Walker's Haute Route
WALKING GUIDE
Barrage du Moiry
Walker's Haute Route
Walker's Haute Route
14 stages . 15 nights

The Walker's Haute Route: A guide to the trek

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Bare facts

The Walker's Haute Route is a walking trail through the French and Swiss Alps, for 200km (125 miles) from Chamonix in the West to Zermatt in the East.

The highest point reached by the standard route is 2,987m (9,799ft) and the height gain on the route is around 15,200m (49,867ft).

Trekkers typically take 14 days to complete the hike, give or take a day or two.

Best bits

Our clients say...
We ask our Haute Route clients which stages they enjoyed most. Many love the thrilling finale on the Europaweg, being the last two days into Zermatt, but also popular are the days to Champex via the Fenetre d'Arpette, a high rocky pass, and to Cabane de Moiry with its stiff climb into the mountains.

With good weather the Europaweg section allows the perfect view down into Zermatt, and up to the Matterhorn, as you traverse the rocky hillsides high above the Mattertal.

Other highlights
Other stages on the Haute Route have their own attractions. The three-day crossing from Le Chable to Arolla is perhaps the toughest but the most rewarding section of the whole route. Its more remote sections are a true challenge even in clear weather.

The pastoral sections have their own charm, giving a glimpse of everyday life in rural Switzerland. These sections include the Champex to Le Chable stage, and the alternative valley stage into Zermatt that can replace the Europaweg for those who prefer a quicker and lower finish.

Photos from trips: Walker's Haute Route

Map showing the route of Alpine Exploratory's Walker's Haute Route walking holiday

Trips 2022

Alpine Exploratory offers the following holidays based on our Walker's Haute Route research:

Walker's Haute Route
Walker's Haute Route West
Walker's Haute Route East
Walker's Haute Route (Guided)

Research

Hannah at Alpine ExploratoryAlpine Exploratory's 2021 research on the Walker's Haute Route was led by:
Lou in July

Recces 2021

Names - a brief note

The Walker's Haute Route is the proper title, in order to distinguish this trek from the original mountaineering route from Chamonix to Zermatt which is best referred to as the Classic Haute Route. This Classic route is the ski or mountaineering route across glaciers, taking a line generally to the South of the Walker's Haute Route. The French term Haute Route simply means High Route, as indeed it is!

Is it for me?

The joy of trekking
There is great satisfaction in completing stages of a long-distance trek, even more so when it's a famous one like the Haute Route. There might be times when the climb seems too much effort, and when you encounter bad weather; at such times the goal keeps you going. Equally there should be days when you feel all-powerful, tackling the mountain trails as if they were paths in the park!

One of the best feelings on trek can be nearing the end of a stage, once you're well into the walk, knowing that you've ticked off another leg of the quest. At such points you've also got an evening in a new village to look forward to. Travelling in a self-sufficient manner through the culturally and linguistically diverse terrain of the Haute Route, this all makes for a thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying holiday.

flowers on the Walker's Haute Route
Summer flowers (photo by Rachel Maas)

Can I manage it?
The Haute Route is manageable for the fittest mountain walkers who are happy to walk for between 6h and 8h 30m or more per day along a long-distance trail. It will greatly help your enjoyment of the trek to arrive fit at the start, used to walks of similar distance and height gain to those that you are about to face.

One tough stage for many trekkers is the 17km (10.5 miles) walk from Cabane de Prafleuri to Arolla. This involves a total ascent of 920m (3,018ft) to cross the Pas de Chevres at 2,855m (9,366ft). Another tough stage can be the walk from Gasenried to the Europahutte along the Europaweg.

The villages and huts used determine the distances each day, of course, and we book many variations on our schedules according to how our clients want to approach the Haute Route. If you'd like a fast dash or a trip that minimises the longest days, please contact us to chat about the options. It is hard to make the trek too quick while still taking the most interesting variants, and equally there always have to be some tricky stages between spaced-out accommodation.

For those wary of walking the Haute Route in one go, there are many towns and villages along the route suitable for rest days. Our normal schedule does not include a rest day, because 14 stages is quite a long time on trek to start with and because two stages (that to le Chable and that to La Sage) are easier half-day walks anyway. We can add one rest day in Arolla, for example, or two rest days in Champex and Zinal.

