April 19, 2024

The 4 Most Scenic Hiking Trails in France

France is blessed with beautifully diverse topography. From the fragrant lavender fields and vineyards of Provence to the snow-capped mountains of the Alps and Pyrenees, you won’t be short of photo opportunities if you plan a hiking holiday in France. In this article, we are going to explore some of the most scenic hiking trails in France for amateur and experienced hikers.

Cirque de Gavarnie – Parc National des Pyrenees

The Pyrenees Mountains are spectacular and the Cirque de Gavarnie – Parc National des Pyrénées circular hike is a great introduction to this beautiful region in southwest France. The Cirque de Gavarnie is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a natural Amphitheatre, surrounded by towering limestone, glaciers, and waterfalls.

If you are searching for easier hiking trails in France, this one is for you. The circular Cirque de Gavarnie trail is 8.4 km long and will take around 2-3 hours. It’s ideal for families, as kids should have no problem with the distance or terrain. The only tricky section is the scramble over rocks up to the main Cirque de Gavarnie waterfall.

The best time to visit the Cirque de Gavarnie trail is late spring or September when there are fewer people around. There is car parking available at Gavarnie village. You can also travel to nearby Lourdes by train or bus.

Mer de Glace – Chamonix

The Mer de Glace trail starts and ends in Chamonix and is a 14km circular trail to the famous Mer de Glace (glacier). It is one of the more scenic hiking trails in France. The glacier has receded a lot in recent years, due to climate change, but this trail is still well worth hiking.

Although it is an intermediate trail, most moderately fit people can hike to the Mer de Glace and back in around 5 hours or less. If you would rather take it easy, there is an option to hop on the scenic Mer de Glace train from Chamonix on the outgoing or return journey.

The trail is best attempted in summer when the snow has melted. It is steep, with an altitude gain of 900m, and at other times of the year, the snow and ice make it rather treacherous if you aren’t wearing crampons.

Hiking Trails in France 2

GR20 – Corsica

The GR20 is one of the more challenging hiking trails in France, or rather Corsica, a French island in the Mediterranean, 170km south of France. The 180km GR20 trail runs the length of the island’s mountainous ridge, from north to south, and has an elevation gain of 10,000+m. The views on the first half of the trail are stunning but it is very technical, so not for inexperienced hikers. The southern half isn’t so technical, but the views are not quite as stunning. You can hike from north to south, south to north, or just do a smaller section.

Most people complete the GR20 in around 16 days, but super fit people keen on adventure hiking should be able to finish it in 12 days.

Despite being technical, the GR20 trail rewards those who complete it with amazing views of mountain lakes, towering red peaks, and natural waterholes called pozzines, which are common in the mountains of Corsica.

The best time to hike the GR20 is late spring or September when it is less crowded with tourists. There are mountain hut refuges along the route, where hikers can buy a meal and snacks. You can also replenish your supplies at the major towns near the trail.

Accommodation is available in the mountain huts but during busy periods, they can be noisy and you won’t get much rest! Hikers can camp if they prefer, but strictly speaking, wild camping is forbidden. However, if you camp next to the refuges, or pick a spot away from the trail and leave no trace, there won’t be a problem.

The GR20 route is marked with red and white rectangles, but it can be confusing in places. To be safe, carry a map and a compass and/or download the route’s GPX file to a navigation device.

The Tour Du Mont Blanc

The Tour Du Mont Blanc (TMB) trail is for hiking enthusiasts seeking a new challenge. It extends for 170km, traversing a circular route that starts in France but takes in Italy and Switzerland, too. The highest point on the trail reaches 2,584m, but if you complete the route, the total elevation gain is 10,600m.

Most moderately fit hikers can do the trail in around 11 days, but there are lots of stopping points en route where you can rest, grab some food, or spend the night. You don’t even need to do the entire trail if you are short on time or not quite as fit as you hoped. There are shorter routes that take in smaller segments of the trail, which are doable in two or three days. The stage from Argentiere to Les Houches is one of the most popular smaller sections if time is short.

Most people start hiking the TMB from Les Houches, which is reachable from Chamonix by train. You are, however, free to join the trail from any of the towns along the route. The best time to tackle this trail is in late spring or September when the weather is good but not too hot.

The trail is well marked, and you can re-fill your drink bottle with fresh alpine spring water all along the route.

There are 50 official places to stay in the various towns and villages the trail passes through. Spend the night in lodges or hotels, or if you don’t mind lugging a heavy pack up 10,000m, you can camp! Another option is to join an organised tour, so your bags are transported from rest stop to rest stop. This is a great option for inexperienced hikers.

If walking the TMB isn’t enough of a challenge, why not try running it instead? The famous Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) follows the same route, only the cut-off time is 46.5 hours. This race is not for the faint-hearted. The DNF rate is around 40%, which given entrants need to have accrued qualifying points from other tough ultras, is a testament to how hard the race is.

There are many more scenic hiking trails in France for people of all abilities. Whichever one you decide to try, make sure you are prepared for the terrain and weather. Always carry a compass and a map on longer trails, and let someone know your proposed route and how long you expect the hike to take.  The Eiffel Tower isn’t the only place worth visiting in this country!

Good luck!

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