This scenic geological trail explores the fascinating history of the formation of the Alps. At the trail’s far end, a vast slab of rock carries the fossilised footprints of crocodile-like reptiles that roamed the earth more than 240 million years ago.
The journey to the start of the route, at the top of the Emosson dam, is an adventure in itself. Hikers can drive or take the bus up, but it is far more impressive to ride up from Le Châtelard VS on the trio of mountain railways run by VerticAlp Emosson.
First comes the Funiculaire du Châtelard, the world’s steepest 2-cabin funicular, with gradients of up to 87%. At the top, passengers change on to Le Train Panoramique, a narrow-gauge railway that skirts dramatically above the deep gorges of Le Bouqui, offering superb views of the Mont-Blanc massif. Finally the Minifunic is a 2-cabin mini-funicular that glides up to the top of dam at 1,965 m.
The Emosson Dam, opened in 1976, is the third-tallest in Valais at 180m, and retains Switzerland’s second largest reservoir in terms of capacity: 225 million cubic metres. The hike also takes in a second dam: Vieux-Emosson, which entered operation in 1955 to provide electricity for the Swiss railway network. Recently the dam wall was raised by another 20 m as part of a spectacular engineering project, currently under construction, whose heart lies deep in the rock under hikers’ feet.
The pioneering scheme, due to enter operation in 2019, is based on an innovative new underground power plant. Two vertical tunnels, each 100 m taller than the Eiffel Tower, will carry water between the two reservoirs. A vast, cathedral-like underground chamber will house 6 reversible turbines that can generate electricity when needed – or store energy at times of low demand by pumping water back up to the higher reservoir. This flexibility makes the new Nant de Drance power plant the ideal complement to the new green energy sources – all weather-dependent – on which Switzerland is building its future.
- Thrilling ride up to start of walk on trio of mountain railways
- Dramatic alpine scenery – 2 dams, 2 reservoirs
- Restaurant / mountain refuge at each dam
- The oldest fossil tracks of vertebrates in Switzerland
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:
- Bring a map. Download full description of this route including large-scale map by clicking on “Print” icon, top right of this page.
- Use marked trails only, and observe all signposting – for your own safety, to safeguard grazing animals and to avoid disturbing wildlife.
- Close gates after passing through.
- Please be considerate to other trail users, and to the plants and animals.
- Do not leave any waste in nature.
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.
Tips and hints
More information about the destination:
Getting thereA9 motorway, exit 22 (Gd St-Bernard), follow signs for Chamonix (France). Drive over pass of Col de la Forclaz, drop down to Trient, but before French border look out for turning right towards Finhaut-Emosson. (To travel up to the top of the dam via VerticAlp, do not take this turning, but instead continue on the main road to Le Châtelard VS and park there.)
ParkingLarge car park at top of dam
Book recommendation by the author
Author’s map recommendations
- good footwear
- clothing suitable for the weather: always carry a waterproof jacket
- hat or cap
- bottle for water
- binoculars (optional)
- hiking poles (optional)
- printout of this hike (click “Print” icon, to download)
For certain walks: