The European Alps
The Alps – one of the last places in Europe where you can find true wilderness – stretch like a massive arc from Nice to Vienna. About 1200 km long and 150 to 250 meters wide the Alps are Europe’s highest and largest mountain range.
With an elevation of 4810 meters the Mont Blanc in France is the highest mountain of the Alps. You might have also heard about the mountain Matterhorn (4.478m), the Dolomites or the famous Jungfraujoch (4.158m).
One of the best ways to get to know the European Alps and experience the alpine traditions is to hike across the mountain range. Starting in Germany via Austria and finishing in Italy you can cover three of in total eight alpine countries within a week.
On the E5 from Oberstdorf to Meran
Long distance hiking in Europe
Long-distance hiking in Europe is by far not as popular as in the United States. Nevertheless a network of 11 long-distance hiking trails is layed out over Europe offering a total length of more than 52000 km. 9 of these trails traverse through Germany for about 9700 km. One of the most popular of these long-distance trails is the “E5” (short for “European long-distance trail”). It runs from Point du Raz in France to Verona in Italy with a total length of 3050 km. A very famous part of this trail is the Crossing of the European Alps from Oberstdorf to Bozen. Nearly every guided tour for crossing the European Alps includes hiking partway on the E5.
What to expect?
The alpine environment in Europe is very diverse. You will hike through green mountain meadows as well as ice and snow in the higher elevations. On a multi-day hike you will not have to miss any comfort. The European Alps feature a large network of well-maintained mountain huts offering the best food and affordable accomodation for hikers.
Many variations and different routes are possible when you plan for crossing the European Alps. I want to give you an overview of the tour I booked in 2015 while preparing for my hike on the Pacific Crest Trail and provide all the information you need to plan your hike!
Things you need to know
Should I book a guided tour?
Wheather you book a guided tour or not is up to you and depends on your own hiking skills. When I booked the crossing of the European Alps I had never done a big hike before, therefore, I decided to book a guided tour for safety.
A guided tour not only adds to the safety of the hiker but it also adds quite a bit of comfort to the experience. All the organizational stuff is done by the tour operator and you can concentrate on where to place your feet or enjoy the beautiful mountain scenery. The tour operators mostly organize some busrides inbetween to concentrate on the more scenic parts of the hike. It is also obvious that the tour operators get the most beautiful rooms on the huts. And why not profit from the knowledge of a local and get to know some alpine secrets?
Here’s the link to the tour operator I used for crossing the European Alps and also for my snowshoeing tour in the Austrian Alps: Alpine School Oberstdorf (German only)
How should I prepare?
Another question that is difficult to answer because it depends on your personal level of fitness and again on your hiking skills. Let’s put it this way: I was very happy that I did prepare for my crossing of the European Alps by going to the gym and doing some backpacking with a loaded backpack beforehand. It is never a mistake to be in top shape when you hit the trail and I definitely recommend some kind of exercise to prepare.
How are the trailconditions?
The trail itself was at times very demanding (more than the PCT) and some sections required some basic climbing skills. Additional to that the trail is usually well maintained with occasional metal ropes for safety on the very steep and rocky sections. The trail conditions as well as safety depend highly on the weather which brings me to my next point.
How will the weather be and what’s the best time for the hike?
If I could answer the first part of that question I certainly would be rich. I hiked at the beginning of September and had only one day of rain. A friend of mine hiked the same tour in August and had rain almost every day.
The weather in the European Alps, same like all other mountain ranges on this planet, is generally unpredictable. Attempting the crossing during main season, basically July to mid-September, might lower the risk of endless rain and heavy snow storms. It is generally the best time to hike because most of last winter’s snowpack will be gone. But keep in mind that you are in the mountains and you should always be prepared for any weather conditions!
What is it like to stay at a mountain hut in the European Alps?
Arriving on a mountain hut pretty much feels like coming home to friends. You are most welcome! Depending on your arrival time there might be more or less other hikers. First thing you do is generally to get out of your heavy and dirty hiking boots (therefore you should bring some kind of hut shoes, scroll a bit further down to read about special gear you will need). When you put your shoes on the dedicated shelf you should keep in mind one of the recommendations of our guide: bind your left shoe to the left shoe of a hiking buddy and do the same with the right ones. It prevents someone from taking the wrong shoes, as I had to learn the hard way…
Did you get wet on the last section? Lots of mountain huts have a separate drying room where you can hang your stuff up. Afterwards you check in (or your guide does that for you) and drop off your gear at your home for the night. And then? Get a beer, sit back and relax until dinner is ready and if you haven’t had enough you can go outside and enjoy a great mountain view!
