Chamonix Best Day Walks

Forget the high mountains for a while,Chamonix has a huge number – and variety – of day walks suitable for everyone. Here are Where2walk’s favourite 5. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do. And as often.

For a full list of walks in the Chamonix valley we recommend the “Mont Blanc Trails” book available from the Chamonix Tourist Office. Helpfully it comes complete with a map.

1. Lac Blanc (2352m)

Start Point:         Various, but usually the top of the cable car at La Flegere (1877m).

Height Gain:       Around 475m

Summary:           Ascent to the glacial Lac Blanc with stunning views of the entireMont Blancrange. Unashamedly our number one favourite.

Our favourite day walk, and arguably the most scenic day walk in the world.

From the start point at the top of the Flegere cable car, the route is always clearly signposted, starting down the wide road to the right that is a ski piste in winter.

At the first switchback in the road it is possible to take a shortcut across the rocks, and while this will save you a few minutes, it’s probably not for everyone. At this point it’s also worth stopping to look at the alpine garden that is being created by the Compagnie duMontBlanc from the summer of 2014 onwards.

The first section of the route is perhaps the steepest, rising up what is another ski piste but a wide rocky road in summer. This should take only around 20-30 minutes to complete. From here the path winds gently upwards through a meadow like area before then traversing, all the time offering views of the Grands Montets, Mer de Glace with the Grandes Jorasses in the distance, and the entireMont Blancrange across the valley.

From the end of the traverse it’s steadily uphill to the Lac Blanc itself, following a well marked and well used path. When you get there you’ll understand why we love this place so much: it’s tranquil, it’s serene, and its views are stunning beautiful. Enough said.

Our tip is to walk a little way further upwards from the first lake when you first arrive at the Lac Blanc, and park yourself on the rocks in front of, or better still just to the left of the second lake. Here you’re slightly higher, slightly further away from the crowds, and the views are arguably slightly better. You may even see people mad enough to go swimming … but they never last long as the water is absolutely freezing. If you don’t believe us, try it for yourself !

There are a couple of options for the descent here. Either you simply retrace your steps down to La Flegere; or you descend 50m retracing your steps but then follow the signpost to L’Index and take the chairlift down to the top of the La Flegere cable from here, or you take the path down to Argentiere (again this is clearly marked). We actually like the second option … but as the lifty will tell you, if it’s windy don’t wear a baseball cap on the way down the chairlift !

It’s worth saying here that you can also actually take the chairlift up the Index at the beginning of the walk, and traverse across to the Lac Blanc from there. It’s definitely less effort but no less spectacular. But beware, we actually did this in early June one year … only there was still 6ft of snow is places !

2. Albert Premiere Hut (2702m)

Start Point :        Le Tour (Col de la Balme chairlift 2162m)

Height Gain:       Around 540m

Summary:           Ascent alongside the Glacier du Tour to the Albert Premier Refuge (2702m).

Another great spot. We love this place !

This is another walk where it is possible to walk the entire way up from the valley, but we always get the cable car up from Le Tour and then the chairlift at Charamillion, saving around 90 minutes and a whole lot of effort !

From the top of the chairlift, the path winds steadily upwards towards the Lac de Charamillion, traversing round the hillside towards the Glacier du Tour, across a couple of gullies equipped with handrails (very short sections), before a further longer traverse to reach the moraine of the glacier itself. The path is obvious and well trodden throughout.

The views across the glacier from the traverse onwards are – on a clear day – extraordinary, with the peak of the Aiguille de Chardonnay and the Forbes Arrete to its left to the fore.

The walk up the moraine is probably the steepest and most tiring part of the walk, but adopting a steady pace you’ll soon arrive at the refuge itself perched on the top part of the moraine at 2702m. This is the stopping off point for a number of routes such as the Aiguille d’Argentiere, the Aiguille du Tour etc, so expect to see large numbers of boots being aired on the wall outside !

Our tip is again to continue up a little behind the refuge, find a spot on the rocks above the glacier, get the picnic out and take in the stunning scenery around you ! In front of you is the glacier itself; opposite you is the Aiguille de Chardonnay, and below you stretches the entire Chamonixvalley.

While we’re not always a fan of returning by the same route as you go up, in this case it’s a small price to pay for a great day out !

