There are seven national or regional parks in the area covered by this chapter: Vanoise, Chartreuse, Bauges, Écrins, Queyras, Vercors and Haut Jura. All of these contain gentle day-walks and more demanding treks – not least classic long-distance paths like the Tour du Mont Blanc – which require one or two weeks’ walking. Most of these routes are clearly marked and dotted with refuge huts; the routes are also described in high detail by the Topo-guides guidebooks. Nonetheless, even the most experienced walkers or skiers treat these mountains and their unpredictable weather conditions with due respect. Even low-level walks in the Alps during summer often require a good level of fitness and specialist equipment, such as crampons or ice axes. You should take account of the weather conditions (which can vary considerably between the valleys and peaks), of the potentially debilitating effects of high altitude, and of the serious danger of avalanches.
The Alps were the first great centre for European rock climbers in the nineteenth century and still offer countless routes that can be enjoyed by both novices and world-class climbers. A more recent development has been the creation of via ferrata courses, in which wires and ladders are bolted onto the rock so that even inexperienced climbers (wearing harnesses and ropes) can make ascents which would otherwise be impossible for them. There are via ferrata courses being developed across the whole region, but at present two of the largest centres for this popular sport are at Serre Chevalier and in the Parc National des Écrins.
The Bureau Info Montagne office in Grenoble and the Office de Haute Montagne in Chamonix can provide information on the best guides and the most up-to-date information on all the GR paths and the best via ferrata courses, while local tourist offices often produce detailed maps of walks in their own areas.