Col du Parpaillon

Col du Parpaillon and the scary tunnel at the top

Col du Parpaillon is a high mountain pass at an elevation of 2.780m (9,120ft) above the sea level located on the border of the Hautes-Alpes department and the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence department in southeastern France. It's one of the highest mountain roads of Europe.

Located in the Parpaillon massif within the Cottian Alps of southern France, the pass connects the Ubaye valley in Alpes-de-Haute-Provence department with Embrun in Hautes-Alpes. At the summit sits the infamous Parpaillon Tunnel, at an elevation of 2.637m (8,652ft) above the sea level. It was built by the French Army starting in 1891, to facilitate the movement of troops guarding the border with Italy. Works on the road and tunnel lasted until 1911, although the tunnel was completed in 1901. Once a key route for military supplies, the road was abandoned in favour of the lower Col de Vars, which could be kept open in winter.

This famous mountain tunnel, one of the highest in Europe, is arched in the middle part and has a total length of 520 meters (1,710 ft). Nowadays the tunnel is closed at the end with metal doors. It’s in terrible conditions. The tunnel contains a lot of ice and water and is totally dark. It can be scary, and is highly recommended to stay outside. Long since abandoned, the old trace scaled the wild, rugged Massif du Parpaillon and still appears on larger-scale maps. The spot is both uplifting and yet desolate in its remoteness but the views along the road are breathtaking.

The pass sits on the way from La Condamine Chatelard towards Embrun. The road to the summit is called D29. It’s an unpaved road very challenging with narrow parts and some drop offs. It’s totally impassable from October to May. Over a century ago, for many years, this was the highest road in France. The route has fallen into disuse and roughly the top 10 kilometers of both sides are rough, stone filled roads –and the first half is very bumpy. At the high elevations part, the track becomes more tortuous, finally tightening into a seemingly endless hairpin ascent, repeatedly crossing and re-crossing a deep gully gouged by torrents of rain and melt-water cascading down to the valley floor far below. It's one of the highest mountain roads of the country.
To reach the tunnel there are 2 possible routes. From La Condamine Chatelard, the ascent is 17.2 km long and the elevation gain is 1.364 meters. The average percentage is 7.9 %, with some sections up to 13.0%. And starting from Embrun, the ascent is 27.9 km long with an elevation gain of 1.770 meters. The average percentage is 6.3 %, with a maximum slope of 11.0%. This is a very classic road pass in the Alps and has been used in earlier days in the Tour de France.


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