Ecrins trekking

Mountain pass by Côte Belle by the Desert

4 h 30
Return trip
Return trip
9.5 km
Total Length
1057 m
  • By walk
  • Fauna
  • Flora
  • Panorama

Departure : Le-Désert-en-Valjouffrey → Arrival : Le-Désert-en-Valjouffrey

Crossing the flowery pasture of Côte-Belle results in a view across the western buttresses of Ecrins massif. 

«For decades we have taken up the challenge of consolidating the last stretch under the Côte Belle mountain pass on an unstable terrain. Very onerous for the park, we have undertaken the responsibility of recreating it. From 2013, the path heads in the direction of the Marmes mountain pass, it seems more agreeable with more stability and safety of the walkers».

Bernard Nicollet, Park ranger in Valbonnais 

Park your car at the entrance to the Desert. Cross the village up until the torrent de la Laisse without passing it and continue North in the direction of the Côte Belle mountain pass. The path follows the carved out channel of the torrent and passes close to the paravalanche. . The itinerary runs through the heart of the Ecrins National Park. It goes down next into à quite narrow gorge. The track continues its accent with large bends through ancient hay fields and comes out in the Côte Belle mountain pass. The view is of the Arcanier massif, the pic du Clapier du Peyron, la Roche de la Muzelle and the other summits and glaciers of the cirque de Valsenestre. The descente follows the same path.


From Entraigues take the direction to Valjouffrey (D117). Continue along the valley to the hamlet of Désert en Valjouffrey. 

Information desks

Maison du Parc du Valbonnais

Reception, information, temporary exhibition room, reading room and video-projection on demand. Shop: products and works of the Park. Free admission. All animations of the Park are free unless otherwise stated.

Place du Docteur Eyraud
38740 Entraigues

Website - Email - 04 76 30 20 61

Lat: 44.90153, Lng: 5.9496

This trek is within park center, please read access rules.

Clic for map interaction

On the way...

In 1961 and 1962 big avalanches descended as far as the riverbed of the Bonne, threatening the houses in the hamlet at Désert en Vajouffrey. In 1982 major works enabled the construction of a paravalanche in order to increase the safety of the hamlet and the prairies, by diverting possible threats coming from the Côte-belle valley.


It grows in tufts often in the company of yellow gentian in the old hay meadows in the deep soil. Its resemblance to a big white candle does not go unnoticed and its grouped flowers along a spike blossom one after another throughout the weeks of the summer. Its fleshy tuber attracts subterranean rodents and used to be used to make a kind of flour to feed the mountain inhabitants in lean periods.

Champ d'asphodèles
Yellow gentian

Among the gentian species the yellow gentian is the most often used: its roots have tonic, digestives and depurative properties... It must not be confused with the white hellebore which is very similar before flowering but which is extremely toxic. The distinction between them is very easy to make, the leaves of the gentian are positioned opposite each other while on the white hellebore they create a spiral. You can find the gentian in abundance in the pastures at high altitude and it is consumed by the sheep and the cows.

Gentiane jaune
Sky lark

A tight rope walker of a bird hanging in the sky singing its tune at length with its twittering notes. Then, its triangular wings folded in a perfect spiral, the bird lands in the middle of the prairie. On the ground, it is not very visible: its plumage of different shades of brown insures an effective camouflage. In its quest for food its movements, which are a succession of little stops and starts enable it to be aware of possible predators.

Alouette des champs
Rock Partridge

The rock partridge lives in the mountains on the slopes which are well exposed to the sun like here in the Côte-Belle valley. It is recognizable by its grey back, its striped flanks, its white throat and its red beak. For a long time they stay still, they watch me walking without me noticing... Suddenly, the silence in the mountains is interrupted by a crashing of beating wings that always makes me jump. Rock Partridges ! I just have time to count five of them and see the group plunge very quickly landing on the opposite slope facing me at a safer distance for them from me. 

Perdrix bartavelles
Dark Green Fritillary

Because of its wing span, the Dark Green Fritillary does not go unnoticed. The upper side of its wings is a beautiful orange colour decorated with black marks; the underneath is sprinkled with pearly patches on a background of green scales. It is a big butterfly with a wingspan of 50 to 60 m, quite common but starting to become rarer due to the disappearance of its habitat due to the changes in agricultural practices... In fact its caterpillar which is black in colour dotted with orange on the sides feeds almost completely on the leaves of violets which can only be found in the prairies which are used extensively. 

Grand nacré
New path

The last section of the path allows access to the mountain pass has required numerous days of maintenance since its creation. In fact the unstable character of the soil associated with the steepness of the slope have made it necessary for the rangers to create wooden benches to contain the weight of the earth.. In Autumn 2012, it was decided to create a new section of the path by using part of a sheep track further East in the direction of the Marmes mountain pass. The work was carried out by a team creating 50 m per day during 26 days with pick-axes and courage. In total, it is a section measuring 1300 m which has been created, which makes the path less steep and much more stable.

Viviparous Lizard

The viviparous lizard can be distinguished from the wall lizard by its rounded muzzle. It is  capable of living at an altitude of 2500m and you will most often see them in the meadows. It likes to warm itself in the sun, resting on the grass or the dry moss to hunt grasshoppers, crickets or spiders. During the winter, it buries under the ground where in a lethargic state it can survive negative temperatures. The viviparous lizard is named like this because the females keep their eggs in their abdomen up until they hatch. So the young are completely formed when they are born, it is an adaptation to the cold environment.

Lézard vivipare

In Latin léontopodium signifies the foot of the lion which is the general shape of the edelweiss. By looking at it closely, you realize that it is not one flower but a group of 5 to 10 flowers grouped in a flower head. The edelweiss is in the   astéracées family like dandelions. It is a white plant, milky and perennial growing in rocky alpine meadows at subalpine level up to 2900 m. It often mixes with the Alpine Aster. The emblem of numerous guides, it symbolizes the high mountains and represents strength in the language of flowers...

Landscape of the cirque de Valsenestre

From the mountain pass, climb the little summit above to  better see  the landscape  which shows the  cirque de Valsenestre : on the left is the Signal du Lauvitel (2901m) and the Clapier du Perron (3169m), the mountain pass at  Muzelle (2613m) where the GR54 is. At this level you can really see a geological fault separating the Grandes Rousses which are granite from the Muzelle block in gneiss. On the right, the principal summits are the Roche de la Muzelle (3465 m), and the pointe Swan (3294m). Le col de Côte-Belle separates the  Pic de Valsenestre (2752m) on the left from the l’Aiguille des Marmes (3046 m) on the right.

Pic de Valsenestre

Altitude profile

Altitude (m)

Min : 1277 m - Max : 2286 m

Distance (m)



Take water with you to the Désert since there are no sources of drinking water along this itinerary. Protect yourself from the sun because the valley is exposed to the South...