10 FOREST & WOODLAND STROLLS au Pays du Mont-Blanc

Ahhh, 🌳 forests . . . strolling in nature, listening to the forest sounds, a place for exploring en famille, and so much scope to learn about 🌳🦌 trees and wildlife  . . .

With the 🍃🍁 change of seasons, 🌳 our forests offer us something new every few months weeks . . . the 🍃 rich green of spring and summer, 🍂 the shedding of leaves in autumn giving us a palette of 🍁🍂 amber, gold, rust, and some bare branches and 🍂 crunchy fun underfoot! And in ❄️ wintertime: those 🌲 majestic green sapins, still firmly green and often with ❄️ a dusting of sparkling snow . . .

In this article, I shall explore some of 🌳 the forests that we have here 🗻 au Pays du Mont-Blanc (and then in a second article I shall move on to the ones a bit further afield!). You’ll find information about:

  • 🌲 a stroll or hike (perfect with an all terrain buggy if the path is adapted) / ❄️ or a snow-shoe walk in wintertime;
  • 🚵‍♂️ an outing with a mountain bike or draisienne (push bike);
  • 🗺 parcours d’orientation & geocaching or a self-made treasure hunt;
  • 🌳 fun in the trees at our local accrobranches (or places a bit further afield like Filenvol, Acro-Aventure);

Most mountain hikes will take you through the 🌳 forest before you enter the pastures, plateaux and mountain peaks above, but I shall concentrate in this article on the more easily accessible forest paths, accessible with a buggy or baby carrier! (otherwise my list would be endless!).

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© montblancfamilyfun.com

Colour code for listings:

Chamonix Valley (Chamonix, Argentière, Les Houches, Servoz & environs) and Vallorcine

Passy & environs

Sallanches, Combloux, Cordon & Domancy

St Gervais, Le Fayet & environs

Megève, Praz-sur-Arly & environs

Les Contamines & environs

🇫🇷 Further France 


Forests of Haute-Savoie

Did you know that Haute-Savoie is one of the most 🌲🌳 forested départements in France? 🌳 40% of the land is covered by forest, that is 188,400 hectares! To protect this forest and its biodiversity, it is observed and maintained by the ONF (l’Office national des forêts).


Across the 🗻 14 communes of the Pays du Mont-Blanc, 🌲 forest covers more than 250 km² (ie 32,5 % of the land). A charter was drawn up in 2008 by the 14 communes, in order to manage the forests sustainably, and to fix ojectives (see here).

This 🌲 forest comes in various forms: agricultural plains, urban and industrialised zones, riverside walks, rocky glacier covered summits . . . in certain areas, our 🌲 trees are a defence from the natural risks surrounding us, like avalanches or floods. Which trees dominate our alpine mountain forests here? 🌲 45% are conifers, with certain species like spruce (épicéa) most prevelant, or larch (mélèze), specific to 🗻 the area.

Much of the time when we are strolling through 🌳 forest 🗻 au Pays du Mont-Blanc, we are in a 🌳 forêt communale (see here for map).

In recent years, you may have witnessed the huge felling of trees (eg I was astounded by the number of trees cut down around Les Gaillands a few years ago) – this is likely due to scolyte, a little insect that can be useful for the regeneration of forests (as it accelerates the decomposition), but it can also be a real threat, and this is when the trees must be cut down (read more about this here). Two summers ago, in July 2019, huge storms (which manifested themselves as mini tornados) also caused huge damage to our 🗻 Pays du Mont-Blanc 🌳 forests, and so many trees were subsequently cut down for our safety, or – where the work is ongoing – then parts of the forest have been shut to the public (Magland forest was particularly hit).

some facts and figures for our réserves naturelles (which have much forest):

  • 🌲 La Réserve naturelle des Aiguilles Rouges: 3279 hectares;
  • 🌲 La Réserve naturelle de Carlaveyron: 598 hectares;
  • 🌲 La Réserve naturelle du Vallon de Bérard: 540 hectares;
  • 🌲 La Réserve naturelle de Passy: 1717 hectares;
  • 🌲 La Réserve naturelle des Contamines-Monjoie: 5500 hectares;
© Réserves Naturelles Haute-Savoie

