Category: Camping

The Complete Guide to Camping in Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park, located in southwestern South Dakota, is one of the America’s most unique National Parks. The stunning landscape of sand colored buttes, towering rock formations, and one of…

Badlands National Park, located in southwestern South Dakota, is one of the America’s most unique National Parks. The stunning landscape of sand colored buttes, towering rock formations, and one of the United State’s largest areas of grassland prairie make this a truly unique place to visit. We think the best way to experience all that the Badlands has to offer is by spending the night in your tent or RV where you’ll feel as close to this stunning landscape as possible.

Badlands National Park and the surrounding area have tons of options for camping from the two campgrounds located in the park to remote backcountry camping and plenty of nearby campgrounds only a short drive from the National Park.

Keep reading to get all the details about camping at Badlands National Park!

Landscape of Badlands National Park

Pitching your tent in Badlands National Park is an experience not to be missed!

 

In this post

Badlands National Park Campgrounds

There are several options for those looking to camp inside Badlands National Park. The large and well equipped Cedar Pass Campground is perfect for those with an RV or who prefer more services, while more remote car camping is available at the Sage Creek Campground, and the entire National Park is open to backcountry camping for those with a sense of adventure!

The map below gives you a general sense of where each of the campgrounds are located in Badlands National Park as well as their relation to the surrounding area. Keep reading for detailed information on all your options.

Map of campsites at Badlands National Park

Car camping options in Badlands National Park. Map courtesy of NPS.

 

Reservations

Reservations are required only for the Cedar Pass Campground located adjacent to the Ben Reifel Visitor Center on the eastern edge of the park. While reservations are not required here, we recommend reserving your spot if traveling during the peak summer season. The campground is not managed by the National Park Service, so you’ll need to reserve directly through the Cedar Pass Lodge website below.

Reservations for the Cedar Pass Campground can be made here

For all of the other camping options in Badlands National Park you do not need to (and cannot) make a reservation. For backcountry/backpacking campsites you do not need a permit, but should contact the rangers at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center to notify them of your plans.

There is no permit or reservation required for camping at the Sage Creek campsite, but all of the sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Car camping sites in Badlands National Park

There are two options for those looking to car camp in Badlands National Park: the Cedar Pass Campground and the more basic sites at the Sage Creek Campground.

Cedar Pass Campground

Number of Sites: 96 campsites (four of which are group sites for up to 26 people)
Fee: $23/night for a tent site (2 people) // $38/night for RV site with electricity (2 people) // $40/night for a group site (10 people)
RVs: Yes
More Information
Click Here to Reserve or call (605)-433-5460

Cedar Pass Campground - Badlands National Park

The Cedar Pass Campground will give you great access to Badlands National Park.

 

The Cedar Pass Campground is part of the large Cedar Pass Lodge located just inside the Badlands National Park boundaries. The campground is adjacent to the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, the main entrance to the National Park. The Cedar Pass lodge was established prior to the create of Badlands National Park, and is not managed by the National Park Service. 

Cedar Pass Campground has a total of 96 campsites that can accommodate tents and RVs in addition to four larger group sites that can accommodate up to 26 people each.  The campground is well organized with tremendous views of the surrounding National Park.

The campground is part of the larger Cedar Pass Lodge complex which provides campers with easy access to restrooms, a small souvenir shop, potable water, trash and recycling services and an on-site restaurant. The RV sites are electric only, although there is a dump site nearby. Fires are not allowed at the Cedar Pass Campground.

The Cedar Pass Campground is very popular given its excellent location at the entrance to Badlands National Park. Given the popularity of this campground, we highly recommend making a reservation here during the peak summer season. Since the campground is not affiliated with the National Park Service, you’ll need to make a reservation directly through the Cedar Pass Lodge website well in advance.

Sage Creek Campground

Number of Sites: 22 campsites
Fee: Free
Capacity: Not regulated
RVs: Yes, up to 18′. Horse trailers are exempt from 18′ limit.
Reservations: First come, first served
More Information

Bison near Sage Creek Campground in Badlands National Park.

You’re likely to have bison for neighbors at the Sage Creek Campground in Badlands National Park!

 

The Sage Creek Campground is located in the northwestern portion of Badlands National Park along the unpaved Sage Creek Road. The campground is approximately 15 miles from the closest town of Scenic, South Dakota. Camping at the Sage Creek Campground will appeal to those who are in search of a more solitude than you’ll find at the Cedar Pass Campground.

The 22 designated campsites at the Sage Creek Campground are all reserved on first come, first served basis, so be sure to arrive early in the day during peak season. The campground is free of charge and features pit toilets and picnic tables for your use and enjoyment.

The Sage Creek Campground does not have a water source, so you’ll need to bring all the water you anticipate needing with you. As with all of Badlands National Park, fires are not allowed due to the sensitive nature of the surrounding environment.

The Sage Creek Wilderness

The Sage Creek Campground makes a perfect jumping off point for exploring the surrounding wilderness.

 

Backcountry campsites in Badlands National Park

Number of Sites: Not restricted
Fee: Free
Capacity: Not restricted
RVs: No
Reservations: Not required, but please register with the NPS prior to setting out
More Information

Exploring the backcountry is an incredible way to experience Badlands National Park.

 

Badlands National Park presents the opportunity for a true adventure for those interested in backcountry camping and backpacking. The entire National Park is open to those looking for backcountry camping as long as you set-up camp at least 0.5 miles from a trail or road and are not visible from a road. While this presents a great opportunity to find some solitude, there are several factors to consider when planning a backpacking trip in Badlands National Park. 

First and foremost always contact the National Park Service at either the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, Pinnacles Entrance Station or White River Visitor Center prior to starting your trek. The rangers will be able to provide invaluable insights into the terrain, recommend routes, and advise you on the conditions you are likely to encounter. Additionally, it is important to notify them of your planned route in case an emergency arises and they need to find or reach your group.

It is very important to notify the NPS of your backpacking plans given the rugged nature of the terrain in Badlands National Park.

 

Given the wilderness nature of Badlands National Park it is imperative to carry a detailed map and know how to navigate utilizing a map and compass. We highly recommend bringing a copy of the National Geographic Trails Illustrated Topo Map for Badlands National Park on any backpacking trip in the Badlands. Additionally, trekkers need to be prepared to carry in all of their own water, as there are no suitable water sources available in the National Park. The National Park Service recommends backpackers plan to carry at least one gallon of water per person per day.

Given the sensitive nature of the grassland prairie and surrounding ecosystem of the Badlands it is essential that you practice Leave No Trace principles when backpacking in Badlands National Park. This includes packing out all of your own trash and property disposing of your waste. Fires are not permitted in the backcountry and you’ll need to leave your pets at home as they are not allowed in the National Park. 

Map of backcountry camping in Badlands National Park

The Deer Haven Trail and Sage Creek area are popular backpacking destinations. Map courtesy of NPS.

 

The National Park Service recommends two specific areas of Badlands National Park for backcountry camping: the Deer Haven Trail near the Conata Picnic area and the wilderness located adjacent to the Sage Creek Rim Road.

The Deer Haven Trail is not an official hiking trail, but rather a well worn path that leaves from Conata Picnic area. The route takes you a few miles into the backcountry were a number of camping areas are available. Along the Sage Creek Rim Road there are plenty of opportunities to head into the backcountry following social trails and wildlife paths. You’re likely to encounter bison in this area of the National Park so always be sure to give them their distance!

Here are some key things to keep in mind when planning to stay at any of these backpacking areas in Badlands National Park:

  • Pets are not allowed
  • No campfires
  • You must bring all of your own water
  • Always practice Leave No Trace principles
  • Be aware of wildlife
  • Exercise caution when hiking since you will not be on a formal trail

If you follow these guidelines and plan accordingly you’re sure to have a great experience backpacking in this untamed wilderness!

Badlands National Park Camping Must Know

The following sections contain all the basic information you need to ensure you have a great time camping in Badlands National Park.

Fires

Fires are prohibited at all the camping options inside Badlands National Park. The ecosystem of the area is highly susceptible to damage and wildfires, so please respect this rule and do not have any type of campfire during your stay.

Campfires are not allowed at any of the campgrounds in Badlands National Park.

 

Wildlife

A diversity of wildlife inhabits Badlands National Park. This includes the iconic prairie dwelling bison, bighorn sheep, and the quintessential prairie dog. Badlands is also home to one of the most endangered animals in the world, the black-footed ferret. In addition to these mammals, you’ll also find rattlesnakes, turtles, and a variety of bird species. 

For those camping, you’ll primarily want to be vigilant about keeping a safe distance from roaming bison and keep a close eye out for rattlesnakes. If backpacking, be sure to wear long pants to and be on the lookout for prairie dog holes which can leave you with a nasty sprained ankle.

 

Bighorn sheep in Badlands National Park

Bighorn sheep in Badlands National Park.

 

Pets

Pets are allowed at both the Cedar Pass Campground as well as the Sage Creek Campground within Badlands National Park. You’ll need to have control over them at all times and they must be kept on a leash at all times. Also, be sure to pick up after them and properly dispose of their waste.

Pets are not allowed at any of the backcountry sites in Badlands National Park, so you’ll want to leave them at home if you’re venturing into the backcountry.

 

Where to get supplies

The best place to stock up on camping supplies before heading to Badlands National Park is Rapid City, South Dakota. Rapid City is about 1.5 hours from the Ben Reifel Visitor Center and about 1.25 hours from the Sage Creek Campground. While this isn’t especially close to the National Park, Rapid City has all the amenities and services you’ll need to prepare for a great camping trip including grocery stores, liquor stores, and outdoor stores. Here are your best options for where to stock up:

  • Groceries: Safeway (730 Mountain View Rd, Rapid City, SD 57702)
  • Outdoor store: Roam’n Around (512 Main St #140, Rapid City, SD 57701)

If you’re looking to stock up a bit closer to the National Park your best get will be the town of Interior, South Dakota. Interior is located only about a 10-minute drive from the Ben Reifel Visitor Center and has basic services such as a small grocery store and gas station.

 

Camping near Badlands National Park

Given the popularity and scarcity of options, it is always possible that you won’t be able to find a campground within Badlands National Park. However, don’t give up as there are plentiful camping options just outside the National Park boundary! Check out your best options below:

There are plentiful camping options near Badlands National Park.

 

RV campgrounds near Badlands National Park

Those camping in an RV will have plenty of options just outside Badlands National Park. These campgrounds will be your best bet when Cedar Pass and Sage Creek are full, or if your RV/trailer is longer than 18′ (the limit at Sage Creek). Here are our recommended options for RV camping outside of Badlands National Park:

Badlands Interior Campground

Number of Sites: 34 RV sites (with hookup), 27 tent only sites, 16 RV (no hookup)/tent sites, 4 group sites
Fee: RV sites ($23.61 – $37.07/night) // tent sites ($26.06/night)
Capacity: Max of 6 adults per site /  more for group sites
RVs: Yes
Reservations: Recommended
Pets: Allowed
More Information

The Badland Interior Campground is just over 1 mile from the Ben Reifel Visitor Center and entrance to the National Park, making it the closet option. The large site features plenty of RV sites with multiple hookup options as well as tent sites, teepees, and camping cabins. The campground has tons of amenities such as a pool, free WiFi, a small shop, as well as an on-site restaurant.

Sleepy Hollow Campground & RV Park

Number of Sites: 57 RV sites, 20 tent sites
Fee: RV sites $43/night // tent sites $28/night
Capacity: Not stated
RVs: Yes
Reservations: Recommended
Pets: Allowed
More Information

The Sleepy Hollow Campground & RV Park is located north of Badlands National Park in the town on Wall, South Dakota. This well-equipped campground makes a great place to camp for those looking to explore the Sage Creek area of the National Park, or who prefer to stay along Interstate 90. The campground has plenty of capacity for RVs and features a pool, dog park, playground, and basketball hoop. Wall has many amenities that are great for camping near the National Park including a grocery store.

 

Car camping sites near Badlands National Park

If you’re looking for car camping sites near Badlands National Park you’ll have a few good options to choose from. In addition to the French Creek Campground listed below, car camping is permitted and recommend at both of the campgrounds listed in the RV camping section above.  Keep reading below to see what your best bets are for car camping near the Badlands.

Car camping near Badlands National Park

Car camping near Badlands National Park.

 

French Creek Campground

Number of Sites: 7 sites
Fee: Free
Capacity: Not stated
RVs: Yes
Reservations: First come, first served
Pets: Allowed.
More Information

The French Creek Campground is located near the South Unit of Badlands National Park and provides for a great car camping experience. This is a semi-developed campground and features a vault toilet and a few picnic tables. The site does not have potable water, so you’ll want to be sure to bring your own.

 

Dispersed campsites

Your final option for camping near Badlands National Park is to find a free, dispersed campsite on the adjacent Buffalo Gap National Grassland. Buffalo Gap is managed by the Forest Service/BLM which manages hundreds of thousands of acres of land throughout the country and generally allows for ‘dispersed camping’ on it. You can find more information on dispersed camping on BLM land here.

There are some fantastic dispersed campsite just outside of Badlands National Park.

 

The Buffalo Gap National Grassland encompasses a huge area surrounding Badlands National Park, so you’ll want to have some idea of where you are headed. If you’re looking to camp on the west side of the National Park we recommend reaching out to the Fall River Ranger District in Hot Springs, SD to confirm current camping regulations. If you’re looking to spend a night or two on the north or east side of the National Park you’ll want to check-in with the Wall Ranger District.

You can’t go wrong with either locations, and here are your best bets for great dispersed camping near Badlands National Park:

Badlands Boondocking/Overlook Dispersed Camping

The so-called Badlands Boondocking dispersed camping area is located just north of the National Park on State Highway 240, which connects the Badlands to the town of Wall, SD. The camping area is approximately 3 miles north of the Pinnacles Entrance to Badlands National Park. From State Highway 240 there are plenty of options for great campsites, including the spectacular ‘Wall’ sites that overlook the National Park. Keep an eye out for a dirt road leading to three radio towers from Highway 240 and you’ll know you’re in the correct place. This site has some great intel on the area.

You’ll need to bring all of your own water and also be prepared to properly deal with your waste at this site, as there are no facilities. BLM regulations on dispersed camping allow you to camp for up to 14 days in a 28 day period, so be sure to observe that limit at this site.

It is especially important to practice Leave No Trace principles when dispersed camping.

Have a great trip!

That’s it! We hope you’ve found all of the information on camping in Badlands National Park in this post helpful and we know you’ll find the perfect campsite for your upcoming adventure! Be sure to let us know in the comments below if you have any questions or had a great time out camping!

 

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The Complete Guide to Camping in Great Sand Dunes National Park

The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is one of Colorado’s most iconic landscapes. The stunning sand dunes, some up to 700 feet tall (!), are set against the…

The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is one of Colorado’s most iconic landscapes. The stunning sand dunes, some up to 700 feet tall (!), are set against the spectacular backdrop of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range. We think the best way to experience the dunes is to spend a night or two under the stars in your tent. There are tons of options for camping in the Great Sand Dunes National Park from RV spots and family-friendly car camping sites to beautiful backcountry sites and rugged sites that can only be accessed via 4WD roads.

Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about camping at the Great Sand Dunes!

 

In this post

Great Sand Dunes National Park Campgrounds

You’ll have several options available if you’re looking to camp inside the Great Sand Dunes National Park. There is the easily accessible Piñon Flats Campground for those looking to car camp or park their RV, camping for those with a well-equipped 4WD vehicle along Medano Pass Primitive Road, and hike-in backcountry sites in the dunes as well as the surrounding mountains.

Take a look at the map below to get a sense of where the different camping options are in the National Park and keep reading to learn more about each campground.

Map of campgrounds in Great Sand Dunes National Park

Car camping options in Great Sand Dunes National Park. Map courtesy of NPS.

 

Reservations & Permits

Reservations are required only for the Piñon Flats Campground located at the entrance to the park. If you’re thinking about camping here during peak summer season (or anytime Medano Creek is flowing) you’ll almost certainly need to have a reservation.

Reservations for Piñon Flats Campground can be made here via Recreation.gov

For all of the other camping options in the Great Sand Dunes you do not need to (and cannot) make a reservation. For backcountry/backpacking campsites you’ll need to obtain a free permit from the Visitor Center before setting out.  Note that all permits are made available on a first-come, first-served basis, so be sure to get there early!

