What is the Tour of the Ecrins National Park (GR54)?
The Tour of the Ecrins National Park is also known as the GR54. It is arguably the best trek in the Alps. It is an incredible walk of 193km (120 miles) around the incomparable Ecrins National Park in the Southern French Alps. On the way, 14 magnificent mountain passes are crossed. It is almost certainly the finest trek that you have never heard of! The Ecrins Massif is the second highest range of mountains in the French Alps: the Mont Blanc Massif is of course the highest.
What kind of scenery can I expect?
Perhaps the finest mountain scenery in the Alps. Unspoilt and remote high mountain terrain: snow frosted summits, beautiful valleys and pastures, sparkling azure lakes, carpets of wild flowers, the soothing sound of cow bells and easy to follow paths. It is much more remote and quiet than the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB). Honestly, this trek should be on your bucket list.
How long does it take?
Normally it is walked in 11-12 days. However, fitter walkers can do it in 9 days or less. Our guidebook sets out 4 different itineraries: 12, 11, 10 and 9 days. It really is up to you and your fitness level.
Well now that we have brought up fitness levels....Am I fit enough to do it?
Most reasonably fit people could complete the Tour of the Ecrins but it is more challenging than some other treks such as the TMB. And there is more than 12,000m (39,300 feet) of altitude gain and loss: much more than climbing Everest from sea level! But do not let that put you off. Yes it is a challenge but, with the right planning and preparation, is manageable. Get as fit as you can before you go, plan a sensible itinerary to match your level and travel light. Many people who have already walked the TMB choose this trek as their next one.
What are the trails like?
Mostly clear paths and tracks. There are some more difficult rocky sections but these are the exception rather than the rule. There is no glacier walking. Much work has recently been carried out on the trail and it is now very well served by waymarks and signs. In fact, it is probably better marked than the TMB. In mid-summer and autumn, paths are usually dry and firm. In June, snow can lie on the mountain passes.
Should I go on an guided trip or walk independently?
Well that depends on you. A self-guided trip can be a life-changing experience opening the door for future adventures. And the satisfaction of planning, booking and completing a trek on your own is something to savour. Thousands of people guide themselves each year and many of them have never undertaken a trek before. Most people can do it if they put their minds to it. But it is not for everyone: some prefer to have a guide to make all important decisions for them. And booking with a guiding company has other benefits too: they can organise food and accommodation and pack transfer so you don't need to carry it. Independent trekkers have to do all that for themselves. As the Tour of the Ecrins is a less popular trek than the TMB there will be fewer companies organising guided treks.
When to go?
Mid-June to late-September is the normal period for walking the Ecrins Before and after these dates, some accommodation closes.
Where do you stay?
In some of the most fabulous settings you can imagine! Some of the overnight stops will be a highlight of your trip. There are remote mountain huts, lovely gites and hotels to choose from. Our guidebook has complete listings of the places to stay.
Do I need to book in advance?
During the French holidays (the 4 week period commencing around 14 July) you will need to book well in advance. But outside of this period you can normally get away with simply planning a few days ahead. This is one of the joys of the Tour of the Ecrins offering more flexibility than some other treks.
How much does it cost to trek the GR54?
No permits are required to hike in the Ecrins National Park. So if you walk independently, your only costs should be food and accommodation. In mountain huts and gites, bed, breakfast and dinner will cost around €50. If you wild camp then you could get by on less than €15 each day.
What do you mean by 'travelling light'?
The lighter your pack is the more you will enjoy the trek. Every oz counts. Standard advice is to bring 'only what is absolutely necessary' but what does that actually mean? We prefer the 'Will I die, or endure pain, without it?' test. For example, that hair dryer. Yes we know it is a light travel one but you will have to carry it up more than a Mount Everest. Will you die without it? No. You may have to endure rubbish hair for a few days though. Believe us that halfway up the first mountain pass, you will be considering jettisoning it. Do you really need that make-up? That full 500ml bottle of shampoo? That laptop? It is fair to say that the more treks you do, the lighter your pack becomes. Experience helps you sift out the things that you do not really need. Be ruthless about what you take.
Is camping permitted?
Yes. Wild camping is permitted in the Ecrins National Park from sunset to sunrise. Camping on this trek is a true wilderness experience. There are also some campsites in the villages.