Ecrins National Park, Isere, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, France

The Ecrins National Park is a French national park created in 1973, after having been prefigured in 1913. It is located in the Alps, extending over a large part of the Ecrins massif. It is located in the municipalities of two departments: Isère (Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region) and Hautes-Alpes (Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region) and straddles the boundary between Northern Alps and Southern Alps in France, formed by the dividing line between the watershed of Isère and that ofDurance.

The Ecrins National Park is one of ten French national parks, after the ephemeral creation of a “Bérarde National Park” in 1913, it was not until 1973 for the official creation of the Ecrins National Park under the leadership of mountaineers, naturalist associations and the French Alpine Club. Its core is classified as a Category II protected area by the World Commission on Protected Areas of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN, the world’s leading non-governmental organization dedicated to nature conservation), while its area optimal adhesion is classified as category V.

Between Gap, Grenoble and Briançon, the Ecrins national park is approximately delimited by the valleys of Romanche to the north, Guisane and Durance to the east and south, Drac to the west. It is a high mountain territory whose chain of the main peaks structures the entire massif according to a complex architecture which culminates at 4,102 meters at the Barre des Ecrins. In total, more than 150 summits exceed “3,000 m” for valley bottoms of around 1,000 m.

The Park
The main missions of the national park are the preservation of species and environments, knowledge and transmission of knowledge and good accessibility of the massif to the public. Through studies and regular monitoring of environments and species, the park provides better knowledge of them, their functioning and their evolution. The impact of climate change is also an important point of these studies and monitoring. The park is also part of a naturalist data collection network (including the Mountain Galliformes Observatory, the Observatory of Large Fauna and its Habitats, the Large Carnivore Network of the National Office for Hunting and wildlife for monitoring the two large predators wolf and lynx). The public can also participate in observations and data collection by using certain websites linked to the park.

It also allows the implementation of measures allowing the protection and management of species and spaces, in order to protect and perpetuate all of this natural heritage. The park also works in conjunction with local actors and professionals such as farmers, in order to preserve these environments; concerning agriculture, the mowing of certain meadows, in continuity with the agro-pastoral practices of past centuries, is, for example, beneficial to the preservation of certain environments and certain species: this preserves their biodiversity, prevents the installation of bushes or shrubs which, eventually, would close up these hay meadows if they were no longer maintained. In addition, the park offers financial sponsorship actions concerning certain rare animals and vulnerable populations,

For many years, the Ecrins National Park has been carrying out environmental awareness and education actions, among the general public (more than 200,000 visitors per year in its reception areas), as well as in schools. of the municipalities that compose it (with visits, discovery activities and thematic interventions in the classes). The park and its agents maintain more than 700 km of trails allowing hiking on its territory, promoting the discovery of it. A large part of the paths making up the long-distance hiking trail 54 (GR 54 or “Tour des Ecrins”), one of the three main long-distance hiking trails in the French Alps, are part of it.

The park is in contact with many actors of the territory in order to better understand, preserve and develop while respecting the natural and cultural heritage, the territory and the activities in the municipalities.

The Ecrins massif is a large mountain range in the French Alps located in the Hautes-Alpes and Isère. It is home to important glaciers, both in number and size, and has two peaks over 4,000 meters. It was formerly also called the Pelvoux massif.

The Oisans (Romanche basin) to the north-west, the Champsaur (upper Drac basin) to the south-west, and the Briançonnais (Guisane basin) to the north-east cover part of the massif. It is also bordered by the Durance to the east and south, which feeds the lake of Serre-Ponçon.

The heart of the massif is deeply cut by valleys like those of Vénéon, Valjouffrey (la Bonne), Valsenestre, Valgaudemar, Vallouise, Freissinières and Champoléon. Thus, one can distinguish among others within it the ranges of Meije, Pelvoux, Rochail, Soreiller, Combeynot, Chaillol, Aiglière, Dormillouse, Rochelaire, Mourre Froid. In addition, it is surrounded by the massifs of Grandes Rousses and Arves to the north, Cerces to the northeast, Queyras to the east, Parpaillon to the south-east, Dévoluy to the south-west, and finally Taillefer. to the northwest.

The Ecrins massif is made up of a crystalline base, with a few sedimentary zones carried, crushed or rejected on the periphery of the massif. It is of great geological diversity. In summary, there is a granitic pluton in the heart of the massif, at the level of the Bérarde. Around this pluto is a very large metamorphic aureole ranging from anatexites (Mount Pelvoux), migmatites (Barre des Ecrins) to various kinds of gneiss (upper part of Meije, Olan or Sirac). These gneisses, often amphibolitic, frequently constitute the upper part of the high summits, in the form of a “hat”, quite characteristic of the massif.

The territory of the Ecrins National Park (91,800 ha), created in 1973, extends in an area between the towns of Gap (12 km as the crow flies), Briançon (13 km) and Grenoble (23 km). It is bounded by the valleys of Romanche, Guisane, Durance and Drac.

