The Parc National des Écrins covers 930 sq km (230,000 acres) of magnificent Alpine terrain. Created in 1973, it is located roughly 50km southeast of Grenoble and 20km west of Briançon - one of the most spectacular regions of the Alps with massive mountains hung with glaciers and more than 100 summits over 3000m high. This is terrain for serious climbers, walkers and in the winter skiers with more than 800.000 visitors annually. In late spring and summer you find a profusion of flowers.
This is hiking country par excellence with hundreds of kilometres of well-marked trails and a network of alpine huts.
The national park can be accessed from the valleys spreading from it:
- North-Western access: From Grenoble and Bourg d'Oisans, drive to La Bérarde. You can reach most of the peaks in the area.
- Northern access: From Grenoble or Briançon, drive to La Grave. You you can reach two main summits, la Meije and le Râteau.
- Eastern access: From Briançon drive up to Ailefroide. The best spot to reach Mont Pelvoux and Barre des Ecrins.
- Southern access: From Gap drive up to La-Chapelle-en-Valgaudemar. Fewer summits can be reached from here, like Olan, Sirac, Les Rouies.
The most convenient access for a day trip by car is the Eastern access from Briançon to Ailefroide. The road leads to the lovely village of Vallouise and further on to Ailefroide with its camping site and huts. You find yourself right in the middle of the national park with ice-capped Mont Pelvoux to the north and the Barre des Écrins towards the west.
There are numerous glaciers, wild larch forests and alpine meadows to explore. The very diverse flora with over 800 protected species is best during June and July. Everything seems to be blooming. You might be lucky to spot a chamois or the occasional eagle in the sky.
The Écrins National Park is famous for its glaciers, which are moulded in valleys and crevices. Some are pristine and white, others are greyish due to the morainic layers over them. Most important are the Glacier Blanc and Glacier de la Pilatte.
Of the villages in the Écrins National Parc we recommend Les Vigneaux, Vallouise, Ailefroide, Puy Aillaud and La Bérarde as a base. Les Vigneaux is really worthwhile with its historic village church (carved door and paintings depicting the Seven Deadly Sins). Vallouise sports the Brasserie Luc & Lionel Alphand, a micro-brewery and brasserie owned by the former alpine skier Luc Alphand and his brother.
You can order maps (paper and GPS) directly from the Institut Géographique National (IGN). They are the most accurate you can find.
3436ET Meije-Pelvoux (Eastern section of the Ecrins)
3336ET Muzelle-Olan (Western section of the Ecrins)
On the IGN website input the above map codes and voilà!
As tour guides we can recommend Ecrins National Park: (French Alps) a Walking Guide by Kev Reynolds and Ecrins Massif: Selected Climbs by John Brailsford.