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Article: Top 5 Running/Hiking Trails in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, France (near Lyon and in the region)

Top 5 des Trail-Randos en Auvergne–Rhône-Alpes (à Lyon et ses Alentours)
Nature & Trails

Top 5 Running/Hiking Trails in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, France (near Lyon and in the region)

The Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes (AURA) region is a veritable paradise for trail running and hiking enthusiasts. If you love such adventures like us at EDELI, and you're looking for superb routes and wonderful discoveries, this is the region for you. To guide you, we've compiled the Top 5 Running/Hiking Trails in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, trying to offer you plenty of diversity in the landscapes and the type of surroundings you can enjoy during these Running/Hiking Trails. One of these nuggets to discover starts just outside Lyon in the Monts du Lyonnais and the other 4 are scattered between the Alps and the Ardèche. These 5 Running/Hiking Trails alternate between the mid-range mountains of the Monts du Lyonnais, the mid-range or high mountains of the Alps and a natural environment with a Mediterranean accent in the Ardèche.

Preparation and equipment

Before setting off on one of these trails, it may be worth remembering a few tips to ensure that you don't neglect your preparation and equipment. As well as being in good physical shape, which is essential for these running/hiking trails, preparation also includes knowing the route well in advance. A thorough study of the altitude profiles will help you to prepare before setting off on the trail, and during the running/hiking trail you will be able to save your energy before tackling sections that can be difficult, sometimes with long climbs. It is a good idea to look out for any water or refreshment points (village/small town) before the start, especially on longer trails. Finally, we strongly recommend that you take your mobile phone with you, to avoid wandering off the route if you take the wrong path, which can easily happen, and to be able to call in the event of a problem.

In terms of equipment, you need to set off with clothing (shorts, T-shirt, cap, etc.) and footwear that are adapted and specially designed to offer both comfort and performance. Choose technical apparel that is breathable and as light as possible. You should also remember to bring several layers of clothing, including a waterproof jacket, especially in the mountains where the weather can change very quickly and where the difference in altitude from the bottom of a valley to a pass crossing can be accompanied by major temperature differences in the space of a few hours. In addition to clothing, the list of equipment to be prepared includes a trail-hiking backpack, possibly poles, sunglasses (and sun cream), a headlamp and, of course, food and water, depending on the duration of the adventure.

After these preparations, we're ready to set off on our adventure, starting with our first Top 5 running/hiking trail in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region.


 1. The Belledonne high crossing in Isère and Savoie

For this first running/hiking trail, we're heading to the Alps to explore some high mountain scenery. This first running/hiking trail is the Belledonne high crossing in Isère and Savoie, along the paths of the Shepherds. This trail is a real challenge, covering 130 km along the GR 738 with 10,000 m of ascent. There are also several variants, such as the Tour des lacs de Sept-Laux over 39 km and 2,560 m of ascent, or the Tour du Pays d'Allevard over 78 km and 5,900 m of ascent.

The Belledonne high crossing offers a unique adventure through a wild mountain, featuring:

  • vertiginous ridges
  • immense forests,
  • breathtaking alpine lakes.

The GR® 738 is a difficult and demanding trail. The trail follows the ridge line between 2500 and 3000 m.

As mentioned in the introduction, good physical preparation is necessary before embarking on such a crossing. There is also an ideal period from July to September. This period corresponds to the period when the refuges are open (mainly from June to September) and avoids the presence of too many snowdrifts, which can make some passages trickier.

This route is truly one of the most beautiful running/hiking trails, but also one of the toughest in France. It's demanding, but it offers a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the middle of wild mountain ranges.


 2. Tour of the 'Massif des Bauges' in Savoie

For this second running/hiking trail in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, we're proposing to set off on a loop route with the beautiful Tour of the Massif des Bauges in Savoie. It's a running/hiking trail almost 90 km long, with 4,500 m of ascent in the heart of Savoie. There are several shorter versions of this great Tour des Bauges. Nestled in an unspoilt massif, the Tour du Massif des Bauges takes you through several magnificent landscapes, including:

  • vast forests
  • beautiful mountain pastures
  • the imposing cliffs of the Hautes-Bauges,
  • surprising caves

 The Bauges massif is unique, because it is naturally protected and separated from the rest of Savoie. That's what gives it its charm. It's a bit like a raised plateau containing several valleys and surrounded by mountains that delimit the massif, with passes such as the Col de Leschaux, which you must cross to get to Annecy, and the Col du Frêne to get back to Saint-Pierre d'Albigny and Chambéry. The recommended starting point is often the ski resort of La Feclaz, around twenty kilometres from Chambéry.

A final word of advice for this unique tour: don't forget to enjoy the famous Bauges 'tome', local cheese with a glass of Savoie wine before setting off! It'll make you forget the effort you've put in and will certainly make you want to come back.


