Most alpine mountain ranges are remote, accessed only by determined and experienced hikers. On the other hand, the European Alps are easy to explore thanks to an excellent road network and abundant cable cars, mountain huts, and signposted trails. It all adds up to create a uniquely accessible range unlike anywhere else on Earth.
The Alps only cover a relatively small area - less than half the landmass taken up by the Himalayas - but they're densely packed with hiking trails. The Alps stretch across 8 countries: Monaco (yes, Monaco!), France, Switzerland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Germany, Austria and Slovenia. However, the highest and most famous peaks in the range are concentrated in France, Italy, and Switzerland. In this article, I'll suggest 10 of the best multi-day treks in the Alps, covering everything from short hits in the alpine foothills to some of the most famous long hikes in the world.
The most famous alpine hike of all, no list of notable European walks would be complete without the TMB. The 160-kilometer/100-mile trip takes in 3 countries (France, Switzerland and Italy) and - as the name might suggest - epic views of the Alps' highest mountain, Mont Blanc, and its surrounding peaks.
The TMB is a loop, so it can be started and finished at any point, but virtually all hikers base themselves out of Chamonix, arguably the most famous mountain town on the planet. The hike itself is remarkably straightforward, with no technical or exposed sections and clear, well-signposted trails the whole way. Throw in dozens of mountain huts (all serving cold drinks and good cake!), alpine villages, and staggering views, and you can see why the Tour du Mont Blanc is such a legendary trip.
Going from a technically easy hike to one featuring vertical rock walls and exposed cliffs, we're shifting gears for our second alpine journey! The Alta Via 2 is (in contrast to the Alta Via 1, its far easier sister route) a huge adventure and requires good fitness, a head for heights, and some basic mountaineering skills.
The route traverses many famous Dolomites via ferrata - the so-called "iron ways" - consisting of metal wires and staples that enable non-climbers to move through some spectacular terrain. Doing via ferrata requires specific equipment (namely via ferrata lanyards, a harness, and a helmet, plus some heavy-duty gloves) and some training, but it's attainable for anyone who can deal with some exposure and has the fitness to move through mountainous terrain all day. And when you're done moving each day, a lovely Italian mountain hut awaits you!
3. The Adlerweg
With no 4000ers to call its own, Austria is somewhat overlooked as a trekking destination. For those who do make an effort to explore the less famous but equally beautiful mountains that the country has to offer, it's a treasure trove of trails, huts, and summits.
The Adlerweg is arguably Austria's most famous multi-day hike, and it winds through the country's most renowned mountain region - the Tirol. The trip takes about 3 weeks and goes all the way from the Kitzbühler Alps to the famous ski town of St Anton via Innsbruck, the Karwendel and Lechtaler mountain ranges, as well as a dozen or so spectacular mountain huts. If non-glaciated, well-signposted hiking is your thing (and you've got a good head for heights, which you'll need on a couple of the days near Innsbruck), then the Adlerweg is one of the quietest and best long trails in Europe.
4. The Juliana Trail
Austria needs to get more attention from hikers, but Slovenia sees even less! The country is tucked away at the southeastern end of the Alpine chain, and with its highest mountain not even being 3,000 meters, let alone 4,000, it's firmly a place for connoisseurs.
Those who do venture to explore this small country are rewarded in spades - the mountains are peaceful, the huts small and welcoming, and the views are enormous. The Juliana trail, which loops around Slovenia's Julian Alps, is a fabulous hike over almost 300 kilometers of track. The route passes through everything from high, barren mountains to deep gorges, rivers, and villages and is one of the most varied treks on this list. The fact that you'll have it to yourself most of the way only sweetens the deal!
In winter, the Haute Route is the world's most famous multi-day ski tour, and certainly the busiest! In summer, the route is also a true classic, but it doesn't quite get the attention that it does in winter or that the nearby TMB does.
There are numerous variations on the summer Haute Route, but the best version is the one linked above. The route requires non-technical glacier travel, some straightforward scrambling, and an ability to move confidently through various terrain. For those with the requisite skills, a truly wild alpine adventure awaits, with views of the two famous mountains at the start and end of the trip, as well as lesser-known (but equally stunning) peaks like the Dent Blanche, Dent d'Hérens, and Ober Gabelhorn. There's also the possibility of bagging a glaciated summit (The Pigne d'Arolla, 3,796 m) en route!
