|Hiking near Chamonix, France|
|Chamonix offers a wide range of hiking opportunities—something for everyone.|
If you're a hiker, you'll love the French Alps, and particularly the region around Chamonix-Mont-Blanc.
There are trails that leave right from the town to various lovely sites with gorgeous views. You can walk up past the Church of St-Michel, just across from the Tourist Information Office, to the Brébant, Télécabine de Planpraz. Right there you'll see signs for several trails.
For those feeling ambitious, the trail up the Aiguille du Midi starts near the Grépon parking lot, just across the main road from town. It's a 2 hour and 20 minute hike down from the Plan du Midi, or mid point of the Aiguille. Going up will take longer. (If you'd rather not walk, you can take cable cars).
Many trails leave from the Plan du Midi, the midway point on the Aiguille where the first cable car stops. These range from a 15 minute walk to Lac Bleu to a three and a half hour hike to the Refuge des Grands Mulets.
All up and down the valley in which Chamonix-Mont-Blanc is situated are trail heads and hiking opportunities. For example, you can drive or take a local bus to the small town of Le Tour, famous in winter for its challenging skiing. From there you can choose among several hikes, ranging from one hour to about three and a half.
For something a little easier, try the ecology trail in the Réserve Naturelle des Aiguilles-Rouges. This lovely natural park is about 10 kilometers (6 miles) northeast of Chamonix-Mont-Blanc. The ecology walk is slightly more than a kilometer/slightly less than a mile in length, mostly over fairly level terrain. A series of 16 markers indicate points of botanical or natural interest; you can purchase a guide book from the Accueil or Welcome Center. However, it's also great just to walk and enjoy the spledid views of the Aiguilles and glaciers.
For those more ambitious, there are several other hikes that you can pick up at the Accueil, including to Lac Blanc (3 hours) and La Fégère (3.5 hours).
By the way, Aiguille in French means Needle, and is an apt description of the many pointed peaks you'll see in this area. Aiguille Verte, Aiguilles Rouges, Aiguille du Midi—you'll soon be accustomed to that word.
And of course, very serious hikers may want to do the Tour du Mont Blanc, a hike covering 170 kilometers (106 miles). It takes about seven to ten days and will take you into France, Switzerland, and Italy as you circle Mont Blanc.
Cautions for hikers: Although some of these trails are short and easy, remember that you are hiking in the French Alps, and don't set out unless you are appropriately prepared. That means:
—Remember that you are climbing at altitude and oxygen gets thinner as you go up. Chamonix is at 1,035 meters (3,396 feet), the Plan du Midi at 2,317 meters (7,602 feet), and the Aiguille du Midi at 3842 meters (12,605) feet.
—Make sure you have sturdy shoes or hiking boots, depending on the difficulty of the hike. Hiking sticks may also be useful.
—Take plenty of water with you.
—Wear sunscreen! The sun is strong in the mountains. Make sure any exposed skin is protected, including the backs of your hands and tops of your feet.
—Stay on the trails: This is both for your protection and safety and to protect the ecosystem and delicate plant life.
—Carry in, carry out. If you bring in food, take out your trash. Don't feed the animals and don't leave food or garbage around.