I have seen many articles that don’t recommend this, yet my most vivid memories as a child are staying in huts high in the French alps. With smaller children, huts can be a really great option for walking in the Alps. They give a real sense of adventure and destination, and I’ve never yet met a child who wasn’t up for that type of expedition.
The routes described below are based around the eastern Ecrins near our flat and are suitable for kids of different ages – you will know how far your own child will walk!
You dont need to take much – a spare set of clothes, a waterproof and a sheet sleeping back. The paths are all clearly marked. Eating in the huts is wonderful – even our incredibly fussy eater child has devoured the food. I used to carry a spare pot noodle (yes….) but never had to use it! We usually take enough lunch for 2 days on a 2 day hike, but you can get packed lunches from the huts. We always take ear plugs, and an ipod with ear phones is great for sending a child to sleep. The huts always have plenty of games, cards and other diversions. Everyone goes to bed at the same time anyway, so it works very well. Most huts have crocs now, even for very small people.
Route 1 – Refuge de l’Alpe de Villar-d’Arène – total (2 days) 7.63 Km, 333m ascent / descent – http://www.mapmyhike.com/routes/view/401953816
This hut is situated high in the Romanche Valley above Villar D’Arene in the Ecrins national park. The walk to the hut and back can be done in a day but it makes a great first hut expedition for very small children (4 – 5)
From Villar D’Arene drive up past pas de L’ane. Either park here, or continue on across a small bridge and turn right, following a rough dirt track until a large open area with parking is reached. Take the well marked path across the rock steps and up a small valley to a water fall and river crossing. (Ideal spot for a biscuit and rock throwing…). Climb steeply up the well trodden path until you reach some grassy meadows. 5 years olds will be able to manage with some encouragement (stories, biscuits…). The grassy meadows are the perfect place to have a sit, rest and watch the marmottes. From here it’s a short stroll along to the refuge. If your kids are abounding with energy, then walk on up the valley – its about 2 hours up to the lake. However, there’s often chamois to be seen so its worth going on up. Alternatively, you can set off fairly late in the day (3 pm) after another activity and arrive in time for dinner.
Route 2 – Chardonnet hut from the Guisane valley – Cols and the ideal hut
Day 1 – 8.5 km, 948 m ascent – http://www.mapmyhike.com/routes/view/234674779
Day 2 – 14.7 km, 631 m ascent – http://www.mapmyhike.com/routes/view/234677305
This is a great two day expedition over a mountain range into the Nevache valley. We did this one when our daughter was just 8. The routes are excellently signposted and the walking straightforwards. The first day is a big ascent, but the col is excellent and there’s the descent to the hut and expectation of finding the hut. The second day is much less ascent, with the col earlier in the day, but then a long walk out along the balcons of the Guisane. The hut is excellent and child friendly, and the food second to none. we have been back to this hut twice now as our daughter is captivated by it!
The ascent from Pont D’Alpe is short and sharp winding up into a beautiful open valley. There’s even a buvette for an ice cream stop. The walk then winds up through a monumental rock fall on the back of the Aiguile du Lauzet and then zig zags up to the impressive Col du Chardonnet at 2673m, with stunning views back into the heart of the Ecrins. The zig zags are a bit of a slog but Haribo bribes work wonders. Once over the Col you are rewarded with a beautiful gentle descent down the high valley surrounded by limestone pillars. Its very reminiscent of the Dolomites. We have seen loads and loads of marmottes in this valley and the rocks are very varied. You dont see the hut until at the last minute, when you happen upon it across an idyllic Alp, with a Yurt at one end.
Day 2 sharts with a short 2.54 km climb up to the Col de Roche Noire. This is an easy climb, finishing winding up through rocky screes. The Col is a beautiful spot, with a wonderful view back down toward the Guisane valley. You follow the path along the ridge a short way to the west and round behind a rocky lump before descending a very well made set of zig zags into the high wild Vallon de la Moulette. Its tempting to stop everywhere and laze around and watch Marmottes but its definately worth pressing on a bit. The next climb is much shorter, following the GR 50 across the high slopes of the Pic Ombierre. We cut down and across the forest above Puy Chevalier which provided some welcome shade in the heat, although the routes are less well signposted. There is very little water on this route until the springs under the aiguillete du Lauzet are reached so I would recommend carrying ample water and saving the majority of it for the traverse across this area. As you cross the Torrent du Chardoussier area, the route becomes a heavenly stroll with amazing views all around. The descent to Pont de Alpe is short with zig zags losing a lot of the height, and the drinks at the refuge are very welcome!
Route 3 – The Buffere hut from the Col du Granon – Old War remains and the Maginot line
Day 1 – 9km, 155m climb – http://www.mapmyhike.com/routes/view/411154578
Day 2 – 10km, 520m climb – http://www.mapmyhike.com/routes/view/411157198
This is a lovely walk without too much steep height gain and lots of interesting stopping points. Our daughter managed this when she was just 6.
The start is from the top of the Col du Granon, above the ski resorts of Serre Chevalier. A straightforward traverse to the Porte des Cristols (lots of interesting rocks!) leads to a steady descent down to the beautiful lac des Cristols. The walk then descends further before taking a fairly level traverse across the hill side to the Buffere hut. This is very welcoming with excellent food. A family of marmottes were living outsid when we went.
The next day is a gentle climb up to the Col du Buffere under the Grand Area. There are all sorts of war remains and defensive infrastructure up here which was once part of the Maginot line. The walk then continues on a high but easy traverse under the slopes of the Grand Area with lots of marmottes and great views. When we reached the car park under the grand Area, I chose to get a lift back up to the Col fetching the car and saving the remaining 3km 200 m climbing. However, if you do choose to climb back up, theres an excellent buvette waiting at the top!
Route 4 – Mont Thabor Hut from the Vallee Etroite – an adventure from Italy to the Savoie!
Day 1 – 8km 727m climb – http://www.mapmyhike.com/routes/view/411815694
Day 2 – Return via Lac Vert – no climbing 10Km – http://www.mapmyhike.com/routes/view/411816450
This is a very straightforward walk – out and back with a lovely hut and lake as its reward. We did this when our daughter was just 8 but it could be done by younger children. It has a great sense of route, going from Italy, through the Nevache and ending up in Savoie. The hut is welcoming and used to children and the food is excellent. The return journey can include a detour to see the amazing Lac Vert
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