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Chamonix Trail Running - The Ultimate Guide

Why go Trail Running in Chamonix?

Summary

The town of Chamonix is located in the French Alpes at the foot of the Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Western-Europe. It is world renowned as a major hub for all  summer and winter mountain sports. This includes trail running which is quickly gaining world-wide popularity. Chamonix declared itself "Vallee du Trail" or the Valley of Trail Running. A title that is well deserved. Chamonix is the starting point for some of the biggest trail running events including the Marathon du Mont Blanc and the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. UTMB is now a world-wide organization but it all started in Chamonix. So what specifically makes Chamonix so special a trail running destination?

  • Excellent Trail Running Infrastructure - The trails around the Chamonix Valley are well maintained and easy to navigate. There are plenty of refuges and mountain restaurants to enable you to go on multi-day adventures and restock on supplies. The town center of Chamonix is jam packed with outdoor gear shops and support services like guides, physical therapists and accommodation providers.
     

  • Incredible Views - The Mont Blanc and the many tall peaks of the Mont Blanc Massif and the Aiguilles Rouge will provide the back-drop of many of your runs meaning that even in the peak of summer you will still have white peaks all around. Here is our list of the trails with the best views.
     

  • Glaciers, Waterfalls and Lakes - Glaciers are quickly melting all over the world. The Chamonix valley still has a good number of glaciers and many of them have trails running along side them. There are also gorgeous high altitude mountain lakes and a few impressive waterfalls that you can visit. Here is our list of the best trails visiting glaciers
     

  • Natural Reserves - The Chamonix valley is surrounded by natural reserves which are protected areas without any form of human development beyond the trails and the occasional refuge. The Chamonix Valley itself is pretty densely developed but it gives access to neighboring valleys and mountains that are still in their purely natural state.
     

  • Quantity & Quality - The Chamonix valley and the surrounding areas provides hundreds of kilometers of maintained trails and feature a great variety in natural scenery, gradient, technical difficulty and points of interest. You could stay in Chamonix for a couple of years without ever getting bored.

This entire website is dedicated to the glorious trails around Chamonix. We found our trail running home here. You will too.

Chamonix Trail Running Season - When to go Where

Season
TrailRunningGuide-2.jpg

The altitude levels ​around Chamonix create a great variety of trail conditions year round

The main trail running season in Chamonix runs from June to September. This is when the majority of the trails will be snow-free and accessible. The Chamonix lifts, gondolas and cable cars generally operate from mid June to mid September. The refuges and mountain snack bars and restaurants also typically operate from mid June to mid September. So if you have an option to choose your dates, then this is definitely the best time to go. Having said that, this is also the main tourist season which means the trails can be quite crowded. My personal favorite time to go on epic runs tends to be at the end of September to the middle of October when there are far fewer people on the trails and the autumn colors start to pop up. The month of May can be excellent too but the higher altitude trails tend to still have significant snow cover around that time. The lower altitude areas around Servoz and Saint Gervais can provide early season solutions for that.

Outside of the main summer months there are still plenty of options for excellent trail running. Your main consideration will then become the trial conditions and whether or not they will be snow free. The refuges and snack bars will be closed so you will have to bring your own provisions. It is hard to give exact guidelines as there are many factors that will determine how early in the year the trails start clearing up. It will all depend on how heavy the snowfall was in the preceding winter and how many warm sunny  days early spring brought that year. After the summer, the trails can be in excellent condition until a first big dump of snow arrives. That fist big dump tends to come in October but can vary greatly per year. The altitude of the trail you are planning to do and its orientation towards the sun will be another large factor. There will be a big difference between north and south facing slopes and areas of the mountain that enjoy full exposure to the sun and areas that are permanently in the shade. Before heading out, you will need to check the trail conditions and we have a page detailing the best sources for finding out the trail conditions.

