Regional Comparison: Valais

Valais Trail Running is Best in Alps

We may as well kick this off with our true thoughts. Switzerland’s Valais region (Wallis in German), in our opinion, is the absolute best trail running destination, not just in the Alps, but in the world. And we’ve been around.

Since 2000, we’ve spent an enormous amount of time exploring the region’s trails. While producing Run the Alps Switzerland we dug into some lesser known areas which lead us to dream, design, and finally piece together the Via Valais, a route we know to be one of the best running, logistically easy, and scenic trails anywhere.

The Valais is paradise, not just for the trail quality but also the dramatic landscape of high peaks, glaciers, and idyllic villages.

Its geography, detailed in our Valais Trail Running Guide, allows for big vertical from valleys, high traverses, and peak climbs. If you’re looking to move from one valley to the next, it’s likely just up and over a ridgeline and can be done faster on foot than driving around. Conveniently, if you plan to push things further, there’s probably a hut right where you need it.

The entire package makes it the best trail running destination in the Alps. And if you want to combine it with some time in Chamonix, they’re neighbors. Easy!

Vibe, Swiss style

Vibe

The vibe is Swiss, but half of the Valais is French speaking, which moves the vibe-ometer into the detectable range. The Swiss French are doing a pretty good job bringing some character to the trail running atmosphere. While the trails in the Swiss German regions are chock full of scowling, big boot wearing hikers, the French part has moved on and you’re just as likely to see lycra and running shoes as you are big leather boots on all those wonderfully smooth trails.

Meanwhile, towns are getting hip, local beers are appearing, and a younger, more athletic crowd seems to be taking charge. But let’s not forget, this is still Switzerland, so melted cheese, hushed voices, and lacy curtains still have a stronghold.

After planes, trains, and buses, the dead end valley

Logistics

Getting to the key basecamp valleys, like the Mattertal (Zermatt), Saastal (Saas-Fee), or Val d’Anniviers (Zinal) is easy, but does take some time. Many of the best locations are at the back of long valleys requiring trains and buses to access. Once you settle in, all is well, but should you decide to move, it’s another half day of travel. Again, we detail this more in our Valais Trail Running Guide.

All that said, it is realistic, and normal, to get around entirely with trains and buses. A car is not necessary. If you decide to do a multi-day tour, like the Via Valais, it is very easy to get to and from the start, any bailout location, and the finish.

Traffic

Just like all the top spots for trail running in the Alps, if you find yourself on the Haute Route, Tour du Mont-Blanc, or any trail around Zermatt, it can be busy with through hikers, day hikers and runners. Yes, it’s busy. But, it’s a big place with a lot of trails and again, where possible, we’ve tried to keep you on lesser used trails.

One issue might be the increasing difficulty of getting hut reservations. Since about 2020, getting into the huts has become much more difficult. If possible, book early. 

The Aletschgletscher, the Alps largest glacier and UNESCO site is one of many of the Valais’ feature attractions

Scenery

With the bulk of the Alps 4000-meter peaks located between Chamonix and Saas-Fee, this is the most dramatic landscape in the Alps. Most of the trails on our site travel around or up to these peaks and the glaciers that flow from them. And yet these trails are often on green hillsides, moving through friendly terrain, and even connecting villages.

Variety

Much of the trail running in the Valais includes green hillsides, granite peaks, and surrounding glaciers. While there is great diversity in the feel of the region, many of the trails are actually pretty similar. The views can change from the Matterhorn, to the Aletschgletscher (the Alps longest glacier) to Mont Blanc, but the trails themselves will typically feel similar which is, thankfully, superb. In well over twenty years of running all over the Valais, it never feels limited.

The Valais, home to… the Via Valais

Trails

Thanks to some magical geology, the Valais trails are the best trails in the Alps. Never very rooty and seldom too rocky, the trails are typically a kind of finely crushed stone. Line those trails with green grass and fields of wildflowers; build them to traverse in and out of valleys, beneath 4000-meter peaks and glaciers; passing by mountain huts – and you have the Valais trail running experience. And then there is the Via Valais, the Alps masterpiece that includes nine days of perfect trails and alpine scenery with overnights in mountain huts or remote villages. The Valais scores a perfect 5 on our rating scale forcing the others to all take at least two points less because nothing else even comes close with such consistency (again, that’s our opinion).


Where to Run in the Alps

If you’re trying to understand the Alps different trail running hotspots, we’ve created a Regional Comparison series that looks at Chamonix, the Valais, Berner Oberland, and the Graubünden.

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