The park is located between an altitude of about 800 m and 4,102 m, and it has a hundred peaks located over 3,000 meters and forty glaciers (covering about 17,000 hectares).

It has 740 km of trails marked and maintained, including the GR 54 (tour of the Oisans) and thirty mountain refuges. It contains many peaks including that of Meije, rising to 3,983 m above sea level, above the village of La Grave, Mount Pelvoux (3,946 m above sea level) and that of Barre des Ecrins, point culminating in the Park at 4,102 m above sea level.

The valleys
Seven large valleys structure the Ecrins massif. The Briançonnais at the gates of the high mountains, the Vallouise and its hidden valleys, the Embrunais, a mountain splashed with water and sun; the Champsaur, alpine garden of the bocage country; the Valgaudemar, a Himalayas south of the Alps; the peaceful and steep Valbonnais; the vertical Oisans, valley of the pioneers. Villages, rivers, forests and cultures offer a thousand and one ways of inhabiting and living in the mountains.

The Briançonnais
Between Monêtier-les-Bains and La Grave, the two valleys of Guisane and Haute-Romanche meet at the Col du Lautaret (2058 m), surrounded by vast meadows with La Meije (3983 m) as sentinel. An information center is set up during the summer in the old Lautaret hospice. Nearby, a floristic discovery is required at the National Alpine Garden. And to get closer to the glaciers, at the start of the pass, the Crevasses trail benefits from interpretive elements that allow you to quietly climb “the steps of time” towards Alpe du Villar d’Arène.

Going down to Monêtier, the valley remains wide, the villages and hamlets that line the road are all departures for hikes in the massif, to the Col d’Arsine and its glacial lake, or to Cerces where the population of ibex reintroduced prosperous. Another information center in the Park welcomes visitors in summer to the hamlet of Casset. The natural wealth of the Lautaret area has long been known to botanists. The mountain pastures and mowing meadows, the fruit of traditional farming practices, reinforce a remarkable natural diversity. The close link between man and nature is even clearer in the land of La Meije: the villages are clinging to the sun on the terraces of cultivation shaped for centuries. Human occupation takes on extreme paces but retains a certain gentleness in the face of the crystalline and glacial universe that faces it.

The Vallouise
The Pré de Madame Carle, at the end of the Vallouise valley, is one of the gateways to the park (1,800 m above sea level). It allows you to easily approach the grandiose domain of glaciers and summits: La Barre des Ecrins (4102 m), the highest point of the massif, or Le Pelvoux (3932 m). A seasonal information point in the Park allows an informed discovery of this grandiose site. Ailefroide is the second French site for high mountain practice and this valley floor is the most frequented of the Ecrins. Further down, it is in the villages and hamlets that we discover the beautiful traditional architecture of La Vallouise.

From L’Argentière-la-Bessée, you reach the Fournel valley: a former silver lead mining site, exploited since medieval times, can be visited. The walk deserves to be continued towards the bottom of this long valley whose natural wealth is strongly linked to the human activities which have shaped the landscapes. The blue thistle, a rare and protected species, grows there in abundance (Deslioures nature reserve). Behind a seemingly insurmountable glacial lock, the Freissinières valley stretches out. The Vaudois, “heretics” at the start of the first millennium, had found refuge in this suspended valley among the longest in the Alpine arc. Just as much as the natural beauty of this “apart” valley, its history deserves to be discovered. The hamlet of Dormillouse, perched in the protected heart of the park, is one of the jewels of the cultural heritage of this preserved valley.

The Embrunais
The Durance valley widens and the Grand Morgon is reflected in the water reservoir of Serre-Ponçon. Y Embrun bears the traces of its past grandeur, a former Roman capital and ecclesiastical metropolis, including the Notre-Dame du Réal cathedral. Boscodon Abbey, founded in the 12th century by the Order of Chalais, nestles at the foot of Grand Morgon. From the top of the Tour Brune, the Park’s exhibition space devoted to the landscapes of the Ecrins massif, the panorama unfolds and the geology can be read openly here: the rock folds in places like a fabric and the river terraces glaciers give a little steppe air to the site. The black soils in “elephant back” erode and darken the torrents in spring. The Couleau, the Rabioux, the Boscodon and the Réallon torrent can then become devastating. Men have always sought to defend themselves from the fury or the parsimony of water and the instability of the land, by building canals, which drain and irrigate the slopes.

The Embrunais is the southernmost of the park sectors. From the shores of the lake to the Tête de Vautisse (3156 m), the hiker can go from the Mediterranean influence to the level nival, and meet a very diverse fauna and flora. Species adapted to dry and hot summers can be found here: ocele lizard, narrow-leaved lavender, officinal peony, scowl owl, showy oedicnemus and small black scorpion. In the Réallon valley, the hamlet of Gourniers is a gateway to the heart of the park. An interpretive trail provides a better understanding of the landscape, and the information point receives visitors in summer. In Châteauroux-les-Alpes, the town of 40 hamlets, the Maison du Parc offers temporary exhibitions and activities (screenings, conferences, etc.).