There is no permit required for camping along Medano Pass Primitive Road, but all of the sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

 

Car camping sites

There are two options for those looking to car camp in Great Sand Dunes National Park: Piñon Flats Campground and the more basic sites along Medano Pass Primitive Road.

Piñon Flats Campground

Number of Sites: 88 individual (up to eight people) and 3 group (15-40 people)
Fee: $20/night (more for group sites)
Capacity: Up to eight people, two tents, and two vehicles at the individual sites
RVs: Yes, maximum length of 25′
More Information
Click Here to Reserve

Piñon Flats Campground in Great Sand Dunes National Park

Piñon Flats Campground. Photo credit NPS/Patrick Myers.

 

The Piñon Flats Campground is a large, sprawling campground located just past the visitor center when you first enter the National Park. The site sits adjacent to Medano Creek and makes a perfect option for those looking for easy access and plenty of nearby services.

Piñon Flats has a total of 88 campsites for small groups & RVs as well as three larger group sites that can accommodate between 15-40 people. The campground is well organized with two loops serving the 88 individual sites and another loop serving the three group sites.

The campground has plenty of restrooms, a small campground shop, potable water,  and trash and recycling services. There is also an RV dump station nearby in the summer months.

For those arriving in an RV, keep in mind that the Piñon Flats Campground can only accommodate RVs and trailers that are less than 25′ long. If yours is longer, you will be better off staying at one of the many nearby campgrounds that can accommodate larger RVs.

The Piñon Flats Campground is extremely popular during spring and early summer when Medano Creek is flowing, so reservations are essential. As with all National Park campgrounds, you’ll need to make a reservation through the Recreation.gov website well in advance.

The campground can be reserved up to six months in advance (which is recommended for popular times) and remember that Recreation.gov opens availability at 10 am Eastern Time six months out – so be sure you’re ready!

Piñon Flats Campground Great Sand Dunes National Park

Piñon Flats Campground in Great Sand Dunes National Park. Photo credit NPS/Patrick Myers.

 

Medano Pass Primitive Road 4WD campsites

Number of Sites: 21 campsites – please camp at designed sites only!
Fee: Free
Capacity: Not regulated
RVs: No
Reservations: First come, first served
More Information

Medano Pass connects the Great Sand Dunes National Park with State Highway 69. The road is only passable by well-equipped 4WD vehicles. It is important to note that AWD vehicles will not do well on this road! For those who have a properly equipped vehicle, Medano Pass Primitive Road offers some excellent campsites that provide more solitude than what you’ll find at Piñon Flats Campground.

Medan Pass Primitive Road Camping

Medano Pass Primitive Road opens yours options for camping in the National Park. Photo credit: NPS/Patrick Myers.

 

The 21 designated campsite along Medano Pass are all contained within the Great Sand Dunes National Preserve (as opposed to the National Park) and begin approximately 5.2 miles from where the pavement ends along the main road through the Park. Each campground is numbered according to how many miles it is from the entrance to the National Preserve.

Each of the campsites along Medano Pass road includes a bear box to store your food and many have fire rings. Fires are generally allowed, but be sure to check-in at the visitor center as fire bans can be in place at any time. There are no restrooms or trash facilities along Medano Pass, so always be sure to bury your waste (at least 100′ from the nearest water source!) and pack out all of your trash. Water can occasionally be drawn from Medano Creek, but must be treated. We recommend bringing all of the water you’ll need for your stay with you.

Medano Pass Primitive Road Camping - Great Sand Dunes National Park

Medano Pass Primitive Road Campsites. Map courtesy of the National Park Service.

 

Backcountry campsites

Number of Sites: 7 campsites + dunefield
Fee: Free
Capacity: 6 people per permit/group / 2 vehicles per group
RVs: No
Reservations: First come, first served – permit required
More Information

For those in search of a true wilderness experience, backpacking in Great Sand Dunes National Park is the way to go! The National Park has seven designated backcountry campsites and also allows camping anywhere in the 30 square mile dunefield for a maximum of 20 groups, with no more than six people per group.

Dunefield camping - Great Sand Dunes

Camping in the dunefield at Great Sand Dunes National Park is sure to be an unforgettable experience.

 

For both the dunefiled camping as well as the designated backcountry sites you’ll need to get a free permit from the Visitor Center upon arrival, beginning at 9am. Backcountry camping permits in Great Sand Dunes National Park are first-come, first-served so you’ll want to be sure you’re there early, especially on busy weekends.

Great Sand Dunes National Park Dunefield Backcountry Camping:

For those interested in backpacking in the Dunefield, you’ll have nearly 30 square miles to explore and camp. The dunefield is split into two zones by the National Park Service: Day-use areas and the backcountry zone. The map below gives you a sense of the different areas, and you’ll be able to camp in the backcountry zone only. The Park Service estimates it is an approximate 1.5 mile minimum hike into the dunefield. Some other important considerations:

  • Pets are not allowed
  • You’ll need to carry in all of your own water
  • No fires are allowed (except camping stoves)
  • Keep a close eye on the weather as you’ll want to avoid severe thunderstorms and high winds
  • Bring a bear canister or other food storage to protect your food from wildlife
  • The NPS recommends sand specific tent stakes.
  • Always practice Leave No Trace principles
Great Sand Dunes National Park Backpacking

Backcountry dunefield zone in Great Sand Dunes National Park. Map courtesy of NPS.

 

Great Sand Dunes National Park Backcountry Camping – Mountains:

In addition the dunefield, you’ll also have the ability to camp at one of seven designated backcountry camping sites in Great Sand Dunes National Park. These seven campsites are all located along the Sand Ramp Trail and offer a more protected camping option for those who aren’t interested in the dunefield. The seven campsites range in distance from 0.5 miles to 11.5 miles from the Piñon Flats Campground and the start of the Sand Ramp Trail.

Great Sand Dunes National Park backpacking

Backpacking is an incredible way to experience Great Sand Dunes National Park.

 

Here are some things to keep in mind when planning to stay at any of these backpacking sites in Great Sand Dunes National Park:

  • Plan to bring a bear canister or other secure food storage
  • Pets are not allowed
  • No campfires (with the exception of the Sand Creek site)
  • Water can be scarce, plan to carry in what you need
  • Always practice Leave No Trace principles
Great Sand Dunes National Park backpacking map

Map of backcountry campsites in Great Sand Dunes National Park. Map courtesy of NPS.

 

Great Sand Dunes National Park Camping Must-Know

The following sections contain all the basic information you need to ensure you have a great time camping in Great Sand Dunes National Park!

Fires

Fires are allowed at the Piñon Flats Campground as well as the sites along Medano Pass Primitive Road. Campfires are not allowed in the backcountry dunefield area or at the designed backcountry campsites with the exception of the Sand Creek backcountry site.

Campfire at Great Sand Dunes.

Campfires are generally permitted in the car camping sites in Great Sand Dunes National Park.

 

If you do decide to have a fire it is important to always use firewood that is sourced locally. This helps prevent the spread of disease and preserves the natural habitat of the National Park. Harvesting of firewood is not allowed in any National Park, Great Sand Dunes included.

Before having a fire, always be sure to check-in with the staff at the Visitor Center for current regulations.

Wildlife

A variety of wildlife calls the Great Sand Dunes National Park home. This includes commonly seen deer and elk as well as the more rare black bears, mountain lions, and the dune-dwelling kangaroo mouse. For those camping, you’ll primarily need to be concerned with protecting your food from small rodents such as mice and chipmunks. However, bears do visit the campgrounds occasionally, so it is imperative that you’ve properly stored your food.

The campsites along Medano Pass Primitive Road and at Pinon Flats all provide food storage lockers. Those camping in the backcountry will need to bring a bear canister or be prepared to properly hang your food in a tree.

It is also important to note that ticks are frequently found in Great Sand Dunes National Park. Be sure to always check yourself and pets after any time spent hiking, especially if you’ve been in tall grasses.

Elk herd in Great Sand Dunes National Park.

Elk frequent Great Sand Dunes National Park. Photo credit: NPS/Patrick Myers

 

Pets

Pets are allowed at both the Piñon Flats Campground as well as the sites along Medano Pass Primitive Road. You’ll need to have control over them at all times and we recommend that you keep them on a leash to avoid any issues. Also, be sure to pick up after them and properly dispose of their waste.

Pets are not allowed at any of the backcountry sites in Great Sand Dunes National Park, so you’ll want to leave them at home if you’re venturing into the backcountry.

As noted above, always be sure to check your pets for ticks as they are common in the Sand Dunes.

Where to get supplies

The best place to stock up on camping supplies near Great Sand Dunes National Park is in nearby Alamosa. This small town of around 11,000 people is approximately 30 minutes southwest from the National Park. There you’ll find major grocery stores such as Safeway and City Market as well as a few good outdoor stores. Here are your best options for where to stock up before your camping trip in Great Sand Dunes National Park:

 

Camping near Great Sand Dunes National Park

Given the popularity of Great Sand Dunes National Park, it is always possible that you won’t be able to find a campsite within the National Park. However, that doesn’t mean your trip is doomed! There are plentiful camping options just outside of the Great Sand Dunes that still provide easy access to the National Park. We’ve shared the best options below.

You’ll have easy access to Great Sand Dunes National Park from any of the camping options below.

 

RV campgrounds

Those camping in an RV will have plenty of options just outside the Great Sand Dunes National Park. These campgrounds will be your best bet when Pinon Flats is full, or if your RV/trailer is longer than 25′. Here are our recommended options for RV camping outside of Great Sand Dunes National Park:

Great Sand Dunes Oasis

Number of Sites: 20 RV sites, plenty of basic tent camping sites
Fee: RV sites ($38/night for two people) // tent sites ($25/night for two people)
Capacity: Up to 10 per site /  more for group sites
RVs: Yes
Reservations: Recommended for RV spots, not required for tent sites.
Pets: Allowed.
More Information

Great Sand Dunes Oasis is the closest campground to Great Sand Dunes National Park that is not actually located within the park. This large campground is located along State Highway 150 as you approach the National Park, and is only about a 3-minute drive from the park entrance.

It features an on-site restaurant, small shop carrying basic groceries, gas station, as well as cabins and motel rooms for rent.

KOA Alamosa Campground

Number of Sites: Plenty!
Fee: $25 – $75/night depending on RV size
Capacity: No stated limit
RVs: Yes
Reservations: Recommended
Pets: Allowed, but must be on a leash at all times.
More Information

The KOA Alamosa campground is located on the east end of Alamosa and about a 25-minute drive from the entrance to the Great Sand Dunes. This campground can accommodate large RVs and also provides guests with access to a pool, free WiFi, a dog park, and a small on-site shop.

The KOA is more expensive than Great Sand Dunes Oasis, but it has excellent reviews and plenty of nearby amenities.

Car camping sites

If you’re looking for car camping sites near the Great Sand Dunes National Park you’ll have a few good options to choose from. Some are more basic than others and you’ll even have the option for some full-on glamping! Keep reading below to see what your best bets are for car camping near the Sand Dunes.

Car camping

 

Zapata Falls Campground

Number of Sites: 23 individual  and 1 group site
Fee: $11/night for individual sites and $25/night for group sites
Capacity: Up to 6 people per individual site and up to 15 people for the group site.
RVs: No
Reservations: First come, first served
Pets: Allowed
More Information

The Zapata Falls Campground is located east of State Highway 150 as it approaches the Great Sand Dunes National Park. The campground is around 30 minutes from the entrance to the National Park. The campground has a vault toilet and has access to several excellent trailheads. Keep in mind that there is no water at Zapata Falls, so you’ll need to bring your own water.

Rustic Rook Resort

The Rustic Rook Resort is unlike any of the other campgrounds included in this guide – it is a full-fledged glamping experience! The resort is located approximately 20 minutes from the entrance to the National Park. You won’t need your own tent here as you’ll instead be sleeping in your very own glamping tent with space for 2 – 4 people. Prices start at $150/night so this is definitely not for budget-minded travelers!

More Information

The Rustic Rook Resort offers a glamping experience just 20 minutes from the Great Sand Dunes.

 

Dispersed campsites near the Great Sand Dunes

Your final option for camping near the Great Sand Dunes National Park is to find a free, dispersed campsite on the adjacent Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. The BLM manages hundreds of thousands of acres of land throughout the country and generally allows for ‘dispersed camping’ on it. You can find more information on dispersed camping on BLM land here.

Dispersed camping near Great Sand Dunes

 

Before heading out with a plan to look for dispersed camping near the Great Sand Dunes National Park we recommend reaching out to the Conejos Peak Ranger District to confirm current camping regulations. They can be reached at (719) 480-9892.

Lake Como Road/Sacred White Shell Mountain – BLM sites

The Lake Como Road/Sacred White Shell Mountain dispersed camping area is located east of State Highway 150 as you approach the Sand Dunes. The campsite is located approximately 25 minutes from the entrance to the National Park. You’ll need to bring all of your own water and also be prepared to properly deal with your waste at this site, as there are no facilities. BLM regulations on dispersed camping allow you to camp for up to 14 days in a 28 day period, so be sure to observe that limit at this site.

It is especially important to practice Leave No Trace principles when dispersed camping.

Have a great trip!

That’s it! We hope you’ve found all of the information on camping in Great Sand Dunes National Park in this post helpful and we know you’ll find the perfect campsite for your upcoming adventure! Be sure to let us know in the comments below if you have any questions or had a great time out camping!

Piñon Flats Campground Great Sand Dunes National Park

Photo credit NPS/Patrick Myers.

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Guide to Camping on the West Highland Way

After camping our way through the Tour du Mont Blanc in 2017, we quickly realized that backpacking is one of the most fun, rewarding, and budget-friendly ways to travel. For…

After camping our way through the Tour du Mont Blanc in 2017, we quickly realized that backpacking is one of the most fun, rewarding, and budget-friendly ways to travel.

For our next adventure, we chose the West Highland Way (WHW), a 94-mile (151 km) trek that begins just outside of Glasgow, winds its way past the iconic Loch Lomond towards rugged moors and emerald hillsides, and ends in the stunning Highlands at the foot of Britain’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis.

Ben Nevis, West Highland Way

The clouds parted momentarily to allow for a rare glimpse of Ben Nevis on our final stage of the WHW.

 

In addition to its dramatic beauty, the West Highland Way offers some other great perks:

  • Both ends of the hike are easily accessed by public transportation.
  • It can be completed in just over a week.
  • Services are widely available along the route, simplifying resupply and logistical considerations.
  • It’s possible to camp every night (many long-distance treks require at least one or two expensive hut stays).

If you haven’t considered camping, we are here to tell you that you should! Camping along the West Highland Way allowed us to meet so many great people from all over the world, sleep in stunning locations, keep our trip expenses very low, and earn the satisfaction of carrying everything we needed on our backs.

Convinced? Keep reading for everything you need to know to camp on the incredible West Highland Way!

 

Two tents and two chairs at a campground on the West Highland Way

Camping on the West Highland Way=living the good life!

 

For those who want the best information all in one place, you can purchase our printable Guide to Camping on the West Highland Way for less than $10! The Guide includes everything you’ll need to have an awesome experience on the WHW. Save yourself time and money with this amazing resource! 

Purchase your digital Guide for under $10 here

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What’s in this guide?

 

A hiker walks along the West Highland Way with views of Beinn Dorain in the distance.

The West Highland Way traverses a wide range of rugged and beautiful landscapes.

 

About the Hike

Many consider the West Highland Way to be one of the best long-distance hikes in all of Europe. This 94-mile (151 km) trek begins in Milngavie and stretches north to Fort William, encompassing an impressive variety of landscapes in between. The southern portion of the walk is characterized by bucolic pastoral landscapes, rolling green hillsides, and peaceful woodlands. The middle section of the walk traces the entire length of the storied Loch Lomond, allowing walkers to experience its wild, tangled shoreline. In the north, the Way traverses the best of the Scottish Highlands, one of Britain’s last remaining expanses of true wilderness. History, culture, natural beauty, and adventure-the West Highland Way truly has it all!

 

How long is the West Highland Way?

Distance: 94 miles (151 kilometers)

Elevation Gain: 13,000 feet (3,900 meters)

How long does it take to hike the West Highland Way?

