The best time to visit the Alps is in summer, when the mountains are bursting with color, livestock are grazing on high alpine pastures, trails are clear of snow, mountain huts are open, and wildlife re-emerge from their winter slumber.
Summer in the Alps is equated with active pursuits like hiking, trekking, via ferrata climbing, and cycling. It’s the best time to explore and drink in the mesmerizing scenery of Europe’s highest mountains.
However, summer is also the best time to learn about Alpine culture. In fact, we think you’ll fall in love with the cuisine and culture of the Alps just as much as the landscapes.
In this guide to visiting the Alps in summer, we’re sharing everything you need to know to plan a safe and rewarding trip.
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10 Things to Know Before Visiting the Alps in Summer
1. The European Alps stretch across 8 countries
The European Alps are the largest alpine chain in Europe, measuring 1200 km long and 200 km wide. The Alps sweep across eight countries (known as the “Alpine States”) in Central Europe, in a giant arch. The eight Alpine states are Austria, Switzerland, France, Italy, Slovenia, Germany, Liechtenstein, and Monaco.
Europe’s most extensive alpine range is generally divided into the Western Alps and Eastern Alps. The Western Alps are home to the highest peaks of the Alps, including Mont Blanc (4,810 m), Monte Rosa (4,634 m), and Matterhorn (4,478 m). Though not as high, the Eastern Alps, with its many limestone sub-ranges, are just as spectacular.
2. The best time to visit the Alps in summer is from mid/late June until mid/late September
The summer season in the Alps is relatively short. Depending on the length of the winter (snowfall), summer can commence in early June, or as late as early July.
June in the Alps
- In early June, snow may still be covering mountain trails.
- In late June, high elevation mountain huts begin to open up for the summer season.
July in the Alps
- High Season.
- Wildflowers are blooming.
- Thunderstorms are common in the afternoons.
August in the Alps
- High Season.
- Thunderstorms are common in the afternoons.
- Europeans are on vacation, which means that August is the busiest time in the Alps.
September in the Alps
- Almabtriebe (cattle drives) take place across the Eastern Alps.
- Most mountain huts start to close in late September.
- Summer season ends in mid, or late September.
3. Centuries of alpine transhumance have shaped the landscape of the Alps
Traditional alpine farming (“alpine transhumance”) is a type of pastoralism in which livestock (cows, goats, and sheep) are seasonally moved to higher elevation mountain pastures in summer and to lower elevation valley pastures in the winter.
For centuries, transhumance has sculpted the landscape of the Alps. Forests have been felled for grazing cattle and sheep, creating large open meadows at high elevations. The Alps are synonymous with verdant alpine pastures as much as snow-capped peaks.
While exploring the Alps in summer, you’ll likely encounter mountain pastures and mountain pasture huts. There are thousands.
These seasonal mountain pastures are called:
- Alm in Austria and in Bavaria, Germany
- Alp in Switzerland and in Vorarlberg, Austria
- Planina in Slovenia
- Malga in Trentino-South Tyrol, Italy
- Schwaige in South Tyrol, Italy
- Alpage in French
During the summer months, herdsmen usually live in mountain huts in the Alps, in order to take care of their livestock. Some of these huts are open to the public, while others are private.
The name of the pasture and the name of the hut on the pasture are usually one and the same.
Cattle Drives in the Alps
At the end of the pasture season (September/October), the livestock are guided back down to the valley. In some regions, these cattle drives are spectacular events, in which the cattle don ornate flower headdresses.
In the German-speaking Alps, cattle drives are called “Almabtriebe,” and they involve jubilant festivities with music, food, and dance. If you can time your visit to the Alps with an Almabtrieb, you won’t regret it.
Alpine farming is also tied to cheese and dairy production in the Alps.
Some alpine pastures are for milking and others are for dairy. On milking pastures, the grazing animals are milked and the milk is transported to the valley for processing.
Other alpine pastures are also dairies, where the processing takes place on the alpine pastures, using traditional methods.