The Champsaur
Le Chaillol from Manse, Forest Saint Julien, Champsaur Marc Corail, Ecrins National Park. In the foreground, a prosperous mountain, a country of bocage with its networks of hedges, its canals, its sunken lanes and its trees cut like “tadpoles”. The biological diversity is extraordinary there, the men numerous. This life scattered in hamlets away from large towns like Saint-Bonnet comes from a dense past. Religion has marked this territory by the fervor of its crosses and chapels (including the famous chapel of Pétètes). It was the subject of many struggles between Catholics and Protestants, gathered around the Duke of Lesdiguières.

Agriculture, very present, serves as the basis for green tourism based on the quality of the landscape. Beyond the bocage begins the high mountain: the man is present there but this occupation betrays the weaknesses resulting from the exodus: abandoned hamlets, collapsed terraces… An agro-pastoral tradition is maintained around the winter sports resorts and the In summer, most of the valleys and mountain pastures are used by sheep and cattle. The geology is varied between sandstone, volcanic rocks, granite and flysch. The two torrents, the Drac Noir and the Drac Blanc as well as their tributaries have slashed these rocks over the years. Protected and partially managed by humans, this space is that of nature. It was the place of bears, there are chamois, marmots, mountain hares, exceptional flora and the ibex, reintroduced by the Park.

The Valgaudemar
The glacial valley of the Séveraisse sinks into the massif: the villages and hamlets benefit from the rare widenings, ledges, alluvial cones, ancient wanderings of the Séveraisse which is now contained. In Saint-Firmin, in Saint-Maurice, in the Séchier, in Villar Loubière or in La Chapelle, everywhere the attachment to the country can be read in the layout of the paths, in the architecture, in the names of the hamlets of yesterday that adret and ubac echo each other. Here, heritage is everyday life. Evidenced by the thatched roof of the Villar Loubière mill, the last representative of the 23 mills in the valley. The wealth is the territory: cirques and glacial poles, lakes and waterfalls, the adret with sloping alpine pastures, the vast ubac of forest then alpine pastures, with a large population of black grouse in the transition zone. The chamois, the orange lily, the precious alpine newt, the sheep and their jas, the rare Dauphiné cinquefoil, the silver geranium, and the rhododendron are the jewels. Of all the waterfalls, large scarves thrown around the neck of the mountain, the “Veil of the Bride” in Gioberney is the most famous.

A welcome by mountaineers in love with their mountain, festive and gourmet meetings: “ravioli”, “donkey ears” and other specialties, large tables for the “goat’s meal” during the autumn festival marking the descent of the herds from the pastures. The guides office, associations and the tourist office offer many meetings. For hikers, the Valgaude route offers a discovery from below of this country. The paths of the upper valley lead to the refuges and offer a discovery from above with summits that resonate with exploits led by the guides of the valley: Olan, Rouies, Bans, Sirac,…

The Valbonnais
Le Valbonnais, peaceful and steep. La Bonne (Valjouffrey), La Malsanne (Le Périer and Chantelouve) and La Roizonne (Lavaldens): these three valleys form beautiful indentations and very contrasting landscapes. Large agricultural areas located at a relatively low altitude (700 m) are opposed in a very marked way to the steep and very alpine slopes which rise towards the summits, with the Olan as the highest point (3564 m). This sector alone brings together nearly half of the forest cover of the park and very varied species in the beech-fir, spruce, alder… forests are a real resource for the municipalities (production) but also a means of fighting against soil erosion (protection). They are also home to many species, some of which are rare and protected such as the Alpine rosalie (insect with large antennae) or the Venus hoof (orchid).

Mountain agriculture has created vast meadows, once mown and now grazed. Large fauna is also present: deer, chamois and ibex reintroduced by the Park. The agrarian landscapes of the valley bottoms and the architecture of large traditional farms recall a time when people lived well from agriculture. Walls, hutches and other canals bear witness to this human occupation which plays a large part in the charm of Valbonnais. Easy and family hikes at low altitude to alpine routes in high steep places allow you to discover the variety of this territory, the marked opposition of the slopes.

The vertical Oisans, valley of the pioneers. Oisans, a high mountain country, is a hotspot for mountaineering and its pioneers. With the Meije as queen, defeated in 1877 by one of the first peasant guides of the Bérarde, Pierre Gaspard, who accompanied a “Monsieur” named Boileau de Castelnau. The Saint-Christophe museum is also devoted to the history of mountaineering. Oisans is the largest of the seven sectors of the Ecrins National Park. Beyond the plain of Bourg-d’Oisans, a former dry lake, the various valleys of glacial origin converge towards the Vénéon torrent, which plunges straight into the heart of the massif, to La Bérarde at the foot of the Ecrins, La Meije and Les Bans. These valleys are the richness of the heart of the park.

