The Pyrenees Mountain range naturally forms the border between France and Spain and engulfs the country of Andorra. It’s a year-round playground for lovers of the outdoors, breath-taking scenery and several thermal bath and spa wellness experiences. This guide covers some of the best things to do and specific day hiking trails in the Pyrenees from strenuous to family friendly. It mainly covers the French Pyrenees but has two highlighted spots in Spain and Andorra.
Hiking in the Pyrenees Map
This map highlights all of the sights, hiking trails and thermal baths mentioned throughout this Pyrenees guide.
Hiking & Sights in Cauterets & Gavarnie – French Pyrenees
Cauterets is a beautiful spa town in the French Pyrenees, and the perfect place to stay while exploring the area. Home to a ski resort, several hiking trails, thermal baths and belle-époque buildings, like the Grand Hôtel d’Angleterre and the Grand Hôtel Continental, it’s a great place to stop and explore. While passing through, grab a bite to eat on the way to some of the sights and best hiking areas in the Pyrenees below.
Pont d’Espagne – French Pyrenees
Pont d’Espagne is one of the Pyrenees National Parks ‘great sights’ as many waterfalls meet naturally at this point, making their way under the medieval stone bridge that used to connect France and Spain. Translated Pont d’Espagne means ‘Bridge of Spain’.
It’s a popular place as access is easy to get to by road. It also has a large parking area, costing around 7€ a day. From the car park, it’s a short 5-minute uphill walk to reach the bridge. Visitors can also opt to take the cable car for a fee. There are a few things to see in this valley so check out the packages available. By the falls is a restaurant and cafe where you can admire the beautiful view from the terrace. See map of the area below for reference.
Hike Details: There are several flat footpaths and hikes to beautiful viewpoints, ensuring every visitor has an option to admire the sheer beauty of the area. We took a stroll through the surrounding valley and followed the river, which loops visitors back to the starting point of the falls. Follow the path behind the restaurant, where there are several yellow signs to guide you along the route of your choice.
Lac de Gaube – French Pyrenees
From the base of Pont d’Espagne, you can head up to Lac de Gaube, a picturesque glacial mountain lake. The cable car ride mentioned above also heads up to this point. Operating times are seasonal, and it wasn’t open when we visited at the end of May. So if you don’t want to hike, you can check the opening months. Once you reach the top, there is an amazing viewing area looking back down through the valley. Make sure to take a right when you exit. From the viewing point, it is a short 15-minute walk to reach Lac de Gaube.
Hike Details: An 8km (5mile) loop trail with a 371m (1,217ft) elevation gain that takes around 1 hour to an hour and a half to climb. There are two trail options from what we could see. One route is to take the GR10 hiking trail (a trail that stretches the whole length of the French Pyrenees from coast to coast), which is clearly sign posted on the left-hand side of the falls, before reaching Pont d’Espagne. This is a rocky trail through the forest which follows the route of the water.
The alternative is to follow the trail next to the chairlift. It is more of a track road that winds up the hill on the opposite side of the GR10 path. We decided to walk up the track road and back down the GR10 trail to make the best of both routes. It was quieter which worked out pretty well, and is what I’d recommend doing. You can also enjoy the viewing platform at the top by the chairlift if you walk up the track road which is a bonus.
When you reach Lac de Gaube, there is a bar and restaurant perfectly positioned to enjoy the lake and spectacular views in all its glory. It’s also a popular spot for wild camping and venturing towards Vignemale, the highest peak in the French Pyrenees. It looked like the picture-perfect setting for a night under the stars.
Cirque de Gavarnie – French Pyrenees
If you only have time to visit or do one hiking trail in the Pyrenees, it has to be here! The Cirque de Gavarnie is mother nature’s way of showing off her skills and blowing every visitor away. It’s earned the name ‘the colosseum of nature’ due to the sheer size and horseshoe-shaped wall that resembles an amphitheatre. Numerous waterfalls said to be one of the highest in Europe, spill down from the top to form the River Gaube. It is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to the rock formation.
Hike Details: An 8.5km (5.3m) loop or out and back trail with a 210m (689ft) elevation gain. The hike starts from the village of Gavarnie, follow the river across the bridge and look for the yellow signs. It takes around just over an hour to reach the base from here. There are donkeys and horses for hire if you fancy taking a ride up there instead. The trail is fairly easy with a family-friendly rating. There’s also a restaurant with front row seats of the cirque. We stopped for a drink and gazed on in awe.
