The Tour des Ecrins (GR54) Multi-Day Trek
Tour des Ecrins Overview
For breathtaking views of glacier lakes and a real sense of remoteness, take time out to hike the GR54, or the Tour des Ecrins. A classic circular trek, it covers 180 km and is one of the most challenging routes in Europe. Reasonably fit backpackers will comfortably complete this trek in the summer without the need for mountaineering skills or equipment in around 7-12 days.
Renowned as one of France’s wildest GR treks, the highlights for us are the amazing views of the main peaks of the Ecrins Massif and Lac Lauvitel which blew our mind. High, steep and remote in places, it helps if you have a good head for heights and good scrambling ability, but this adds to the feeling of achievement at the end. The route tops out at 2735 m so shouldn’t cause problems for regular walkers.
The Tour des Ecrins (GR54) has a reputation for being one of the most challenging multi-day mountain treks in the Alps. This circular 10+ day trek in the Ecrins National Park is over 180 km long, includes 12,800m of ascent and crosses 14 high cols. Although the trek is considered one of the toughest in the Alps, the nature of the paths and availability of numerous mountain refuges and valley gites means it can be undertaken by anyone of reasonable walking fitness, experience and enthusiasm.
French Alps Trekking also offer a 6-day version which takes in the most remote southern section of the GR54.
The trek is usually started from near the town of Le Bourg-d’Oisans to the northwest of the park and follows a mountainous route around the Barre des Ecrins (the most southerly 4000 m peak in the Alps) as well as passing the spectacular peaks of La Meije (3983 m) and Mt Pelvoux (3946 m) and numerous other mountains over 3500 m. Main villages en route include La Grave, Vallouise and La Chapelle en Valgaudemar.
The steep sided valleys typical of the Ecrins are rich with wildlife, including chamois, ibex, golden eagles, griffon vultures and marmots. A wealth of plants and wild flowers and impressive physical geography will delight nature lovers on a daily basis.
Tour des Ecrins Trek Profile
Number of days walking: 10+ (or 6 day version along the southern section)
Pace: Each day will involve up to 1000 m ascent, between 10-18 km walking and time of 6-9 hours, including stops for photos, rest and refreshment.
Terrain: Good paths with some exposure and short sections of easy scrambling.
Longest day: 18km
Max altitude: The Pas de Cavale – 2735 m
Typical Tour des Ecrins Itinerary
Day 1: La Danchere or Venosc passing lac du Chambon and on to refuge des Clots (1520 m)
Day 2: Refuge des Clots via the Plateau d’Emparis (2365 m), lac noir and lac lerie to Le Chazelet (1800 m)
Day 3: Le Chazelet to Villar D’Arene, up to Col du Arsine (2451 m) and on to Monetier les Bains (1500 m)
Day 4: Monetier to col de l’Eychauda (2425 m) and on to Vallouise.
Day 5: Vallouise to Pas de Cavale (2735 m) and descent to refuge Pre de la Chaumette (1810 m)
Day 6: Ascent to Col du Vallonpierre (2530m) and on to refuge du Clot Xavier Blanc (1700 m)
Day 7: Pass through La Chapelle en Valgaudemar and up to Refuge des Souffles (1975 m)
Day 8: over the Col de la Vaurze (2500 m) and descent to gite in Le Desert du Valjouffrey
Day 9: Le Desert over la Cote Belle (2290 m) to Valsenestre.
Day 10: Valsenestre via Col de la Muzelle (2613 m) and return to La Danchere
Tour des Ecrins Trekking Guides
Available to all fit and adventurous walkers, guided Tour des Ecrins treks run between June and September. The full tour takes approximately 10 days and you can expect to walk about 15 km per day with 1000 m+ vertical ascent each day. The cost generally includes guiding, accommodation in mountain huts and most meals.
FAQ: Planning your GR54 Multi-Day Trek
The GR54, also known as the Tour of the Ecrins Massif, is a long-distance trekking route that encircles the stunning Ecrins National Park in the French Alps in southeastern France.
The entire GR54 loop is approximately 176 kilometers (109 miles) long. Depending on your fitness level and the number of stops you make along the way, the hike typically takes about 10 to 15 days to complete.
The best time to hike the GR54 is typically during the summer months, from late June to early September. This period offers the most favourable weather conditions and ensures that mountain huts and facilities are open.
No, you do not need a permit to hike the GR54. However, it’s a good idea to check in with the Ecrins tourist office for any specific regulations or updates on trail conditions before you start your hike.
The GR54 is considered a challenging trek due to its mountainous terrain and significant elevation changes. Hikers should have prior experience with multi-day hiking and be in good physical condition.
The hike up to the Col de l’Aup Martin, the highest point on the circuit, is high alpine trekking at its finest. And following the climb, the descent to the Pré de la Chaumette is steep and challenging.
Your packing list will differ whether you plan on staying in refuges or camping. For both scenarios, your gear list should include appropriate clothing for varying weather conditions, a comfortable and supportive backpack (approx 50 litres), sturdy hiking boots, rain gear, and a map of the trail. If you plan on camping, add a good-quality, lightweight tent, a sleeping bag, a stove, food supplies, and a headtorch.
Yes, there are several mountain huts, valley based gites and basic camping areas along the GR54, which offer accommodation and dining options. Reservations are strongly recommended during the high season.
The GR54 is a circular route and therefore has multiple access points, and the best one for you depends on your preferences and the direction you plan to hike. Some common starting points include the towns of Briançon, Bourg-d’Oisans, and La Grave. You can reach these towns by train or bus from major cities in France.
Yes, there are drinking water fountains in the small villages/accommodations en route. There are many streams, rivers, and natural water sources along the trail but to use these it’s essential to have a water purification system to ensure the water is safe to drink. Consider carrying a water filter or purification tablets.
In case of an emergency, you can contact the local emergency services by dialing 112. It’s also a good idea to carry a charged mobile phone with you, but remember that mobile reception can be unreliable in some remote areas.
While it’s helpful to know some basic French, especially for communication with locals and obtaining information, many people involved in the tourism industry in this region understand English, especially in popular hiking areas.
Pets are not allowed in the Ecrins National Park. However some sections on the GR54 trail are not in the Park so dogs can be walked on a lead, but in general it is not an option to take a dog on the GR54.
Wild camping is generally permitted from 7pm to 9am. Campfires are not allowed, but you can use a camping stove. There are a few areas where wild camping is not permitted, including around Lac de la Muzelle and Lac Lauvitel. In these areas you can only camp in designated areas. You can camp near refuges, but if you plan to eat at the refuge make sure you book ahead – they only have limited supplies.
Remember that the GR54 is a challenging and remote trek, so proper planning, physical preparation, and thorough research are essential for a safe and enjoyable experience. Always check for the latest information before setting out on your adventure.