We always recommend researching the trail conditions before setting off but here are some rough estimates on the altitude bands that you can use for general planning purposes:

  • 800m to 1000m - this is roughly the altitude of Servoz to the town of Chamonix. The winter of 2023/2024 was particularly warm and barely saw snow cover at this altitude band meaning that the trails were quite accessible even in the winter months. Outside of the winter months of January to March you can expect these trails to generally be snow free.
     

  • 1000m to 1200m - this is roughly the altitude of Chamonix to Argentiere. The popular Petite Balcon Sud and Petit Balcon Nord largely fall within this altitude band. You can expect these trails to be snow free from roughly early March to early November. They are also very popular so even if there is snow cover, you can expect it to still be reasonably runnable because of all the foot traffic. 
     

  • 1200m to 1500m - this altitude covers most of the mid-mountain trails and you will be able to reach a few mid-mountain view points like La Floria and the Source de Arveyron and Le Chapeau. These trails should be snow-free from roughly the end of March to the middle of October.
     

  • 1500m to 1800m - this altitude covers the mountain ridge above Les Houches, Plaine Joux above Servoz and Flegere. It does not include most of the plateaus above the Chamonix Valley. At these altitudes you cannot rely on heavy foot traffic to have packed down snow-covered trails and you will need to start planning better. The trails at these altitudes should be generally snow free from mid April to the start of October.
     

  • 1800m to 2200m - this altitude band covers most of the popular trails on the plateaus above the Chamonix Valley. This includes some of the most popular trails including the Grand Balcon Nord and the Grand Balcon Sud. This is the altitude where things get really exciting and you will be able to enjoy some of the best views. At this altitude you can expect the trails to be generally accessible from mid May to the end of September at least but it can vary greatly per year.
     

  • 2200m to 2600m - this altitude band covers the mountain passes and the lower peaks around Chamonix. There are not many trails that consistently stay at this altitude but there are plenty of trails that cross through these heights. Good examples would be the mountain passes of the Aiguille Rouge like Col Cornu and the crest trails towards the Aiguillette des Posettes and the Aiguillette des Houches. The snow cover at these altitudes is highly variable and will largely depend on sun and wind exposure. You can expect generally snow-free trails from mid June to mid September.
     

  • 2600m+ - there will not be many trails that bring you above 2600m of altitude. A good example will be the amazing ascend of Mont Buet (3096m). At these altitudes you can expect the trails to be snow free from early July to the middle of September but it will vary greatly each year.

Do not rely on these altitude bands and our general estimates and check trail conditions ahead of time.

Our Favorite Trails around Chamonix

Favorites

Running the Passy Natural Reserve

Our website features dozens of trails and you can use our Chamonix Trail Finder to find your perfect trail based on length, duration, vertical gain, technical difficulty level and a host of other specifications. On the right side we provide a list of our favorite trails based on different types, themes or points of interests. We really recommend you take the time to explore our website and find your perfect trail. For the purpose of this guide we will just highlight a few of our overall favorite trails.

Our Favorite Trails by Category

1

#

Length

22.3km

Elevation + / -

2103m / 2103m

When to go

Mid Jul - End Sep

Kids

15+ Years old

Dogs

No Dogs

Restaurants

1 Refuge, 1 Snack Bar

A long day out on a highly technical route but rewarded with some of the most stunning scenery around Chamonix as you climb Mont Buet (3096m) and pass through the natural reserves of Sixt-Passy and Vallon de Berard. If you have the time and the stamina then we cannot recommend this one enough.

Mont Buet via Tre-les-Eaux

2

#

Length

5.64km

Elevation + / -

314m / 191m

When to go

Mid Jun - Start Oct

Kids

7+ Years old

Dogs

Dogs Allowed

Restaurants

2 Restaurants

This is a family friendly trail that uses the Flegere and Planpraz gondolas to enable you to easily reach the Grand Balcon Sud. This beautiful traverse will give you great views of the Mont Blanc Massif all along the way. It can easily be combined with the cable car going to the Brevent Summit for the best views of Mont Blanc.