Of course, the Haute Route can also be tackled over two holidays each fitting into a week. We offer both the West and the East halves and we enjoy booking these as excellent trips in their own right.

Long weekends are quite possible too, as indeed are trips of any length. Please contact us and we'll plan a trek for you over a suitable section of the Haute Route.

What's it like underfoot?
Underfoot you will experience a variety of tracks and trails on the Haute Route. Standardly the mountainous sections run on single-track paths that can be rocky in places, sometimes with steps but mostly just the bare earth. Mud is not a problem in the same way as on paths in the UK, for example! Tracks are also common - perhaps gravel forest roads, ski pistes, or rough tracks for vehicles over agricultural land. There are some sections of country lanes. Unusually even for an Alpine trek at this level, some of the mountain passes are particularly steep, loose and rocky, calling for good experience and steady balance. An alternative to one of these steep cols is a series of ladders, almost vertical. There is also a very short section of glacier, at a near-flat and usually unglaciated section of it, in normal circumstances being just a walk on snow.

Is the route obvious?
The Haute Route has sections that are particularly difficult to navigate, if the visibility is poor. Other sections are reasonably clear. It is crucial to note that there is no set 'Haute Route' trail; instead the route follows pre-existing paths and tracks. It's crucial therefore to pick the correct ones! The trickiest sections to navigate come on the rockiest and most remote terrain, where sometimes there are painted waymarks to follow but at other times a keen sense of direction is needed, allied to map and compass skills.

During each summer season, snow falls on typically two or three or more occasions. It tends to go away equally quickly and tends not to be deep at the altitude of the Haute Route, but for the time it remains it can make navigation even more challenging. Under a cover of snow, ground features are hidden and reliance on map and compass skills is key.

It is essential for all parties on the Haute Route to have at least one competent navigator with a map and compass, for those situations where the route is not marked at a turning or where the clouds have closed in. The best maps for the route unfortunately still have mistakes, which comes as an additional hazard. Our routecards, notes and maps give you all you need to complete the trek under your own steam.

Is it technically difficult?
The Walker's Haute Route is first and foremost a walk, but it is essential to note that it is at the very top end of difficulty in terms of Alpine trekking. The difficulty of the terrain is often underestimated. There is no glacier walking except for one narrow glacier that in normal circumstances can be treated merely as a snow patch, and there is no rock climbing. There are however some sections where the path crosses exceptionally rocky and steep ground. In particular there is a long near-vertical ladder section on the standard route to Arolla. This ladder has a nearby alternative, but this alternative is such a steep and loose climb to a col that it is hardly any simpler. Additionally, our main route finishes with the two-day Europaweg into Zermatt which presents any trekker with loose hillsides, boulder fields, and navigational challenges. Please contact us and we'll be happy to describe these spots in more detail. Your joining notes contain detailed information about likely hazards on the trail.

Unseasonal weather
The typical summer's day in the Alps brings hot sun, perhaps with occasional rain or afternoon storms, but in any case paths that are clear of snow. However, fresh snowfalls occur each summer on a handful of occasions. Most often, these leave a coating of an inch or two on higher passes only, and they disappear in a day or two. However, sometimes the snow stays for longer periods and is deeper. While the Haute Route should be approached as a summer Alpine trek, with snow quite unlikely, it is wise to know that snow can fall even in summer.

We show this photo in order to be clear what an unseasonally wintry day can mean for the terrain underfoot. This is the Haute Route near Cabane de Prafleuri, in the morning, setting out on the stage to Arolla.

Snow near Cabane de Prafleuri
Snow near Cabane de Prafleuri (photo by Dave Newman)

When to go?
Our Walker's Haute Route season runs from the middle of July to the middle of September. This short season is imposed by the weather: the chance of late-Spring snow patches remaining into early July across the higher passes, and the chance of the weather deteriorating into late September. Because we can't predict the weather for the coming summer, we have to set these dates in advance. The Haute Route is a particularly high route and this is the reason for the later start than our other Alpine treks.

Where to stay

The Haute Route's accommodation is a major attraction of the route. At various points there are choices of mountain huts, campsites, luxurious hotels, more modest hotels, and auberges with a mix of rooms and dormitories.

Most accommodation is family-run, even in the larger places such as Zinal. Our Haute Route clients often volunteer how much they enjoy the variety of the places we book for them; we aim to give a true experience of the Alps and of the Haute Route. In Zermatt we book a superbly well-run yet not extravagant hotel, for a memorable finish.

