Planning an Alpine hiking holiday this year? Hanna Lindon picks out some of the best treks in the Alps, Europe’s greatest mountain chain, from bucket list classics to lesser-trodden gems.

Few things are more enticing than the prospect of hiking through the Alps for days, even weeks on end. The peaks are high and mighty, the mountain huts are many and welcoming, and the weather (provided you stick to the right seasonal window) is often beautifully un-British. It’s possible to trek across the range for hundreds of kilometres without once descending to reality, but not all of us have that degree of leisure. With a couple of notable exceptions, most of these treks in the Alps will fit comfortably into a week or two.

Words: Hanna Lindon | Main image: A wild camp on the Walkers’ Haute Route. Credit: Shutterstock.

They span the Alps and their outlying ranges from France to Albania, taking in sky-scraping summits, glaciers, marmot-grazed valleys, scrambly cliff faces and forests populated with bears and lynx. Some are gentle rambles through bucolic foothills. Some are high-altitude adventures spiced with a little Via Ferrata. Others hop from hut to mountain hut or deliver hotels and haute cuisine at the end of each day – but all these treks in the Alps are scenically unforgettable.

1. Walker’s Haute Route

A ‘do before you die’ classic, this Alpine pilgrimage connects two near-holy mountains – Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn – via a spectacular, full-on route.

Start: Chamonix, France
End: Zermatt, Switzerland
Length: 221km/137 miles
Ascent: 15,200m/50,000ft
Difficulty: Medium/high
Duration: 14 days

The Walkers' Haute Route in the Alps

The Walkers’ Haute Route in the Alps.
Credit: Shutterstock

This 221km border-crossing epic is a walker-friendly version of the Classic Haute Route. Unlike its older and more famous cousin, which strings together a necklace of almost-4,000m-high summits and involves plenty of unavoidable ice axe ‘n’ crampon work, it’s accessible to anyone with a good pair of walking boots, a decent level of fitness and a basic arsenal of hill skills. The trail, which connects Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn, strikes out from Chamonix, reaching Zermatt 221 kilometres, 11 mountain passes and 15,200 metres of ascent later. Big, glitzy views (the Matterhorn from its most photogenic angle, the 2km-long Grand Desert glacier from Col de Louvie and many, many more) alternate with pastoral prettiness, amazing Alpine wildlife and a consistently high challenge level to create a hike you won’t forget in a hurry. Allow two weeks for the full traverse.

2. Tour du Mont Blanc

This bucket list classic trek in the Alps, looping around the whole Mont Blanc massif via multiple mountain passes, is deservedly popular.

Start/end: Les Houches, France
Length: 165km/103 miles
Ascent: 8,917m/29,255ft
Difficulty: Medium
Duration: 7 – 10 days

Huts on the Tour du Month Blanc.

Huts on the Tour du Mont Blanc.
Credit: Shutterstock

It might be one of the most famous treks in the Alps and long-distance walks in Europe, but don’t let that put you off. The 165km circuit of the Mont Blanc massif is a wildly popular trek for pretty much the same reason that the Beatles were a wildly popular band: it’s one of the best. Spanning three countries – France, Italy and Switzerland – the Tour de Mont Blanc wiggles its way through multiple mountain passes, across beautifully barren plateaus and above forest-filled valleys, always with a panoramic view of the massif’s famous 4,000m+ peaks in the background. Never straying into truly technical territory but still tough on the thighs (there’s 10km of ascent and descent spread across the full route) it takes most walkers between seven and 10 days to complete. While you’re wandering through superlative scenery, enjoy the reflection that this is one of the oldest trekking routes in the world. It was first laid out by Horace-Bénédict de Saussure in the late 18th century, as he tried and (sadly for Horace) failed to become the first person to reach Mont Blanc’s summit.

3. Tour of the Matterhorn

This circumnavigation of the iconic Swiss peak isn’t a pushover – but if views are what you’re after, it’s hard to beat.