We continued up the narrower path to the base of the largest waterfall. This is the part where the moderate rating comes in, as there is a bit of a scramble to the falls. The trail gains some elevation and does get pretty rocky and naturally quite slippery from the water sprays, so keep this in mind when choosing your footwear. I also imagine it’s not possible to do this in winter due to the snow and ice, but it’s worth checking out if it’s possible.
The walk back to the village is the same path you take up there but in reverse. We ended up veering off the marked trail by the restaurant. Look out for yellow signs that point towards Refuge des Éspuguettes, and then Gavarnie. We avoided the crowds, crossed a few streams, found an amazing meadow with wild horses and an alternative view of the Cirque de Gavarnie to admire, much better than walking back the same trail.
What are Cirques?
Common across the Pyrenees cirques are bowl-shaped, amphitheatre rock formations that glaciers carve into mountains and valley sidewalls.
Lac d’Estaing – French Pyrenees
According to tourist information, this glacial lake is the most visited in the Pyrenees. Located at the end of a valley surrounded by 3000m high peaks Lac d’Estaing can be accessed by car, bicycle, or foot. So with easy access and such a beautiful setting, it makes sense why it’s so popular. It also has a large parking area, picnic benches and a restaurant making it very family-friendly.
There is a lot of information about the various flora and fauna, fish and general wildlife in the area. Horses and cows roam free around the shores, a small reminder you’re in the mountains just in case you’d forgotten.
Hike Details: The loop walk around the lake itself is pretty flat and easy, taking around one hour to do. However, you can choose how far you wish to go. We made a picnic to enjoy and found a quiet spot away from the car park to relax and soak in the beautiful scenery.
If you’re looking for something a little more adventurous to do, there are several alternative trails around the lake that you can explore. (Remember to pop the link into chrome for the translation if you need it).
Pic du Midi – French Pyrenees
No list about the Pyrenees would be complete without mentioning the Pic du Midi. Standing at 2877 metres high panoramic views are stretching from east to west across the Pyrenees. Visitors ride a cable car up to the top for 45€ per person, where there is also a museum, observatory, observation platform and restaurant.
Sadly I’ve not visited, but the Pic du Midi is on my list. With so much to see and do in the Pyrenees, I feel like the price tag is likely why.
Hiking Around Luchon – French Pyrenees
Luchon is known as ‘The Queen of the Pyrenees’ as it offers visitors an array of things to see and do. From multiple hiking routes, a large ski resort, architecture, history and thermal baths, it’s the perfect place to stay in the Pyrenees.
Cascade d’Enfer – Gouffre d’Enfer – French Pyrenees
From Luchon head to the Vallée du Lys car park area. There are many hiking options available here, and the Cascade d’Enfer – Gouffre d’Enfer is one of the most popular. It features a waterfall, which in English translates to Waterfall of Hell, and some beautiful trails through the forest.
Side note: We also attempted to visit Lac Vert, but we left too late in the day to complete the full hike.
Hike Details: A 5.1km (3.2mile) out and back trail, 488m (1601ft) elevation gain. From the car park, follow signs for the Cascade d’Enfer. The path is very accessible and next to the EDF hydroelectric station. From here follow the yellow signs to begin the climb up to the Chasm of Hell (Gouffre d’Enfer). These names sound a lot scarier than they are. There are many waterfalls to see, and overall, this is a pleasant hike that is also family-friendly.
Lac d’Oô – French Pyrenees
Lac d’Oô is a stunning hike up to an artificial lake, and it’s one of the most popular hikes in the Pyrenees. Many families choose to do this on a day trip to the mountains, but I wouldn’t say this is for younger children. There is also a small café at the top with facilities. I recommend bringing a picnic as the views are beautiful.
Hike Details: A 6.6km (4mile) with an elevation gain of 430m (1411ft). From the car park, the trail begins on a gravel path through fields and forest. The incline is gradual, but there will soon be views looking back down into the valley. The second part of the hike gets a little steeper on the winding tracks. It flattens out near the stone bridge by the dam, and you’re almost there. Just pick a spot to admire the landscape.
Lac d’Espingo & Lac Saussat – French Pyrenees
From Lac d’Oô there is an option to continue your day hike and follow the GR10 mountain trail up to two more stunning lakes, the Lac d’Espingo and the Lac Saussat.
