It’s the least expensive time of year to visit the Alps, and autumn offers more solitude and wildlife sightings than any other time of the year. The changing colors are brilliant, but that goes without saying. If you hit the timing just right, you might just hit the Golden October, which brings pure sunshine and relatively warm temperatures to the Alps. It’s heavenly.
Autumn in the Alps is for experienced adventurers, because you need to be ready to handle some weather surprises, particularly snowstorms, and some not-so-surprising rain. This is tricky if you need to book flights in advance, but if you are experienced enough to handle a surprise snowstorm, then you are probably accustomed to taking the occasional risk. Speaking of flights, I should mention that fares from North America are often between $400 and $600 (USD) round-trip in autumn.
So why are the Alps so lonely in autumn? I am pretty sure it has something to do with the fact that the huts are all closed, and people don’t really know what to do. Let me change that right now, and give you some options. Tip: I’ll save the best for last.
Option 1: Backpacking
Back-country camping is illegal in most of the Alps, but in autumn there just aren’t a lot of people around to care. You can usually find nice, flat spots to pitch a tent near the closed huts, but never pitch your tent in view of a hut when it is open without their permission. The downside to backpacking in autumn: if you don’t hit the Golden October days, you may just hit the rain-every-day-all-day days. If that happens, your dripping wet tent won’t be your friend.
Option 2: Winter Rooms
Many huts leave a winter room available for use when they are closed. Usually bedding, cooking possibilities, and a toilet are available. Winter rooms are fantastic, and are one of the best kept secrets of the Alps. But a secret they are, because trying to figure out which are left unlocked, and connecting several into a multi-day tour, is like tackling a Rubik’s Cube. We should have one such tour ready for you by next autumn. Or if you are ready for it now, let us know, and we'll pull it together.
Option 3: Hotel
This is your go-to year-round option in the Alps. Although hotels are less expensive in the autumn than other times of the year, this is still one of the more expensive options, let alone the most boring. I may lack enthusiasm for this option, but it would probably be my suggestion to you if Option 4 didn’t exist. But it does, so read on.
Option 4: The Vanlife
The vanlife is the holy grail of Alps adventuring, especially in autumn. Renting a camper van gives you the flexibility to follow the best weather forecast. This is worth mounds of gold this time of year. But it won’t cost you mounds of gold, because you can share the cost with 3 of your favorite adventure buddies (yes, it sleeps 4), cook your meals using the kitchen (2 burners, a fridge, and running water), and skip the costs of any other form of transportation. This is your hotel, rental car, and food option all in one! Talk about all-inclusive! Well, all-inclusive minus a toilet. You should check out the webpage on The Vanlife.
The camper van is my personal adventure vehicle of choice for the Alps, and I am rather passionate about it. You can even check out this tour of my own camper van. In the U.S., I drove a modified four-door Jeep Wrangler. It was the perfect vehicle for my lifestyle there, where many trailheads require high clearance, if not 4WD, and back-country camping possibilities are plentiful. But in a part of the world where the trailheads are accessed by normal passenger cars, and pitching your tent in the back-country is illegal, the camper van wins. The camper van is to the Alps what the 4Runner is to Colorado.
So, go ahead and take advantage of those great autumn flight deals! Just book your camper van as soon as possible, because they go fast!