Hiking in the Alps is like slipping into the hereafter, where enchanting pastures, charming huts, and glorious mountains await you. Accompanied by a chorus of cowbells, you’ll enter the literal “land of milk and honey” of hiking destinations: the majestic European Alps.
Here, trails are well-maintained, signage is ubiquitous, mountain huts are pervasive, public transit is reliable, food is safe and delicious, and the scenery is simultaneously dramatic and romantic. Hike in the Alps, and you’ll start to ask yourself, why bother hiking anywhere else?
In this practical Alps hiking guide, we’re sharing important tips on hiking safety, trails, and destinations. If you’ve never visited the Alps, also check out The Alps in Summer: 10 Things You Should Know Before Visiting.
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Hiking in the Alps: 7 Tips for Beginners
1. Hike in the European Alps in July, August, and/or September
The hiking season in the Alps is very short, due to snowfall.
If you’re planning an overseas trip to the Alps, we recommend visiting in July, August, or September, to be on the safe-side.
Of course, it’s possible to hike in the Alps in June, but depending on the length of the winter, you may encounter a lot of snow on mountain trails.
Many people love visiting the Alps in October, because of Fall foliage and the solitude. While some Octobers are like Indian Summers, other Octobers are very wintery. Each year it’s a bit different. And because there’s no way to predict the weather, October is risky. If you can be spontaneous and shift your plans, then October is definitely an option. Keep in mind that most mountain huts close in late September.
2. Check the Weather Forecast Daily
The weather in the Alps can be very unpredictable, changing quickly and dramatically. You’ve got to check the forecast daily and plan accordingly.
Majestic mornings can morph into moody afternoons with pouring rain, thunder and lightning, and even snow. It’s best to be prepared and always pack extra layers, including a rain jacket, puffer jacket, a beanie, and gloves.
In addition to your trusty mobile weather app, you may want to download additional apps. We always ask locals what websites and apps they use to check the weather in their region.
- BergFex Weather App – We use this app for checking the weather in Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and Slovenia.
- MeteoSwiss is an app and website that provides regularly updated weather forecasts for all of Switzerland.
- Windy is a website and app that is considered the most comprehensive and detailed of all weather apps. This app can be translated into 40 languages.
Alps Weather Tips
- South-facing mountain slopes receive more sunshine than north-facing mountain slopes. During shoulder seasons, you might notice more snow, and even ice, on north-facing slopes. Crampons and especially hiking poles are helpful in navigating icy slopes.
- Mornings tend to be more stable than afternoons. Start hiking as early as possible.
- In summer, valleys in the Alps can reach 30°C (86°F) or higher. But, as soon as you gain altitude, those temperatures begin to drop. No matter how sunny it is, always pack for all eventualities.
- If it starts to snow, stop ascending the mountain. Snow can seem harmless at first. But, it can quickly cover up tracks, waymarks, and signs. When you’re in a whiteout in a snow blizzard, you’re in grave danger. We know.
Sometimes, you can’t avoid storms. Check out these additional resources, so you’re prepared no matter what:
3. Eat Lunch in Mountain Huts and Alpine Pasture Huts
There’s a vast network of mountain huts (Hütte, Rifugio, Koča, Cabane, Cappana, Refuge) across the Alps. In addition to providing overnight shelter for hikers and mountaineers, many of these huts also serve food and drinks throughout the day.
Whether you’re day hiking or hut-to-hut hiking, eating lunch in a mountain hut is a real treat. So, skip the packed lunch, and savor the atmosphere and joy of mountainside dining.
During the hiking season, mountain huts are generally open from late June until late September. Huts, located at lower elevations, may open sooner (mid/late May) and close later (mid/late October).
In addition to the many mountain huts across the Alps, there are also alpine pasture huts. Unlike mountain huts, these huts usually don’t accommodate overnight guests, though there are always exceptions.
Many of these mountain pasture huts provide homemade food and drinks to visitors during the day. Some alpine pasture huts are also dairies, where they produce their own cheese, yogurt, Buttermilch.
