One of the greatest summertime pleasures of the French Alps is hiking in France’s second-largest national park. The glacier-carved, 918-sq-km park has 676km of trails spidering through its forests, alpine meadows and 100-plus peaks – they're best explored between mid-June and mid-September. The park's highest point is at the Barre des Écrins (4102m).
Book 36 hours in advance with Rando Écrins (04 92 502 505; http://rando.ecrins-parcnational.fr/en/pages/transport) for seasonal bus services into the park from gateway towns Gap, Briançon and Bourg d'Oisans.
Popular (and unchallenging) half-day hikes include the Lac du Lauzon circuit (three hours) or the stream-side path to La Cabane de Jas Lacroix (three hours). Families might consider an hour-long ramble around the Tombeau du Poète (Poet's Tomb) or the easy 90-minute walk to Dormillouse village. For a longer trail, the medium-difficulty Grande Cabane trail (five hours) reaches outstanding views of a glacial valley and the tough Col des Tourettes (6½ hours) rewards hikers with a craggy mountain pass speckled with chamois.
The national park's free mobile app (iOs/Android) is very handy for planning hikes around the park, including maps, trail recommendations (you can filter by length or difficulty) and info on flora and fauna. Trail info can be download for offline use. Find more info on http://rando.ecrins-parcnational.fr or search for 'Rando Écrins' (French) or 'Écrins Trekking' (English).
Less of the park is accessible in winter but visitors can ply a number of walking, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing trails. Experience, and a guide, is recommended; get in touch with a Maison du Parc.
Visit the park authority's website (www.ecrins-parcnational.fr/fiches-refuges) for hut specifics and to book.
You'll need to rely on your own wheels in winter, as mountain passes may close due to snow.