The route

Here's a brief guide to the places and experiences on the Haute Route, on our normal 14-stage schedule.

Stage One
Start in Chamonix at about 1,000m (3,281ft). On this first stage we describe two routes. Our main route takes to the hillside across from Mont Blanc, with a cable car possible, to reach the beautiful mountain lake Lac Blanc at 2,352m (7,717ft). The route then descends steeply to Argentiere which is the night's destination. The alternative route sticks to the valley, being a steady and picturesque climb to Argentiere through woods and meadows. The high alternative gives an appreciation of Chamonix before the Haute Route sets off into Switzerland; the low route gets there more directly but is still a hard walk.

Hiking above Lac Blanc on stage 1
Hiking above Lac Blanc on stage 1

Stage Two
From Argentiere the Haute Route crosses the Col de Balme at 2,131m (6,991ft). This is a gentle pass, grassy slopes rising up on the French side in what is a busy ski area in winter. Dropping down the far side, the path is steeper but this stage remains a moderate introduction to the Haute Route's theme of crossing cols. We drop into the hamlet of Trient for the first night in Switzerland.

Stage Three
The next stage offers another choice of routes. Our routecards describe the main route over the famous Fenetre d'Arpette at 2,665m (8,743ft), and also the alternative route via the alpage of Bovine at 1,987m (6,519m). Both routes are taxing, but the Fenetre (literally 'window') in the rock is an experience in the mountains to herald challenges yet to come. Arrive in Champex, a small Swiss resort next to its emerald-green lake.

Stage Four
Today's aim is the working village of le Chable in the Val des Bagnes. This fourth stage comes as a contrast to the mountain routes so far. It's largely in the valley, first descending through woods and fields to Sembrancher where the railway from Martigny is met, and then crossing fields in the valley floor as far as le Chable. This is a chance to recharge before three hard stages all involving much ascent!

Stage Five
Setting off from le Chable, settle in for 1,700m (5,577ft) of ascent to the day's destination, Cabane du Mont Fort at 2,457m (8,061ft). A steady rhythm sees the hillside chapels, wooded glades, tracks and paths pass quickly enough, all the time gaining height above the valley. In clear weather, Mont Blanc comes into sight. This is a stage of great transition, from everyday working rural Switzerland to the edge of the high mountains.

Stage Six
After a night at the Cabane in its grand setting rimmed by jagged rock peaks, it's time to leave for one of the Haute Route's most exacting stages. Any bad weather can make it a real challenge for even the most experienced groups. Two cols are available to reach the high basin above Lac de Louvie... Col de la Chaux or Col Termin. Chaux is wild and rocky, Termin is more amenable, and both have a particular set of scenic views. This first col out of the way, the route continues to two more: Col de la Louvie and then Col de Prafleuri at 2,987m (9,800ft) which is the highest point reached on the Walker's Haute Route. A final drop to Cabane de Prafleuri completes this remote and rocky stage. Knees will be glad of the rest after the almost entirely pathless and often bouldery miles.

Stage Seven
Possibly the hardest stage of the Haute Route comes today. This is the walk to Arolla. First climb over Col des Roux to enter the grand basin of the Dix reservoir, an impressive setting. The route continues beyond the waters up to Cabane des Dix, a useful stopping point that we can book to break up this long stage. Again we are at just under 3,000m (9,843ft) in altitude. A tiny glacier is crossed, that in most conditions is no more difficult than a snowpatch and that requires no special kit, before a choice of two difficult cols is reached. There is the Pas de Chevres with its formidable near-vertical ladders, or Col de Riedmatten with its loose rocks and steep angle. After this section the roll down to Arolla is a breeze. The village is tiny but has all we need, at the head of Val d'Herens.

Stage Eight
Three hard stages marking the crux of the Haute Route are over, so today is a welcome contrast. The walk down to Les Hauderes then up to La Sage is solidly in or just above the valley, on decent tracks and paths. It is also a modest distance, giving time to restock and relax. La Sage is a village typical of the Valais, our region here in the Swiss Alps, with heavy stone flags for roofing and with agriculture carrying on all around.

