Outdoor Activities in the French Alps

Information on hiking, walking, mountain biking and other outdoor activities of the French Alps region...

The Alps are Europe's biggest mountain range and have facilities for a variety of outdoor activities throughout the year.

The climate affects daily life in the region, as it can be so extreme, especially in the winter. It is of paramount importance to check the weather conditions before heading out in the mountains.

Find below information on:

Parklands

The Alps are a protected area and there are regional nature reserves as well as national parks.

National parks

  • Parc National des Ecrins: This is the largest of France's national parks. It is a haven for Alpine flora and fauna as well as rare native animals like the chamois and the marmot. The park is a protected area under the guidance of the Ministry for the Environment in order to preserve its natural heritage.
  • Parc National de la Vanoise: The Vanoise Park covers a large area around the Tarentaise valley and encompasses the ski resorts of Tignes, Val d'Isere, the Three Valleys and the Paradiski area of La Plagen and Les Arcs. The central zone of the park is a highly protected area while the peripheral zone includes 28 villages. The committee works to enhance local tourism, economy, culture and environment.

Regional nature preserves

  • Parc Naturel Régional de la Chartreuse: A protected area of natural beauty, the Chartreuse was made into a nature park area in 1995. The altitude of the park ranges from 200m-2,082m and there is plenty to do (besides drinking the famous liquors which are made in a monastery high in the hills).
  • Parc Naturel Régional de la Vercors: Vercors Regional Nature Park near Villard de Lans (38) is the biggest nature reserve in France with more than 17,000 hectares of unspoilt land.
  • Parc Naturel Régional des Bauges: In the middle of Annecy, Aix-les-Bains, Chambéry and Albertville is the massif des Bauges Natural Park. There are ski resorts, paragliding trips, hiking trails within the park as well as opportunities to see the local arts and produce.

Cycling

The Alps are one of the most popular cycling areas in France. The Tour de France visits the Alps every year to test the competitors' stamina. One of the most famous stages is the 21 hairpin climb to Alp d'Huez, during the summer months there are plenty of keen cyclists attempting the climb who are rewarded with a certificate from the tourist office on accomplishing the feat.

The cols and climbs around the Alps are very popular with cyclists and there are plenty of routes available with varying levels of steepness.

The Grenoble Cycling Pages have lots of information on the routes and areas in the region suitable for cyclists.

Mountain biking or VTT as it is known in France is a hugely popular sport in the area. Many of the winter pistes make great descents in the summer months and most cable cars will take the bikes uphill.

Local Tourist Offices have maps and guides for the most popular routes. Bikes are available to hire in many locations and there are plenty of companies offering guided rides and trails.

The Fédération Française de Cyclisme is the French cycling authority. It organises events and controls a network of clubs around the country in various disciplines including, VTT (mountain biking), BMX, road racing, velodrome racing and polo teams playing on bikes.

Climbing

Climbing is popular year round with many mountains and cliffs to choose from. The Club Alpin Francais (FFCAM) can provide information on starting points if climbing independently. Beginners are also catered for with many companies offering tuition for children and adults as well as indoor and outdoor climbing walls.

Via ferratas are a different way to explore the mountains. This sport is basically a combination of hiking and climbing and uses cables, ladders and walkways.

  • For information on Via Ferratas in France: Click here

Fédération Française de la Montagne et de l'Escalade (FFME) offer information on the various disciplines and the grades awarded to routes and areas. There is also medical advice and environmental information on protecting the environment.

  • To find a local club in any mountain/climbing discipline: Click here

Hiking and Walking

Much of the region is not accessible by motor vehicle and walking and hiking to certain areas are the only way to experience the scenery and surroundings.

The Fédération Française de la Randonnée Pédestre (FFRP) is the overseeing body for all marked and maintained walking routes in France. There are regional and departmental committees organising clubs and routes in the French Alps.

During the winter months it is possible to go snow-shoe walking (les raquettes) and follow designated trails. Many resorts offer guided tours through forests to see the wildlife.

Marked trails

Top 25 hiking maps (scale 1:25,000) issued by the Institut Géographique National (IGN) are available from newsagents (presse) and bookshops.

All nationally recognised trails are categorised as follows:

  • GR (Grand Randonnée): Registered hiking trails that often run across the entire country
  • GRP (Sentiers de Grande Randonnée de Pays): Registered regional trails that will take you around a particular region for several days
  • PR (Sentiers de Promenade): Walking and hiking trails for short circuits, lasting several hours

The French route marking system shows paths by means of signs and blazes.

  • For clear explanations of the waymarks, or blazes (balises): Click here

Canoeing, Kayaking, White-Water Rafting and Hydrospeed

As the snow thaws at in the springtime the rivers swell and become fast moving rapids opening themselves up to water sports. All around the French Alps region there are clubs and associations dedicated to rafting, canoeing and kayaking.

Fédération Française de Canoë-Kayak monitors water sports in France. It has information on appropriate rivers and expert guides, where available.

Horse Riding

The countryside in the French Alps is perfect for keeping and riding horses and ponies. There are centres in the area which offer holidays and riding courses (in French) as well as professional stables and race courses.

The Conseil de la Filière Cheval Rhône-Alpes has local information for horse riders, listings of equestrian centres, breeders and teaching centres.

  • For a list of hippodrome race tracks in the Rhône-Alpes: Click here

Flying and Paragliding

The Fédération Française de Vol Libre (FFVL) controls paragliding, hang gliding and other free flight sports in France. Many flying schools offer lessons and discovery days. The local league, the Ligue Rhône-Alpes de Vol Libre (LRAVL) has information on the many clubs and flying events in the region.

Other Activities

These include summer toboggan runs, ice-skating, snowmobiles riding and husky sleighs. Also Forest Adventure Trails of which there are several (summer opening in almost every instance) which involve adults and children in various courses over rope bridges, death slides and other obstacles. There are a number of karting circuits in the area some which allow driving on ice