Many of the small details of planning for the Walker´s Haute Route (WHR) can end up being the biggest challenges. You probably know that crossing Fenêtre d’Arpette will be difficult,…
Many of the small details of planning for the Walker´s Haute Route (WHR) can end up being the biggest challenges. You probably know that crossing Fenêtre d’Arpette will be difficult, but you might not be thinking as much about how you’ll get from the airport in Geneva to your hotel in Chamonix. We’ve put together the following post to help you tackle all of those tricky logistical items that are sure to arise when you’re planning your own Walker’s Haute Route adventure.
Starting the Walker’s Haute Route: Getting to Chamonix from the Geneva Airport
The vast majority of hikers choose to walk the WHR in the traditional direction from Chamonix to Zermatt, and therefore most international travelers will get to the start of their hike by first flying into the Geneva Airport (GVA). There are frequent flights to Geneva from the rest of Europe as well as a good number of flights from the U.S. Most U.S. flights arrive early in the morning, leaving you with ample time to get to Chamonix that same day. Once you’ve landed in Geneva, you’ll have several options for getting to Chamonix, outlined below:
- OuiBus – We found this to be the cheapest option and would highly recommend OuiBus. The service departs directly from the Geneva Airport and will take you to the Chamonix Sud bus station, in the heart of Chamonix.
- AlpyBus – AlpyBus runs a door to door transfer service from the Geneva Airport to hotels in the Chamonix Valley. It is more costly than OuiBus, but also more convenient since they’ll drop you directly at your hotel (or campground!).
- Mountain Drop-offs – Similar to AlpyBus, Mountain Drop-offs runs a door to door transfer service for walkers arriving in Geneva. Very highly rated.
If you plan on returning to Chamomix upon finishing the Haute Route, you can purchase a return ticket. Most transport services offer discounts for booking a round-trip ticket.
Ending the Walker’s Haute Route: Zermatt to Geneva or Zermatt to Zurich
Being a point-to-point hike (versus a loop), the Walker’s Haute Route presents hikers with slightly trickier travel logistics. Fortunately, upon finishing your hike in Zermatt, you’ll have many options continuing onward to your next destination. Although Zermatt is a car-free town, it is well connected by train to many other cities and transit centers. Most international hikers will either return to the Geneva airport or travel on to Zurich to catch their flight home.
Getting from Zermatt to the Geneva Airport
By far the best way to get to GVA is to take the SBB train. There are private taxi services that will pick you up from the town of Täsch (the closest place to Zermatt that permits vehicles), but you’ll still need to take the train from Zermatt to Täsch and these services are extremely expensive. In general, the Swiss train service, SBB, is excellent, timely, and easy to navigate. You can take the train all the way from Zermatt to GVA, although you’ll need to transfer in Visp. Trains run hourly from Visp to GVA and even more frequently from Zermatt to Visp. The whole journey typically takes around 3-4 hours and costs 40-60 CHF per person (depending on the time and type of ticket). By booking in advance, you might be eligible to purchase a supersaver discounted ticket.
Getting from Zermatt to Zurich
After finishing the Walker’s Haute Route, many hikers choose to travel out of Zurich because of its proximity to Zermatt and/or to experience another great Swiss city before heading home. Just like if you’re traveling to Geneva, the SBB train is the best way to go. You’ll need to transfer in Visp, and the entire journey takes between 3-4 hours and typically costs 50-60 CHF. Trains run hourly from Zermatt, and supersaver tickets may be available if you book in advance.
Where to Stay Before and After the Walker’s Haute Route
If you’re using our Guide to Camping on the Haute Route, you’ve surely got your tent packed up and ready to go. While you’ll be doing plenty of camping during your hike, you may enjoy sleeping in a real bed both before and after the WHR.
Before Your Hike:
Many hikers choose to stay in Chamonix before setting off on the Walker’s Haute Route, but Les Houches is a great option, too. Below are some of the best accommodation options in the Chamonix Valley for getting some good rest before beginning the WHR:
Hotel Le Morgaine – We have stayed multiple times at this lovely hotel before and after various trekking adventures. We found the rooms to be spacious, the staff very friendly, and the location excellent. Room rates are also quite reasonable.
Auberge du Manoir – Known for their friendly staff, beautiful rooms, and great location, the Auberge du Manoir is another great option in Chamonix.
Hôtel Le Refuge des Aiglons – The Hotel Le Refuge des Aiglons is located adjacent to the Chamonix Sud bus station, making it an ideal location for the night you arrive in Chamonix.
AirBnB: There are many different accommodation options available in the Chamonix Valley on Airbnb. You’ll find everything from luxurious chalets to rooms in a shared house, depending on your needs and your budget. You can get $40 off your first Airbnb stay by registering here.