Here are some of the forest organisations, with activities sometimes organised for children and families:

🌲 Asters: conservatoire d’espaces naturels assures the management of the 🗻 9 réserves naturelles de Haute-Savoie. In each of these réserves naturelles there are plenty of family animations offered by Asters and FRAPNA all year round: programme 2020 LPO Haute Savoie or Rendez-Vous Gratuits avec la nature;

© LPO
© Journée Internationale de la Forêt

🌳 Journée Internationale de Forêts – is usually in March. Last year, the organisation gave us a present to enjoy during our time at home: to download the pedagogic booklet: Au Cœur de la Foret avec Asterix (see here);

🌳 Office National des Forêts (ONF) – to see the work this organisation does, see website here and FB page here;

You’ll also find lots of forest activities and learning projects offered by the réserves naturelles and also by the super association the Centre de la Nature Montagnarde.


Here are some suggestions for easily accessible 🌳 forest outings en famille . . .

Chamonix Valley

Bois du Bouchet (Chamonix)

The 🌳 Bois du Bouchet makes for a perfect buggy stroll, or a tour on a draisienne (push bike) or pedal bike . . . there is a 1km segment of the path that has been made to accommodate wheelchairs, and there are annotated panels along the way, explaining the patrimoine naturel : le sentier du Bouchet. You’ll also find:

  • 🗺 the parcours d’orientation;
  • 🚵‍♂️ VTT & fatbike trails
  • the parapente landing field;
  • picnic tables;
  • ski de fond trails and a sledding hill in wintertime;

If you continue walking towards the helicopter landing in Les Bois, then you will pass the panels for the Espace Mont-Blanc (explaining the sentier du granit), then the Pierre d’Orthoaz (iconic bouldering rock, dating from the glacial age!); you can stop for drinks & snacks at Le Robinson or La Crèmerie (check opening hours).

🅿️ parking: sports centre or along the road;

[ for more information, see separate MBFF article here ]

🗺 parcours d’orientation (as tried and tested by Baby Cham) for more information, see separate MBFF article here;

🗺 themed walk: « Le Sentier des Granits » (Chamonix) – following on from the Bois du Bouchet walk . . . the Sentier des Granits takes you into a forest populated by spruce trees (épicéas), and will take you along a themed path, allowing you to learn about the granite makers (les graniteurs), who worked the giant blocks left by receding glaciers / you leave from Les Bois, following the signs for Désert Blanc, crossing the Arveyron and heading towards the Secteur de la Norvège / 🅿️ departure point & parking: Gare SNCF des Praz, leaving from le hameau des Bois / distance: 2km / duration: 1h30 / more information here;

© Chamonix Tourisme
Les Gaillands woods (Chamonix)

Les Gaillands is a popular spot for family climbing, but it is also:

  • 🌳 a walk in the woods – you can follow the Arve river to Les Bossons and beyond;
  • 🗻 a departure for higher altitude hikes;
  • 🌳 accrobranches;
  • two small artificial lakes: le Lac des Gaillands and le Lac Sinclair;
  • the ruins of an old folly;
Paradis des Praz (Les Praz de Chamonix)

If you live in the Chamonix Valley, and you have young children, then you are more than likely to be very familiar with 🌲 Le Paradis des Praz ! It is lovely to stroll or take a bike ride to get there from the golf course or Les Tines, and once there, you can set yourselves up for an immersion in the forest and a gurgling stream . . . and a playground for those having a snack or drink at the buvette (also open in wintertime!) / FB page;

🅿️ parking – at the golf course or in Les Tines;

[ for more information, see separate MBFF article here ]

❄️ a winter stroll . . .

La Moraine, la mare aux têtards and a playground in the woods (ARGENTIERE) 

In 🌲 a forest clearing, with 💦 a stream running through it, you might catch a glimpse of 🐸 some tadpoles in pools of water in the late springtime. Even if you don’t, this is a fabulous place to play and make dams and there is also a small playground (this is also a great place to head on ☀️ a hot summer’s day, as you’ll have lots of shade!).

