course, it depends on the time of year and even the time of day (almost everyone heads out between 7 and 8 am) but, in general, most stages of the Walker’s Haute Route are blissfully quiet in comparison to most popular hikes in the Alps.
Walker’s Haute Route Planning Resources and Info
Almost every online mapping app will have a version of the Walker’s Haute Route that you can follow, although you’ll want to make sure it matches up with at least most of your variant choices. We personally use a combination of Wikiloc and AllTrails all over the world and usually find what we’re looking for on one or the other.
AllTrails – Haute Route (shows the Valley Route – not Europaweg)
There are also a variety of routes mapped for individual stages which you can search for in the app.
Another very good app is Swiss Mobility. It even allows you to plan and map your own routes, although to get all the features it is quite expensive (40 CHF for 3 months, I think). However, if you have (or buy) a Swiss Alpine Club membership the app is included.
And, as always, we recommend downloading Google Maps of the area for use offline.
Some people prefer to also carry paper maps for if their phone runs out of battery or maybe because they just prefer to have something to spread out on the table over lunch. You can pick up a full selection of Swiss Topo maps online or at one of the many hiking shops in Chamonix (or Zermatt). Most people say 1:50,000 offers a sufficient level of detail.
We also bought the Knife Edge guidebook, Walker’s Haute Route: Chamonix to Zermatt by Andrew McCluggage, and tore out the relevant pages to carry with us because they do not offer a digital version. We found the overall trail maps to be very confusing (each map covers several stages so isn’t necessarily near the description of the stage it shows) but we usually found something useful in it each day. Not essential to have but it worked nicely as a second opinion to our map apps.
The author also runs a useful Facebook group:
Others used the Cicerone guidebook, Chamonix to Zermatt: The Classic Walker’s Haute Route by Kev Reynolds and reviews were mixed, although we had been quite impressed with their TMB version.
Walker’s Haute Route Itinerary
The most common itinerary has you start in Chamonix, France and end in Zermatt, Switzerland. One of the benefits of going this direction is that you will usually be hiking up the (11!) different mountain passes in the shade of the west side.
However, some people start in Zermatt and hike east to west, which puts the sun at your back most of the morning, and since Zermatt is around 600 metres higher than Chamonix, technically you save a bit of climbing (although that only works out to around 4% of the 14,000m total gain).
As for how long it takes to hike the Walker’s Haute Route, well, that really depends on you. Fastpackers and trail runners have been known to complete it in just 6-8 days, averaging 25-33 km and 1,750-2,300m of elevation gain per day. Not a relaxing stroll, that’s for sure.
Just your ordinary, run of the mill fast hikers who either go at a faster pace than most others on the trail or don’t linger and are okay with extra-long days can do it in 9-11 days by averaging 18-22 km and 1,250-1,550m of elevation gain per day.
The vast majority of hikers on the Walker’s Haute Route complete it in 12-14 days, averaging 6-7 hours, 14-17 km and 1,000-1,150m of elevation gain per day.
And if you have lots of time, prefer a relaxed pace or just aren’t confident about your fitness preparation, you can join the many people who stretch it out over 15-17 days, averaging 12-13 km and 800-900m of elevation gain per day.
Plus, anyone on the Walker’s Haute Route can benefit from adding in a rest day or two. Besides the obvious benefits of increased relaxation and letting your body recover, almost every stop along the WHR boasts a truly spectacular location. Taking an extra day or two to really soak it all in is a great way to enhance the overall experience.
On the other side of the coin, those (like us) who have already hiked the Tour du Mont Blanc often choose to skip the first 2 or 3 sections of the Haute walking route so as to avoid retracing their steps. Doing this obviously allows you to reduce the length of the overall trek by a few days, which is handy if you are on a tight timeline or just have a long list of other things you’re trying to fit in (like us).
Walker’s Haute Route Highlights
It is not right on the route and will certainly involve some detouring and possible even add a full day if you want to spend the night at Refuge Lac Blanc, but this gorgeous alpine lake with stunning views of the Mont Blanc massif was the clear highlight of our TMB and we simply can’t recommend it highly enough.
This high pass, on the other hand, was blanketed in snow the day we were hoping to cross so, unfortunately, we missed out. People we know who have done it, though, say the views are tremendous. The Bovine Route is beautiful as well, it just lacks the wow factor of Fenetre d’Arpette. And the very steep climb, though, so there’s that.
Cabane Mont Fort to Arolla
These two stages are tough but often described fondly as the consistently best sections of the entire trek. Coming around the exposed ridge out of Cabane Mont Fort you experience a panoramic view of two huge mountain massifs. The next 3 passes of the day will challenge your stamina but offer plenty of photo ops. Then the walk along Lac des Dix the next day is gorgeous (and one of the only flat parts of the entire trek).
Cabane de Moiry
The strenuous climb to this stupendous mountain hut is rewarded with phenomenal scenery the entire way, plus a bird’s eye view of a glacier from both the deck and dining room. The modern addition to this popular hut is impressive and we would recommend going with the newer 4-person rooms if possible.
Some parts of this high trail along the ridge leading into Zermatt have been permanently closed due to rockslides but plenty still remain, including the wonderful Europahutte. The balconies just before and after the hut feature incredible views, plus you’ll cross the Charles Kuonen Suspension Bridge (at one time the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in the world), get increasingly stunning views of the Matterhorn and, of course, the euphoria of completing your trek.
It is possible to follow the lower, easier valley route instead but if you still have anything left in your legs, we recommend tackling the Europaweg. It is one of Europe’s most famous day hikes for a reason.
Walker’s Haute Route Itinerary
As we’ve said, there are many ways to customize your Walker’s Haute Route itinerary and you need to consider many factors – available time, fitness, pack size, preferred length of hiking day, etc.
But the following itinerary is probably the most common and it is what we chose, except that we skipped the first three stages as they mostly duplicated our last three days on the TMB.
Start in Chamonix
1A: Alternate Stop: Refuge Lac Blanc
3. Le Chable
4. Mont Fort
7. La Sage
8. Cabane de Moiry
11. St. Niklaus
12. Europa Hut
Finish in Zermatt
Walker’s Haute Route Trail Conditions
The trail is varied, although most of the paths are rocky single-track. Due to the altitude and rough terrain, there isn’t as much mud as there is in the lowlands and occasionally the route follows dirt or gravel roads. Every now and then there is a steep, slippery section that can be difficult for those with limited agility and in a few places it is necessary to use a metal ladder or steel cable, although these can usually be avoided if that is a concern.
There are also quite a few times when you have to pick your way across fields of fallen boulders, which can be exhausting at the best of times and potentially dangerous in bad weather.
It also isn’t uncommon to get a bit of snow which can complicate matters but it doesn’t usually stick around long in summer.
Walker’s Haute Route Marking
The Walker’s Haute Route is fairly obvious and well-marked the entire way with white and red markers and regular signage, so most people have no problem navigating it on their own. Of course, there are often multiple variations all marked with white and red so you need to continually cross-reference with your maps.
Sometimes near towns and villages the markers will switch to yellow and black, while a couple of the mountain trails are marked with blue and white to denote, well, mountain trails. Although we couldn’t actually see that those were any different than the ones marked white and red (certainly not harder).
The only times you may run into trouble is if it snows or is foggy, covering up the markers, or in particularly rocky sections where you may have to watch closely for marking or possibly cairns.
Of course, everyone should have a map as well, either digital or hard copy, to help out when things get a big confusing. We find digital mapping apps to be the best since they show exactly where you are at any given time.
Walker’s Haute Route – Technical Difficulty
There is very little technical skill required to hike the Walker’s Haute Route. You don’t need mountaineering, rock-climbing or via ferrata equipment or abilities, but the trail does have some very rough and rugged sections that will test your balance and agility. In these tricky sections it is important to take your time and proceed with caution but there is no need to skip them altogether.
Because the trail is, overall, much rougher than others in the Alps such as the TMB, you should factor that in when considering the strenuousness. For example, while the trail from Cabane Mont Fort to Cabane Prafleuri is roughly 14 km with 1,000m of elevation gain, it feels much harder than that due to the difficult rocky terrain.
The one section of ladders and cables before Arolla (Pas de Chevres) can be avoided via a nearby variant (Col de Riedmatten). However, the variant itself is quite steep, with plenty of loose shale, so that most people don’t consider it any easier. However, both take less than half an hour to complete so aren’t a major problem either way.
