Epic Alps Road Trip with a Mountaineer's Pro Tips


 

For years, American mountaineer Mitch dreamed of making a road trip through the Alps, so he and his girlfriend Allison hopped in an Indie van and headed for Europe's legendary mountain range. We have a road trip itinerary of his Alpine highlights, together with 5 tips on hiking and road tripping the Alps from this seasoned hiker:

 

Being able to road-trip through the Alps, to be right there and park your van at a campsite right in the middle off it all is like a mountain overload. You're in it the whole time—which is great when you're on a holiday, because it's so immediate. It makes some of the hard parts easier, so if you want to just focus on the views, you can have so many of those. You don't have to focus just on the approach. We had only two weeks there and that still wasn't enough, but we were able to maximize with the campervan.

 

 

 

Alps Road Trip Itinerary 

 

Route: Lyon – Zürich/Milan

         Lyon, France 
1. 185km Vanoise National Park, France 
2. 240km Matterhorn, Switzerland 
3. 330km Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland 
4. 280km Appenzell, Switzerland 
  1135km Zürich, Switzerland
 

5. 535km Cinque Terre, Italy
  1840km Milan, Italy 

 

 

1. Vanoise National Park, France

We started out in an off-the-beaten-path spot, which was in Vanoise National Park in France. You see so many pictures of Matterhorn, but you can't really find out much about that national park, even these days. We'd seen some pictures and knew we wanted to check it out.

We landed in Lyon, France, drove a couple of hours and, boom, we were there. It was this fantastic valley and we had it all to ourselves on our sunrise hike. That was special, because in much of the Alps its hard to find solitude. A part we like about the mountains is being out there by yourself in the middle of nowhere and on these off-the-beaten-path places you can still have that.

 

 

2. Matterhorn, Switzerland

We wanted to see the Matterhorn so badly, but during our two-and-a-half day there it just rained the whole time so we had to move on.

After a few days in Lauterbrunnen we saw a weather window pop up. Because we didn't have any hotel bookings we could shift around our hiking plans easily and went back to Zermatt and had the most incredible day where we skied in the morning, hiked in the afternoon and saw the Matterhorn, which was Allison's main goal of the trip.

 

 

3. Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland

We were most excited about visiting Lauterbrunnen. You're just surrounded by beauty there. It's a very nice drive up the valley and our campsite was right at the very base of the massive waterfall. We were coming off two-and-a-half day of heavy rain in Zermatt and we weren't able to see the Matterhorn; spirits were kind of low. We pulled up at a campsite and there's this beautiful waterfall. When we woke up in the morning we opened the door of the van and looked out, there was even more of that [beauty].

We ended staying there 4 nights of our trip, because it was such a great base camp. If you'd rented a hotel or a cabin somewhere you could be around it, but we were right at the base. You can't get that if you aren't in a van and have that freedom.

 

 

4. Appenzell Canton, Switzerland

One of those places where a lot of those pins started popping up on our Google Map was in this one little valley. It has these steep walls, it's really tight in there, and it's filled with little mountain huts. It's a spot we knew we wanted to go to. On Instagram you'll see a lot of pictures, but there are very little visitors compared to Lauterbrunnen or Zermatt. Appenzell a little more out of the way, kind of in the middle of nowhere. It was the one night we actually did not sleep in the van, because we hiked up and stayed in a mountain cabin, which we wanted to experience while we were there.

Being able to go to that region was pretty special. Just road tripping and enjoying the view from the road. I love driving, and some of the passes we went over were very exciting. The fact that the van could go up those so easily! I'd bring the van anywhere.

 

 

5. Cinque Terre, Italy

On our last day it was raining again, so we figured, hey, let's drive down to Cinque Terra! A lot of the Europeans we talked to thought we were crazy, but 6 hours in a car isn't a whole lot for us. We just got up in the morning, drove down there and had our last day on the Italian Riviera, just because we could!