Most walkers take 6-9 days to complete the West Highland Way. If you want to hike the entire route in a week or less, be prepared to cover at least 15-20 miles each day. If you prefer to move at a more relaxed pace, your longest day need not exceed 15 miles with most days averaging around 10 miles. Our stage-by-stage camping guide (below) is written for a moderately-paced 8-day itinerary, but could be easily adapted for other lengths. We’ve made note of places where you could lengthen or shorten your itinerary in the stage-by-stage guide.

Read more: West Highland Way Trip Report

 

The path from Milngavie to Drymen on the West Highland Way

Easy walking from Milngavie to Drymen.

Still trying to figure out your itinerary? Let us help!

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When is the best time to hike the West Highland Way?

Although some hardy souls brave the wind, rain, cold, and snow to walk the West Highland Way during the winter months, most will prefer just the wind and rain of the spring/summer/autumn…and hopefully some sunny days too! When it comes to deciding when to complete your trek, you’ll need to consider factors such as weather, midges, and crowds.

April

Unpredictable weather, but few crowds and midges. Snow will likely remain in some areas. Be prepared for shorter days and therefore fewer daylight hours for walking.

May

May is a very busy time on the trail. Expect warm temperatures, wildflowers, relatively little rain, and few midges. You’ll need to book (non-camping) accommodation in advance.

June

Good weather, tolerable midges, and generally less crowded on the trail (compared to May). However, try to avoid walking during the Caledonian Challenge and the West Highland Way Race, both of which take place in June.

July & August

Crowds, midges, and rain are all plentiful during peak summer these months. It’s still very possible to have a wonderful time if you trek in July or August, just make sure you book your (non-camping) accommodation in advance and pack rain gear and a midge net!

September

This is a fabulous time to walk the WHW, although it can be quite wet. The trail is relatively quiet and the midges tend to be less of a problem later in the season. Be aware of the increasingly shorter days as the month progresses.

October

Early October can be a lovely time to trek, with beautiful fall colors painted across the woodlands and hillsides. However, the chance of colder, wetter weather increases with each day that passes. By the end of the month, the days will be short and the conditions are likely to be pretty rough.

Read more: Pack right and be prepared for all of the elements the WHW might throw at you!

 

A snow capped mountain on the West Highland Way

It’s possible that you’ll encounter snow in the Scottish Highlands from October through April.

 

How Difficult is the West Highland Way?

Because of its relatively low elevation and minimal technicality, the West Highland Way is a very approachable long-distance trek for the casual hiker. That being said, it’s still a serious feat of endurance that will push you to new limits. You won’t be required to traverse over high mountain passes or navigate steep ascents and descents each day, but that doesn’t mean it will be easy!  You’ll be covering long stretches of undulating terrain with a variety of underfoot conditions. The rough and rocky paths can be taxing on leg muscles and create a hotbed for blisters. However, if they train ahead of time and keep reasonable expectations, walkers of all ability levels should be able to complete the West Highland Way – and enjoy themselves while doing it!

What makes the West Highland Way a challenging trek?

  • Long distances covered each day
  • Potentially difficult weather conditions (wind, rain, heat, cold)
  • Rough underfoot conditions (such as large stones or wet paths)
  • Undulating hills

What makes the West Highland Way a beginner-friendly trek?

  • No major ascents or descents
  • Low elevation throughout (plenty of oxygen, unlike higher altitudes)
  • Frequent and plentiful services and accommodation
  • Options for transportation and luggage transfer

On a final note, believe us when we say that you will enjoy your trip infinitely more if you train ahead of time. This is even more true if you plan on camping (and carrying the heavier backpack that goes with it).

Check out our in-depth article on how to train for the West Highland Way. 

 

Approaching the Devil's Staircase climb on the West Highland Way

Approaching the Devil’s Staircase, the arguably the toughest climb on the trek.

 

Which Direction Should I Hike the West Highland Way?

The West Highland Way is traditionally walked from south to north, but you can easily trek in either direction. Advantages of the traditional south-north direction include having the wind at your back and finishing at the dramatic Ben Nevis. Riding the southbound train through the rugged Highland scenery upon completion of the WHW is a highlight for many trekkers.

Some walkers prefer to head from north-south to meet more new people on each stage and avoid crowds on the trail. Either direction you choose to walk, you’ll have plenty of accommodation options and easy connections to and from the trail. Our stage-by-stage camping guide is written for south-north trekkers, but can easily be reversed.

 

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Weather

Where do we even begin when discussing the famous (er, infamous) Scottish weather? The temperamental and variable weather conditions are a quintessential part of any West Highland Way experience. Regardless of when you complete your trek, it is almost guaranteed to rain at some point. Even in the summer months, it’s common to encounter cold, gray, windy conditions, especially at higher elevations and further north along the trail.

Honestly, you should hope you’re lucky enough to experience some of these steely conditions; the rugged landscape looks its best when shrouded in a layer of dramatic clouds. That being said, don’t rule out the possibility of warm and sunny days. In July and August, it can get quite hot if the sun is shining.

Remember to give the elements the respect they deserve. From hypothermia to heatstroke, the conditions can be dangerous for unprepared walkers. Always check the weather forecast before you begin walking each day and air on the side of caution if you’re not sure if you should attempt to walk. There are plenty of local transport connections available if you need to detour or skip a section due to adverse conditions.

The old adage, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear,” couldn’t be more true when it comes to the West Highland Way.  If you have good waterproofs, plenty of layers, and some common sense, you’ll be able to savor all of the different elements the Highland weather gods throw at you.

The Met Office website is a good resource for detailed and accurate forecasts.

 

The walk towards Kinlochleven on the West Highland Way

Brooding skies on the walk towards Kinlochleven.

 

Food and Drink

One of the many wonderful things about the West Highland Way is that you don’t need to worry about carrying (and eating) eight days’ worth of underwhelming freeze-dried backpacker meals. You’ll be able to find food shops and/or restaurants on nearly every stop of the Way. We’ve noted the availability of these in our stage-by-stage camping guide below. Even though food is abundant, make sure you plan accordingly, as there is quite a bit of variation in terms of what is available.

For budget travelers, it is possible to self-cater with goods from the many shops you’ll pass. This will keep your food and drink costs quite reasonable. You’ll need to bring your own camp stove and cooking equipment if you plan on fixing most of your own meals along the West Highland Way.

Additionally (for those with deeper pockets), many of the hotels, guesthouses, and pubs serve meals. If staying indoors, check with your accommodation provider to see what they offer.

Whichever way you approach your food and drink strategy, be sure to enjoy a pint of ale, a hearty Scottish breakfast, a good cuppa, or any of the other numerous local specialties you’ll encounter along your trek.

Dietary Restrictions

The restaurants and accommodation providers along the West Highland Way are generally quite willing to provide a vegetarian option. Those who are vegan, gluten-free, or have a specialized diet will have a harder time finding suitable meals. While certain places will be able to accommodate your needs (make sure to ask in advance), that will be the exception and not the norm. We’d recommend bringing plenty of your own food as insurance.

Water

All of the hotels, guesthouses, and campgrounds provide potable water. You will pass through many villages with public drinking fountains or cafes that will fill your bottles for you, 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. We love using hydration bladders when walking, as they distribute the weight much better and encourage frequent and consistent hydration.

 

Glasses of beer on the West Highland Way

One of our favorite parts of hiking the West Highland Way!

 

Getting To and From the West Highland Way

Glasgow is the most common entry point for West Highland Way walkers traveling from abroad. While it’s possible to travel by foot from Glasgow to the official start in Milngavie, most hikers will opt for a faster method of transit. The easiest way to get from Glasgow to Milngavie is by taking one of the frequent trains that run between the two, but you can also take a public bus or a taxi.

On its northern end, the West Highland way terminates in Fort William. There are buses that run between Fort William and Glasgow, Edinburgh, and other popular destinations, but if you’re traveling to Glasgow we recommend taking the train. The railway between Fort William and Glasgow closely follows much of the West Highland Way, allowing hikers to retrace (or preview) their scenic journey.

For tons of detailed information about getting to and from the WHW (and other practical tips), be sure to read our West Highland Way Logistics article.

 

Wayfinding

On the whole, the West Highland Way is very well marked and relatively easy to navigate. There are signposts bearing the trail icon at frequent intervals and at most junctions. That being said, you absolutely need to bring a map. Furthermore, we strongly suggest using GPS to make your life easier and less stressful.

The trail passes through farmland, tangled forests, wild moors, and villages, with each landscape presenting its own wayfinding challenges. It’s remarkably easy to wander off course when you’re captivated by the scenery or deep in a daydream! Be prepared, pay attention, and you’ll be just fine.

The first step to being prepared? Read our awesome articles about navigating on the West Highland Way! We’ll even teach you how to turn your phone into a GPS device (no data required!)

How to Navigate on the West Highland Way

How to Find All of your Campgrounds on the West Highland Way

 

A wooden West Highland Way trail sign

The trail was well marked throughout.

 

Did you know that our Premium Camping Guide includes custom GPX files for your camping itinerary?

West Highland Way camping guide

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Budgeting and Money

Cash, Credit, and Currency

Scotland uses the British pound and cash is king on the West Highland Way. There are no banks or ATMs directly along the route between Drymen and Tyndrum, so you’ll need to plan accordingly. Most small shops, pubs, and campgrounds require cash, although some larger supermarkets will accept major credit cards.

It will be important to estimate your daily expenses (allowing yourself a healthy cushion for unexpected costs) and to make sure you have enough money to cover you until the next ATM. Generally speaking, the West Highland Way is quite safe, but you should still make sure you carry your money on your person at all times and use common sense.

How much will this cost me?

While it’s true that Scotland is expensive, your West Highland Way adventure doesn’t have to be. Camping is by far the most economical way to trek the WHW. Hikers may be a little shocked by the high prices of some of the campgrounds along the Way, but they are still the best value around. Plus, many include hot showers, indoor lounges, and other small luxuries (and for the purists shaking their heads at this level of “glamping,” just see how you feel after walking in freezing rain all day or being attacked by midges!).

In addition to accommodation, food is the other major expense that can make or break a budget. If you mostly self-cater, you can keep your costs quite low. On the other hand, restaurant meals are very expensive and if you rely on them for most of your sustenance, you should be prepared to pay a pretty penny. Many campers are happy to strike a happy middle ground, cooking most meals but allowing themselves the occasional (or in our case frequent) pint and a well-earned Scottish delicacy (bannocks, anyone?) from time to time.

Read more: How Much it Cost Us to Hike the West Highland Way

A stone Bothy on the West Highland Way

Low budget accommodation on the West Highland Way!

 

What to Pack for the West Highland Way

Making smart choices about what to pack (and what to leave behind) is a vital part of setting yourself up for a successful and enjoyable West Highland Way experience. It’s simple- the heavier your pack, the harder your effort. However, with a little thoughtful planning, you can keep your pack weight manageable while still ensuring you have everything you need to be comfortable on the trail and while relaxing at the inns, campgrounds, and villages along the way.

For a complete packing list, check out this comprehensive article on packing for the West Highland Way

How much should my pack weigh?

This isn’t easy to answer since there are a ton of factors that influence how much is too much for any individual hiker. Some things to think about…

  • How fast are you hoping to hike? Generally speaking, lighter=faster
  • Have you completed a multi-day through hike with this specific backpack and this amount of weight before? 
  • Are you injury-prone or do you have any chronic knee, hip, or back issues? 

As a very general rule, campers should keep their pack weight below 13kg, including food and water. If you’re new to backpacking and/or have chronic injuries, it’s especially important to keep it as light as possible. Fortunately, there are frequent re-supply points along the WHW, so you shouldn’t need to carry much food and water, even if you plan on self-catering. It is possible to use a transfer service to deliver your pack to each stopping point along the trail, although that kind of defeats the purpose of camping (check out our logistics article for more on luggage transfers).

 

A hiker on the shores of Loch Lomond, West Highland Way

Don’t forget to pack a pack cover and your trekking poles!

 

WHW MVG (most valuable gear)

Footwear

Traditional hiking boots, hiking shoes, or trail runners will all work for the trail conditions on the West Highland Way, but you need to make sure they will work for you too. This means that you should bring a pair of boots or shoes that you know from experience don’t cause problems for your feet. Ideally, you should put at least 30 miles on them before your trek in various terrain and weather conditions to reduce the chance of running into issues on the trail. A nasty blister can be catastrophic on a multi-day trek like the WHW! That being said, you also don’t want your boots/shoes to be too broken in, as you need them to hold up faithfully for many miles of gnarly, muddy terrain. I know we’re asking you to work some Goldilocks magic here, but it’s definitely worth it!

You’ll also want to make sure you have some good socks. Socks are one of those rare things in life where you really do get what you pay for, and high quality socks can be a game-changer. Once again, try to do some hiking in a few different types to figure out how what you like in terms of thickness, cushion, and height. We love merino wool for its quick-drying and anti-stink qualities.

The trail conditions on the West Highland Way are notorious for causing blisters. If you’re blister prone, consider trying sock liners. Many hikers swear by them. Other tried-and-true blister prevention tactics include putting bodyglide on potential hotspots or wearing toesocks.

Backpack

The same rule for shoes applies to backpacks: make sure you complete several practice hikes with your bag packed the same way (and with the same weight) you’ll carry on the West Highland Way. Also similar to shoes, backpacks need to be broken in through use, and your body needs to get used to the feeling of wearing it for extended periods of time. In terms of size, most campers will need between 45 and 65 liters. Those staying indoors will find that 30-40L is perfect. If you’re purchasing a new pack, most good outdoors stores have experienced staff that will help you find the right fit and style for your needs.

Don’t forget to bring a pack cover (included with many newer backpacks) to protect against rain. This is an absolute must-have.

Trekking Poles

These are a total game-changer on a tough walk like the West Highland Way. You (and your knees) will be so glad to have them on steep sections, and this is especially true for campers who are carrying heavier loads.

Good Waterproofs

You are going to get rained on at some point while walking the West Highland Way- this is Scotland after all. We think the brooding weather adds to the magic of the hike. However, it can be pretty hard to fully appreciate that special type of magic when you’re trudging along for hours completely soaked to the bone. A good pair of rain pants and a quality, lightweight jacket can be the difference-maker between loving (or at least tolerating) and hating those damp, Scottish days.

Midge Net Hat

Midges, those tiny biting flies that come out in massive swarms that come our at dusk and in cloudy, still weather conditions, are an unfortunate reality on the West Highland Way. When they are bad, they are really, really bad. If you’re caught unprepared, they can drive you mad and threaten to ruin your day. Don’t let them! A good midge net is essential for keeping the nasty little guys out of your face. We particularly liked the wide brim hat model because it kept the net from touching our faces, giving us more breathing room and keeping the midges further away.

Whatever you do, get a good quality net that is specifically designed for midges. Our friends bought cheap insect nets and the holes in the mesh turned out to be too big. They ended up with midges getting trapped inside their nets! Learn from their mistake and make sure you invest in the right gear when it comes to this one.

Don’t forget to check out the ultimate West Highland Way packing list!

 

Our trusty packs and poles.

 

Electronics

Charging

Nearly all of the campgrounds along the West Highland Way will allow you to charge phones and other devices for free, as will many pubs and guesthouses. Outlets can be in high demand at campgrounds, so don’t be surprised if you have to wait for your chance to charge. If you’re coming from outside of the United Kingdom, you’ll need to use a travel adapter. We like the kind with two USB ports built in to maximize our charging time. It’s not a bad idea to pack a battery backup if you will be relying on your phone for the GPS and camera.

Cell Service

Cell phone service is pretty widespread along the West Highland Way, but it isn’t always reliable or predictable. Expect to get service in all of the larger towns, but less so as you go further from civilization. You might be able to pick up a few bars at high points and unobstructed areas, but definitely don’t count on it.

Wifi

For better or worse, many of the campgrounds, guesthouses, and pubs along the WHW now offer Wifi. It’s typically free to use, although some places may require an additional fee. You’ll usually have to move close to the reception building in order to connect to it.