The quality and taste of cheese in the Alps is a result of animals grazing and consuming a varied diet of mountain grasses and herbs.
No better place demonstrates this than Appenzell in Switzerland. Eat a slice of Appenzellerkäse and you’ll have a newfound appreciation for cheese.
Another alpine destination, famous for its cheese, is Aosta Valley. They make Fontina, a mountain cheese made from the milk of Valdostana cows. Aosta Valley is the only region officially authorized to produce Fontina since it has DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) status. To make Fontina, cheesemakers must use just-milked raw milk that hasn’t been treated in any way. The whole cheese-making process is conducted by hand and adheres to centuries-old traditions.
Alpine Pasture Huts
Hiking and cycling routes often lead to alpine pastures huts. Many of these huts offer food and drinks to visitors during the day.
Here are some of our favorite mountain pasture destinations:
- Val di Funes in the Italian Dolomites has a high concentration of alpine pasture huts. The Adolf Munkel Trail strings together several.
- The Montafon region of Vorarlberg is celebrated for its alpine dairies. We visited Alpe Vergalden on the Montafon Circuit Trail.
- Malga Venegiota in Val Venegia is one of the most beautiful alpine pasture huts in the Italian Dolomites. We visited this alpine pasture hut on the Val Venegia and Rifugio Mulaz Hike.
- Sulzenalmen in Salzburg, Austria. We wrote about visiting these Dachstein Almen in Salzburg Hikes.
- Alpe di Siusi, South Tyrol, the largest mountain pasture in Europe.
- Bohinj Alpine Pastures, above Lake Bohinj in Slovenia.
Alpine Pasture Safety
Hiking trails and cycling routes often bisect alpine pastures where cattle, sheep, goats, horses, and donkeys freely graze.
It’s really important that you don’t disturb grazing animals. As silly as this might sound, your life is at stake. These pastures are not petting zoos. There have been a number of accidents and deaths in the last few years because people have provoked, pet, and/or disturbed grazing cows.
Often, cattle will be sleeping or eating directly on the hiking trails. Take an alternative route around them, giving them a wide berth.
Many mountain pastures are home to suckler herds, where cows are left unattended while nurturing their calves. Cows are fiercely protective of their young. So, if they perceive any threat or danger (like a dog, a cyclist, or an approaching hiker), they may act.
Grazing animals are not selfie material!
Mountain Pasture Safety Tips
- Cross alpine pastures quickly and quietly.
- Keep a safe distance from cows. Walk around the trail if necessary to avoid getting too close to them.
- Do not feed the grazing animals.
- Do not pet grazing animals.
- If you’re walking with a dog, make sure to leash your dog. Keep your dog away from the animals, especially mother cows and calves.
- Do not climb over fences. If there is a gate, use it. Make sure to always close pasture gates after entering/exiting pastures.
- If you sense any restlessness from the animals, leave the pasture area immediately.
4. You can go hut to hut hiking in the Alps
The best way to experience summer in the Alps is on a hut-to-hut hiking trip.
Hut to hut hiking is a type of multi-day hiking, where you overnight in mountain huts (Hütte, Rifugio, Koča, Cabane, Cappana, Refuge) along the way. There’s absolutely no need to rough it in the Alps. And, in most places, roughing it (wild camping) is not allowed.
Hut to Hut hiking in the Alps means staying in cozy huts, eating delicious food, and carrying a relatively light backpack like the women’s Osprey Kyte, or the men’s Osprey Kestrel. Staying in high-elevation mountain huts is an experience in and of itself.
In summer (late June until late September), you can hike from hut to hut for a few days, or for a few weeks. Pick the trail that’s right for you (distance, difficulty, location), and start planning your trip. Here are a few tips:
- Pick an established route. With more experience, you can design your own hut-to-hut itineraries. Below, we’ve noted which hiking itineraries we’ve created (Moon & Honey Trail).
- Make reservations in advance for mountain huts.
- Familiarize yourself with mountain hut etiquette.
