The Walker’s Haute Route offers the best of what the Alps have to offer. Incredible mountain passes, pastoral villages, jaw-dropping views, friendly locals, exceptional cuisine, and the sense of completing…
The Walker’s Haute Route offers the best of what the Alps have to offer. Incredible mountain passes, pastoral villages, jaw-dropping views, friendly locals, exceptional cuisine, and the sense of completing one of the world’s great hikes. Traversing from Chamonix in France to Zermatt in Switzerland by foot will give you an appreciation of these mountains that most can only dream of. From Mont Blanc to the Matterhorn you’re sure to have the adventure of a lifetime. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know to plan the perfect Walker’s Haute Route adventure!
In this post
- About the Walker’s Haute Route
- How long is the Walker’s Haute Route?
- When should I hike?
- How difficult is the Walker’s Haute Route?
- Stage-by-stage Itinerary for the Walker’s Haute Route
- Camping on the Walker’s Haute Route
- Food and drink
- Getting to and from the Walker’s Haute Route
- Maps & Guidebooks
- Budgeting and money
- What to pack
- How to train for the Walker’s Haute Route
About the Walker’s Haute Route
The Walker’s Haute Route is a classic alpine trek that connects the two mountain villages of Chamonix, France and Zermatt, Switzerland. The route traverses over 200 km and crosses 11 mountain passes on its journey from Mont Blanc to the Matterhorn. You’ll take in a wide variety of landscapes, from rugged mountain passes, to remote alpine villages and spectacular mountain huts. The trek is typically completed by starting in Chamonix and finishing in Zermatt, but it is certainly possible to walk in the opposite direction.
The Walker’s Haute Route does not require any mountaineering skills, but it should be considered a very difficult trek. Over 13 stages you’ll gain nearly 1,000 meters each day and much of your time will be spent above tree line. That being said, the Walker’s Haute Route should be able to be completed by reasonably fit hikers who are adequately prepared for the trek (read more on that below).
Accommodation options on the Walker’s Haute Route are typical of most multi-day treks through the Alps with an excellent network of mountain huts, campsites, and hotels available to suit all preferences (learn more below).
How long is the Walker’s Haute Route?
The short answer: it depends!
The Walker’s Haute Route has many variations and route options as it winds it way from Chamonix to Zermatt. These variations include options to stay in unique accommodation (such as the Hotel Weisshorn) or to avoid difficult sections in bad weather (such as the Bovine Alp alternate).
All things considered, the most common route is approximately 207 kilometers long. Of course, many trekkers will opt to take several of the alternate routes, which will lengthen or shorten the total distance, depending on the routes chosen. You’ll have the option to walk less or more depending on the weather, your preferences, and the conditions encountered on the trail.
When should I hike?
The hiking season for the Walker’s Haute Route lasts from late-June through mid-September. Generally speaking, we recommend hiking between mid-July and late-August to have the best chance at good weather and to ensure most of the mountain passes will be free from snow. The trail will be at its busiest during this time, so we recommend booking as much of your accommodation in advance as possible. A breakdown by month is below:
Early in the season, you are likely to encounter snow on the trail. Depending on the snow levels, there could be sections that will be impassible and you may need to reroute. Be prepared with either micro-spikes or crampons and know how to safely navigate snow covered terrain. Expect cool evenings, bright sunny days, and less crowded trails.
Hikers could still encounter some snow along the trail, but chances of significant snow will diminish as the month wears on. Expect beautiful warm days and abundant wildflowers. This is a popular month to hike the trail.
Another busy month on the trail, hikers can expect snow-free paths and warm, sunny weather. Accommodation will be busy so be sure to book ahead.
A lovely time to trek the Walker’s Haute Route. Expect shorter days and increasingly chilly weather. You’ll be rewarded with fewer people on the trail, although some accommodation may be closed for the season.
How difficult is the Walker’s Haute Route?
To put it simply, the Walker’s Haute Route is a challenging trek. The distance, elevation gain, exposure on many parts of the trail, steep ascents and descents, and weather conditions all contribute to the difficult nature of the trail. It is certainly more difficult than its popular cousin, the Tour du Mont Blanc.
