The larches of Balavaux

A walk among the largest and oldest larch trees of Europe. Other highlights: a scenic gondola ride, the mountaintop “Black Lake”, forest trails and the pretty Bisse de Saxon irrigation channel.

The larch is the artist of the Valais forests, adding magnificent touches of colour throughout the seasons. This is the only European conifer to grow new needles every year – and the cycle of colours is enchanting. The pale green shoots, golden pollen cones and red cone blossoms of spring give way in summer to lush green cones and needles. In autumn, the needles change colour again, turning swathes of mountainside to gold – in glorious contrast with the dark green of the pines. Normally, the trees grow tall and slender in stands within the forests, but given plenty of sunshine and space – as at the alpine pastures of Balavaux – they mature to become solitary giants. Here, walkers find ancient, gnarled specimens that seem to have come out of a fairy tale. There are more than 250 trees here, aged from about 300 to nearly 1,000 years old. One veteran has a circumference of 14.6 metres, and may well be the largest in Europe. The outing begins with a gondola ride from Nendaz to Tracouet (2,200 m), a summit offering panoramic views of the whole Rhône valley. Close by, the Lac Noir (“Black Lake”) provides a pretty backdrop for an international alphorn festival every year. Highlights include competitions, processions and group performances featuring more than 150 players in costume on the shores of the lake. From here, the trail loops around to the sunny, south-facing slopes of Balavaux – about half an hour’s walk – before leading down among the larches to the Bisse de Saxon irrigation channel. Created in the mid-19th century, this is the longest in Valais, known as the “King of bisses”. The trail follows the bisse upstream before dropping down through forest and pasture back to the resort. Highlights Tracouet – scenic gondola ride up, panoramic summit, pretty lake, restaurant with sunny terrace, playground Alpage de Balavaux – fairy-tale larch trees up to 1,000 years old Two atmospheric mountain restaurants en route with panoramic terraces Bisse de Saxon – path along historical irrigation channel through the forest

Turn-by-turn directions

The trail first leads down towards the Lac Noir, before looping through the pastures around to the Alpage de Balavaux, located within the municipality of Isérables. For a refreshment stop, choose between two atmospheric mountain restaurants: the Cabane de Balavaud at the top of the alpage, and the Chalet des Alpes down at Prarion.

Just below, the trail joins the Bisse de Saxon, and follows it steadily upstream through the forest, crossing the peaceful clearing of Pra da Dzeu along the way. Eventually the trail passes under the gondola, and at Le Bourlâ leaves the course of the bisse to drop northwards down the slopes to Haute-Nendaz.

Start: Tracouet (2196 m)
Destination: Nendaz Tourist office (1326 m)

Author's recommendation

Allow a little extra time to walk around the Lac Noir: the setting is enchanting.

Technical information

  • Altitude

    2196 m 1326 m

  • Ascent

    41 m

  • Descent

    911 m

  • Technique

    Bewertung: 2.0 von 5.0 Punkten

  • Stamina

    Bewertung: 2.0 von 5.0 Punkten

  • Experience

    Bewertung: 6 von 5.0 Punkten

  • Landscape

    Bewertung: 6.0 von 5.0 Punkten

Public transport

Train to Sion, then postal bus to Haute-Nendaz (gondola station), and finally gondola to Tracouet. Find full timetable information at www.sbb.ch


A9 motorway, exit 26 (Sion-Ouest) if driving from the west or exit 27 (Sion-Est) if approaching from the east. Follow signs for Haute-Nendaz up to centre of resort.


Various car parks in resort (Prameira, Mer de Glace, Pré de la Patinoire); fee payable.


We recommend: 

  • good footwear
  • clothing suitable for the weather: always carry a waterproof jacket
  • hat or cap
  • sunscreen
  • bottle for water
  • picnic
  • camera
  • binoculars (optional)
  • hiking poles (optional)
  • printout of this hike (click “Print” icon, to download)  

For certain walks:

  • Swimwear

Safety information

Use of the trails and the information on this website is at hikers’ own risk. Local conditions may entail changes to routes. Valais/Wallis Promotion accepts no liability for the accuracy and completeness of information on this website.

For all hikes:

  • Do not leave any waste in nature. 
  • Please be considerate to other trail users, and to the plants and animals.
  • Close gates after passing through.
  • Use marked trails only, and observe all signposting – for your own safety, to safeguard grazing animals and to avoid disturbing wildlife.
  • Bring a map. Download full description of this route including large-scale map by clicking on “Print” icon, top right of this page.

For mountain hikes:

  • Take extra care protecting yourself from the sun at altitude. UV radiation can be exceptionally strong, even in cloudy weather.
  • Plan hike carefully: take into consideration fitness level of each participant, weather forecast and season.
  • Weather conditions can change quickly in the mountains, without warning. Appropriate clothing is therefore essential, along with adequate supplies of food and water. In uncertain weather, turn back in good time.

For high-altitude hikes:

  • Inform others of the route you plan to take. Whenever possible, avoid going alone.
  • Do not venture onto glaciers without a mountain guide.
  • Take note of the warning signs that point out the constant danger in river beds and along watercourses below dams and reservoirs: water levels may rise rapidly without warning.

Additional information

More information about the destination:


The tourist office in Nendaz has got brochures and information material about hiking in the region.


SwissTopo Map 1:25’000: 1306 Sion