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The Haute Route – Switzerland and France

By Editor | August 5, 2008

The Haute Route Switzerland  scenic  hiking

No skis required Most adventurers know the Haute Route as the superfamous (and super-challenging) ski-mountaineering tour. But its lesser known and far less technical counterpart allows backpackers to experience the scenic highlights of the Alps while staying in historic mountain huts. This “walker’s Haute Route” crosses within sight of 12 different glacier systems and ten of the 12 highest Alpine peaks, and connects two historic centers of European alpinism-Chamonix, France and Zermatt, Switzerland. And since the French and Swiss are no strangers to haute cuisine, the huts dish out four-course dinners and the requisite vin rouge.


Fly to Geneva and take the train to Chamonix; your trek starts in the shadow of 15,771-foot Mont Blanc and treads 100-plus well-marked miles to Switzerland’s Matterhorn. This eastbound trek traverses Valais, a Swiss canton (like a county), then crosses the 14,000-foot Pennine Alps, stopping at slate-roofed farming villages and edelweiss-frosted meadows.

Haute Route Chalet Village SwitzerlandThe trail has arguably the best epic-views-to-miles-hiked ratio in the world: Mont Blanc is visible nearly the entire time, as is the densest concentration of 13,000plus-foot peaks in the Alps. You’ll cross 11 mountain passes, many exceeding 9,000 feet. Plan on spending up to 2 weeks, covering 10 to 15 miles with elevation changes of up to 4,000 feet a day.

Everything you need for staying in a hut will fit in a large daypack. Pack warm layers and a shell and a change of clothes for the huts. Some hikers bring slippers in case the huts are chilly. Blankets and pillows are provided (but bring a lightweight sleeping bag to ensure warmth and cleanliness). Stash a set of earplugs to drown out snoring. You’ll also need lunches. And if the dry high-altitude air parches your throat, pop a Ricola, made from edelweiss.


The Haute Route is hard to pull off on a tight budget, but you can stay in hostels while you’re in town to cut costs and meet like-minded backpackers. And, while tenting on the trail is discouraged, you can camp in the valley towns to save as much as $70 a day.

Season June to mid-July is the quietest time on the route, but you may need an ice axe and clampons for snow on the passes. The trail’s high season is from late July to early September. Make hut reservations before you leave.

Babble In multilingual Switzerland, it’s common to hear German, French, Italian, and Romansh (spoken by about 50,000 people). If it’s chocolate you’re craving, be prepared to know how to say chocolate in those language listed above. Keep your eyes peeled for ibex, with their great sweeping horns. Also look for marmots, red deer, chamois, ptarmigans. and pygmy owls.

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Topics: Europe Destinations, International Destinations, Travel Destinations | 328 Comments »

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