One of them, the Lauvitel, houses an integral reserve, a reference space for studying the evolution of environments, their fauna and flora, sheltered from any human influence. For a long time, a simple mule track led to the heart of Haut-Vénéon. It was not until 1923 that the road served La Bérarde. Adjoining these preserved areas, several tourist complexes (Deux-Alpes, Alpe d’Huez, etc.) attract a large influx of holidaymakers during the winter and summer seasons. To the north, going up the Ferrand valley, on the right bank of the Romanche, you can discover the architectural riches of the villages as well as their traditional activities, such as pastoralism, on the Emparis plateau. Another wonder to discover, the granite plateau of Taillefer, with its many lakes and peat bogs, which constitutes a remarkable natural environment.

Glaciers are the hallmark of high mountains. They arouse admiration, respect, fear and reverence in all those who approach or covet them.

The White Glacier
The White Glacier is the longest glacier in the Ecrins massif. It begins to form on the northern slopes of the Barre des Ecrins, at 4015 meters above sea level at the top of the Dôme des Ecrins. It flows over 5500 m to its final tongue at around 2450 m (value in 2015). Its surface is 460 hectares and its volume is estimated at 350 million cubic meters of ice.

The Black Glacier
As opposed to white-type glaciers, there are black glaciers covered with a moraine cover that is 20 to 30 cm thick on average. This thick layer of gravel, stones and other blocks effectively protects the ice from the bite of the sun. These great rivers of ice still occupy the heights of the Alpine valleys and seem motionless. Yet they flow under their own weight and carry impressive amounts of material provided by the erosion of the walls. Tireless transporters, they carry a quantity of material downstream which they deposit at the front or on the banks. Glaciologist Robert Vivian calculated that between 1960 and 1972, this glacier had transported 20,000 m3 of stones.

The Meije glaciers
The western limit of this glacial basin is formed by the ridge descending from Rateau Ouest to Peyron d’Amont. The eastern Meije marks a bend towards the north of the mountainous setting which then drops down to the Rocher de l’Aigle. The ridge heads back east, rising slightly to Bec de l’Homme. From west to east, three glaciers stand out within these limits: Rateau, Meije, Tabuchet. They constitute one of the most picturesque together. The Meije glacier is solely dependent on the northern slope of the Meije. The Tabuchet glacier is dominated to the south by the Doigt de Dieu and the eastern Meije. it represents the very type of the hanging glacier. The Rateau glacier is an alpine glacier of the purest type with a very turbulent relief. A snow supply bar is provided by the high north wall of the Rateau.

The Arsine glacier
The Arsine glacier is housed in the hollow of a vast north-facing cirque, surrounded by high walls reaching an altitude of between 3,200 and 3,600 meters. It is a largely covered glacier whose front, currently located at an altitude of 2,470 m, is preceded by lakes. These are held in place by an imposing system of historic moraines, formed during the Little Ice Age (between around 1550-1850). By virtue of its size and state of conservation, Arsine’s historic moraine system is an exception on the scale of the Western Alps. Usually, such moraine “vallums” are reserved for small altitude glaciers whose waters generate a runoff that is too diffuse to be able to clear away the detrital proglacial accumulations (for example the Réou d’Arsine glacier).

The melting and significant retreat of the Arsine glacier in the 1980s posed water retention and therefore safety problems. the RTM thus carried out work to lower the level of the lakes, the volume of which raised concerns about a rupture of the moraine and therefore a risk of flooding in the village of Casset. The melting of the glacier is probably slowing down because the glacier has evolved into a black glacier and the materials that cover it play an insulating role.

Laurichard glacier
Its width is about 200 meters at the top for 50 meters at the front. On the surface, very abundant pebbles (about 4 to 5 meters thick) protect the “internal” ice from summer temperatures. This rocky glacier comes from a scree which has buried ice coming either from a transformation of snowfields or from avalanche deposits, or from refreezing of meltwater, thus forming a kind of “ice concrete”… yet relatively mobile. They form where the walls produce a lot of scree. They are a real concrete of ice and boulders because the interstices between the boulders behave like cold traps and fill with ice from the snow and melt water. They are true modelers of mountain landscapes and, whether active or fossil, they constitute veritable reservoirs of wate.

The Ecrins park is watered by a dozen main torrents, which then flow into two distinct rivers: the Drac to the west and north and the Durance to the east and south.