The smaller, quieter (and often less pricey) town of Les Houches is also a great place to stay before starting the WHR. There are frequent bus and train connections between Les Houches and Chamonix, and both transit options are free with the tourist card provided by your accommodation. We chose to stay in Les Houches before hiking the WHR and enjoyed the low key atmosphere.
Hotel Les Campanules – Located just across the river from the town center of Les Houches, Hotel Les Campanules gets great reviews for its tremendous views and excellent food. It’s also a great budget option.
Rocky Pop Hotel – Located just outside of Les Houches, the Rocky Pop hotel has stellar reviews for its funky style and friendly staff.
Camping Bellevue – Of course we’d be remiss to not include the well-located campground in Les Houches, Camping Bellevue.
You can check out all the options for hotels in the Chamonix Valley here:
After Your Hike:
There is nothing quite like a soft mattress and hot shower after nearly two weeks of trekking! Below we’ve provided a range of accommodation options in Zermatt to suit a variety of tastes and budgets:
Hotel Walliserhof Zermatt 1896: This hotel boasts a convenient central location and traditional Alpine charm. The beautiful sauna and hot tub are welcome indulgences for sore muscles!
Hotel Bellerive: This hotel is also close to the city center, has great views, a spa area with steam and sauna, and a fantastic breakfast.
Zermatt Youth Hostel: For budget accommodation that isn’t a tent, this hostel is an excellent option. Dorms and private rooms are available, and your rate includes a very good breakfast buffet. As an added bonus, there is laundry available on-site.
Camping Matterhorn: For the hardcore campers, this is a good option and it’s centrally located near the train station. Since Zermatt is car-free, this tent-only campground is mellower than many on the WHR.
You can check out all Zermatt accommodation options below:
Luggage Storage and Transfer
The Walker’s Haute Route is a very challenging trek, with several technical and exposed sections along the trail. Therefore, we can’t stress enough the importance of carrying as light a pack as possible. We’ve heard too many stories of hikers who had to end their walk early due to injuries and ailments from too much time on steep, snowy trails with too heavy a pack. Of course, if you choose to camp you’ll need to carry a significantly larger load than other hikers, but it’s very possible to keep it below 25 lbs (12 kilos). Check out our packing list for specific recommendations. Obviously, the best way to minimize your pack size is to simply leave all of your extra stuff at home (trust us, you really don’t need that extra pair of pants!) However, those who are traveling for an extended period of time or for work might be forced to bring some extra items. If that’s the case for you, you may want to consider storing or transferring your unneeded luggage. Unfortunately, there aren’t many cheap or easy options for luggage storage and transfer on the Haute Route, due to the remote nature of the trail and its point-to-point route. Here are your best options for extra luggage:
Luggage Storage in Geneva
If you are flying in and out of the Geneva Airport, you can store your luggage in Geneva for the duration of your hike. Unfortunately, the public lockers provided by the airport and train station are only available for short-term rentals, so you’ll need to use a private luggage storage service. Eelway is a service that partners with local hotels to store your items. Expect to pay at least 150€ per bag for two weeks of storage. You’ll also need to get to and from the luggage storage location to drop off and pick up your bag(s). BAGBNB is another good resource that provides a list of luggage storage options throughout the city. You can find rates as low as 75€ per bag for two weeks. Advance online booking is required for both of these options. Additionally, if you’ll be staying at the same hotel in Geneva (or Chamonix) before and after your hike, you can ask the hotel to hold your bags for you. Many hotels will provide this service if you have multiple reservations with them.
Luggage Transfer From Geneva/Chamonix to Zermatt
If you are not returning to Geneva or Chamonix after completing the WHR, you’ll need to find a way to get your luggage from Geneva/Chamonix to Zermatt. Depending on your needs, bag size, and budget, you have a few options:
Transfer Service: There are several companies that will transport your luggage directly from Chamonix to Zermatt and hold it for you until you finish your hike. This is a very expensive option, but it is quite convenient and secure. Taxi services like Taxi Follonier and tour services like Alpenwild provide the option of transferring luggage to most stages along the WHR. Expect to pay upwards of 400€ per person for this convenience.
Train: The SBB Rail Service offers a good option for transporting your bags to Zermatt. Since the SBB services runs exclusively in Switzerland, you’ll need to travel from Chamonix (France) into Switzerland to send your bags. Martigny is the closest and most convenient option from Chamonix. From Martigny, you can ship your bag(s) to Zermatt. You’ll need to buy a train ticket to Martigny (and back to Chamonix), plus you’ll need to pay 12€ per bag. It typically takes two days for bags to arrive at their destination. The train station in Zermatt will hold your bag(s) for free for the first five days, then you’ll need to pay 5€ per day after that.
