Hard Left Off the Pavement: Best Mountain Biking Routes Of The Oisans
The French Alps are an infinity pool of breathtaking landscapes and mountain bike trails alike. There’s no better place to venture off the beaten path and have the experience of a lifetime than the Oisans, a mountainside paradise for all MTB enthusiasts. In this article, we will discuss the five best routes in the area, detailing the journey in all its splendour.
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MTB Locations In The Oisans
1. Emparis Plateau
Image Source: Pixabay
While the circular ride on the Emparis Plateau isn’t necessarily demanding from a technical point of view, it will take a physical toll on you eventually. Nevertheless, it is a wonderful opportunity to witness the stunning natural lakes of the Oisans, such as Lac Noir and Lac Lérié, while keeping an eye on the glaciers of La Meije.
The trip commences at Le Chazelet, then tails the signs leading to Vallon de la Buffe. The first hamlet on the map is Le Vorze, followed by Le Rivet. One major checkpoint on the route is Baraque de la Buffe, situated at an altitude of 2005 metres. After reaching it, the climb up to the Emparis Plateau truly begins with an ascent of 270 metres.
The Emparis Plateu is situated 2770 metres above sea level. After arriving there, the ride suddenly goes downward to Col Saint Georges for a distance of 100 metres. The next direction to abide by is that to Col du Souchet, on the GR54. Col du Souchet is at an altitude of 2365 metres, and that’s where you can bask in the bucolic beauty of Lac Noir.
The road to Lac Noir is a right turn, and Lac Lac Lérié is nearby as well. After taking the time to enjoy both of these wonders of the French Alps, it is time to descend back to Le Chazelet. The course spreads over 27 kilometres in total, and it can be covered in a total time of four and a half hours. It requires maximum levels of endurance, as well as advanced technical skills.
2. La Grave to Villar d’Arène
Image Source: Flickr
The La Grave to Villar d’Arène is a beautiful looping mountain biking route for cross-country fans. It unfolds over a balcony path in La Grave, on its south-facing slopes to be more exact. From there, the view of the glaciers on La Meije are simply breathtaking. It is the perfect setting for MTB enthusiasts that want to witness the untamed beauty of the Alps and visit some hamlets too.
The journey begins at the Bureau des Guides, then continues down to the ski lift car park and towards the Romanche River. After encountering the bridge, you should take the path to the left in the direction of L'Arboretum. The Sentier des Vallois road follows, and it will take you directly to Villar d'Arène. However, the adventure doesn’t end there.
Once you reach Villar d’Arene, it is time to head towards the church plaza and venture onto the road to Le Pied du Col to complete the loop. From there, you will continue on an ascent to Les Cours, and subsequently turn right to Lac du Pontet and ride alongside it. A downhill section comes next, leading you to Entraigue and Valfroide.
While downhill is quite the challenging and technical style, you needn’t worry on this particular route, as it is a delicate descent that can be tackled by intermediate riders as well. Next, a single track path will lead you to the snack bar at Le Chazelet ski resort. If you’re feeling peckish, this is the ideal spot to get a tasty bite to eat.
The entire duration of the journey is around three and a half hours, and the road has a length of 30 kilometres. If you would like to schedule a few stops along the way to admire the scenery and have a nibble, it will take you four hours to complete it. After all, you don’t want to miss the opportunity to feast over at Le Chazelet.
3. Rivier d’Allemont
Image Source: Flickr
The Rivier d’Allemont mountain biking trail is an ideal choice for a quick change of scenery. This idyllic, yet difficult course will transport you deep within the heart of the gorgeous Eau d’Olle valley. After the abrupt ascent to the river plateau, you can enjoy a leisurely descent towards Le Molard to take the edge off and truly soak in the scenery.
There are two main ways to reach the Le Rivier d’Allemont at the beginning of this route. The shorter alternative is on the D526 road. However, if you’re looking for the full picturesque experience, don’t be afraid to take the path less travelled and head down to Articol-le-Bas. Then, you will climb up to the river on a steep, narrow, and challenging lane.
Look for the signs leading to La Chapelle to enter on the GR549, a spacious and fast street that takes you all the way up to Sous le Clot du Molard. From there, the ride back down to Le Molard starts. This portion is known for its sharp switchbacks characteristic to L’Oisans mountain bike trails.