Culinary Hiking Trails
Some of our most memorable day hikes in the Alps combine delicious food with jaw dropping scenery:
- Lunch at Bollenwees at Fählensee in the Alpstein in Appenzell, Switzerland.
- Lunch at Tierser Alpl, a mountain hut located between the Schlern and Rosengarten Mountains in the Dolomites, Italy.
- Lunch at Ütia de Göma along the Sass de Putia circuit trail in the Dolomites.
- Lunch at Olpererhütte in the Zillertal Alps, Austria
If you’re like us, and appreciate good food as much as epic scenery, then you may want to investigate culinary hiking trails in the Alps.
Visiting Mountain Huts
- Visiting Austrian Mountain Huts in 2021: New Rules & Regulations
- Visiting Slovenian Mountain Huts
- Visiting Dolomites Mountain Huts (Coming Soon)
4. Consider a Hut to Hut Hiking Trip
Long-distance trekking is a serious undertaking in many countries, requiring heavy gear, wilderness skills, and grit.
In the Alps, hut to hut hiking can be a highly gratifying and even indulgent experience. Do you want wine or beer with your dinner? You got it! Do you want a 3-course homemade meal? No problem! Do you want to use a sauna? Go for it! Do you want to play board games with other hikers? Have fun! Do you want to take a hot shower? It’s only 3-4 EUR. Do you want to dry your wet shoes? Use that electric shoe warmer mounted to the wall in the dry room.
You get the picture. Honestly, I can’t think of a better way to experience the Alps than on a hut-to-hut hike. It’s blissfully simple: hike from one hut to another and savor the scenery along the way. You get to wake up in the mountains directly on a hiking trail, knowing exactly where you’re headed. And, you get to go to bed in the mountains, in a warm and relatively comfortable bed.
Hut to Hut Hiking Difficulty in the Alps
Hut to hut hiking trails range from blissfully easy to staggeringly difficult. Some hikes circumnavigate mountain groups, delivering great views from a safe distance. Other trails require you to cross mountain ranges, where you have skillfully navigate narrow passages along ridgelines and unstable and slippery terrain.
On many of these high-altitude trails, I’ve felt like I’m one step away from my demise. On my second-ever hut-to-hut hike (Kamnik-Savinja Alps Trek Stage 3), I was in tears after 8 hours of ruthless hiking. High-altitude hiking paths in the Alps can be extremely dangerous. Please research trails thoroughly in advance to ascertain whether a trail is right for you.
Hut to Hut Hiking Trails in the Alps
If you’re new to hut to hut hiking in the Alps, we highly recommend following an established hiking route. In Austria and Switzerland, there are tons of Höhenwege (High Trails) and Hüttenrunden (Hut Circuits). Check out the Berlin High Trail, Karwendel High Trail, Rätikon High Trail Circuit, and our Austria Hut to Hut Hiking Guide.
If you want to save money on overnight stays in mountain huts, keep reading.
5. Join an Alpine Club, which is a participating association of the International Reciprocal Agreement on Mountain Huts
Alpine Clubs are large social clubs for hikers, climbers, and other outdoor sports enthusiasts. Alpine Clubs generally own and operate alpine mountain huts and maintain trails. Furthermore, they are typically responsible for organizing guided outings, providing mountaineering training courses, and safeguarding the alpine environment.
Kati and I are members of the Austrian Alpine Club (ÖAV – Österreich Alpenverein). Our membership benefits include:
- Discounts on overnight stays in Austrian mountain huts
- Discounts on overnight stays in all alpine huts belonging to the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation (UIAA).
- Membership of the Alpenverein’s rescue and repatriation service – Alpenverein Weltweit Service (AWS).
- Alpine skills, leadership, and training courses with grants available to eligible members.
Who can join the Austrian Alpine Club?
You don’t need to live in Austria or be Austrian to join the Austrian Alpine Club. Anyone can join. We recommend that English speakers join the Austrian Alpine Club UK chapter. The UK chapter has 12,000 members living outside of the UK.
Members pay an annual fee.
Mountain Hut Discounts
As stated above, a big benefit of joining an alpine club is the discount on overnight stays in mountain huts.
