For the sportive traveler whose aims are less than Himalayan or Andean, I hereby endorse a summer hiking excursion in the mountains of Europe. Notice I said nothing about climbing. You can get all the adventure and aerobic benefit you need by hiking through and not over the mountains. Unburdened by pitons, crampons, and ice axes, you're free to enjoy the lofty scenery and local cultures that can change from valley to valley.
In Switzerland, a nation of hikers and climbers whose entire population seems upwardly mobile in summer, there are guided day treks from almost every upland village. To bite off a bigger chunk of the Alps you can sign on for a two-week tour with Alpine Trails Ltd. of New York City. Fred Jacobson, 45, the founder of Alpine Trails, is a confessed Swissophile who has climbed, hiked, and skied in almost every corner of Switzerland since 1959.
''We do some rock-scrambling and crossing of snow and ice,'' Mr. Jacobson says, ''but these are definitely hiking trips, and if the conditions are difficult we turn back.''
Jacobson and his two young American guides, Jon Ryder and the aptly named Chase Ambler, will lead seven tours from early June to the end of September. Groups of 25 spend a week hiking out of one Alpine center, then move on by bus or train to spend a second week in another resort. Kandersteg, Pontresina, Sils-Maria, Saas-Fee, Zermatt, Appenzell, Lenk, and Murren are used in various combinations. Each has a special allure: early wildflowers, good food, stunning views.
''I like to eat well,'' confesses Jacobson, who books his groups into mountain hotels with exemplary kitchens and leads the way to intriguing and remote lunch spots. Three of the seven trips use a Saas-Fee inn called Walkhotel Fletschhorn as a base; the inn's chef, Irma Dutsch-Grandjean, has been acclaimed one of the country's best. No mere raclettes or fondues here.
Another culinary reward awaits those who book a trek to Pontresina, in the Romansch district of eastern Switzerland. ''One day,'' says the leader, his lips smacking at the thought, ''we hike for five hours from Pontresina above the Bergell Valley and finally come to a 14th-century cobblestone village, Soglio. There is an ancient palace restaurant with a garden of huge redwoods, and the house specialty is pizzoccheri, a buckwheat pasta with potatoes and zucchini.'' (For information or booking, contact Alpine Trails, c/o Chappaqua Travel, 24 South Greeley Avenue, Chappaqua, N.Y. 10514.)
If a hike in the Black Forest sounds like (you'll excuse the expression) a piece of cake, it isn't. The triangular tract of southwest Germany is a modest mountain range crisscrossed with hiking trails that pass from sun-dappled woodlands into rolling pasture, all of it Grimm-like and much of it challenging.
German families like to hike the whole Westweg, or western trail, of 100-plus miles paralleling the Rhine, doing 15 to 20 miles a day, but there are other ways to prowl these ancient woods. You can go out on day hikes from headquarters like Triberg, Schonach, St. Peter, Furtwangen, or Feudenstadt, or sign on with a village-to-village tour following the paths of the 19th-century cuckoo-clock peddlers who lugged 150-pound racks of wares on their backs.
Wherever you go you'll be hailed by passing Germans chirping ''Gruss Gott,'' literally God's greeting, a familiar salutation all across southern Germany and the Tyrol. Don't count on seeing the locals in lederhosen, though, for this is not Bavaria. The Black Forest hiking uniform is knickers and knee socks, rucksacks and hiking boots. (For more Black Forest facts, try the German National Tourist Office, 747 Third Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10017.)
Although my Italian ''hiking experience'' has been confined to searching for recommended ice cream parlors and hidden piazzas, the northern reaches of the country are full of excellent and historic trails. Mountain Travel of Albany, Calif. (1398 Solan Avenue, 94706), better known for its guided treks to the high Himalayas, has lately brought its expertise to the very Alpine paths used by Roman soldiers on their way to conquering Gaul, by salt caravans bound for the heart of Europe, and by assorted invaders, pilgrims, smugglers, and traders.
Groups are led by Italian guides fluent in English, and nights are spent in farmhouses, country inns, or mountain refuges - dormitory-style structures that sleep 50 to 500 set in highly scenic spots. On a trek in the Piedmont region, one's baggage is carried by mules along trails leading from chestnut woods to high pastureland. On the Val d'Aosta trip, one looks up from this spectacularly situated valley to the looming Matterhorn, Mont Blanc, and Monte Rosa.
Mont Blanc, the highest peak in Europe, can best be admired on a Mountain Travel circle tour that begins and ends in the Swiss town of Martigny; this ambitious circuit passes in and out of Switzerland, France, and Italy, stops at overnight campsites, and uses cable cars and buses where the trails give out.
Thanks to the Norwegian Mountain Touring Association (DNT) and, of course, to the raw beauty of the country itself, Norway is heaven for hikers. For more than a century, the DNT (Stortingsgaten 28, Oslo 1, Norway) has gone about building and operating a network of huts and lodges, marking routes in the remote highlands, arranging guided tours, and in general treating the hiker (and skier in winter) like a favored species. All you're asked to do in one of its self-service mountain huts is tidy the room, shake out the rugs, and leave a pay envelope in a box on the wall. The scenery is on the house.