6. The Tour of the Matterhorn
Although not as famous as the TMB, the tour of the Matterhorn is at least as good as its more celebrated almost-neighbor. The trek is much more physically arduous than the TMB, but the rewards, primarily the views, more than compensate for your efforts. As you might expect, the Matterhorn is visible for much of the route, but the beautiful Dent Blanche (4,357 m/14,295 ft) dominates the panorama for much of the trip.
Starting and finishing in Zermatt, the route goes up the Europaweg path to St Niklaus, and then valley hops to Grimentz, Arolla, and Cervinia via some charming mountain huts. As you finish the trip by crossing over the Teodulo Pass and dropping back into the Zermatt valley, there is a small section of glaciated hiking, but the glacier is part of the Zermatt summer ski resort, so it doesn't feel too "out there" - being hit by a skier is a more significant danger than falling into a crevasse!
If you want views to match the TMB but with more rugged, remote terrain, this hike is for you.
7. The Bernese Oberland Traverse
Like the Haute Route, the Bernese Oberland is best known for its ski touring options, but it's also a fabulous hiking destination. Just standing in any of the area's famous villages and looking up is spectacular, but getting high into the hills and seeing the Eiger, Jungfrau, Mönch et al. up close is a breathtaking experience.
There are many ways to explore the Bernese Oberland (and exploration is significantly aided by the network of lifts, huts, and roads in the region), but traversing the range from Lauterbrunnen to Gstaad is one of the best options. The trip takes about ten days and uses gondolas, hotels, huts, and some wonderful restaurants to create an unforgettable Alpine experience.
8. The Tour of the Gran Paradiso
Italy's highest mountain (it officially has higher peaks, but they sit on the country's French and Swiss borders), Gran Paradiso (4061 m), is one of the easier alpine 4000ers to climb and one of the best mountains to circumnavigate anywhere in western Europe. Despite the popularity of Gran Paradiso's summit route amongst mountaineers, the slopes and valleys beneath the peak are tranquil, and the solitude you'll find on this route is jarring compared to the busyness of the TMB or the Haute Route.
The 5 - 6 day circuit around the mountain is at the adventurous end of the trekking scale but possible for anyone fit enough to hike consecutive 8-hour days and rugged enough to stay in mountain huts for nights on end. The huts around the Gran Paradiso are amongst the best in the Alps, and you can expect a hearty meal, a warm welcome, and a good selection of wine (!) in all of them! The views are alright too...
9. The Trans-Alpine Crossing
One of the newer hikes here, having only been developed recently, the Trans-Alpine Crossing passes through three countries in just over 100 km. The trail begins at the typically beautiful Bavarian Lake of Tegernsee, then drops into Austria to traverse Achensee Lake and the famous Zillertal Valley before finishing in the Italian Süd Tirol.
Despite passing close to the major cities of Munich, Rosenheim, and Innsbruck, the trail manages to find a wonderfully quiet route through the Bavarian and Tirolian peaks, and just enough civilisation that it feels logistically easy, but not enough that you can't enjoy some wilderness. Each day's hiking finishes in a village or small town, so you can travel pretty light and still enjoy a typically huge Tirolian dinner every night!
10. The Via Alpina
If all of these hikes sound too short, and what you'd like to do is complete all of them - plus an extra thousand or so kilometers - then the Via Alpina is your trip!
There are multiple ways of doing the Via Alpina, and all are equally stunning, but the Red Trail is slightly more equal than the others. At more than 2,500 km and with over 160 logical day stages, this is a hike that only the most determined hikers will take on, and only the elite amongst those hikers will finish it in a single year. Splitting the route into two or more summers is a logical way to do it, and whether it takes you one, two, or twenty summers, traversing the entire Alpine chain on foot is a remarkable achievement. You'll begin the trip in Trieste, on Italy's Mediterranean Coast, and finish it in Monaco - not far away as the crow flies but an awfully long way if you pass through every major alpine range, as you will on this trail.
Funds, time, partners, and luck might never coincide such that you can complete this trip - but it's nice to dream!
Until that day comes, here's a way of sampling the Via Alpina for yourself: