Walking in the Pyrenees

Cet article est également disponible en: French

The GR10 crosses the Way of Saint James in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port

The GR10 crosses the Way of Saint James in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port

If you are looking for a walking guide to the GR10 trail in the French Pyrenees, I recommend the FFRP series. Even if you struggle with French, the terms are repeated so often that you’ll soon learn them. More importantly, the guides have 1:50,000 scale IGN maps, and profiles and times for each day. On the other hand, if you want to get a feel for the GR10 before committing yourself, or if you want to discover the Pyrenees from the comfort of your armchair, then If you only walk long enough: exploring the Pyrenees will be of interest. Let’s be clear, it is not a guide book to the GR10 walk. It is my personal experience of trekking from Hendaye to Banyuls. It took me 63 days.

“Changing valleys once or even twice a day, the GR10 snakes up minor passes but shuns the highest peaks of the range, passing through countryside which is sometimes rugged, sometimes bucolic, but rarely banal. At the end of the day it makes a detour to sniff out a meal and a bed.” — Steve Cracknell

Second edition of If you only walk long enough: exploring the Pyrenees

A updated edition was published in 2016, now with 30 photos. This edition is avaliable at Amazon, in print and on the Kindle. It is also available as an e-book.

Les Pyrénées tout en marchant sur le GR10

There is also a French edition published by Éditions Cairn.

Walking in the Spanish Pyrenees

Footprints on the mountains... the news from the Pyrenees

Footprints on the mountains… the news from the Pyrenees

And for those who are considering the Spanish alternative, the Senda Pirenaica trek (GR11) my book Footprints on the mountains was published in 2016.

 

43 Responses to “Walking in the Pyrenees”

  1. Marion says:

    Hi Steve,

    I’m planning on walking from Banyul to St-Jean-Pied-de-Port where I intend to pick up Chemin St Jacques to Stantiago. I have a copy of Dougalas Streatfield-James,Trekking in the Pyrenees and intend to purchase GR10/11 maps. I am taking a lightweight tent, but hope to use other types of accommodations. I’ll be walking July and August of this year 2015. What are the pitfalls to expect going East to West? Great site btw!

  2. steve says:

    Hello Marion. I assume you are experienced in walking for weeks at a time in the mountains so I won’t give you any advice on that front. In July and August there should be no difficulty from residual snow. Heat is more of a problem, though in a storm the temperature can drop 10 degrees C in as many minutes. Leaving literally at dawn minimises both of the heat and likelihood of hitting a storm.

    If you want to stay in a refuge try to book the night before at that time of year. Beware, many relatively sizeable villages have no useful shops. But you only need a maximum of three days food (once or twice) for those occasions.

    Pyrénées cabanes et refuges is an excellent site for unstaffed huts.

    As far as I can see there have been no new editions of Douglas Streatfeild-James’ Trekking in the Pyrenees since 2005, so the one thing it won’t mention is that the GR11 has been rerouted between Pineta and Góriz and between Otsagabia and Burguete. You need the 2013 Prames Guide for the up-to-date route and especially the good quality maps, if you are intending to do any of the GR11.

    You will probably also be interested in Andy Howell’s Pyrenees Forum

    Have fun. Let me know if you have any more questions.

  3. Richard says:

    Hi Steve,
    as per your experience – how is the general WLAN availability on the GR 10? I am gearing up to walk the whole lot starting mid June this year. Thanks in advance, Richard

  4. steve says:

    Hi Richard,
    If you mean connecting to the Internet using 3G, it is almost non-existant, except – perhaps – in the few towns you go through. On the other hand a few refuges and more hotels are now starting to let walkers connect to the Internet using wifi.

  5. Christel says:

    Hello Steve, I just ordered your book and look forward to reading it. This trail has been on my wishing list for a long time and maybe this is the year to do it. I did parts of it during several holidays: Lescun, Cauterets, Vignemalle, Pic du Midi d’Ossau, Gavarnie and now would like to do the whole of the GR10, but in my own pace since I have lots of time. What time of year would be best: May/June or rather June/July?

  6. steve says:

    Hello Christel. Given the amount of snow we are having at the moment May will be out of the question. Normally the earliest you can set out is 14 June, unless you want to carry crampons. Keep an eye on the snow on Météo France. I hope you enjoy the book.

