The Walker’s Haute Route: Ultimate Guide
The Walker’s Haute Route is a legendary long-distance hike in Switzerland and France. It takes you from the two most significant mountaineering centers in the world, Chamonix to Zermatt, walking below some of the most imposing 4000 m peaks in the Alps and visiting its most scenic valleys.
It is one of the most scenic trekking routes in the world. Although the original route across the glaciers is already iconic with ski-touring enthusiasts, it is gaining popularity among hikers very fast.
For now, it is still much less crowded than the famous counterpart of Tour du Mont Blanc — but its rugged, wilder and even more epic scenery might soon put it in the #1 spot of long-distance hikes in the Alps.
With the glaciers slowly disappearing because of climate change, now is the perfect time to still experience it.
As previously mentioned, the Walker’s Haute Route leads from Chamonix in France to Zermatt in Switzerland. It has 14 stages in which it crosses over 11 mountain passes. The path from west to east is about 200 kilometers long, and around 15,000 meters of elevation gain, depending on which alternative routes you choose.
You will pass through many different landscapes during your hike: from lush green meadows with picturesque alpine villages to snow-covered glaciers below imposing peaks. If you're lucky, you might even see wildlife such as ibexes, chamois, and marmots.
It first goes through the valleys and mountain passes on the north of the Mont Blanc massif. There it enters Switzerland and the Pennine Alps, crossing their northern half until the Mattertal, where it joins the Europaweg trail, ending with spectacular views over the iconic Matterhorn peak.
Explore a 3D representation of one Haute Route version below to get a better sense of the route and its epic surroundings.
The name is in French, and it means the High Route. It is called the Walker’s Haute Route to distinguish it from the original mountaineering route, also called the Classic Haute Route.
The Classic Haute Route was first completed in 1860 as a summer mountaineering route by the British Alpine Club, crossing many glaciers from Chamonix to Zermatt. At that time, it was named the High Level Route.
But in 1911, it was first completed on skis. Because the team was French-speaking, its name got translated, and it soon became the most popular route with ski tourers and ski mountaineers in the world.
In comparison to the Walker’s Haute Route, the Classic Haute Route takes you higher and requires technical equipment and mountaineering skills to complete. But it is shorter since it takes more of a straight line through the mountains.
But that doesn’t take away anything from the grandeur of the hiking route, which is different and similarly presents challenges and rewards to everyone who sets out on it.
The Walker’s Haute Route is the hardest of long-distance trekking routes in the Alps, like the TMB or Via Alpina — both physically and technically.
Its mountain passes are higher, and the terrain is trickier, with lots of rocky descents, challenging for those used to only hiking on hard-pack trails. It also contains some sections with ladders and steel cables, where it is mandatory to use your hands to continue your way.
Physically it is not that much tougher than the other Alpine treks, but you have to remember that they are not known to be easy.
An average day has about 1200 elevation gain and loss, which can only be done for 14 days straight by people who are fit mountain hikers. If one day of hiking 1500 m up and down makes your muscles ache for a week, this route might be too hard for you.
The starting point of the Walker’s Haute Route is Chamonix. It is pretty easy to get there with multiple ways of transportation.
The best way to get here is by plane. Geneva International Airport (GVA) is just 103km away from Chamonix and has direct flights from most major European cities.
From there, you can get to Chamonix by bus, train or shuttle. Bus usually takes around 1h40min and costs from 15 to 20 Euros.
Trains are quite slower and require many changes in between, taking you at least 2h40min to get there.
The most comfortable and fastest way to get to Chamonix is by shuttle, taking about 75 minutes.
With so many options, the Walker’s Haute Route is not easy to plan. You have to decide upon the itinerary, which alternative routes to take, the accommodations you’re gonna stay at, and more.
To make it all easier, we’ve prepared a pre-planned self-guided itinerary with our favorite alternatives for you.
Check it out below!
If you still wish to plan it yourself, here are a few tips:
The hiking season on any of the treks in the Alps depends heavily on the amount of snow in the previous winter. In a normal year, the season for the Walker’s Haute Route runs from mid-July to the end of September.
Earlier than August, it’s still possible to find snow on the shady sections of the highest passes, but they don’t require special equipment, and there is no avalanche threat. Now, if the winter was very snowy, the path could be very dangerous till the end of July.
The temperatures in late July and August are usually pretty high, even sometimes 25-30°C above 2000 meters of elevation. You can also expect afternoon storms to pop up regularly on the trail, which is why hiking over a high mountain pass before noon is a good strategy.
