Grand Balcon Nord is the trail that connects Montenvers train station to Plan de l’Aiguille with gorgeous view of Mont Blanc, Les Drus, Mer de Glace, and Chamonix Valley. This hike can be done in many different ways and started at many different locations.
For anyone who is tight on time or doesn't enjoy an uphill hike, a train to Montenvers departs from the valley every 30 minutes. Or you can take the lift to Plan de l'Aiguille. But it is worth it to do the whole loop.
Starting from Montenvers train station at Chamonix Valley, the trail steepens past the alpine sled area before entering a forest. This part is generally quiet, and after about an hour or so you will pass a cute little chalet called Chalet Buvette de Caillet. It's a perfect place to stop and get some refreshment and snacks. From here, it is just a quick 15-minute walk to Mer de Glace.
This area can be quite busy with all the tourists who take the train up. It is worth checking out the view toward Mer de Glace or taking a quick tour down to the ice cave. But don't stay too long here as there is still an ascent toward Signal Forbes.
From Grand Hotel du Montenvers, the lower trail leads to Grand Balcon Nord right away, but if you have the energy, take the upper trail toward Signal Forbes. From here the view toward Les Dru is mesmerizing when it isn't covered by clouds. Cairns indicate when you've reached the summit of Signal Forbes.
Keep a lookout for the sign that will point you toward Plan de l'Aiguille. On a clear day, the view toward Chamonix and the surrounding mountains is unbeatable. After a few miles, arrive at the Plan de l'Aiguille, where you can take the lift down to Chamonix, up to Aiguille du Midi, or continue walking down to the valley instead. The descent is pretty steep and can be quite muddy after the rain, but it is pleasant when you have plenty of time. There are quite a bit of wild raspberries along the trail.
Hiking in reverse requires climbing the steepest uphill first, but it has more or less the same elevation gain, and the view is great both ways.
This is one of the most highly recommended hikes in the area. While you can extend or shorten the trip as you wish, the ideal hike takes just half a day. Note that the weather in the area can change very quickly, so come prepared for any conditions.