Hiking in the Valais

Glacier de Moming

Glacier de Moming above Zinal in Val d’Annivier

The Valais is a canton of Switzerland right in the heart of the Alps. With 27 peaks over 4,000 m including the Matterhorn (4,478 m), Jungfrau (4,158 m) and Switzerland’s highest mountain the Monte Rosa (4,634 m) and another 150 summits over 3,000 m it is a mountaineering and hiking paradise. Constantin likes to say that the Valais is where the real Alps are.

The region was one of the main “playgrounds” of the first Alpine explorers and became the birthplace of the Saint-Bernard mountain rescue dog at the Hospice du Grand Saint-Bernard. Today the Valais remains a prime mountaineering destination, but it also offers great opportunities to gaze at its imposing summits from its narrow valleys and famous high altitude trails.

It is home to most of the classic high altitude treks – the Haute Route, and several other treks circumventing Valais’s most prominent mountain ranges such as the Tour of the Matterhorn or Tour of Monte Rosa. On top of that there are countless trails through the region allowing for thousands of bespoke trips of all lengths and difficulties.

The valleys of the Valais

Clouds in the Alps

On the Sasseneire ridge above Col de Torrent separating Val d’Herens and Val d’Annivier

The Valais is in the South-West of Switzerland. It is more or less defined by the Rhone valley, starting with the Rhonegletscher in the East and flowing into Lac Léman in the West. It encompasses short side valleys to the North of the Rhone and long narrow valleys to its South.

From West to East the main valleys are:

Getting there

Despite its mountainous terrain, the Valais is well connected thanks to a dense network of post buses that span the valleys and connect them to the main train line running through the Rhone valley from Martigny to Brig.

The excellent Swiss rail runs several trains a day connecting the Rhone valley to Geneva as well as Milano. Both have an international airport and are suitable as gateways to the hiking trails of the Valais.

Hikes and treks in the Valais

There are countless day hike routes in the Valais and over 40 mountain huts run by the Swiss Alpine Club. Together they can make up thousands of different multi-day treks throughout the region. Five treks in the Valais stand out though:

The Haute Route

Cabane des Dix surrounded by the Glacier de Cheillon

Cabane des Dix surrounded by the Glacier de Cheillon

This is one of the treks to do in the Alps. It is based on a mountaineering expedition from the early days of Alpine exploration running from the foot of the Mont Blanc in Chamonix across most of the Valais to Zermatt in the Mattertal. Though don’t worry the walkers Haute Route avoids glaciated cols and can therefore be tackled without extensive mountaineering experience.

Find out more:

Tour of Monte Rosa

Monte Rosa seen from the Gornergrat

Monte Rosa seen from the Gornergrat. Image by Ximonic (Simo Räsänen) – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39453031

This trek circles around Switzerland’s highest mountain Monte Rosa or Dufourspitze (4, 634 m). It starts and ends in Zermatt (or any other of the villages it passes through, if you like) and takes in the Mattertal and the Saastal.

In contrast to the Haute Route this trek requires some mountaineering skills, as it crosses the crevassed Theodul glacier where crampons, an ice axe and a rope are required.

Find out more:

Tour of the Matterhorn

The Tour of the Matterhorn promises spectacular views of Switzerland’s most iconic mountain from every angle. As the Tour of Monte Rosa it starts and ends in Zermatt, but takes in the Turtmantal, Val d’Annivier and Val d’Herens. It includes two glacier crossings; the Theodul glacier and the Arolla glacier and therefore also requires appropriate mountaineering experience.

Find out more:

Tour des Combins

Along the TDC

August snow on the Tour des Combins

While the three treks above belong to the book of Alpine classics, the Tour des Combins is slightly less well known. However, it still provides spectacular views of a substantial Alpine massive – the Grand Combin as well as an opportunity to enjoy some less trodden routes on a shorter trek. I walked it in summer 2011 and can more than recommend it.

Find out more:

Tour du Saint-Bernard

Trail towards St. Bernard Pass

Descending from the Col du Grand Saint-Bernard into Aosta

This trek centers around the historical St. Bernard Pass the birthplace of the St. Bernard mountain rescue dog. It covers Valais’s two most westerly valleys Val Ferret and Val d’Entrement. Similar to the Tour de Combins it is shorter and somewhat easier than the first two treks.

Find out more:

Day trips and short treks

Aside from these long trips there are obviously plenty of opportunities for shorter one day or weekend hikes. The Valais tourist board website lists a whole range of these as does the Swiss tourist board. This Cicerone website focuses on short hikes in the Val d’Herens.

Guide books

Walking in the Valais: 120 walks and treks, Kev Reynolds, Cicerone

Valais East: Zermatt, Saas, Fiesch, Michael Weber, Rother

Valais West: Zinal – Arolla – Verbier – Rhone Valley, Michael Weber & Hans Steinbichler, Rother

Chamonix to Zermatt: The Classic Walker’s Haute Route, Kev Reynolds, Cicerone

Tour of Monte Rosa: A Trekker’s Guide, Hilary Sharp, Cicerone

The Tour of the Matterhorn: A Trekking Guide, Hilary Sharp, Cicerone

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One comment

  1. […] Bloggers can also guide you –  “Marmot Post” has a good overview of hiking in the Valais here. […]

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