2

Where to trail run in the Alps: Regional Comparison

The Alps Best Trail Running Regions

Now that we’ve designed guides to four primary trail running regions of the Alps (Chamonix, Valais, Berner Oberland, and Graubünden), we thought it would be fun to compare them with a ranking system similar to our comparison of the Grand Ski Tours of the Alps. The goal of this article is to help trail runners decide where they’d like to go for the best trail running in the Alps to fit their needs and style.

This ranking is nothing more than our fun, occasionally snarky, take on what we’ve experienced during countless hours in each of these locations. We’ve lived in Chamonix, spent the majority of our summers in the Valais, explored the Graubünden for more than 20 years, and currently live in the Berner Oberland. In other words, we’ve spent quality time in these places.

This comparison only puts the regions against each other, not how they fair in relation to any other trail running destinations. It’s all relative and totally subjective as each of the four destinations could be the best trail running to be found on the planet.

Our criteria for ranking these running destinations are vibe, trail traffic, logistics, scenery, variety, and of course the quality of the trails themselves.

In this post, we define our system and provide an overview. Next up, we have a dedicated page for each region to further explain what you can expect and how the region stands up with the others.

Alps vibe on the Via Valais

Vibe

What’s the atmosphere like for a visiting trail runner? 

This comes in the form of the local traditions, character, and if there are supporting services for athletic minded trail runners. Is there a hangout for runners? Shops providing gear? Modern breweries and cafes? Is there diversity for a variety of needs? Is the tribe present or are you an alien?

Chamonix sets the standard for vibe, and while almost overwhelming at times, there’s no way to not have a great time in Chamonix. Then, there’s Switzerland, where three of our four destinations are located. Vibe isn’t really a Swiss thing. It’s a bit better in the French part, far less in the German. In Switzerland, it’s BYOV.

Traffic

How busy is the place? 

Not just the trails, but the towns, the travel within the area, and the availability of services. In this case, chill areas get our higher rating – it’s more likely you’ll be able to find some solitude.

Euro train travel is easy and scenic

Logistics

If you visit one of these regions, how easy is it to get around? 

Public transportation is everywhere throughout the Alps, but the nature of trail running requires accessing some out of the way trailheads outside of normal working hours. Overall, the Alps are pretty easy without a car, but moving around within a region can be slow.

Chamonix wins here because access is primarily contained within the Chamonix Mont-Blanc Valley. One train line pretty much accesses the majority of trails, and if you decide to pop over to Courmayeur, it’s a bus ride through a tunnel. Easy. But in the bigger regions, like Graubünden, getting to trailheads or getting back to the start of a point-to-point is going to either be impossible without a car, or take a long time and multiple connections.

The landscape you dream of when you dream about an Alps trail running trip

Scenery

This one is pretty self-explanatory and not a single one of these regions is anything less than what may be the most beautiful place you’ll ever point your eyeballs at. But, some are better than others. And remember, it’s subjective.

Variety

This one is key for us because we keep going back to these places. It’s also not entirely fair to Chamonix because it’s such a small area compared to entire regions within Switzerland. We consider the possibility of running through areas with a totally different look and feel within the same region. For example, in the Graubünden, there are runs through wide open, brown landscapes similar to what you might see in arctic tundra just 30 minutes away from an alpine zone of granite and glacier.

If you settle into a place for a period of time, it’s nice to have variety, no matter how good the terrain is. 

Creamy Valais goodness

Trails

What sort of trails do you like to run? 

One consistent thing we all want is a trail that allows us to run more often than not. Sure, there can be some roots, and rocks, and steps, and slippery this and that. But overall, we want to run or else we’d be… hikers.


Ranking Results

Here we go, the regions compared and our ratings explained.

Vibe : Chamonix clearly wins out here as there’s really no competition by what the Swiss can muster. And, even if there was, Chamonix would still come out on top. There’s great food, people, coffee, bakeries, cheese, terrain, views… you get the idea. Chamonix is pure energy, occasionally chaotic, often too busy, but always a joy to visit.

