This hike is one of the classic Chamonix “balcon” hikes, a group of trails that pass along either side of the valley taking in some of the best views and most beautiful places along the way.
This is a great hike for when the lifts are closed; the meadows are crammed full of flowers in spring and the forests are a riot of red and gold in the autumn. The bus and train system makes it easy to do in either direction.
Starting in the car park at the bottom of the Le Tour lift system, you walk down past a little cafe and turn left onto Chemin des Clusettes, strolling amongst the pretty little stone chalets and old farmhouses that make up this tiny old hamlet.
At the end of the cluster of houses are a couple of hiking signs, follow the one for Argentiere and head up into the forest. The incline is gentle but it doesn’t take long for you to get high above the village - look back over your shoulder for a beautiful views of the alpine meadows of Le Tour, perfectly framed by the trees. The path is quite narrow and well-shaded, climbing gently up at first by about 100m and then winding back down again all the way to Argentiere.
Depending on the time of year you are quite likely to come across cows or goats grazing in quite unlikely places. The farmers don’t seem too concerned about fences or boundaries and many of the animals are free to forage about amongst the trees for tasty berries and flowers. They’re all very gentle and won’t pay you any attention.
The path drops back down to meet the village of Argentiere; if you’ve walked far enough you can catch the bus or train back to Chamonix from here, or there are lots of nice places to stop for a coffee.
Leaving the trail to call into Argentiere brings you into the town through the old quarter, where traditional wooden chalets and stone farmhouses huddle around narrow little streets. It’s very pretty and worth a quick look.
From Argentiere, the Petit Balcon Nord is clearly signposted, as is Chamonix, so it is very easy to find your way back without need of a map or directions. There are a number of little detours that you can make along the way, if you want to make the hike a bit longer or more challenging.
The section between Argentiere and Le Lavancher undulates gently up and down along springy pine trails, the trees part every now and then to let the sunlight stream through and to give you fantastic views of the villages below and the mountains on the opposite side of the valley.
Tree roots and rocks make the path loads of fun for mountain biking and there are often as many bikers as there are hikers out on the trails, so stay alert and step to one side if you see anyone coming your way. It’s safer and easier for you to move out of their way than the other way round.
Coming out through the trees brings you into the wide open meadows of Lavancher; one of the most beautiful spots in the valley no matter what time of year. Wild flowers and long grasses fill the meadows on either side of the path, Mont Blanc and the Aiguille du Midi tower in front of you and the forests on either side rise up to meet the mountains that frame this amazing view. The path ends in the village of Lavancher, a quiet little place where the residents all seem to take a lot of pride in having the prettiest gardens and well-tended vegetable patches.
Take a left when you get to the end of Chemin du Crozat and turn onto Route du Chapeau - look out for a little row of houses on your right and follow the hiking path behind them. The path is very narrow and it feels a bit as if you’re walking through people’s back gardens but it’s great for having a peek at some lovely old cottages.
The path climbs up slightly and crosses over a road to continue on a wider path on the other side. After you’ve passed the Hotel Jeu de Palme on your left, look out for the path back to Chamonix which drops down from the road on your right, taking you back into the forest.
From here it’s downhill pretty much all the way, unless you decide to take a little detour up to the Source des Arveyrons. It’s not far at all but is a short sharp climb of a couple of hundred metres to see the crashing waterfall that keeps the River Arve gushing. If you follow the main track back to Chamonix you’ll see signposts for it on your left.
Coming back to Chamonix along the flat expanse of the Desert Blanc is a beautiful way to end the day, with the river rushing along beside you. If you’re lucky you might get to see a helicopter taking off or landing at the PGHM mountain rescue base.
From here there are a few options for returning to Chamonix, the most straightforward is to continue straight on past the Hotel Arveyron and duck under the little tunnel to cross the road and pick up the riverside path on the other side. This take you to the tennis courts and sports centre from where you can stroll along the promenade into Chamonix centre and reward yourself with a nice cold beer or an ice cream!
You can obviously do this hike in either direction, but if you go from Le Tour to Chamonix you have the added bonus of seeing Mont Blanc ahead of you.
- Distance: 13km
- Highest Point: 1591m
- Vertical Gain: 224m