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Le Cirque du Fer-à-Cheval

Hidden away at the head of the Giffre valley amidst mystical peaks lies a hidden gem of natural splendour and outrageous beauty: Le Cirque du Fer à Cheval. An enchanting amphitheatre of towering cliffs, cascading waterfalls, glaciers and abundant wildlife beckons adventurers and nature enthusiasts alike to explore its breathtaking beauty. It feels like a long-lost land, a scene from Jurassic Park even, and if grazing Brachiosaurus littered this remote landscape, they wouldn’t look out of place.

As one of the most beautiful and unique areas of the Alps, it is famous for its horseshoe cliffs which rise 700m vertically from the valley floor as the mountainside rises to peaks of over 3000m. Equally, it's 30+ waterfalls, many of which tumble hundreds of metres from snowfields and glaciers high above.

The four seasons bring vastly contrasting scenery, making it an ideal year-round attraction, and whether you seek adventure, relaxation or inspiration, you’ll find it here. Enjoy numerous family-friendly activities, outdoor sports, events, restaurants, cafes, and a mountain refuge!

The site can be into two distinct areas – the Cirque du Fer-à-Cheval and the Fond de la Combe.

The Cirque du Fer-à-Cheval is the natural horseshoe of cliffs in the middle of which the road ends, and where you will find a large car park. The restaurant, Chalet du Fer-à-Cheval, is located around 150m from the car park, in a large clearing which offers uninterrupted views of the surrounding amphitheatre. A huge grassy area immediately in front of the restaurant is the site of many events and activities, summer and winter, and is the ideal place for family games and picnics. The tiny hamlet of Frénalay is located just 600m from the restaurant and is a popular target for shorter walks. You can enjoy magnificent views of 3000m peaks, cliffs, and multiple waterfalls without even leaving this area.

The Fond de la Combe is a valley leading off from the Cirque du Fer-à-Cheval towards the Swiss border. Following the Giffre river towards its source, the head of the valley, around 3.5km from the restaurant, is known as the Bout du Monde (End of the World), and it certainly feels like it! This steep-sided valley, whose slopes rise 2000m vertically overhead, is home to numerous truly incredible waterfalls on both sides of the valley. It’s even possible to cool off under a few of the waterfalls, while you are certainly spoiled for choice when it comes to picnic spots!


The spring is the perfect time to see the waterfalls at their most spectacular, fueled by the snow melt of May and June. It is also the season of contrasting colours, with a lush green valley floor, white snow-covered mountains, and a vivid blue sky.


Late spring and early summer is the time for wildflower lovers. By now, snow has receded to the higher peaks leaving lush green meadows peppered with flowers. The warm summer temperatures make a cooling shower under one of the many waterfalls, streams or river appealing!


The golden autumn colours at the Cirque du Fer-à-Cheval are a stunning sight to behold. Combined with the incredible scenery, tumbling waterfalls and blue sky it is unforgettable. Fewer people mean it's the best time to view wildlife, and by now the peaks are usually snow-free, ideal for high mountain hikers.


The winter is a complete contrast to the other three months, when the monochrome landscape is only broken by the blue ice of frozen waterfalls. A unique selection of activities are on offer in winter.

In the Spring, Summer and Autumn, the activities offered by the Cirque are at their most abundant. Many choose to simply enjoy lunch at the Chalet du Fer-à-Cheval with its sunny terrace offering uninterrupted views from the very heart of the Cirque. A huge grass area in front of the restaurant is ideal for picnics, games, and hosts occasional events throughout the year. In the immediate area surrounding the car park and restaurant, there are many rivers, streams and wooded areas to explore, ideal for families with younger kids.


The area offers limitless opportunities for hiking, from short family-friendly valley floor walks suitable for kids or the elderly, to all-day hikes to mountain lakes or high altitude refuges for lunch, or even multi-day adventures with overnight stays in refuges.

The main Cirque du Fer-à-Cheval, the area surrounding the restaurant and car park, is home to several easier and shorter walks on good surfaced 4x4 tracks making them suitable for kids, pushchairs and the elderly.

The Fond de la Combe valley, offers slightly longer routes with more good 4x4 until the La Buvette du Prazon restaurant, after which the route becomes an easy walking trail. Following the Giffre river, with trails on either side of the river, several bridges allow you to create a satisfying loop whose length can be tailored to your requirements.

The official walking guide offers a selection of walks and features a great map of the area. It is currently only available in French, so we’ve created the following overviews to use alongside the official guide.

Itineraire 2 - The Frénalay Loop – 2.5km – 60m climb – 45 minutes

This is an easy walk which loops around the main bowl of the Cirque. taking in ancient forests and a small lake on its way to the picturesque hamlet of Frénalay. Entirely on 4x4 track, and relatively flat, this route is just long enough to take in the incredible views, while remaining family-friendly, particularly suitable for young kids.