3. La Jonction (2589m)

Start Point:         Various

Height Gain:       Around 1188m

Summary:           Long ascent to the “junction” of the Glacier des Bossons and the Glacier de Taconnaz.

Definitely not the easiest walk in the valley. But definitely worth the effort. And don’t worry, you’ll be making plenty of that !

While it is possible to walk up the “real” start of the walk at the Chalet du Glacier Des Bossons at 1410m, we always get the chairlift up from Les Granges/leMont…. if only just to remind ourselves what chairlifts were like in the 1970s !

The Chalet du Glacier itself is a few metres up from where you get off the chairlift, and offers a great view over the Bossons glacier, although it’s sad to think that 30 years ago the glacier was a staggering 50-100m higher, so high in fact that there used to be a grotto carved into it each summer. Not any more though such has been the effect of pollution, global warming, and to be fair, the cyclical nature of glaciers themselves. It’s also worth walking up to the chalet to see one of the pieces of the Air India plane that crashed into the side of Mont Blanc in 1950 en route from Geneva to Delhi. Amazingly it was only in 1987 – some 37 years later -before the glacier started to surrender up the first pieces of the plane !

From the chalet the first part of the route climbs steadily in the trees before crossing a new section of wooden steps and pathway recently added to avoid some heavily eroded areas, and arriving at the Chalet des Pyramides at 1895m.

We always stop here for water, an omelette, and to take in the views of the chaotic towers of ice that form the bottom section of the Bossons Glacier. It really is an incredible sight, while above you you have views up to the Aiguille du Midi and the Aiguilles du Chamonix beyond.

From here the path ascends steeply up a series of switch backs before emerging on the other side of the hill with great views of the Glacier du Taconnaz in front of you. If you look carefully below you can make out the enormous avalanche defences protecting the houses in the valley below.

Another steepish section then follows which sees you emerge once again on the Bossons side of the hill at a point just below Mont Corbeau. This marks around about 2/3 distance … at least of the ascent !

From here the path traverses, before rising again for the final part of the route. Here there is perhaps more in the way of gentle scrambling in a couple of spots, but otherwise it remains a clear well trodden path onwards and upwards. Before long you pass the Gite a Balmat where Jacques Balmat and Michel Paccard bivouacked on 7 August 1786, before coming the first people to summit the Mont Blanc early the next day, and within another few minutes it’s journey’s end at La Jonction where the glaciers of Les Bossons and Taconnaz meet.

Above you you see the original route up the Mont Blanc (still nearly another 2000m above you); all around you you see jumbled towers of ice and huge crevasses, and below you, far far below you, you see the Chamonix valley itself. It really is quite an incredible unique spot.

Stay as long as you can … if nothing else it puts off starting the long descent back down the same route as you came up ! And it does seem a long way down … last time were up here in 2013 it took nearly 3 hours to get down to the Chalet du Glacier, so keep an eye on that last chairlift down time !

But do also keep your eyes open as you go down as often there are Ibex to be spotted, and the younger ones will let you get really quite close to them before jumping off seemingly headlong up or down rocks to get out of your way.

Arriving at the Chalet du Glacier you may be tired, your legs may be telling you they’ve had along day, but we defy you not to have enjoyed it !

4. Planpraz to La Flegere Traverse (1999m to 1877m)

Start Point:         Planpraz (top of first section of the Brevent cable car)

Height Gain:         Around 122m (downhill)

Summary:           Gentle descending traverse along the north side of the valley between Planpraz (2000m) and La Flegere (1877m) with stunning views.

Wainwright (a Where2Walk legend) once said that no trip to the Lake District is complete without climbing Cat Bells. This is Chamonix’s equivalent.

The start point for the walk is Planpraz , the top of the first stage of the Brevent cable car.

One thing that is worth doing before getting on the cable is actually to pop back across the street and look at the wood carvings in the shop window opposite. While the artist who made them sitting outside his little gallery every day left us in 1987, his sculptures (all hard carved out of solid wood) are still displayed to this day as a celebration of his life and work. Which we think is kind of nice.

Leaving from the cable car at Planpraz, you first must resist the temptation to spend a long (sometimes very long) lunch in – or at the very least an ice cream in the deck chairs in the cafe below – the Bergerie restaurant immediately in front of you. Assuming you do, you’ll see the path rising to the left up what is a ski run in winter. Like everywhere the path to La Flegere is well signposted.

