Walker’s Haute Route – Chamonix, France to Zermatt, Switzerland – Planning Tips


The route to Chamonix, France to Zermatt, Switzerland is a tough 14 – 15 stage trek over 187 kilometers (116 miles), climbing 12,000 meters (39,360ft) and descending 10,000 meters (32,800ft). The scenery is stunning with some of the most beautiful glacier capped panoramas in the world.

However, unlike other multiday treks we have done, this is not a wilderness trek. This is a populated region with most of the more remote scenic vistas reachable via public transportation, day hike or combination of the two. You therefore have the option of picking and choosing stages rather than doing the route as one long 2 week trek.

Trail Conditions

The route is not one marked trail but rather a series of trails, paths and roads connected to form the route from Chamonix to Zermatt. It is therefore essential to have directions, either a guidebook or app. We used a digital version of Cicerone guidebook, “Chamonix to Zermatt: The Classic Walker’s Haute Route,” by Kev Reynolds. The stage numbers I use in my posts are from this guidebook. We had also purchased paper maps but we did not use them.

At times the directions given in the guidebook were difficult to follow with numerous turns. This was especially true between towns, such on Stage 1, Chamonix to Argentière and Stage 4, Champex to Le Châble. The wilderness routes were generally well signposted with few junctions.

The trail is often steep. Very steep, both up and down. Several stages have the possibility of avoiding steep climbs or descents by taking a cable car, e.g., Stage 2 Argentière to Col de la Forclaz, Stage 5 Le Châble to Cabane du Mont Fort, Stage 10 Cabane de Moiry to Zinal, Stage 12 Gruben to St Niklaus and Stage 14 Europa Hut to Zermatt. Check schedules as cable cars may not run on all days out of peak hiking season. Although you don’t really miss any amazing views by taking a cable car, many of the climbs and descents avoided, although quite steep, are pleasant walks.

The trail can also be rocky. Several stages include sections of climbing or descending on boulders, most notably – Stage 3 Col de la Forclaz to Champex and Stage 6 Cabane du Mont Fort to Cabane du Prafleuri. Most stages have at least some portion on rocky or slippery tracks.

Section of the Europaweg Closed in 2019

The Europaweg is the 2 day track from Gasenried to Zermatt. This famous high balcony track with fabulous views has a history of frequent rock slides making it unsafe and impassible at times. For the 2019 season the first section was closed and may remain so until they reroute the trail.

Our plan B was to take the bus from Grachen to St Niklaus to catch the train to Randa and then hike up to Europa Hut from there.

Check out Haute Route Hiking for alternative routes to Europa Hut.


Much of the trail is exposed with mountain peak, valley views or both. Wooded sections are generally through pretty, open forest.

It’s hard to say which days have the best views as this depends on weather conditions and what you like. Every day has a view of something special and all but Stage 4 Champex to le Châble include glacier capped peaks.

Stats in the Cicerone Guidebook

I used the elevation stats in the Cicerone guidebook in my posts, but I would caution that these stats were calculated based on the start point, end point and only major changes in elevation in between. Thus stats for a stage that undulates up and down can be lower than the actual total elevation gained or lost.

The Cicerone guidebook estimated time for a stage includes only actual hiking time. Even so, we found the estimated times quite ambitious. In my posts I included our actual time on the trail for comparison sake. We are not fast hikers but do maintain a steady pace with frequent photo stops.


We preferred to sleep in hotels wherever possible. 4 of the 14 stages require a night in a mountain hut – Stage 5 Cabane du Mont Fort, Stage 6 Cabane de Prafleuri, Stage 9 Cabane de Moiry and Stage 13 Europa Hut. The Schwarzhorn Hotel in Gruben, Stage 11, is popular with tour groups. To get a room you will have to be lucky or make a reservation far in advance. I could only get dorm beds with a request made in February for the following early September.

For most stages reservations could be made last minute and there were a number of hikers that were making reservations just a few days in advance. The exceptions are Stage 8 Hotel La Sage, Stage 11 Schwarzhorn (as mentioned above) and Stage 13, Europa Hut.

Keep in mind that this is not a fixed route and there is often the possibility to sleep in a nearby town if you can’t get your first choice of accommodations.