🅿️ getting there & parking: from the 🅿️ Parking Grands Montets, head up the track towards ☕️ La Crèmerie du Glacier, and then turn left onto the Petit Balcon Nord in the direction of Le Tour; after crossing the bridge (over the 💦 Torrent de Lognan), you will find a small playground and stream; you can also get there from Argentière village, by following the road across the 💦 Arve river, past the church and through the village (route du village, turning into chemin de la moraine); go through the passage under the railway line, and turn right after 20m . . . when you reach a junction, you’ll see the playground and stream / 🗺 see Google Maps for location;

[ for more information, see separate MBFF article here ]

Lac des Chavants (LES HOUCHES)

The 💦 Lac des Chavants is located right next to a forest with easy paths to navigate with a buggy and plenty of places to make a cabane! It is a great destination for families throughout the year, as there are so many activities available there:

  • you can 🎣 fish (with a permit);
  • a parcours orientation (around the lake and into the woods) – an article about autumn orienteering here;
  • a playground & climbing net;
  • 🎾 tennis courts;
  • 🧗‍♂️ a fabulous rock climbing area;
  • cross-country skiing and 🛷 sledging in wintertime;
  • snacks: ☕️ La Guinguette café & restaurant and 🍏 picnic tables and BBQ facilities;
  • 🌲 the woods – a great place to make a cabane

[ see here for MBFF article about Lac des Chavants ]

🍂 parcours d’orientation in autumn:

Servoz (Le Château de Saint-Michel and surrounding woods)

Did you know that there were 🏰 castle ruins in 🏔 the Chamonix Valley? You’ll find the ruins of 🏰 the Château de Saint-Michel, a 14th century fortress built under the orders of Béatrix de Savoie, dame de Faucigny, on a hilltop in Servoz (860m). The only remaining vestiges are the tower and parts of the wall, now covered in vegetation (especially verdant in summertime!). The 🏰 castle was built to overlook the approach to 🏔 the Chamonix Valley from the Arve Valley, and if you really pause to look, then you get a real feel for how the castle must have dominated the valley.

To get to the 🏰 castle ruins, or to do a lovely boucle around the castle, you’ll pass through lovely woodland. You could also opt to do a parcours d’orientation, which is fabulous.

[ for more information about the Château de Saint-Michel, see separate MBFF article here ]

Le Sentier des Trois Gouilles (Servoz)

Le Sentier des Trois Gouilles is an uphill (and downhill!) hike in Servoz, a boucle which will take you past 3 gouilles (small mountain lakes), through the old town of Servoz (and its rural patrimoine) and through lush forest. The hike takes 2h, and you’ll cover 3km, with a dénivelé of +/- 250m.

🅿️ parking – Servoz centre;

parcours d’orientation – you could combine this hike with the parcours d’orientation that takes you through Vieux Servoz – you’ll see lots of remnants of olden country living!

[ for more information about this family hike, see Chamonix Tourisme ]

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Le Sentier des Trois Gouilles © Chamonix Tourisme

PASSY

Himalayan bridge & Lac Vert

The fabulous suspension bridge in Plateau d’Assy allows you to walk the ancienne route du Lac Vert all the way to the Lac Vert. This is a lovely walk, easy and possible for the whole family, through the 🌲 forest and with magnificent views of the Mont-Blanc massif the whole way!

🅿️ parking: you now have to park at Place Tobé in Plateau d’Assy (30mins through beautiful forest to get to the bridge), or you’ll find a handful of handicapped parking spaces at the wooden totems at the start of the ancienne route du Lac Vert;

[ for more information, see separate MBFF article here ]

. . . and into the woods up to the lovely Lac Vert . . .

. . . Lac Vert and the trees reflected in the shallow waters (and some in the shallow waters!) . . .

[ for more information about the Lac Vert, see separate MBFF article here ]

Lac Vert in winter © montblancfamilyfun.com
Lac de Passy

We are all familiar with Lac de Passy, but have you ever ventured into the woods there? Our elder son went on a couple of school outings there, to observe the trees and wildlife, and we regularly cycle through the woods in spring, summer and early autumn to get to the lake! (afterwards, it tends to be very muddy, snowy and icy!).

