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Visiting the Mer de Glace Glacier near Chamonix, France

Updated: Oct 25, 2022

A turquoise blue Mer de Glace glacier lies between jagged mountain tops in the French Alps at Montenvers near Chamonix and Mont Blanc in France. ©Alonzo Wright
The Mer de Glace Glacier near Chamonix and Mont Blanc, France. ©Alonzo Wright

When it comes to adventure travel, you don’t necessarily need to go plummeting out of a plane with a parachute strapped to your back to feel adventurous (although you certainly can). The Mer de Glace glacier near Chamonix in the French Alps is equal parts strenuous and glamorous. It’s a perfect outing for people who want to feel the majesty and ruggedness of the region in a more controlled environment than back-country skiing or snowshoeing.

When you see the glacier, it’s hard not to think about what early Alpinists must have thought about such an imposing natural wonder. They were there to explore on their own accord, armed with whatever primitive climbing gear they had and sheer grit. But for the average person visiting it today, it’s much easier to experience and a heck of a lot less dangerous than it was then. Although “easier” probably isn’t the best way to describe it. The Mer de Glace is the largest glacier in France at more than four miles (six kilometers) long and 656 feet (200 meters) deep, it’s downright massive and still takes quite a lot of effort to reach the mouth of the glacier.


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It should be said that this is not for the faint of heart considering the altitude in the Alps and the fact that it’s a whopping 500 steps down to get inside the glacier. And what goes down, must come up. That means you’ll be trekking back up those 500 and some odd stairs as well. The good news is, you’ll have zero guilt about all the local beer and fondue you’ve partaken in while in Chamonix.

Montenvers-Mer de Glace vintage red train with alpine forests, chalets and jagged mountain tops in the distance. ©Alonzo Wright
The Montenvers-Mer de Glace vintage railway train from Chamonix, France. ©Alonzo Wright

How to get to Mer de Glace Glacier from Chamonix

The Montenvers-Mer de Glace train will take you from the main station in Chamonix almost 6,300 feet up (1920 meters) to the Montenvers railway station in about 20 minutes. This historic rack-and-pinion railway has been running since 1908 and the charming red cars still have the antique wooden slat benches reminiscent of that vintage après ski feel. You’ll inch through towering evergreens and curl around cliff-sides that overlook the surrounding mountain ranges until you reach the stone station. There’s a gift shop, café and restaurant all at the station where you can see the stunning peaks of Les Drus (12,316 feet/3,753 meters), Les Grands Jorasses (13,795 feet/4,205 meters) and the Aiguille du Grepon (11,423 feet/3,482 meters). This is a good time to advise you to use the restroom because it is a LONG way down to the glacier and there are no facilities once you get there. You’ll get on a small gondola right outside the train station for a quick ride down to the staircase where you will begin your trek down to the base of the glacier and the entrance to the famed ice cave.