Trekking to Zermatt from Chamonix is one of the world’s classic walks. This challenging 200 km walk starts in the alpine mecca of Chamonix, France and traverses wild mountains and small valleys towards Zermatt, Switzerland. En route, the hike crosses some of the most beautiful terrain in the Alps, culminating in the stunning Matterhorn, which rises up above Zermatt.
With difficult climbs, fantastic views and delicious food, this hike really has it all! It should be noted that this trail is physically strenuous, so anyone planning on completing the trek should be in good physical condition and be comfortable with long days on the trail. Though difficult, this trek sees a lot fewer people than most of the great treks in the Alps – especially when compared with the Tour de Mont Blanc.
Closest Major City: Geneva, Switzerland
Accommodations: Hotel and Refuges
Costs: $750-$3,000 Per Person (if you want reservations and luggage transfer)
Length: 12-15 Days
When to Go: Mid-June through September
From any number of airports fly into Geneva International Airport. From here you can rent a car or take a bus Chamonix, where we recommend getting a hotel in the old town. We love Chamonix, and there is great hiking nearby and it is worth spending a couple of days in Chamonix if you have the time.
You can start the trek in Chamonix, but many trekkers take a bus across the flat valley bottom to the Col De Balme, skipping a flat walk along the valley bottom.
Starting at the base of the Col De Balme, the entire trek follows a remarkably similar pattern. Every day you will wake up, hike up through the trees to a high alpine pass, perhaps wander along a ridge for a while, marvel at the views, then finally descend to an isolated village or mountain hut. Most days are between six and eight hours of walking, with significant elevation gain (two days have over 1,500 m vertical). The untarnished views of pristine mountain peaks, hanging glaciers and expansive valleys, however, are well worth the muscular strain.
The condition of the trail can at times be challenging. Mild scrambling is sometimes necessary, as the grade of the trail can be extremely steep. Route finding can also be difficult, but the Swiss government has put out a very high quality GPS map that you can download for free onto your phone. This tool is extremely useful, and makes any slight anxiety you might have about the route instantly vanish!
The first two legs of the trip are shared with the Tour de Mont Blanc, so expect to be saying Hello, Bonjour and Ciao a lot since you will be hiking against the flow of most people hiking that trek. Though many people stay in Trient the first night, we highly recommend that you continue along towards Col de Forclaz. There is an old inn here, which though rustic, has incredibly delicious food, and a fantastic atmosphere.
Past the Col de Forclaz there is one crux pass that can be impassable due to snow or storms. Fenetre de l’Arpette is a high mountain pass which funnels storms and high winds. At certain times of the year it can require crampons to ascend. Don’t worry, though, as there is another route one can take to get around it. In fact, every single time the 10hikes crew has completed this trek, we have for some reason or another not been able to ascend the pass! In early and late-season we always ask inn-keepers about the next-days route, and at times have to use our maps to find a detour.
Several sections of the trail simply span across a valley bottom, such as the start at Chamonix. While these are pleasant rest days, for those in a hurry you can take some sort of transport to skip these less exhilarating kilometers! There are also a handful of gondolas and chairlifts which can help ease some of the tougher days.
One of the highlights of this trek is the car-free village of Zermatt at the base of the Matterhorn. Many walkers spend a week in the summer exploring the mountains around Zermatt, and we recommend spending 2-3 days in this wonderful town. We love the hike up to Hornli Hut.
Along the trek you have many option for eating and sleeping. Most people will choose to stay in a mixture of hotels and cabanes. A cabane is like a mountain hostel, with a relatively basic interior but fantastic food. Note that some cabanes have private rooms but many just have dormitories. In peak season you should consider booking these cabanes in advance. Though most of them can be booked online, some are only reachable by phone. These are typically the most isolated, and often have a unique charm. Some people also camp along the trail. This is obviously a more economical option, and has its own charm.
You will typically eat most of your meals in these Cabanes, and accommodation usually includes dinner and breakfast with the option of a packed dinner. Though for most days it is necessary to pack a lunch, some of time you will be able to simply stop at a refuge for a hot, delicious meal!
Since this trail is far less traveled than the Tour De Mont Blanc, there are fewer facilities. Don’t expect to be able to purchase new gear along the way, so make sure your backpack, boots and rain gear all work before you leave. That being said, you are granted far more solitude as you hike, allowing you to absorb the incredible scenery to the fullest. Also, be cautioned that most of the trek is in Switzerland, which means that the cost for even basic food can seem extraordinary!
1. Take bus to Argentière then hike to Col de Forclaz 17kms
2. To Champex 17kms
3. To Le Chable 16.5 kms
4. To Cabane Mont Fort (Difficult day, but gondola option exists) 15 kms
5. To Cabane Prafleuri (Difficult day, possibility of snow) 17 kms
6. To Arolla 24 kms
7. To La Sage 15 kms
8. To Cabane de Moiry 14 kms
9. To Zinal 17 kms
10. To Gruben 17 kms
11. To St. Nicklaus 22 kms
12. To Hike or get train to Zermatt