The best hikes in the Alps offer everything from huge valley views to pointy mountain peaks, glistening blue mountain lakes and, of course, far-reaching alpine pastures. None of which there is a lack of in the world of beauty and serenity that makes up the Alps mountain range system. So, if you fancy a hike in the Alps, where do you start? After all, the Alps are the highest and most extensive mountain range that sits purely in Europe, covering almost 300,000km² and split across eight countries - most famously France, Switzerland, Italy and Austria, but also Slovenia, Germany, Liechtenstein and Monaco. There's a lot out there.
In this article, we're aiming to give you a taster of the kind of routes that the Alps have to offer. We're focusing purely on long-distance, multi-day treks - some across peaks, others on the floor - but of course, each of these can be broken up into shorter hikes for those with less spare time. Here are 10 long-distance hiking route in the Alps which showcase all the mountain range has to offer.
1. The Tour du Mont Blanc
Countries: France, Switzerland, Italy
Start and Finish Point: Chamonix, circular
Affectionately known as the TMB by many, the Tour du Mont Blanc is one of the most iconic long-distance trekking routes not only in the French Alps, but on the European continent. Starting and finishing in the famous mountain town of Chamonix, the 168km route circles the Mont Blanc massif, passing through three countries en route.
The TMB dates back to 1767, when a Swiss geologist, Horace-Bénédict de Saussure, walked the entire way around the Mont Blanc massif looking for a way to climb it. He didn't find one then (although he did end up making the third ascent of the mountain in 1787), but he did leave a big legacy and launch a beautiful hiking trail. Highlights include a whole lot of far-reaching valley views, suspension bridges, and vantage points over Dent du Géants, the Grandes Jorasses, and of course, of Mont Blanc.
The route is usually walked counter-clockwise over 10/11 days. Those with less time tend to bite off three-day chunks of the Tour du Mont Blanc, or, if they’re a superhuman, run the UTMB ultra-marathon instead. The winning time is usually somewhere around the 20 hours mark.
2. The Juliana Trail
Start and Finish Point: Kranjska Gora circular
Most people don’t think of Slovenia when they think of the Alps. Most people go to Austria, France or Switzerland. Which means that Slovenia's Julian Alps have a lower footfall on their mountains than in most other alpine countries - despite the Slovenian Alps being just as rugged, pointy, immense and beautiful. What we’re really telling you here is... most people are missing out.
If you’ve never seen, heard or thought of the Slovenian Alps before, then the Juliana Trail is the ultimate introduction. It’s an accessible walk - travelling through the mountains rather than going up to the top of every peak that it passes. It’ll take you around a lot of beautiful Slovenian areas.
Starting point Kranjska Gora is home to the beautiful Lake Jasna. Stage four passes through the 15th century town of Radovljica. Stage eight of the trail is a remarkable mountain hike between the small towns of Podbrdo and Bohinj, with far-reaching views out over Lake Bohinj (the biggest lake in Slovenia), and the next day the trail will take you over to the postcard-perfect town of Bled. You’ll soon find yourself along the Soča River, walking towards Kobarid, and at various points on the route, you’ll have remarkable views of the mighty Mt Triglav.
There are 16 stages in total, and at roughly 17.5km each in length, some of them can be doubled up and done in one day, but once you see Slovenia, you’ll be in no rush to leave.
3. The Eagle Walk
Start and Finish Point: St. Johann to St. Christoph am Arlberg
The Eagle Walk is so-named because it gives you an eagle-eye view over all of Austria - or to be more specific, over Tirol, a spot renowned for its alpine beauty. The Eagle Walk is primarily split up into two main parts. There’s a 24-day walk that will take you through the mountains of the North Tirol, and there’s a nine-day stage which takes you on the most beautiful route between the highest mountains in Austria – the Grossglockner and the Grossvenediger.
