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A beautiful hike to the White Glacier: Glacier Blanc in the Écrins National Park in the French Alps Visited: September 2017
Written: January 2018
Updated: April 2020

Awesome mountains, stunning views, a massive glacier and angry mountain beavers. Let me take you with me on one of the best hikes of the French Alps.

The Écrins National Park is a beautiful national park in the Alps of France. The park covers 91,800 hectares 1 2 of stunning mountain peaks, beautiful green valleys, glaciers and glacial valleys, high alpine pastures and many species of flora and wildlife.

More on this beautiful national park can be found in my other post: 11 photographs of the stunning Écrins National Park. I won’t bother you with an avalanche of information here. Let’s just get to hiking, shall we?

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Back in October of 2017 I drove down from the Netherlands to the French Alps for a hiking trip. Back home, I had already checked out the Écrins National Park and I had picked two amazing hikes: the one you’re reading about now, to Glacier Blanc from the Vallouise Valley, and another hike in the Valgaudemar Valley.

Even though it is possible to hike up and down to Glacier Blanc in one day (if you’re fit, that is), I had decided I just had to spend the night in the mountains at the hut Refuge du Glacier Blanc, because of it’s awesome location high up in the mountain near the glacier. So, I was going to do it in two days which, in the end, became three. Why? I’ll tell you about that later on in this post!

Unless you’re a climber, this hike has to be an up-and-down hike along the same trail, as Glacier Blanc is surrounded by high mountains. There is, however, a possibility to do a short detour to another glacier called Glacier Noir - the Black Glacier - which I didn’t take.

The hike to Glacier Blanc starts at the end of the Vallouise Valley, which is called Pré de Madame Carle (Pré de Madame Carle on Google Maps). Getting there is easy. Just follow the main road through the Vallouise Valley which, after the village of Ailefroide (Pelvoux), turns into a narrow winding road. At the end of this road you’ll find the huge parking of Pré de Madame Carle.

In the table below, you’ll find some more practical information about this hike to help you prepare your trip. This includes a more detailed ‘how to get there’, places to stay and other things to do in the Écrins. If you just want to read about the amazing hike, you can skip the table and continue below it.

The Ecrins National Park in a glance


Where Start: Pré de Madame Carle parking, Pelvoux, Vallouise Valley, Écrins National Park, Departement Hautes-Alpes, South-East France
Getting there Turn off the N94 between Briançon and Gap at the village of Les Vigneaux. Keep following the main road into the Vallouise Valley towards and through the villages of Vallouise and Ailefroide (and other smaller villages) until the road ends after about 15 kilometers at Pré de Madame Carle.
Costs Hiking is free, spending the night is not. Accommodation costs vary and should be looked up in advance to prevent surprises.
Best time to visit Spring and summer.
Duration of hike One full day, if done at once.
Altitude variation Ascend of 1000 meters to an altitude of 2874 meters.
Highlights Stunning views, rugged mountains, Alpine flora and wildlife, and a glacier, of course!
Other activities in the Écrins Mountaineering, rock and ice climbing, skiing, canoeing, rafting, paragliding, bird watching and much more.
Website Official website of the Écrins National Park. (French)
Accomodations in the Écrins National Park Check on Booking.com!*
Other things to do in the Écrins National Park Road tripping? part of the scenic drive Route Napoleon passes by the Écrins National Park and is definitely worth a drive. Check out this great Route Napoleon itinerary by Grace and Jim from Extremenomads.
More? Check out what TripAdvisor.com has to say about the Écrins National Park.*
Stay safe! Weather in the mountains can change rapidly from one extreme to the other. Therefore, always be prepared for all weather types and always bring all you need to keep yourself safe and alive.


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So, let’s start, shall we?

As I told you above, this hike starts at Pré de Madame Carle in the Vallouise Valley. Here, you will find a huge parking and both a hotel and a hikers hut: Refuge-Hotel du Pré de Madame Carle and the off-season hut Refuge Cézanne.

One of these was supposed to be the first place I would spend the night on this hike, very welcome after an uncomfortable night in the car the night before. However, while Hotel du Pré de Madame Carle was closing for the season, Refuge Cézanne wasn’t open yet... Great!

So, I drove down again and ended up spending the night in a hotel down in the village of Ailefroide. Not really a place I would normally pick, but I was glad to be inside with the night temperatures below freezing.

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Pré de Madame Carle to Refuge du Glacier Blanc


After a great breakfast at the hotel in Ailefroide, I drove the narrow winding road from Ailefroide to the parking at Pré de Madame Carle (alt. 1874m). It was 9 o’clock in the morning and it was still below freezing. Why was I doing this again?

Pré de Madame Carle, the end of the Vallouise Valley in the Écrins National Park in the French Alps
Pré de Madame Carle, the end of the Vallouise Valley and the starting point of the hike
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When the sun finally rose above the mountains, I set off. The first few hundred meters of the track are near flat and lead you through the first and last patch of forest you'll encounter on this hike. After crossing a stream called Torrent du Glacier Noir, the easy forest walk ends and the endless uphill zigzagging began.

About two zigzags up you’ll passed the last trees. Goodbye trees! Zig-zag, zig-zag, zig-zag. Higher and higher I went. Zig-zag, zig-zag. Is this ever going to end? Zig-zag, zig-zag. I hate zigzags...

After swearing at the zigzagging a lot, I made it to an altitude of about 2250 meters, where the zig-zagging finally stopped. Here, you enter the valley of the glacier. This place provides great views of the Vallouise Valley and the surrounding mountain peaks. It’s also where you will get a first good look at Glacier Blanc further up the mountain.

For those looking for a shorter hike, this might be a great spot to enjoy the views, have a picnic and turn around.