  7. Christel says:

    Hi Steve, thank you for your quick reply and sorry to bother you with my question because soon after I posted it I found the answer on your -very informative- site. By reading the Q&A section elsewhere I learned a lot and was interested in what you wrote about an elegant option to avoid passes covered in snow: to break off the journey at the first pass (probably on the 17th day), start the route from the other side and do the bit in the middle when the snow has gone. Have you heard of people having done it that way? Anyway, I’ll keep an eye on the Météo France website and hope to start my journey as soon as possible in Spring.

  8. steve says:

    I don’t know anyone who has done it on the GR10 but when I was walking the GR11 in 2013 and there was snow right into July I met someone who had walked from the Mediterranean to Andorra where he got stuck. So he started again on the Atlantic. The other thing to bear in mind if you start early is that some of the refuges may not be open. Best of luck.

  9. Stijn says:

    Hello Steve,

    I found your website and it inspired me to go on a short notice hike this summer. I’m not very experienced (did a few 2 day hikes) but i do take this seriously and will be prepared with regard to gear/ accessories and planning. I’m on a tight budget and will only have about one and a half weeks of which i want to go on a 6 day hike.

    Initially my plan was to travel to Toulouse by bus from Amsterdam, go to Lourdes and start to follow your trail from Gavarnie until Germ. Is it sufficient and/or possible to buy the Pyrénées Centrales map on arrival and use that for the six days? Any tips about camping/camping gear, do you advise to only sleep on designated campsites for instance?

    If something springs to mind considering a six day hike that you would highly recommend, with a starting point at around the same distance as Lourdes is from Toulouse, would also be much appreciated.

    Kind Regards

  10. steve says:

    Hello Stijn. It’s nice to think that my site has inspired you to go walking in the Pyrenees but I’m a little concerned about the amount of experience you have. You don’t say if you have done any walking in the mountains. What is the longest walk you have done recently and how long did it take?
    Your plan is feasible but you may have difficulty hitching back from Germ. If you started at Barèges you should be able to get to Luchon, which is better connected. Alternatively it might be more fun for you to start Hendaye and aim to finish at St-Jean-Pied-de-Port.
    Don’t wait to the last moment to buy the maps. You will need them for the planning, preferably 1:25000 as the 1:50000 don’t have enough detail.
    Best wishes Steve

  11. Mike says:

    Hi – Thanks for your helpful website. My hope is to hike from somewhere in the Pau area (or east of there) over the top to Andorra. I have extensive experience hiking/trekking backpacking. I’m looking for route options that would allow for a 7 – 10 day hike, staying in huts and/or shelters or village accommodations along the way. Ideally this hike would be in the first half of April, but I realize that may be too early to go through any high elevation passes. Any ideas on where to look for routes would be welcome.

  12. steve says:

    Hi Mike

    The central Pyrenees will be completely snowed up at the start of April (still ski season) and impossible to walk without crampons. The GR11 pass into Andorra is typically full of snow until mid-June at the earliest. If you have crampons and the experience to go with them I can give you more information, but otherwise you should postpone the trip.

  13. Kris says:

    Steve, just finished your book; brilliant. I was wondering about training, support and ‘what to take’, seasonal risks etc. Also is age a barrier?

    Kris

  14. steve says:

    Hi Kris. Age is not a barrier and has certain advantages over youth. I know my limits better now! For more info you can start with this page: The GR10 trail: a walker’s guide. If you have any further questions feel free to leave a comment.

  15. Kris says:

    Steve did you ever see any bears?

    Cris

  16. steve says:

    In 20 years of walking in the Pyrenees I have never seen a bear. I once thought I’d seen a track but it was only one footprint and not in an area where bears are known. As there are only 30 in the whole of the Pyrenees you would be lucky to see one. Nobody I know takes any precautions but there is lots of advice on the internet, particularly on American sites.

  17. Sally says:

    We are coming from western Canada and hoping to do 7-10 days on the GR10 starting June 5th. We want to go as high as is practical for that time of year. What section(s) would you recommend? I’d love to start from Etsaut or Cauterets, but it may be too early in the season for that. We have only hiked on the GR10 near Canigou previously, and would like to see another area.

  18. admin says:

    Hi Sally. Normally I would say that if you are starting on June 5th you will be restricted to the ends of the mountains because there will be too much snow, but this winter has so far been extraordinarily mild. However even if the winter is mild there is always a danger of avalanches well after the snow stops falling. It all depends… The high passes between Gabas and the Bouillouses could well have snow.
    So if you need to decide before the beginning of May because of plane tickets and want to play safe then you should consider the very pleasant but not very mountainous Basque country (as far inland as Gabas). Otherwise around Etsaut, Cauterets, or indeed in Ariège the conditions are likely to be much the same.
    I hope this helps.