As with most hikes on this list - but particularly the ones that climb over the 200km mark, which this hike does and then some - many people hike just a stage or two of the Eagle Walk rather than taking on the whole thing. If you were to do it though, you’d travel from east to west across Tirol, from the distinctive form of the Kaiser mountains, through the Brandenberg Alps and Rofan mountains, up the Karwendel Mountains and into the Tux Alps - eventually reaching the Stüdlhütte hut on the Grossglockner, the highest peak in Austria.
Highlights along the way include the Schleier waterfall outside the renowned ski town Kitzbühel and the Hundalm ice cave, a dripstone cave which reaches 45m deep. The route along the Nordkette, above the mountain city of Innsbruck, to Pfeishütte in the Karwendel is a beauty, as is the serenity of Lake Zireiner See and contrasting immensity of the mountains in Arlberg.
4. The Matterhorn Trek
Countries: Switzerland and Italy
Start and Finish Point: Zermatt circular
The pointy, Toblerone-top of the Matterhorn is surely the most distinctive mountain peak in Europe - and one of the most beautiful too. The mountain melts hearts quicker than Swiss chocolate melts in the mouth.
The best way to see the 4,478m Matterhorn? Well, you could go up to the summit. That’s pretty special. The only problem is, when you’re at the top of the Matterhorn, you can’t actually see the Matterhorn - and we like seeing the Matterhorn! That’s why we love the Matterhorn Hike, a trek just shy of 150km that goes around, but not actually up, the Matterhorn.
The tour will take you from Zermatt to St Niklaus, then onto Gruben-Meiden, Zinal, Les Hauderes and Arolla, over to Italy to see Prarayer and Breuil-Cervinia, and then back to Zermatt, typically in 8-10 days. This includes two glacier crossings, mighty views of 4000m+ peaks and frankly mouth-watering Italian mountain food. You can also connect to the Tour of Monte Rosa or Walker's Haute Route, and of course, you can always summit after if you’d like.
5. The Walker’s Haute Route
Countries: France and Switzerland
Distance: 175km - 225km
Start and Finish Point: Chamonix to Zermatt
Another stone-cold classic, and one of Europe’s best known long-distance trekking trails, is the Haute Route. This route takes you from one of the best known mountains on the continent to another - from Mont Blanc to the Matterhorn - via beautiful valleys and mountain trails.
You’re probably wondering why we’ve given a range of distances for this route, though. That’s because there is actually not one particular trail named the Haute Route - rather, there are many ways of getting from Chamonix to Zermatt, but no matter which trail you choose to take, you’re going to have to cross 11 mountain ranges and ascend over 69,000ft. The most commonly used Walker’s Haute Route measures in at 213km.
The Haute Route is typically walked in somewhere between one and two weeks. You'll go over the summit of Aiguillette des Posettes, trek to the wild Fenêtre d'Arpette, visit Le Chable and Verbier, pass the Lac des Dix dam and climb the Col de Riedmatten, just to name a few spots. One of the toughest days is ascending to the high point at Col de Torrent, but there's always a mountain hut and a hearty meal awaiting.
6. The Alpe-Adria Trail
Countries: Austria, Italy and Slovenia
Start and Finish Point: Heiligenblut in Carinthia, Austria to Muggia in Trieste, Italy
An absolute beast of a trail through three counties and over 43 stages, the Alpe-Adria Trail runs from the Grossglockner in Carinthia, the highest mountain in Austria, all the way to the Adriatic Sea in Trieste. The trail has a superb start, with a four to five hour hike from the foot of the Grossglockner to Heiligenblue via a suspension bridge at Sandersee Lake and the Gössnitz waterfall. The longest stage is a 28km beast from Gradisca d’Isonzo to Duinom, but there are plenty of smaller, and more manageable stages (the shorter being just 11km).
Passing into Slovenia, you'll reach Kranjska Gora and the Soča River, exploring Triglav National Park and the water sports hub of Bovec - also the highest region in Slovenia. You'll reach the Tuscan-esque scenery of Goriška Brda (where they make mighty fine wines), with views over to Venice on a clear day, before crossing into Italy at Collio and making your way to the sea.