Grand Balcon Sud

3

#

Length

25.66km

Elevation + / -

1489m / 2067m

When to go

End Jun - Start Oct

Kids

15+ Years old

Dogs

No Dogs

Restaurants

1 Refuge, 1 Snack Bar

A beautiful and highly runnable route passing through natural reserves for the vast majority of the time. This one is perfect if you are looking for a quieter, more natural surrounding with less people on the trails. The Refuge Berard and Moede Anterne provide the perfect fuelling stations along the way.

Le Buet to Servoz

4

#

Length

14.52km

Elevation + / -

1171m / 1171m

When to go

Mid Jun - Start Oct

Kids

15+ Years old

Dogs

Dogs Allowed

Restaurants

3 Restaurants

One of our favorite crest trail runs over the the Aiguillette des Posettes and offers great views into the Chamonix valley on the one side and the Vallorcine valley on the other side. There are many variatons on this trail that can include descends into Vallorcine and you can reduce the vertical gain/loss by using the Charamillon gondola.

Aiguillette des Posettes

5

#

Length

31.5km

Elevation + / -

2076m / 2076m

When to go

Mid Jun - Start Oct

Kids

15+ Years old

Dogs

No Dogs

Restaurants

4 Refuges, 2 Restaurants

This one is a bit further away from Chamonix but it is a fantastic loop exploring the lands around the Rochers de Fiz. This loop follows a popular trail running race called the Tour des 5 Refuges de Fiz named after the 5 refuges it visits during the tour. The refuges form the perfect fuelling stations.

Tour des Fiz

6

#

Length

10.94km

Elevation + / -

1005m / 1005m

When to go

Mid Jun - End Sep

Kids

9+ Years old

Dogs

No Dogs

Restaurants

1 Refuge

The Aiguillette des Houches is a beautiful spot right across from the Mont Blanc on a grassy crest with amazing views in all directions. There are a number of trails that can take you here but this is one of our favorites from the Merlet Animal Park.

Merlet to the Aiguillette des Houches

7

#

Length

3.33km

Elevation + / -

116m / 116m

When to go

End Apr - Mid Oct

Kids

4+ Years old

Dogs

Dogs Allowed

Restaurants

1 Snack Bar

This is our favorite short loop walk. Its very family friendly and combines a visit to the nicest waterfall near Chamonix with a small accessible cave and a very nice little snack bar. If you are looking for something short and simple then this is our top pick.

Cascade de Berard

Understanding the Chamonix Terrain & Environment

Terrain

Looking into the Chamonix Valley from the top of the Combe de Vormaine

In this section we will describe the Chamonix environment and the types of terrain that you can expect when you start trail running around Chamonix. Here are a few key pointers that may help you to select and prepare for your perfect trail run:

  • The Chamonix Valley - the Chamonix valley runs downwards from the hamlet of Le Tour (1468m) on its north-eastern end, to the village of Les Houches (1007m) on the south-western end and then curves northwards and down to Servoz (820m). On the southern flank of the valley you will find the Mont Blanc Massif which has the Mont Blanc and the various Aiguilles that form the highest peaks in the region. On the northern flank of the valley you will find the Aiguilles Rouges with Le Brevent (2525m) as its highest peak.
     

  • The Valley Floor - the valley floor of Chamonix is heavily developed and there many towns and hamlets that run across the full length of the valley. There are not many trails in a natural environment on the valley floor itself with the exception of the Bois du Bouchet which is an undeveloped large stretch of the valley between Chamonix and Le Lavancher. There are also good trails on the valley floor leading from Lac des Gaillands to Les Houches. If you do want to run at low altitude across the valley then your best options are the Petit Balcon Sud (PBS) and the Petite Balcon Nord (PBN). These run 100 to 200 meters above the valley floor and are fairly flattish. Of the two, the PBN is definitely more interesting with a bit more variety and some open views and meadows.
     