 3. The Saint-Même cirque and its waterfalls in Isère

This trail is very different. We've included it in this Top 5 because it's a running/hiking trail in a natural cirque in the middle of the mountains, a magical place. It's like a slightly secret place that, because of its rounded shape, is protected and separated from the rest of the surrounding mountains. This trail is the Tour of the Saint-Même cirque and its waterfalls in Isère. It takes you to the centre of the Chartreuse, in the middle of this superb natural cirque that separates Savoie and Isère. What makes it even more attractive, and spectacular are the great limestone cliffs, which can be up to 500 m high, and the presence of several waterfalls:

  • the Cascade des sources,
  • the Grande Cascade,
  • the Isolated Waterfall

The cirque lies at an altitude of 900 m. The hiking trails offered in the cirque, including the sentier des cascades or waterfalls trail, are not very long, but the landscape of the cirque is so unique, with its cliffs and waterfalls, that we felt this Tour of the Saint-Même cirque had to be part of the Top 5 running/hiking trails in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes. If you want to extend the trail, you can start from Saint-Pierre d'Entremont and go to the Saint-Même cirque, then follow the waterfalls trail and return to Saint-Pierre d'Entremont.

4. The Monts du Lyonnais tour in the Rhône

The most surprising fact about this fourth trail is that it starts around 30 minutes from the centre of Lyon. The Monts du Lyonnais tour is an astonishing trail, already in terms of the distances on offer for a trail so close to a major city like Lyon. There are in fact two trails: the TML and the GTML. The Tour des Monts du Lyonnais or TML and the Grand Tour des Monts du Lyonnais or GTML. The first is a 111km loop with almost 3,700 m of ascent. The second is even longer, covering 180 km with 4,500 m of ascent. This second tour is popular with mountain bikers. The one we recommend is the 111 km TML. It's already quite a long tour. There's plenty to keep you busy over several days.

This tour offers unique panoramic views of Lyon and the Alps on a clear day. It starts in the first mountains overlooking the city of Lyon, the Monts du Lyonnais, then continues towards the Azergues valley (the Azergues is an affluent of the Saône). You'll pass through beautiful forests, villages on high ground and others at the bottom of the Azergues valley. Even though this is a mid-mountain route, it is quite difficult, with steep, technical sections (littered with stones and tree roots) and easier, more rolling sections on paths and tracks.

You can start the adventure from the town of Sain Bel, which lies in the middle of the Azergues valley, or from Saint-Martin-le-Haut, which, as its name suggests, is a village in the heights of the Monts du Lyonnais.


 5. Tour of the upper Cèze valley between Ardèche and Gard

To complete our Top 5 running/hiking trails in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, let's head south to the Ardèche. A change of scenery and vegetation, with Mediterranean accents. The fifth running/hiking trail we have selected is the Tour of the upper Cèze valley, on the border between the Ardèche and the Gard. It's a 57 km route with a cumulative climb of almost 2,300 m on a moderately-difficult course. The tour can start in the south at Bessèges or in the north from Malons-et-Elze, and the period to target for this trail-rando is broad, running from March to October.

This diversity between mid-mountain landscapes such as the Monts du Lyonnais, high-mountain landscapes such as the Belledonne range, and landscapes with a Mediterranean accent such as the southern Ardèche, is what makes the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region so rich and charming. This Top 5 running/hiking trails offers a wide variety of landscapes, levels of difficulty and vegetation. What all these running/hiking trails have in common is that they are real nature getaways with superb scenery, where it's easy to simply enjoy nature, the views and the moment. We could have added the volcanic landscapes of the Auvergne or the Provençal landscapes of the Drôme. In short, there's more than enough to choose from in this beautiful region, and the selection was no easy task.

Before concluding, a final reminder about preparation and equipment. Of course, you'll need to arrive in good physical shape to make the most of these running/hiking trails, and hike/run at your own pace to keep up with the fairly long routes (close to or over a hundred kilometres for the longest routes, such as the Tour of  Monts du Lyonnais, the Tour of Massif des Bauges and the Belledonne crossing).

When it comes to equipment, it's essential to choose suitable technical clothing (shorts, T-shirt), made from light, breathable fabrics that wick away perspiration and dry quickly. It's also important to remember to bring several layers of clothing, including a waterproof trail-rando jacket, to cope with the possibility of extreme temperature changes and rain if it arrives during your trail-rando. Not forgetting the essential trail-hiking backpack, potentially with poles, sunglasses, a headlamp and enough food and water between refreshment points.

All that's left is for you to make the most of these superb escapades in the great outdoors and to take a deep breath of fresh air so that you can leave feeling both tired and invigorated, enriched by these wonderful discoveries and adventures in the great outdoors.

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