The Grand Balcon Nord is a scenic trail that overlooks Chamonix and its surrounding mountains. From one end of the trail, you can see the white peak of Mont Blanc from the clouds. At the other side Mer de Glace, the largest glacier. The Grand Balcon Nord hike is one of the best things to do on a visit to Chamonix.
This hike is typically done point to point, with Plan de l’Aiguille and Montenvers being the end points. It’s a great hike in both directions. There are advantages to each direction, which we will discuss later in this guide.
On this hike, you can also add on a visit to Aiguille du Midi and or a visit to the Mer de Glace ice cave. Doing this turns this experience into one very long but memorable day in Chamonix.
In this guide, we cover what you need to know to hike the Grand Balcon Nord Trail, how to add on the Mer de Glace ice cave, and how to plan your experience.
GRAND BALCON NORD HIKING STATS
The hiking stats below are for the Grand Balcon Nord Trail, from Plan de l’Aiguille to Montenvers, plus the quick detour to Lac Bleu. In this direction, it is an overall downhill walk. If you do it in the opposite direction, there is a lot more elevation gain, so it becomes a moderate to hike.
6.8 km (4.2 miles) point-to-point
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Time: 2 to 4 hours
ADDING ON THE MER DE GLACE ICE CAVE
In Montenvers, you have the option to ride a gondola closer to the level of the Mer de Glace glacier, then walk down (and later back up) a long series of staircases to enter the ice cave. It’s a big addition to this hike and we didn’t think it was worth it, but here are the hiking stats so you know what to expect. I’ll go into this in more detail later in this guide.
1.4 km (0.9 miles) out-and-back
Total Ascent: 100 meters (330 feet)
Total: 45 to 60 minutes walking time (this does not include time for the gondola ride)
PLAN DE I’AIGUILLE TO MONTENVERS
This is the direction that we hiked the Grand Balcon Nord trail.
If you start at Plan de l’Aiguille, this hike can be combined with a visit to Aiguille du Midi. In the morning, ride the cable car to Aiguille du Midi, spend a few hours here, and then ride the cable car to Plan de l’Aiguille. Hike to Montenvers and ride the train to Chamonix.
In this direction, you are walking away from Mont Blanc, so to see it, you will have to turn around.
But a BIG advantage to hiking the Grand Balcon Nord Trail from Plan de l’Aiguille to Montenvers is that it is an overall downhill walk, so it is easier in this direction.
MONTENVERS TO PLAN DE L’AIGUILLE
In the opposite direction, ride the train to Montenvers. As you hike to Plan de l’Aiguille, you will be hiking towards Mont Blanc, which gives you a better view of this mighty mountain if you choose to do this hike in this direction. Once at Plan de l’Aiguille, ride the cable car to Chamonix.
In this direction, it is an overall uphill walk, with roughly 600 meters (2,000 feet) of elevation gain, so it is a lot tougher in this direction.
GETTING TO PLAN DE L’AIGUILLE
Plan de l’Aiguille is the middle station between Chamonix and Aiguille du Midi. From Chamonix, ride the cable car to Plan de l’Aiguille. You have the option to also visit to Aiguille du Midi, or just do this hike.
AIGUILLE DU MIDI + GRAND BALCON NORD HIKE: Take an early morning cable car from Chamonix to Aiguille du Midi (preferably before 8 am). A visit to Aiguille du Midi lasts 2 to 3 hours. If you add on the Panoramic Mont-Blanc cable car, add on an additional 2 to 3 hours. Ride the cable car to Plan de l’Aiguille, hike to Montenvers, and ride the train to Chamonix.
For information on what to do and how to plan your visit on Aiguille du Midi, take a look at our guide to Aiguille du Midi and the Panoramic Mont-Blanc Cable Car.
GRAND BALCON NORD HIKE ONLY: Adding on Aiguille du Midi turns this into a very long day, so it’s not for everyone. To only hike the Grand Balcon Nord trail, ride the cable car from Chamonix to Plan de l’Aiguille, hike to Montenvers, and ride the train to Chamonix. This gives you more time to hike to the Mer de Glace ice cave if you like the idea of adding that on.
PLAN DE L’AIGUILLE
At Plan de l’Aiguille, there is one mountain hut that serves food. Called Plan de l’Aiguille, you can sit outside, in view of Mont Blanc, have lunch and something. We ate sandwiches for lunch before starting the hike. This hut is just a short walk from the cable car station.
DETOUR TO LAC BLEU
At Plan de l’Aiguille, you have a choice to make: detour to Lac Bleu or skip it and head directly towards Montenvers. Our hiking stats include the detour to Lac Bleu, so if you choose to skip it, you will have a slightly shorter hike than what is listed.
It is an easy, mostly flat walk to get to Lac Bleu. We enjoyed it, but the lake is small and not nearly as picturesque as the views you will later get from the hiking trail, but it’s worth it for those with lots of time and energy who want to detour off the main path.
From Lac Bleu, look for an unmarked trail heading down the mountain that will connect you to the Grand Balcon Nord trail, so you don’t have to backtrack all of the way to the cable car station.
ON THE GRAND BALCON NORD TRAIL
As you walk to Montenvers, the Grand Balcon Nord is a gentle downhill walk, with a few short uphills here and there.
As you walk along the trail, you can look out over Chamonix and the enormous mountains on other side. This part of the walk is awesome, since it is mostly flat and the views are breathtaking.
Eventually you will reach a trail split. Both ways get you to Montenvers, but the trail rewards you with some of the best views of the day.take the trail to the right, towards Le Signal, to take the , more scenic trail. You know you are on the correct trail if you end up on a series of tough switchbacks that climb the mountain. They don’t last long and this is the part of the hike (and it’s worth it!).
At the end of the switchbacks, the trail continues upwards through rocky terrain. The climb is a lot more gradual now and you will be hiking on a trail made of large stone slabs. The views open up here to reveal more of the mountains all around you.
It is at this point that the trail really lives up to its name, as you are hiking high above the valley with one of the best views over Chamonix.