All that being said we truly believe that most walkers who invest a bit of time in training and preparation can complete the Walker’s Haute Route and have a great time doing it! Our best advice is to be sure you are in good physical condition and also make sound decisions when you encounter bad weather or snow.
A Stage-by-Stage Itinerary for the Walker’s Haute Route
We recommend hiking the Walker’s Haute Route over 10 – 15 days depending on your hiking ability, pace preferences, and weather conditions. The classic itinerary described below takes 13 days to complete and will be the best option for the majority of hikers. Be sure to check out our interactive map and elevation profile for the route to get a comprehensive understanding of all of your options!
Stage 1: Chamonix to Trient
Distance & Elevation: 23.5 km // +1,355 m, -1,111 m
Where to stay: Auberge du Mont Blanc
The first stage of the Walker’s Haute Route is a perfect introduction to trekking in the Alps. You’ll wind your way up the relatively undemanding Col de Balme before a steep descent down to the small hamlet of Le Peuty. From Le Peuty continue along the road for 10 – 15 minutes before reaching the town of Trient with its lovely pink church.
Stage 2: Trient to Champex
Distance & Elevation: 14.5 km // +1,489 m, -1,299 m
Where to stay: Hôtel du Glacier
Stage two of the Walker’s Haute Route is one of the most demanding of the entire trek, but is also incredibly rewarding. You’ll cross the famous Fenêtre d’Arpette en route to Champex. Enjoy stunning views of the Trient Glacier and be sure to exercise caution on the initial descent from the top of the pass. Enjoy a relaxing evening in the lovely lakeside village of Champex.
In addition to the Fenêtre d’Arpette route described above, the alternate ‘Alp Bovine’ route is also an option for Stage 2. This route shares the trail with the Tour du Mont Blanc and is a good bad weather alternative as it never reaches the heights or exposed nature of the Fenêtre d’Arpette. However, it is still a lovely walk and we highly recommend it should you have bad weather. The Alp Bovine route is shown on the map below as an alternate.
Stage 3: Champex to Le Chable
Distance & Elevation: 14 km // +410 m, -1,060 m
Where to stay: Hotel Le Giétroz
A welcome change after yesterday’s challenging walk, stage three is mellow throughout. You’ll leave Champex and wind your way downhill to the village of Sembrancher. From here, you’ll have a short walk adjacent to farmland before reaching Le Chable your stopping point for the evening.
Stage 4: Le Chable to Cabane du Mont Fort
Distance & Elevation: 12.5 km // +1,824 m, -194 m
Where to stay: Cabane du Mont Fort
Stage four of the Walker’s Haute Route is perfect for those who don’t enjoy steep descents because it is straight uphill! You’ll gain over 1,800 meters of elevation as you make your way from the valley to the spectacularly situated Cabane de Mont Fort. Note that it is possible to utilize the cable car in Le Chable to Les Ruinettes via Verbier before continuing on to Cabane du Mont Fort. This will eliminate much of the hiking today if you are in need of an easier trek.
Stage 5: Cabane du Mont Fort to Cabane de Prafleuri
Distance & Elevation: 14 km // +1,135 m, -932 m
Where to stay: Cabane de Prafleuri (no website, call +027 281 17 80)
Stage five is a very difficult stage and the route often holds snow well into July. The primary route takes the spectacular Sentier des Chamois trail before crossing the Col Termin. From here walkers will hike across the hillside before reaching the Col de Louvie and the Grand Desert beyond. The Grand Desert is an especially isolated area of the trek and care should be exercised, especially when snow is present. Trekker must then navigate across the Col de Prafleuri before descending to the mountain hut by the same name.
It is important to note that there is a popular alternate route on Stage five that avoids the Sentier des Chamois trail altogether. This route, shown on the map below, is more direct and crosses the Col de la Chaux. Check-in with the warden at Cabane du Mont Fort before deciding which route to take.
