hikes in Mercantour National Park
An oft-overlooked jewel of the French Alps, the Mercantour National Park covers a narrow chain of peaks stretching from Barcelonnette to Sospel near the Mediterranean coast, close to France’s border with Italy. Technically it may be part of the lower end of the French Alps, but this beautiful national park boasts some truly spectacular scenery. With a rich history going back thousands of years, remarkable biodiversity, and jaw-dropping views, the Mercantour is one of France’s best hiking destinations.
If you’ve heard of one place in the Mercantour National Park, it’s probably the Valley of Wonders. Nestled in a lush valley close to the sacred Mount Bego, the Valley of Wonders contains over 40,000 petroglyphs dating back 5000 years, carved into the rocky cliffs and caves by our predecessors who lived in the valley long ago. This remarkable site should be on every hiker’s bucket list – the trail to see the carvings takes you through some of the best scenery in the Mercantour.
In addition to these historical wonders, the Mercantour National Park is also home to a remarkable array of flora and fauna. The lush park is a haven for ibex, chamois, marmots, and mouflon sheep. In addition, it’s a wonderful spot for bird watching – you may catch a glimpse of a pair of golden eagles, vultures, great spotted woodpeckers or ptarmigan. Underfoot, expect a carpet of colorful flowers, including orchids, lilies and rare alpine plants.
Convinced? You should be! We think the Mercantour National Park is one of the finest places for hiking in France. To stoke your wanderlust, we’ve put together a list of all our favorite hikes in the Mercantour National Park. Happy hiking!
Top 10 Hikes In Mercantour National Park
The Mercantour National Park is a real gem of the French Alps, with some truly spectacular hiking trails. There’s something here to suit everyone, from challenging ascents through rocky terrain, to peaceful lakeside strolls. One of the best aspects of hiking in the Mercantour is the fact that many routes are customizable – easier routes can be extended to make longer, challenging hikes that will stretch even the most experienced hikers. What’s more, the Mercantour is a treasure trove for history buffs, with plenty of attractions from prehistoric petroglyphs to 20th century military fortifications. Kids will love hiking in this magical region, and there’s a trail here for everyone.
- Fontanalba Hike: The Mercantour is most famous for one thing – the incredible array of prehistoric engravings on display in the so-called ‘Valley of Wonders’. This hike will take you to the heart of the valley past tranquil mountain lakes in the shadow of Mount Bego, a sacred mountain for the people who live in the valley thousands of years ago. You can expect to share the path with ibex and chamois, and the incredible Neolithic markings will certainly have you gazing in wonder! If there’s one hike you must do in the Mercantour National Park, it’s this one.
- Lac d’Allos Hike: Looking for an easy walk in some of the most spectacular scenery in the Mercantour? This wonderful route will take you all the way to the Lac d’Allos, one of the largest high mountain lakes in Europe. There are many options for extending the hike to Mont Pelat, for panoramic views over the Mercantour and Provence, or you can simply relax with a picnic by the side of the lake!
- The Authion Hike: This fantastic hike is perfect for history lovers, as it will take you on a tour of the Authion, a key strategic defense point in the Alps. Since the late Middle Ages, this region has been the site of intense military activity, and you can still see the remains of 19th and 20th century fortifications. This route allows you to explore this important piece of the Mercantour’s history, in addition to admiring the magnificent views over the Valley of Wonders and the Hautes Alps along the way.
- Sommets des Garrets Hike: This fantastic, challenging trek is one of the most spectacular hikes in the Mercantour National Park. Expect to see dramatic limestone rocks, beautiful larch forests, grassy meadows, and many rare plants, animals and birds. The route is long, and climbs steadily, so you’ll need plenty of stamina, but the rewards are beyond compare, with views overlooking the Western Alps, all the way from Monte Bianco to the Maritime Alps.
- The Col de Fenêtre Hike: The Col de Fenêtre is a beautiful, moderately easy hike that follows an ancient pilgrimage route between France and Italy. The scenery in this part of the Alps is particularly dramatic, with granite rock formations carved over millennia by immense glaciers. The trail passes a Second World War bunker built by the Italians, and there are incredible views from the pass.
- Lac de Sagnes Hike: The stunning Lac de Sagnes is the ultimate goal on this popular hike, but the journey is just as rewarding as the destination. You’ll traverse atmospheric forests before emerging on to an open grassy plain, passing by unique geological formations that rise high above the Lac de Sagnes. The lake makes a perfect spot for a picnic, and this is a wonderful place to observe the majesty of the Mercantour National Park.