Tributaries Drac
From the most eastern to the most western:
the Romanche takes its source from the Plate des Agneaux glacier, at an altitude of 2,143 m. It flows into the Drac after 78.3 km.
the Vénéon takes its source from the Pilatte glacier, at an altitude of 2,577 m. It flows into the Romanche after 33.5 km.
La Bonne has its source at Lac des Pissoux, near the Font Turbat refuge, at an altitude of 2,632 m. It flows into the Drac after 40.1 km.
the Malsanne has its source at Lac du Vallon, at an altitude of 2,493 m. It flows into the Bonne after 15.4 km.
the Séveraisse takes its source from the Chabournéou glacier, at an altitude of 2,336 m. After having watered the Valgaudemar valley, it flows into the Drac after 32.9 km.
the Drac Blanc has its source in the Rougnoux valley, at an altitude of 2,419 m. Also called Drac de Champoléon, he joined the Drac Noir in the town of Champoléon.
the Black Drac is considered the mother branch of the Drac. It therefore takes its source in the Mourre-Froid massif, at an altitude of 2,423 m, and flows into Isère after 130.2 km.

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Tributaries of the Durance
From the most eastern to the most western:
the Guisane has its source at the Col du Lautaret, at an altitude of 2,552 m. It flows into the Durance at Briançon, after 27.7 km.
the Gyr and the Onde form the Gyronde, which flows into the Durance after 23.6 km.
the Fournel has its source at the Pic de la Cavale, at an altitude of 2,908 m. It flows into the Durance at l’Argentière-la-Bessée after 19.2 km.
the Biaysse has its source at the Col d’Orcières, at an altitude of 2,611 m. It flows into the Durance after 17.4 km.
the Rabioux rises in the Valley of Tissap at 2251 m altitude. It flows into the Durance after 15.5 km.
the Réallon torrent has its source in the Montagne de Charges, at an altitude of 2,350 m. It flows into the Lac de Serre-Ponçon after 19.8 km.

The park also has a large number of spectacular lakes.
Lauvitel Lake is the deepest and largest in the Park: it is between 25 and 35 ha in area and between 40 and 65 m deep. It is located at the foot of the Aiguille de Vénosc, near the Deux Alpes station.
Very close to it are the Plan Vianney lake which is home to many salmon and the Muzelle lake.
Lake Lauzon is located on the borders of the departments of Drôme, Isère and Hautes-Alpes, in the Dévoluy massif.
Lac des Pisses is located near the ski resort of Orcières.
The Crupillouse lakes in Champoléon are accessible by a hike offering viewpoints and passages near the waterfalls.
The Pétarel lakes are a tourist attraction in the Valgaudemar valley.
Lac du Pavé is the highest and coldest in the park: at an altitude of 2,820 m, the water is 4 ° C on the surface.
Many polar lakes, such as the Eychauda, Rouies or Arsine Glacier lakes, remain frozen during most of the year.

In the Ecrins National Park, at least 4,149 species of plants and animals have been observed. They are distributed differently according to the existing environments, in connection with geological conditions, altitude, climate, exposure, etc..

The richness of the fauna of the Ecrins is due to the diversity of its ecological conditions: the Provençal vole and the ocellated lizard, southern species, rub shoulders with the snow vole and the rock ptarmigan, relics of the last glaciations. More than 350 species of vertebrates have been identified. As for invertebrates, only a fraction of the population has revealed its mysteries. To preserve this exceptional natural heritage which motivated the creation of the Ecrins National Park, it is important to know it well. The various inventory, monitoring or study programs undertaken in the territory all pursue this objective of acquiring knowledge in the service of the conservation management of wild fauna.

For more than 40 years, the officers of the Ecrins National Park, sometimes with the help of specialists, have collected more than 300,000 data on fauna in order to know which species frequent the massif, how their populations evolve or even how these interact. species with the other activities of the territory. So many questions that a space manager must be able to answer.

The heart of the Ecrins National Park is a special protection area for the conservation of birds within the framework of the European Natura 2000 network. Twelve species of birds have been selected there as priority species. First among them, the rock ptarmigan is the subject of particular attention in terms of demographic monitoring but also of protection of these nesting areas. Its close cousin the black grouse, sensitive to disturbance in winter by leisure activities, is not forgotten, as are the large raptors. Ecrins National Park The golden eagle has been regularly counted since 1985; nearly 40 couples now frequent the Ecrins. The bearded vulture and the griffon and monk vultures, once eliminated from the Alps, once again regularly fly over the mountain pastures. Vast counting operations, privileged moments of sharing with the public, are organized each year: in August for the vultures and in October for the bearded vulture.

An emblematic species of the massif, the chamois is a sentinel to prevent the risk of pathogen transmission between domestic herds and wildlife. The monitoring implemented by the teams in the field is based on the collection of indicators of ecological change which are not only concerned with changes in numbers but also with the performance of populations: reproduction, survival parameters, condition. sanitary,… Ecrins National ParkThe ibex are once again frequenting the Ecrins thanks to the reintroductions that have been carried out there. In addition to annual counts, a GPS tracking program has been initiated.

Wild fauna
The fauna of the park covers more than 350 species of vertebrates (mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians) and a still unknown number of invertebrates (insects, snails, centipedes, spiders, beetles, crayfish, etc.). Most early are known by observers, while the second category includes still many discoveries to be.