Stage 6: Cabane de Prafleuri to Arolla
Distance & Elevation: 18 km // +795m, -1,440 m
Where to stay: Hotel Aiguille de La Tza
Stage six brings another difficult day for those on the Walker’s Haute Route, this time with the crossing of the Pas de Chèvres and its famous ladders. In our experience, the hike up to the ladders over the boulder-strewn landscape is much more difficult than the actual ladders themselves. Either way be sure to take your time and exercise caution as you approach the top of the pass and on the ladders. The alternate option of crossing the adjacent Col de Riedmatten is often considered more difficult and we would recommend that most trekkers opt for the Pas de Chèvres.
Once over the pass you’ll enjoy a beautiful descent into the lovely Swiss village of Arolla.
Stage 7: Arolla to La Sage
Distance & Elevation: 11 km // +670 m, -1,007 m
Where to stay: Hotel de la Sage
Phew! After several difficult stages trekkers can finally enjoy a relatively easy day on stage seven of the Walker’s Haute Route. The trail passes the idyllic Lac Bleu as it winds it was along the shoulder of the valley between Arolla and Les Hauderes. From Les Hauderes it is a short and pleasant climb to the endpoint for the day in La Sage.
Stage 8: La Sage to Cabane de Moiry
Distance & Elevation: 11 km // +1,724 m, -574 m
Where to stay: Cabane de Moiry
As the elevation change suggests, Stage eight has lots of climbing! You’ll leave La Sage and immediately begin the long ascent up the Col du Tsaté which will bring walkers into the stunning Val de Moiry. After the initial descent from the Col into the valley you’ll then encounter a steep and somewhat exposed final section to bring you to Cabane de Moiry. The Cabane is certainly one of the most spectacular places to spend the night on the Walker’s Haute Route with its up-close views of the Moiry Glacier.
Alternatively, walkers can opt to take the Col de Torrent alternate route if they do not plan to stay at Cabane de Moiry as shown on the map below. In that case you’ll plan to stay either at the base of the Lac de Moiry at the Cabane Barrage de Moiry or continue on into the town of Grimentz where more accommodation is available. While this may be a good option for some, we highly recommend spending a night at the Cabane de Moiry with its spectacular views!
Stage 9: Cabane de Moiry to Zinal
Distance & Elevation: 16 km // +655 m, -1,806 m
Where to stay: Hotel Le Trift
You’ll get a head start on the crossing of the Col de Sorebois on stage nine given that you’ve already done much of the climbing on the previous stage. The walk starts with tremendous views as you walk high above the Lac de Moiry as you approach the Col. Once you reach the Col de Sorebois you’ll be treated to some incredible views of the mountains beyond. Here, the descent winds its way through a ski-area (with the option of taking the cable car down) before arriving in the ski resort town of Zinal.
There is also an alternate route down from the Sorebois ski lift to Zinal that winds its way on much gentler paths than the traditional route. We highly recommend for anyone with tired legs!
Stage 10: Zinal to Gruben
Distance & Elevation: 17 km // +1,239 m, -1,138 m
Where to stay: Hotel Schwarzhorn (option for an alternate route to stay at Hotel Weisshorn)
On stage 10 of the Walker’s Haute Route you’ll officially cross the ‘Rosti Line‘ – the unofficial boundary between French and German-speaking areas of Switzerland. The trek is strenuous, but certainly nothing compared to some of the more difficult stages you’ve already completed. The Forcletta pass marks the high point for the day and from there you’ll descend into the sleepy village of Gruben.
Stage 10 also brings the alternative option for those who wish to spend a night at the Hotel Weisshorn or Cabane Bella Tola. This adds a day to your Walker’s Haute Route itinerary, but many find it a worthwhile alternative. As shown on the map below, rather than crossing the Forcletta you’ll continue along the shoulder of the mountainside before reaching the Hotel Weisshorn. You can also continue on further if you wish to stay at the lovely Cabane Bella Tola. For those who opt to take this route, the following day (Stage 11) you’ll cross the Meidpass before rejoining the main Walker’s Haute Route in Gruben.