Walker’s Haute Route Map
Click the star to save this map to your Google Maps – then find it under Saved/Maps (mobile) or Your Places/Maps (desktop)
Walker’s Haute Route Stages
1. Chamonix to Trient
24 km / 8-10 hrs / 1,300m gain / -1,100m loss
Relatively straightforward but long and with a serious climb (and equally serious descent), this is a great start to the trek. As you climb out of the Chamonix Valley – enjoying constant views of the Mont Blanc massif to your right – the scenery just gets better and better until you reach the impressive saddle of Col de Balme.
Here you’ll find the marker dividing France from Switzerland (the last time you’ll be in France on the trek). From there, it is all downhill (for today, anyway), finishing with a short, easy stroll along the road from Le Peuty to reach Trient.
Some people opt to split this stage into two, spending the first night in Argentiere. This makes for a fairly flat, easy first stage if you want to start walking the same day you arrive, or if you have plenty of time and want to ease into things.
Alternate Route: Lac Blanc
20 km / 6-8 hrs / +1,350m
Found high up in the Aiguilles Rouges Nature Reserve, the incomparable Lac Blanc is well-known for its epic panoramic views of the Mont Blanc Massif looming directly across the Chamonix Valley, seemingly close enough to touch. With two separate sections of lake and consistent mountain reflections, if you choose to add a night at this basic refuge, it is sure to be one of the most memorable stops on your entire trek.
The above numbers are to hike the entire way from Chamonix to Lac Blanc. However, there are also some cable cars that can be used to make the day easier and increase the amount of time you’ll have to spend at the lake itself. You can find details for all the different options in our comprehensive Guide to Visiting Lac Blanc.
The following day you can cross to Col de Balme slightly more directly without going through Argentiere, where you’ll join up with the main route again.
Lac Blanc to Trient
17 km / 5-7 hrs / +1,200m / -1,900m
Alternate Route Total:
37 km / 11-15 hrs (over 2 days) / +2,550 / -1,900m
This is roughly 1.5x the normal route, although you could make it easier by taking a cable car part of the way from Chamonix (as outlined in our guide).
2. Trient to Champex-Lac
17 km / 5-6 hrs / +940m / -800m (Bovine Route)
16 km / 7-8 hrs / +1,450 m, -1,250 m (Fenetre d’Arpette Route)
Because of snow on the much-hyped Fenetre d’Arpette route, we hiked the easier, lower Bovine Route (1,987m at the highest point), which was nice but not truly spectacular in comparison to many other stages. However, if the weather cooperates, the high route (2,665m at the top) supposedly offers some of the best views in a region full of amazing views (it translates to Arpette Window). It is a rough, rocky and steep trail, so proceed with caution, but considering you should still be in the early, energetic days of your trek, you should definitely try it if the weather is good.
3. Champex-Lac to Le Chable
14 km / 4-5 hrs / +400m / -1,050m
A nice, relaxed stage that transitions you from the Mont Blanc Massif to the Grand Combin Massif to get you prepared for the tough stuff that lies ahead. It is mostly downhill to Sembrancher, followed by a gentle incline up to Le Chable in the Val de Bagnes. Since some of this stage was going to be a repeat for us and the rest not particularly memorable (from what we’d read), we took the train from Chamonix to Martigny, then from Martigny to Le Chable, to start our trek from there.
4. Le Chable to Cabane Mont Fort
12.5 km / 5-6 hrs / +1,750m / -150m
Our first stage, or number four if you take the normal route from Chamonix, or possibly number five if you spent a night in Lac Blanc, this is about where things start to get serious on the Walker’s Haute Route. A loooong climb from Le Chable (820m) in the valley all the way up to the wonderful setting of Cabane Mont Fort at 2,457m.
If this sounds like a bit much or, like us, you are just starting out here and aren’t quite ready to punish yourself right off the bat, there are hourly buses or a very frequent and quick cable car (€6) from Le Chable to Verbier ski resort (1,500m) that can give you a head start and reduce the day’s overall climb to a much more reasonable 1,100m. Anyone who spends the night in Le Chable can get a free pass for the lift (ask at reception). You can even continue up on a second cable car all the way to Les Ruinettes, just 4 km and 1.5 hrs or so from Cabane Mont Fort.
Some people choose to take the cable car so they can make it all the way to Cabane de Louvie for the night (a 2.5 km / 420m detour down, then back up in the morning).
In our case, we were planning to take the cable car to Verbier and start from there but after a couple false starts with our cable car passes, we lucked into some shrewd advice from the Le Chable tourist office, who recommended that rather than toughing out the long, relatively dull, slog up from Verbier, we take a second cable car up to Savoleyres instead.
Which worked out well in one way – I realized I still had the B&B key in my pocket and was able to call and leave it behind in Verbier – and questionable in another – when it briefly started sprinkling Walter was spooked into splashing out on some expensive rain pants which he then carried the rest of the way without ever taking out of his bag.
The trail itself was terrific, though, along a beautiful ridge high above the valley, passing by pretty Lac des Vaux before coming into Cabane Mont Fort from a slightly different angle. This route was 9 km long with 600m of elevation gain, the perfect day to get our legs ready for the much greater exertions to come.
5. Cabane Mont Fort to Hotel du Barrage / Prafleuri
14 km / 6-8 hrs / +1,050m / -850m (Sentier des Chamois)
11 km / 5-7 hrs / +1,000 / -800m (Col de la Chaux)
This is a high, strenuous section of the Walker’s Haute Route that was universally considered to be one of the two hardest among both us and basically everyone we met along the trail. It is long and exposed and the trail is rough and rocky, making it much more tiring than the numbers would suggest. It is also one of the last sections to be free of snow (often not until mid-July).
There are two ways to spend your morning and we would recommend taking the stunning Sentier des Chamois, where we enjoyed some of the best views on the entire trek before crossing the also beautiful Col Termin. The other option is to go via the Col de la Chaux, which is wild, rocky and also spectacular but misses the great views of the Grand Combin and Mont Blanc massifs you enjoy by going around the outside. On the bright side, it is slightly more direct and makes for a shorter day. Both can be challenging in bad weather so it is best to discuss current conditions with the Cabane Mont Fort warden before making your decision.
Whichever you choose, you still have to face Col de Louvie and then the Col de Prafleuri, the highest point on the Walker’s Haute Route at 2,987 metres above sea level. Then it’s all downhill (a long, knee-busting downhill) to Cabane de Prafleuri (except for the little 20m gut punch climb to the hut).
Unfortunately, despite its amazing location, the Cabane de Prafleuri is considered by many to be the worst hut on the Walker’s Haute Route when it comes to facilities, food and service. Two toilets shared among the entire hut, no showers and mandatory use of provided paper sleep liners – none of which went down well with the people we know who stayed there. But it is the most convenient option.
Based on this info, we opted to continue another 1.25 hrs farther to Lac des Dix to stay at the gorgeous Hotel du Barrage with its extraordinary location at the base of the dam. We have to admit, though, adding this to the end of an already difficult day seemed like a mistake at the time.
However, after we caught the teleferique (€5 / first one in the morning 9:35 / last one at 18:15) from the top of the dam down to the extremely comfortable (if strangely eccentric) Hotel du Barrage and enjoyed a relaxing night (with hot showers!) we were once again changed our mind and were convinced we had made the right choice.
It was also great to get to walk through the tunnels along Lac des Dix the next day (something we hadn’t heard about anywhere) before joining up with those climbing over the pass from Cabane Prafleuri about halfway down the lake.
Altogether, this detour adds about an hour in total – more than that on the first day but saving a little bit (and quite a climb) on the second day.
6. Hotel Barrage / Prafleuri to Arolla
17 km / 6-7 hrs / +750m / -1,450m
This was touted as one of the most difficult stages on the Walker’s Haute Route but we didn’t really see it that way. Partially because our variant meant we started out with a 2-hour flat walk along Lac des Dix but, even so, we didn’t find the later passes that difficult either.
If you stay at Cabane Prafleuri you need to climb a couple hundred metres right off the bat before descending to Refuge de la Gentiane (where our variant met up with the main trail) then enjoy an hour’s flat walk alongside the colourful Dix reservoir until you reach Pas du Chat at the south end.
After that you can detour to Cabane de Dix or continue on the normal route, which takes about 2 scenic hours (the trail can be more difficult if there have been any recent rockslides) to reach a junction where you have two choices. Col de Riedmatten (25 min) doesn’t have any ladders but adds an extra 50m of elevation gain and most people agree it is actually more difficult because it is so steep, rocky, slippery and just sketchy in general.
Meanwhile, crossing the Pas de Chèvres (15 min)involves a short, slippery and exposed section, then plenty of solid ladders and platforms. The ladders weren’t really an issue but if you don’t like heights you might want to head in to Riedmatten instead. The other consideration is that the custodian at Cabane de Dix (among others, probably) feels this trail may be on verge of collapse. Probably not in the 5 minutes it will take you to cross but, hey, you never know.