 

Wild Camping on the West Highland Way

Here’s what the walk’s official site, westhighlandway.org, says about wild camping:

“Under the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, wild camping is permitted. This type of camping is lightweight, done in small numbers and only for two or three nights in any one place. Avoid causing problems for local people and land managers by not camping in enclosed fields of crops or farm animals and by keeping well away from buildings, roads or historic structures. Leave no trace by: taking away all your litter, removing all traces of your tent pitch and of any open fire and not causing pollution. Please also note that within the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park camping byelaws operate between March and September.”

So to sum it up, wild camping is possible in many places along the Way. You don’t need a permit. However, keep a few things in mind:

  • It would be difficult to camp wild on the first stage of the walk, as there isn’t much public land in the southernmost section that would be suitable (most of the open land is working farmland). If you do decide to discreetly pitch a tent, try to get permission from the landowner first.
  • You cannot wild camp on the stretch of trail that runs along the shore of Loch Lomond between March and October. This is inside the national park and therefore has different rules.
  • The Rowchoish and Doune Bothies are simple, free options that may be appealing to campers. While not the same as the solitude of your tent, they offer many of the advantages of wild camping.
  • Always abide by Leave No Trace principles and show respect for the environment and local communities.

For more information, check out The Scottish Outdoor Access Code website, which has a ton of great guidelines for wild camping in Scotland.

 

Glengoyne Distillery along the West Highland Way

Always ask permission before pitching your tent on farm or pastureland.

 

Stage-by-Stage Camping Guide

This guide is based on a moderately-paced 8-day itinerary that begins in Milngavie and ends in Fort William. There are a few sections that would be relatively easy to modify, and those have been noted in the guide. Reservations are not necessary for the campsites, unless explicitly stated. Prices listed are per person.

 

A backpacker walks along the West Highland Way

Stage Zero- Milngavie

Camping Availability: West Highland Campsite (detour required)

The West Highland Way officially starts in the town of Milngavie, which is located about 30 minutes by train from Glasgow. Given you get an early start, it’s not necessary to stay in Milngavie the night before starting your trek, as transportation is quick and frequent from Glasgow and Edinburgh, and the walk to Drymen shouldn’t take more than five hours. Unfortunately, there are no campgrounds in central Glasgow, nor in Milngavie, so you’ll need to stay indoors prior to starting the WHW.

While not the most convenient, there is camping about four miles along the trail at the West Highland Way Campsite (although they advertise that it’s located just “steps” away from the official start, which is a bit misleading). This could be a good option for those starting late and/or those who really want to camp at all costs.

Campsite near Milngavie, Scotland

Camping options near Milngavie.

 

Services at West Highland Way Campsite

  • Toilets
  • Hot showers
  • Potable water
  • Kitchen
  • Electronics charging
  • WiFi
  • Breakfast included

Price: £25 per person

West Highland Way Campsite Website

Nearby in Milngavie

  • Supermarkets
  • Pharmacy
  • Banks/ATMs
  • Post office
  • Outdoor retailer
  • Restaurants/cafes/pubs
  • Train and bus connections
  • Taxi service

Take your planning to the next level with our ultimate camping guide!

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Stage One- Milngavie to Drymen

Camping Availability: Drymen Camping

This small campground is surrounded by rolling hills and picturesque farmland. You’ll see it on the lefthand side of the road about a mile and a half before reaching the town of Drymen. The facilities are basic but functional, and the views more than make up for it. Leave your payment in the honesty box inside the sheltered cooking/bathroom area.

Drymen Camping

Drymen Camping is approximately 1.5 miles from the town of Drymen.

 

Services at Drymen Camping

  • Toilets (Bring your own TP!!!)
  • Hot showers
  • Potable water
  • Dishwashing sink
  • Electronics charging
  • Covered cooking area

Price: £8

Drymen Camping Website

Nearby in Drymen: The nearest services are in the town of Drymen, another 1.5 miles up the road. If you don’t want to make the trek into town after a long day of walking, it makes for a nice stop on the morning of your second day, as you can pick up any forgotten supplies and maybe even a freshly baked breakfast treat. Moreover, Drymen is your last opportunity to visit a full grocery store along the trail until you reach Tyndrum.

  • Grocery store
  • Library (with free wifi)
  • Restaurants/cafes/pubs
  • ATM
  • Post office
  • Health center/dentist
  • Bus connections
  • Taxi service

 

Drymen Camping is located in a peaceful, pastoral setting.

Stage Two – Drymen to Loch Lomond

Camping Availability: Milarrochy Bay Campsite, Cashel Caravan and Campsite, & Sallochy Campsite

The second stage of the West Highland Way presents many options for camping, all of which offer beautiful lochside views.  As you walk north along Loch Lomond, you’ll reach the Milarrochy Bay campsite first, then you’ll see Cashel about a mile further, and if you keep going for another mile or so, you will reach Sallochy.

We chose to stay at Sallochy and highly recommend that you do the same for a number of reasons.  First, the lochside campsites are secluded, peaceful, and totally gorgeous. While this is the most basic of the three camping options, the lack of major facilities means that you get an experience that feels more connected to the amazing natural surroundings of the Loch Lomond area.  Additionally, Stage 3 of the WHW is the longest and most strenuous day of the entire trek, so make it all the way to Sallochy on Stage 2 and you’ll have a head start for the day ahead.

**Remember, wild camping is not permitted on this section of the WHW.**

Campground near Loch Lomond

Camping options along Loch Lomond.

 

Services at Milarrochy Bay Campsite

  • Toilets
  • Potable water
  • Hot showers
  • Cooking room
  • Small shop
  • Electronics charging
  • WiFi

Price: Varies, but expect to pay about £7-10 per person

Milarrochy Bay Campsite Website

Services at Cashel Caravan and Campsite

  • Toilets
  • Potable water
  • Hot showers
  • Electronics charging
  • Dishwashing area
  • Laundry
  • Small shop
  • Children’s play area

Price: Varies, but expect to pay about £9-15 per person

Cashel Caravan and Campsite Website

Services at Sallochy Campsite

  • Composting toilets
  • Potable water
  • Sinks
  • Firepit and firewood rentals (£5 each)

Heads up: You must make reservations in advance for this campsite (the website makes it quick and easy). Make sure to book a lochside site, as the main camping area can get noisy and crowded. As you approach the campground, you’ll see the higher numbered lochside pitches first.  The higher the number, the further away from the toilets and water tap you’ll be, but you’ll also be further from the noise of the main campground.

Price: £7

Sallochy Campsite Website or email sallochy.wardens@forestryandland.gov.scot

Nearby the Loch Lomond area: The town of Rowardennan is about three miles up the trail past Sallochy. There you’ll find a pub, a hotel, and a hostel with a basic shop.

Your lochside site at Sallochy comes with its own private beach just a few steps away!

 

Stage Three – Loch Lomond to Inverarnan

Camping Availability: Doune Bothy, Inversnaid Bunkhouse, Inversnaid Hotel & Beinglas Farm

For those completing the WHW in eight days, stage three is a loooong one. Beinglas Farm is the traditional stopping point, and will be a welcome sight for those who walk the entirety of stage 3 to reach it. If you’d like to stop a bit earlier in the day, Doune Bothy is the best option. 

Alternatively, if you have more time and want to break up this strenuous (15 miles, 8-9 hours) stretch, Inversnaid Bunkhouse and Inversnaid Hotel both offer camping and are located about halfway through stage 3. If you do choose to stop at one of these, simply stay at Beinglas Farm the following night.

Beinglas Farm Camping

Camping options near Inverarnan.

 

Services at Doune Bothy

Doune Bothy is a simple and lovely stone structure with a fireplace. You’ll need to bring/filter your own water and utilize Leave No Trace practices when it comes to your rubbish and bathroom needs. The Bothy is about three miles past Inversnaid.

Price: Free

Doune Bothy Website

Services at Beinglas Farm

We loved camping at Beinglas Farm! Perhaps it was because of the cold beers they sold us after nine hours of hiking, or the excellent and clean hot showers, or the friendly staff. This was the most midgy place we camped, however, so be prepared to get out your net and bug spray as soon as the sun starts to set. It’s about a 10-minute walk from Beinglas Farm to the village of Inverarnan.

  • Toilets
  • Potable water
  • Hot showers
  • Indoor cooking area
  • Laundry facilities
  • Restaurant/bar
  • WiFi
  • Electronics charging

Beinglas Farm Website

Price: £8

Nearby Inverarnan*

  • Hotels
  • Pub
  • Transportation connections

*In addition to what you’ll find in Inverarnan, you can detour to Crianlarich (15 minutes from the trail each way) halfway through your walk tomorrow (Stage 4). This detour is highly recommended if you’d like to resupply at a proper supermarket.

Services at Inversnaid Bunkhouse (alternative option)

This is the first of two options that will allow you to split up stage 3 across two days by stopping in Inversnaid. You’ll need to detour about 10 minutes uphill off the trail to reach the Bunkhouse, but they do offer a free pickup service.

  • Toilets
  • Potable Water
  • Hot showers
  • Free WiFi
  • Kitchen
  • Electronics charging
  • Restaurant/bar
  • Hot tub

Price: £10 per person

Inversnaid Bunkhouse Website

Services at Inversnaid Hotel (alternative option)

Keep walking about five minutes north of the hotel (beyond the boathouse) until you reach a small clearing. The hotel allows campers to pitch a tent for free here. You can use the facilities in the hotel bar during opening hours.

  • Toilets (at hotel bar)
  • Potable water (at hotel bar)
  • WiFi (at hotel)
  • Restaurant/bar
  • Bus connections

Price: Free

Inversnaid Hotel Website

Nearby Inversnaid: Besides the bunkhouse, hotel, and accompanying restaurants there are no other services (except for bus and ferry connections from the hotel).

 

For a shorter day, stop at the spectacular Doune Bothy.

If you want more information about your many options on Stage Three, our Camping Guide is the perfect resource.

LEARN MORE

 

Stage Four – Inverarnan to Tyndrum

Camping Availability: Strathfillan Wigwams, Pine Trees Caravan Park and Camping, By the Way Hostel and Campsite

There are three good options for camping on Stage 4, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Strathfillan Wigwams is two miles short of Tyndrum, meaning you won’t have easy proximity to the services in town. Some might appreciate stopping a bit earlier in the day, however, and the surroundings at Strathfillan are downright spectacular. Pine Trees Caravan Park is massive, considerably less scenic, and mostly dominated by motorhomes, but it’s conveniently located in the center of Tyndrum. Finally, By the Way Hostel and Campground is another well-located option, but be advised that they will only accept one or two-person tents and they will not accept any campers if there has been a significant amount of rain, due to the ground being too water-logged.

Tyndrum Camping

Camping options near Tyndrum.

 

Services at Strathfillan Wigwams

  • Toilets
  • Potable water
  • Sinks
  • Hot Showers (£1 for eight minutes)
  • Indoor cooking/lounge area
  • Laundry
  • Electronics charging
  • Small shop
  • WiFi (£3 for 24 hours)

Price: £8

Strathfillan Wigwams Website

Services at Pine Trees Caravan Park and Camping

  • Toilets
  • Potable water
  • Hot showers
  • Laundry facilities
  • Shop
  • Electronics charging
  • WiFi

Price: £10 per person (plus £5 for an additional adult)

Pine Trees Caravan Park Website

Services at By The Way Hostel & Campground

  • Toilets
  • Potable water
  • Hot showers
  • Laundry facilities
  • Heated drying room
  • Indoor dishwashing area
  • Kitchen
  • Electronics charging
  • WiFi

Price: £10 per person

By The Way Hostel and Camping Website

Nearby Tyndrum*

  • Supermarket
  • Outdoor retailer
  • Post office
  • ATM
  • Train station

*Make sure to stock up on food and supplies while in Tyndrum, as you won’t have another chance until you reach Kinlochleven on the final night of the WHW**

**Also, be sure to check out the ruins of St. Fillian’s Priory and the adjacent graveyard for some fascinating history! You’ll see these just before approaching the Strathfillian campground.

 

Quintessential Highlands camping at Strathfillan.

Stage Five – Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy

Camping Availability: Free camping behind the Bridge of Orchy Hotel

When you arrive at Bridge of Orchy, continue past the hotel and across the bridge to the free camping area.  There are no facilities here, but there is a potable water tap next to the main entrance of the hotel. In terms of your bathroom options, there’s a wooded area directly behind the campsite.  Unfortunately, you won’t be the first person to use these natural facilities, and they were a bit polluted with human waste when we were there.  Bring your trowel and a positive attitude, and you’ll be fine.

Alternatively, you can use the hotel restroom if you purchase something at the bar/restaurant or if you leave a donation on the tray by the bar. If the weather is nice, make sure to soak your tired feet in the river while you take in the views of the quaint stone bridge and the green hills beyond.

Bridge of Orchy Camping

Camping at Bridge of Orchy.

 

Services at Bridge of Orchy

  • Potable water (just to the right of the hotel entrance on the outside of the building)
  • Toilets (with purchase, when the hotel bar is open)

Price: Free

Bridge of Orchy Hotel Website

Nearby Bridge of Orchy

  • Restaurant/bar
  • Train and bus connections
  • Post office

For those wanting to extend this stage, the Inverornan Hotel is three miles past the Bridge of Orchy, and it offers free camping, a water tap, and a restaurant.

 

Soak your tired feet under the Bridge of Orchy before enjoying your free campsite.

Stage Six – Bridge of Orchy to Glencoe/Kingshouse

Camping Availability: Glencoe Mountain Resort & Kingshouse Hotel

You’ve got two nice options for camping on Stage Six, depending on how much luxury you’re looking for. The first camping area you’ll come across is the Glencoe Mountain Resort, reached via a very slight detour off the main trail. For a small fee, you’ll enjoy modern amenities and flat, grassy pitches.

If more basic and free accommodation is what you’re after, keep walking a bit further to reach the Kingshouse Hotel. Wild camping is permitted just over the stone bridge from the hotel, and campers have access to public toilets behind the bunkhouse. Be advised that the area can be a bit boggy and level spots are hard to come by. However, you can enjoy the hotel’s bar and restaurant, so you needn’t rough it too much if you don’t want to!

Glencoe Camping

Camping options near Glencoe and Kingshouse.

 

Services at Glencoe Mountain Resort

  • Toilets
  • Potable water
  • Hot showers (£1 for 5 minutes)
  • Sinks
  • Electronics charging
  • Cafe/bar
  • WiFi

Price: £6 per person

Glencoe Mountain Website

Services at Kingshouse Hotel

  • Toilets
  • Potable water
  • Hot showers (£1 for 5 minutes)
  • Restaurant/bar

Price: Free

Kingshouse Hotel Website

Nearby Glencoe Mountain: Besides the ski resort and the Kinshouse Hotel, there are no other services close by. If needed, you can catch a bus or hitch a ride from the A82 to Glencoe Village (9 miles away). There you’ll find a grocery store, ATM, and a medical center.

Beautiful views of Buachaille Etive Mòr from the Glencoe Moutain Resort.

Stage Seven – Glencoe/Kingshouse to Kinlochleven

Camping Availability: MacDonald Hotel & Blackwater Hostel

Once again, you have two excellent choices for where to pitch your tent on this stage. You’ll pass the Blackwater Hostel first, almost immediately upon entering Kinlochleven. It is located on a lovely spot alongside the river and also conveniently located in the center of town. Reservations aren’t needed, but keep in mind that they only allow two-person tents or smaller.

The MacDonald Hotel is at the far end of town and can feel quite tedious to get to after a long day of hiking.  It’s worth the extra walking though! The staff is very friendly, the views of the loch are magical, and you’ll start right next to the trail in the morning. There are only 11 pitches, so reservations are recommended in peak season. Tents must be two-person or smaller at MacDonald.

Kinlochleven Camping

Camping options in Kinlochleven.

 

Services at MacDonald Hotel

  • Toilets
  • Potable water
  • Hot showers
  • Indoor cooking and washing hut
  • Heated drying room
  • Restaurant/bar
  • Electronics charging
  • WiFi

Price: £10 per person

MacDonald Hotel Website

Services at Blackwater Hostel

  • Toilets
  • Potable water
  • Hot showers
  • Covered cooking area
  • Drying room
  • Electronics charging
  • WiFi

Blackwater Hostel Website

Price: £10 per person

Nearby in Kinlochleven

  • Supermarket
  • Post office
  • Outdoor retailer
  • Restaurants/pubs/cafes
  • Library (with free WiFi)
  • Bus connections
  • Taxi service

 

The MacDonald Hotel campground is located on the idyllic shores of Loch Leven.