Stage 11: Gruben to St. Niklaus/Gasenried
Distance & Elevation: 17.5 km // +1,167 m, -1,861 m
Where to stay: Hotel La Reserve (for those staying in St. Niklaus) // Hotel Alpenrosli (for those staying in Gasenried prior to starting the Europaweg – see below)
Stage 11 brings trekkers on the Walker’s Haute Route over their final mountain pass and into the Mattertal valley, at the base of which sits Zermatt. The descent from the top of the Augstbordpass will bring incredible views of the Alps beyond. Upon reaching the quaint village of Jungen you’ll have the option of taking a cable car descent into St. Niklaus to rest tired legs.
If you plan to hike the Europaweg trail to finish your Walker’s Haute Route adventure we recommend either hiking or taking the local bus from St. Niklaus to the town of Gasenried, just up the hill. If you have trouble finding accommodation in Gasenried, head a bit further to the village of Grachen. This will save a very strenuous start to the next stage and set you up for a great final two days on the Europaweg to complete the Walker’s Haute Route!
Stage 12: St. Niklaus/Gasenried to Europa Hut
Distance & Elevation: 13.5 km // +1,352 m, -748 m
Where to stay: Europa Hut (Europahütte)
The Europaweg trail is a two-day trek that completes the final section of the Walker’s Haute Route. It has several exposed sections, but also is an incredible way to finish your trek! Leaving Gasenried you’ll have a steep climb up to the shoulder of the Breithorn. As the trail climbs be especially cautious on the sections of loose rock and scree you’ll encounter. After reaching the high-point for the day you’ll wind your way down to a beautiful suspension bridge before arriving at the Europa Hut.
Stage 13: Europa Hut to Zermatt
Distance & Elevation: 21 km // +1,102 m, -1,749 m
Where to stay: Hotel Bahnhof
The final stage of the Walker’s Haute Route will take you across the famous and spectacular Charles Kuonen Suspension Bridge, the world’s longest suspension bridge. While this is certainly a highlight of the trek, don’t forget to enjoy the stunning views of the Matterhorn as you make your way to Zermatt. As you approach the finish of the trek you’ll find yourself among Zermatt’s many ski slopes and the increased number of tourists they attract. Enjoy a final descent before celebrating an incredible achievement in Zermatt!
Alternate finish to the Walker’s Haute Route
For those who are not interested in completing the Europaweg trail to finish the Walker’s Haute Route, a mellow valley trail makes a great alternative. From St. Niklaus, walkers will follow a lovely valley path that travels through the villages of Randa and Tasch en route to Zermatt. This option can also be completed in a single stage, making for a great option for those short on time.
Weather on the Walker’s Haute Route can be extremely volatile. You may wake up to heavy rain in the valley, see snow on the mountain tops, and be hiking in the sun by the end of the day! However, generally speaking, the weather during the hiking season is quite enjoyable. You can expect warm, sunny days, cool evenings, and relatively little rain.
However, you also need to be prepared for very hot temperatures, very cold temperatures, rain, and storms (and you could even see all of these in the same day!) Getting caught high up in the mountains during a storm or without the right gear is extremely dangerous, but you can greatly minimize your risk by taking a few important precautions:
- The Meteoblue App is arguably the best resource for predicting the weather on the Walker’s Haute Route. It allows you to see the forecast for specific peaks or coordinates, plus it has excellent radar displays and wind predictions. Check it every time you have cell service.
- Start hiking early in the day! Not only will you enjoy gorgeous sunrises, get to your destination before the crowds, and avoid the heat, but you’ll also greatly reduce your risk of getting caught in afternoon thunderstorms.
There is no shortage of excellent accommodation options along the Walker’s Haute Route. The villages and towns along the route have a wide variety of hotels, gites, auberges. These will suit almost any taste from more luxurious hotels to simple bunk rooms catering to the budget traveler.