Start: Randa, Switzerland
End: Zermatt, Switzerland
Length: 147km/91 miles
Ascent: 10,353m/43,800ft
Difficulty: Medium/high
Duration: 7 – 10 days

The Tour du Matterhorn is one of the best treks in the Alps

The Matterhorn under an incredible sunset sky.
Credit: Shutterstock

Mont Blanc might be the highest mountain in the Alps, but the Matterhorn takes the prize for most recognisable. That twisted, snow-dusted Toblerone chunk of a peak is everybody’s idea of what a real mountain should look like, and its near-symmetry makes it equally spectacular from almost every angle. This Matterhorn-circumnavigating 147km tour strings together a succession of stunning viewpoints, taking in remote glaciers, Heidi-esque mountain villages, green plateaus studded with wildflowers and dazzlingly jewel-hued lakes. It’s tougher than the more popular Tour de Mont Blanc – good fitness levels and mountain experience are required to tackle rough tracks, glacier traverses and more than 10km of ascent over 7-10 days. But the glories of the scenery more than repay the effort.

4. Alpe-Adria Trail

Taking a lower-level route than some on this list, this long-distance epic is a great way of soaking up the beauty of the Eastern Alps.

Start: Kaiser-Franz-Josefshöhe, Austria
End: Muggia, Italy
Length: 750km/466 miles
Ascent: 22,000m/72,000ft
Difficulty: Low
Duration: Up to 6 weeks for the full route, or shorter sections

The Alpe-Adria Trail

Scenes from the Alpe-Adria Trail.
Credit: Shutterstock

Not every Alpine route worth trekking is a pinnacle-packed endurance fest. The Alpe-Adria might be long – it wanders for around 750 kilometres through Austria, Slovenia and Italy – but pilgrims pursuing its gently oscillating line are more likely to find themselves strolling through glacial valleys and fragrant woods than scaling massive peaks. The peaks are there, of course, as a beautiful and ever-present backdrop. They include the Grossglockner, Austria’s highest at 3,798m and the starting point of the Alpe-Adria, as well as the gentler Nockberge mountains. Take six weeks or so to explore the full 43-stage trail, or pick and choose your stages. Highlights include the medieval Italian city of Cividale del Fruili, the waterfall-bedecked Groppenstein gorge, Slovenia’s horseshoe-shaped Trenta valley and views of the tantalisingly blue Adriatic Sea.

5. Juliana Trail

Slovenia’s Julian Alps are vertiginously beautiful – but this comparatively relaxed trail winds its way through the region’s valleys and villages.

Start/end: Kranjska Gora, Slovenia
Length: 267km/166miles
Ascent: 7,323m/24,025ft
Difficulty: Low
Duration: Up to 16 days

Lakeside on the Juliana Trail.Credit: Shutterstock

Lakeside on the Juliana Trail.
Credit: Shutterstock

One of the newest long-distance treks in the Alps, this 267km-long circular is a whistlestop introduction to the multi-faceted beauty of Slovenia’s Julian Alps. Hopping from village to village, it strings together endless scenes of scenic splendour: the turquoise waters of the Soca river, the 1,000-year-old Pokljuka forests, Lake Bled’s famous island chapel, and dozens of sleepy traditional hamlets. With just under 7,500m of ascent to tackle over 16 stages, it’s a more relaxed prospect than some of the other great Alpine excursions. All the better for introducing non-mountain-savvy friends and family to the joys of long-distance walking.

6. Tour des Glaciers de la Vanoise

If you’ve only got a week or so to spare, you’d be hard-pushed to beat this high and mighty circuit of the Vanoise region, one of the jewels of the French Alps.

Start/end: Pralognan-la-Vanoise, France
Length: 73km/45 miles
Ascent: 3,800m/12,500ft
Difficulty: Medium
Duration: 4 – 6 days (not an ‘official’ route so can be personalised)

On the Tour des Glaciers de la Vanoise.

On the Tour des Glaciers de la Vanoise.
Credit: Shutterstock

If your lofty trekking ambitions are being quashed by measly annual leave, the Tour des Glaciers de la Vanoise might just be the answer to your Alpine dreams. Just over 70km long, it squeezes a whole mountain range worth of high and mighty scenery into just a few memorable days. The circuit meanders through a melange of 300m+ peaks in the Vanoise National Park – France’s oldest national park and surely one of its most beautiful. Between the spiky, snow-daubed summits are valleys carpeted with wildflower meadows, impossibly blue rivers, waterfalls and neck-cricking slabs laced with famous climbing routes. The skies swarm with eagles and vultures, and you’d be unlucky to go a day without spotting a roving marmot or two. With nearly 5,000 metres of elevation gain, plenty of tough terrain above 2,000m, winter skills needed outside the warmest months and few signs of civilisation other than the welcoming mountain refuges, this is no walk in the park. But it never exceeds the abilities of a fit and competent walker – and because it’s an unofficial route, linking various GRs to create a rough circle, there’s plenty of opportunity for personalisation. For something a little longer, the 150km Tour of the Vanoise is a better-known alternative.