Itineraire 4 – The End of The World – 8km* – 150m climb* – 3 hours*

This is the classic loop, and an absolute must-do if you have the time and the ability. It offers outstanding views, and well over 20 incredible waterfalls. The route follows a good 4x4 track until the Buvette de Prazon, after which it becomes an easy walking trail with several small bridges to cross streams. The majority of the 150m climbing comes at the very end and can be avoided (see below). Although the guide suggests 3 hours, you could very easily spend a day exploring the area.

* This route can be shortened by crossing the Giffre river via one of two bridges which are marked on the map of the official guide :

Passerelle de Prazon (approx. 4km total) – turning around here ensures the entire route remains on 4x4 track and may be suitable for some pushchairs.

Passerelle du Fond de la Combe (approx. 6.5km total) – This is one of the most popular turning points as it avoids the head of the valley which becomes much steeper from this bridge.

See our Hiking Page for longer routes in the area and more information.

Mountain Biking

Mountain bikers visiting the area should, without question, have Fond de la Combe loop on their to-do list! Starting and ending at the Chalet du Fer-à-Cheval restaurant, the route follows an easy 4x4 track, followed by some singletrack options further up the valley. Accessible to most competent riders, there are only a couple of technical sections, and some exciting river/bridge crossings. Allow 45mins to 1 hour for this loop. Please note, mountain biking is forbidden in this area only between 12.30pm and 6pm from 1 July to 21 August.

For those looking for a bigger adventure, then accessing this loop on bike all the way from Samoëns/Morillon or Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval is entirely possible by following the signposted riverside trails.

Road Biking

For road cyclists, the scenic climb from Samoëns to the Cirque du Fer-à-Cheval is a popular choice with a tarmac road taking you into the heart of the Cirque where refreshments await.

Pony Rides

Pony rides are available directly opposite the Chalet du Fer-à-Cheval restaurant, with various different routes available.

Winter at the Cirque du Fer a Cheval offers a very different, but equally dramatic experience to summer! As the temperature plummets, the cascading summer waterfalls turn to vivid blue ice, in stark contrast to the monochrome, snow-covered landscape.

The Chalet du Fer-à-Cheval restaurant remains open in winter, offering the same great food and drinks, as well as a warming log fire to gather around. An excellent alternative to skiing on rest days, or for non-skiers.

Winter Activities


There are several marked snowshoe routes allowing you to explore the main Cirque, including frozen lakes, forests, and a hidden hamlet of Frenalay. A guide will be able to help you discover even more!

Cross country skiing

The Haut-Giffre valley hosts an impressive network of cross-country ski pistes linking one end of the valley to the other! The Cirque du Fer-à-Cheval, and the valley leading up to it, is one of the most popular sectors with dramatic scenery and a good range of different pistes. The blue-graded piste, which loops around the Cirque du Fer-à-Cheval, ensures it is accessible to all but beginners.

Sledging area

In front of the restaurant is an excellent purpose made sledging area, which is always a huge hit with families. The area surrounding it is ideal for kids to play, and build snowmen and igloos!

The Reserve Naturelle Nationale de Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval/Passy, of which the Cirque du-Fer à-Cheval is a part, is home to over 800 recorded plant species, including 28 orchid species. The valley floor forests are dominated by Beech and Spruce, while at altitude, the Alpine pastures are home to a select few which can survive in these specific conditions. Among these are the Blue Alpine Thistle (Chardon Bleu des Alpes), the Venus Slipper (Sabot de Vénus) and the Martagon Lily (Lis Martagon). The Bicolor Sedge (Laîche bicolore) can also be found in the region, incredibly rare, and protected on a national level.

The area boasts an incredible amount of wildlife including Bouquetin (Ibex), Chamois, Deer, Wild Boar, and Marmottes. Chamois and Marmottes can often be seen from a couple of vantage points less than 1km from the car park. You can add to that list Rock Ptarmigan, Black Grouse, and several eagles including Golden Eagle, and incredible Bearded Vultures (Gypaète barbu) which can weigh up to 7kg, with a wingspan of nearly 3m!

The Cirque du Fer-à-Cheval is located at the head of the Giffre valley, 11km from Samoëns, and 5km from Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval. A tarmac road makes it easily accessible year round and large car parks with toilets are available. Disabled parking spaces are located around 150m from the restaurant.

A bus service is available from Morillon, Samoëns and Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval during the winter season (December to April) and summer season (July to August).

-  Between June and August, access to the Cirque du Fer-à-Cheval costs €5 per car.

-  Dogs must remain on a lead at all times, and stay on the walking paths. They are not permitted past the buvette de Prazon.

-  Mountain biking is forbidden in the le Fond de la Combe from 1 July to 21 August, 12.30pm and 6pm.

-  The Fond de la Combe valley is often closed in winter due to avalanche risk, however there still remains a huge area to be explored.