The view from the either pass is exceptional (unless you were the lady who was unfortunate enough to stick her head up above the ladders just as I was peeing in her general direction) and whichever you choose, the walk down to Arolla at the start of the Val d’Herens will be a pleasant change.
7. Arolla to La Sage
14 km / 4-5 hrs / +500m / -820m
Much easier than previous legs but don’t get cocky, there is still more up and down walking than you’d expect for walking “down the valley”. Of course, you could just follow the road but what fun would that be? Taking the official route (which starts on a ridiculously faint and unmarked trail behind buildings in Arolla) provides a lot of nice valley views in exchange for those ups and downs (“I just can’t find a rhythm”, complained Laynni), plus a great lunch stop at lovely Lac Bleu.
Here, some people actually swam, although not us. Laynni enjoyed putting her feet in for a while but I couldn’t even keep my hand in for more than a second or two because it was so cold (not much of a Canadian, am I?) but it was a great place for a break.
From the lake you can either take the most direct route down to La Gouille or follow the ridge north for a while longer, just make sure to head down the hill at the next La Gouille junction or you’ll end up on a circuitous 4-hour route to Les Hauderes.
Some people stay in Les Hauderes but with a hefty day coming up we decided to continue 45 dull minutes uphill to the extremely cute little village of La Sage with its unique stone roofing and evocative Valais farms. There, traditional Gite L’Ecureuil was one of our favourites, especially the gregarious, multilingual owners.
8. La Sage to Cabane de Moiry
11 km / 6-8 hrs / +1,700m / -550m
So much for that short break – today the climbing starts up again. And we’re talking serious climbing here. Waaay up (3 hrs / 1,200m) to the top of Col du Tsaté at 2,868m (the views, as you’d expect, are pretty cool), then down to Lac de Chateupre (a brief respite), then the final, very exposed climb up to Cabane de Moiry (1.5-2 hrs / 500m). For my money, this was the hardest stage of the Walker’s Haute Route.
At 2,825 metres above sea level, Cabane de Moiry was our highest overnight stop on the Walker’s Haute Route and it is second only to Cabane de Dix (where we did not stay). Either way, the location of Cabane de Moiry next to the Moiry Glacier is arguably the most beautiful on the entire trek.
However, if you do not want to add the extra climb to Cabane de Moiry or it is already full, there is an alternative route that crosses the Col de Torrent and continues on to the Cabane Barrage de Moiry on Lac de Moiry. Or you can take a bus from either end of the lake to the nice town of Grimentz,which has several accommodation options.
9. Cabane de Moiry to Zinal
16 km / 5-6 hrs / +600m / -1,750m
Another relatively easy stage finds you backtracking slightly down from Cabane de Moiry before the trail branches off to follow the ridge, enjoying stupendous views from high above Lac de Moiry on your way to the grassy and comparatively simple Col de Sorebois. It took us a very leisurely 3 hours along a trail above the lake before reaching the climb to the pass, and it then took us another hour to reach the top.
The col is still very high (2,835m) but not as rugged as many of the others you’ve tackled in recent days. Just over the saddle you’ll enjoy terrific views of the valley, although it is clearly a booming ski town. This was by far the most development we’d seen in days (not to mention bikers and day hikers).
From there you have three options to descend to the village of Zinal in the Val d’Anniviers, the normal stop for the night. You can tackle the long, steep and direct path down through the trees that many consider the worst descent of the entire trek. Or you can follow a more gradual trail south along the ridge that takes maybe half an hour to an hour longer but is easier on the knees and has better views.
A more leisurely option is to use the half-price vouchers provided by Cabane de Moiry and grab one of two cable cars and arrive at Zinal in style (you can probably tell by my tone that this was our choice).
The first is La Vouarda, just a 20-minute walk from the top. Tickets are 25 CHF (12.50 CHF with the voucher) and it stops at Sorebois on the way down. The second is Sorebois, 30-40 minutes by foot from the top (14 CHF / 7 CHF with voucher). Both provide outstanding valley views on the way down and are completely painless from the perspective of your knees.
If you chose to stay in Grimentz you can either follow a fairly direct path to Zinal through the trees, take an alternate route through St Luc or climb back up to Lac de Moiry to rejoin the main trail.
10. Zinal to Gruben
17 km / 6-8 hrs / +1,250m / -1,150m
This is another tough day but once you leave the Val d’Anniviers and climb up to the Forcletta Pass (2,874m) you’ll reach a whole new set of mountains and views, not to mention cross over from French-speaking Switzerland to German-speaking Switzerland (this is sometimes referred to as the “Rosti Line”) as you descend into the Turtmanntal valley.
It took us about 3.5 hours to reach the top along a good path that only got a bit rough toward the end, then 2.5 hours down to Hotel Schwarzhorn on a good, dirt trail that got steep in parts and can be hard on the toes at the end of another long day. At least the last 30 minutes are an easy stroll along the river into tiny Gruben.
There is a popular variant here that adds a night to the itinerary in either Hotel Weisshorn or Cabane Bella Tola. If you choose to add this pretty variant to your Walker’s Haute Route, the following day you’ll have to tackle the Meidpass before heading downhill to Gruben where you’ll rejoin the regular route.
11. Gruben to St. Niklaus
18 km / 7-9 hrs / +1,100m / -1,800m
12 km / 6-7 hrs / +1,100m / -900m (with cable car from Jungen)
What do you know? Another big climb! Another 3-hour ascent up to the rough and open Augstbordpass (2,893m) – strenuous, but offering more insane views from the top and, guess what, this is the last mountain pass of the Walker’s Haute Route! Now you head down into the Mattertal Valley (getting ever closer to the famed Matterhorn, although you can’t actually see it just yet).
From the pass you have the option of climbing to the summit of Mount Schwarzhorn (about 2 hours return) but the trail is very rough (some might say non-existent) and we had no desire to add another couple hundred metres to an already exhausting day. While 3 people we know checked it out and turned back, we do know of one guy who went through with it and we could make out his orange jacket at the top so we know it’s possible.
Then you have a nice, easy downhill… for awhile, before you reach a rough boulder field that will wear you out for an hour or so until you finally round the corner to a truly spectacular vista of the Mattertal Valley. Considered by many to be the best viewpoint on the Walker’s Haute Route, the clouds parted just as we arrived, leading to a very festive gathering of exhausted hikers (many of us finding it hard to get going again after an unusually long break).
Then you have another hour of descent before it’s decision time again, as you can choose to take the cable car from the adorable little village of Jungen down to St. Niklaus or continue hiking down for another 6 km, 1.5 hrs with nearly 900m of descent. Either way, the restaurant has amazing views and is a good place to stop for lunch.
As you may have guessed by now, we were all over the cable car option (12.50 CHF per person) but as we arrived just after a group of 14 we ended up with nearly an hour wait (in September there was only one 4-person car every 12-15 minutes). Undeterred, we picked up some takeaway beers from the Jungen restaurant and relaxed in the sun with 15-20 fellow Walker’s Haute Route trekkers. I’d highly recommend it.
In the past, Grachen (farther up the hill from St. Niklaus) was the preferred stop on this leg but now that the first high section of the Europaweg has been permanently closed, it makes more sense to stay down in the valley in St. Niklaus.
12. St Niklaus to Europahutte
Long considered one of the most impressive 2-day hikes in Europe, the Europaweg is one of the main highlights of the Walker’s Haute Route, offering exceptional scenery all the way along the Mattertal Valley, culminating in the uber-famous Matterhorn and the popular ski town of Zermatt.
Plus, the Europahutte was one of our favourite stays, with great food and amazing views. The big dorms sounded a bit wild but we were quite happy with the setup of the 6-person dorm we were in.
Unfortunately, a major rockslide in 2018 has led to the permanent closure of the first section between Grachen and Galenburg. Now you can choose one of the three options:
- Official Route
You follow the valley from St. Niklaus down to Herbriggen, then cut up the side of the valley (with plenty of ups and downs) to rejoin the original trail about 20 minutes before Europahutte. This route can be found on the Europaweg site.
14 km / 5-6 hrs / +1,470m
St. Niklaus to Herbriggen
5 km / 1.5 hrs / +170m
Herbriggen to Europahutte
9 km / 4 hrs / +1,300m
- Alternate Route
A slightly longer but somewhat easier route has you continuing past Herbriggen to the village of Randa, where you can either climb basically straight up to Europahutte or follow a longer, more gradual route around to the north where you eventually meet up with the trail from Herbriggen. Going via Randa is less strenuous but it does trade a bit of time on the balcony for a bit more walking in the valley.