Be prepared for a big drop in temperatures in the case of a severe storm. It’s not rare that even snow can start falling in those cases. But don’t worry, it usually disappears quite quickly with sunshine.
The weather gets colder again in September, sometimes even freezing at night. On the other hand, it is also more stable with more consecutive days without any rain.
At the end of the month the season end, as all the mountain huts close their doors, leaving only modest winter rooms open — these are unmanned basic rooms that stay unlocked also in the winter.
It is still possible to hike in October, but you must have a tent (wild camping is tolerated above the tree line, except for protected areas). Expect much more rain and possibly the first heavy dose of snow, which can end your Haute Route experience in the middle.
The Walker’s Haute Route accommodations can be found at different points along the way, either high in the mountains or in the villages and towns.
These are the types of accommodations on the Walker’s Haute Route:
They are the highlight of the trail. They are situated in stunning locations on the higher sections of the Walker’s Haute Route. They provide you with a delicious and filling dinner with a basic breakfast at a price similar to a hostel in the valley.
Although they are cozy and well-maintained, the amenities are pretty basic. The beds are in dormitories, except for a couple of private rooms that get booked pretty early. They have shared bathrooms, but hot showers are sometimes not available. Wifi is also available only in some of them.
Some are privately owned, but most are part of the Swiss Alpine Club (SAC). If you are a member (or of any partnering mountaineering club), you can get a discount.
Hotels are the most luxurious option on the Walker’s Haute Route, located in towns along the way like Argentiere, Zinal, St. Niklaus, etc. They are small but elegant, catering to hikers and offering them a break from the wilderness. Most of them provide all the usual amenities you would expect from a hotel. Hot showers are most welcome.
They are called Gites d’Etape or Auberges, and they are a budget-friendly option for hotels. Rooms are in dormitories with shared bathrooms, but they usually include breakfast and dinner in the price. Of course, as they are mostly in the valley, they have hot showers available.
Water can be filled up in most accommodations, although some huts do not have drinking water. In that case, you can always buy bottled water, but even better (and cheaper) is to have a water filter with you.
You will also find plenty of streams on the way from which you can fill up, just not if it is below a pasture with cattle, as it might not be drinkable.
The Walker’s Haute Route is not for couch potatoes. Even if you take your time and go at a leisurely pace, you'll still need to be ready for many days of hiking with a relatively heavy backpack.
If you want to hike it, you need to be well-prepared for the trail. You should be able to hike at least 10 kilometers and ascend 1,000 meters in elevation without being extra sluggish the next day. Why? You don’t want to feel exhausted by the second day of your trek.
Long-distance hiking is a craft that requires practice. If you don’t start training before your big adventure, you will suffer more than you need to and that means a less pleasant experience.
Why spend all that time struggling to reach the next mountain pass, when you could enjoy the scenery instead?
You need to start hiking regularly. It doesn’t mean you should jump right into very long hikes at first, especially if you haven’t been hiking much before. Instead, build the distance and elevation gain each week.
Near the end of your training, try incorporating two-day hikes (or longer) into your weekend schedule to prepare your body for the rigors of hiking multiple days in a row.
Even if your local hiking trails don’t present the same challenges as long-distance paths or mountain hikes, you can still get a great workout by doing multiple circuits around them.
On your training hikes for the Walker’s Haute Route, wear the backpack you plan to take and pack it as if you were going to do the actual trek. This will help you get used to what feels comfortable and what does not, so you won't have any surprises on your big hike. Wear your hiking shoes too, so they can break in.
And don't take the elevator unless you have to. Take the stairs instead!
Pack only what you need to enjoy your hike. Every extra pound will feel like dead weight on your shoulders.
A backpack with 25 to 40 liters of space is the ideal size for most people. Anything larger and you risk packing too much.
When choosing your shoes for the Walker's Haute Route, it is most important to consider what will work best for your feet. You can choose between either hiking boots or hiking shoes, or sturdier trail-running shoes if you prefer a lighter and more flexible option.
For an average hiker, hiking shoes are still the best choice. They’re sturdy and supportive enough to carry all the extra weight of the backpack, but they’re not as bulky and heavy as boots.
The above guide will acquaint you with many facets of the Walker’s Haute Route. But that doesn’t mean that you have to be intimidated by planning this adventure.
Booking a self-guided Walker’s Haute Route can save you a lot of time, stress, and hassle. And it’s not even that much more expensive than planning the tour all by yourself.
If you don't have the time for a full 14-day hike, you can also choose to do one half. Check out the two hikes below.