Walking and wildlife in Les Gets/Morzine
Morzine and Les Gets are the perfect places to visit on your walking holiday in the Alps. With more than 200km of walking and hiking trails to suit all ages and abilities, and an abundance of fauna and flora to enjoy along the way, there’s no shortage of outdoor enjoyment in this neck of the woods.
A breath of fresh air
The Chablais mountains around Les Gets and Morzine are renowned as a winter skiing and summer mountain biking holiday destination – but there is a hidden and quite magical side of these mountains best explored by foot. In particular, snowshoeing during the winter season and hiking throughout the rest of the year allows you to explore the many pathways and tracks.
The health benefits of being outdoors are now widely recognised. Couple this with walking, and you are ticking all of the boxes for keeping your mind, body and soul well – especially in the Alpine mountain environment. The meadows here come alive in the summer with incredible wild flowers and luscious grass on which to lie down and have a snooze in the sun.
There are also numerous rivers and lakes to swim in along the way, so why not take advantage of the opportunity to cool off?
There are plenty of gentle trails starting and finishing in and around Morzine/Les Gets itself. The circuit in Parc des Dérêches, Morzine is perfect for young children, taking you around the park with bridges criss-crossing the River Dranse.
There is a beautiful lakeside walk around Lac Montriond, which you can extend with a little climbing to the spectacular Ardent waterfall. Another trail starting in the heart of Morzine takes you along the river and through the woods to the stunning Nyon waterfall. Using the Pleney cable car gets you right up into the mountains, and numerous walks – including one winding all the way to Les Gets across the 18-hole golf course. From Les Gets, for stunning views of Mont Blanc and the surrounding French Alps, the walk from Mont Chéry to Mont Caly is not to be missed.
A bit further afield is the spectacular hiking area of the Vallée de la Manche and Col de Cou or Col de Bretolet. Following the path trodden by the French Resistance during World War II to cross into Switzerland, you can hike through giant Norway spruce forests and colourful Alpine meadows. The GR5 route crosses through this section of the Chablais mountains on its way from Lake Geneva to the Mediterranean coast, which you can join and head through to the Col de Golèse towards Samoëns.
The Col de l’Encrenaz is also a perfect spot to explore the various forest trails behind Mont Chéry, Les Gets and the beautiful trails up through the Roc d’Enfer reserve to the Col Ratti. If you are lucky here you may spot the resident herds of chamois or one of the numerous mountain hares.
There are also plenty of trails to challenge serious hikers looking to climb high up and summit one of the many Alps surrounding Morzine and Les Gets. The long ridge ascent in the Dents Blanches offers great scrambling with stunning views of the magnificent Mont Blanc.
The classic Roc d’Enfer, a dramatic ridge route with chains for support on some scrambling sections, rewards your walking efforts with breathtaking views. There are also the famous three peaks dominating the scenery in Morzine: Ressachaux, Nyon and Nantaux. Each challenging ‘vertical kilometre’ hike gives you amazing views of the Portes du Soleil and surrounding Alps. These trails are demanding for even the most experienced walkers, offering a true sense of achievement.
A pique-nique or mountain refuge lunch on the side of a mountain is perfect for your midday break.
There is also a wealth of fantastic mountain restaurants to choose from:
La Tapiaz at Col de l’Encrenaz, Chalet du Verard, Prodains, Les Mines d’Or, numerous restaurants at Les Lindarets (‘Goat Village’), Refuge de la Golèse, Mont Caly… the list is endless.
What makes these mountains extra special is the abundance of wildlife found in the low-lying forests and pastures, and higher up in the mountains. Throughout the winter season, snowshoers regularly spot the animal tracks of chamois, stags, wild boars, stoats, pole cats, pine martins, foxes, mountain hares and shrews. Then, during the summer months, we see the arrival of many more species that would otherwise be hibernating.
The bouquetin (ibex), is a surprisingly large and powerful-looking wild goat with large curved and ridged horns, which can at times grow up to a metre in length. Mostly unafraid of humans, you will find this peaceful animal on many of the common walks and hikes around Morzine. As with most horned mammals of their kind, the ibex engage in rutting season. The males will fight for the females and the clatter of their horns clashing echoes throughout the mountains.
The smaller chamois, or ‘Alpine antelope’, can be distinguished by the black lines on its face, and in contrast to the ibex, they have curved, slender, dark horns. They are very agile and goat-like, jumping from one rock to the next and climbing the steepest passages. In summer they feed on grass; in winter they make their way down to the forest and nibble tree bark.
Stoats are commonly found all over the Morzine and Les Gets area. Its reddish brown summer coat becomes white in winter apart from a thin tuft of black hair at the end of its tail. This small carnivorous mammal lives among stones or near chalets, and is very active throughout the summer and winter seasons.
The marmot (everyone’s favourite mountain mammal!) hibernates during the winter months so you will only see this cuddly-looking creature during the summer months from April to September. When hiking along many of the local walks, you will hear the shrill warning whistle of this critter and, with any luck, see it playing with its fellow family members.
And finally, you may well be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a lynx! Unlikely, but you never know… At sunset they can be found stalking the slopes in search of birds, marmots, chamois and small deer. Virtually extinct in the region by the beginning of the 20th century, this wild cat has returned to the woods of Savoie from Switzerland.
Golden eagles can often be seen throughout the Alps, circling above their territory, which might cover most of a valley. Breeding pairs remain together for life, rearing their young in eyries on the side of inaccessible cliff faces. Eagles prey on marmots in summer and feed off carcasses when food becomes short in winter.
Of course when heading outdoors in the Alps it is always a good idea to be prepared. Check out the up-to-date weather conditions, buy the local walking map, ask at the tourist information office for any advice/maps for walkers, wear appropriate clothing, and always plan your route according to you and your family’s ability.
There are also plenty of local guides available, and very often planned half and full day planned walking trips to join.
Whether you head out on your own, or with a led group, either way one thing is for sure: you will not be disappointed.
By Simone Simpson
International Mountain Leader
Owner of Alpes Maritimes Adventures and Magical Snow Treks
For your accommodation, the best operator for Les Gets is Chalets1066. They are managed by an English couple who now live in Les Gets and now manage over 25 properties in the village. What is special about Chalets1066 is not only do they have management local, but also they offer a range of services ( for example chef service) through other local partners they work with, so you are able to ‘tailor’ your holiday to your specific requirements/budget. In the summer, staying in Les Gets is usually around the same or a little less than staying in the Lake District in the Summer.