16 km / 6 hrs / +1,230m
St. Niklaus to Randa
10 km / 3 hrs / +350m
Randa to Europahutte
4 km / 2 hrs / +880m (via suspension bridge)
6 km / 3 hrs / +880m (variant that meets up with Herbriggen route)
If preserving your legs has become a priority, you can opt to catch the train down to Randa (by all accounts, a mostly featureless section). At this point, Sybille had been forced to rest a foot injury so gave us a ride down in their rental car and we then took the most direct route up from Randa.
This involved backtracking about 30 min back to the other side of the bridge but had the advantage of letting us see (and cross) the impressive Charles Kuonen Suspension Bridge twice – the first time in the mid-day sun. The next day when we left Europahutte it was still in shade (and would be until late morning).
If you do go this way you can still enjoy the best part of the other route by dropping your pack at the hut and continuing about 20 min north to the spot where the trail heads downhill (you can still see the remnants of the old trail across a steep creek). The views from there are stunning and there is a fantastic picnic spot (with an actual table) about 10 minutes from the hut itself.
A few people we know stayed in Gasenried and followed a variation of the trail from there that eventually made it down to the valley to meet up with the regular path from St. Niklaus. However, they all agreed this option wasn’t worth the extra effort so we don’t recommend it (if you have to stay in Gasenried you can take a bus down to the main trailhead).
Another couple took the Herbriggen trail and but detoured up directly to the old Europaweg trail by scrambling on remnants of old paths. However, as this trail is no longer being used it is in disrepair and is very dangerous. We definitely do not recommend this option (nor did they after they did it).
- Valley Route
As the name implies, this route sticks to the valley and misses out on the big views from above. However, this route does allow you to finish a day early by hiking all the way from St. Niklaus to Zermatt in a single day. Other than that, we would only recommend choosing this option if the weather is treacherous, you are well and truly exhausted or stiff, sore and barely limping your way to the finish.
21 km / 7-9 hrs / +600m
13. Europahutte to Zermatt
17 km / 5-7 hrs / +1,100m / -1,750m
Well, this is it, the final stage of the Walker’s Haute Route! The views are consistently incredible, you get to cross the famously beautiful Charles Kuonen Suspension Bridge (for a second time if you came up the way we did) and pass a number of tunnels and avalanche walls and finally get unobstructed views of the famous Matterhorn (all morning!) before reaching the outstanding town of Zermatt.
About 10 minutes past the bridge you’ll reach the junction and start climbing. About an hour up with insane mountain views across the valley, then an hour down to bypass rockslide areas and another relatively leisurely hour to the cute little hamlet of Taschalp (with a restaurant and stream where you can refill your water bottles).
From here, you go up and down along the ridge for another 1.5 hours to the picturesque village of Tuftern where there is a restaurant and a choice to make. You can head downhill for another 1.5 hours to complete the circuit on foot, or follow the flat, easy dirt road across to Sunnegga where you can take a tunnel train down to Zermatt.
We went to Sunnegga where Sybille was waiting for us and enjoyed celebratory beers on the sunny deck (joined by far too many dogs that barked at everything passing their tables).
Whichever you choose, as you get closer to town you’ll start passing through ski resorts and farms and the increasing number of people is probably going to feel a bit shocking after nearly two weeks hiking the much quieter mountain trails of the Alps Haute route. Oh yeah, but there’s the Matterhorn, so that’s pretty cool.
Where to Stay: Walker’s Haute Route Huts and Hotels
One of the greatest things about hiking in the Alps is the great variety of terrific places to stay. And the WHR is one of the best for that. From basic mountain huts to luxury hotels and everything in between, there is an impressive range of accommodation on the Walker’s Haute Route so that everyone should be able to find a suitable fit.
Honestly, I’m not sure there we have ever stayed in such a wide range of accommodation levels in such a short period of time. From the odd little B&B in Le Chable where the only bathroom was upstairs next to the owner’s kitchen and a guinea pig pen dominated the backyard to the gorgeous, traditional Grand Hotel & Kurhaus in Arolla to the basic dorms in Europahutte where three French girls slept above us without ever interacting, going to bed after us and gone before we returned from breakfast. And plenty more in between.
Three of our nights were spent in Walker’s Haute Route huts, which are considered among the best in Europe. Of course, the prices often reflect that but considering the spectacular locations, excellent food and comfortable sleeping arrangements, it is hard to argue with a couple of pricey weeks.
You can get some significant discounts at some of the huts if you have (or buy) an Alpine Club card. A Swiss one obviously works, plus memberships with many other alpine clubs around the world are accepted as well. If you don’t already have one you’ll have to do the math to decide if you are staying in enough Alpine Club partner huts to make it worthwhile. A membership also includes access to the Swiss Mobility route map, so that can also make it worthwhile.
Whenever possible, we book our hotels on Booking.com. With frequent stay discounts, thousands of reviews and free cancellation, it is very rare for us to have a bad hotel experience these days. There are many different types of accommodation on the Walker’s Haute Route, some of which can be booked online, others that need to be contacted directly.
Of course, while some of the towns and villages offer a dozen choices of hotel, along the trail you may have just one option depending on your schedule. It all depends how much you are willing to adjust your itinerary. If you are on a very set schedule or are simply more concerned with your hiking route than where you sleep at night, you should book some of the mountain huts as early as possible as they tend to fill up quickly in summer.
If you are hiking in June, early July or September you might be able to get away with waiting until closer to your arrival (although weekends are still very busy) but, personally, we recommend making a plan and booking early. If you have to make changes later most of the huts are fine as long as you give them a few days notice.
Almost all the huts feature top locations and amazing views but there can be some big differences in amenities, food and service. Among an impressive group of huts, though, a few stand out for particularly exceptional scenery and comfortable stays. You should do your best to fit all of these into your itinerary and then reserve beds early.
We found there was wifi in about half the hotels and huts along the way (the ones we stayed in, anyway). Obviously, the more hotels you choose the more wifi you’ll have as the huts are far less likely. However, we did find a good cell signal most of the time.
When travelling we always get SIM cards with data for our phones. Local SIM cards are sometimes a bit cheaper but if you have a relatively new smartphone (iPhone XR or newer, Samsung S20 or newer) you can just buy an eSIM online, get a QR code by email and you’re good to go. After extensive research I have decided that KeepGo eSIMs have the best coverage and prices for most of our trips, especially in Europe.
Now, here are all our Walker’s Haute Route accommodation recommendations, warnings and info. We have tried to include anything we thought was relevant, although not prices. Most places have extensive pricing plans, with options ranging 2-bed rooms to 15-bed dorms and self-catering all the way up to full board. You can read our Costs and Prices section below for more details but a VERY general estimate of hut pricing is 50-75€ CHF per person for dorm only or breakfast included and 75-100€ CHF per person including half-board.
The most common starting point for the Walker’s Haute Route is this busy mountain town with a wide variety of accommodation options. Everyone should be able to find the perfect option for them.
Grand Hotel des Alpes
If you want to start your hike on a high note with some of the luxuries you’ll be missing later on the trail, consider the gorgeous 5-star Grand Hotel des Alpes with incredible mountain views right in the middle of it all.
All the facilities are as perfect as you’d imagine, plus it is an easy walk to Aiguille du Midi cable car for a pre-hike adventure.
The Chamonix Lodge was where we stayed at the end of the TMB and it was a great value in a number of ways. First, the price is quite cheap for Chamonix. Second, because they weren’t full they upgraded us to a room with a private bathroom at no extra charge. Three, we had an extra bag of stuff we didn’t need while on the hike and they let us leave it in their storage room the entire time. There was a nice yard with hammocks, a shared kitchen we could use, and a basic continental breakfast provided in the morning. The only downside was the hot 10-minute walk from the centre of town.
Plan B Hotel
Plan B Hotel – Living Chamonix has a very convenient location, there is a restaurant, lounge, bar and beautiful rooms at a very reasonable price for this area. There is also a scenic terrace, a pool table and a highly recommended buffet breakfast.
Refuge Lac Blanc
If you’re looking for a classic, rustic Alps mountain hut, well, Refuge Lac Blanc is just the place. It may not be particularly modern or well-equipped but what it lacks in amenities it makes up for with its stunning location and friendly welcome.
There is no electricity, no showers, no drinking water, no wifi, no official check-in until 5 pm (although they were nice enough to let us in at 4 pm). There was occasionally a very weak phone signal in one corner of the deck. They do sell bottled water or you can treat water like we did (we always carry Aquatabs for just such an occasion).