Stage Nine
Once more into the mountains! Our normal route takes us over Col du Tsate at 2,868m (9,409ft), to then descend to the Lac de Moiry basin before a second distinct climb to Cabane de Moiry. At 2,825m (9,268ft) this is the highest overnight stop on our normal route; only the optional Cabane des Dix is higher. Our alternative route is just as scenic in a different way, crossing to Lac de Moiry via the similar Col de Torrent route before dropping down to the village of Grimentz instead of climbing up to the hut.

Stage Ten
From Cabane de Moiry the Haute Route retraces its steps a little, traverses high above Lac de Moiry, then climbs to Col de Sorebois. This col at 2,835m (9,301ft) is a grassy and easy one compared to many others on the route! A long descent takes us down to the pleasant village of Zinal in one branch of Val d'Anniviers. If starting from Grimentz, various routes are described: back up to Lac de Moiry to regain the normal path, direct to Zinal via the forests, or onwards via different routes to St Luc and Hotel Weisshorn.

Stage Eleven
By one of two main routes, the next valley reached is the Turtmantal. We are into German-speaking Switzerland at the rocky ridge dividing Val d'Anniviers and the Turtmantal. From Zinal the route climbs to the Forcletta at 2,874m (9,429ft), a rocky pass to new Alpine landscapes. High-mountain views abound from this point. If coming from the St Luc or Hotel Weisshorn directions, perhaps having taken advantage of the funicular railway above St Luc, then the crossing is by the similar Meidpass. Both routes roll downhill to the small village of Gruben.

Stage Twelve
Today's is the last stage with the Haute Route's classic up-then-down pattern. From Gruben we climb steadily to the rocky but wide Augstbordpass at 2,893m (9,492ft). In descent, we enter the Mattertal... the valley shared with the Matterhorn, no less. That celebrated peak remains hidden by high mountain walls. After the high alp of Jungen with its barns and houses, the route zig-zags down to St Niklaus in the industrial part of the valley floor. At last in the final valley, we are near our goal!

Stage Thirteen
Today we start the two-day finale into Zermatt, called the Europaweg. We offer various ways to reach the start of this path, at Grachen or Gasenried. Once up and on it, the route crosses in and out of seemingly improbably rocky combes on the steep hillside. The Matterhorn comes into sight at the head of the valley. Rounding a spur we reach the wooden Europahutte at 2,265m (7,431ft) and our home for the night. (As an alternative to this difficult 2-day finish, we also offer the easier 1-day valley route from St Niklaus to Zermatt.)

Stage Fourteen
The Europaweg continues, today's initial sections retaining the characteristic challenge, but these challenges giving way steadily to easier walking as Zermatt is reached. Tunnels and avalanche-protection walls are interesting features. Finally walking high above Zermatt, the full height difference with the Matterhorn's summit can be seen. A last descent past barns and huts at Findeln brings us into town. The bustle of Zermatt brings no problems of adjustment, such is the magical nature of this town.

The Walker's Haute Route in context

The Haute Route compared to treks in the UK
Compared to most treks in the UK, the Haute Route has lower daily distances but more ascent. The Coast to Coast route in England, for example, has an average stage length that is twice as long, as per our normal schedule, but most stages do not climb as much. Of course, the altitude is higher throughout on the Haute Route, as it is on most Alpine treks. The high valleys in the Swiss Valais are around 1,500m, but the highest point in England is under 1,000m!

The Haute Route compared to the TMB and the Via Alpina
The Walker's Haute Route is by some margin the hardest of our five big Alpine treks. Compared to the TMB, the Haute Route climbs to higher passes, tackles looser and rockier terrain, and spends more time in wild locations where walking experience is key. Not everyone who has done the TMB will enjoy the Haute Route; it would be preferable to find the TMB well within one's capacity as opposed to getting through it. The Fenetre d'Arpette, shared by the TMB and Haute Route, is a good guide to the consistent level of the Haute Route.

Compared to the Via Alpina, the Haute Route has many more instances of those hardest cols with a narrow gap on the ridge and steep loose slopes on both sides. Such mountainous situations come consistently along the Haute Route.

Comparing our 5 big Alpine treks
The Haute Route is substantially the toughest, suitable only for trekkers with particularly solid experience, balance and fitness.

The Via Alpina includes three rocky cols that approach the Haute Route's level of challenge, though the route as a whole is more forgiving. The same applies to the Adlerweg but in its case one col (the Eppzirlerscharte) stands above the rest as very difficult, and it can be skipped by descending and taking the train. The Adlerweg is notable for some long days on wide tracks.