After the first 500m you come to the spot where the parapentes take off: another good excuse to stop for a few minutes to watch. Yes it is like being a bird. And yes, you should do it !

The path then rises to the left of the Altitude 2000 restaurant, and then descends a little to the left of the top of the Parsa chairlift. Again it’s well signposted.

From here the path descends down what is another ski piste, before dropping into a long gentle traverse, and eventually coming out onto yet another ski piste.

Following the signposts you continue to traverse, mainly in the trees, all the while with fantastic views of the entire Mont Blanc range, before the path opens out into more meadow like section. This marks the half way point of the walk.

From here the path climbs gently into the trees, and again follows what is basically a further traverse through a mixture of wooded sections and open sections across wide rocky bowls. At one point you’ll even walk through one of the huge avalanche defences that protect the valley below. Throughout the footpath is clear, well maintained, and with the exception of one very short section, relatively flat.

Crossing the last open section you meander gently through more trees, under the ski lifts that seem to be silently waiting for the snow to come, before all of a sudden you arrive at the cable car station at La Flegere with its huge green gondola speeding up and down to the valley floor every 6 minutes.

A long stop here to take in the views across to the Mer de Glace with the huge wall of Les Grandes Jorasses beyond, is virtually obligatory.  And while you’re doing that you can decide whether you get the cable car down from here to the valley, continue upwards to the Lac Blanc, re-trace your steps (remember it’s uphill on the way back !), or walk down to the valley via the Chalet Floria. We’ll leave that one to you !

We invariably do this as a gentle first day. And you should too.

5. Mer de Glace/Montenvers (1912m)

Start Point :        Les Planards (1062m)

Height Gain:       Around 850m

Summary:           Ascent to the Hotel Du Montenvers at the head of the Mer de Glace

You could always just cheat and get the train up to the station at Montenvers (1912m), but as usual we prefer to walk !

The first part of the walk is definitely the steepest snaking up the nursery slopes at Les Planards alongside the Luge run, before then easing off as it heads into the trees following what is the final part of the descent from the Vallee Blanche ski run in winter.

The path is always wide, switching back on itself as you gain height, crossing a number of gullies prone to avalanche is the winter, before exiting the trees and continuing over a rocky area to the always welcoming Rochers des Mottets hut (1638m) offering lovely food in a lovely setting perched as it is looking straight up the Mer de Glace itself.

From here it’s another 45 minutes to an hour upwards through the trees to Montenvers itself, passing under the small cable cars that take tourists down to the glacier itself where each summer, while all the while you have the massive rockface of Aiguille Dru, the Mer de Glace, Les Grandes Jorasses, and the Aiguiiles for company.

One interesting – or should that be jaw-dropping – thing on this last section of the walk is to look for the sign that shows you where the level of the glacier was in 1985. A very stark reminder of the damage pollution and global warming are having on the valley.

As usual there are several option for descending from Montenvers. The most straightforward is the train. The most direct is on foot following the footpath to Chamonix from the hotel itself. The most interesting (and longest) is to walk up to the Signal at 2198m (signposted from the left of the Hotel Du Montenvers ) and then along the Balcon Nord to the cable car station at Plan d’Aiguille and descend from there by foot or the telecabine.

But what you really should do is to have lunch in the sunshine at the Hotel Du Montenvers, take in the amazing scenery, and resolve to come up here again. Soon.

4 Comments
  • Michelle says:

    Hi,
    We are planning to visit Chamonix in June 2017 for some stunning walking & photography can you tell us if the cable car system will be open. We appreciate much of the lift system is dedicated to the winter ski season but would like to use the cable cars for some of our walks?

    Thanks

    • Jonathan says:

      Yes the main cable cars are open and some of the gondolas (small 4/6 man ‘bubbles’). You can get high with little effort. Chamonix is nearly as popular as a summer resort as a winter resort.

  • Lawrence says:

    Hi,

    I’d just like to ask if you recommend doing hikes such as Lac Blanc in (late) June or do you think it’s too early? A bit of snow is ok, but I’m not keen on having to cart crampons around with me.

    Thanks very much for your excellent photos and info…

    Lawrence

  • ZEVA HERMAN says:

    I loved reading this and seeing your pictures. We have 4 days to hike in Chamonix, i can’t wait, will have to choose which hikes, will follow your guidelines.
    Thanks!!!!

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