Many species of mammals are present in the park, such as:
the chamois (about 12 000)
the Alpine ibex (about 600 individuals divided into 3 populations)
the alpine marmot
the mountain hare
the ermine
the red squirrel
the red fox
some bats, including murines

The gray wolf and the boreal lynx are sometimes passing through the Park.

The birds are also present, including the golden eagle (37 couples identified), the ptarmigan (one of 10 species of birds to preserve priority in the heart of the national park), the black grouse, the griffon vulture, the wallcreeper the alpine finch, the owls owls and pygmy owl Europe, the bearded vulture (who do not nest), the peregrine falcon and owl Grand duke.

Among the insects, the rosalie of the Alps is very present, and among the reptiles, we find the asp viper.

Over 2,000 species of plants can be found in the park. These are distributed according to the environment, but also according to the altitudes, exposures, etc. The pines and larches are very frequent on the slopes, as for the flowering plants, one can quote in particular the emblematic species which are the blue thistle of the Alps, the shoe of Venus, the edelweiss, the genepi, but thus the saxifrage with leaves opposite (Saxifraga oppositifolia) which has been found up to 4070 m altitude in the park and which is the tallest plant in France. But there are many other species, including fungi, lichens, etc. The presence and maintenance of certain species in environments such as hay meadows is sometimes linked to ancestral agricultural practices.

A territory with varied climates, altitudes and reliefs, the Ecrins National Park offers a wide variety of ecological conditions that may suit a number of plants. This is how it is home to more than 2,500 plant species, ranging from the robust larch of steep slopes to the microscopic chlamydomonas of snowfields. Some plants have remarkable life stories, ranging from the heirs of ancient agricultural practices (hay meadows, extensive cereal crops) to high mountain explorers.A monitor, butterfly net under his arm, tries to determine a sedge with a magnifying glass Cyril Coursier – Ecrins National Park

The flora of the Ecrins National Park is characterized by both the presence of great rarities and that of species characteristic of the vegetation of the southern Alps. The first are endemic to the Alps, such as the Queen of the Alps (Eryngium alpinum) and the Dauphiné cinquefoil (Potentilla delphinensis), or plants with very fragmented distributions, rare wherever you look. This is the case for the silver geranium (Geranium argenteum) or the androsace of Vandelli (Androsace vandellii). For these “heritage” species, regular monitoring has been established by applying a protocol set up at the alpine level by the Alpes-Ain Flora Conservation Network (RCFAA). This network, run by the National Alpine Botanical Conservatory, brings together a large number of nature protection organizations. The protocol created within it thus makes it possible to follow alpine endemics, such as the queen of the Alps (Eryngium alpinum), or plants with very fragmented distributions, rare wherever you look, the androsace of Vandelli (Androsace vandellii).

The species which characterize the southern mountain areas are nonetheless of great diversity: the stipe (Stipa eriaucolis), the very cute bluegrass (Poa perconcinna) and the thuriferous juniper (Juniperus thurifera), forming steppe lawns and matorrals dominating the fossil terraces of the Durance; larch (Larix decidua) and arolla pine (Pinus cembro), which since the end of the glaciations have been the main highland forests; spikenard (Nardus stricta) and evergreen sedge (Carex sempervirens), abundant plants of alpine lawns; and finally, to cite just a few examples, musk saxifrage (Saxifraga moscata) and leaf fly (Silene acaulis subsp. excapa). Similarly, another program aims to estimate the extent to which sphagnum mosses – peat bog mosses – and their biological activity show medium-term changes in climatic conditions. To this diversity, we will not forget to add that of which knowledge is still in the making: mosses, phytoplankton from fresh water and the surprising microscopic algae of glaciers (Chlamydomonas nivalis).

At the foot of the high mountains of silence and light of the Ecrins National Park, an immense mosaic of meadows and cliffs, torrents and alpine pastures, forests and crops, scattered hamlets unfolds. These landscapes, which we perceive often like a free postcard, were patiently woven with a thousand stubborn gestures, fashioned by the hands of mountain people, peasants, shepherds and foresters.

Built landscapes
The built landscapes made up of terraces, groves, hutches, low walls, canals, vines,… contribute to the quality of the landscapes of the Ecrins national park. These include the bocage of Champsaur, the terraces of Haute Romanche or Embrunais, the hutches of Haut Champsaur, the canal des Moines in Valbonnais or the dry stone walls that can be found everywhere on the territory of the Ecrins. Many of them are recognized beyond the limits of the massif. Clearly identifiable landmarks in the landscape, these motifs, which sometimes come from very old practices, are above all true vectors of the identity of the Ecrins territory. They indeed represent strong images that tell the story of the Ecrins. In addition to this landscape and heritage value, some of these motifs are also of ecological interest in terms of species and natural habitats.