Most rooms have 2 bunk beds and a single, so they aren’t as crowded as some dorms on the Walker’s Haute Route. The bathrooms were fine and there is a boot room downstairs as well. The meals were basic but decent, and the incredible sunset (and then sunrise) views more than made up for it.
Le Chalet Au Tour, located in Argentiere, is a beautiful 3-bedroom chalet that is a comfortable choice for groups, although it really isn’t so expensive that you wouldn’t consider it as a couple.
Gîte Le Moulin in Les Frasserands
A little off the main route, and we only ended up there because other places were already booked up, but we were quite happy we did. Big hot showers, a warm and comfortable lounge (with massive couches), good wifi and a decent 8-person dorm. No-nonsense owners, but a well-run place.
Vegetarian dinner when we were there (tomato salad, mushroom with sauce and couscous, great bread and desert) but very tasty and as much as you could eat. Excellent croissants included with cereal and bread for breakfast but no protein (yogurt or eggs). Good packed lunch of sandwich, salad/rice, fruit, snickers and chips. There was wifi and a decent cell signal.
There are surprisingly few good places to stay in Trient or Le Peuty. You will reach Le Peuty about 10 minutes before Trient. They all have mixed reviews but here are your options. At Trient you are still overlapping with Tour du Mont Blanc hikers so places can get booked up fast.
Probably one of the better choices. They have private rooms as well as dorms with shared bathrooms. The shower rooms don’t have a lot of privacy but you will find that in most other places too. There is a nice outdoor garden to relax in. The price includes dinner and breakfast and you can order a packed lunch.
Rooms in this auberge are in 2, 4, 6, and 8 person dorms, all with shared baths. The larger dorms have mattresses side by side so you can end up sleeping close to strangers. Crocs are provided if you don’t have your own. It is half-board and you get soup, salad and a main dish for dinner. You can also order a packed lunch.
A weird, basic place where you sleep in one big 20-bed dorm/barn. However, we appreciated that when we arrived quite early there was a sign welcoming us to use the facilities – which for us meant a quick shower and some laundry, then relaxing on the hammock in the garden.
Dinner and breakfast took place in a yurt across the road, which was kind of atmospheric. Really good food with local produce/products with four nicely presented courses (salad, soup, chicken with mushroom sauce/rice, and desert) for dinner and eggs included as part of the usual breakfast. The dorm was pretty cold but they provided plenty of extra blankets. No wifi but a decent signal.
Résidence & Spa Vallorcine Mont-Blanc is located not far from Trient, a beautiful place with nice apartments with kitchens and mountains views, plus an indoor pool and not one, but two, saunas.
We stayed in Auberge Gite Bon Abri but can’t recommend it – expensive, not helpful with info about Fenetre d’Arpette, bed bugs. But luckily there are lots of other options that come highly recommended.
Hotel Mont-Lac is right on the lake and just a few blocks from the centre of town and each room has a terrace with great views. There are also an indoor pool, sauna and wine bar.
Hotel Splendide is a classic hotel set in a 19th century house with vintage furniture and a terrace with stunning mountain views also features a nice garden, a games room and an excellent buffet breakfast.
Chalet Miranda is a 3-bedroom chalet is perfect for a group travelling together, with a full kitchen, amazing views and hiking trails right outside.
Hotel Le Giétroz
The cozy Le Giétroz is on the main road through town close to the cable car which is handy if you decide to take it up to cut off the elevation gain on the next day. It has its own restaurant with good food and is next door to the Pizzeria du Pont (where we had excellent pasta dishes) and a grocery store where you can pick up lunch for the next day.
Click here for Hotel Le Gietroz prices
BnB Claudy et Elizabeth
We stayed at this BnB that has several rooms with one shared bathroom. The owner doesn’t speak much English but we were able to communicate fine. The beds are comfortable and we had double rooms with a couch and views over the valley on the bottom floor.
There is wifi and a decent breakfast with tea/coffee, fresh bread and jam. We supplemented the breakfast with boiled eggs we bought at the grocery store. The owner gave us the free passes for the gondola for the next morning.
Cabane Mont Fort
The Cabane Mont Fort features a great deck with views of the mountains that make it one of the highlights of the Walker’s Haute Route. Most of the rooms have 2 bunks for 4 people, though there is a larger dorm with a row of mattresses beside each other.
The showers need a token which is 7 CHF for 2 minutes, with good pressure and lots of hot water. There two toilets on each floor and individual toilets by the restaurant. You pick a time for dinner between 6 – 7 pm and it was soup, salad and a large portion of spaghetti bolognaise to be shared family style with the table. Finished with a chocolate pudding for dessert.
There was one outlet in the room and another in the hallway. The packed lunch was a baguette with ham and cheese, an apple and a chocolate biscuit. We couldn’t find a line for drying clothes so just used the railing on the back deck. Breakfast was bread, butter and jam with hot chocolate or coffee – no protein though. Overall, a very good mountain hut.
We reserved beds by email with no deposit but they asked that we confirm three days ahead.
We chose not to stay at the Cabane de Plafleuri and instead continued on for another 1.25 hours (on an already long day) as Prafleuri is really the only place on the Walker’s Haute Route that has mediocre reviews. We talked to people who stayed there and there were no showers, only two toilets, they had to use paper bag liners rather than their own (Plafleuri has had bedbug issues in the past and are taking steps to insure they don’t again) and the backpacks don’t go in the rooms for the same reason.
People were still making jokes about the food days later though they all said they didn’t go hungry. It seems there are new guardians, which is a plus, as the old ones were known for their grumpiness. So, all in all, you will have a place to sleep, drinks to drink and plenty of food if you choose to stay here, though it is considered the least enjoyable cabane on the trail.
We continued on to Hotel du Barrage. It was another 1.25 hours of hiking with a disheartening uphill at the end but the bonus of a teleferique down to the hotel at the bottom of the dam on Lake Dixence. Once we finally made it there and were all checked in, we were happy we continued. We chose double rooms with shared unisex bathrooms. They also provided towels which was a nice benefit.
There were more than enough showers (with as much hot water as you could want), sinks and toilets. My shower stall had a great view over the valley. They also had a good restaurant with good vegan (Buddha bowl), vegetarian (quiche with salad) and meat (burger and fries) options.
The breakfast was excellent and very filling with the option to boil your own egg to your own liking, toast, croissants, yogurt, cold cuts and cheese. The packed lunch was a baguette, yogurt, apple, cereal bar and bottle of water.
There was cell service, wifi and outlets in each room, along with a table and closet. The only weird things were no curtains on the windows, which was fine in September but could be noticeable in the summer, and a small shelf sticking out of the wall at head height right where you had to squeeze past the bed. A true test of awareness and agility.
We reserved through the booking form on their website (no deposit).
We loved this hotel with its classic architecture and great front yard with chairs and mountains views where we could relax and enjoy our welcome drink (and maybe a couple more). The hotel is on the trail a little before and above the village of Arolla.
We also enjoyed using the elevator to give our legs a break and had a good sleep on the comfortable beds with big pillows. The private bathroom had body soap and shampoo as well as a heated towel rack that we used to dry some laundry.
The extensive breakfast is included in the price and had everything including eggs and bacon, cereal, yogurt, cheese, cold cuts, porridge and all the bread products you could want. The dinner was a la carte and one of the more expensive we had on the trail. But the fondue was very popular, my Italian salad very filling and Dean raved about his Grenadine pork and mashed potatoes. Our favourite Walker’s Haute Route hotel.
They offered a packed lunch with sandwich, fruit, nuts, chocolate and water but we chose to go to the village store and get freshly made sandwiches, etc. for half the price.
Gie L’Ecurieul is in a creaky, old, classic wooden Swiss building with the friendliest owner we met on the Walker’s Haute Route. The rooms have bunk beds and hold between 2-4 people. The bunk beds in our room were very wobbly with no railings and were not braced up against the wall so we put the top mattresses on the floor. However, the attached deck and many windows came with great views.
The showers are new and unisex with lots of hot water. We took advantage of the clothes lines with pins on the deck outside the shower room, then sat on the comfortable deck furniture to relax with a couple drinks. There are no outlets in the rooms but there was one in the main area. No wifi but there is cell service.
Dinner wasn’t included but the attached restaurant had a great rosti and wild boar options, among other things.
Breakfast at 7am with fresh bread, butter and jam, cereal/yogurt and cheese. We got lunch from the nearby grocery store – baguette, ham, spreadable cheese, apples, yogurt and a tomato.
We booked by email – firstname.lastname@example.org and they didn’t require a deposit.
Hotel de La Sage
For a more high-end option head to the Hotel de La Sage. Charming and beautiful art-deco hotel with a wonderful terrasse and salon. Ask for one of the 5 renovated superior rooms.