[ for more information, see separate MBFF article here ]


SALLANCHES, CORDON & COMBLOUX

Bois de la Braconne (SALLANCHES)

As woods go, the 🌳 Bois de la Braconne is a small space, but it is well known to local garderies and schools! It is small enough to be perfect for Easter egg hunts and other treasure hunts . . .

good to know: these woods are located right next to La Braconne restaurant, and a short walk from the l’Ecureuil restaurant . . . and the new swimming pool is also located nearby!

🅿️ parking – the car park opposite the Salle Léon Curral;

[ to read a MBFF article on a buggy walk taking you through these Sallanches woods, see herehere ]

Cascade de l’Arpenaz & Lacs des Ilettes (SALLANCHES)

You have quite probably passed the 💦 Cascade de l’Arpenaz on several occasions, on a trip between the 🏔 Pays du Mont-Blanc and 🇨🇭 Geneva or 🇫🇷 Annecy on the autoroute.

The 💦 Cascade de l’Arpenaz is one of the most visible and iconic of our waterfalls in the region . . . but have you ever come off the motorway and headed onto the local road past the village of Luzier to explore? A site classé naturel, the 💦 Cascade de l’Arpenaz is 270m high and is characterised by sedimentary folds in the rock (schistes). The woods surrounding the 💦 waterfall are glorious in springtime, summer and autumn, and there is a delightful walk (with a treasure hunt available from Sallanches Tourisme) taking you through the woods to the village of Luzier . . .

🅿️ parking: at the Cascade de l’Arpenaz or at the Lacs des Ilettes;

[ for more information, see separate MBFF article here ]

Autumn VTT outing Lacs des Ilettes & Cascade de l’Arpenaz © montblancfamilyfun
Médonnet & La Pesse (MEDONNET & NANT-CRUY)

The 🌲 Médonnet & La Pesse blocs are well known to boulderers in the area (even if they can be tricky to find!) . . . but did you know that these two bouldering zones are equally fabulous to visit for the forest in which they are located? We have spent hours here making cabanes in these two ethereal forest locations near Cordon and Combloux . . . our own mini Fontainebleaus! Take a picnic and picnic blanket and a good book and keep an eye on children as climing the rocks is at your own risk (some are high!).

🅿️ parking La Pesse: a small lay-by on route de Nant-Cruy and then access to boulders and forest via sentier piéton VTT 42;

🅿️ parking Médonnet: a lay-by in Médonnet, just before the turning for the chapel;

[ for more information, see separate MBFF article here ]

Bois de Fessy (SALLANCHES)

The hiking boucle that takes you through the 🌳 Bois de Fessy (well-known to Sallanches locals) is largely in the shade of trees, and you’ll discover a variety of hardwoods and softwoods . . . and views of Mont-Blanc through the gaps in the trees! / you leave for this boucle from Place de la Grenette, taking the route du Mont Rosset . . . you head up through the forest to le Psot, and then take the chemin de Fessy back down to Sallanches;

🅿️ departure point & parking: park for free in La Frasse car park in the centre of Sallanches / distance: 3,5 km / 212 dénivelé / duration: 1h30;

[ for more information, see separate MBFF article here ]

Bois de Fessy © Sallanches Tourisme
« Le Sapin Président » (SALLANCHES)

🌲 Le Sapin Président is an ancient tree (269 years old on the most recent sign!), and the short walk to get there is the ideal opportunity for families to explore the forest. The path is mainly in the shade, so perfect for a hot summer’s day! To reach the start of this walk en voiture, from Saint-Martin in Sallanches, take the route de Reninge up to 🅿️ the Parking du Grand Arvet and then follow the signs towards Véran (equally, for older children or more able walkers, you can extend the hike up to the Refuge de Véran, run by volunteers of the CAF).

dimensions of the 🌲 Sapin Président: 47m high and 4,10m circumferance;

🅿️ departure point & parking: Parking du Grand Arvetdistance: 2km aller-retour / duration: 1,5 hour aller-retour (with lunch stop at Le Sapin Président) / more information: Sallanches Tourisme;

Le Sapin Président © montblancfamilyfun.com
Sentier Découverte de la Forêt (Cordon) 

🌲 The « Forest Discovery Trail » is a great, annotated family trail through the 🌲 forest, or you can simply have a picnic surrounded by trees at Les Plaines . . . / note: check state of the path with Cordon Tourisme (landfall, etc . . .), before embarking on this! (we last walked this trail in autumn, and it was fine, though many trees had been felled).

