The Southern French Alps are famous for glorious sunny weather and a diverse range of adventurous things to do. But if you are planning a visit, what are the best summer mountain activities in the Southern French Alps?
Mountains everywhere are full of exciting challenges, but the unique location of the Southern French Alps makes it stand out from the rest. The weather here is famously good with, 300+ sunny days per year. Plus it is perfectly situated on the edge of high mountains and glaciers, overlooking the beautiful lavender fields of Provence!
Best summer mountain activities in the Southern French Alps
In order to find the 15 best summer mountain activities in the Southern French Alps, we asked Sally Guillaume from Undiscovered Mountains. Sally is a local who has been arranging activity holidays in the area for 11 years, so not only does she know the area exceptionally well, but has seen what visitors enjoy.
So in no particular order – that would be far too difficult to decide – here are the 15 best summer mountain activities in the Southern French Alps.
Flying high in the sky with views over the dramatic mountains, glaciers, lakes and forests, with just birds for company is just sheer exhilaration. This is of course well earned as to get into the air you do have to overcome the fear of running off the edge of a mountain…
You can do a full course to learn to paraglide or try a tandem experience and let someone else control your flight. Top spots to take to the skies are Saint Vincent Les Forts and Orcieres 1850.
Jump into pools of clear alpine water, slide down natural toboggans and abseil down raging waterfalls – what better activity can you think of for a hot summer day in the Alps? This is perfect for families with teenagers and groups of friends who want a quality activity and guaranteed fun.
Top spots are Rabou Canyon which is great fun with lots of jumps, toboggans and abseils. La Blache Canyon that has lots of waterfalls. And Le Fournel Canyon that has plenty of jumps and abseils.
Climbing on warm rocks, with sun on your back and the scent of lavender in the air is undoubtedly one of the best summer mountain activities in the Southern French Alps. There are crags suitable from everyone from complete beginners, through to experienced multi-pitch and trad climbers.
There is good climbing all over the region, but the world famous cliffs of Ceuse are often included in lists of the best climbing destinations in the world. There are many challenging routes for experienced climbers – including 9a+ ‘Realisation’ one of the toughest on the planet – but also perfectly formed faces for novices.
Via ferrata was invented by the Italian army to get their troops across the mountains efficiently and safely. They have now become a sport in their own right. Using wire ladders and holds fixed into the cliff faces and suspended wire bridges over gorges and ravines, you work your way around the course.
You will need a head for heights to enjoy via ferrata, and then it is just pure pleasure with the odd burst of adrenalin. La Grande Fistoire at La Motte du Caire is one of the most popular in the Southern French Alps, as an added bonus it has three giant ziplines to get you back down again.
Mountaineering in the Ecrins range is one of the best summer mountain activities in the Southern French Alps. With alluring peaks such as Barre des Ecrins (4102m), La Meije (3987m) and Mont Pelvoux (3946m) only the Mont Blanc range is more popular in France.
But there are also plenty of less famous – and much less busy – peaks in the region such as Les Rouies (3589m), Le Sirac (3444m) or the Olan (3564m). By choosing the right peak for your level, Mountaineering is possible for anyone with a good degree of fitness. Find out more about Southern French Alps Mountaineering.
Having reached the top of a mountain perhaps you’d like to explore beneath it? The Devoluy Massif is a huge limestone mountain range with over 600 recorded caves ready to be explored. There is even an ice cave in an underground glacier suitable for those with prior experience.
You crawl through passages, negotiate water obstacles – sometimes with the help of an inflatable raft – abseil down long vertical drops and do some climbing. There are caves suitable for everyone from a kids first caving experience to unexplored caverns for experts only.
eBiking is the new craze in the Southern French Alps, with riders swapping over in droves and bikes available to hire all over the Southern French Alps. For serious bikers, it means you can double your distance and spend longer in the saddle, to take on more technical challenges in a day.
The biggest plus for eBiking is its inclusiveness. It makes mountain biking and alpine road cycling accessible to all. Granny (on eBike) can now ride with biking mad teenager (on normal bike) and share the experience. These days the e-mountain bikes have full suspension and can ride any trail.
For many years mountain biking has been one of the best summer mountain activities in the Southern French Alps. As the snow melts the ski resorts such as Serre Chevalier, Les 2 Alpes and Orcieres replace pistes with downhill MTB trails, they also keep lifts open so you can get to the top with minimal effort.
Trails range from the famous Megavalanche race in Alpe d’Huez, which begins on a glacier descending 2500m, to rarely used single track crisscrossing the mountains. There are bike parks all over the Southern French Alps with trails suitable for all riding styles and abilities.
If you prefer tarmac under your tyres then you are probably well aware that the Tour De France crosses the Southern French Alps each year. This means there are plenty of famous climbs for you to test your legs on, such as Col du Noyer.
But road cycling does not always have to be extreme. There are plenty of beautiful routes to ride through the valleys that have minimal climbs. There are also paved cycle paths in many areas that are suitable for riding with the family and downhill routes are made accessible with ski lifts.