Reflections of a mountain shaped by centuries of occupation of human activities, the landscapes built are part of the tangible and intangible cultural heritage (practices and know-how) of the Ecrins massif and promote inter-generational contacts between residents of the same valley. Synonymous with attractiveness, the heritage value of many built landscapes. Maintenance of the canals at the Chapel in Valgaudemar Gilbert Durand – Parc national des EcrinsIn addition to their heritage and landscape interest, irrigation canals play a key role in agricultural activity. The five canals of Valgaudemar also present ecological issues since they help maintain wetlands and preserve natural habitats and associated species.

Towns and villages
Cities, towns and villages have developed in the valleys, on the slopes, plains and plateaus according to the specificities of the site in which they are registered. The original shape of the villages is thus linked to topography, climate, resources, natural risks, etc. Witnesses of the relationship between man and the territory, towns and villages are landmarks in the landscape of the Ecrins and places of centrality and conviviality for the inhabitants.

From the heart of villages to isolated mountain hamlets, the territory is endowed with built complexes which represent important landmarks in the landscape and whose heritage value is partly linked to their history and their construction techniques. They contribute to the quality of the living environment of the inhabitants and to the attractiveness of the territory for tourists and new residents. The slope is not an obstacle to construction. It allows, on the contrary, to benefit from better sunshine and more distant views, while limiting the impact on the landscape by avoiding cuttings / embankments and riprap. Several solutions are possible: overhanging terraces, built-in cellars, half-levels,…

The agricultural areas on hillsides are mainly used as off-season pastures and hay meadows. Located near the permanent habitat, they represent important areas for the maintenance of agricultural activity and contribute to the quality and the landscape diversity of the territory. Witnesses of mountain farming practices, the hillside agricultural areas contribute to the landscape diversity of the Ecrins and represent unique landscapes that convey a harmonious image of the relationship between man and nature. The slopes, because of their intermediate location, are subject to a strong dynamic of vegetation. Thus, their under-exploitation, or their abandonment, causes a rapid closure of the landscape. However, they participate in the landscape and ecological diversity and represent an important resource for pastoral and agricultural activity.

The agricultural areas of plains and plateaus are found in all the valleys of the territory in different forms ranging from the large hedged plain of Bourg d’Oisans to the bottom of the narrow valley of Valgaudemar or Vénéon. They are the privileged place for agricultural activity but also accommodate many uses: housing, activities, communications,… which must coexist in generally restricted and constrained spaces. Rare and coveted, the agricultural areas of plains and plateaus present major economic, social and cultural challenges but also make it possible to guarantee the ecological and landscape diversity of the Ecrins and to maintain open views of the summits.

In addition to its major economic, social and cultural role, agricultural activity maintains the landscapes. However, the sprawl of towns, the increase in the cost of land, the emergence of economic opportunities consuming rural space and the increase in local use conflicts weaken it. Thus, in addition to preserving agricultural land, it is essential to support farmers in the face of these developments. Parc national des EcrinsTrees and shrubs of the same nature as the surrounding hedges or woodlands can be planted near agricultural buildings to reduce the visual impact of constructions. As an extension of the existing plant fabric, these elements will constitute a smooth transition between the different types of space: built, agricultural and natural. Upstream thinking on the location, layout and architectural treatment of agricultural buildings (shapes, volumes, materials, etc.) also allows better integration into the landscape of constructions on the site.

The forest which covers 19% of the optimal membership area of the Ecrins National Park and only 10% of the heart, is nevertheless very present in the landscape. Depending on the altitude, the exposure and the latitude, it presents itself in different aspects: dense and uniform fir forests in ubac, mixed alluvial forests, larches… The forests thus participate in the quality and the landscape diversity of the territory through its various textures and colors. Multifunctional, the forest has many interests: economic, heritage (biodiversity and diversity of landscapes), social (space for relaxation and recreation), energy and protection (natural risks).

The forest of the Ecrins National Park performs many functions: wood production, protection against natural risks, maintenance of remarkable biodiversity and landscapes, which only sustainable forestry development can guarantee. The maintenance of different types of forest stands in terms of age, species and density makes it possible to support a variety of natural environments, bases of the landscape, fauna and flora richness of the territory. Ecrins National ParkIn order to promote the development of beech in the national forest of Molines-en-Champsaur, located in the heart of the Ecrins national park, and to support the transition between conifers and beech groves, an “improvement cut” of larches and spruces planted 80 years ago proved necessary. Following close consultation between the Ecrins National Park and the National Forestry Office (ONF), the alternative solution of horse-drawn logging was chosen in order to avoid creating a forest track in the heart of the park.

The water-related landscapes are strong elements of the Ecrins National Park. They mark the territory by their shape, their movement and their sound. They are found in all sectors in the form of rivers, torrents, lakes, glaciers and marshes. Depending on these forms, the atmospheres can then be very different: wild and sound for mountain torrents, peaceful around high-altitude lakes or even recreational around landscaped water bodies. The landscapes linked to water represent major elements of the territory: they are the support of a significant landscape and ecological diversity and an essential resource for many economic, tourist and leisure activities.