7. Via Dinarica

Stretching across the Balkans, the Dinaric Alps are a less-trodden alternative to the more famous range – and this huge trail is an epic way to experience them.

Start: Razdrto, Slovenia
End: Valbona, Albania
Length: 1,261km/41,400 feet
Ascent: 49,579m
Difficulty: Medium/high
Duration: Up to 2 months, or shorter sections

The Via Dinarica stretching across the Dinaric Alps in the Blkans.

The Via Dinarica stretches across the Dinaric Alps in the Balkans.
Credit: Shutterstock

This one might not strictly be in the ‘Alps’, but it’s well worth a look for hikers seeking a culturally immersive, less travelled alternative to the central European Alps. The Dinaric Alps extend in a long geographical triangle across southern Europe, marching 645m along the coast from Italy all the way to Albania. This glaciated limestone landscape shot with sapphire-blue rivers and roamed by lynx, wolves, bears and chamois tops out at 2,694m (Maja Jezercë). In other words, the mountains here aren’t quite as sky-spearing as their central Alps neighbours – but they’re just as exciting to explore. The Via Dinarica is a relatively new trail that traverses the length of the range. It has a few variations, the main route being the White Trail which leads hikers on an epic 1,261km adventure to bag all the highest peaks in the Dinaric Alps. If taking two months off to walk it end-to-end is liable to get you fired, the Bosnia and Herzegovina section makes for a more manageable alternative.

8. Alta Via 2 (Dolomites)

If awesome eye candy and vertical thrills are what you’re after, it doesn’t get much better than the ‘High Route of Legends’.

Start: Brixen, Italy
End: Croce d’Aune, Italy
Length: 160km/99 miles
Ascent: 11,884m/38,990ft
Difficulty: High
Duration: 13 days

Alta Via 2 Dolomites is one of the best treks in the Alps, says Hanna Lindon

Along the Alta Via 2 in the Dolomites.
Credit: Shutterstock

The Dolomites are home to some of the most awesomely fantastical scenery in Europe. No surprise that the 160km highlight-bagging Alta Via 2 is sometimes called the Alta Via delle Leggende or ‘High Route of Legends’. From the lunar landscapes of Sella to the palatial limestone towers of the Pale di San Martino, it’s a feast for the eyes throughout. It’s also famously tough. Exposed, cliff face-hugging trails, sections of via ferrata and hand-on-rock ascents rule out anyone not comfortable with scrambling and vertiginous drops (the Alta Via 1 is a more straightforward alternative). For everyone else, the technicality and exposure only add to the trail’s awe-inspiring nature.

9. Venediger Trail

This hospitable hut-to-hut trail offers a beautifully condensed taste of the Austrian Alps.

Start: Hinterbichl, Austria
End: Matreier Tauernhaus, Austria
Length: 50km/31 miles
Ascent: 3,540m/11,600 feet
Difficulty: Medium
Duration: 5 – 6 days

Walkers on the Venediger Trail

Walkers on the Venediger Trail.
Credit: Shutterstock

If you prefer your mountain huts uncrowded and lots of scenery to yourself, retreat to the Eastern Alps. The hut-to-hut-hopping Venediger Trail, which curves around the 3,666m-high Grossvenediger, has more going for it than just solitude. It’s high, staying above 2,000m for much of the route, and stunningly beautiful, blending melting glaciers, waterfalls and snow-painted mountains into a few days of glorious rambling. After the initial ascent, the route is relatively undemanding on the calf muscles, keeping its altitude (and its horizon-spanning vistas) as it progresses in leisurely stages between hospitable mountain huts. Knit the stages together and it’s achievable within a few days – a conveniently condensed sample of what the Austrian Alps have to offer.

For more alpine adventures, check out Charlie Jarvis’ trek in Italy’s Val Grande and Peter Elia’s hike in Albania’s Accursed Mountains in the March issue of The Great Outdoors.