“Many of Chamonix's highlights packed into one short hike.
— Nick Wilder
River/Creek · Views · Wildflowers
A great option for the whole family with plenty for the kids to see and explore along the way.
Tram ride: check. Stunning alpine trail: check. Up close with a glacier: check. Wildflowers and streams: check. Train ride back to town: check.
Though you can make this much harder and longer if you want, this short hike packs in an amazing number of highlights in just a couple miles.
Take the lift up to the Plan de l’Aiguille and head downhill on eroded switchbacks to a cute restaurant a couple hundred yards below. The scenery is already stunning in all directions. Follow signs for Montenvers and traverse across towards the Mer de Glace glacier. It rolls a bit but is never taxing.
You start just above treeline, but near the end you'll get into more vegetation and a prettier section of trail, if that's possible. When you get to the trail junction with the Signal Forbes
Trail, go left for an easier and faster route to Montenvers, but this Featured Hike takes the steep switchbacks up Signal Forbes
for several hundred feet before leveling off and curving around to huge views of the Montets and then the Mer de Glace. There is a huge field of cairns that seems to amuse people... Follow them right to the western edge for the best views of the pointy spires in all directions. After soaking it in, continue on the north and follow switchbacks down to the train station.
Once at Montenvers, take the tiny tram down to the glacier and explore around. The well-documented glacier retreat is terribly sad. Find the sign that indicates where it was when you were born and you'll realize just how fast the glacier (and world) is changing. You can either hike back to Chamonix or take the train like most folks. This trail is immensely popular, so it's a bit rough and crowded, but well worth that small price.
History & Background
The hotel at Montenvers has been around a long time - in the 18th century, Victorian-era tourists would take mules up and walk the glacier. The glacier was much larger at the time, and extended almost to the valley floor.