Cabane de Moiry
The Cabane de Moiry is often called Switzerland’s best mountain hut and it was a pretty spectacular place to stay. It is perched right next to Moiry Glacier, taking advantage of that by featuring a large deck and truly fantastic floor to ceiling windows in the dining room. There is no potable water (we treated ours) and no wifi but there is a hint of cell service from the terrace.
The new section has 4-person dorms with views and a narrow window that opens, a private outlet and lots of storage. There are 3 shared toilets and 2 showers (6 CHF for 3 minutes) for this section. The older section has larger dorms with mattresses lined up side-by-side. Beds can be booked online and they require a 50% deposit by credit card.
There is free coffee or tea in the afternoon until 5:30. They assign the tables for dinner which is at 6:30. When we were there the dinner was soup, pork, roasted vegetables, rice and lemon tarts. The food was served family style for the table but you can ask for more so don’t worry about running out.
Breakfast (bread, butter, jam, yogurt/cereal, sticks of cheese and apple juice/tea/coffee) was from 5-7:30 and you pick your time ahead. You order the packed lunches when you arrive (or ahead) and they pass them out at dinner. The lunches came in a cute fabric Migros (Swiss grocery store) bag that we used for lunches for the rest of our time on the Walker’s Haute Route (and beyond). The lunch included a baguette, apple, granola bar, chocolate and peanuts.
Unless you really don’t want to stay in dorms, we think it is well worth the additional climb to this spectacular hut. We booked through their online form and had to pay 50% up front.
Hotel Alpina in Grimentz
If you prefer to stay in a hotel, though, you can take a bus from either end of Lac de Moiry to Grimentz and back the next day. A good choice in Grimentz is Hotel Alpina, boasting a great location in the middle of the village, a good included breakfast and nice views of the mountains.
Pointe de Zinal
In the middle of town, right by the gondola, the Pointe de Zinal has a restaurant and large terrace where you can enjoy the fantastic views. The included buffet breakfast gets your next day started on the right foot. Try to get one of the rooms with a balcony.
We stayed at Auberge Alpina which is a 15-minute walk from the centre of town. There are double rooms with 2 shared bathrooms that have the shower and toilet in the same room so, as a result, this was one of the few places where we often had to wait for the bathroom. They provided towels when we asked.
Our room had lots of windows with views of the mountains and the outdoor area of the restaurant below. It was half-board and you picked the time you wanted to eat. Dinner was pate terrine, chicken curry with rice and wonderful tiramisu.
The breakfast was bread/butter/jam/croissants and juice. We had bought boiled eggs and lunch food from the large grocery store the day before so we added eggs to our breakfast for the protein. We booked by email and no deposit was required.
As the only game in town (just a hamlet, really), Hotel Schwarzhorn books up quickly. It is an impressive and welcoming building as you approach with a great outdoor grassy area for drinks. All rooms have shared bathrooms and the accommodations and facilities start out great on the first floor and get just a little bit worse each floor as you go higher. The double rooms with balconies and views on the first and second floors go quickly and are mostly pre-booked by tour groups.
On the top floor you’ll find the dorms (those three flights aren’t great for tired legs) and are either for 4 people (we were fortunate to get one of the 4-person dorms) or 10 people. The mattresses are on the floor and in the large dorms they are side by side under the eaves and on both sides of the room. There is no room for bags in the large dorms (although they do provide shelves in the hallway for the backpacks) and only a small shelf above the mattresses for any items you want in with you at night.
We estimated there could be up to 60 people staying on the top floor with only 2 showers and 2 toilets. Of course, there are also showers and toilets on the floors below that are a lot less in demand so we headed down a floor or two when necessary (although I suspect this wasn’t technically allowed).
The dinner was good with soup, salad, chicken/rice/veg and flan for dessert. You could have supper whenever you wanted in the pleasant dining room and it was very efficiently served. The breakfast was decent with all the usuals and we added our own boiled eggs that we carried from Zinal for the protein.
We booked by email and no deposit was required. There are no shops in Gruben.
There aren’t as many choices in St. Niklaus as you would think so it is a good idea to book early. Many of the people on the Walker’s Haute Route at the same time as us ended up in surrounding towns because they couldn’t find anywhere to stay in St. Nicklaus itself.
Hotel La Reserve
Hotel La Reserve is a great choice in St. Niklaus, one of the nicest places to stay on the Walker’s Haute Route. We enjoyed the private double room and bathroom with a great shower. Ask for a room with a deck and view of the valley.
Make sure to make a reservation for the restaurant when you arrive. It is very popular with locals and rightly so. The pizza and pasta really hit the spot. The included breakfast had plenty of options (everything except eggs).
The Europahutte is another well known Swiss mountain hut that sleeps 42 people, has a large dining room and features a spacious sun terrace with a fantastic panoramic view. We had amazing weather and really enjoyed spending a couple hours on the deck in the sun with those views (and several beers).
It is an older and smaller hut but they have an efficient system. There are only dorms (one 18-person dorm, three 6-person dorms and one 4-person dorm) but we appreciated the addition of plywood dividers between the mattresses. A small thing but it made a difference. There isn’t a lot of extra room in the dorms but there are shelves for backpacks in the hallway.
There are shared bathrooms and the two unisex shower stalls (4 CHF) make it difficult to shower and dress privately. Not the best for shy showerers.
The dry toilets (similar to an outhouse but better) are on the main floor. There are two outlets on the light fixture in the shower room but none in the rooms (which meant there was always a queue for them). With only one day left on the Walker’s Haute Route, we used our portable power bank to free up more spots for others to charge.
Europahutte assigned the beds and tables for dinner, which was at 6:30 and included vegetable soup, chicken curry and rice, fruit from a fruit cup (that might be a Canadian reference but the best description I can think of) and dessert. As you can see from the picture, the meal wasn’t necessarily visually appealing but was tasty and great hiker food.
We’d recommend getting up early to see the sun starting to shine on the mountains across the valley. Breakfast was from 7-8 and had cereal and milk, fresh bread, butter, jam and cheese. We used our stash of peanut butter here for more protein as we were out of boiled eggs.
The packed lunch was hearty with 2 sandwiches (choose from salami, ham or cheese), fruit, a chocolate bar and either a Coke or fizzy water.
There was both cell service and wifi. We booked by email and needed to send a 30 CHF deposit per person by PayPal.
“Decidedly underwhelming” – Dean Johnston
“There sure is a lot of construction” – Sybille Hossli
“Chamonix is nicer” – Laynni Locke
“It is pronounced sayr-MOTT” – Walter Hossli
The famous ski town of Zermatt – home to the Matterhorn and vaunted end point of the Walker’s Haute Route – has been on our travel hit list for what seems like forever. So it was fairly disappointing to arrive (possibly a decade too late) to find a crowded, kitschy ski town where every building is either a hotel, restaurant or clothing store. Except for the many, many construction sites, all of which will presumably soon transform into more hotels, restaurants and clothing stores.
Obviously, the setting is gorgeous, with the surrounding mountains easily accessible and hugely popular with hikers, bikers, climbers and photographers. And, obviously, the Matterhorn is pretty special (when it isn’t hidden by clouds). Plus, there are no cars allowed in town, which is nice, although they have been ably replaced by a massive fleet of tiny electric shuttles used to transport everything from overpacked hotel guests and construction material to frozen bags of fries and fresh beer kegs.
But when you have just spent 10 days walking directly through those very mountains it is a little hard to get excited about a view of snow-covered peaks with McDonald’s in the foreground. Don’t get me wrong, we enjoyed our few nights in Zermatt, thanks to a comfortable studio apartment and a serious desire to, you know, STOP HIKING.
But my overall impression of the place is a more compact, more crowded Banff. Feel free to disagree but, at this point, we have now been there, done that, opted against buying any of the tacky t-shirts, and I feel like our Zermatt experience is complete.
However, after spending so much time on the Walker’s Haute Route with very limited accommodation options you may find yourself almost overwhelmed by the number of choices in Zermatt (although the list gets quite a bit shorter if you’re on a budget). These are our recommendations for different price ranges and you can decide just how much pampering you deserve!
Europe Hotel & Spa Zermatt
If you want to end your Walker’s Haute Route on a high note, head to the Europe Hotel & Spa Zermatt. Make sure to take advantage of the Wellness Center, which features 2 saunas, a steam bath, a hot tub, a massage room and a relaxation room. I mean, if there was ever a time when you’ve earned a massage…
They have a variety of room options but the best are those with stunning views of the Matterhorn from both the room and comfortable balcony.
