A Guide to Cycling Col de la Forclaz

Col de la Forclaz summit sign

Climb statistics and gradient profile

Graient profile Col de la Forclaz from Martigny

Northern Approach

Length: 13.7km / mi

Average gradient: 7.4%

Start point: 471m /1,545 ft

Elevation at top: 1,527m / 5,010

Category: Hors Categorie

Nearest town: Martigny

Facilities at top: Restaurant, water

When to ride:

Road condition: Good – Asphalt

Nearest climb: lac d’Emosson

Number of approaches: 2

Through road at top: Yes

Gradient profile Col de la Forclaz from Gietroz

Southern Approach

Length: 6.9km / 4.3mi

Average gradient: 6%

Start point: 1,120m / 3,675ft

Elevation at top: 1527m / 5,010

Category: Category 2

Nearest town: Le Châtelard

Facilities at top: Restaurant, Water

When to ride:

Road condition: Good – Asphalt

Nearest climb: Lac d’Emosson, Col des Montets

Number of approaches: 2

Through road at top: Yes

Cycling the Col de la Forclaz from Chamonix

Ride distance: 88km / 55mi

Elevation gain: 2,456m / 8,057ft

Col des Montets – a gentle climb to start the ride

Starting from Chamonix this cycling route will see you first traverse the climb of the Col des Montets. At just over 11km in length, the climb to the summit of the Montets is never too steep, with an average gradient of just under 4%. Once at the top of the climb you will have a short descent all the way down to the French/Swiss border. From here the southern approach of the Col de la Forclaz begins.

Col de la Forclaz (southern approach)

The road surface is very smooth and thanks to the wonders of Swiss Engineering the gradient is often regular between 6-7%. This approach of the Col de la Forclaz is just under 7kms in total and winds its way up through the Trient Valley. Keep an eye out on your right as you pass the alpine village of Trient for the famous pink church. As you round the final hairpin you will pass by a restaurant to your left and the summit is straight ahead. A water fountain and trough at the summit sign also serve as a good place to refill your bottles. The views from the top of the Col looking towards Martigny show the Rhone Valley, framed with huge mountains on either side. The 13km descent traverses through a forest at the top section of the climb and there are a number of hairpin bends to negotiate. As you approach the bottom of the descent the road passes by vineyards and the town of Martigny is in view. If you need a top-up of food or water you will be able to refuel here. There is also a public water fountain at the base of the climb.

Col de la Forclaz (northern approach)

From Martigny the route does an about-face and you now head back the way you came. Cycling the Col de la Forclaz from this northern approach is in stark contrast to the other side. From here it is an Hors Categorie climb and almost twice the length. The average gradient is just under 8% and stays regular without much change in variation for the entire climb. If you are riding this climb in summer the lower slopes of the climb are completely exposed to the sun, so be sure to set off with full water bottles. The forest section of the climb will bring some respite and shade which will be very welcome. Once at the top of the climb you can then enjoy the descent back to the Swiss/French Border.

Col des Montets – the final climb

With the Forclaz now behind you the final climb of this route awaits. From this side, the ascent of the Col des Montets is 8.2kms in length and averages 4.6%. The gradient once again is fairly gentle but of course, this is the fourth mountain pass of the day and fatigue will make it feel steeper than it really is. Once at the top you will have a very enjoyable descent all the way back to the Chamonix Valley.

Route Variations

If you fancy a shorter ride you can simply turn around once you reach the top of the Col de la Forclaz and head back to your starting point in Chamonix. Another option is to continue to descend down to the Swiss town of Martigny. From here it is possible to book yourself and your bike onto the scenic Mont Blanc Express train back to your starting point in Chamonix. The trip takes on average 90mins and there are 12 trains running each day. Be aware you will be required to pre-book your bike onto the train. The train journey is spectacular and would make a great addition to a day out on the bike. You could also choose to depart from Chamonix on the train and begin your ride in Martigny.

View of the Forclaz Valley as seen from the climb of the Col de la Forclaz

Above: View looking back down towards the Swiss town of Martigny, as seen from the Northern approach of the Col de la Forclaz.

Bottom Left: The final hairpin on the Southern approach of the Col de la Forclaz.

Bottom Right: Entering the forest section on the northern approach of the Col de la Forclaz.

Cyclist nearing the summit of the Col de la Forclaz from the Southern approach.
Autumn colours appearing in the trees on the Col de la Forclaz Northern approach

Nearby climbs to the Col de la Forclaz

This cycling route already includes the climb of the Col des Montets which is a natural inclusion when taking on the Col de la Forclaz. Listed below are other climbs located near the Col de la Forclaz which you could look to include on your ride.

Lac d’Emosson

The turnoff to the climb of Lac d’Emosson is situated at the base of the Col de la Forclaz (Southern Approach). The climb also featured as a stage finish for the 2016 edition of the Tour de France. From the starting point in Le Chaterlard, you will traverse the Col de Gueulaz. In total a distance of 10.4km / 6.5mi at an average gradient of 8.4%, ascending 913m, 2,995ft in elevation. There are numerous steep pitches on this climb and the closer you get to the top, the steeper it gets. Once there you can enjoy the splendid view across the lake itself and on a still day, the perfect reflections of the mountains make for a stunning sight.

Barrage d'Emosson.jpg

Lalou0110, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Col des Planches

The Col des Planches mountain pass is located in Switzerland. The base of the climb begins in the Swiss town of Martigny. This is the same starting point as the Northern approach of the Col de la Forclaz. The climb of the Col des Planches is 10.2km / 6.3mi in length with an average gradient of 8.9%. The road climbs steeply out of Martigny and there are some pitches that are well over 15% in gradient. In fact, it is one of the steepest climbs in the area. The road has commanding views across the Rhone Valley below which will act as a good distraction from the steep ramps. Total elevation gain for this climb is 912m / 2,992ft.


Plan your cycling holiday in the Chamonix Valley

We have put together a comprehensive guide that will help you plan your cycling holiday in the Chamonix Valley. The guide includes information such as:

  • a map of the Chamonix Valley region with climbs and towns marked
  • suggestions of where to base yourself depending on which mountains you would like to ride
  • cycling hotels and lodges
  • bike hire outlets
  • getting to and from the Chamonix Valley
  • non-cycling attractions and activities in the region

Discover more in our comprehensive guide to the Chamonix Valley.