7. Alta Via 1
Start and Finish Point: Dobbiaco to Belluno
There's something special about the Dolomites, isn't there? In a world of spiky mountains, these mountains are particularly spiky, and they tend to erupt up thousands of metres from the valley floor. Perhaps that's why the Dolomites aren't referred to often as "Alps", despite the fact that they are, in fact, in the Alps. Heading south from Dobaccia, the Alta Via 1 is the great Dolomiti trail.
You'll pass through Passo Falzarego, come across old battle sites from World War One, and hear the history of the Dolomites and the Great War. The area was brutally fought over by Italy and Austria, with both sides mining tunnels in the mountains themselves, to survive the snowfall and avalanches. You can explore these on the hike, the pick of them perhaps being the Galleria Lagazuoi - a tunnel built originally by Italian troops to attack the Austrians who held the Lagazuoi summit, and now a remarkable via ferrata route.
Journeying on south, you'll pass the Cinque Torri (five towers) formation above the mountain village of Cortina, take the road pass of Passo Giao, and hike around Mt Civetta to enter the more remote hills of the south. You'll summit Cime de Zita then begin your trip to the finish line. The Alta Via 1 is made up of 10 stages and as such, is usually completed in 10 days of hiking.
8. The Alpine Passes Trail
Start and Finish Point: St. Moritz to St. Gingolph
A mere 700km across the mountains of Switzerland, the Alpine Passes Trail does exactly what it says on the tin. It takes you across the alpine passes of Switzerland in a full 39 stages.
This route will take you up countless summits, and on seemingly endless passes and trails in the Graubunden and Valais Alps. It’s hard to pick out a highlight on a trail like this, when you’re going to be constantly in the mountains of one of the most beautiful countries in the world. But the mountain lakes around the Dents du Midi are sublime, the opening stages are little known to anyone but locals, there are 4000m mountains, and views to Lagginhorn, Weissmies and the Saas valley, before the Mischabel peaks arise and lead on to Grächen.
This is a tough trail, and with 39 stages and so many kilometres, it’s rare that anyone actually finishes it in one go. But hey - maybe you’re not just anyone…?
9. The Trans-Alpine Crossing
Countries: Germany, Austria and Italy
Start and Finish Point: Gmund, Germany to Sterzing, Italy
Germany makes its first appearance on our list, in the historic Trans-Alpine route, which starts in Deutschland and makes its way slowly over to Italy via the Brandenberg, Tux and Zillertal Alps.
Leaving Germany, you’ll head into the beauty of Austrian Tirol, past Lake Achensee (known as “Tirol’s fjords”), across the Zillertal Valley and into Sterzing in South Tirol, Italy. In between you’ll see historic Wildbad Kreuth, mixed forests and alpine pastures, walk by historic railway lines and look out on the Wilder Kaiser Mountains. From Mayhofren you'll walk an alpine ridge and on the final day, you'll finish with beautiful, wide valleys.
It’s a seven-day hike in total, and is actually a lot more accessible than many of the others on this list (whilst still demanding a level of fitness).
10. Via Alpina: The Red Trail
Countries: Slovenia, Italy, Germany, Austria, France, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Germany, Monaco
Distance: 2518km long
Start and Finish Point: Trieste, Italy to Monaco
This is your bonus hike. This is the hike in the Alps for the people who have got to the end of this list of hikes in the Alps (which features exclusively hikes over 100km) - and somehow are still looking for something longer. For you, we present the Via Alpina, a route made up of 342 stages, combining several other walking trails to present the ultimate route across the Alps.
On this ultimate alpine trail - which connects every single alpine country - you'll pass Mount Triglav, Tre Cime of Lavaredo, Hochfeiler, Zugspitze, Silvretta, Bernina, Mont Blanc, the Vanoise glaciers and the Barre des Ecrins, on your way from Trieste to the Principality of Monaco. You’ll cross national borders 44 times, and you’ll see a lot of beautiful things along the way. Just be prepared - there’s an elevation gain of 765,877ft, and you’ll need around 100 days in total.