If you are looking for an option where you can make some of your own meals, the Naco Aparthotel is a good choice as all rooms come with a fully equipped kitchen and dining area.
The 34° swimming pool (they call it a hammam) is perfect for post-hike relaxation and it is very well thought out with a large bubble bath bench and an area for swimmers. You will also enjoy the excellent included breakfast.
Hotel Rhodania is a friendly hotel in an older building with a good location walking distance to all the important stuff. With good wifi, ski and bike storage, excellent views and a pizzeria on-site, this is one of the best “budget” options in Zermatt (if anything in Zermatt can be considered budget).
Walker’s Haute Route Camping
Camping along the Walker’s Haute Route is technically possible, as many of the villages have a campground, most with a café, washrooms, hot showers, wifi and general supplies. Unfortunately, there are a few stops along the way that do not allow camping, so you may have to choose a guesthouse or dorm for those nights.
Wild camping, on the other hand, is only allowed on the French portion of the Walker’s Haute Route, and only as long as you set up after dusk, pack up at dawn and leave no trace. In Switzerland, wild camping is completely prohibited so if you decide to try it, make sure you are very discreet.
Walker’s Haute Route Costs and Prices
Yes, France is fairly expensive. And Switzerland is VERY expensive. So the Walker’s Haute Route is never going to be considered a budget trek. However, in comparison to the hotels and restaurants in Paris, Geneva or Zurich, the WHR can actually be hiked in a relatively affordable way.
While you may not always have options when it comes to where to stay, you can choose to self-cater. We chose the half-board option whenever it was available so that we wouldn’t have to carry as much food or spend a lot of time trying to find supplies. However, the dinners tend to be quite expensive so you can save a lot of money by fending for yourself. The breakfasts and packed lunches aren’t so bad but you can still eat for much less shopping in grocery stores in the villages along the way.
A Dutch/Latvian couple we got to know did a lot of self-catering along the way, packing a lot of their own food and even carrying cooking gear. Yes, it definitely added some weight to their packs but it also meant they were able to eat what and when they wanted (often enjoying a hot meal just off the trail) and didn’t have to join the rest of us waiting nervously for our dinner seating assignment.
The following is a general guideline of what to expect for prices on the Walker’s Haute Route. For reference, while we were on the trek, Swiss francs (CHF), US dollars ($) and Euros (€) were all valued within a few cents of each other, which made the mental math much easier. All of which were in the $C1.30-1.35 range.
Here we’ve used CHF since we only hiked the Swiss portion this time around.
Mountain huts: 50-75 CHF per person for dorm only or breakfast included and 75-100 CHF per person including half-board
Hotels: 100-200 CHF for a double room with private bath
Tourist Tax: 2-4 CHF
Campground: 15 CHF per person
Food and Drink in Huts
Meals: 20-30 CHF
Packed Lunches: 15-16 CHF
Pastry: 6 CHF
Coffee: 4 CHF
Beer: 5-8 CHF
Wine (bottle): 30-40 CHF
Food and Drink in Grocery Stores
Packaged Sandwich: 5 CHF
Bread/baguette: 2 CHF
Sandwich Meat: 5-7 CHF
Cheese: 3-5 CHF
Beer: 2-3 CHF
Wine (bottle) 5-10 CHF
Laundry (Zermatt): 32 CHF (medium load / 6-7 kg)
Bus from Geneva to Chamonix: 20 CHF per person
Train from Zermatt to Geneva/Zurich/Milan: 30-60 CHF
Cable Car: 15-25 CHF per person
Luggage transfer (SBB train Martigny to Zermatt): 12 CHF + 5 CHF per day after 5 days (roughly another 40 CHF for most people)
On average, we spent about 50 CHF per person / per day on our food and drink when breakfast was included in our accommodation (usually) and dinner was not (sometimes). Our accommodation choices were all over the place so it is hard to generalize but, in the end, we averaged around 100 CHF per person / per day in total.
Cash or Card?
We were able to use card everywhere we stayed, although cell service in the mountain huts can be hit and miss so if you happen to be leaving on a “miss” morning the machine may not be working and you’ll need cash.
There are ATMs in most of the villages along the way but since you have the option to arrive with money already in your pocket we would suggest bringing around €200 per person for the French portion and maybe 300 CHF per person for the Swiss portion. That way if you do come across a shop or hut that won’t accept your card you won’t have to go hungry.
As for which card to use, Wise is by far the best international multicurrency bank account we’ve found. We can now send and receive money in half a dozen different currencies, convert to dozens more with no exchange premium and pay or withdraw local currencies. Highly recommended.
Walker’s Haute Route Food and Water
For us, one of the best parts about hut-to-hut hiking in the Alps (or anywhere for that matter) is that it eliminates the need to carry a lot of food and/or water. It is great knowing that we are never more than a few hours from the next town, village or hut where we can order a meal, fill up our water bottles, relax with a beer or stock up on supplies for the trail.
Usually there are many water sources along the trail, as well, where those with filters (Walter and Sybille) or purifying tablets (us, Aquatabs) can refill their bottles, meaning you rarely need to carry more than 1-1.5 litres at a time.
However, at the tail end of an extremely hot, dry European summer, a lot of the normal water sources had dried up and the moving water of the streams and rivers (normally the safest choices) were down to a trickle in spots. We normally carried about 3.5 litres between the two of us and never completely ran out, although it is worth noting that we were hiking in cool, fall temperatures (10-15C most days). It would have been a different story in mid-summer.
Those planning to eat in the huts and restaurants along the way really don’t have to worry about carrying anything more than a couple snacks. We generally had our dinners and breakfasts in the huts (or hotels). On the trail, we always kept some trail mix and Snickers or two in reserve.
Whenever we came across a grocery store we would buy a baguette, meat, cheese and fruit for the next day’s lunch so we could eat when and where we wanted. If we hadn’t passed a shop we would just buy the packed lunch.
Although dinner generally needs to be ordered well ahead, if you do want to eat in huts or towns along the way lunches can generally be ordered upon arrival. That being said, it was a rare day where you would pass a hut or town anywhere near lunch time. So it is best to carry your lunch with you each day. If you are staying overnight the hut warden will usually ask about your breakfast plans.
If you are planning to self-cater, on the other hand, you’ll need to plan a little more carefully. There are quite a few villages and towns with grocery stores along the Walker’s Haute Route where you can stock up for the next stage or two. Only a couple of the huts have common kitchens, though, so you will probably need to bring a camp stove and cooking gear.
Supermarkets on the Walker’s Haute Route:
When to Hike the Walker’s Haute Route
Because the Walker’s Haute Route crosses so many high passes, the season is quite short. There is often snow in the passes until early July (although it can still be passable with the right equipment) and by mid-September you can expect to start seeing flurries regularly.
Mid-July until the end of August offers the best chance at good weather but, not surprisingly, is by far the busiest time on the Walker’s Haute Route. If you plan to trek in high season be sure to reserve all your accommodation in advance.
Every year people manage to complete the Walker’s Haute Route in June despite the snow. Good boots, crampons or micro-spikes and trekking poles are all essential. There are sure to be some tricky spots but you’ll probably have the trail all to yourself.
Just as with the Tour du Mont Blanc and Alta Via 1, we hiked the Walker’s Haute Route in September. We started on September 3 and finished September 12 and had almost comically perfect weather, to the point we began to worry just how the scales of fate would eventually punish us for such unlikely luck.
Obviously, the weather can be volatile in September, though, so be prepared. But, in general, we enjoyed the cooler hiking days and were comfortably warm inside the huts and hotels at night. Almost all the places we stayed were still full but there were probably fewer day hikers on the trail. Overall, we were very happy with our choice.
Walker’s Haute Route Weather
The weather when hiking in the mountains is typically very erratic. “Four seasons in one day”, as the saying goes. Obviously, keep a close eye on the forecasts for planning purposes but even if it looks like clear sailing you need to be prepared for the worst.
Although July to September on the Walker’s Haute Route is generally warm, sunny and dry, rain, snow or sleet can still be on you in an instant. Even on warm, sunny days the high passes tend to be cold and windy. Make sure you carry proper rain gear and plenty of warm clothes to keep you comfortable on rest breaks or when hanging out around the huts at night.
Typically, the weather is best in the morning in the Alps so it is usually worth getting an early start. Not only will you avoid long climbs in the hot sun but you are less likely to get caught in sudden afternoon thunderstorms.
As weather forecasts in the mountains can often feel more like art than science, we recommend using multiple apps and websites and hoping for a consensus when making your plans for the day. Meteoblue (in France) and MeteoSwiss (in Switzerland) are very good weather apps and Mountain Forecast provides the most detailed weather predictions at different altitudes in the mountains.
