Day Hike: Lacs de la Pra

I’m so fresh off this hike that the soreness hasn’t fully hit me yet (“it will,” hiss my vindictive knees and hips in menacing whispers, “it will”), but I wanted to get this post up before the cold really settles into the mountains.

The Lacs de la Pra are a smattering of tiny lakes in the Belledonne mountain range, a western section of the Alps. And what a section:

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I don’t have access to a car, so I’m always excited to discover trails that feel a little wild but are accessible by public transportation. To get to the Lacs de la Pra, you can take the 6010 bus from Grenoble to Chamrousse, a small town/ski resort. Just a few hundred feet from the bus stop, yellow directional signs point you up into the hills (which are part of the ski area in winter). Once you’re on track and beyond the chairlifts, the trails are clearly marked.

I walked from Chamrousse to the Refuge de la Pra without taking any of several appealing detours, and also skipped the highest grouping of lakes that sits a ways beyond the refuge because I was concerned about time, but I still saw plenty. The main trail weaves between and alongside several of the lakes: the Lacs de Robert, Lac Longet, Lac Léama, and Lac Claret. Each lake is like a little gemstone fitted into the rugged landscape around it, which features rushing streams, waterfalls, quintessential Alpine trees, the remnants of a colorful wildflower season, puddles that wanted to be lakes, and puddles that used to be lakes. I also saw a marmot. There was mutual fear.

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looks delicious but is maybe poison

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waterfall near the Refuge de la Pra

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magical-looking lake

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!!!!!!

I wouldn’t be surprised if the people who constructed these trails said, “we just painted blazes on random stuff,” because much of the hike involves climbing through what looks like rockfall (and wondering if the friends of the rocks you’re climbing over are waiting to fall on you from the cliffs above), walking across shallow streams, and scooting down slippery slopes while silently begging your ankles and knees not to desert you. I loved it.

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Doesn’t look like a trail to you? Well it is.

The day began with sunshine and clear views, but soon the clouds and fog swept in. The mountains seemed all the more mysterious and imposing, then, and it was cold. At between 1600 and 2000 meters, the area is chilly year-round, but even more so after August and in a wet fog (and if you are too stubborn to bring a jacket, ahem).

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sunshine and shadows

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clouds rolling in

Regardless of sky behavior, the entire hike was magnifique. After only an hour and a half walk into the mountains, the stunning scenery of the Lacs Robert come into view as I emerged from the boulders. This is a good destination for those who want to do a shorter hike, as a round-trip walk to the Lacs Robert takes between 2 and 4 hours, depending on hiking speed and style.

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I’ve seen some beautiful sights, but few so heart-stopping as the Lacs Robert and their surrounding peaks. If you are fit enough to do some scrambling, go.

Practical information: 

Time required: The time estimates I’ve found are very conservative, probably because of the amount of scrambling required and the precariousness of the terrain. I finished the round trip in about six hours, with a short stop at the refuge and periodic pauses for photos along the way, at a faster clip than is probably wise.

Level of difficulty: Like I said, you’ll need a little muscle and, at minimum, a lack of fear of heights/falling. As for strenuousness, there’s not a huge gain in altitude and the trail alternates between flat stretches and brief but steep climbs and descents. It would also be useful to have decent balance and solid knees to get up and across loose boulders. Also, don’t bring your dog like the idiots I got stuck behind on my way back to Chamrousse.

Transportation: Check the Transisere website for the 6010 bus schedule (costs about 4.60 euros each way) and the Chamrousse website for other transportation info, especially when the seasons change. The bus takes a little over an hour and runs just a few times a day in the off-season (but there are more trips and shuttles during the high season), so it’s important to plan ahead.

Other: If you’re into climbing (like with helmets and ropes), there are a number of climbing sites in the area near the Lacs Robert. And if you’re into seeing some great views with minimum exercise, there is a cable car that runs from Chamrousse up to La Croix (~2200 m).

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