Lake Annecy Loop via Col de l’Epine and Col de la Forclaz


I like this loop on a late winter day when it’s been sunny for a while – so the roads are fully ice free. It starts near Annecy following the Annecy bike path along the west side of the lake. Scenic and flat, so a good way to warm up.

A local fisherman was having fun too in the morning haze:

La Tournette (2351 metres) is the peak in the background.

I followed the bike path all the way to Marlens (see bottom of post for a route map). Note, the bike path goes all the way to Albertville – see here.

Yes, a few of these photos are with my drone.

The village of Marlens is beside the bike path and is the beginning of the 7 kilometre climb to Col de l’Epine.

It’s a very quiet road, nice hairpins, and great views of the valley below and surrounding mountains.

Don’t confuse this Col de l’Epine with another Savoyard Col de l’Epine of similar height on the shoulder of Mont du Chat. See the dark blue route here for details.

Exactly at Col de l’Epine is a gravel road that goes a little higher. The views looked great today so I took my road bike for a brief detour. I’ve done a fun unpaved multi-col ride high above here but in warmer weather – see here.

I descended Col de l’Epine through a great gorge passing Col des Esserieux (labeled on map).

From Col des Esserieux – view of La Tournette from the non-lake side

Next, I would climb Col de la Forcaz de Montmin. This is a beast of a climb, even tougher than its profile suggests as there are a couple of flatter parts lowering the average grades. Lots of 12%-14% stretches.

The north side has views of the lake, but personally I prefer this scenic, quieter south side. I saw my 1st Tour de France mountain stage here in …… 2004!

The reward for a tough climb? A brilliant lake view at the Col. There is a restaurant here with a patio overlooking the view – perfect in summer.

View from Col de la Forclaz de Montmin

View descending the north side of Col de la Forclaz:

After descending the north side of Forclaz, there is a new separated bike path – it gets longer every year. But soon the path ends and the route joins a busier road. See the map: I jumped down onto smaller roads to avoid this for a couple of kilometres (could have done it sooner) but happily another bike path appears at the upper east side of the lake, and it continues all the way back to the start. Brilliant.

View from North edge of the lake, near Annecy.

This is a great loop with two fun climbs. It’s not too high and thus allows some early season Alps riding. One could easily do a loop with only one of these cols, or add more climbs. For example, I once rode this same loop but added Col de Tamié – see here.

See this old post: The Ten Best Cycling Climbs from Lake Annecy for more ideas (I’ll hopefully update this soon with some great high-gravel stuff from recent years).

A 3D video of the route:

Bridge on Col de l’Epine:


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Happiest while cycling uphill.


  1. Wonderful, I am now insanely jealous. I am also glad you described the Col de la Forclaz as a beast. I tried this after successfully riding Semnoz a few days before and thought I’d be okay. I had had a late night, too much vin rouge and set off all cocky. Within a few km I gave up and rode back to Saint-Jorioz with my tail between my legs! Those early gradients were too much for me at the time. I will return one day!

  2. Hi Will,

    Thanks for your excellent posts and superb pictures! I am not sure I share your definition of fun (La Forclaz? From Vesonne? Fun, really?), but I agree this is a beautiful and quiet ride.
    I was curious about col de l’Épine, which I climb from time to time: are you sure about the grades you give: I haven’t done any measurement, but it does not feel like there are stretches at 11%. And the last kilometer is actually quite a relief, rather than a 10% climb. Just my personal feeling (backed by the signs on the side of the road).
    Anyway, thanks again for sharing all these rides!

    • Hi Vincent. Maybe, I see your point. But the math works. In other words the ascent percentages plus the starting altitude equal the summit altitude. So if the final 10% is too steep then the previous kms are perhaps a touch steeper. I can’t remember where I got the data from as the climb is not in my usual book. Perhaps from my GPS. I’ll have a closer look.

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