🅿️ parking & departure point: Parking des Plaines (no tarmac on road above Lezaive d’en Haut) / distance: 2 km / duration: 1h to 1h30 (to stroll and read all of the panels) / more information;

[ for more information, see separate MBFF article here ]

Forest Discovery Trail in Cordon © montblancfamilyfun.com
« Sur les traces des graniteurs » (Combloux)

This is a themed walk, perfect for families, which takes you into the 🌲 forest and to huge blocks of granite (deposited 15,000 years ago, when the glacier receded), which are the vestiges of the old quarries, with their ramps, slides and winches . . . the granite workers of yesteryear! From the Tourist Office in Comboux, you take the chemin de la Promenade (next to Agence Silvain), and then you head towards the Ferme à Isidore (an old farmhouse, where there are sometimes temporary exhibitions), and then you follow the signs to the start of the boucle; (or you can leave from the start point of the trail, by the roundabout with the big Combloux sign;

🅿️ departure point & parking: Combloux village or roundabout at entrance to Combloux (access to industrial zone and football pitch) / distance: 1km / duration: 1,5 hours (time to read panels and explore) / more information;

good to know – being a short walk, this gives you ample time to explore all that Combloux has to offer families: a 🚲 pumptrack with a view (pack bikes, scooters and footballs and basketballs in the boot of your car!), superb 🌈 playgrounds, the 💦 Plan d’Eau Biotope naturally purified lake, and lovely restaurants;

[ for more information, see separate MBFF article here ]

Combloux’s forest playground (Combloux)

A forest and a playground – perfect! Wooden games and a spider web climbing frame and netted swing . . . picnic tables, amazing views of Mont-Blanc . . . read more about this forest playground here;

eating options: picnic, or the Le Dandy restaurant at the Plan d’Eau Biotope or various restaurants in Combloux (we really like the pizzeria La Tana di Fronte);


SAINT-GERVAIS, St NICOLAS & BIONNASSAY

Le Parc Thermal (LE FAYET)

This fabulous historic park in Le Fayet has so many activities on offer, and you are surrounded by trees! There is a fabulous playground for young children, grass for games, paths for buggy walks, short hiking trails (the trail to the cascade, behind the thermal baths will take you into the forest for a short hike), 🧗‍♀️ rock-climbing and via ferrata, 🚂 Le Petit Train du Parc Thermal, artwork, the 💦 Thermes de Mont-Blanc . . .

parcours d’orientation – you can also do a new parcours d’orientation in the park;

🅿️ parkingplenty of FREE parking in the Parc Thermal;

[ for more information, see separate MBFF article here ]


MEGEVE & PRAZ-sur-ARLY

Creux Saint-Jean & la Cascade de la Belle aux Bois (Megève)

Last springtime, MBFF discovered the annotated family stroll the Sentier Nature du Calvaire, which takes you along the historic calvaire trail and into the woods to discover the magical Creux Saint-Jean, a waterfall with a pretty stone bridge. You can extend this hike up to the waterfall La Cascade de la Belle aux Bois (one of the local areas used for canyoning) via the chemin du Maz (note: only possible from spring to autumn, and NOT to be hiked after recent rain (difficult access, with metal cables and steps);

🅿️ parking and departure point: underground car park at the casino (paying) / duration: 1h30 (longer if you decide to explore the calvaire and the Creux Saint-Jean);

La Cascade de la Belle aux Bois © Megève Tourisme
Lac des Evettes (Praz-sur-Arly)

This is a forest walk perfect for families . . . the chemin has panels to read and a marmot observation post! The lake is at 1350m altitude and you can fish there / picnic tables and mountain refuge La Montagnette is lovely;