If you join an alpine club that is a participating member of the International Reciprocal Rights Agreement you are also entitled to discounts in mountain huts belonging to other mountaineering clubs in other countries.
For example, when we hike in the Slovenian Alps, we also get a discount on Slovenian mountain huts (owned by PZS), just by showing our Austrian Alpine Club membership card.
All these UIAA (International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation) alpine clubs participate in the International Reciprocal Agreement on Mountain Huts:
- German Alpine Club (DAV)
- Austrian Alpine Club (ÖAV)
- South Tyrol Alpine Club (AVS)
- Swiss Alpine Club (SAC)
- Club Alpino Italiano (CAI)
- Club Alpin Français (CAF)
- Federación Española de Deportes de Montaña y Escalada (FEDME)
- Liechtenstein Alpine Club (LAV)
- Slovenian Mountaineering Association (PZS)
- Club Alpin Belge (CAB)
- Groupe Alpin Luxembourgeois (GAL)
- Dansk Bjergklub
- Federazione Alpinistica Ticinese Switzerland (FAT)
- the Nederlandse Klim- en Bergsportvereniging (NKBV)
Given the benefits of the International Reciprocal Agreement on Mountain Huts, we recommend joining one of the above alpine clubs.
Discounts don’t apply to Privately Owned Mountain Huts
In some areas, like the Italian Dolomites, there are a lot of privately owned huts, which do not have any affiliation to alpine clubs. In such huts, you won’t receive a discount.
6. Buy Paper Trail Maps
Even though hiking trails in the Alps are extremely well maintained and well-marked, paper trail maps are invaluable. We always use a paper trail map in conjunction with Maps.me, our favorite offline maps app.
While apps like Maps.me are extremely helpful, they don’t show trail difficulty. An easy, flat trail looks the same as a secured, highly exposed trail, on an app. On a trail map, trail difficulty is marked by different types of lines: straight, dashed, or dotted.
In severe weather, you may need to re-route, abandoning your original hiking plans. With paper trail maps, you can discern your safest options.
With a paper trail map, you have more flexibility and freedom to plan your hike, whether it’s a day hike, or a multi-day hike. You’re not strictly limited to a guide book, or a blog post. You can create your own routes.
Another reason to buy paper trail maps is to better understand the region in which you’re hiking. By studying maps, you’ll understand how things are connected and you’ll learn the names of the mountains, valleys, rivers and lakes you’re hiking by.
7. Don’t Overlook the Eastern Alps
When planning a trip to the Alps, most people will gravitate to the Western Alps of France, Switzerland, and Northwestern Italy, home to the highest mountains of Europe.
The Austrian Alps are often overlooked by international hikers. I blame the Austrian Tourist Board. But, it’s actually a good thing. During high summer, when Europe is overrun by European vacationers and international tourists, Austria remains largely crowd-free (with the exception of Vienna, Salzburg City, and Hallstatt). In the Austrian Alps, you can enjoy the benefits of the high season without the annoying crowds. Learn more:
- Best Day Hikes in Austria
- Trekking Austria: Best Multi-Day Hikes in Austria
- Best Places to Stay in Austria in Summer
Slovenian Alps. Some people don’t even know that the Alps extend all the way across Slovenia. If you follow us on Instagram, you know that we’re obsessed with the Julian Alps and the Kamnik-Savinja Alps. Hiking in the Slovenian Alps is like stepping into a fairy tale. There’s hardly any ugly ski infrastructure marring the scenery. And, the biodiversity is incredible. In late June and July, the mountains are carpeted in wildflowers. We’ve hiked by hundreds of Edelweiss in Slovenia. Learn more:
The Italian Dolomites
Northeastern Italy is home to possibly the most gorgeous mountain range in the world: the Italian Dolomites. Here, each mountain and peak is utterly unique and instantly recognizable. The Dolomites are the birthplace of via ferrata climbing and probably boast the most epic sunsets (Enrosadira) in the world.
- Unforgettable Things to Do in the Dolomites
- Best Day Hikes in the Dolomites
- Val Gardena Hiking Trails
- Where to Stay in the Dolomites in Summer
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