The hike from Montenvers to Plan de l’Aiguille follows the Grand Balcon Nord trail, high above Chamonix Valley in France.
It’s an easy panoramic trail with wondrous views of Mer de Glace (Sea of Ice) glacier, the Aiguilles de Chamonix (Chamonix Needles) group of the Mont Blanc massif, and the Aiguilles Rouges massif.
The trail links the Refuge du Montenvers (aka Grand Hotel du Montenvers) hotel and restaurant with Refuge du Plan de l’Aiguille mountain hut and the Buvette du Plan de l’Aiguille snack bar.
From the Montenvers train station, the Grand Balcon Nord hike rises to the Signal Forbes viewpoint (2198 m) and then continues along a balcony path to Plan de l’Aiguille.
Hikers can descend to Chamonix with the Aiguille du Midi cable car, or hike back to Montenvers and return to Chamonix by train.
This Chamonix day hike is a great way to acclimate before starting the Tour du Mont Blanc or Walker’s Haute Route.
Grand Balcon Nord Hiking Guide
- Starting Point: Montenvers-Mer de Glace train station in Chamonix | Google Maps
- Distance: 12.6 km out-and-back
- Time Needed: 4:40 hours
- Elevation Gain/Loss: 532 meters
- Difficulty: Easy
- Minimum Elevation: 1908 meters
- Maximum Elevation: 2302 meters
- Where to Stay in Chamonix: Heliopic Hotel & Spa (midrange – top choice), Chalet Hôtel Le Prieuré (midrange), or Alpina Eclectic Hotel & Spa Chamonix (luxury)
This post links to products and services we love, which we may make a small commission from, at no extra cost to you. Thank you for supporting our blog!! – Sabrina and Kati
Grand Balcon Nord Trail Map
Where to Start the Montenvers to Plan de l’Aiguille Hike
Montenvers Train Station, Chamonix
To start the Grand Balcon Nord hike, head to Mer de Glace Chemin de fer du Montenvers, the Montenvers-Mer de Glace train station, in Chamonix.
This station is located near the main Chamonix train station. Exact Location: Google Maps.
After purchasing your ticket, take the red cogwheel train to the Gare du Montenvers train station.
Location | Mer de Glace et train du Montenvers, 35 pl de la Mer de Glace 74400 Chamonix-Mont-Blanc
Opening Times | Check here
Summer Ticket Price | 35.50 EUR roundtrip ticket
Tip | Before starting the Grand Balcon Nord hike, you can descend with the cable car from Montenvers to the Mer de Glace glacier, where there’s a man made Ice Grotto.
Montenvers to Plan de l’Aiguille Trail Description
Montenvers to Signal Forbes Viewpoint (45 minutes)
To start the hike, follow the gravel path to the underpass. Walk beneath the train tracks to Refuge du Montenvers/Grand Hotel du Montevers. You can actually stay in this upscale refuge, which was renovated in 2017. There are dormitory rooms, double and family rooms, as well as suites. Check rates here.
From the Montenvers Hôtel trail junction (1913 m), follow the sign to Signal Forbes (1 hour) and Refuge du Plan de l’Aiguille (2:45 hours).
Soon, you’ll arrive at another trail junction. Turn left to Temple de La Nature, Le Signal, and Plan de l’Aiguille. The right trail also leads to Plan de l’Aiguille, but it follows a lower (less scenic) path and bypasses the Signal Forbes viewpoint.
The way to Signal Forbes rises steadily along a panoramic trail of smooth stone slabs.
Initially the Grand Balcon Nord trail leads south with continuous views of the Mer de Glace glacier and the Aiguille des Grands Charmoz (3445 m) peak.
The trail then swings right and climbs up a few switchbacks, revealing new focal points. To the north, you’ll see Aiguilles Rouges massif flanking the northern side of the Chamonix Valley. To the east, the pointy Aiguille du Dru/Grand Dru (3,754 m) towers over a spectacular, razor-sharp ridgeline.
