Walking in the French Alps   May 27th, 2012

While the European Alps are best known for winter sports, there is tremendous scope for summer fun too. Alpine towns like Chamonix and Interlaken are almost as busy during the warmer months. Visitors come to enjoy stunning views (the high peaks are icebound all year), to walk mountain trails that become difficult or impassable in winter, and to experience the wildlife, food, and culture of the Alpine region.

For adventure lovers there is plenty to get excited about, rock climbing on the valley crags, Alpine climbing above, white water rafting and kayaking on snowmelt-filled rivers, and some of the best mountain biking and road cycling in the world.

Although adrenaline sports are very popular indeed, the most popular summer Alpine pastime is walking. Many of the cable cars and ski lifts run 365 days a year (weather permitting), and they mean that a carefully planned hike can be more or less evenly graded, with few steep climbs or descents. Walking from station to station means that all the hard work is done for you. All a hiker needs to do is enjoy the view on the way up, and make their own way across to the descent point.

There is no shortage of groomed and signposted footpaths. Difficulty levels vary. Some routes are suitable for families and less experienced walkers, in which case all you’ll need is a good pair of boots and a rucksack. Others cross glaciers or go above the snowline, and for those you might need ice axes, crampons, and a qualified mountain guide. Happily, there is no shortage of those either.

Aside from glacier crossings, which are adventures in themselves, many of the best Alpine walks take in mountain lakes, pass by waterfalls, or make their way across high altitude meadows. In summer these are studded with wildflowers and home to all kinds of interesting animals. Marmots quite are common and in the rocky areas sharp-eyed hikers might also catch sight of long-horned ibex.

For those who want a serious walk, there are a number of multi-day walks available. The most famous trail in the Alps is undoubtedly the Haute Route, which runs from Chamonix in France to Zermatt in Switzerland- or in other words, from Mont Blanc to the Matterhorn. It can either be walked (crampons, axes, and mountain skills are a must) or treated as a ski mountaineering challenge.

No matter what your ability level, there is a walk in the European Alps with your name on it. Maybe it’s a relaxed sunny ramble with a stunning view of the Dru or the Eiger in the distance or maybe it’s the full 100 miles of the Haute Route.


Jess is an Alpine walker, a rock and ice climber, and a lover of all things mountainous. She writes for Appalachian Outdoors, a US-based outdoor gear retailer.

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