Post: If you have a few smaller unneeded items (such as an extra pair of shoes, clothes, laptop, etc), the cheapest and easiest option is to mail your luggage from Chamonix to Zermatt. If you need to purchase a box at the post office, you’ll buy a Colissimo box. For 46€, you’ll be able to send up to 5kg (box dimensions: 290x210x150mm) or for 56€ you can send up to 7kg (box dimensions: 400x275x195mm) directly to Zermatt. You’ll receive a tracking number that will allow you to check on your package (most arrive in a couple of days). If you have your own box, you may be able to ship your items for a lower cost. Upon arriving in Zermatt, the post office will hold your package for up to four weeks free of charge. To have your package sent to the post office and held for you until pickup, you’ll need to address it to the Zermatt post office and indicate in the address that you want “Post Restante.” Detailed instructions and examples are available on the Swiss Post website.
Detours and Transit
Regardless of the time of year you choose to hike the Walker’s Haute Route, there’s a decent chance you’ll need to adjust your plans due to weather, trail conditions, or other issues. The WHR is a very demanding hike that traverses some rugged places. In the nearly two weeks you’ll be on the trail, it is likely that you may need to reroute or skip a section. Fortunately, despite the remote regions it traverses, the Walker’s Haute Route is actually quite well connected via trains, buses, and gondolas. Here are a few good services to familiarize yourself with in order to make getting around as efficient as possible.
SBB Rail: If you have access to a mobile device, we strongly recommend downloading the SBB app. This app allows you to plan out routes, view timetables and prices, and purchase mobile tickets for all Swiss trains. The SBB trains pass through a few of the towns visited along the Haute Route, including St. Niklaus and Zermatt. They can also be key connections if you need to detour from certain sections of the trail.
Postbus: Nearly all of the towns along the Walker’s Haute Route are serviced by the Postbus. While this app is a little less reliable in terms of providing accurate prices, it is still very useful for planning routes and finding timetables. Tickets can be purchased in the app or directly from the bus driver.
Tourist Cards: Every valley you’ll pass through on the Haute Route offers its own version of a “tourist card.” You’ll quickly notice that you’re required to pay a tourism tax at each place you stay (it varies from valley to valley, but ranges from 1.50CHF to 4 CHF per person). In exchange for the added tax, most accommodations (including campgrounds) will provide you with a card that is valid for your stay. Most cards are valid for the day you arrive as well as the day you check out. These tourist cards vary in the types of offers and discounts they provide, but most will give you access to free travel within the valley on the Postbus and free rides on any gondolas in the valley. These gondolas can be a great option for avoiding long, steep descents with tired knees!
Rest Day Options
Many hikers power through the entire Walker’s Haute Route without taking a day off, but if you have room in your itinerary you may want to consider building in a rest day. Rest days give you the chance to get to know an area in a deeper way, and they give your mind and body a welcome reprieve from walking to prevent injury and/or burnout. The WHR route doesn’t present one clear and obvious place for a rest day location, but there are definitely a few great options, depending on when and where you want to fit it in. Here are our top picks:
Les Haudères: This quaint town has everything you might want on a rest day: cute cafes, an excellent bakery, a well-stocked grocery store, a post office, a bus stop, and an outdoors store. There are a range of accommodation options available, including nice hotels, airbnbs, and even a campground. Most hikers will reach Les Haudères around the halfway point of their trek, so it works well in terms of breaking up the hike. In terms places to stay, L’hôtel – Gîte des Alpes and Hotel Dents de Veisivie come highly recommended.
Zinal: If you want to schedule your rest day for a bit further along in your hike, Zinal is probably your best option. This small ski resort town also offers a variety of services (bus stop, post office, gondola) as well as a variety of grocery stores, outdoor retailers, bakeries, and restaurants. There are many choices for accommodation, ranging from upscale hotels to the campground. We’ve heard good things about Hotel le Trift and Hotel Europe.
Many grocery stores, mountain huts, and campgrounds along the Haute Route accept credit cards, but ultimately cash is king in this part of the world. It’s best to assume that you’ll need to pay for everything in cash and plan accordingly. Only the larger towns along the route have ATMs (see our Camping Guide for more details), so you’ll need to take out enough money to cover all of your expenses until you reach the next big town. Also, keep in mind that you’ll need Euros for the first two stages of the Haute Route, but you’ll use Swiss Francs from Champex onward. Check out our post on how much it cost us to hike the Haute Route to get an idea of what kinds of prices to expect.
But wait…there’s more!
If you’re looking for one-on-one support in preparing for the Haute Route, we can help! Learn more about our personalized coaching services.
Be sure to check out our entire series on the Haute Route to learn everything you’ll need to know to prepare for this incredible adventure!