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Lakes, glaciers and waterfalls in the Rutor Valley

Excursion to the Deffeyes Refuge via the Rutor Waterfalls, in front of the Rutor Glacier.
7:30 h


Close to La Thuile, a renowned alpine center in the Aosta Valley, lies a vast valley dominated for centuries by the mammoth Rutor Glacier, the third largest in the Aosta Valley.

Its semi-flat and undulating appearance has given rise to a legend that the glacier was once a lush green pasture owned by a wealthy landowner. One day, a beggar asked the landowner for a cup of milk, but instead of giving milk to the beggar, he poured an entire cauldron of milk onto the meadow. But karma was lurking, and the beautiful green pastures remained covered in snow and ice.

Another fascinating story about the glacier, and this time it's not a legend. Between 1594 and 1864, during the period of maximum glacial expansion of the Little Ice Age, the Rutor Glacier created 44 "glacial bursts": one of the glacier's tongues blocked the valley at the foot of the present-day Deffeyes Refuge, creating Lake Santa Margherita, which periodically burst through the ice dam, unleashing devastating floods on the valley below and sometimes reaching as far as Aosta.

In 1740, it was written that "the lake empties with such force that everything it encounters on its path is carried away to the stone bridges... it causes incredible disasters throughout the Duchy." In particular, the floods of 1594 and 1595 were so destructive that they prompted both scientific and religious responses. In 1596, Simon Tubingher, a German entrepreneur, proposed drilling the mountain to prevent the lake from reforming, but the endeavor was deemed too costly. Ten years later, an attempt was made on religious grounds by building the chapel of Santa Margherita, which still stands overlooking the incriminated lake. The disastrous glacial bursts continued for another 250 years.

Today, the glacier is in rapid retreat, revealing those legendary pastures mentioned earlier and leaving behind a constellation of periglacial lakes. This hike touches almost all of them, with stops at the Rutor Falls, the Deffeyes Refuge, what remains of the Rutor Glacier, and finally a small detour to the Bellacomba Lakes.

The journey begins in the forest at La Joux (1601m), soon reaching a first waterfall that already attracts many tourists. The ascent continues more steeply towards the other 2 drops of the Rutor Falls before reaching the beautiful plateau of Lake Glacier (2158m, 1.45 hours). Then, with switchbacks cut into the basin, we cross its banks to reach the Deffeyes Refuge (2494m, 1 hour).

From here, we can venture towards the Rutor Glacier, passing by a constellation of lakes, to admire the mighty eastern tongue of the glacier (or what remains of it). Whichever route we decide to take, we reach the shores of Lake du Rutor, from where we can begin the descent. Before descending, we can take a small detour to the Bellacomba Lakes (2380m, 1—3 hours), which we can reach on a level path between moraines and green ups and downs, with the majestic presence of Mont Blanc observing us from afar.

From the lakes, we descend back to La Joux (1601m, 2 hours). The standard route takes us back to the right side of the stream, upstream of the Rutor Falls, reconnecting with the ascent route. However, there is also a trail that descends to La Joux, staying entirely on the left side of the stream, offering a different itinerary almost all the way to the parking lot.






The mountains are a dangerous environment: make sure you always have the right equipment — hiking or trail shoes, warm clothes and waterproofs in case of unexpected changes in weather conditions, a small emergency kit.


I've made an Amazon "shopping note" to make sure you have everything — ps if you buy from these links, 3% goes to support the development and maintenance of Hikes of the World 🙏.


  • Breathable t-shirt ( example )

  • Sweatshirt, fleece, or light jacket

  • Waterproof windbreaker (for example: men / women )

  • Gloves and hat (you never know)

  • Backpack with rain cover

  • Trekking poles (not essential, but they help to unload the weight of the backpack and ease the impact on the joints)

  • Trekking or trail running shoes (in great vogue lately because they are lightweight. These Salomon ones - for men and women - are an excellent entry-level, preferably Gore-Tex)

  • For via ferratas: complete via ferrata kit (I have this one , very light and compact, with this harness and helmet — or you can buy complete kits ). Buy in store to receive ad hoc support

  • To sleep a night in a refuge: sheet or light sleeping bag

  • Water bottle or thermos

  • Light crampons if you think you will find ice or snow on the route

  • Power bank or cell phone charger

  • Camera

  • Drone, for those who love to "fly" (used in moderation and at a distance from other people. I have had the DJI Mini 2 for over 2 years and have found myself very happy with it. The DJI Mini 3 also allows you to take vertical photographs)

  • Small emergency kit ( example )

  • Sun cream (essential)

  • Sunglasses


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