Stage Eight – Kinlochleven to Fort William/Glen Nevis

Camping Availability: Glen Nevis Caravan and Camping Park

Upon completing the West Highland Way, many hikers treat themselves to accommodation that features four walls and a real bed, but there is an option for the hardcore campers out there. While the hike officially ends in the town of Fort William, you can stop a couple of miles earlier in the town of Glen Nevis and pitch your tent at the Glen Nevis Caravan and Camping Park. This is also a convenient option for those hoping to tack on a climb up Ben Nevis, as the trail is just steps from the campground.

Fort William Camping

Camping options near Fort William.

 

Services at Glen Nevis Caravan and Camping Park

  • Toilets
  • Potable water
  • Hot showers
  • Laundry
  • Dishwashing area
  • Restaurant/bar
  • Small shop
  • Electronics charging
  • WiFi (£2.00 per hour/£5.00 per day)

Price: £10.50

Glen Nevis Camping Website

Nearby Glen Nevis and Fort William:  There is a visitor center and a few restaurants in the village of Glen Nevis. Fort William is another 2.5 miles up the trail. There you’ll find supermarkets, banks, a pharmacy, a hospital, restaurants/bars, an outdoor retailer, a post office, a library, and bus and train connections. 

LEARN MORE

 

 

What’s Next?

You’re well on your way to an incredible camping experience on the West Highland Way. However, you still have lots of preparation before you’re truly ready! Be sure to read our entire series on the West Highland Way to learn everything you’ll need to know for your trip!

 

10 Comments on Guide to Camping on the West Highland Way

Guide to Camping on the Tour of Mont Blanc

Have you ever wanted to spend 11 days in the world’s most majestic mountains, walking on rugged trails by day, indulging in artisanal cheese and plentiful wine by night, and…

Have you ever wanted to spend 11 days in the world’s most majestic mountains, walking on rugged trails by day, indulging in artisanal cheese and plentiful wine by night, and capping it all off by cozying up in your tent  under the stars as the crisp evening chill sets in? Maybe you’ve never considered it before. We didn’t know we wanted such a thing either…and then we learned about the TMB and that all changed.

Water and steep mountains on stage 4 of the TMB

We’re not exaggerating when we say this is one of the prettiest trails in the world!

 

We first hiked the Tour du Mont Blanc in July 2017. We camped most nights and stayed in a few huts. Even after experiencing several more incredible thru-hikes across Europe, the TMB still stands out as the most unique and rewarding.  We created this guide in hopes that it will inspire more people to camp along the route, which was one of our favorite parts of the entire trip. Ever since completing our own trek, we’ve spent the past few years researching the best campsites and most essential information to share with our fellow tent-dwellers. We even hiked much of the trek again in 2019 to ensure that our guide is accurate and up-to-date (and because we couldn’t help but return to one of the most beautiful trails in the world!)

Thanks for using our guide and we wish you a wonderful trip! As always, we’d love to answer your questions and hear your feedback in the comments below.

Happy Trails,

Emily & Ian

Everything you need to to plan your TMB – all in one place.

Whether you prefer mountain huts or tents, fastpacking or meandering, luxury, dirtbag or something in between, we’ve got you covered. From custom itineraries to maps created specifically for campers we can help you plan your perfect TMB adventure! Our downloadable Guide to Camping on the Tour du Mont Blanc is ultimate resource to help you plan your perfect trip. Pick your digital guide below:

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The 50+ page guide contains resources you won’t find anywhere else, including:

  • Custom GPS files for the entire trek
  • Stage-by-stage itineraries
  • Complete packing list for campers
  • Detailed information on getting to/from the Tour du Mont Blanc
  • A 15-week training plan to ensure you’re prepared for your hike

We truly believe this is the best guide available for the camping on the TMB.  Pick up your guide below and if your not satisfied for any reason we’ll give you a full refund!

BUY NOW

What’s in This Guide:

About the Tour du Mont Blanc

The Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) takes trekkers through France, Italy, and Switzerland on one of the most spectacular trails in the world. Typically completed in 11 stages, the route circumnavigates  Mont Blanc, the highest peak in Western Europe. The trail passes through seven unique and beautiful valleys, where charming hamlets and regional delicacies abound. Between the valleys, the route traverses rugged mountain landscapes and stunning high alpine scenery. The TMB is one of the most popular long-distance treks in Europe and is considered to be a classic walk that belongs on any passionate hiker’s bucket list.

The Mont Blanc massif covered in glaciers and seen from stage 11 on the TMB

The Mont Blanc Massif in all of its glacier-covered glory.

 

How long is the Tour du Mont Blanc?

Distance: 170 kilometers (105 miles)

Elevation Gain: 10,000 meters (32,800 feet)

 Check out our extensive collection of TMB Maps to get a better sense of distance, stages, elevation, and more! 

How long does it take to hike the Tour du Mont Blanc?

It typically takes walkers between 8-11 days to complete the TMB. One of the great things about the hike is that there’s a lot of room for customization when it comes to creating your itinerary. Camping will allow you a lot more flexibility in terms of not needing advance reservations, but you will be a bit more restricted in other ways since camping is not permitted on every stage of the TMB. We’ve structured this camping guide for the classic 11-stage version of the trek, but we’ve noted places where you can adapt your itinerary to combine or reduce stages.

A few other considerations to keep in mind when deciding how many days you need to hike the TMB:

  • If you plan on camping, you’ll need to carry a heavier pack and therefore may hike slower than usual.
  • Do you enjoy spending 8+ hours on steep trails every day? If not, you shouldn’t double-up on stages.
  • Fastpacking the TMB is possible in 7 days or less, but you’ll need to be very fit and experienced.
  • Do you want to take a rest day? If so, don’t forget to factor that into your itinerary.
  • Are you determined to exclusively camp along the trail? If so, you’ll need to adjust your itinerary to avoid stopping in places without camping options. See our stage-by-stage guide for more details on this.
  • Are you interested in taking shortcuts or cutting out sections of the trail? This can be a good option for those who don’t have enough time to realistically complete the entire route or want to tailor it for their ability level.
Signpost with several yellow trail signs pointing in two different directions.

There are lots of variants and shortcuts that can be used to customize your trek.

 

When to hike

The general season for hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc lasts from mid-June through mid-September, although this window is subject to great variability due to snow conditions on the higher passes.

June can be lovely, but you will likely have to negotiate large sections of the trail that are covered in snow. In some cases, you may need to reroute to avoid unsafe areas. Those hiking in June should bring crampons. You can expect an explosion of wildflowers in June and July.

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July and August are typically the best times to be on the trail, but these are also the most busy months on the TMB. Be sure to check when the Ultra Tour du Mont Blanc is happening. This trail-race of the entire circuit typically occurs at the end of August and brings out thousands of spectators – not the best time to be trekking!

Expect increasingly cooler weather and fewer crowds in September; this can be a wonderful time to hike. However, it’s important to note that many campgrounds and other services along the route may already be closed for the season.

Crossing a snow field on the TMB

An easy snow crossing in July.

 

How difficult is the Tour du Mont Blanc?

If you are reasonably fit and have some backpacking experience, you should be well-suited to the physical challenges of the TMB. It is a tough trek that involves long, steep ascents and descents on nearly every stage, but it isn’t too technically demanding. Make sure you have healthy knees, as the downhill sections can take their toll! Keep in mind that carrying a heavier pack will greatly increase the physical demands of a trek like the Tour du Mont Blanc. If camping, some extra weight is inevitable, but if you’re strategic you can avoid carrying too big of a backpack.

Read More: How to Train for the TMB

Everything you need to plan your perfect TMB – all in one place.

LEARN MORE

 

Which Direction?

The TMB is traditionally hiked in a counterclockwise direction beginning in the French town of Les Houches, adjacent to Chamonix. It is also possible to walk the route in a clockwise direction, and trekkers headed this way typically start in the Swiss town of Champex. Below we’ve outlined some pros and cons of hiking in each direction:

Counterclockwise

PROS:

  • Follows the classic route, good if you’re a sucker for tradition.
  • Begins in Chamonix, which is easier to get to from the Geneva Airport than Champex.
  • Rewards hikers with jaw-dropping views of Mont Blanc on the final stage.

CONS:

  • More people hike in this direction, so the trail could feel more crowded throughout the day.

Clockwise

PROS:

  • Fewer hikers walking in the same direction as you.
  • The first few stages are a bit mellower, allowing you to get acclimated before tackling the tougher sections.

CONS:

  • You’ll pass a large wave of people walking in the opposite direction each day, which can get tight on narrow trails.
  • Champex (your starting point) has less amenities and is less conveniently connected by public transport than Chamonix. If you want to start in Chamonix and hike clockwise, be warned that the first day involves a doozy of a climb, which could be a major shock to the system.

Our stage-by-stage guide is organized for hikers walking the circuit in the traditional counterclockwise direction, but would be just as useful for those hiking in the clockwise direction.

Red boats on the shore of Lac Champex

Those who choose to hike clockwise will start in the pretty town on Champex.

Weather

Mountain weather is always volatile, and the Tour du Mont Blanc is no different. Conditions can change very rapidly in the Alps, meaning that you can find yourself in the middle of a whiteout blizzard or on an exposed ridge during a thunderstorm without much warning. For the most part, the weather during the hiking season is ridiculously lovely. Expect warm, sunny days, cool evenings, and not too much 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:

  1. The Meteoblue App is arguably the best resource for predicting the weather. 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.
  2. Start hiking early in the day! Not only will you enjoy gorgeous sunrises, get to the campground before the crowds, and avoid the heat, but you’ll also greatly reduce your risk of getting caught in afternoon thunderstorms.
Gray clouds partially obscure the mountains on the TMB.

Weather can change quickly on the trail!

 

Food and Drink

One of the many wonderful things about the TMB is that you don’t need to worry about carrying (and eating) eleven days’ worth of underwhelming freeze-dried backpacker meals. Due to the fact that the trail passes through many towns and villages, you will be able to resupply every few days. We’ve noted the availability of shops and restaurants at every stop along the route in our stage-by-stage camping guide below. Make sure you plan accordingly, as there are not shops at every stage.

For budget travelers, it is possible to self-cater and keep your food and drink costs quite reasonable. You’ll need to bring your own camp stove and cooking equipment if you plan on fixing most of your own meals along the TMB. 

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! 

Dietary Restrictions

The restaurants and accommodation providers along the TMB are generally quite willing to provide a vegetarian option. Those who are vegan, gluten-free, or have a specialized diet will have a harder time finding suitable meals. While certain places will be able to accommodate your needs, that will be the exception and not the norm. We’d recommend bringing plenty of your own food as insurance.  

Water

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.

Bread, cheese, fruit, and a bottle of wine.

Who says self-catering can’t be delicious?

 

Ready to start planning? Let us create your custom itinerary!

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Getting to and from the TMB

The circular nature of the Tour du Mont Blanc keeps logistical puzzles to a minimum, as you’ll start and end your hike in the same place. This makes it easier to store extra baggage and book round-trip transport to and from the trail. If you are travelling from further afield to reach the TMB, you will likely fly into the Geneva Airport (GVA). Depending on where you plan on starting your hike, you’ll either take a bus from GVA to Chamonix or a train/bus combination  from GVA to Champex.

We wrote an entire article with the sole purpose of providing you with in-depth information on TMB logistics. Check it out here! 

The bus stop in Les Houches, surrounded by pink flowers.

The worlds prettiest bus stop? This one in Les Houches has got to be a top contender!

 

Wayfinding

For the most part, the TMB is an extremely well-marked trail. You’ll see a variety of trail markers along various sections of the route, ranging from the iconic yellow and black diamond to the more modern bright green TMB logo. Generally speaking, if you go more than twenty minutes without seeing a trail marker, you’ve probably wandered off the trail. Despite its helpful paint flashes and signage, it is still surprisingly easy to get lost on the TMB if you’re not careful. The scenery is so darn pretty that it will often draw your eyes away from the path and cause you to miss a turn. That’s why carrying a map and (preferably) a GPS device is of the utmost importance. This is even more true if you plan on camping, as many of the campgrounds require you to leave the trail to access them.

No fancy GPS device? No problem! In this post we’ll walk you through exactly how to turn your regular old smartphone into a bonafide GPS– and you don’t need to use your precious data to do so!

Additionally, check out this post on how to find all of your campgrounds on the TMB and this one if you want to see our range of helpful maps and/or download the GPS waypoints for the hike.

Screenshot of GPS locations on a smartphone

You can easily turn your smartphone into a handy GPS device for the trail!

 

Budgeting and Money

Cash or Credit?

While an increasing number of accommodation providers, shops, and other services are beginning to accept credit cards, cash is still the primary payment method used along the TMB. It is important to carry enough cash to cover all of your expenses for several days, as  ATMs are infrequent along the trail. Check out our stage-by-stage guide (later in this post) for availability of ATMs on specific stages. 

Currency

The TMB crosses the borders of three different countries, meaning that you’ll need to switch from using Euros in France to Swiss Francs in Switzerland then back to Euros upon entering Italy. While most places in Switzerland will accept Euros, you’ll be better off using Francs if you can. 

Typical Costs

Although it has the reputation for being one of the more expensive and luxurious thru-hikes, it is still very possible to hike the TMB 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.

The two keys to saving money on the TMB? Lodging and food.

Since you’ve found this camping guide, you’re well on your way to having the first one covered. Camping will save you boatloads of money, and you’ll have a better experience too!

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.

Check out this thorough post in which we break down exactly what you can expect to pay for food, accommodation, transportation, and more. 

Hikers take in the views from the top of a pass on the TMB

Fortunately, the best parts of the TMB-like the sense of accomplishment that comes with reaching the top of a pass- are completely free!

What to Pack

Packing for the TMB is balancing act between ensuring you have everything you need and ensuring you don’t feel like you’re giving a piggyback ride to a small elephant for 100+ miles. This is especially true for campers, as you’ll have a more extensive packing list and the stakes are a bit higher if you neglect to bring something essential.

For a complete packing list, check out this article.

How much should my pack weigh?

This isn’t easy to answer, since there are a ton of factors that influence how much is too much for any individual hiker. Some things to think about…

  • How fast are you hoping to hike? Generally speaking, lighter=faster
  • Have you completed a multi-day through hike with this specific backpack and this amount of weight before? If not, you should really try to keep it below 25lbs (including water!) 
  • Are you injury-prone or do you have any chronic knee, hip, or back issues? If so, you need to make sure that backpack is below 20lbs!

Did you know we can help you create the perfect packing list? Learn more here!

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Generally speaking, less is more. Here’s a few tips for preventing baby-elephant piggyback syndrome:

  1. You only need a couple of shirts. Same goes for underwear and socks. Before you write us off as total dirtbags, hear us out. First, you’ll have plenty of time and sunshine to wash and dry laundry (and we actually find it to be quite a fun camp chore). Second, clothes are heavy, so cutting out everything but the absolute essentials will make a huge difference.
  2. Plan out when/where you’ll restock food provisions and don’t carry more food than you need.
  3. 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.

If you have other travel destinations before or after the TMB, you can store your extra luggage in Chamonix. See our logistics article for more on this. 

Caution sign showing a person falling off a cliff.

This poor fellow didnt follow our packing advice….

 

TMB MVG (Most Valuable Gear)

Footwear on the Tour du Mont Blanc

Traditional hiking boots, hiking shoes, or trail runners will all work for the trail conditions on the TMB, but you need to make sure they will work for you too. This means that you should bring a pair of boots or shoes that you know from experience don’t cause problems for your feet. Ideally, you should put at least 30 miles on them in various terrain and weather conditions to reduce the chance of running into issues on the trail. A nasty blister can be catastrophic on a multi-day trek like the TMB! That being said, you also don’t want your boots/shoes to be too broken in, as you need them to hold up faithfully for many miles of gnarly terrain. I know we’re asking you to work some Goldilocks magic here, but it’s definitely worth it!

In terms of other specifications, we feel that the only other must-have is a good, grippy vibrum (or similar material) sole for steep descents and loose paths. Otherwise it’s up to personal preference when it comes to how much ankle support you need, waterproof versus quick-dry, sturdy versus lightweight, and so on.