  • The "Forest Tax" - the flanks of the Mont Blanc Massif and the Aiguilles Rouge are covered in pine forest. And the pine forest typically ends around an altitude of 1800-2000 meters after which it opens up and the more spectacular views become more visible. What this means in practice is that if you are starting your run at the valley floor you will have to pay the "forest tax" and climb up 600 to 1000 vertical meters before you get to the open trails. The trails that run up the flanks on both sides of the valley look very similar and are typically quite steep. They are not unattractive and do feature openings here and there with good views but they do tend to get very repetitive.  
     

  • Alpine Meadows and Rocky Trails on the Plateaus - after paying the beforementioned forest-tax you will typically end up in open terrain with meadows of low bushes, blueberries and grasslands. Once you reach the plateaus on either side of the valley you will find trails that are flatter and traverse the plateaus and these trails often make for the best and most beautiful running. These trails include the Grand Balcon Nord, the Grand Balcon Sud and the trails leading to Lac Blanc. These trails can be quite steep and rocky at places. Good examples would be the trail leading up to La Jonction where the final stretch consists of rocks and boulders. If you prefer easier terrain with spectacular views then the grassy flat tops and open grasslands at Mont Lachat and the Tete de Balme could be perfect for you.

In this brief description of the terrain around Chamonix we focused mostly on the Chamonix valley itself. It is important to know that some of the best running in our opinion is actually directly outside of the Chamonix Valley. If you look at our Interactive Map you will notice that we cover the natural reserves and most beautiful spots in a wider radius around Chamonix and we highly recommend you explore these regions too. What you will discover is that many of the terrain descriptions we provide above also apply to those areas but they will typically be a lot less developed and provide a much more natural environment. Our trail that runs from Le Buet to Servoz runs through the valleys that run parallel to the north of the Chamonix valley.  It passes through two natural reserves and gives a great feel for that the Chamonix Valley would look like if people had never been allowed to settle there...

How to prepare for a Chamonix Trail Run

Preparation

Once you have selected your trail you can start preparing for your actual run. Most of this is pretty common sense and would apply to any trail run you do regardless of where you are in the world. We got detailed articles on any of the following steps you should take to properly prepare for your run:

  • Pick an Appropriate Trail - you will be tempted to arrive and immediately embark on a 20K / 1500 vertical meter trail run peaking at 2500 meters of altitude. If you have a lot of experience then this is not a problem. If however, you are more used to city or road running then it is better to start conservatively and try out the terrain first. It's always important to match ability and experience with the requirements of your chosen trail.
     

  • Inform Loved Ones - this is a very common sense step that many people forget. You need to make sure to tell someone of your plans and when they can expect to hear from you again. If you are doing any of the trails listed on this website then just send them a link together with your estimated start and arrival time.
     

  • Emergency Contacts - you need to make sure you got the contact details of the local mountain rescue and emergency services. Do not rely on being able to just google that when you need it. Check this page for the Chamonix emergency services.
     

  • Check the Weather Conditions - the weather in Chamonix can change notoriously fast and the conditions can differ greatly based on the altitude you will reach. Check this page for the best local weather resources.
     

  • Check the Trail Conditions - as we mentioned above, snow cover can be a real issue and you need to check ahead of time to see if the trail you plan to take is reasonably accessible at the time you plan to go. Check this page for the best Chamonix trail condition resources
     

  • Gear & Provisions - you need to make sure you got the right footwear, clothing, spare clothing, water and nutrition on you. Temperature and weather can change quickly in Chamonix so you need to build in some margins. We would recommend you at least always bring a waterproof shell jacket with you. Check for a gear and supplies checklist. If you will be relying on refuges and mountain restaurants and snack bars then check ahead of time to make sure they are actually open.
     

  • Navigation Tools - make sure to bring a map and your own navigation tools. The trails around Chamonix are well marked but it is still a good idea to not rely fully on trail markers alone. This page gives a list of our preferred maps, trail and map applications and navigation tools.

We hope you enjoyed this guide and found it helpful. If you did, share it with your friends. If you have anything you want to add then send us a message using the button below.

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