- Le Mont Mounier Hike: Le Mounier offers some of the most spectacular scenery in the Southern Alps, with views over one of the highest limestone massifs in the region. The path rises steadily and is steep in places, but the views are remarkable, especially as the ridge narrows towards the summit. On a clear day you’ll be able to see all the way to the Mediterranean Sea, with wonderful views over the Northern Alps in the other direction. This is one of our favorite hikes in the Mercantour National Park.
- La Lac Nègre Hike: Surrounded by ochre granite cliffs, the route to the Lac Nègre is a stunning hike in the Mercantour National Park. This shady trail is a good option for a sunny day, as you can take refuge in the scented larch forest if the sun gets too hot. If you’re full of energy, the hike can be extended to the Pas de Prefouns, which offers fantastic views of the Lac Nègre Valley and the Valasco Valley, in the Italian Alps.
- Lauzanier Hike: Carved by glaciers over millennia, the Lauzanier Valley is one of the most spectacular parts of the Mercantour National Park. This route descends into the valley before rising steeply along rocky steps all the way to the Lac de Lauzanier. The lake remains hidden until the last moment, and the sight of it is breathtaking, surrounded by craggy peaks.
- Lac de Vens Hike: The Vens Lakes are some of the prettiest in the Mercantour, surrounded by lush alpine scenery. The path ascends through the larch forests, crisscrossing over the river, and climbs up a rocky slope with lovely views along the way. There are multiple options, depending on your energy levels, passing alongside the lower and then the upper lakes. The Refuge de Vens is a good place for a rest, or you can continue to the Col de Fer and the Vallon de Tortisse.
When Is The Best Time To Hike In Mercantour National Park?
The hiking season in the Mercantour National Park runs from June to the end of September, and this is the best time to experience the beautiful landscapes, flora and fauna in the park. The higher-elevation trails are likely to be under snow outside of the period, and many of the trails are inaccessible. However, if you’re happy to stick to lower ground, April and May can be a wonderful time to visit and the spring wildflowers set the region alight in a blaze of color! Once the snows have cleared completely, the park unveils itself in all its majesty. Expect hot, sunny days, but watch out on exposed trails, as the sun can be very hot in the peak of summer. In addition, August sees frequent afternoon thunderstorms in the Mercantour National Park, so try to plan your hike for the morning.
Other Outdoor Activities In Mercantour National Park
The Mercantour is a fantastic place for outdoor adventures, and in addition to hiking there are lots of other outdoor activities in the Mercantour National Park! This stunning park is a paradise for rock climbing, with routes of varying difficulty, and if you’re looking for something a little different, there’s always the option of trying a heart-stopping Via Ferrata. The Mercantour is also a popular place for canyoning, if you’re looking for thrills in some of the beautiful gorges around the park. The remarkable animals and birds that call the park home make some great opportunities for wildlife watching, and of course, you can always take a tour in the magnificent Valley of Wonders! Once the snows return, the park is transformed into a winter paradise, where you can ski, snowboard and snowshoe to your heart’s content.
How To Plan A Trip To Mercantour National Park
If you’re thinking of making the Mercantour your next adventure destination, don’t forget to check out our complete guide to planning a trip to the Mercantour National Park. We’ve pulled together all our experience to create an insider guide packed with top tips on where to go, where to stay and where to eat. You’ll find recommendations for all the best hikes, as well as information about how to get there and around during your stay. There’s never been a better time to explore this jewel of the French Alps!
Frequently-Asked-Questions About Mercantour National Park
How do I get from Nice to the Mercantour National Park?
Nice is very close to the Mercantour National Park, and it’s possible to drive there in around an hour. If you don’t have your own transport, it takes around two-and-a-half hours by bus and 90 minutes by train.
Are there wolves in the Mercantour?
Wolves have successfully been reintroduced to the French Alps, and a number have been seen in the Mercantour National Park. However, it’s very rare for hikers to encounter wolves – they are shy creatures and we usually make far too much noise!
How old is the Valley of Wonders?
The inscriptions and petroglyphs in the Valley of Wonders date back to the Copper and Early Bronze Ages, around 5000 years ago.
How many wall carvings are in the Valley of Wonders?
There are an estimated 38,000 to 50,000 carvings etched into the rocks across the Valley of Wonders.
The best hikes in Mercantour National Park
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