Whether you want to blissfully ramble and discover the perfect picnic meadow, or conquer majestic peaks that soar on the edge of reality, the Pyrenees won’t just satisfy your yearnings, it will inspire you to seek out more. From formidable rows of summits that surge through the clouds to sunsets that melt into hidden crevices and canyons, the Pyrenees is a hikers’ wonderland.
These seven best hikes in the French Pyrenees include staggering feats of nature such as the Cirque de Gavarnie, intoxicating aromas drifting through the Pyrenees Orientale, and wild mountains made even more memorable by the friendships often forged in the refuges below them.
1. The Andreyt ridges from the Col d’Aubisque
Best hike for families in the Pyrenees
5.4 miles (9 km), 3 hours, easy to moderate
Stretches of mountains fold lazily into each other, fresh breezes are carried from the sea, and summits are made surreal by sinking cloud. Balcony hikes provide striking views without the exertion, which makes them ideal for families – and anyone wanting an afternoon’s escape.
The Andreyt ridges are a delightful leisurely balcony loop that opens out onto the rest of the Haute–Pyrenees to the west. The tranquil hike quickly reveals dramatic views of the Cirque de Gourette, with its combination of craggy steel summits and rolling satiny green hills, while light reflects from moist rock that can look like running water. A short 1.5-mile detour after the crest of Andreyt leads to a spectacular view from the Soum de Grum.
A good starting point for this walk is Gourette, where you can drive or catch a bus to the top of the Col d’Aubisque. The Col also offers a shorter 1.5-mile round trip walking directly to the Soum de Grum.
Planning tip: Visit between May and October to avoid snow, and choose a clear day as fog can creep in – even in the summer.
Check weather forecasts for the best chance for epic summit views in the French Pyrenees © Shutterstock / PHILIPIMAGE
2. Tuchan to Puilarens taking in the magnificent Gorge de Galamus
Most aromatic hike in the Pyrenees
Up to 80 miles (122 km) round trip, 3 days, easy to moderate
The delightfully heady scent of wild lavender, rosemary, broom and herbs is one of the exquisite joys of the Pyrenean spring and summer. The historic and popular Cathar Trail, linking the Pyrenees to the Mediterranean via the lower mountains, is one of the best ways to enjoy this.
One route on the Cathar Trail starts from Tuchan and weaves its way along aromatic balcony trails of herbs, with a fragrance that’s strongest in April and May. Melodies of finches and siskins fill the air, and almost comically over-sized beetles sometimes veer across the path.
As you progress towards Puilarens, you’ll see endless postcard views of castles, colorful towns, a windmill, and the Chateau de Queribus clinging, limpet-like to its rock perch, with stunning vistas over the whole Pyrenees Orientale. This is one of the best places to stop to take in the sunset.
The Gorge de Galamus is a marvel of nature notable for the vertiginous roads carved within, as well as its colorful pools bringing a little respite from the summer heat. Continue on from there to eventually reach the imposing Peak of Bougarache, known as the “overturned mountain”, where falcons and eagle sightings are common.
A train is available from Lapradelle, which travels from Axat and down the coast to the east.
Local tip: Be aware that the fire risk can often be high in the region, especially when conditions have been hot and dry, so consult the fire risk map before you set out.
3. Mont Valier
Best circular hike in the Pyrenees
31 miles ( 52 km) round trip, 3 to 4 days, difficult
At 2828 metres, Mont Valier is a favourite stomping ground for hikers working towards a 3 kilometre climb and beyond.
One of the most rewarding routes starts from Couflens. Starting from the valley, lush green undulating hills are interspersed with trickling mountain streams and grazing horses. From spring, pale blue and deep purple flowers seem to glow in the afternoon sun, and silhouettes of eagles hover overheard.
Mont Valier itself is one of the most striking mountains in the Pyrenees, and crossing the western shoulder, you’ll be surrounded by waves of rough peaks, with the summit rising above the shimming cloud.
Refuges such as Borda Ignasia refuge and Refuge les Estagnous provide good stopping points to recuperate, and meet fellow hikers.
It’s a tough climb, with as much as 2250 metres of elevation over short distances of undulating terrain, which becomes somewhat more technical the more you ascend.
The effort is more than worth it. Every evening, from the Estagnous mountain refuge, a ballet looms in the sky; the sunset gives way to a sea of clouds from which only the peaks emerge, creating a sublime spectacle of feeling elevated above it all.
Planning tip: The best times to visit are between June and September.
You’ll see and smell plenty of wildflowers in the mountains in France © Getty Images
Best base for a choice of hikes
5.5 miles (8.7km) round trip, easy to moderate or 23 miles (37 km) round trip, 1 to 2 weeks, easy to difficult
Wonderfully warm and beautiful, Argeles-Gazost is an idyllic haven for exploring some of the most exciting terrain in the Pyrenees.
Argeles is around ten minutes drive from the entrance to the Pyrenees National Park, where wildlife includes chamois, red squirrels, golden eagles, and marmots. A small population of brown bears reside within the park, and designated trails should be followed to avoid difficulties.
From Argeles, a bus to Cauterets the south will let you explore the Pont d’Espagne, full of waterfalls, as well as a further hike to the reflective Lac de Gaube. Point d’Espagne is served by chairlifts.