Tree climbing with a night in a hammock
Tree climbing is a unique activity to the Southern French Alps and is literally just that – climbing trees. Re-discover your childhood adventures with the additional safety of a rope and a harness so you can go as high as you like and tempt those tricky branches you never dared to as a kid.
After an afternoon in the leafy canopy, you can choose to spend the night in special tree hammocks and tents. Sleeping out in the alpine woods you experience the forest come alive at night. Sharing the wood with wild boar, foxes, wolves and owls it’s a really wild adventure that families will love.
The Serre Ponçon Lake, is one of the largest artificial lakes in Western Europe. It’s stunningly beautiful, with turquoise waters stretching for miles against a backdrop of spectacular mountains. So a visit is one of the best summer mountain activities in the Southern French Alps.
Dotted around its edges are several beaches offering a range of watersports. Hire a siton top kayak, stand up paddle or pedalo and explore the secret coves around its coast. For thrill seekers, try water skiing, wakeboarding or just get pulled along on a giant tube by a speedboat. There is also sailing and windsurfing available.
White water rafting & kayaking
Kayakers come from all over the world to paddle in the Southern French Alps. It has the best variety of white water in France, including famous rivers such as the Ubaye, Durance, Severaisse and La Bonne. Find out more about white water kayaking in the Southern French Alps.
But you don’t need to be an experienced paddler to enjoy running the rapids on these rivers. White water rafting and inflatable canoes are perfect for all adventure lovers looking for a taste of white water thrills. Easily one of the best summer mountain activities in the Southern French Alps.
We are still talking about those famous white water rapids, but this time you go down them on a specially adapted surfboard. Wearing flippers and hanging on to your hydrospeed you literally surf down the river. You can’t get much closer to the roller coaster white water rapids than this.
Only for the brave! You need to be at least 13 and be a good swimmer to be able to master the current and enjoy hydrospeeding. We recommend the La Bonne river as it is set in a stunning gorge with some thrilling white water.
No list of the best summer mountain activities in the Southern French Alps would be complete without including hiking. Whether you are looking for a gentle stroll, a challenging summit or multi day trekking, there are hiking routes all over the region suitable for all fitness levels.
By utilising the ski lifts you can cut out a lot of the uphill to enjoy stunning views to walk in the mountains. The ski lifts also mean you can cover more ground, more easily reach alluring peaks and points of interest, or choose only to walk back down.
Night in a refuge
Last but certainly not least, spending a night in a refuge is a must. In the middle of the mountain wilderness you are away from phone, internet and modern distractions. Meaning you can unwind and feel more connected to the natural world.
Although basic, French mountain refuges are not just wooden huts. They are generally fully staffed, with running water, hot showers and toilets and offer a full dining experience. The sleeping arrangements are normally dormitory style – so ear plugs are recommended – with blankets or duvets provided.
Some refuges, such as Refuge du Tourond, are accessible with just an hours walk and provide cots and facilities for children. Whilst others are a full day hike or only accessible by traversing a glacier. Choose the right refuge for your group to have an unforgettable bonding experience – you might even get more than a grunt out of your teenager.
When to visit the Southern French Alps
May to July is the arrival of spring and summer with the big winter snow melt. This is a beautiful time of year for nature lovers with millions of flowers and butterflies and rich mountain wildlife in full form.
It is also the best time of year for white water sports. With the warm temperatures slightly cooler than the summer months, it is also perfect for walking, biking and climbing. Mountaineering season starts in June and is good until September.
July and August is the busiest time with school holidays. However, busy here is really not very busy at all – a bit like a quiet day in the Lake District. This is the best time of year for all sports especially paragliding, lakeside watersports, canyoning, a night in a refuge, via ferrata and tree climbing.
Summertime markets are also the best plus there are lots of festivals and events going on.
Autumn is well known for it’s spectacular light and with the diversity of deciduous trees, the colours are magnificent. Water sports are pretty much over in the Autumn but land sports like climbing, paragliding, cycling, mountain biking, via ferrata and walking are perfect during the Autumn in the Southern French Alps.
Getting to the Southern French Alps
The largest town with major transport links in the Southern French Alps is Gap. Gap has an SNCF train station with links to Paris (via overnight sleeper) and the airports of Grenoble, Aix-en-Provence, Valence and Lyon. Plus regular coach shuttles from Marseille airport.
Sally Guillaume is the founder of Undiscovered Mountains, an independent holiday company specialising in activity holidays in the hidden mountain paradises around the world. Sally lives in the Southern French Alps with her French husband – who’s also a high mountain guide – and has been organising activity holidays there for the past 11 years.
We hope you enjoyed this guide to the 15 best summer mountain activities in the Southern French Alps. If it has you planning a holiday to the region then check out Undiscovered Mountains through which you can try all of the aforementioned activities: www.undiscoveredmountains.com