You’ll also want to make sure you have some good socks. Socks are one of those rare things in life where you really do get what you pay for, and high quality socks can be a game changer. Once again, try to do some hiking in a few different types to figure out how what you like in terms of thickness, cushion, and height. We love merino wool for its quick-drying and anti-stink qualities.

If you’re blister prone, consider trying sock liners. Many hikers swear by them. Other tried-and-true blister prevention tactics include putting bodyglide on potential hotspots or wearing toesocks.

Trekking Poles

BRING THEM. Enough said. Seriously, these are a total game-changer on a tough trek like the TMB. You (and your knees) will be so glad to have them on steep sections, and this is especially true for campers who are carrying heavier loads.

Hikers making their way down to the Vallee de l'Arve.

Big shout out to our trekking poles and pack covers!

 

Backpack

The same rule for shoes applies to backpacks: make sure you complete several hikes with your bag packed the same way (and same weight) you’ll carry on the TMB. Also similar to shoes, backpacks need to be broken in through use, and your body needs to get used to the feeling of wearing it for extended periods of time. In terms of size, most campers will need between 45 and 65 liters. If you’re purchasing a new one, most good outdoors stores have experienced staff that will help you find the right fit and style for your needs.

Don’t forget to bring a pack cover (included with many newer backpacks) to protect against rain. This is an absolute must-have.

Battery Backup

If you plan on using your phone as a GPS to navigate along the TMB (which we highly recommend!), it’s imperative that it stays charged. Many campgrounds will allow you to charge electronics, but this isn’t a guarantee everywhere. Carrying a small battery backup or one of these nifty portable solar panels will give you a little more freedom and peace of mind. In our guide, we’ve noted the availability of electronics charging along every stage.

A few other MVG honorable mentions…

Puffy down jacket: Lightweight, warm, packable and all you need (it’s not necessary to bring a heavy fleece, too).

Kev Reynolds’ Ciccerone Guide to the TMB: An excellent resource.

Don’t forget to check out our complete packing list for the TMB here.  Additionally, if you’re on a tight budget, be sure to take a look at this article for backpacking gear hacks to save you money.

Electronics

Charging

Many campgrounds and other accommodation along the route will allow you to charge your devices for free, although there is some variation in terms of availability from place to place. See our guide for specific information on each stage. We recommend using a multi-port USB adapter, as outlets can be in high demand. If you’re coming from outside of Europe, you’ll need a travel adapter. Thankfully, you’ll use the same adapter in all three countries along the route.

Cell Service

Cell phone service is pretty widespread along the Tour du Mont Blanc, but it isn’t always reliable or predictable. Expect to get service in all of the larger towns, but less so as you go further from civilization. You might be able to pick up a few bars at high points and unobstructed areas (like the top of a mountain pass), but definitely don’t count on it.

Wifi

For better or worse, many of the campgrounds along the TMB now offer Wifi. It’s typically free to use, although some places may require an additional fee. You’ll usually have to move close to the reception building in order to connect to it. The mountain refuges (and most gites) along the TMB do not offer wifi, but it is commonplace at all hotels.

Hikers sitting in chairs and enjoying the views outside Refuge de la Flegere

No wifi? No problem! The views and camaraderie provide more than enough entertainment along the TMB.

 

Wild Camping on the Tour du Mont Blanc

Wild camping along the TMB is complicated and discouraged (and often illegal). The trail passes through three 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, it may be permitted above 2,500 meters (from dusk until dawn) in Italy, and it is strictly forbidden in Switzerland. This website has helpful information on the specific legal codes for each country.

The good news is that there are many official campsites that are easily accessible along the TMB. While not entirely cheap, we feel it is important to use these facilities whenever they are available in order to give respect to the local communities and the fragile natural environment. Furthermore, there are quite a few opportunities to pitch your tent in free sanctioned wild and semi-wild camp spots along the TMB (see the guide below for specific details). If you choose to wild camp outside of these areas, set up after dusk, pack up at dawn, and utilize leave no trace practices.

Wildflowers on stage 4 of the TMB

This might look like an ideal place to camp, but it’s definitely not legal!

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Guide to Camping on the Walker’s Haute Route

Some people say that camping on the Walker’s Haute Route is a more challenging version of the Tour du Mont Blanc. While there are arguably many similarities (including the fact…

Some people say that camping on the Walker’s Haute Route is a more challenging version of the Tour du Mont Blanc. While there are arguably many similarities (including the fact that the routes overlap for a couple of stages), to make that characterization would be to oversimplify and unfairly represent the Haute Route.

The Walker’s Haute Route (WHR) is resolutely and beautifully unique, a rugged, varied, and challenging adventure, sure to bring unforgettable rewards to all that traverse it. One major difference between the Walker’s Haute Route and the TMB is that while the TMB makes a loop across three different countries, the WHR is a point-to-point route that takes walkers from Chamonix to Zermatt, with the lion’s share of the trail residing within Switzerland.

There are many wonderful aspects of spending most of the roughly two weeks inside Swiss borders, but anyone who is remotely aware of their budget will quickly realize that Switzerland is expensive! If you are wanting to do the Haute Route on a smaller budget, or if you simply want to experience the joys of maximizing your time outdoors in the most spectacular Alpine settings, camping along the Walker’s Haute Route is your best bet.

As we began our research on camping along the Walker’s Haute Route, we realized that there are many options, but not a ton of clear, straightforward information about how to make it happen. With this guide, we hope to share what we learned through lots of planning, research, and experience to help our fellow tent-dwellers have their best possible Walker’s Haute Route Adventure.

Chamonix Train Station, the start of the Haute Route.

Starting at the Chamonix train station, the Walker’s Haute Route winds its way all the way to Zermatt.

Everything you need to to plan your Haute Route camping adventure – all in one place.

Our downloadable Guide to Camping on the Walker’s Haute Route is ultimate resource to help you plan your perfect trip.

Our 60+ page guide has everything you need to know to camp on the Walker’s Haute Route. From campground locations to detailed maps, our guide is the quintessential handbook for Haute Route campers. Each section provides in-depth information and resources, including:

  • Stage-by-stage hiking and accommodation descriptions
  • Detailed maps for every stop
  • Complete 10-day, 12-day, and 13-day Haute Route itineraries for campers
  • Custom GPS data for the entire route
  • Detailed instructions on using your phone as a GPS device
  • Lodging recommendations
  • Getting to/from the Haute Route
  • The ultimate camping packing list
  • A 15-week training plan

BUY NOW

 

What’s in This Guide?

About the Walker’s Haute Route

The Haute Route is a quintessential Alpine adventure. The classic route begins in Chamonix at the foot of the majestic Mont Blanc and ends in Zermatt at the base of the iconic Matterhorn. The hike is typically broken into fourteen stages which include strenuous high-level traverses and mellower valley walks.  There are several possible variants throughout the trek, so the exact distance covered will vary based on your individual route choices.

The Haute Route passes through two countries and crosses eleven mountain passes. It presents some serious physical challenges, but your exertions are guaranteed to be rewarded royally with some of the world’s most beautiful and varied scenery. Unlike its hundred-year old brother the High Level Route, the Walker’s Haute Route does not require skiing or mountaineering experience. Anyone with good physical fitness, some trekking experience, and an adventurous spirit is destined to fall in love with the Walker’s Haute Route.

Overlooking a chalet and mountain views on the Walker's Haute Route

 

How long is the Walker’s Haute Route?

Distance: 225 kilometers (140 miles)

Elevation Gain: 14,000 meters (45,932 feet)

How long does it take to hike the Walker’s Haute Route?

It typically takes walkers between 10-14 days to complete the Walker’s Haute Route. One of the great things about the hike is that there’s a lot of room for customization when it comes to creating your itinerary. Camping will allow you a lot more flexibility in terms of not needing advance reservations, but you will be a bit more restricted in other ways since camping is not permitted on every stage of the WHR. We’ve structured this camping guide for a 12-stage version of the trek, but we’ve noted places where you can adapt your itinerary to combine stages or choose other variants.

A few other considerations to keep in mind when deciding how many days you need to hike the Haute Route:

  • If you plan on camping, you’ll need to carry a heavier pack and therefore may hike slower than usual.
  • Do you enjoy spending 8+ hours on steep trails every day? If not, you shouldn’t double-up on stages.
  • Fastpacking the Haute Route is possible in 7 days or less, but you’ll need to be very fit and experienced.
  • Do you want to take a rest day? If so, don’t forget to factor that into your itinerary.
  • Are you determined to exclusively camp along the trail? If so, you’ll need to adjust your itinerary to avoid stopping in places without camping options. See our stage-by-stage guide for more details on this.
  • Are you interested in taking shortcuts or cutting out sections of the trail? This can be a good option for those who don’t have enough time to realistically complete the entire route or want to tailor it for their ability level.
Lac Bleu on the Walker's Haute Route

The aptly named Lac Blue, a highlight for many on the Walker’s Haute Route.

 

When to hike

The general season for hiking the Walker’s Haute Route lasts from mid-June through mid-September, although this window is subject to great variability due to snow conditions on the higher passes.

June can be lovely, but you will likely have to negotiate large sections of the trail that are covered in snow. In some cases, you may need to reroute to avoid unsafe areas. Those hiking in June should bring crampons. Campgrounds and mountain huts typically don’t open until the later part of June.

July and August are typically the best times to be on the trail, but these are also the most busy months on the Haute Route. Be sure to check when the Ultra Tour du Mont Blanc is happening. This trail-race typically occurs at the end of August and brings out thousands of spectators. The first few stages largely overlap with the UTMB course, so try to avoid being on those segments during the race.  You can expect an explosion of wildflowers in June and July.

Expect increasingly cooler weather and fewer crowds in September; this can be a wonderful time to hike. However, it’s important to note that many campgrounds, mountain huts, and other services along the route may already be closed for the season.

The best time to hike is mid-August through mid-September, but anytime you go there’ll be a real chance that you’ll need to reroute to avoid snow-covered sections or adverse weather conditions. If that happens, don’t despair. Chalk it up to being part of the Haute Route experience and make sure to give the mountains the respect they deserve.

A large patch of snow below Refuge Col de Balme.

A large patch of snow lingers below Refuge Col de Balme in mid-July.

 

How difficult is the Walker’s Haute Route?

The Haute Route does not require advanced mountaineering experience, but its challenges certainly should not be taken lightly. For one thing, it is a very strenuous endeavor. Expect to cover around 15km and 1,000m of elevation gain each day. Much of the hike requires walking on steep, loose, and rocky terrain.

In addition to the basic physical challenges, there are also some sections that are technically difficult. Parts of the trail along the Europaweg and on the approach to Pas des Chevres are very exposed and come with a small risk of falling rocks.  There are ladders and chains to negotiate at a few points along the trail as well, with the toughest being near Pas des Chevres. Additionally, some hikers opt to take a variant that involves a short glacier crossing, but that can be easily avoided.

One final consideration involves the health of your knees and overall leg strength. There are very long, steep descents on nearly every stage of the Haute Route, and these can create problems and irritate chronic injuries for those with sensitive knees.

If you have a high level of physical fitness and some trekking experience, you should be well suited for the Haute Route. There’s no need to be too intimidated by this trek, but it’s a very good idea to train ahead of time, be realistic about your abilities and expectations, and use good judgement in the mountains.

Climbing a ladder to reach the Pas des Chevres on Stage 7 of the Walker's Haute Route

The ladders are actually the easiest part of the ascent to the Pas des Chevres!

 

Which direction?

Unlike many other long-distance hikes, the Haute Route is almost exclusively walked in the Chamonix to Zermatt direction. You can certainly walk the other direction (from the Matterhorn to Mont Blanc) but most information you’ll find will assume you’re walking from Chamonix to Zermatt. Generally speaking, the difficulty is the same in either direction. However, some of the best views come on the final stretches of the walk (if heading in the traditional west-to-east direction), as the Matterhorn comes sharply into sight for the first time. There is something truly unforgettable about completing your trek with this dramatic peak towering above the deep, green valley. It will literally take your breath away, and it makes for the perfect conclusion to such a rewarding and spectacular experience.

Weather

Mountain weather is always volatile, and the Walker’s Haute Route is no exception. Conditions can change very rapidly in the Alps, meaning that you can find yourself in the middle of a whiteout blizzard or on an exposed ridge during a thunderstorm without much warning. For the most part, the weather during the hiking season is ridiculously lovely. 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:

  1. The Meteoblue App is arguably the best resource for predicting the weather. 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.
  2. Start hiking early in the day! Not only will you enjoy gorgeous sunrises, get to the campground before the crowds, and avoid the heat, but you’ll also greatly reduce your risk of getting caught in afternoon thunderstorms.
Dark clouds gathering above the Moiry Glacier.

Dark clouds gathering above the Moiry Glacier.

 

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 (and eating) two weeks’  worth of underwhelming freeze-dried backpacker meals. Due to the fact that the trail passes through many towns and villages, you will be able to resupply every few days. We’ve noted the availability of shops and restaurants at every stop along the route in our stage-by-stage camping guide below. Make sure you plan accordingly, as there are not shops at every stage. Keep in mind that shops often close for a midday break and almost always close on Sundays.

For budget travelers, it is possible to self-cater and keep your food and drink costs quite reasonable. You’ll need to 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 outdoors 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! 

Dietary Restrictions

The restaurants and accommodation providers along the Walker’s Haute Route are generally quite willing to provide a vegetarian option. Those who are vegan, gluten-free, or have a specialized diet will have a harder time finding suitable meals. While certain places will be able to accommodate your needs, that will be the exception and not the norm. We’d recommend bringing plenty of your own food as insurance.

Water

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.

Pastries on a balcony in Les Houches, France.

Fueling up on pastries in Les Houches before beginning our trek.

 

Getting to and From the Walker’s Haute Route

Since the Walker’s Haute Route starts and finishes in different places, it’s a good idea to have a plan for how you’ll get to the trailhead and make your onwards when you complete your trek. Most international travelers will travel through the Geneva Airport. To get from Geneva to Chamonix, you can take a bus or use a private shuttle service. On the other end, Zermatt is easily accessed by train from Geneva and many other Swiss cities.

We wrote an entire article dedicated to giving you the best, most in-depth information on everything concerning Haute Route logistics. Check it out here. 

Wayfinding

For the most part, the Walker’s Haute Route is an extremely well-marked trail. The route is usually marked with red and white paint flashes at frequent intervals.  If you go more than twenty minutes without seeing a trail marker, you’ve probably wandered off the trail. Despite the helpful paint flashes and signage, it is still surprisingly easy to get lost on the Haute Route if you’re not careful. The scenery is so darn pretty that it will often draw your eyes away from the path and cause you to miss a turn. That’s why carrying a map and (preferably) a GPS device is of the utmost importance. This is even more true if you plan on camping, as many of the campgrounds require you to leave the trail to access them.

Trail sign with mountains in the background on the Walker's Haute Route.

Trail signs and markers are plentiful along the Haute Route.

 

Budgeting and Money

Cash or Credit?

While an increasing number of accommodation providers, shops, and other services are beginning to accept credit cards, cash is still the primary payment method used along the Walker’s Haute Route. It is important to carry enough cash to cover all of your expenses for several days, as  ATMs are infrequent along the trail. Check out our stage-by-stage guide (later in this post) for availability of ATMs on specific stages.

Currency

The Haute Route crosses international borders, meaning that you’ll need to switch from using Euros in France to Swiss Francs in Switzerland. While most places in Switzerland will accept Euros, you’ll be better off using Francs if you can. You’ll only spend about a day of your trek in France, so you won’t need many Euros.

Typical Costs

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.

The two keys to saving money on the Haute Route? Lodging and food.

Since you’ve found this camping guide, you’re well on your way to having the first one covered. Camping will save you boatloads of money, and you’ll have a better experience too!

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.

Check out this thorough post in which we break down exactly what you can expect to pay for food, accommodation, transportation, and more. 

Zermatt Campground, Walker's Haute Route

Camping along the Walker’s Haute Route is one of the best ways to keep your costs down!

 

What to Pack for the Walker’s Haute Route

Packing for the Walker’s Haute Route is balancing act between ensuring you have everything you need and ensuring you don’t feel like you’re giving a piggyback ride to a small elephant for 100+ miles. This is especially true for campers, as you’ll have a more extensive packing list and the stakes are a bit higher if you neglect to bring something essential.