Of course, many of the stops on the Walker’s Haute Route do not occur in alpine villages, but rather at spectacular mountain huts. For those unfamiliar with trekking in the Alps, these mountain huts will be a highlight of your trip.
n stark contrast to the simple mountain huts found in other parts of the world, the huts along the Walker’s Haute Route are downright luxurious. You’ll be treated to fresh-baked bread, excellent dinners, beer and wine, and simple sleeping quarters. Our can’t miss mountain huts along the Walker’s Haute Route are:
Camping on the Walker’s Haute Route
Camping along the Walker’s Haute Route is possible for the majority of the stages with a bit of creativity. Most of the valleys and villages along the route have fully serviced campgrounds, making an easy option for those carrying a tent. There will be a few stops that require a slight detour (Le Chable, for example), but local transportation makes for an easy adjustment here.
Wild camping along the Haute Route is complicated and discouraged (and often illegal). The trail passes through two countries and several local municipalities, each with their own specific rules and regulations. Generally speaking, wild camping may be allowed in France at high altitudes between sunset and sunrise, but it is strictly forbidden in Switzerland. This website has helpful information on the specific legal codes for each country.
If you choose to wild camp outside of sanctioned areas, set up after dusk, pack up at dawn, and utilize leave no trace practices.
Food and drink
One of the many wonderful things about the Walker’s Haute Route is that you don’t need to worry about carrying two weeks’ worth of food. The trail passes through many towns and villages along the way, making resupply easy. Additionally, all of the huts along the route serve excellent meals and will often be able to pack a lunch for you for the following day.
For budget travelers, it is possible to self-cater and keep your food and drink costs quite reasonable. In this situation we’d recommend you bring your own camp stove and cooking equipment if you plan on fixing most of your own meals along the Haute Route. There are several outdoor stores that sell stove fuel in Chamonix and Zermatt.
Additionally (for those with deeper pockets), many of the hotels, gites, and refuges sell meals and offer the option of purchasing meals. You can just show up for lunch, but you’ll need to order ahead of time for dinner.
Whichever way you approach your food and drink strategy, we think you’ll find that trekking in the Alps is every bit as much a culinary delight as a natural one!
All of the hotels, gites, and campgrounds provide potable water. You will pass through many villages with public drinking fountains, but make sure to plan ahead and carry 1-2 liters of water each day. Due to the presence of agricultural activity near large swaths of the trail, we do not recommend drinking any water from natural streams without filtering it first.
Getting to and from the Walker’s Haute Route
Most international travelers starting the trek in Chamonix will arrive at the Geneva Airport. To get from Geneva to Chamonix, you can take a bus or use a private shuttle service. We recommend AlpyBus. On the other end, Zermatt is easily accessed by train from Geneva, Zurich, and many other Swiss cities.
Maps & Guidebooks
Carrying a good map is essential on the Walker’s Haute Route. While the trail is generally well-marked and easy to follow, there are countless trail junctions, detours, and confusing sections that require some form of navigation.
When we hiked the Walker’s Haute Route we did not rely on traditional, paper maps that are available for the route. Instead, we preferred utilizing GPS maps on our phones to ensure we knew where the trail was as well as where we were in relation to it. Cell phone service is very limited along the route, so it is critical to have a good offline mapping app such as Gaia GPS to ensure you’ll be able to view the map at any point along the route.
If you’re interested in getting access to the GPS data used to create all of the maps in this post, we are happy to offer our Walker’s Haute Route GPX files for only $4.99. When you download the GPX file, you’ll get route data for each of the traditional stages of the Walker’s Haute Route as well as all of the common alternate route, plus waypoints for each stop along the way.
You’ll be able to load the GPX file into the mapping software or GPS phone app of your choice!
With all this considered, we still recommend carrying a paper map, or map booklet. While technology has done a tremendous amount to make navigating while hiking easier, there is simply no replacement for carrying a physical map with you. If your phone runs out of battery you’ll be glad you had your handy paper map to rely on.
To cover the entire Walker’s Haute Route at a good scale (1:50,000) we recommend bringing the following Swiss Topo maps:
- Swiss Topo 282T – Martigny
- Swiss Topo 283T – Arolla
- Swiss Topo 273T – Montana
- Swiss Topo 274T – Visp
- Swiss Topo 284T – Mischabel
You can purchase all of these maps on the Swiss Topo website here. In addition, Swiss Topo also has hiking maps at a larger scale (1:33,000), although it would be quite cumbersome to carry maps to cover the entire Walker’s Haute Route at that scale.