- Pack essential gear. Here’s our hut-to-hut hiking packing list.
- Bring sufficient cash. Many huts do not accept credit cards.
Kati and I have hiked extensively across the Eastern Alps (Austria, Slovenia, Northeastern Italy). So, we equate hut to hut hiking with great comfort.
In Austria, huts are staffed. In addition to having a comfortable place to sleep, you can also expect highly-satiating meals. There’s no need to bring any food with you. In the Italian Dolomites, every hut has an espresso machine and like Austria, food, beer and wine is always readily available.
Hut-to-Hut Hiking Trails in Austria
We’ve written a detailed guide about Hut to Hut Hiking in Austria, which outlines how to book mountain huts, general etiquette guidelines, and a lot more.
- Karwendel High Trail
- Schladminger Tauern High Trail
- Venediger High Trail
- Montafon Hüttenrunde
- Rätikon High Trail
- Berlin High Trail
- Eagle Walk – Lechtal Alps Stages
Hut-to-Hut Hiking Trails in Italy
- Alta Via 1
- Ortler High Trail
- Tre Cime di Lavaredo 3 Day Trek – Moon & Honey Trail
- Catinaccio – Rosengarten Dolomites 3 Day Trek – Moon & Honey Trail
Hut-to-Hut Hiking Trails in Slovenia
- Slovenian Mountain Way / Slovenska Planinska Pot
- Triglav National Park Traverse – Moon & Honey Trail
- Kamnik-Savinja Alps Traverse – Moon & Honey Trail
5. You can use cable cars and cableways to ascend to higher elevations
When I first started hiking in the Alps, I was shocked by the accessibility of the mountains.
The Alps are crisscrossed with ski resorts. In fact, winter (early December until early April) is the primary season in the Alps. Ski resorts mean ski infrastructure, and ski infrastructure means aerial cableways, funiculars, gondolas, and chairlifts. While not all cable cars are running in summer, many are.
Using cable cars to reach mountaintops may seem like cheating, and maybe it is, but it makes so many hiking destinations more accessible (for better or for worse).
For example, we would never have been able to summit Cima della Vezzana in a day, the highest peak in Pale di San Martino, without the use of cableways.
So, in many ways, hiking in the Alps is a lot more accessible than you would anticipate.
Some of our favorite destinations employ the use of cableways:
- Lünersee, Vorarlberg, Austria
- Alpe di Siusi, South Tyrol, Italy
- Resceisa Plateau to Seceda, South Tyrol, Italy
- Around Pala di San Martino, Trentino, Italy
- Col dala Pieres, South Tyrol, Italy
6. You can see ibex, chamois, marmots, and other wildlife in the Alps
Alpine Ibex are considered the “Kings of the Alps.” These brown-colored wild alpine goats have prominent curved horns and dwell in steep and rugged terrain at high elevations. These majestic animals were almost hunted and poached into extinction in the 19th century.
The history of Italy’s Gran Paradiso National Park is tied to the protection of the ibex. In the mid-19th century, the ibex population was rapidly dwindling. King Vittorio Emanuele II declared the alpine region a royal hunting reserve, thus safeguarding the population from extinction. By 1922, the hunting reserve was donated to the Italian State, for the creation of Gran Paradiso National Park. Today, the park’s ibex population continues to flourish.
At one point, the only Ibex left in Europe were the ones living in Gran Paradiso National Park and nearby Vanoise National Park in France. Starting in the early 20th century, Ibex were reintroduced to Switzerland, German, Austria, and Slovenia. So, all Alpine Ibex living today are descended from the stock in Gran Paradiso.
We’ve seen the most Ibex in:
- Gran Paradiso National Park, Aosta Valley
- Hochschwab, Austria
- Lechtal Alps, Austria, along the Eagle Walk
- Julian Alps, Slovenia
- Silvretta Alps, Austria, along the Montafon Hut Circuit
A chamois is a goat-antelope species native to Europe. They live at high elevations above the treeline and can expertly navigate rocky terrain.