For a complete packing list, check out this article.

How much should my pack weigh?

This isn’t easy to answer, since there are a ton of factors that influence how much is too much for any individual hiker. Some things to think about…

  • How fast are you hoping to hike? Generally speaking, lighter=faster
  • Have you completed a multi-day through hike with this specific backpack and this amount of weight before? If not, you should really try to keep it below 25lbs (including water!) 
  • Are you injury-prone or do you have any chronic knee, hip, or back issues? If so, you need to make sure that backpack is below 20lbs!

Generally speaking, less is more. Here’s a few tips for preventing baby-elephant piggyback syndrome:

  1. You only need a couple of shirts. Same goes for underwear and socks. Before you write us off as total dirtbags, hear us out. First, you’ll have plenty of time and sunshine to wash and dry laundry (and we actually find it to be quite a fun camp chore). Second, clothes are heavy, so cutting out everything but the absolute essentials will make a huge difference.
  2. Plan out when/where you’ll restock food provisions and don’t carry more food than you need.
  3. 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.

If you have other travel destinations before or after the Walker’s Haute Route, you can store or transfer your extra luggage. See our logistics article for more on this. 

Hiking boots

Your trusty boots are one of your most important pieces of gear.

Walker’s Haute Route MVG (Most Valuable Gear)

Footwear on the Walker’s Haute Route

Traditional hiking boots, hiking shoes, or trail runners will all work for the trail conditions on the Haute Route, but you need to make sure they will work for you too. This means that you should bring a pair of boots or shoes that you know from experience don’t cause problems for your feet. Ideally, you should put at least 30 miles on them in various terrain and weather conditions to reduce the chance of running into issues on the trail. A nasty blister can be catastrophic on a multi-day trek like the Haute Route! That being said, you also don’t want your boots/shoes to be too broken in, as you need them to hold up faithfully for many miles of gnarly terrain. I know we’re asking you to work some Goldilocks magic here, but it’s definitely worth it!

In terms of other specifications, we feel that the only other must-have is a good, grippy vibrum (or similar material) sole for steep descents and loose paths. Otherwise it’s up to personal preference when it comes to how much ankle support you need, waterproof versus quick-dry, sturdy versus lightweight, and so on.

You’ll probably need to cross some snow at some points along your hike. Gaiters and waterproof boots can be helpful for these situations, but certainly aren’t essential.

You’ll also want to make sure you have some good socks. Socks are one of those rare things in life where you really do get what you pay for, and high quality socks can be a game changer. Once again, try to do some hiking in a few different types to figure out how what you like in terms of thickness, cushion, and height. We love merino wool for its quick-drying and anti-stink qualities.

If you’re blister prone, consider trying sock liners. Many hikers swear by them. Other tried-and-true blister prevention tactics include putting bodyglide on potential hotspots or wearing toesocks.

Trekking Poles

BRING THEM. Enough said. Seriously, these are a total game-changer on a tough trek like the Walker’s Haute Route. You (and your knees) will be so glad to have them on steep sections, and this is especially true for campers who are carrying heavier loads.

Hiker with trekking poles on the Walker's Haute Route

Thank goodness for trekking poles (and improvised sun protection)!

 

Backpack

The same rule for shoes applies to backpacks: make sure you complete several hikes with your bag packed the same way (and same weight) you’ll carry on the Haute Route. Also similar to shoes, backpacks need to be broken in through use, and your body needs to get used to the feeling of wearing it for extended periods of time. In terms of size, most campers will need between 45 and 65 liters. If you’re purchasing a new one, most good outdoors stores have experienced staff that will help you find the right fit and style for your needs.

Don’t forget to bring a pack cover (included with many newer backpacks) to protect against rain. This is an absolute must-have.

Backpacking backpack

The type of pack you’ll need for the Haute Route will depend on your individual itinerary.

 

Battery Backup

If you plan on using your phone as a GPS to navigate along the Walker’s Haute Route (which we highly recommend!), it’s imperative that it stays charged. Many campgrounds will allow you to charge electronics, but this isn’t a guarantee everywhere. Carrying a small battery backup or one of these nifty portable solar panels will give you a little more freedom and peace of mind. In our guide, we’ve noted the availability of electronics charging along every stage.

A few other MVG honorable mentions…

Puffy down jacket: Lightweight, warm, packable and all you need (it’s not necessary to bring a heavy fleece, too).

Kev Reynolds’ Ciccerone Guide to the Walker’s Haute Route: An excellent resource. It’s also available as an e-book, which is a great way to keep your pack weight down!

Don’t forget to check out our complete packing list for the Walker’s Haute Route here.  Additionally, if you’re on a tight budget, be sure to take a look at this article for backpacking gear hacks to save you money.

Electronics

Charging

Many campgrounds and other accommodation along the route will allow you to charge your devices for free, although there is some variation in terms of availability from place to place. See our stage-by-stage guide for specific information on each stage. We recommend using a multi-port USB adapter, as outlets can be in high demand. If you’re coming from outside of Europe, you’ll need a travel adapter. Thankfully, you’ll use the same adapter in all three countries along the route.

Cell Service

Cell phone service is pretty widespread along the Walker’s Haute Route, but it isn’t always reliable or predictable. Expect to get service in all of the larger towns, but less so as you go further from civilization. You might be able to pick up a few bars at high points and unobstructed areas (like the top of a mountain pass), but definitely don’t count on it.

Wifi

For better or worse, many of the campgrounds along the WHR now offer Wifi. It’s typically free to use, although some places may require an additional fee. You’ll usually have to move close to the reception building in order to connect to it. The mountain refuges (and most gites) along the Haute Route do not offer wifi, but it is commonplace at all hotels.

 

A view of the high alpine scenery near Pas des Chevres

Don’t expect to find any cell phone service in places like this (just outstanding views).

 

Reservations

Advance bookings are not necessary for any of the campgrounds along the Haute Route. If you’re worried about getting a good pitch, try to get to the campground before 5:00pm and you should be just fine. On the other hand, it is a very good idea to reserve beds at mountain refuges, gites, and hotels ahead of time.

A hotel with flowerboxes in Arolla, Switzerland.

You don’t need to make advance bookings for camping, but you’ll definitely want to reserve your bed at places like this!

 

Wild Camping on the Walker’s Haute Route

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.

The good news is that there are many official campsites that are easily accessible along the Walker’s Haute Route. While not entirely cheap, we feel it is important to use these facilities whenever they are available in order to give respect to the local communities and the fragile natural environment. As you’ll see in our guide, we opted to camp wild at just one stage along the Haute Route, as there were few alternatives. If you choose to wild camp outside of sanctioned areas, set up after dusk, pack up at dawn, and utilize leave no trace practices.

 

A Stage-by-Stage Guide for Camping on the Walker’s Haute Route

The Matterhorn near Zermatt.

The Matterhorn, your final destination on the Haute Route.

 

Everything you need to to plan your Haute Route camping adventure – all in one place.

Our downloadable Guide to Camping on the Walker’s Haute Route is ultimate resource to help you plan your perfect trip.

Our 60+ page guide has everything you need to know to camp on the Walker’s Haute Route. From campground locations to detailed maps, our guide is the quintessential handbook for Haute Route campers. Each section provides in-depth information and resources, including:

  • Stage-by-stage hiking and accommodation descriptions
  • Detailed maps for every stop
  • Complete 10-day, 12-day, and 13-day Haute Route itineraries for campers
  • Custom GPS data for the entire route
  • Detailed instructions on using your phone as a GPS device
  • Lodging recommendations
  • Getting to/from the Haute Route
  • The ultimate camping packing list
  • A 15-week training plan

BUY NOW

 

Stages One and Two: Chamonix to Le Peuty

Camping Availability: Le Peuty Campsite

While many walkers choose to stay in nearby Trient, Le Peuty lies more directly on the WHR trail and offers a simple, pretty option for camping. This campground is located next to a small Gite and consists of a grassy field with basic facilities. It’s easy to miss if there aren’t any tents set up yet. There is no registration; instead someone will stop by in the evening to collect payment. You can pay in either Swiss Francs (CHF) or Euros.

Services: Potable water (cold), Toilets (no TP or soap), sinks, sheltered cooking area with picnic tables, trash and recycling, one outlet, portable showers (hot water wasn’t working when we were there), clothesline.

Nearby: There is a restaurant at the Gite next to the campsite, as well as a few other restaurant offerings in Trient. There are no grocery stores or ATM’s in the area, so stock up before leaving Chamonix or Argentiere.

Price: 6 CHF per person (cash only)

Tent at the Le Peuty campsite on the Haute Route.

Nice views from the tent at Le Peuty.

 

Alternative Option #1: Chamonix to Argentiere

Camping Availability: Camping du Glaciers

We combined the first two stages of the Haute Route into one longer day. If you don’t want to do that, you could stop at the end of Stage One and camp in Argentiere.

Services: Toilets, hot showers, potable water, laundry, wifi, a restaurant (which serves breakfast), and a place to purchase snacks and stove fuel.

Nearby: Grocery store, ATM, restaurants, a Tourist Office, and bus services.

Price: 6.10€ per person + 3.10€ per tent + 0,20 € per person tourist tax (includes transit card)

Alternative Option #2: Chamonix (or Argentiere) to Hotel de la Forclaz

Camping Availability: Hotel de la Forclaz

If you decide to opt out of the challenging  Fenêtre d’Arpette route for Stage Three and instead choose to take the Bovine Route, you could get a head start by continuing past Le Peuty for about 45 minutes uphill to Hotel de la Forclaz (and along the Bovine Route). If you’re completing the  Fenêtre d’Arpette, you would not want to do this, as it would add an unnecessary detour. Camping at Hotel de la Forclaz is a bit more luxurious than at Le Peuty, as you’ll have access to hot meals, a small shop, and real showers.

Services: Toilets, showers, potable water, option to purchase breakfast and/or dinner from the hotel restaurant, and a small shop selling snacks and ice cream.

Nearby: There are no other shops or services near the hotel.

Price: 8 CHF per person + 6 CHF per tent

 

Stage Three: Le Peuty to Champex

Camping Availability: Camping Les Rocailles

Camping Les Rocailles is one of the first things you’ll pass as you enter Champex, about a 10-minute walk from the town center.  This lovely little campground offers three terraces with mostly flat spots to pitch your tent, but not much shade to be found.   Check in at the registration office before setting up camp.

Services: Toilets, sinks (with potable water), hot showers, a dishwashing/laundry room (3 CHF for wash, 1 CHF per 10 minutes for the dryer), outlets, microwave, electric kettle, covered cooking areas, and an area for drying wet clothes.  The office sells beer, wine, soda, and chips.

Nearby: Champex has a grocery store, cafes, bars, restaurants, outdoor retailers, and an ATM. The lake offers several tranquil spots along its shore for relaxing after a long day on your feet.

Price: 16 CHF per person (cash or most credit cards accepted)

The Trient Glacier.

Fantastic views await those who hike the Fenêtre d’Arpette

 

Stage Four: Champex to Le Châble

Camping Availability: Camping Champsec

While there isn’t a campground in Le Châble (the official stop of this stage of the WHR), there is a campground a short bus ride away (or a one-hour walk) in the small town of Champsec. To get to the campground, catch the #253 Postbus from outside of the convenience store at the gondola station in Le Châble. The ride takes about 10 minutes and costs 3.50 CHF per person. From the bus stop in Champsec, follow the signs and walk about 10 minutes to the campground. The campground is located in a lovely pastoral setting next to the river.

Tip: the tourist tax you’ll pay at the campground will make you eligible for a free transit card for the following day. The next morning when you take the bus back to Le Châble to continue your hike, simply tell the driver that you stayed at the campground and you shouldn’t have to pay the bus fare (you can then obtain your actual transit card from the tourist office in Le Châble if you also want to access the gondola for free).

Services: Toilets (TP but no hand soap), covered sinks for washing up, warm shower, indoor space with tables and chairs, outdoor seating, and outlets inside the reception and in the bathrooms.

Nearby: There aren’t any services in Champsec, but there is a grocery store (closed on Sundays), bakery, restaurants, bus/train/gondola connections, and an ATM in Le Châble. You could also use your transit card and ride the gondola or bus up to Verbier for more grocery stores, outdoors shops, and restaurants.

Price: 8 CHF per person+ 6 CHF per tent + 1.5 CHF tourist tax per person (includes transit card access) (cash only)

Stage Five: Le Châble to Cabane du Mont Fort

Camping Availability: None

On stage five, the traditional Walker’s Haute Route route climbs steadily upwards to the mountain hut at Cabane du Mont Fort and stays at high elevation throughout stage six. You won’t find any official camping areas again until you’re back down at lower elevations in Arolla, at the end of stage seven. If the weather conditions are really good, you could conceivably wild camp between stages five and seven. Our plan was to stay at the Cabane du Mont Fort at the end of stage five, then hike past the typical end of stage six the following day and reach the Refuge de La Barma, which is unmanned on weekdays. However, bad weather forced us to reroute after spending the night at Cabane du Mont Fort. We ended up taking the train and bus to reach Arolla, then hiking up to Pas de Chèvres from the Arolla the following day. Below we’ve provided an overview of Cabane du Mont Fort, plus other alternative options for these stages.

Cabane du Mont Fort

We camped nearly every night on the Haute Route, but we made exceptions on three occasions. Two of these exceptions were to stay at mountain huts (the other was to stay in a cozy Airbnb on our rest day). We reserved beds ahead of time at Cabane du Mont Fort and Cabane du Moiry, due to the difficulty of camping on these stages and the rave reviews about these huts. If you can, we recommend staying in at least one good mountain hut (known as cabanes) along your hike. It is a unique experience in which you’ll meet fellow hikers and enjoy a fun evening in an incredibly atmospheric setting. Tip #1: Both of the huts that we stayed at along the Walker’s Haute Route allowed us to opt out of purchasing meals and self-cater instead. We paid half as much with this option, while still enjoying all the ambiance and coziness of the hut. Tip #2: Get there early. Some rooms at Mont Fort only have two or four beds. If you’re lucky, you may end up with a private room.

Services: Toilets (TP and soap), drinking water, public wifi access, a la carte food and drinks available for purchase, hot showers (5 CHF for 5 minutes), kitchenette with stove, sink, and cookware, and a classic, cozy hut with great views.

Nearby: The Les Ruinettes gondola station is about an hour’s hike back down the trail. You can present your confirmation email from Cabane du Mont Fort at the Le Châble tourist office and receive a transit card which will allow you to ride the gondola for free down to Verbier and Le Châble. If you need to detour to Arolla due to bad weather or hazardous conditions, this is a great option. There are no other shops or services available along the trail until Arolla (with the exception of a few mountain huts which serve meals).

Price: 37 CHF (dorm only) or 75 CHF (half pension)

View from Cabane du Mont Fort.

Looking out from Cabane du Mont Fort.

 

Alternative Option: Le Châble to Cabane de Prafleuri

If you want to eliminate a day that doesn’t have easy camping options, you could take the gondola up from Le Châble to Les Ruinettes, then walk all the way to Cabane de Prafleuri. The next day you would descend to Arolla, where you’d have access again to a campground. We wouldn’t recommend this option for a few reasons. First, this would set you up for two very long and challenging days of walking in potentially hazardous conditions. Second, everyone we’ve talked has given poor reviews of Cabane de Prafleuri (it was actually closed for a bed bug infestation while we were hiking the WHR). If you’re going to spend the money on a hut, Mont Fort or Cabane des Dix are better options. Cabane des Dix is a further walk from Cabane du Mont Fort.

Stage Six: Cabane du Mont Fort to Cabane de Prafleuri

Camping Availability: Not available

Unfortunately, this section of the Haute Route does not have any options for camping. Here, the trail stays in the high mountains and does not encounter any towns, and thus does not encounter any campsites. The traditional Haute Route has walkers stop at Cabane du Prafleuri after Cabane du Mont Fort, although you can continue on to La Barma or Cabane des Dix as described above or head down to the Hotel du Barrage.

Services: Toilets, sinks (NO drinking water), showers, restaurant, outlets.

Nearby: No services nearby.

Price: Contact the Cabane for current prices.