Heading southwest via bus to Luz St Sauveur opens up hikes to Pic du Midi, Cirque Gavarnie, Pic des Tentes, Cirque de Troumousse. Buses to Arrens allow you to explore the Aubisque and Soulor. You can also hike directly up the Hautacam which overlooks Argeles, taking in the remarkable valley views.
There are several fully accessible walks within a little over an hour’s drive, such as the three Heritage walks in Arudy: the Ossau Valley, Bruges-Capbis-Mifaget, and Rebanacq. Alternatively, there is the Camino del Salto walk within around two hours’ drive, with spectacular views of the surrounding mountains.
Argeles puts you at the centre of some of the most famous views of the Pyrenees.
Local tip: Weather can sometimes vary wildly between valleys, so always check ahead on which direction is likely to provide the best chance of good weather.
Hikers resting on a rock by a glacial lake on the Cirque de Gavarnie © Matt Munro / Lonely Planet
5. Mont Perdu via the Cirque de Gavarnie
Most memorable hike for peak baggers
Ranges from 6 miles (10 km) to 8 miles (15 km) round trip, 4 days, moderate to difficult
The Pyrenees has no shortage of challenges for the experienced hiker seeking a new adventure. One of the most memorable hut-to-hut hikes takes in the spectacular Cirque de Gavarnie, with the chance to see golden eagles, chamois, marmots and bearded vultures, en route to crossing over the border into Spain for the mysterious Mont Perdu.
Starting out from the Gavarnie, a five to six hour hike to Refuge Roland des Serradets offers the optional detour to the famous (and very Instagrammable) Breche de Roland. It’s around a 1km climb, and can be very windy, so check for advice from the refuge.
On day two, a challenging six- to eight-hour hike will be rewarded with the breathtaking site of Mont Perdu, a mystical layered maze of a mountain.
On day three, after marveling again at the waterfalls of the Gavarnie, head down valley to the Refuge des Espeguettes. The next morning, follow the route to the Horquette d’Alans, and drop down into the Cirque d’Estaube, another magical waterfall locality, until you reach the grassy and gloriously quiet Cirque de Troumousse. Then travel down the valley to reach the Auberge du Maillet for accommodation and good food, as well as the novel Petit Train de Troumouse, a tractor train that will ferry you back down the valley the next day to Gavarnie, where you began the trip.
Planning tip: Check the weather for summer storms, which tend to arrive between 2pm and 5pm. Also book ahead for refuges during the summer, where new friendships are often forged.
6. GR10 official: Merens-Les Vals – Vernet Les Bains
Best multi-day hike in the Pyrenees
Varies from 6.6 miles (11km) to 11.5 miles (20 km), 7 days, moderate to difficult
The GR10 is a favoured route for backpackers tracing the Pyrenees from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean sea, over the course of 250 miles; many people complete the trail over the course of several years.
One of the best trails on this route sits towards the start. The journey from Merens-Les Vals to Vernet Les Bains is a seven day journey that can be moderate or tough, depending on the trail you choose. The routes are rugged and challenging and so relatively quiet. There are alternative moderately challenging routes through the valleys, such as towards the flowery Val d’Incles, and the oft-overlooked Valleys of Ax.
For the full hike, start from Merens les Vals near the Spanish border, where sightings of chamois and ibex are possible. The route encompasses a tranquil lake in Vallee de Bouillouses, before gradually approaching the mythical Canigou.
Savour the view as you reach Planes, looking down into the valley, where the Canigou fills the sky, often rising above a sea of cloud. From there, walk down to the village of Vernet les Bains, where you can stock up on supplies, and ease any aches or pains in the thermal baths.
A streetscape in the village of Arette in the Pyrenees © Lottie Davies / Lonely Planet
7. Gorges de Kakuetta
Best beginners hike in the Pyrenees
2.4 miles (4 km), 1 hour 40 minutes, easy
Beginners and experienced hikers alike will enjoy the gentle walk through the sublime canyon of the Gorges de Kakuetta, in the Pays Baque region of the French Pyrenees. This tourist favourite takes in forests, sparkling turquoise waters fed by gushing waterfalls, caves and soaring cliffs, and the chance to walk behind La Cascade, a 20-meter high waterfall. Eagles and salamanders often pop up, and you might even glimpse a rare a desman if you’re very lucky. The walk concludes with a cooling cave jammed with stalactites and stalagmites.
There are brief steep sections and some stones to climb, though the walk is otherwise straightforward – across walkways and paths. Sturdy footwear is a must for the slippery surfaces.
Planning tip: Visits are possible from March to November, although summer shows the Gorges in their best light.
Top tips for safe hiking in the Pyrenees
Official GR routes are well signed with a white line above a red line, typically on fence posts or well-placed rocks. Keep to these paths when venturing any distance, to follow the most pleasing and safest routes.
The summer typically brings intense heat, especially when on an exposed plateau or summit. Remember to use sunscreen and carry enough food and water to stay hydrated.
Some regions can become a fire hazard when weather has been particularly hot dry. Risks can be checked at by consulting the fire risk map.
You may come across Pyrenean Mountain Dogs, which are impressive, hairy gruff dogs that guard sheep. Admire them from afar – without crossing towards the sheep – and they should drowsily ignore you.