  19. Antony Weeks says:

    HI Steve
    I love your book! I’m going to start the GR10 on MArch 13th. Only doing 5 days and hoping to get to St JEan Pied de Port before heading back to Toulouse and then home. I know March is early but this first stage I hope will be ok? Do you think this is ridiculously early?
    I’ve also managed to sort some AirBNB places to stay which are very cheap and convernient!
    Thanks
    Ant

  20. steve says:

    Hi Ant

    Glad you like the book. Given the relatively mild winter we have had so far you could be OK from Hendaye to SJPP. But be prepared for sub-zero temperatures (down to -10C taking into account wind chill), though it could be warm in the afternoons. In any case in that area there will always be ways to go round obstacles by walking lower down. I’m interested to see that you have used AirBNB. Often the GR10 (and GR11 in Spain) pass through villages which don’t seem to have any facilities and AirBNB could be a real help. It would be nice if you could let us know how you get on.

    Steve

  21. Paul Smyth says:

    Hi Steve…
    I completed the GR11 in 44 days solo, coast to coast and camped on route so was carrying nearly 50lb including food and water in 2005 at the tender age of 42 and thinking of doing it again this year Sep-Aug. Planning to go lighter but just wondering if you know of any recent blogs or info as I know changes can be quite regular.
    Thanks
    Paul

  22. steve says:

    Hi Paul. I did the GR11 in Spain over three years 2012-2014 and am about to publish a book on the subject (not a guide) so I know it pretty well. It took me much longer than you, 54 days walking plus rest days. I didn’t carry a tent but stayed in huts on seven nights. If you haven’t already come across it http://www.pyrenees-refuges.com is a wonderful resource. I reckon I was carrying about 11kg including a good sleeping bag, food and water see my kit list

    The route has changed significantly in Navarre, now going from Auritz to Hiriberri then to Ochagavía rather than passing through the Iraty forest. And the problems of waymarking there have been resolved. The other good news is that a new hostel is opening this summer between the Puente de las Coronas and Conangles, at the Estany de Cap de Llauset.

    As for blogs, Andy Howell has revived his Pyrenees forum, though it isn’t yet very active. And I have a blog la Senda Pirenaica which I am developing at present. Please feel free to comment over there.

    I hope this helps

  23. Harsh says:

    Hello,

    3 of us are planning to do a bit of backpacking around Europe between late May and mid June. We have a week free from the 1st of June (coming in from Barcelona) till the 7th of June (planning to fly into Munich), and are quite keen to use it to hike in the Pyrenees. Are there any good 5-6 day hikes (preferably circular, since we may have tiny suitcases that we would like to drop off at storage units) that you recommend? We are decently fit and athletic, and actually would prefer to see a bit of snow. Please let me know.

    Thanks in advance,
    Harsh

  24. steve says:

    Hello Harsh

    A bit of a difficult request this one. Seeing snow isn’t a problem but it isn’t a good time of year to walk on it because of the danger of avalanches. You would need to be equipped with crampons, an ice axe and snow skills. As this would add quite a lot to your baggage I presume I can rule this out.

    Also, at that time of year few hostels are staffed. Many have a basic room where you can sleep but you would have to take all you need with you, including sleeping bags – outside, at night, the temperature will get down to about freezing above 2000m and may well drop to near that in the day.

    That said, I think the following itinerary fits your criteria. You won’t need sleeping bags as blankets are provided (but you will need a sheet sleeping bag). I am assuming you can navigate and have maps and compass or GPS. Note that mobile phones do not work well in the mountains, if at all. And you will need to be fit to do all this.

    Train from Barcelona to Villefranche-de-Conflent via Perpignan (several hotels and b&b)

    Day 1 Gorges de la Carança. Take the Petit train jaune to Thuès and walk to the top of the gorges and back down the other side – You need a head for heights as the path is cut into the cliff and there are monkey bridges. Not for the faint-hearted but great fun! Return to Villefranche
    Day 2 Taxi to Vernet-les-Bains – then walk up Pic de la Riudère – Col de Jou – Mariailles Hostel
    Day 3 Mariailles – Les Cortalets hostel (GR10 from now on). Via the chimney to the summit of Canigou if conditions permit (ask in Mariailles) – or passing by the Refuge de Bonne-Aigue if they don’t. See Facebook: refuge des Cortalets for an idea of how much snow there is.
    Day 4 Les Cortalets – Batère You will need to book
    Day 5 Batère – Moulin de la Palette (or just down to Arles and then back to Barcelona)
    Day 6 Moulin de la Palette to Amélie-les-Bains and taxi (or possibly bus, check) back to Perpignan.