The AV1 is more consistent in its difficulty but is especially demanding of good balance, with steep, rocky and wild situations calling for mountain experience.

The TMB is a superb all-rounder that mixes tough, solid mountain days with gentler ones, allowing trekkers to sample the harder terrain as at the Fenetre d'Arpette (a variant, shared with the Haute Route) while not requiring any extremes.

It's worth noting that each trek has different possible schedules, governing the physical difficulty, and on many days different variants affect the terrain difficulty.

Below we compare the stats of our 5 big trips:

Two weeks of Alpine trekking from Chamonix to Zermatt
Col du Tsate on the Walker's Haute Route
Distance: About 200km or 125 miles
typically done over 14 stages

Ascent: About 12,900m (42,300ft)

Highest point: Just under 3,000m (9,800ft) and the route crosses several passes over 2,900m

Terrain: Good mountain paths, rocky and loose sections, wild remote cols, cables/ladders, tracks and lanes

Accommodation: Hotels, huts and auberges in a varied mix

Season: Mid-July to mid-September
A week and a half of Alpine trekking from Dobbiaco to Belluno
Cinque Toree on the Alta Via 1
Distance: About 120km or 75 miles
typically done over 10 stages

Ascent: About 6,650m (22,000ft)

Highest point: Just over 2,750m (9,000ft) and the route spends much time over 2,000m

Terrain: Good mountain paths, some rockier and looser sections, tracks and country lanes

Accommodation: Mostly mountain huts, plus hotels at start and finish

Season: Mid-July to mid-September
Two weeks of Alpine trekking in a circuit from the Chamonix valley
Lac Blanc on the Tour du Mont Blanc
Distance: About 180km or 110 miles
typically done over 11 stages

Ascent: About 10,700m (35,000ft)

Highest point: Just over 2,500m (8,200ft) and the route crosses several passes around 2,500m

Terrain: Good mountain paths, rockier and looser sections, cables and ladders, tracks and country lanes

Accommodation: Hotels, huts and auberges in a varied mix

Season: Early July to mid-September
Three weeks of Alpine trekking in the Tyrol from St. Johann to St. Anton
View of Innsburuck on the Adlerweg
Distance: About 387km or 242 miles
typically done over 19 stages

Ascent: About 14,400m (47,240ft)

Highest point: Just over 2,250m (7,380ft) and the route crosses a number of cols above 2,000m

Terrain: Good mountain paths, forest tracks, some rockier and looser sections, tracks and country lanes

Accommodation: Hotels and huts in a varied mix

Season: Early July to mid-September
Three weeks of Alpine trekking across the width of Switzerland
Lauterbrunnen Valley on the Via Alpina
Distance: About 349km or 219 miles
typically done over 18 stages

Ascent: About 19,960m (65,485ft)

Highest point: Just over 2,800m (9,180ft) and the route crosses three passes above 2,300m

Terrain: Good mountain paths, rocky and steep cols, grassy cols, tracks and country lanes

Accommodation: Good hotels and no huts (but can be added)

Season: Mid-July to mid-September

Hike the Haute Route with Alpine Exploratory

Alpine Exploratory offers three self-guided options for the Walker's Haute Route, plus our guided trip. We're also pleased to book shorter or longer sub-sections of the route according to your available dates. Please contact us to discuss options.

Walker's Haute Route
Walker's Haute Route West
Walker's Haute Route East
Walker's Haute Route (Guided)

Our self-guided holidays give you what you need to complete the route under your own steam. We book your accommodation in a mix of hotels, auberges and huts and we give you our detailed routecards, the local maps, and lots of notes. Importantly we will advise on the ideal schedule and accommodation to suit your approach to the Haute Route. As well as the full route from Chamonix to Zermatt we offer half-routes which we call West and East. These end and start, respectively, in the roughly half-way village of Arolla.

Our guided trip is similar but gives you the benefit of an Alpine Exploratory leader to show the way.

Please ask us any time for more details. Please feel free to describe your walking experience and preferences, and we'll suggest which trek you might enjoy most.

Keep up with us on Facebook, Instagram, and our Blog for photos and updates from our own travels and clients' trips.


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Cabane de Moiry on the Haute Route
  Cabane de Moiry at the end of stage 9    Photos from the Walker's Haute Route


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