It was actually a bit over 6250 km, but who's counting?
In 2019 I hiked for seven months across the mountains of Europe. My path was a patchwork of existing trails, walking paths, and rural roads, spanning from the Black Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. I dubbed it the Trans-European Alpine Route (TEAR).
I certainly haven't hiked every trail in Europe (that would take a lifetime), but I've covered enough ground that I'm comfortable making some recommendations. Whether on the high slopes of the Swiss Alps or in the deep canyons of northern Spain, there are beautiful mountain adventures waiting for you all over Europe. Here are a few of my vetted suggestions to get you dreaming about that next trip:
The Schilthorn - The Alps, Switzerland
The Lauterbrunnen Valley is a worthy travel destination in its own right and a highlight of the TEAR, but if you’re looking to do some mountain walking during your visit it’s hard to beat a trip to the peak of the Schilthorn. From the cliff-top town of Murren, walk west along the Via Alpina for five kilometres before reaching the Rotstockhütte, where you’ll depart the TEAR and climb to the peak from its south-western ridge. Reaching Piz Gloria (a revolving restaurant on the summit), alpine vistas await in all directions – especially the view of the Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau to the east. Descend back to Murren via trail or cable car.
The Cares Gorge - The Cantabrian Mountains, Spain
Originally built as a maintenance route for a water channel from a nearby dam, the Cares Gorge Trail is now regarded as one of the best day hikes in Spain. The path is carved from near-vertical limestone cliffs and offers staggering views and easy walking through an otherwise inaccessible area of Picos de Europa National Park. Although it’s possible to take public transit from the opposite side, the 12 km path is often done as an out-and-back walk. The trail becomes very busy in the summer, so plan to hike early or late (in the day or the season) if you wish to avoid the crowds.
Crnopac - The Dinaric Alps, Croatia
A loop trail tucked away in southern Croatia, Crnopac was one of the best surprises along the TEAR. After leaving a car at the southwestern corner of the route, walk north, back along the road, until a track leads up to the right. After 5 km of easy paths you’ll arrive at the cozy Crnopac shelter, which could easily serve for a relaxed overnight trip. The route from here to the summit is where the real fun begins, as the next three kilometres may take up to three hours of scrambling up and down well-marked karst crags. The final ridge walk to the peak rewards hikers with wide views of the area, and the descent follows much easier trail.
Tre Cime de Lavaredo - The Alps, Italy
The Dolomites are some of the most recognizable mountains in Europe, and one of their classic views is certainly the Three Peaks of Lavaredo. Well-trodden trails climb for roughly seven kilometres from either the east or west to Rifugio Locatelli (Dreizinnenhutte) where you can book a bed and enjoy unforgettable sunset and sunrise vistas. Various trails fork out from the hut for exploring the area, and additional huts sit on the southern side of the Three Peaks in case Rifugio Locatelli is booked up. Return the way you came or continue down to the opposite valley, as both access points are accessible by bus.
The Premuzic Trail - The Dinaric Alps, Croatia
Croatia has much more than beaches to offer, and perhaps the best evidence of this is the Premužić Trail. From Baške Oštarije, rise early and hike a full day covering 36 km of quiet forests and sweeping cliffside views of the Adriatic. After a night in Alan Hut, the remaining 16 km of the route take hikers through a seeming maze of karst spires, all the while tracking an incredibly steady course thanks to incredible trail construction. Explore some of the summit trails for unbeatable views of the White and Samarske Rocks, and finish your hike at Zavižan Hut.
Triglav Traverse - The Alps, Slovenia
The designers of the Via Alpina Red Trail chose a beautiful path for stages 10-13 through Slovenia's Triglav National Park. Beginning along the narrow ridge of the South Bohinj Range, trails guide you down into the forested Triglav Lakes area before climbing back into alpine territory on approach to Triglav itself. An optional (but highly encouraged) summit trip to the peak is the grand finale of the route, followed by a scenic descent to the beautiful Trenta Valley. Mountain huts provide accommodation, and both access points are serviced by bus. Including the initial climb from Bohinjska Bistrica, the 50 km route could be done in a full two days - but allowing for transportation and a summit of Triglav will likely require three or more.
Carnic Alps Traverse - The Alps, Austria/Italy
Not far from the previous recommendation in neighbouring Slovenia, the 150 km trail along the Carnic Alps provides incredible views, good tread, and just enough huts or shelters for those who prefer a proper bed. Much of the path is along the top of the central ridge which divides Austria from Italy, and is marked with remnants of the first World War. All the main access points on the Austrian side are accessible by bus, but consider starting at the Nassfeld ski area and continuing west for the remaining 100 km, which have the most dramatic views.
Long Distance / Thru hikes
Haute Route Pyrenees - The Pyrenees, Spain/France/Andorra
For those that are drawn to the idea of a long coast-to-coast mountain hike in Europe (but perhaps not seven months long), the Haute Route Pyrenees is an excellent choice. Staying as high as possible throughout its ~800 km, the route dances across the French and Spanish borders, and crosses through Andorra. Much of the terrain is fairly wild and remote, but the routes are now well-established and guides/resources are plentiful. It’s been said that with careful planning one could hike the entire path without a tent, but carrying full gear would be prudent if only for the flexibility and freedom it allows. While a thru-hike of the TEAR requires hikers to race the clock across the range as winter snows approach, a separate journey allows for a more leisurely-paced experience among these great European mountains.
This article was adapted from information found in The Trans-European Alpine Route - Hike Across A Continent. The 218-page hardcover contains information about these and other recommended hikes, as well as photos, maps, and descriptions which showcase the full route of the TEAR.