9. The best time to go on a hut hike is from mid-July to the end of August
You may have heard mid-June to mid-September is an appropriate time-frame for a hut hike. This is the operating season of most mountain huts, and obviously a prerequisite for a hut hiking tour. But it is important to also consider the conditions on the higher passes in between those huts. About every four years, we have problematic snowfields that remain on the high passes into mid-July, causing many hikers to abort, or in best case, to significantly reduce and reroute their planned adventure. Almost every year, we have a snowstorm the first week of September, causing extremely poor visibility, which can make navigating the high mountain passes very difficult, dangerous, and time-consuming. In 2017, we had enough snow by September 2nd to cause avalanche deaths throughout the Alps and abruptly halt the hiking season in many areas of the Alps. So, if you want the best chances of completing the entire hike you are planning, stick to dates between mid-July and the end of August. If you are concerned about crowds (because this is also the most crowded time of year), let us recommend a tour for you that is off the main tourist track, and therefore, much less crowded.
8. Backcountry, or wild, camping is not allowed
Depending on where you are from, this may or may not, be shocking information. The Alps have been inhabited since pre-historic times, and have been used heavily for hunting, farming, and cattle grazing. Wilderness doesn’t exist here as it does in other parts of the world. No matter where you are in the Alps, you are probably within 8 km. of a staffed hut or a town. The Alps can also be crowded, and if wild camping were allowed, it would cause a significant environmental impact. But don’t worry, instead you get to experience the charm and comfort of staying in the mountain huts (see below) that make adventuring in the Alps the experience that it is. There are exceptions to the wild camping ban, and it is allowed in the barren and windy alpine terrain above 2,500 m., as well as in cases of emergency bivouacs. On the other hand, it is helpful to know that fines for wild camping can be around 600€ per person. Some areas are regularly patrolled, and in other areas hunters and hut staff alike can be quick to report illegal campers.
7. There are over 800 serviced mountain huts scattered around the Alps
You may have heard of a famous hut to hut hiking tour called the Tour du Mont Blanc, and maybe even of another one in the Italian Dolomites called the Alta Via 1. But don’t be fooled into thinking that these are the only hut to hut tours in the Alps.
The Tour du Mont Blanc is only one of hundreds of possible hut hiking tours. I estimate there are around 800 serviced mountain huts scattered in every corner of the Alps. These are in France, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Liechtenstein, Germany, and in Slovenia. These huts offer a fantastic experience and a chance to get close to the culture. The food is incredible (and much better than freeze-dried food from a bag), and it is always nice to have access to adult beverages at the end of a long hiking day. The huts also provide bedding, so there is no need to carry a tent, sleeping pad, or sleeping bag with you! You do; however, need to carry a sleeping bag liner, or travel sheet, with you to the huts. You can find out more about the hut experience by watching a recording of the free webcast, Hiking Hut to Hut in the Alps or by browsing our Staying in Mountain Huts web page.
6. Elevation gain is just part of the game
The Alps are beautiful, because they are dramatic. The Alps are dramatic, because they are steep. I am not saying they are the steepest mountains in the world, but they are steeper than many. I used to do quite a bit of trail construction on the Arizona Trail, and we had guidelines about the trail grade. Our target was no more than 10%. This standard is not to be found in the Alps. Even the family-friendly trails in the Alps are steeper than many of the trails up the 14ers in Colorado. It is very possible that you will climb several thousand feet in just 2 or 3 miles. Plan your days more according to elevation gain than to distance.
5. Public transportation will get you to and from almost any trailhead
Ahhh…Europe, and its abundant public transportation. It is pure luxury to have access to almost every trailhead through public transportation. This makes the Alps a more economical adventure destination than many other locations around the world, where rental cars or other transportation costs may be required.
4. Water sources are abundant
Questions about drinking water come up frequently. Here’s the scoop…there is an abundance of flowing water throughout most of the Alps. There is also an abundance of cows and other livestock grazing at higher altitudes in the Alps. Water is not safe to drink directly from the streams, no matter what anybody tells you. However, the huts are your source of drinking water while adventuring in the Alps. Most huts provide free drinking water straight out of the tap in the washrooms, others will fill your hiking bottles and bladders with good water from the kitchen, and the very few who don’t have the luxury of water sources near their hut (primarily in Slovenia and parts of the Dolomites), will sell you bottled water. It is never a bad idea to carry emergency water tablets with you, but carrying a water filter in your pack may be overdone.
3. There are via ferratas everywhere, not just in the Dolomites
If you have heard of via ferratas, you have probably heard of them in the Dolomites. What most people don’t realize is that via ferratas are not just in the Dolomites, they are all over the Alps. I estimate there are just shy of 2,000 via ferratas throughout France, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Germany, and Slovenia. Keep in mind that just because the via ferratas in the Dolomites are the most famous, it certainly doesn’t mean they are the best. I encourage you to watch this free webcast on Via Ferratas in the Alps for more information on them. And if you haven’t heard of a via ferrata before, check out the Ladders in the Sky video for some inspiration.
2. There is a bicycle tour from Munich to Venice, and you don’t have to be a cyclist to do it
If you aren’t a cyclist, you still want to read this one! Thanks to a fantastic network of bicycle trails, routes, and other infrastructure; bicycle touring in the Alps appeals to a broader spectrum of outdoor enthusiasts than it may elsewhere in the world. The Munich to Venice route is my absolute favorite. In Europe, bicycle touring is considered a family- and retiree-friendly activity.
I consider bicycle touring to be the most comprehensive and flexible option for adventuring in the Alps. It is comprehensive, because you get plenty of nature, as well as big cities. But the gem of any culture exists in the small villages, and at the local cheese shop and the bakery along the way. With bicycle touring you get plenty of these small villages. It is flexible because you can make it extremely comfortable with nicer luxury hotels, short days, and maybe even an e-bike rental; or challenging and budget-friendly with longer cycling days and simple accommodations. Bike Touring can be suitable for almost anybody who is reasonably fit, and you don’t need to spend money on specialized gear to do it (watch my video on Packing for a Bike Tour). I encourage everybody to give this some consideration, even if you don’t consider yourself a cyclist.
Switzerland is beautiful, and expensive. Austria is beautiful, and less expensive
Many people think Switzerland when they think Alps. This thought isn’t wrong, but it can be expensive. While Switzerland is jaw-dropping beautiful, so are other areas of the Alps that can be a lot easier on the bank account. I always recommend Austria as a beautiful, less-expensive, and less-touristy alternative to Switzerland.
Bonus Tip for food lovers:
If you are like me, and you love food just as much as you love hiking, or maybe even a little more, the Alps should absolutely be your next top priority adventure destination. And if you like REALLY good food, I mean the kind of food that Michelin-star chefs prepare, then definitely take a look at our Culinary Delight Hut Hiking Tour. You won’t be disappointed.