 

Stage Seven: Cabane de Prafleuri to Arolla

Camping Availability: Camping Arolla

After a couple of days of crossing rocky, barren, snow-covered high mountain landscapes, the sunny, green valley and the village of Arolla are bound to look very inviting. As you descend into the small town, you’ll pass a couple of shops and hotels. To reach the campground, you’ll need to hike about 15-20 minutes further downhill. There’s a nice trail leading to the campground which can be accessed behind the Hotel du Glacier. You can’t miss the hotel, as it takes Alpine flower boxes to a whole new level. Camping Arolla is a nice, large campground with decent facilities and grassy terraces for tents. The reception has limited hours in the morning and evening, so pitch your tent and check back in later if they’re closed when you arrive. Tip: there are only a couple of showers for a whole bunch of campers, so try to get in there early if you want to avoid a long wait.

Services: Toilets (TP, no soap), sinks for washing up (hot and cold potable water), showers (1 CHF for 4 minutes), shop at the reception (limited hours) which sells snacks, beer/wine/soda, camper meals, toiletries, but no stove fuel, morning bread available for order, outlets in the bathrooms, wifi near the reception building, recycling (need to purchase bag for trash items), tent and camping gear rentals.

Nearby: The campground reception has a small shop and there is a pizza restaurant in the hotel next door to camping Arolla. There’s also a bus stop (Arolla, La Monta) just down the road from the campground. For all other services, you’ll need to walk back up to Arolla proper. There, you’ll find two small grocery stores, a few restaurants, and a tourist office.

Price: 8.70 CHF per person + 7.50 CHF per tent (cash or credit cards accepted)

Tents at Camping Arolla on the Haute Route.

A lovely evening at Camping Arolla.

 

Stage Eight: Arolla to La Sage

Camping Availability: Camping Molignon (Les Haudères)

The typical endpoint for this stage of the Haute Route is the town of La Sage, but those wanting to camp should stop instead in the town of Les Haudères, where there is a large campground with good facilities. Bear in mind that Les Haudères is at the bottom of the valley, while La Sage is further up the hillside. This means that you’ll have about 45 minutes of additional climbing to do at the beginning of the next day’s stage. We think this is a worthwhile trade-off, since Les Haudères is a charming village and also has way more services than La Sage. Camping Molignon is a big, busy campground on the edge of town. It’s located on a grassy area next to the river with nice views and easy proximity to the grocery store and bus stop. You’ll be in the minority with your tent, as most of the campground is occupied by camper vans. Though it is very large and crowded, you’ll find the facilities are quite nice and the location is ideal.

Services: Toilets (TP and hand soap), several covered sinks for washing up, potable water (hot and cold), showers, outlets, restaurant, small shop selling snacks and essential items, pool, hot tub, ping pong, playground, recycling, and trash (bag purchase required).

Nearby: Les Haudères has a grocery store, restaurants, cafes, outdoor shop, post office, and bus stop. You won’t find much in La Sage except for a few hotels and restaurants, so stock up in Les Haudères regardless of where you decide to spend the night.

Price: 7.50 CHF per person + 10 CHF per tent + 1.10 per person tourist tax

Campground near Les Hauderes, Switzerland.

Not a bad place to pitch a tent at Camping Molignon.

 

Stage Nine: La Sage to Cabane de Moiry (or Grimentz)

Camping Availability: Camping Ilôt Bosquet (Grimentz)

According to many Haute Route hikers, an overnight stay at Cabane de Moiry is a “can’t miss” experience. We opted to spend the night at Moiry instead of camping and found it to be a worthwhile splurge. The mountain hut is situated remarkably close to a truly stunning glacier, and the modern renovations (glass-walled dining room and spacious terrace) make for an atmospheric and wonderful space in which to study the glacier and soak up the views. However, by taking a variant to Grimentz, you have the option to camp instead, if you prefer.  Additionally, if you want to stay on the Moiry variant of the trail but still want to camp, we did see many people wild camping in the area between the upper reservoirs and Lac de Moiry.

Cabane de Moiry:

Services: Toilets (TP and soap), drying room, complimentary tea and coffee served in the afternoon and complimentary fruit tea in the morning, option for self-catering, restaurant/bar, sleep sheets available for rent (5 CHF), showers (5 CHF for 5 minutes), foosball, picnic tables, sinks but NO potable water (we recommend bringing a lightweight filter instead of buying the overpriced plastic bottles at the hut).

Nearby: There is a drinking water fountain located about an hour down the trail past Cabane de Moiry. There are also bathrooms at the parking lot next to Lac de Moiry.

Price: 40.50 CHF (dorm only) or 86.50 CHF (half board) (cash or credit cards accepted)

View of the Moiry Glacier.

The terrace at Cabane de Moiry gets you up close and personal to the incredible Moiry Glacier.

 

Alternative Option: Camping Ilôt Bosquet

If you would prefer to (legally) camp on this stage, your best bet is to continue hiking past the Barrage de Moiry and onwards for about two more hours to the town of Grimentz. If you plan on spending the following night at the Hotel Weisshorn, you’ll head straight there the next day, effectively cutting out a stage of the WHR. Alternatively, if you still wanted to complete the typical stage ten segment, you could take the bus back to Barrage de Moiry the next day and the complete the hike to Zinal. Another option (which would also cut out stage ten) would be to hike directly from Grimentz to Zinal (about 2.5 hours) and then continue on to complete stage eleven to Gruben all in the same day (which would be quite a long day of walking). Regardless of the option you choose, here’s a bit about the Camping Ilôt Bosquet:

Services: Basic toilets

Nearby: Bus stop, tourist office, restaurants, bank, post office, shops.

Price: 5 CHF per person + 4 CHF tourist tax per person

Stage Ten: Cabane de Moiry to Zinal

Camping Availability: Camping Relais de la Tzoucdana

As you begin your long descent towards Zinal, you’ll be able to see the campground far below. It sits next to river on the far edge of town (about 20 minutes’ walk to the town center). If you arrive in the afternoon, don’t be surprised to find the campground’s restaurant positively buzzing with families and hikers stopping by for a drink or some ice cream. Don’t worry, the crowds disperse as the evening sets in. At first glance, the campground is a little strange; there are various animals housed on site, people recreating everywhere you turn, and the area for tents is a bit cramped. However, it grew on us as we spent more time there. The showers are hot and clean, the staff is super friendly, the pitches are flat and grassy. Tip: There are two options for your descent from the gondola station into Zinal. If you choose the less steep variant (which follows a gravel road), the trail ends immediately next to the campground. If you take the steeper option, you’ll have to walk through town for a bit to reach the campground. The reception is located at the restaurant.

Services: Toilets (TP and soap), hot showers, water tap with cold, potable water in the camping field, sink with hot and cold potable water in the main building, porta potties in the camping field, restaurant/bar, picnic table, outlets, and a playground.

Nearby: Grocery store, shops, ATM, bakery, restaurants, bus stop, gondola station, tourist office, post office.

Price: 7 CHF per person + 6 CHF per tent + 4 CHF per person tourist tax (includes transit card) (cash and credit cards accepted).

Stage Eleven: Zinal to Gruben

Camping Availability: Wild camping only

The typical route for this stage brings hikers into the lovely, quiet Turtmanntal Valley and to the little hamlet of Gruben. Gruben is a quaint town situated along the river. However, for what it provides in rural, small-town charm, it lacks in camping options. If you want to camp along this stage, your only option is to camp wild. If you choose to do this, keep in mind that it is not technically legal, and you should therefore make every effort to minimize your impact. Upon arriving in Gruben, most campers continue uphill past the Hotel Schwarzhorn, following the trail towards the next stage. If you continue up past Gruben, you can scout for potential camping spots tucked within the trees. There are few flat spots, but they do exist. Once you find a workable spot, you can head back into Gruben, grab a beer at the hotel, fill up on drinking water at the tap in front of the church, and wait for the sun to set before setting up camp. In the morning, make sure to get packed up early. Bonus: you’ll have a head start on the next day’s walk! Tip: We chose to cook and eat our dinner on a bench next to the water tap. This allowed us to minimize our impact at our campsite and gave us easy access to water for cooking and washing up.

Services: Drinking water is available in town in front of the church. If you purchase something at the hotel and ask for the password, you can get wifi access there.

Nearby: Besides the hotel and restaurant, there’s not much in Gruben. Be sure to stock up at the shop in Zinal unless you want to buy some very expensive meals at the Hotel Schwarzhorn.

Price: Free

Big mountain view on the Haute Route.

Fantastic vistas on the descent to Gruben.

 

Stages Twelve through Fourteen: Gruben to St. Niklaus to Zermatt

Camping Availability: Camping Attermenzen (Randa) or Camping Alphubel (Täsch )

The final days of the Haute Route present hikers with a lot of choices. You can choose to complete all, some, or none of the high-level Europaweg trail, you can complete the stages in two or three days, and you can use various forms of transit to shorten some sections. If you want to complete the entire Europaweg section, you won’t have many convenient options for camping. We’ve laid out all of your options for the final stages below:

Alternative Option #1: Gruben to St.Niklaus/Gasenried/Grächen, then  St.Niklaus/Gasenried/Grächen to the Europa Hut, then Europa Hut to Zermatt.

Camping Availability: None

If you want to complete the entire Europaweg section of the Walker’s Haute Route, your options for camping will be quite limited. You can choose to finish stage twelve either in St. Niklaus, Gasenried, or Grächen. Unfortunately, you won’t find campsites in any of these towns. Upon finishing stage twelve, you’ll first pass through St. Niklaus, which has a budget hotel, a grocery store and bus connections to Gasenried and Grächen. If you keep walking for about two hours uphill (or take the bus from the St. Niklaus train station), you’ll reach Gasenried next. This is the most convenient location from which to start the long and challenging Europaweg section the following day, but there is only one hotel in the town. Alternatively, you could detour to Grächen (2 more hours or bus) where you’ll find a shop, restaurants, and a few budget accommodation options. From our observations, it appeared to be quite difficult to wild camp near St. Niklaus, as it was quite populated. We didn’t pass through the other towns, so we can’t say how possible it would be.

Europa Hut:

Services: Toilets (TP), sinks, dining room, terrace, restaurant.

Nearby: No services nearby.

Price: 30 CHF per person (dorm only) or 65 CHF (half board)

Alternative Option #2: Gruben to Randa or Täsch, then Randa /Täsch  to Zermatt.

If you’d rather stick with camping instead of having to stay at the Europa Hut, or you want to cut out the sketchier parts of the Europaweg Trail, or if you just need to shorten your hike by a day this option is for you. After reaching St. Niklaus at the end of stage twelve, you’ll have a choice between two campgrounds. If you want to take the valley trail the following day, we’d recommend staying at the Randa Campground (it’s actually a bit past Randa towards Täsch). This campground will be closer to get to after a long day of hiking from Gruben and balance the remainder of the hike so your next day isn’t ridiculously short. If you want to hike on the Europaweg trail for the final day (highly recommended in good weather), we suggest camping in Täsch. You can hike directly up from the campground in  Täsch to meet up with the Europaweg Trail (about 1.5-2 hours) and take that all the way to Zermatt. By choosing this option, you’ll still get the incredible Matterhorn views that the Europaweg trail has to offer, while avoiding most of the exposed areas and the suspension bridge (of course some hikers will see this as a disappointment while others will rejoice). If you decide to stay in Täsch, you’ll likely want to shorten your hike there by either taking the gondola down from Jungen to St. Niklaus or taking the train from St. Niklaus to Täsch. If you want to walk all the way from Gruben to Täsch, prepare for a 10-12-hour day and a lot of downhill and uninteresting valley walking.

Camping Attermenzen (Randa):

Services: Toilets (TP), sinks for washing up, hot and cold potable water, washer/dryer, shop selling food, drinks, and camping equipment, and outlets.

Nearby: Keep in mind that this campground is about a 15-20 minutes’ walk past the town of Randa. To get to the grocery store, restaurants, bank, post office, or train station, you’ll have to walk back to town.

Price: 7 CHF per person + 6 CHF per tent + 3 CHF tourist tax per person + 1 CHF waste fee per person

Camping Alphubel (Täsch):

This van-packed campground is located conveniently next to the train station and grocery store. However, you’ll pay for that convenient location in the form of frequent noise from the road and railroad tracks. Ear plugs are a total game changer here, so make sure you pack them! The area for tents is small and cramped, but the facilities are decent and the proximity to the trail can’t be beat.

Services: Toilets (TP, no soap), potable water, covered sinks for washing up (hot and cold water), wifi (2 CHF), laundry room, outlets in the bathrooms, bread available for order, recycling and trash, picnic tables, and ping pong.

Nearby: Grocery store, ATM, train station, shops, tourist office, restaurants, post office.

Price: 9 CHF per person + 6 CHF per tent + 4 CHF per person tourist tax + 1 CHF garbage tax (cash only).

View of the Matterhorn and Zermatt.

First glimpse of Zermatt from the Europaweg.

 

Zermatt

Camping Availability: Camping Matterhorn

Upon completing a challenge like the Haute Route, many hikers consider rewarding themselves with a night or two in a hotel in Zermatt. However, once they start looking at the prices of hotels in Zermatt, many of those hikers decide that one more night of camping doesn’t sound so bad after all. Lucky for them, there is a decent campground located near the center of town. While it is quite noisy, a bit cramped, and the showers aren’t the warmest, this campground has a lot of redeeming qualities, too. The wifi is excellent, there are plenty of chairs and tables that can be moved around to suit your campsite, and the proximity to the grocery store and train station are quite convenient. This campground is a great budget option if you’re just staying one night in Zermatt before traveling onwards.

Services: Toilets (TP, no soap), covered area with sinks for washing up, potable water (hot and cold), “free stuff” exchange shelf, tables and chairs, warm showers, wifi (get password from the reception), and outlets in the bathrooms.

Price: 17 CHF per person (cash only).

Conclusion

We think that camping is the best way to do the Haute Route, not only for the money-saving aspects, but because it allows you to more fully immerse yourself in the natural surroundings you’re there to experience and to meet some really cool fellow campers along the way. Hopefully this guide helps to pave the way for your own Haute Route camping adventure. Happy trails!

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Camping on the Haute Route the complete 2020 guide

What’s Next?

If you’ve read our Guide above, you’re well on your way to having an incredible experience camping on the Walker’s Haute Route Trail. 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!

 

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Guide to Conundrum Hot Springs

Conundrum Hot Springs, located in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness just outside of Aspen, Colorado is a truly incredible backcountry experience. The 8.5-mile long hike along Conundrum Creek leads you to…

Conundrum Hot Springs, located in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness just outside of Aspen, Colorado is a truly incredible backcountry experience. The 8.5-mile long hike along Conundrum Creek leads you to natural hot springs with fantastic views of the entire valley. This is a one-of-a-kind hike is an experience that you’ll never forget. We’ll walk you through everything you need to know to plan your very own Conundrum Hot Springs trip.

(Note: The Conundrum Hot Springs trail and backcountry area experience very heavy usage, and have suffered in recent years as a result. The Forest Service is implementing a reservation system beginning in 2018, which will hopefully help to keep this wilderness area pristine. Please do your part by abiding by the Leave No Trace backcountry practices.)

Conundrum Hot Springs

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Guide to Lake Verna/East Inlet Backpacking

Lake Verna, located on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park and accessible via the East Inlet trailhead, offers some of the most spectacular backpacking in the region. Less…

Lake Verna, located on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park and accessible via the East Inlet trailhead, offers some of the most spectacular backpacking in the region. Less crowded than other areas of Rocky Mountain National Park, Lake Verna and the East Inlet trail make for a fantastic backcountry adventure in Colorado’s most famous national park. We’ll walk you through everything you need to know to plan your own Lake Verna backpacking trip.

Lake Verna

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Guide to Backpacking to Craig Meadows

Craig Meadows, located just south the town of Bailey, offers a great Colorado weekend backpacking trip. Reachable in less than an hour from Denver and often free of snow early…

Craig Meadows, located just south the town of Bailey, offers a great Colorado weekend backpacking trip. Reachable in less than an hour from Denver and often free of snow early in the season, Craig Meadows makes for an easy backpacking escape from Colorado’s Front Range. We’ll walk you through everything you need to know to plan your own trip to Craig Meadows.

Backpack to Craig Meadows

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