The Ecrins National Park, founded in 1973, stretches between La Grave and Villar d’Arène, Oisans and Mônetier-les-Bains in the north, Vallouise – Pelvoux – Ailefroide in the east, Valjouffrey and Valbonnais in the west and Champsaur – Valgaudemar in the south, including both the Hautes-Alpes and the Isère departments. Several valleys converge on a core of glaciers and high mountains, of which the Barre des Ecrins at 4102 m is the highest point.
A set of rules limit human activities in the core area of the National Park, in order to protect the natural riches and the special landscapes of this exceptional territory.
Even if the Ecrins is above all a high-altitude area, ramblers have ample opportunity to approach the Alpine peaks and enjoy idyllic valleys as well as spectacular mountain passes.
On our side the Ecrins, the hiking trails leading into the heart of the National Park start from the Lautaret pass on the Sentier des Crevasses or from Arsine – Pied du col on the GR 54.
When starting from Arsine, after the first steep climb, you will reach a peaceful hanging valley where a turquoise mountain stream meanders through a flowery meadow, marmots lounge in the sun and snowy peaks add the finishing touch. The path continues along a stream that quickens its pace long before you reach Valfourche were the valley splits in two.
There, you have to choose between the moraine that leads to the Pavé Lake and mountain hut and the trail going towards the source of the river. This second path then continues on to the Adele Planchard hut, past several narrow shelves in the cliff with handrails. These high-altitude huts at the foot of the glaciers are accessible to experienced hikers. Above and beyond, ropes and crampons take over.
Whether you start from the Arsine car park, from Villar d’Arène or from La Grave, you can head towards the col d’Arsine on the main GR54 trail. Or you can start from the Lautaret Mountain Pass and follow the scenic and slightly vertiginous Sentier des Crevasses. In either case, after about an hour’s walk, you will pass two welcoming mountain huts at the Alpe de Villar (Refuge de l’Alpe and Refuge de Chamoissière).
Shortly after, the path crosses the Park boundary, marked by painted flags, and keeps going through mellow alpine meadows with a view of tantalizing peaks. A short climb later, the Arsine mountain pass leaves you the choice of a picturesque descent towards le Casset and the Guisane valley or further exploring the impressing moraines left by the glaciers and the Arsine glacier lake of Arsine hidden behind them.
Do you fancy discovering the unique universe of the high Alpine peaks? To reach the top, you need to be an alpinist, or mountaineer. If you aren't, you can learn with an alpine guide! The guides of La Grave have a great number of Alpine climbs on their program, from beginner to expert level. You can go for a day or several days, with overnight stays in mountain huts.