A lovely balcony path brings you to up to Signal Forbes (2200), marked with a signpost and a cairn.
Signal Forbes to Refuge du Plan de l’Aiguille (1:45 hours)
Continue west along the Grand Balcon Nord balcony trail.
Straight ahead, you’ll see a jumble of granite slabs. Though it looks chaotic and almost menacing, the path through the rocks is very smooth and manageable.
The pleasant traverse overlooks Chamonix Valley and develops into a nice dirt path.
As you progress, more of the Mont Blanc massif comes into view: Aiguille du Grépon (3482 m), Aiguille de Blaitière (3522 m), Aiguille du Plan (3673 m), Aiguille du Midi (3842 m), Petite Bosse, Dôme du Goûter, and Aiguille du Goûter.
The trail zigzags down to the Sous le Signal trail junction (2071 m). This is where the lower and upper trails from Montenvers merge.
Head left to Refuge du Plan de l’Aiguille, now signed 1:25 hours.
The Grand Balcon Nord trail continues easily across a wide-open hillside, carpeted with low-lying shrubs and a few larches.
At the Les Grosses Pierres trail junction (2130 m), again maintain the same direction, following the sign to Refuge du Plan de l’Aiguille (45 minutes).
The undulating trail navigates a few boulder passages and crosses several rivulets.
From the La Tapia trail junction (2180 m), where there’s a beautiful meadow, it’s only 10 more minutes to Refuge du Plan de l’Aiguille.
The Refuge du Plan de l’Aiguille mountain hut (2207 m) occupies a very pleasant spot, overlooking Chamonix Valley. This is the best place to eat lunch along the trail. They make local Savoyard specialties using locally-sourced ingredients. Grab a seat outside near the Savoy flag.
Refuge du Plan de l’Aiguille to Plan de l’Aiguille (15 minutes)
It’s a 15 minute hike up to Plan de l’Aiguille (2310 m), where there’s the Aiguille du Midi cable car middle station and the Buvette du Plan de l’Aiguille snack bar.
The snack bar boasts tremendous views, but the food options are extremely limited.
You have the choice to end your hike here and descend to Chamonix with the Aiguille du Midi cable car, or hike back to Montenvers.
Plan de l’Aiguille to Montenvers (2:45 hours)
Follow the same route back to Montenvers.
About halfway between the snack bar and the refuge, you can turn right and follow a nice path to La Tapia, which bypasses the refuge.
On our way back to Montenvers, we opted for the lower route from Sous le Signal trail junction, which drops below the treeline. The upper route via Signal Forbes is far lovelier, so if we were to do it again, we’d head back that way instead.
Stay in Chamonix
Top Choice – Midrange | Heliopic Hotel & Spa is located just steps away from Aiguille du Midi valley station, walking distance to the pedestrian zone. Stay here for the modern, beautifully-designed rooms, the gorgeous complementary spa (indoor pool, sauna, steam bath, herbal tea room, ice cave, and cold water plunge pool), massage services, and the amenities.
Midrange | Chalet Hôtel Le Prieuré is a centrally located hotel in Chamonix with splendid Mont Blanc mountain views, an exceptional staff, and lovely rooms (with tea/coffee machines). Expect a warm welcome and a great breakfast.
Midrange-Luxury | Alpina Eclectic Hotel & Spa Chamonix is located on the bank of the Arve river in the center of Chamonix. This modern hotel boasts freshly-designed, contemporary rooms, impressive interiors, a spa and wellness area, two bars, a grocery store, and on site-restaurant (Le Vista).
If you thought this post was helpful, follow us on Instagram @moonhoneytravelers
Europe Hiking Guides
Hikes around Chamonix:
- Tour du Mont Blanc Hiking Guide
- TMB Stage 1: Chamonix – Le Brevent – Les Houches
- TMB Stage 10: Tre le Champ to Chamonix