The view into the Vallouise Valley after hiking up from Pré de Madame Carle in the Écrins National Park in the French Alps
"This place provided great views of the Vallouise Valley and the surrounding mountain peaks."


The next section is a ±200 meter climb to a plateau. Here, the track becomes a little more rough. What looked like an almost wheelchair accessible trail before (though don't recommend trying that out), became narrow with rough rocky patches. This part of the track passed under cliffs and trough some cracks, often with cables for support.

To me, this section of the trail was hell. Not because it was particularly difficult, but as my lungs decided there was not enough oxygen at this altitude. Ascending from minus 2 meters under sea level in the Netherlands to over 2000 meters above in two days was a big nope for them, and I ended up with slight altitude sickness symptoms. Eventually, I was unable to walk 10 meters without hyperventilating. Not sure whether it was the best choice, but I pressed on anyway.

After this climb, the trail crosses a plateau with beautiful alpine vegetation, a stream and marmots. This is also where the old hut (Refuge Tucket) can be found, stemming from a time when the glacier hadn’t retreated as far back up the mountain as it has now. The new hut, Refuge du Glacier Blanc (alt. 2556 meters), is situated on a cliff another ±100 meters above the plateau. One more climb left.

This last climb to the hut will take no more than half an hour. The track on this section winds up the cliff on which the refuge was built. Like the previous climb, this section is again rough, rocky and with cables for support. If you managed to get up the previous climb, this one will be no problem though.

Hiking hut Refuge du Glacier Blanc, situated next to the White Glacier above the Vallouise Valley in the Écrins National Park of the French Alps
Made it! Refuge du Glacier Blanc


I made it! The refuge felt like home, like a castle, like a fortress, and most of all, like not having to walk another meter for the rest of the day (except for climbing staircase to the second floor). I don’t think I have ever felt this relieved to have made it to a hut. Well, maybe that one time I ended up in a snowstorm while hiking in the Dovrefjell National Park in Norway...

I was broken, I was tired, I slept in the sun on the concrete for an hour before I was able to go and explore the hut. A hike that will normally take about three to four hours, took me over 6 hours. But I made it, that is the most important, and looking back, it was definitely worth it the trouble.

At the hut, I was greeted by the resident beaver. A grumpy looking, limping marmot with cataract that would probably not have survived for long if there were no humans to feed him. But please, don’t feed wildlife, as this can make them dependent, obnoxious and even dangerous. In addition, most of our food is unhealthy and may make wildlife sick.

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Refuge du Glacier Blanc to the Glacier


After a most comfortable night cocooned in my sleeping bag under a mountain of extra blankets provided by the refuge, I set off for a day-trip to the glacier. Because of my trouble with the altitude, I had decided to spend the next night in the hut as well in case I would get the same symptoms again today.

At first, I had hoped to hike further up the mountain to the next hut (Refuge des Ecrins), but abandoned the plan when some mountain climbers I met told me that it was only accessible via the glacier. As I’m are no experienced climber, I didn't feel like climbing the glacier. And you shouldn’t either. Glaciers are treacherous and have both visible and invisible cracks and crannies in which you can easily disappear, get injured or worse... So please, don't try to climb a glacier without the proper experience and gear.

The view back into the Vallouise Valley from above the hikers hut Refuge du Glacier Blanc next to the White Glacier in the Écrins National Park in the French Alps
Refuge du Glacier Blanc seen from higher up the mountain


From the hut to the Glacier, there is no one route. Everyone picks their own route in this rocky terrain, leading to a big network of small trails. Just pick which one seems best and follow the stacks of rocks over several glacial moraines and via avalanche paths that run down the surrounding mountains.

With each moraine, the views are getting better and better. Somewhere along the way you pass a point where you rise above the mountain spur that blocks the view of the rest of the Alps, and a wide view over the Alps will open up.

View from Glacier Blanc, the White Glacier, in the mountains above the Vallouise Valley in the Écrins National Park in the French Alps
The view from Glacier Blanc
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The hike from the refuge to the glacier took about 2 hours, but that is because I took my time. Luckily, the altitude was no problem for me today. Guess I was acclimatized overnight.

Once at the glacier (alt. 2874 meter), I dared to set a few steps onto it. I know, I know, I told you not to do that without experience. I was very careful, mom, really! I only walked where there were already footsteps.

Your view after climbing to Glacier Blanc above the Vallouise Valley in the Écrins National Park in the French Alps.
A few steps on Glacier Blanc (2874m).


After taking my time at the glacier - enjoying the views and taking way too many photographs - it took me about another hour/hour and a half to get back down to the hut where I spent the rest of the afternoon reading my book while enjoying the view.

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Refuge du Glacier Blanc to Pré de Madame Carle


That was it! I won't bore you with a step-by-step description of the third day, as it is the same as the first, but then in reverse. This time, I ran down the mountain in about two or three hours.

Once at Pré de Madame Carle, I drove down the winding road, trough the Vallouise Valley, and - after a quick bath in a super cold lake along the way - on to the start of my next hike in the Écrins National Park. But that is a story for another time.

This hike is definitely one of the best hikes of France. Man, I even dare to go further and call it one of the best hikes of Europe. So put it on your bucketlist, save or share it on social media and make sure you don’t forget about it!

Have you ever been to the Écrins National Park? Tell me about your favorite place in the comments section below!



Further reading





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Sources


  1. France-Voyage.com (2020, April 1). Écrins National Park. France-Voyage.com. Retrieved from https://www.france-voyage.com/tourism/ecrins-national-park-1325.htm.
  2. Espirit Parc National (2020, April 1). Écrins National Park. Espirit Parc National. Retrieved from https://www.espritparcnational.com/en/national-parks/ecrins-national-park?language=en.

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