At this point, you will also encounter the beautiful and mysterious ruins of Le Gay, situated at an altitude of 1332 metres. The remainder of the trip unfolds through a magical woodland area that will certainly make an impression on you. To complete the loop, all you have to do is climb back up to Le Rivier d'Allemont and continue 250 for metres until you reach Articol.
This is a relatively short route, as it has a length of just 13 kilometres. However, its difficulty level is a high one, and it will take three hours to complete. It doesn’t require as much endurance as the ride on the Emparis Plateau, but you will still to prepare beforehand so that your physical condition is at its best.
4. Forêt de l’Ours
Image Source: Flickr
Mountain biking on the Forêt de l’Ours route is the quintessential Oisans experience, as it covers the descent between Alpe d’Huez, the renowned ski resort, and Bourg d’Oisans. It is a rare road that is ideal for an enduro MTB session, but this also implies that only the most capable riders should approach it.
The first step of the way is to ride up to the top of the Alpe d’Huez resort, to the place known as the Rond Point des Pistes. At the roundabout, take the Chemin Panoramique, or panoramic road. This will give you the chance to witness the inimitable natural beauty of the Grand Serre, one of the most scenic summits in the Chartreuse massif of the French Alps.
There, you will find a cleverly positioned viewpoint table where you can stop for a few minutes to admire the view and take some pictures. Then, the descent towards Combe du Bras begins on a path that crosses directly through the forest. This is the most difficult portion of the ride yet, as the soil gets really slippery quite fast.
Arriving at the Huez – Villard-Reculas tarmac road, head right towards Villard-Reculas for three kilometres, then ride on the notorious Pas de la Confession. This path offers the most idyllic sight of the Bourg d’Oisans plain you can imagine. Once in the village of Villard-Reculas, find the car park and embark on the grassy path.
Once you reach the war memorial, the brief descent Forêt de l’Ours begins. The woodland road is fast, but a technical portion follows at La Fontaine de l’Ours. From there, you will arrive straight into the Bourg d’Oisans plains. You can choose to continue towards Bourg d’Oisans, or you can go towards Allemont instead.
The descent is quite spectacular, as you commence the trip at an altitude of 1850 metres, then end it at just 720 metres above sea level. Nevertheless, the route is a short one, spanning over 17 kilometres, and it can be completed in as little as two hours if you put your mind to it. Still, you should keep in mind that it is a classic enduro track that is suitable for advanced riders only.
5. Col du Sabot
Image Source: Wikipedia
The Col du Sabot route is the true bicycle tour of the French Alps, thanks to the wide variety of roads and scenery you will engage with along the way. From the starting point, ride down to the chalets of Col d’En Bas, and expect some bumpy pastureland before you reach the paved lane that will take you to La Villette.
These streets are often subject to heavy foot traffic from locals and hikers, as well as livestock crossings. Thus, you should always pay attention to the road and refrain from riding too fast. On the old village path through Vaujany you will arrive at the church. From there on out, pedal 50 more metres until you arrive at the cemetery, then head left.
This carries you to Le Perrier, and then on the most technical segment of the ride all the way to the stone quarry in Flumet. On your way to Allemont, you will pass by the wondrous Lac du Verney, one of the many bodies of water in the Oisans worth admiring. This route is also an impressive altitude switch, as you begin at 2100 metres in the air and conclude at just 730 metres.
However, the ride is quite a short one, seeing that it measures a bit over 12 kilometres. Thus, you will be able to complete in under two hours with the appropriate training and preparation prior to it. And the best part is that it isn’t overly technical, and it won’t drain much of your stamina either, which makes it the perfect option for mountain bikers of any skill level.
The Bottom Line
The Oisans is the true paradise of mountain bikers due to the diverse array of trails that offer unique experiences. The most attractive aspect of the area is how beautifully it combines varied terrain and riding conditions with the opportunity to witness some of the most magnificent sights the French Alps have to offer. Any of the five routes discussed above is testament of this.
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We at Peak Adventures have been operating in Vaujany since 1988, the longest operation in resort. We have the fantastic catered Chalet Saskia to offer you, from June through to August… After a long day in the saddle; soak in our hot tub looking up at the La Fare waterfall or relax in our incredible sauna which has a view down the Romanche valley. We’ve even got a minibus and trailer should you need a pick up!