Covering over 270 000 hectares (91 740 of which make up the central zone) the Ecrins National Park is the largest in France. Not just an enormous adventure playground made up of rocks, rivers and forests the park is also home to 61 towns and villages; one third of which are in the department of Isère and the remaining two thirds fall within Haute-Savoie. They are all in the peripheral zone of the park and can make a great base from which to explore the park; a few places worth a visit include Les Vigneaux, Vallouise, Ailefroide, Puy Aillaud and La Bérarde. Some of these are beautiful little hamlets where old cultures and traditions die hard.
The Ecrins is contained by the Romanche River to the North, the Guisane River to the East, the Durance River to the South and the Drac River to the West. Into these rivers run the rain and melt waters that gather in the Ecrins, gently eroding gorges and gullies as the years pass by and helping to create the characteristic shapes of the landscape.
The formation of such large valleys has been helped along by the sedimentary rocks (such as limestone, schist and clay) that cover the old predominating base in the south east of the park. The rocks in the north and the west of the park however are the much harder crystalline and metamorphic rocks (such as granite and gneiss), which offer up much more resistance to the constant cycle of glaciers and waterfalls that pass over their surface through time. The differences in the rocks and their reaction to the elements is what gives the park such extremities of high peaks and deep gullies, with all those steep ascents and descents that bring the adrenaline hunters flocking!
Of the many peaks of the Ecrins National Park more than 100 of them soar higher than 3000 meters above the valley floor; not bad when you consider that the valley itself is on average no lower than 1000m above sea level! The highest point is the Barre des Ecrins at 4102m, which is also the only 4000 metre plus peak in France south of Mont Blanc. The Ecrins National Park has over 10 000 hectares of glacier including the Glacier Blanc, Glacier Noir, Glacier de Mont-de-Lans amongst others; scattered across the landscape are some beautifully clear (and very cold!) mountain lakes.
Also see: Geography of Les 2 Alpes, France