La Grande Cascade du Mont Dore (the Big Waterfall of the Mt Dore) was a pleasant waterfall excusion that took in not only the waterfall but wonderful birds eye views of the alpine town of Mt Dore as well as the surrounding mountains and massifs including Puy de Sancy.
There were several cascades and waterfalls in the Mt Dore area, but the Grande Cascade was the most impressive one, which was why I cherrypicked it on our limited time at the source of the Dordogne River (note: I only realized we were at the source when I saw a local map showing a stream called Dore and another called Dogne join and form the Dordogne River near town). Although it was said to be 30m, it appeared taller than that probably because we were able to see it from across town near the Mt Dore visitor center (looking in the southeast direction high up above the trees on the cliffs).
Given its relatively light-flowing nature, I believe the falls would diminish rapidly when the snowmelt from the plateau above would have depleted. Thus, I'd imagine that Spring and early Summer would be the seasons to see this waterfall flow. However, even when the waterfall wouldn't be flowing, the gorgeous views from above the falls would still be worth the effort (see the photos below).
To access the falls, I was able to walk from our accommodation in the town of Mt Dore and ascend le chemin de La Grande Cascade, which was a combination of sharing the road with cars as well as hiker-only trails. The visitor center and some accommodations in town had local maps to make it easier to find the correct path to walk.
The trail ascended over several long switchbacks before reaching the base of the falls fronted by a footbridge (as shown in the photo at the top of this page). It took me about 20 minutes of fast hiking to get from the start of the trail leaving the road to get here. At a more leisurely pace and including the time it took to walk through town and up some roads to finally get to the actual chemin de La Grande Cascade, I'd say it was about 45 minutes to an hour going up. Officially, it's said to be 90 minutes round trip.
Although the footbridge at the falls can be the turnaround point, I highly recommend continuing on. I continued past the footbridge, up some steps, and then walked along a trail-of-use further up the plateau until I was high enough to look all the way across the valley containing Le Mont Dore below with the Sancy Massif all the way to my left as I faced town. It was one of the more inspiring views to be had in this region and one of the more surprising benefits of waterfalling in an area normally popular for skiing in Winter.
Looking towards the Massif du Sancy, which was one of the benefits of basing ourselves in Mt-Dore so it was possible to do late afternoon hikes yielding this impressive view
Full view of Le Grande Cascade du Mt-Dore from the footbridge
Even though the town of Mt-Dore was eerily quiet during our visit in May 2012, it still possessed a disarming charm that was as if we had stumbled upon a part of France that was off the beaten path
Chemin de Poete
The official start to the Chemin de La Grande Cascade
First look at La Grande Cascade
Looking back at the falls from the metal steps
Heading back to the trail to return to town (note the path going right ultimately leads to a camping area, which is only 20 minutes or so away; thus if you're camping there, the hike would probably be cut short by a half plus lack most of the elevation change).
Since I stayed at an accommodation in the town of Le Mont-Dore, I didn't follow the exact directions recommended in the official literature. Instead, I walked south from the Hotel Les Charmettes on Avenue Georges Clemenceau until I saw a sign indicating the way to La Grande Cascade across the street (following Chemin Du Poète). This path cuts over to Route de Besse, which I followed uphill around a bend (be aware this road is shared with cars) until I saw the signpost for the pedestrian-only Chemin de La Grande Cascade.
I don't recall seeing free public parking except for a handful of spots by the visitor center to the far west of town so this is something to consider if you're not staying in town. If you are staying in town, then you can just leave your car at your accommodation and walk.
The shortest distance to both the views and the waterfall is attained by driving Route de Besse to the camping site called Domaine de La Grande Cascade, which sits on the plateau or moor about 1450m in elevation. I recalled a sign saying it was 1 euro per person if you're not staying at the camping but would like to park there and walk through their property and onto the trail. I believe it's only 20 minutes of relatively flat walking from here to get to the Grand View (Grande Vue) and another five minutes downhill to get right in front of the falls.
Route de Besse ultimately continues to the Sancy Massif where there are skiing opportunities during Winter or you can use the ski lifts for views and doing one-way shuttle hikes.
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