🅿️ parking and departure point: parking des Grabilles / distance: 5km / duration: 1h50 / dénivelé: +/- 270m;
Lac des Evettes © David Machet / Val d’Arly Tourisme

LES CONTAMINES-MONTJOIE

Le Sentier Découverte (Les Contamines-Montjoie)

🌳 Le sentier découverte is a lovely stroll along the Bon Nant river in Les Contamines-Montjoie, and you will spend a large part of this trail in the shade of trees . . . an all-terrain buggy would work perfectly! The trail is long, starting in the centre of Les Contamines-Montjoie and heading all the way to Notre Dame de la Gorge, so you can choose how much of the trail you would like to do! A leaflet is available from the Tourist Office, where the trail starts;

good to know: you can also hike through the Parc de Loisirs du Pontet with donkeys – see Anes et Momes;

🅿️ parking options: centre of Les Contamines-Montjoie or car park a little further along, at the crossing of the Bon Nant, or at the Parc de Loisirs du Pontet (Domaine Nordique in winter) or at Notre Dame de la Gorge;

© Les Contamines-Montjoie Tourisme
La Cascade de la Combe Noire – up the Roman road (Notre Dame de la Gorge)

We have been doing the short hike up the Roman road to the bridge with our boys since they were very small – first they sat in the baby backpack, and then they demanded to walk! For some reason, our boys always seemed to complain less when the ascent was steep (as opposed to flat terrain!) and this walk is certainly very steep! There are some lovely highlights en-route to the 💦 La Cascade de la Combe Noire: 💦 torrents, the pont romain, forest . . . you can do this walk as a boucle (rather than an aller-retour), by heading back via the tourbières (peat bog) / you can stop en-route at the ☕️ Refuge du Nant Borrant (we have overnighted here en famille): For competent walkers, the hike can be extended up to 💦 Lacs Jovets (2174m) – this is a full day’s hike;

🅿️ departure point & parking: Notre-Dame-de-la-Gorge car park / duration: 3 hour aller-retour with lunch (a bit longer for boucle);

[ good to know – after the hike, you can enjoy a well-earned rest at the excellent leisure park, Le Parc de Loisirs du Pontet / you can also camp the night at 🏕 the campsite here or spend the night up at the lovely 💦 Lac de l’Étape (access via 🚡Télécabine de la Gorge) ]

In wintertime, it is lovely to head with a sledge into the Parc Nordique (the Parc de Loisirs des Pontets becomes the ski de fond park in wintertime, and there is a path for piétons) . . .

Parc Nordique in Les Contamines-Montjoie © montblancfamilyfun.com

At the far end of the park, past the église, you will come to the beautiful chapel La Sainte Chapelle . . .

Notre Dame de la Gorge © montblancfamilyfun.com
La Sainte Chapelle © montblancfamilyfun.com

A superb option for making a family stroll through a forest even more fun is orienteering or geocaching! The Chamonix Valley has several parcours d’orientation to offer you, and there are some new ones also in Saint-Gervais! We’ve done most of the Chamonix Valley ones now!

[ for more information about parcours d’orientation or geocaching, see separate MBFF article here ]


We have plenty of 🌳 accrobranches ® au Pays du Mont-Blanc, and some special destinations a bit further afield too . . . this is a great option for spring, summer and autumn birthday parties!

[ for more information about 🌳 accrobranches ® au Pays du Mont-Blanc and tree climbing activities, see separate MBFF article here ]

Aéroparc Plaine-Joux © montblancfamilyfun.com

A little further afield from the Pays du Mont-Blanc and you’ll be immersed in the forest at:

🌳 Filenvol – we have now been to Filenvol twice and each visit had a FABULOUS time! / the concept is to run and jump and slide within large nets suspended from the trees (no need for harnesses!) . . . giant trampolines in the trees! / there are hammocks (adults can bring a book!), a small buvette and plenty of spots for picnics here / opening hours: all year, 10h to 17h or18h / price: see here;

website

address: 396 chemin du Vallon, 74560, Monnetier-Mornex (near Salève/Annemasse);
Filenvol © montblancfamilyfun.com

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