Omnipresent on the territory of the Ecrins in various forms, water presents multiple interests: ecological, landscape, economic, tourist. Many natural and anthropogenic factors influence the resource itself but also the evolution of these landscapes which contribute to the quality of the living environment and to the attractiveness of the territory. Riparian forests present many interests in terms of biodiversity, landscape quality and diversity, prevention of pollution and natural risks, fight against soil erosion,… However, for several decades, the different uses and developments of rivers are responsible for their degradation and the many related consequences (erosion, flooding, etc.). Ecrins National ParkThe degradation of the bank of the Bidoye pond ultimately threatened the aquatic flora and fauna as well as a tufa formed nearby. Restoration of the entire wet system was therefore necessary in order to preserve its functionality and maintain heritage environments and species: tufa, small ribbon, yellow-bellied ringer, etc.

Any territorial project carries a more or less asserted cultural dimension. The Ecrins National Park is no exception to this assertion. It is in charge of a general inventory of natural, cultural and landscape heritage resources. Never finished, this inventory first meets the management requirements of natural environments and species at stake. It is nevertheless accompanied by a knowledge-sharing policy which, in itself, is a contribution to culture. These permanent forms of acquiring and disseminating knowledge participate in the construction of a shared territorial project.

Parc national des EcrinsIt is in this spirit that the Ecrins National Park is engaged with partners from the Hautes-Alpes and Isère departments in the collection of testimonies on the uses, perceptions of altitude spaces and their singularities, which ‘they are historical or current. It strives to find original and participatory forms of sharing these field experiences and these life stories: sound portraits, films, exhibitions, conferences, digital broadcasting,… All of these approaches, in particular those undertaken on the “character” of the territory, have also brought about the emergence of strong heritage values around an intangible heritage: silence, extent, naturalness, permanence.

Art and nature
Painters and naturalist draughtsmen find here, on the Emparis plateau, some watercolors Pierre Masclaux In its time and in a lighter way than at present, a work around the artistic interpretations of the territories and their heritages was carried out. Through ten years of hosting artists in residence, the “Art and Nature” operation has allowed the expression of painters, sculptors, photographers and writers from several countries… It has resulted in the place of workshops, the realization of exhibitions, editions and the constitution of iconographic collections: painting, photographs, sound montages,… These approaches have also accompanied a descriptive approach to the massif which has resulted in an interpretation scheme and devices for reading heritage.

Tourism is a major economic activity in the Ecrins massif. Through its presence and its actions in favor of sustainable tourism, the National Park contributes to this by promoting the discovery of the territory. A program of “Discovery” outings and stays is offered with mountain guides and guides. These are outings supervised by mountain professionals who follow training courses on the heritage of the Ecrins and who commit to a quality eco-tourism approach with the National Park.

“Park houses”, located in several of the municipalities in which it is located, welcome visitors looking for information or discoveries and are also the place for exhibitions.

More than 700 km of trails allow you to hike the territory of the Ecrins National Park; some of these are part of the route of the long-distance hiking trail 54 (GR 54), which circles the Ecrins massif and passes through the heart of the park. Of mountain huts and special shelters exist in some places on the course of these trails.


Hiking is the best way to discover the Ecrins National Park and its natural and cultural heritage. The pace of the walk allows you to take the time to explore and to best appreciate the landscapes, fauna and flora, to recharge your batteries, to meet the territory and its specificities… It is to facilitate this discovery that the Ecrins National Park has developed a network of hiking trails in the heart of the park which takes up existing trails that generations of mountain dwellers have patiently created and maintained for multiple uses. These trails are now maintained by the Ecrins National Park and the National Forestry Office, in agreement with the municipalities concerned. The network managed by the Park now represents more than 700 km of routes accessible to as many people as possible.

About 750 km of trails are maintained in the heart of the national park. To these are added a hundred footbridges and numerous pedestrian signage panels. For the visitor, the trail is the first approach to the territory of the national park. The quality of these itineraries is a guarantee for the hospitality offer in the Ecrins. It lists the hiking routes to access the heart of the park from the valleys and villages. Providing access to the discovery of the heritage wealth of the massif, these trails keep a very important utility function for pastoralism and forest management.

Pathways to biodiversity
From the eternal snows of the Ecrins to the Riviera shores, from the Mercantour peaks to the Camargue ponds, passing through the Verdon gorges and the Luberon massif, discover the diversity of life by escaping on the Paths of Biodiversity. This initiative is an original idea of the Regional Network of Natural Areas (RREN PACA) which brings together the managers of the largest natural areas in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur: National Parks, Regional Natural Parks, National Reserves, Departmental Councils, etc.

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