Staying in Cabanes (Mountain Huts)

Staying in Swiss Cabanes is popular with Europeans and they’re generally well organized although the quality of the accommodations and food varies. Beds are in bunkrooms with as few as 4 bunks or as many as 20 plus. Space is sometimes very limited with little more than the size of your mattress. Backpacks are stored in a separate gear area.

In our experience fellow hikers were courteous and quiet. We didn’t even hear snoring louder than heavy breathing, quite remarkable in room of more than 20.

Hikers are expected to have a sleeping bag liner but no sleeping bags are allowed. Blankets and pillows are provided.

Showers are available with hot water on a prepaid 2-5 minute timer for 5CHF ($5USD).

Food is served in a central dining room with snacks available for purchase and the option to include demi-pension (breakfast and dinner) with your bunk for the night. Dinners may be served family style or individually and include – soup, salad, main dish (usually pasta) and dessert. Quantities vary but most offer ample food for hungry hikers. Breakfast is a buffet with a limited selection of the usual Swiss offerings –bread, butter and jam, museli and milk and maybe yogurt, cheese and ham. Coffee, tea and hot water are available.

Issues do arise. At Cabane de Prafleuri they had closed for part of the season due to a bedbug infestation. When we were there they required all gear be kept in a storage room with all personal belongings that were going upstairs to the bunkroom put in a personal plastic bin. We had no problems with bedbugs. At Cabane de Moiry they had a water shortage. Showers were not allowed and only the outdoor toilet was open during the day. At night they opened the indoor toilet. Also only tea was available to fill your water bladders.

Food on the Trail

We generally got the demi-pension option with our room or bed for the night and a picnic lunch for the next day. Other than snacks we never carried more than one day’s lunch. Should you want to buy your own picnic supplies, plan your grocery store stops as not all towns have markets.


Starting the route the last week of August and finishing the first week of September, 2019 the trails and accommodations were not crowded. As mentioned in the accommodations section, there were a number of hikers that were booking hotels and mountain huts just a few days in advance. We did, however, notice that the trail and accommodations became more crowded at Stage 12 in Gruben where the Chamonix to Zermatt route overlaps with the Tour of the Matterhorn.

The Chamonix to Zermatt route also overlaps with the Tour of Mont Blanc from Stages 1 -4.

When planning your trip check the dates for the UTMB (Utra Trail Mont Blanc) race when you could potentially be sharing the route with hundreds of trail runners. In 2019 this annual multiday event with various races along the Tour de Mont Blanc route ran from August 26 to September 1. 


In late August to early September, the end of the summer season, we had generally clear skies with a chance of rain on most days that didn’t materialize. We experienced mostly comfortable hiking temperatures, not too hot or cold. Near the end of our trek, Stage 12 out of Gruben the weather changed with low clouds, overnight rain and snow, and a significant drop in temperature. You should be prepared for all weather conditions.

Although we did not have rain or snow on the trail, conditions remained cloudy for the rest of the walk into Zermatt. I was disappointed not to see the Matterhorn, but the trail was still beautiful with the mountain peaks poking out of the clouds including a stunning view of Weisshorn.


You can do this route with minimal gear. In fact we only had 14 liter backpacks but they were very tightly packed. Staying in hotels and mountain huts there is no need for a tent, cooking gear or sleeping bags. You will, however, need a sleeping bag liner in the huts.

Most important is to have clothing for all weather conditions including rain, snow, wind and both hot and cold weather. Packing quick dry clothing that can be rinsed out in hotel sinks keep your pack light. Bring the usual emergency gear, first aid kit and so forth, and a water treatment system – we used a Steripen.

For links to all the posts in this series see the Chamonix to Zermatt page.

2 thoughts

  1. When I hiked the Tour du Mont Blanc, I found the picnic lunches provided by the huts to be over priced and disappointing. How did you find the picnic lunches on the WHR – any that you would recommend or ones to avoid?

    1. Hi Mark,
      As I recall they were all pretty similar. While of average quality they were generally generous in the portion sizes, often having two sandwiches. Don and I usually split one lunch with the addition of snacks. The one smaller lunch was from Cabane de Prafleuri. I agree they are not the best value but for us they beat finding grocery stores and carrying your own food. Happy Trails, Debbie

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