They have short horns which hook backwards near the tip. Their faces are distinguished by black stripes, which stretch from eye to snout.
They can run at alarmingly fast speeds across precarious terrain.
We’ve seen the most chamois in:
- Karwendel Mountains, Austria, along the Karwendel High Trail
- Hochschwab, Austria
- Lechtal Alps, Austria, along the Eagle Walk
Chamois are shy, but curious. They’ll keep a distance, but monitor you, as you hike near them.
Marmots are plump ground-dwelling squirrels that live in burrows and hibernate during the winter. You’ll likely hear a marmot before you see one. They communicate with one another using high-pitch whistles, especially when alarmed.
Marmots are social animals. They live in family groups and are mostly monogamous.
Humans, eagles, and foxes are the greatest threats to the Alpine marmots. They could become endangered due to extensive hunting, especially in Austria and Switzerland, where 6,000 marmots are killed annually as trophies. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, STOP HUNTING MARMOTS!!!
7. The Alps are home to some of the best hotels in the world
Usually, when you seek out the most impressive scenery in the world, accommodation is an afterthought. You’re there for the scenery. And, as long as you’re staying somewhere clean and comfortable, nothing else matters. That’s how we felt when traveling across New Zealand and in the Himalayas of Nepal.
When you visit the Alps, you can combine the most bewilderingly beautiful scenery with the most luxurious accommodations. We recommend staying in hotels with wellness and spa facilities and in-house restaurants.
When the weather takes a nasty turn (we’ll talk about weather next), you want to stay somewhere which feels like a treat, not a prison.
We think the best hotels in the Alps are in the Germanic Alps, starting with German-speaking South Tyrol, a region which was annexed by Italy after the First World War.
Splurge-worthy Hotels in South Tyrol, Italy
- Alpina Dolomites on Alpe di Siusi
- Hotel Cristallo in La Villa, Alta Badia
- Hotel Kolfuschgerhof in Colfosco, Alta Badia
- Hotel Fanes in San Cassiano, Alta Badia
- Rosa Alpina Hotel & Spa in San Cassiano, Alta Badia
- Hotel Col Alto in Corvara, Alta Badia
- Forestis Dolomites in Bressanone/Brixen
- Dorfhotel Beludei in Santa Cristina, Val Gardena
- Naturhotel Leitlhof in San Candido/Innichen, Puster Valley
Splurge-worthy Hotels in Austria
- SEPP – Alpine Boutique Hotel – Adults Only in Salzburg
- Almmonte Sensum Suites Boutiquehotel in Salzburg
- Das Edelweiss- Salzburg Mountain Resort in Salzburg
- Cocoon Alpine Boutique Lodge in Tirol
- Bergland Design- und Wellnesshotel in Tirol
- DasPosthotel in Tirol
- Hotel Arlberg Lech in Vorarlberg
8. The weather can be very unpredictable in the Alps in summer
I grew up hiking in the Sierras in California. Wearing only a cotton T-shirt, shorts, and a hat, I would head out into the mountains for hours with Luna, my canine hiking companion. I was spoiled by the dry heat, relatively stable weather, and oh-so-much sunshine. GODDESS BLESS CALIFORNIA!
In the valleys in the Alps, it can get really hot, reaching 30°C (86°F). But, as soon as you gain elevation, it starts to cool off. Add in some wind and you’ll wonder what happened to that 30 degree weather. And, you better not be wearing cotton, cause it’s not going to dry.
Tip: Bring extra layers (vest, fleece, puffer, waterproof jacket) and an extra shirt with you on hikes. If you’ve just ascended 600-1000 meters, your back is probably full of sweat. You want to change into something dry on top of the mountain, before starting your descent. If you hike in sweaty clothing as your body cools down (going downhill), you might get chills, even sick.
Thunderstorms in the Alps
One of the most surprising things about the Alps in summer is the changing weather. Perfect mornings with clear skies can quickly give way to moody skies, followed by afternoon thunderstorms.