Logistics : Another win for Chamonix thanks to it being a small area serviced by a great train system. The very nature of Chamonix makes it easy logistically. It’s a quick 90 minute shuttle from Geneva Airport and then boom, you can access everything from your lodging, possibly for free thanks to travel cards offered by most accommodations. Easy.

The Valais and Berner Oberland are not far behind thanks to the super efficient public transportation system you’ll find throughout Switzerland. What makes them slightly less easy is the cost of transport and the size of the regions. They’re just bigger which makes them slightly more time consuming to get around. The Graubünden is bigger still requiring more time to change locations. It should be understood that if you settle into any one place in the Swiss regions, then the logistics will be very easy to move about.

Traffic : The Graubünden takes this one with the least busy trails and towns. If you’re seeking a more quiet trail running destination, the Graubünden is likely a great bet. Meanwhile, Chamonix is anything but quiet, especially in high season.

Scenery : It’s a three way tie for which region is going to make your eyeballs sore. This one is all about big mountains, glaciers, and impossibly-green, flower-covered hillsides. Chamonix might be the most condensed of the three winners with one massif providing all the entertainment. The Valais spreads it out from the Matterhorn to the Aletschgletscher to the east side of the Mont-Blanc massif. Meanwhile, the Berner Oberland, like Chamonix, packs much of the alpine scenery into the Jungfrau Region’s Eiger, Mönch, Jungfrau trio. But the Berner Oberland also has so much more, from the Hardergrat to Rosenlaui to Kandersteg.

Variety : It’s tough to beat the Valais for anything related to quality. It has variety, and it’s all good; peaks, alpine terrain, green hillsides, moonscapes, and of course great trails. The Via Valais is a nine day smorgasbord of Valais goodness.

Trails : The Valais is the solid leader when it comes to the best trails for running. They’re right where you want them, in abundance, and almost always the perfect balance of smooth and flowing. This is not say the other regions are of lesser quality, they’re just far less consistent. Stray from the routes we suggest and you may well find yourself slowly weaving through roots and rocks. And, Valais trails tend to be mostly good start to finish as opposed to a lower overall percentage of what’s runnable.

Best of all, each of these four regions may be the best of all these criteria when compared to any other running destination. Overall, and as a trail running destination package, the Alps win.

Next up, let’s dive deeper into each individual region, what they offer as a trail running destination, and how those qualities relate to each other. The goal is to help you decide where you want to go. So, explore the regions!

Emblematic Runs

Looking for the run that best represents the region’s typical characteristics? Here’s a run that sums up the trail running in each.

Chamonix: Grand Balcon Nord

Valais: Lac de Louvie

Graubünden: Rosegtal

Berner Oberland: Schynige Platte to Grindelwald

Regional Guides

Be sure to visit our guides for a collection of the best trails in each of these regions. GPX tracks available for individual runs and regional guides.

Chamonix

Valais

Graubünden

Berner Oberland


Share:

Comments 2

  1. Excellent! All “Best of … ” lists are inherently subjective, and since you started with that assumption, you provided worthwhile insights while maintaining the appropriate lightness of tone. “In Switzerland, it’s BYOV. (Vibe)”, plus “… we want to run or else we’d be… hikers.” LOL 🤪 🤪

    Disagreeing about lists is part of makes them fun and interesting, so I was a little disappointed to find your reasoning was entirely sound and agreeing with it all! We favor the Graubünden because we are also active in water sports, and those are terrific lakes. I was severely disappointed to not encounter any supermodels dressed in mink coats while in St Moritz, but my expectations were probably too high. I did encounter famous ultra runners dressed in skimpy polyester while in Chamonix, but that just isn’t the same thing.

    1. Post
      Author

      Buzz! Surely, there must be something we can disagree on. Then again, according to Kim, you and I are long lost twins. I do see where you went wrong in St. Moritz, if you visit in the summer the mink coats will be missing. Instead, you’re likely to sit on mink covered chairs while watching the supermodels strut. Same ingredients, different placement. Are you available to house sit in the summer of 2025?

Your thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *