Why Autumn is a great time to go walking in the French Alps
The end of summer is seen by many as the end of the walking season. However out here in the French Alps we love the Autumn months and consider them to be some of the most exciting times to be out on the trails. Typically the end of the summer in the Alps coincides with the end of August with schools heading back during this time or the beginning of September. However the walking season can continue until the first snowfall in the French Alps. The exact time of this snowfall varies from year to year however the middle of November is fairly typical although slightly earlier at higher altitudes (2000m and above). Check out our below guide for why we think Autumn is an amazing time to explore the French Alps:
1. You will have the trails to yourself
Walking in the French Alps offers some of the most remarkable scenery in Europe. The trails are to an extent a victim of their own success and can be quite busy in peak season in August. However once the schools have begun their new term it is not unusual to head out for a full day hiking and not see a single person. This can be a magical experience and really feel like you are out in the alpine wilderness. At the top of various mountain summits you will be able to see in all directions for a huge distance but not see another hiker. It is worth checking locally whether all the trail signage are still in place because late Autumn is often used for repairs and maintenance of the local routes. For our self-guided walking holidays we supply our guests with maps and hard copy instructions along with the walking App Komoot.
2. The colours are incredible
The lush green of summer is slowly replaced by the autumnal colours of nutty browns, orange, hazel and mustard yellow. These are particularly spectacular in the Alps at altitudes up to 2000m where the new colours slowly creep up the pine deciduous forests during the Autumn. These colours will be fully appreciated as you stroll through the enormous woodland areas of the Alps but also as you look down from the higher points of your hikes.
3. It’s not too hot
Temperatures in the Alps can reach 30 degrees celcius during peak summer months. The higher altitude walks are also very exposed to direct sunlight which can lead to tough walking days. We recommend during hot days to carry a minimum of 2 litres of water and normally more during the longer walks. However during the Autumn temperatures drop which can make the heat more manageable at altitude. Walking in cooler temperatures mean you may not need to bring as much water which will keep your rucksack slightly lighter. However we still strongly recommend bringing sunscreen, sunglasses and a sunhat during Autumnal walks in the Alps as the sun’s rays can still be very strong at altitude.
4. Chances are you will see more wildlife
Alpine wildlife tends to be easier to spot at dawn or dusk when the animals are hunting for food. During the summer if you want to guarantee spotting ibex, chamoix and marmottes this can mean super early mornings to coincide with sunrise. However during the Autumn as sunrise gets later you don’t need to get up painfully early in order to give you the best chance of spotting the wildlife. The same applies for the evenings – sunset is earlier meaning that you can be out on the trails at dusk but still be back in time for dinner!
5. Autumn is the best time for foraging
Alpine forests have an abundance of wild treats throughout the year however the they have the most to offer in early Autumn. In particular the French Alps have a large variety of wild mushrooms, both edible and poisonous. Chanterelles aka ‘Girolles’ locally are the kings of alpine mushrooms with their delicate, fruity flavour and their bright yellow colouring. Other varieties include porcini mushrooms (‘cepes’), black trumpet mushrooms (‘trompettes de la mort’) and wood hedgehog mushrooms (‘pieds de mouton’). These wild mushrooms are extensively used in various alpine fricassées, saucissons and diots.
Top Tips for walking in Autumn
The most important thing to get right is to pack the correct equipment. Make sure you have enough layers including both waterproof trousers and a waterproof jacket even if there is the slightest hint of rain forecast. A wooly hat and a pair of waterproof warm gloves are essential. A good rule of thumb is that the temperature will drop one degrees celcius for every 100m of increased altitude. A long day hike might include 1000m of vertical incline so prepare for at least a 10 degrees temperature change.
Remember that the days are shorter during the Autumn. Check what time the sun sets before heading off and bring a head torch if your planned route will take you close to dusk. A light from your phone won’t cut the mustard – remember that if you are descending a reasonably steep section you will want both hands for balance. You can pick up a head torch for less than £10.
Take a thermos flask to enjoy a cup or coffee at the top of the summit. Modern thermos flasks keep hot drinks at temperature for several hours so your drink will stay hot even on a long day trek. We supply all of our guests with thermos flasks as part of their self-guided walking holidays at a Tasty Ski chalet.
Prepare your route in advance and make sure that you have sufficient navigation equipment. It is easy to get lost in the fog or clouds in the Alps. You need to be able to read a map to navigate in poor visibility. We also recommend phone navigation Apps like Komoot that have an inbuilt compass. These Apps can also work on GPS rather than 4G which means they don’t suck up as much battery and still work in poor mobile reception areas.
Be aware of ‘La Chasse.’ From around mid-September through until early the next year is the french mountain hunting season. During the Autumn this means that local groups hunt various animals in particular the wild boar. This tradition has been going on for centuries and although it is permissible to walk in the same areas as La Chasse it is advisable to be aware of what is going on around you. Bright clothes are also advisable if you know you going to be hiking near La Chasse. If you want to avoid it completely there are a number of excellent mobile Apps which update you real-time as to the locations of the hunt on a day to day basis.
Hiking in just above Morzine in early September
Hiking in Le Grand Massif in late October