The Grand Ballon or Ballon de Guebwiller (name of the town situed below) is the highest summit of the Vosges Massive. The name "Ballon" (= balloon), name of many other summits of the Hautes Vosges is due to his round shape.
He is situated in the south of this massive, a region called Hautes Vosges. He is not in the main chain which spreads from Ballon d'Alsace to Brezouard but in the side chain which grows away from the Rainkopf in south-eastern direction. He dominates the Florival, valley of the Lauch in the north, and the Thur Valley in the south. The 10 km distant town of Guebwiller is 1150 m lower situated. The Alsacian plain is at 12 km distance, and the town of Mulhouse at 25 km.
Mythical mountain for one or simply the top of the Vosges with its 1424m of altitude for the others, the Grand Ballon is undoubtedly not a mountain like the others. The Grand Ballon has its legends, those of this white lady, the mysterious lake or its haunted thatches and those which are condemned to survey the hard slopes of them.
Mentioned for the first time in the year 812 with the name Peleus, this view-point,is also called Belchen in the past, allusion according to certain historians to Belen the Celtic god of the day and the sun. It is at the XVIIIe century, with the development of botany, that the Grand Ballon became popular in the eyes of the men of science. A summit imposing and recluse, with austere and wild slopes, where the climate is as hard as unforeseeable, with weather conditions often compared with those of the Northern Cape or Iceland, with those of the Alps to the top of 2300m, and where the flora however shines by its richness. The Grand Ballon shelters for example a rare plant, Endrosa carnea of Haller. It's the most alpine of the Vosgean summits
Unfortunately, a plane control station is built on the summit but the view over the Hautes Vosges and the Swiss Alps remains fantastic. A few meters under the summit, you can also see a monument erected in honour of the french mountain rangers who fighted here during the first world war.
The "Route des Crêtes" (crest road) between Cernay and Markstein passes near the Grand Ballon. You reach Cernay from Mulhouse over N 66. Pass Uffholtz and take the D 431. You pass near the first world war battlefield of Vieil Armand (Hartmannswillerkopf in german). Cernay - Grand ballon = 23 km.
2) Valley of Thur (town = Thann)
You reach Thann from Mulhouse over N 66 (16 km)
Follow up the Thur valley to Willer sur Thur and turn to the right. Over Goldbach, you reach the Route des Crêtes at Col Amic (825 m). Then as 1)
3) Florival valley (town = Guebwiller)
From Mulhouse to Guebwiller 18 km.
- Follow the Florival to Markstein (24 km) at then turn at the left (7 km)
- Over Soultz, Wuenheim and the forest road of Kohlschlag to Col Amic. Then as 1)
Parking possibilities :
- at Hotel du Grand Ballon (or Restaurant Vue des Alpes (1343 m)
- at point 1268 coming from the south
- at Ferme du Haag (1233 m)
From these 3 startpoints the access to the summit is evident (40 mn).
The Grand Ballon is a nature reserve. Follow the marked paths. Walking outside is forbidden.
Hiking to Grand Ballon
From the different valleys situated below, you can hike to the summit of the Grand Ballon. The height to climb approaches 1200 meters and these walks are much more interesting than the way described under getting there.
- From Guebwiller (rectangular red-white-red marks) : Col de Peternit - Munsteraeckerle - Coo de Judenhut - Hotel du Ballon - Summit
- From Murbach (from Guebwiller to Buhl and then at the left the Murbach by car) : Wolfsgrube - Lieserwasen - Roedelen - Hotel du Ballon
- From Sengern (reached by car from Guebwiller over Buhl, Lautenbach, Linthal) : Felsenbach - Gustiberg - Lac du Ballon - Ferme du Haag
- From Rimbach ( reached from Guebwiller over Soultz, Jungholtz) : Glashuette - Firstacker - Ferme du Ballon - Hotel du Ballon
- From Moosch (reached from Thann over Willer sur Thur) rectangular red-white-red marks to Ferme du Haag
- From Saint Amarin (Thann valley) follow yellow rectangles : Geishouse - Haberkopf - Bessayfels - Ferme du Haag.
- From Markstein : GR 5 (red rectangles)
When To Climb
All the year. In winter with snowshoes. Open roads in winter : D 431 from Cernay, road from Willer sur Thur. The road between Grand Ballon and Markstein is closed in Winter Web cam of Grand Ballon
The Storkenkopf is the western neighbour of the Grand Ballon. This slightly known summit is nevertheless the second highest summit of the Vosges with 1366 m ! He merits a detour : few visited, he provides a nice view on the Grand Ballon and the summit is covered with a handsome flora (exceptional Martagon lillies).
Vieil Armand : the battlefield of the First World War
Coming from Cernay on the Route des Crêtes to Grand Ballo, you pass near the Vieil Armand.
While the colonial and commercial competitions opposed the great powers in the world, the national claims developed in Europe at the XIX century exploded in 1914.The European continent became then a gigantic battle field on which million men clashed during four long years of war. Advancing in the south of the plain of Alsace, a headland of the Vosgean solid mass, HartmannswillerKopf was one of the principal stakes of the battle which took place on the front of the Vosges from 1914 to 1918. From its conquest was going to depend success of French offensive for Mulhouse and Alsace.
Remained unawared, Hartmannvwillerkopf, or Old Armand, revealed its position of bolt only during hostilities. Started 31 Décember 1914, the fight for the possession of this strategic dominating peak was going to last during 4 years. The fights were particularly fatal during the year 1915 when the top changed eight times of property.