The ladder hike, the most spectacular walk in Belgium

We Belgians often forget how beautiful places just around the corner can be. So when we came across an adventurous ladder hike in Rochehaut, we couldn’t put our walking boots on fast enough. But beware: this walk is not for the faint-hearted! 

What? The ‘Promenade des Echelles’, or ‘walk of the ladders’. Officially known as walk 84. It’s only 5 kilometres long, but it’ll take you a good 3 hours.

Where? In Rochehaut, a lovely Ardennes town in the province of Luxembourg.

Why? The view over the river Semois when you’ve climbed down 150 metres in height, and the satisfaction you’ll feel when you’ve climbed back up again – sweaty forehead and painful calves included. No gym membership can top this.

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The ladder hike is known among walkers as one of the most spectacular ones in the country, and you’ll soon see why. You start on the plateau of Rochehaut, climb down to the river Semois and then back up using four ladders. A bit exhausting, yes, but the views are magnificent.

But let’s start with a disclaimer. Walk 84 is classed as a ‘dangerous and difficult’ hike, and on both ends the council make it pretty hard for you not to see the signs that say ‘Not recommended for sensitive people’.

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Yes, it involves a lot of climbing and crawling over rocks and fallen trees, but don’t let those warnings spoil the fun. We’re not the sportiest people ourselves, but it’s one of the best walks we ever did.

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When, almost halfway, we arrived at the bottom and looked over the Semois, we could hardly believe this desolate little piece of paradise was only a 2 hour drive away. It was absolutely the most perfect place for a picnic. And thank heavens we did just that, with the fierce climb awaiting us.

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The highest point above sea level during this walk is 377 metres, the lowest 212. That’s a height difference of 165 metres. Piece of cake when it’s nicely broken up over 5 kilometres, but let’s not forget this is a ‘difficult’ – let’s say ‘tiring’ – walk for a reason.

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After you’ve reached the river, you’ll walk along the Semois for about 1 kilometre. Then comes the hardest bit: climbing 150 metres in height over a distance of only 750 metres. This is where the ladders come in sight, they help you move up the very steep rocks.

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The ladders were installed in the late 30s by the local mayor, who worked out a secret route to a shelter between the rocks. After the war, the ladder route was incorporated into the walking network of Rochehaut.

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Last year, the route was made a little safer by replacing the old ladders and fixing metal banisters along the most tricky bit (at the very start of the climb). ‘Proper’ hikers think this is a great shame because it spoils the fun, but we were quite happy to be able to hold on to something once in a while.

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There are four ladders in total: one that goes up, two that take you down and a final one that goes up again. But don’t be mistaken: most of the climbing you will still have to do yourself.

Another part of the adventure is to find the actual route. Some signs are new, some are very old, and some have just disappeared. But don’t despair when you can’t find the next number 84. We kept walking and finished it just fine.

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To be honest, we swore a bit and sweated a lot, but the sheer delight and sense of achievement you feel when you’ve reached the top again makes this walk more than worth it.

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The practicalities

Distance: 5,5 km / Time: 3 hours / Highest point: 377 m / Lowest point: 212 m

How to walk?

Start at the church of Rochehaut. Follow the Rue des Moissons to the crossing with the N893. Cross the road and follow the Chemin des Falloises.  At the next crossroads, take the left road: the Voie de Remifontaine. This road will turn into a field track, and at some point you have to turn 180 degrees and enter the forest. There should already be signs of walk 84.

Follow the signs down to the river. Walk 1 km along the river, then follow the path up the rocks. Four ladders (one up, two down, one up) take you back to the plateau. Once on the Chemin des Falloises, follow this road back to the church.

It is very important that you do the walk in the right direction. Technically, you can choose, but it’s better to follow the route clockwise: first walk down to the river, then climb the ladders.

Good to know:

  • Wear hiking shoes with a lot of grip.
  • This walk is not suitable for very young children, wheelchair users or prams, but the Ardennes aren’t the Alps either. Children from 10-12 years old can definitely join.
  • A very mild fear of heights won’t be a problem, but a big one will.
  • We’d recommend not doing this walk in winter or when it’s just rained.
  • Don’t be in a rush and take your time.
  • Feeling thirsty or peckish afterwards? Restaurant Point de Vue in Rochehaut (50 metres from the church, near the panoramic viewpoint) offers decent food and a great view over the valley.
© WBT / JP Remy
© WBT / JP Remy

Have you ever done the ladder hike? Or want to share another fantastic walk with us? Tell us all about it!

Written By

Journalist, traveller, book wurm. A night owl with a sweet tooth and a love for languages.

  • Jon Arnold

    This looks quite “tricky”, but great fun, Nice views, too.

    • We’ve had a couple of people who have done the walk since our post and they loved it! 🙂