Do I need to bring any special gear?
Apart from your usual hiking equipment and all-weather-clothing there are some special things you need to bring. I really only name the specials so if you want to get an idea of a whole hiking gear list check out my PCT gear list. For recommendations of good hiking gear click here.
- proper hiking boots: The hiking boots you bring should have a good profile and cover your ankle. Especially if you booked a guided tour the guides will look at the quality of your shoes!
- Hut Shoes: Heavy and dirty hiking boots are not allowed in most huts. Do you already have some Crocs?
- Passport: You will cross two country borders! (Germany – Austria – Italy)
- light hut sleeping bag: In the mountain huts of the European Alps it is obligatory to use a light sleeping bag for hygienic reasons. In some huts you can even buy a light one made of cotton. I personally use a Cocoon Travelsheet made of silk which is even lighter and packs up smaller.
- Ear plugs: You will be glad you brought them once your fellow hikers start their snoring concert! Did you know that you can get special ones for women?
- headlamp: It comes very handy at night if you’re looking for the bathroom. A good choice would be the Petzl Tikka.
And don’t forget about all the small stuff like beanie, gloves, sunglasses, sunscreen, drinking bottle & powder….
Where can I get the best maps?
My recommendation would be the Kompass maps. Unfortunately they are only available in German. If you have another recommendation in English you’re most welcome to share it in the comment section!
Do you have any other questions?
Just leave a comment in the comment section below or get in touch via the contact form. I am happy to help!
Overview of my tour (click on the headlines to read more…)
Day 1: Oberstdorf to Kemptner hut
After a short busride organized by the tour operator the hike starts at a part of Oberstdorf known as “Spielmannsau”. The first climb up to Kemptner hut at 1844m leads through green mountain meadows and along clear mountain streams.
Day 2: Kemptner hut to Memminger hut
On day 2 of the European Alpine Crossing a short climb leads to the bordercrossing to Austria at 1974m. From there the trail descends through a beautiful valley and passes by a waterfall until it reaches Holzgau at 1100m. After another short busride the hike starts again in Madau at 1454m and climbs up to an elevation of 2242m where the Memminger hut is situated.
Day 3: Memminger hut to Zams
Passing by a lake close to Memminger hut a small trail leads up to a mountain pass called “Seescharte” at 2599m. From there the views back over the Alps and ahead into the next valley are stunning! The trail descends down through untouched nature to Zams in the valley of the river Inn.
Day 4: Zams to Braunschweiger hut
Early in the morning the cable car goes up the Krahberg 2208m. Passing by some typical alpine huts the trail meanders down to Wenns, 980m. After another short busride to Mittelberg at an elevation of 1734m the trail climbs along glacier-formed landscape up to the Braunschweiger hut at 2760m.
Day 5: Braunschweiger hut to Vent
Day 5 of the Euroean Alpine Crossing will show how a famous ski area looks like in sommer. The trail down into the valley and to the old mountaineering village Vent will lead along the mountainside and follow a well-known alpine panorama trail.
Day 6: Vent to Similaun hut
Day 6 of the Alpine Crossing starts with a short climb and a very idyllic rest break at the Martin-Busch-hut. After watching the marmots play the hike gets more demanding. A sidetrail leads to the famous discovery place of the glacier mummy Frozen Fritz. From there a very rocky trail requiring some basic climbing skills leads towards Similaun hut, 3019m.
Day 7: Similaun hut to Meran
A major highlight of the tour I booked was summitting the Similaun at 3606m! Fully equipped with crampons and ropes and accompanied by three mountain guides we hiked through fields of crevasses on the Similaun glacier. The summit was our reward! A great final for a great tour!
The mountain huts along the trail
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What did you bring for your water system? Did you have a camelback or just a water bottle? Did you bring a water filter? What brands do you like?
I just brought a normal water bottle. No filter needed as you can fill up at huts along the way.
Normally I use a Sawyer Squeeze Point One filter. It was reliable on all my longer hikes so far. Never had any issues with it.