 

Want to get your share of mountain air? Start your road trip in Lyon! Also, maximize your time in the mountains with Mitch' Alpine tips: 
 

"To get into hiking you don't need high mountains around you. It's more about finding a little spot of beauty wherever you are. You just get out there and start moving. It's about a connection to nature that makes you whole. We all need mountains in our life for that."

 

About Mitch

Mitch joined the scouts at a young age and grew up hiking and camping. It wasn't until he moved to Seattle, Washington, that he got a serious mountain crush, climbing the local volcanoes and skiing the back country. As Mitch learned more about the mountains in his back yard he started to look elsewhere for mountains, and the Alps are kind of the place. It's also where his parents drove around in a campervan back in the 70s.

Part of the joy of hiking for Mitch is taking pictures. He love photography and being able to capture the nature he see and sharing it with friends is what he loves most. The photos you'll see here were all taken by Mitch!

Follow Mitch' Instagram (@Mitchpittman) for more mountain goodness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Tips for Hiking on an Alpine Road Trip

There's a real campervan culture in the Alps. In the States, when we think of camping it's in a tent, after you hike in the woods for five miles, whereas in Switzerland and France, you pull up in a lot, have a shower and WiFi, all this stuff. It's an experience you don't really get in the U.S. You might find some adventure vans there, which you'll pull off the road in the middle of nowhere, but in the Alps you have all the amenities and are STILL surrounded by mountains. And you're good to go the next day, because most of the camping spots are right by your launch spot for the next day. It also makes hiking the Alps a lot easier.  Here are 5 tips for hiking on a road trip through the Alps: 

 

 

  1. While you need to carry essentials, you don't have to bring nearly as much on a hike as you would elsewhere. Know that there are tons of huts and little restaurants and places up in the mountains there. We were able to stop and have massive meals so we didn't have to carry food like we would back in Washington.

    Because we packed light, we were able to move a lot further and faster in the mountains, which made it much more enjoyable. You can even trail-run up there because the access is so easy.

  2. Time out your hikes based on the operating time of the lifts. Especially if you're hiking multiple days, plan out on which stage you want to take a lift and when you want the full experiene of hiking. We love hiking up a mountain as much as we love going down, but on mornings before a long hike we'd take the lift up, to give us that little boost.

    Other days, we'd start at sunrise before the lifts were running to get the full experience of going up. If you plan this well, it means you can really go at it hard. You don't have to hold back and pack way more in.

  3. Another helpful tip is get a Swiss rail pass. It gives you half prices on all of the trains, gondolas and verniculars—which is helpful for hiking, because you can take the public transport back to your campervan after your hike, or have the cheaper way up and hike back. You have the van so you don't need a ton of rail days.

    In Lauterbrunnen we started in town, got the train up half way, got out, hiked up 4-5 miles to the top, then hiked beneath the north face of the Eiger and all the way back down, ending up in a different valley—so we got the train back. That way we were able to have a much bigger day and see everything more comfortably. It just opens up more options.

  4. Maximizing time was a big thing for us, to not be driving around too much. We saved pictures on Instagram, or links from websites, of which I made a Google Map. I looked at the map and saw a string of blue dots that I'd laid down; that's how I came up with our route. That way, you can see the biggest number of places that are on your list.

    You can have a list of all these things, but it's another thing to know where exactly they are and planning your road trip. If we had a little extra time, we could just pull out that map and see what was around us, which made our road trip go a lot smoother.

  5. [With your van] you can really go anywhere and aren't tied to an itinerary. We wanted flexibility with location and weather, which came into play and we'll get to that later, but also with time. If we'd see a beautiful valley we wanted to explore, we could just drive up to it.

    You can stay in a place longer if you love it, or if its raining, keep on moving and try to go elsewhere. I really want to stress that point, because it was so valuable for us.

Now you've read Mitch' expert tips on how to make the most of your trip, it's time to head to the Alps

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