In the Slovenian Alps (where there’s minimal ski infrastructure), day hikes can be very long (7-10 hours). The best thing to do is start early (6 am latest), to avoid those afternoon storms.
It’s hard to avoid bad weather altogether. At some point during your trip, it might rain. That’s why we recommend staying in hotels with wellness and sauna facilities. Who cares if it’s raining when you’re sauna hopping?
You have to monitor the weather continuously, so you can modify your plans if need be, especially if you’re on a hut-to-hut hiking trip. Sometimes, you have to cancel multiple days of hiking trips, other times, you just have to start early.
Last summer, we woke up at 4 am to start the 9-hour Karwendel Höhenweg stage between Pfeishütte to Solsteinerhaus, to avoid getting caught in a storm.
Snow in the Alps
In the Alps, you’ll encounter snow up until mid/late July on some high mountain trails (above 2000 meters). That’s why most high-elevation mountain huts don’t open up until late June/early July.
Earlier in the summer season, Kati and I always bring crampons with us, so that we can securely navigate steep snowy slopes.
It can also snow in the summer. We got caught in a snow blizzard in early September while hiking the Alta Via 1 in the Italian Dolomites. We made the biggest mistake of our hiking lives when we decided to continue ascending while it started to snow. In no time at all, the trail and all waymarks were blanked in snow, leaving us lost in a complete white-out.
The lesson we learned is never ascend when it starts to snow. And, we also learned that gloves and beanies are vital companions on any Alps trek.
9. Gear Matters
Given the nature of the weather and terrain in the Alps, you have to be prepared. And being prepared, in part, means having the right gear.
It’s taken us a few years to amass trustworthy gear. In addition to packing additional layers (no matter how sunny it is), we recommend investing in a sturdy pair of hiking boots, hiking poles, and Cat 4 sunglasses.
In the Alps, collapsible hiking poles are an absolute necessity. Whether you’re hiking across snow fields, riverbeds, or steep slopes of scree, hiking poles will stabilize you.
Recommended Hiking Poles: Unisex Black Diamond Hiking Poles
Cat 4 Polarized Sunglasses
Most store bought sunglasses are Cat 2, maybe Cat 3 if you’re lucky. Cat 4 provides the maximum protection from visible and UV light. You especially need Cat 4 sunglasses in limestone and dolomite mountains, where the rocks reflect light like snow.
10. Via Ferrata climbing is a lot of fun
A via ferrata (“iron path”) is a protected climbing route. These routes are secured with fixed cables, pegs, rungs, and ladders, allowing climbers to safely ascend and descend tricky passages. Climbing Via Ferratas (vie ferrate) is a popular pastime in the Alps and an exciting alternative to hiking.
We love via ferratas because these routes engage your whole body. You’ll be using your hands and arms, just as much as your legs and feet, to traverse mountain faces.
While climbing via ferratas is a recreational activity today, the origins of these routes are far more somber. In the First World War, the Italian Dolomites were a war zone. For years, the Italian and Austro-Hungarian troops battled against each other in these mountains. Both sides strived to gain control of mountain summits to establish site observation posts and field guns. They affixed permanent lines and ladders to rock faces in order to move quickly and safely at high altitudes.
Thus began the tradition of via ferrata climbing as we know it.
There are three essential pieces of gear you need to hike a protected climbing route:
- Climbing Helmet: Women’s Helmet/ Men’s Helmet
- Climbing Harness
- Via Ferrata Lanyard with Carabiners
- Climbing Gloves – optional, but highly recommended
The Dolomites are the birthplace of via ferrata climbing, though via ferrata routes (“Klettersteig” in German) exist across the Alps.
Check out these guidebooks (on amazon) for via ferrata routes in the Dolomites:
- Via Ferratas of the Italian Dolomites: Vol 1: 75 routes-North, Central and East Ranges
- Via Ferratas of the Italian Dolomites: Vol 2: Southern Dolomites, Brenta and Lake Garda
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