How to Get to Chamonix
Most people fly or take the train into Geneva. For checking out flights we usually find that SkyScanner is the fastest and most accurate site. From there, you can take a bus/shuttle to Chamonix. Each of the following companies run multiple daily shuttles in summer.
It is important to choose the correct the route as some leave from the Geneva airport, others from the Geneva main bus station. Some stop at both but some only one or the other.
If you are planning to skip any of the first stages, maybe because you’ve already hiked the TMB or just because you have limited time, you can take the Mont Blanc Express train from Chamonix as far as Martigny.
A lot of people also choose to spend some time in lovely Annecy (“the Venice of France”) before continuing on to Chamonix – there are several daily buses that take a couple hours.
How to Get Away from Zermatt
Generally, the best way to get to and from Zermatt is by train, usually connecting through Visp or Brig. From Zermat, you can easily reach Geneva, Zurich or Milan, giving you plenty of options after the trek.
Walker’s Haute Route Luggage Transfer and Storage
Those flying both in and out of Geneva can store luggage there to ensure they aren’t carrying any more than absolutely necessary on the trek. While the airport and train station lockers are only for short-term rentals, there are some other good options that can (and should) be booked in advance:
Eelway (partners with local hotels)
An even better option is to simply stay in the same hotel both before and after hiking the Walker’s Haute Route and checking with them in advance to see if they can hold a bag for you.
Of course, if you aren’t returning to Geneva then you’ll need to find a way to get your extra stuff sent ahead to Zermatt. The cheapest option is to use the SBB rail service. They charge 12 CHF to send a bag (max 25kg). It will arrive on the second day and will be held free for 5 days, then you pay 5 CHF per day after that (unless you run into a generous/uninterested baggage handler who is happy to “call it good”, like in our case).
Unfortunately, these trains only run in Switzerland so you’ll either need to send your bag from Geneva (or wherever you arrive) or take the train from Chamonix to Martigny, send it from there, then head back to Chamonix to start your trek. Since we were starting our trek in Switzerland we just stopped in Martigny on our way to our starting point in Le Chable, and sent stuff ahead from there.
Another possibility is to mail some things. As long as they add up to 7kg or less, you can send “post restante” (equivalent to “general delivery” in North America) and pick it up at the Zermatt post office. The weight limit is restrictive, obviously, and the price is higher (around 50 CHF) than the train but they will hold it for 4 weeks at no charge so the total cost will probably end up similar.
Other companies make it much easier, transferring luggage from town to town or all the way from start to end, but also charge much higher prices:
Walker’s Haute Route vs TMB
Although these two epic treks through the Alps have many similarities (and even overlap for a few days), the Walker’s Haute Route is more difficult than the Tour du Mont Blanc. The passes are higher, the trail more exposed and the terrain more rugged. People with a fear of heights may not enjoy some sections and a reasonable level of agility is essential.
While there are towns and villages on both treks, the WHR doesn’t have any centres resembling the size or facilities of Courmayeur on the TMB (at least until you get to Zermatt). Both treks have some very nice mountain huts in beautiful locations, although the WHR probably offers more opportunities to customize your route. The TMB has a few bottleneck areas that can be problematic if you can’t get a bed.
While the TMB has a few difficult days, they are interspersed with more leisurely ones, whereas the WHR features a couple of very strenuous multi-day stretches. On the bright side, the Walker’s Haute Route sees far fewer hikers than the Tour du Mont Blanc.
Something else we noticed: extremely popular treks such as the Tour du Mont Blanc and even Everest Base Camp tend to attract many hikers who really aren’t prepared, aren’t up to it or are simply way out of their element. So you tend to see quite a few people struggling or even giving up. It’s like, if enough people do something, people start to think anyone can. Which is definitely NOT the case when it comes to mountain trekking.
The Walker’s Haute Route, on the other hand, is not as well-known and the one thing most people have heard is that it is really, really hard. As a result, pretty much every hiker we saw or met on the trail was fairly fit, prepared and, in general, just used to this sort of thing.
Very few people choose the WHR as their first long-distance trek, so they all have a pretty good idea of what they are getting into and can plan (and train) accordingly. The few people we met who actually were on their first long hike were also young, fit and determined, and had no trouble adjusting to the rigours of hiking day after day (after day, after day).
Anyway, our personal summary on the WHR vs the TMB:
The Walker’s Haute Route is more consistently scenic, wilder and less busy than the Tour du Mont Blanc but also much more difficult. As long as you weren’t completely destroyed by the TMB you should be able to handle the WHR, just expect a more intense challenge.
Walker’s Haute Route Self-Guided Tour
We organized everything ourselves so can’t really speak to the different tour companies. However, many of the hikers we met on the trail were following pre-booked routes organized through a trekking company. Opinions were mixed. All of them were presumably happy to have avoided the very confusing and time-consuming process of booking each night’s accommodation in advance (using a wide variety of a methods from online booking to email to clumsy, confusing phone calls undertaken in a mix of languages).
However, several were less than impressed with the occasionally odd route choices that had them taking buses or shuttles to their hotel and back to the trail, or simply taking an unusual alternate route that put them on their own, away from all the people they had gotten to know on the main trail.
I suspect that most companies would be happy to adjust the route as long as you don’t ask them to change on the fly, so I’d suggest that even if you hire someone to reserve hotels and huts for you, research the route yourself well in advance to make sure you agree with where they’re sending you and when.
Walker’s Haute Route Packing List
There are a few different packing strategies depending on the season, your itinerary and if you are staying in dorms or exclusively in private rooms. And campers will obviously have to carry a lot of stuff that people staying in huts won’t have to worry about. But this Walker’s Haute Route packing list should be appropriate for most people, especially if you hike in September like we did.
We only carried sleep sacks (not full sleeping bags) to save weight and space and never had a problem as every hut we stayed in provided blankets.
If disaster strikes and it turns out your 30-year old boots are no longer up to the task, you can find replacements in a few towns along the way. Walter bought a new pair of hikers in Les Hauderes and they worked perfectly the rest of the way. However, wearing new shoes or boots on a hike like this is definitely a last resort. If possible, buy them early and make sure they are well broken in before you arrive.
Hut shoes/flip flops
All the huts had boot rooms and provided crocs to wear inside but the hotels didn’t and after a long day on the trail you’ll definitely want something to wear besides your hikers.
Wool hiking socks (2)
Small socks for in the hut
Hiking pants (1)
Compression leggings (Laynni swears by these for comfort and avoiding knee pain)
Clean pants for the hut (I just used a pair of long underwear in the room and wore the same pants the rest of the time) and Laynni brought a pair of regular leggings
Depending on the season you may want a pair of shorts (we didn’t take them and didn’t regret it in September, although most people did wear shorts during the day)
2 pair of quick-dry underwear that can be washed easily (in the shower is my routine) and Laynni brings a wool bra to hike in (so she doesn’t cool down as much on rest stops) and a comfortable bra to sleep in.
Long-sleeved shirt (1) for in the huts
Jackets – 1 fleece or puffy and 1 ultralight windbreaker
Rain poncho – some prefer a regular jacket and backpack cover but we find ponchos, while not necessarily stylish, keep everything fully dry, unlike the other method
Rain pants (I also had waterproof gloves and shoes – I really hate to be wet)
Hat (although if you go for a bright purple one like Laynni did you may draw a lot of unwanted attention from bees and hover flies)
Hiking poles (we don’t always use them but I definitely wouldn’t do this particular trek without them)
Medical kit (remember that you can’t count on finding medical supplies along the trail so be careful to take enough in your medical kit to get through a variety of potential problems.
Phone/charger (we also carry a very small power bank that often came in handy)
Pack towel (me) / sarong (Laynni)
Small knife (for cutting sandwiches and such)
Head lamp (if you’re not planning to read in bed you may be able to get away with the light on your phone)
Walker’s Haute Route Summary
Like I said, it’s probably too early to start throwing around phrases like “best trek we’ve ever done” but the fact we’re even thinking that way tells you how great the Walker’s Haute Route is. Unbelievable alpine scenery, comfortably eclectic accommodation and terrific food are a pretty good start. Mix in the overall fitness and trail etiquette of the generally experienced hikers and something that can’t be counted on but was a huge factor in our case – perfect weather – and there is certainly a compelling argument for this being our top hike to this point.
Best, second-best or just really good – the point is, the Walker’s Haute Route is pretty amazing. If you are a fit, experienced hiker with two weeks to spare and enough cash to order meals in a Swiss restaurant without breaking out in cold sweats, then it should definitely be at the top of your trekking bucket list.
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