As for guidebooks, you’ll have several excellent options to choose from. The first, and the one we recommend is Chamonix to Zermatt: The Classic Walker’s Haute Route published by Cicerone Trekking Guides. The author, Kev Reynolds, is extremely knowledgeable about the Alps and the Walker’s Haute Route in particular.
Another good option is Walker’s Haute Route: Chamonix to Zermatt published by Knife Edge Outdoors. The benefit here is that the guide includes Swiss Topo maps for the entire route.
Although Switzerland has a reputation for being extraordinarily expensive, it is still very possible to hike the Walker’s Haute Route on a tight budget (camping helps tremendously with this!) Furthermore, you can even eat delicious foods and drink some tasty beverages without breaking the bank.
In terms of food, the best thing you can do is to avoid eating meals at restaurants and refuges. Sure, stop for a coffee and a pastry, enjoy a post-hike beer, and definitely pick up some local cheese, but if you cook your own meals you will greatly, greatly reduce your overall spending.
Here are some general guidelines for what you can expect to spend on the Walker’s Haute Route:
- Average Hut Price: 40 CHF (dorm only) or 80 CHF (half pension)
- Average Campsite Price: 15 CHF (per person)
- Meal at hut or restaurant: 20-30 CHF (per person)
- Packed lunch from mountain hut: 10 CHF
What to pack
Packing for the Walker’s Haute Route is a balancing act between ensuring you have everything you need and ensuring you aren’t carrying more than you need. For those staying in huts and hotels, you can avoid the extra weight of a sleeping bag, tent, and associated camping gear.
Our best advice for packing for the Walker’s Haute Route is to adopt the mantra less is more. Here’s a few tips for ensuring you pack weight is manageable:
- You only need a couple of shirts. Same goes for underwear and socks. You’ll have plenty of time and sunshine to wash and dry laundry Second, clothes are heavy, so cutting out everything but the absolute essentials will make a huge difference.
- Plan out when/where you’ll restock food provisions and don’t carry more food than you need. This is especially true for those camping along the route.
- Consider leaving your bulky camera equipment at home. Unless photography is your passion, most smartphones take great photos and save a ton of space and weight.
How to train for the Walker’s Haute Route
We can guarantee you’ll have a better experience on the Walker’s Haute Route if you invest some time before your trek ensuring you’re in good hiking shape. You’ll be gaining around 1,000 meters per day in elevation and be on your feet for between 6 – 8 hours. Given those facts, spending some time in the weeks and months before your trip will do wonders to help prepare you.
To be best prepared we recommend focusing on the following:
- Building your physical endurance
- Building your physical strength
- Hiking with a fully packed backpack prior to your trip
Finally, beyond simply being physically fit it is important to make sure you are mentally prepared for the rigors of the Walker’s Haute Route. Long days, bad weather, and empty stomachs can significantly dampen your mood and wear on your mental strength. If you haven’t completed a long-distance trek before you’ll want to be sure you’re keeping a positive attitude and embracing the challenges as a part of the journey!
If you’ve read our Guide above, you’re well on your way to having an incredible experience on the Walker’s Haute Rout. However, you still have lots of preparation before you’re truly ready! Be sure to read our entire series on the Haute Route to learn everything you’ll need to know to prepare for your trip!
- Walker’s Haute Route Packing List: Be sure you’ve got everything you need!
- Walker’s Haute Route Logistics: Don’t forget the small details!
- Haute Route Trip Report: Know what to expect on the trail!
- How Much it Cost Us to Hike the Haute Route-Make it work for your budget!
- Haute Route Photo Gallery: Get inspired!
- 10 Essentials for the Walker’s Haute Route: Need-to-know basics
- How to Train for the Walker’s Haute Route: Get in trail-ready shape!
- Walker’s Haute Route | Maps & Routes – Get familiar with the trail!