France's second-largest National Park, Parc National des Écrins, stretches between the towns of Boug d'Oison, Briançon and Gap in South-Eastern France. More than 100 peaks rise above 40 glaciers, magnificent mountain lakes, and waterfalls. The Barre des Écrins, its tallest peak, gives the park its name.
Traveling on the mountain road up from the town of Vallouise the jagged peaks of the Barre des Écrins rise before you.
The Barre des Écrins is the highest mountain in the French Alps with a peak at 4102m. Before the annexation of Savoy in 1860, which brought the Mont Blanc Massif within French borders, it was the highest peak in France. It is surrounded by four glaciers including the ‘White’ Glacier Blanc and the ‘Black’ Glacier Noir.
The Glacier Noir is as black as its name suggests, covered in a layer of rocky glacial debris and screened from the direct sunshine which strikes its neighbouring Glacier Blanc.
This path leads to Lac Lauvitel, the largest lake in the Écrins mountain range. Surrounded by the rocky slopes of Rochail, Murailette, and the Signal du Lauvitel, the lake is over 68m deep, coloring it a beautiful azure blue.
The lake formed about 4000 years ago when a massive rock fall blocked the end of the valley. During the winter, ice in the lake can be a metre thick. When the ice thaws, and when meltwater runs off the surrounding mountains, the lake can rise up to 20m above its summer levels. Lauvitel is a Wilderness Area, closed to the public and scientifically monitored, covering 700 hectares of protected alpine habitat.
Heading out of Le Bourg-d'Oisans takes you along the deepest valley of the Écrins, the glacial Vallée du Vénéon.
From this road, hidden paths by the Vénéon and its many tributaries can be found to experience an unspoilt alpine wilderness.
With its high peaks, glaciers, deep valleys and protected wilderness, the Écrins National Park is a landscape of untamed beauty and a source of endless wonder.