France’s second-largest national park, Parc National des Écrins (www.ecrins-parcnational.fr) stretches between the towns of Bourg d’Oisans, Briançon and Gap. Glacial action and the thrashing Durance and Drac rivers carved out this 918 sq km expanse of mountains and moraines. More than 100 peaks, topping out at 4102m Barre des Écrins, rise above more than 40 glaciers, beech forests, waterfalls and flower-sprinkled alpine meadows. Stomping ground for hikers between mid-June and mid-September, the park has almost 700km of trails, some following footpaths used by shepherds and smugglers for centuries.
Approaching from the north of the park, Bourg d’Oisans (50km southeast of Grenoble) is a good jumping-off point. Briançon and Gap (respectively, east and south of the park) are also suitable places to gather info and picnic supplies before lacing up your hiking boots.