    Please let me know how you get on. Thanks. Steve

  25. Barbara says:

    Dear Steve,

    I have only a limited amount of leave to take in early october, I am accustomed to the various routes of the Camino however I was considering starting at St. Jean and walking from there towards Hendaye for the duration of my leave before heading back by speed train towards Santiago de Compostela for my flight. If I wanted to just do 10 days is that feasible in terms of accomodation? Weather wise I’m accustomed to Irish climate and hike all year round in The wicklow mountains which is quite vicious!!

    I’m quite happy to walk in rain or cooling temperatures, I actually prefer it. Is the route populated in early October? I would be walking solo.

    Barbara

  26. steve says:

    Hello Barbara
    Ten days is plenty of time to get to the coast. However you will need to check out if the accommodation is open. You won’t see huge numbers of people but the GR10 is very popular with walkers based in the area so you will not be completely alone. It would be useful if you could let us know if there are any accommodation problems at that time of year. Thanks.

  27. Derek says:

    Hi Steve

    We are considering hiking somewhere in the pyrenees in the second half of April 2017. Two questions:
    1. Do you know of any website that has a collection of historical avalanche reports for the Pyrenees?
    2. For people with a reasonable amount of experience with ice axe and crampons, which part of the pyrenees would you suggest hiking at that time of year?

    Thanks!

    Derek

  28. steve says:

    Hello Derek

    There are detailed maps of avalanches available on avalanches.fr but the site is full of warnings saying that these are unsuitable for walkers etc

    « Cette carte N’EST PAS ADAPTEE A LA DEMANDE DES SKIEURS – RANDONNEURS et des alpinistes qui ont essentiellement besoin, pour choisir leur itinéraire, de connaître la fréquence ou l’époque habituelle des déclenchements d’avalanches ainsi que les relations existant entre ceux-ci et les conditions nivo-météorologiques du moment. Ces éléments ne sont pas pris en compte dans la CLPA. »

    To summarise: “This map is not suitable for walkers who need to know the frequency and avalanche season and also the relationship between these factors and the conditions of the moment. These are not taken into account on the map.”

    It is also true that the maps are mainly concerned with ski resorts and inhabited areas. They are great for telling you areas where there have certainly been avalanches but just because there are no recorded avalanches doesn’t mean that the area is safe. For example, I know that the slopes of Canigó are subject to avalanches but they are not indicated on the maps.

    The best source of information is the Meteo France Avalanche Risk Bulletin.

    You also need to study the slopes in detail. The free TopoPirineos GPS map of the Pyrenees is useful for this. In terms of safety the best areas to consider are the two ends of the massif.

    I hope this helps.

  29. steve says:

    Further info. I have just discovered the excellent slope maps on the French government site https://www.geoportail.gouv.fr/donnees/carte-des-pentes

  30. Daniel says:

    Hi!

    I’m plannin on walking the entire GR10 next summer, most likely starting from early/mid July. How are the laws regarding setting a camp for the night in the area? I would very much like to camp most nights not only to save money, but also in order to get the best out of nature.

    Another question I would have is about the accessability of the starting location etc. Where should I book flights in order to get to Hendaye and what is the easiest way back from Banyuls-sur-Mer?

    Kind regards,
    Daniel

  31. steve says:

    Hello Daniel

    You can camp in most places on the GR10, but camping is restricted in the Pyrenees National Park and regional parks. You will find lots of info on this page, in French. Les bivouacs et campings du GR10.

    As for access, both Hendaye and Banyuls have railway stations. The main airports for Hendaye are Bordeau, San Sebastian, Pau, and Toulouse but there are many smaller airports, depending on where you are coming from. At the other end of the GR10, there are international airports at Perpignan, Gerona and Barcelona.

    Have fun
    Steve

  32. Daniel says:

    Hi,

    Thank you for the answer!

