The drive from Annecy to Chamonix is a little over an hour (though we hit some traffic in Chamonix, which increased our drive a little bit), so we started our morning with an early rise. The drive is quick and pleasant with amazing mountain views (below) clearly visible from the road as you approach Chamonix.
We made our way into the town and parked in a large, free parking lot outside of the city center then made our way to the tourist office for some hiking recommendations as well as maps (see below).
While we were getting a later start than we had hoped, this was (easily) the busiest tourist office and hiking destination we’d experienced all summer. Mont Blanc is quite popular in August. I’ll bet it took us 25-30 minutes just to get to the front of the line! As such, we split up and I set out to pick up lunch provisions (apples, salami, pretzels, cheese, and waters) while Jim stayed to chat with the experts.
The employees in the tourist office recommended we take a couple of gondolas and hike up to Lac Blanc. This would have us leaving from Les Praz, about a 1/2 mile or mile from the city center. The walk was pretty, but long and did not afford many sidewalks along the way. In hindsight, we should’ve driven our car to the Les Praz parking lot, instead…live and learn, but it was a nice “warmup” for our real hike.
When we finally arrived at Les Praz, we bought our gondola tickets and joined an even larger queue to make our way up the mountain to La Flegere. I’ll wager we spent a good 30 minutes in this line. We squeezed into the tiny gondola and were dropped off for our transfer up to L’Index.
Friends, this is where I became extremely excited. You see, the second gondola was a ski lift/chairlift. So we were scooting up the mountain with the wind in our hair and feet dangling at crazy high heights. It was heaven. What made this extra special/exciting was we had seen someone on a gondola like this in Zermatt, but never got to ride one ourselves (but believe me I talked about it for at least an hour and how much I hoped we’d find one we could ride).
To me, this chairlift/ski lift was well worth the cost of admission, but this was only the beginning of our adventure, as we had a long hike ahead of us, over some pretty rocky terrain.
Once we hopped out of the chairlift/ski lift seats, we started our journey toward Lac Blanc. After one wrong turn (we quickly course corrected), we were hiking away with large families, tours, and individual hikers. There were some clearly defined paths, but also some strictly boulder paths (Jim commented he’d never seen or hiked on anything like that before) and amazing vistas the whole way (even if the range seemed to always be partially hidden by clouds).
We had decided to delay eating lunch until we arrived at Lac Blanc. I want to say this hike was two hours, but I’m not really sure (it definitely felt longer on the way there than the way back, maybe because I was hungry).
We arrived at Lac Blanc with an elevation of 2,352 meters (7,717 feet) in early afternoon. As you can see from the photos below, there were MANY other hikers up there (I’ve found this is one of the most popular hikes in the Alps). The clouds had definitely come in, but the views were still breathtaking.
We found a large rock and plopped ourselves down for our feast, then laid down for a little relaxation (which was amazing), watching various fellow hikers take photos, wade in the lake, and eat lunch (there is a restaurant & restroom up there, too, if you’d rather eat there).
After we relaxed, we started to walk in the opposite direction of the cliffs, to the other side of the lake. From here, I imagine on a clear day the mirror photograph is perfect, as I think ours still turned out pretty remarkable.
A lovely French woman offered to take our photo after seeing me trying to nestle my phone on a rock (I forgot our hiking photo tripod…again). Honestly, I think it’s the best hiking photo we have of the two of us. What a gorgeous day – what gorgeous colors, all around.
After we soaked in the views, we knew we had to be back at the cable car/gondola before the last trip down (which I think was at 4:45pm). So we started our trek back, which (as I mentioned) seemed much faster than our trip out/up.
Along the way we even made a friend – an older Italian woman. Let me just say she was absolutely adorable. She spoke at least three languages (Italian, French, and English). She had been hiking with her husband, but he was hiking at a pace that was (according to her), “Far too fast for me.” We were walking up a rocky formation when she asked Jim if he could help her. Ever the gentleman, he helped. And that’s where we made a trail friend. She told us her husband was a retired Chemistry professor (he had taught in Pittsburgh for years), and she and her husband own a vacation home in Cordon Bleu (“You know, just like the mustard,” she said), which is not too far from Chamonix. We stayed with her for probably 30 minutes before we met up with her husband again who called us her “guardian hiking angels.”
We bid them farewell and made our way back to the chairlift/ski life. The trip down was even more rewarding as the mountains were in front of you. This is easily one of my favorite things we’ve done in France.
We hopped off of the chairlift and found another HUGE line of hikers waiting to get on the cablecar/gondola back down to Les Prez. I’ll wager we stood in that line for a little over an hour (eating a pretzel from the stand) before making our way back to Les Prez, just barely making what we think might’ve been the last down the mountain for the day (though the line was only getting longer as hikers descended the mountain).
Once back in Les Prez, we decided to take the bus back to the city center then made our way to the car and started back toward Annecy.
If you are planning a trip to Lyon, we cannot recommend adding some time in Annecy and Chamonix enough. Both are a gorgeous highlight of our summer travels, and I would easily go back to both (too bad we don’t ski).