    Unfortunately I don’t speak French. Do these restrictions to camping mean that it is possible only in campin areas or that it’s possible only for a limited time?

    If camping is difficult in these areas then is accomondation easy to find on demand, as arranging them in advance is difficult in such a long hike.

    Kind Regards,
    Daniel

  33. steve says:

    HI Daniel
    You can always copy the French and paste the text into the Google Translator. See also this map for the National Parks, Nature Parks and Reseves on the GR10 In the Pyrenees National Park overnight camping (19h00 to 09h00) is permitted if you are more than one hour’s walk from the edge of the Park or any road and there are similar rules in the Nature Parks and Reserves but I don’t have the time to go through all of them at present.
    Really camping isn’t a problem.
    Best wishes
    Steve

  34. Mat says:

    Hi,
    I’m planning a short hike in the Pyrenees for sept 2017. We where thinking of 4-5 nights to complete a loop from Cauterets to Liz. We would like to see the main sights taking in lac de Gaube, Vignemale and the Cirque de Gavarine. Do you have any other suggestions or help info or guidance.
    Thanks Mat

  35. steve says:

    Hi Mat
    It is a good circuit for that time of year. Although you are unlikely to get snow in September, if you have the choice earlier is better than later. My only suggestion is to stay in the Saugué refuge rather than in or near Gavarnie because the day from Gavarnie to Luz is rather long. By the way, the Cirque is further away from Gavarnie than most people realise. You need to allow two hours to get there and back.
    Best wishes Steve

  36. Naim says:

    Hi Steve,

    Your website and books are absolutely fantastic! 😀

    I really want to experience the GR10 or at the very least have a feel.

    Will be in Toulouse in the 3rd week of April for a few days, would the trail be impossible to do in the snow? Was thinking of doing Cauterets to Gavarnie in 3 or 4 days. Hike from Cauterets to Pont D’Espagne, then Lac de Gaube to Gavarnie, visit the Cirque de Gavarnie before going back to Toulouse.

    Thanks buddy!

  37. steve says:

    Hi Naim,

    There is still a lot of snow in the Pyrenees at present and the section from the Lac de Gaube to Gavarnie contains the highest pass on the GR10 trail. You would need crampons and an ice axe. From Cauterets you should be able to walk as far as the Lac de Gaube and back. But avoid going beyond the end of the lake as the area is subject to avalanches.

    Alternatively you could go to Gavarnie and see the Cirque and then walk down to Luz-St-Sauveur, but again beware of the possibility of snow near the gîte de Saugué near Gèdre. The gîte isn’t open until 1 May but they should be able to give you info.

    I don’t think the alternative route, walking directly from Cauterets to Luz-St-Sauveur will be all that praticable – see the webcams at the ski resort of Luz-Ardiden.

    But if you are really feeling adventurous contact the Bureau des Guides in Cauterets. They can propose guides and equipment for all kinds of treks.

  38. Naim says:

    Hi Steve,

    Thanks, I really appreciate your help! By the way, is it possible to get a signed copy of “If you only walk long enough”?

  39. steve says:

    Hi Naim, glad to be of help. I’ve sent you the details of how to get a signed copy by email.

  40. Andrew says:

    Hi. Thanks for all the great info 🙂
    I’m looking at just doing a week or 10days of the trail at the end of June, i want to do the most mountainous/ steepest part of it- could you recommend a stage to start off / finish at? We’d be flying to and from Toulouse.
    Thanks!

  41. steve says:

    Hello Andrew

    I’m glad the site is useful. Before I reply, can you let me know how much mountain walking you have done (above 1500m) and how much you have done in the way of multi-day walks. Thanks.

  42. Andrew says:

    Hi Steve, thanks for the fast response!
    I did the gr20 last September and found it pretty easy. I’ve also done some trekking in the jungle of Brazil for a week and regularly scramble in Wales, i also rock climb alot so am very comfortable with heights and know the precautions to take.

  43. steve says:

    In that case you should consider walking some of the section between Gabas and Luchon via the Hourquette d’Ossoue. You may still find snow on the north side of the Hourquette d’Arre (2457m) between Gabas and Gourette. And also on the Hourquette d’Ossoue (2734m). Easiest access points by public transport (and perhaps a short taxi ride) are Gourette, Cauterets, Gavarnie, Luz-St-Sauveur, and Luchon. See also my guide to walking the GR 10, especially the comments at the bottom of the page. Please let us know the conditions you encounter. Thanks.

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