Hike Details: From Lac d’Oô this will add a further 8km (5miles) and 500m (1640ft) elevation gain to the overall hike. Walk back across the bridge and take the route through the forest along the side of Lac d’Oô. There are some spectacular views of the lake and waterfall before hitting some switchbacks as you climb. As you continue and make it out of the forest, there are great views over the Cirque d’Espingo, before making it to the refuge. In high season it serves food and drinks, making it the perfect spot to sit and enjoy the surroundings. The lakes are also very close together, coming into view as you reach the top.
L’Hospice de France & Cirque de la Glère – French Pyrenees
L’Hospice de France is a known place in the area that has been around since the 17th century. It’s a refuge and restaurant with several beautiful hiking trails close to the Spanish border. After your hike, this is also a great place to relax and enjoy a well-earned beverage!
Hike Details: From the car park, the Cirque de la Glère is a 12.5km (7.8mile) out and back trail with a 536m (1758ft) elevation gain. The many trails are well signposted and easy to follow. It wasn’t a crowded trail when we visited one weekend in autumn. The path leads into the forest and opens up to spectacular views as the trail ascends to the cirque. Wild horses also roam around here, so keep a lookout for them.
Hiking Around Cadaqués (Costa Brava, Spain)
Cadaqués is a small, beautiful seaside town on the Mediterranean with colourful cobbled streets and whitewashed buildings. With plenty of beaches, it also has incredible surrounding landscapes, part of the Cap de Creus nature park. Famous artists and painters also drew inspiration from the town, notably Salvador Dalí and Pablo Picasso.
Cap de Creus Lighthouse – Spanish Pyrenees
One of the most popular day hikes from Cadaqués is a trip up to the Cap de Creus lighthouse. There are several hiking options in the area, but this takes visitors along the peninsula where the Pyrenees Mountain range spills out into the Mediterranean Sea, the Cap de Creus Nature Park. The landscape and incredible scenery along the entire trail is a joy.
Hike Details: A 16km (10mile) loop trail with 447m (1467ft) elevation and takes a full day to enjoy (6-8 hours). Begin by following signs towards the Salvador Dalí House-Museum in Portlligat. Within 15 minutes, you reach the house. It’s worth a stop on your trip, but tickets must be purchased in advance. We ended up returning to do this the next day.
Continue walking through the town of Portlligat. The route is marked by red and green striped markings, as well as some yellow signposts. You should continue passing various coves, beaches and impressive rock formations.
There is a restaurant on top of the cliffs by the lighthouse, offering amazing panoramic views of the sea and the freshest seafood. We grabbed some food and a café cortado while soaking up the views before making our descent back to Cadaqués.
Thermal Baths & Wellness Spas in the Pyrenees
With over 28 different thermal bath and spa options in the Pyrenees, it’s not surprising it’s the number one wellness region in France. I’ve visited two, and each one was a very different experience. There are also some others I’d love to visit if I get the chance. They’re also the perfect rest day, or way to end the day in-between hiking in the Pyrenees.
Les Bains du Couloubret, Ax-les-Thermes. This was the first thermal baths I visited in the Pyrenees. For 18€ each, two of us had a two-hour stay and enjoyed the indoor and outdoor therapeutic pools. The water temperatures are different in each one. It was snowing heavily during my visit, but the hot water and mountains views made the outdoor baths my favourite spot to enjoy.
Balnéa, Loudenvielle. These baths are set in a valley with high mountain views all around. There is a range of indoor and outdoor pools, waterfalls, saunas, steam rooms, Roman Baths and jacuzzies. It’s the perfect setting to relax and recharge. But be careful not to exceed the two-hour time slot, which starts as soon as you swipe your entry card. There is a fee if you go over the time, and the receptionists are very strict.
Thermes des Luchon, Luchon. The town of Luchon centres itself around the baths, they’re the main focus. These baths have wellness areas and also curing water for various ailments. Baths have stood here since Roman times and are said to be some of the best waters in the French Pyrenees.
Caldea, Andorra La Vella. Right in the centre of Andorra’s capital, these baths are the most modern. The building looks like a large shard of ice or glass rising from the ground. From adult areas to children’s areas, these baths are for both relaxation and some playful memories depending on what you’d like.
Thanks for reading, I hope this has been a useful guide to the best sights and hiking in the Pyrenees. Continue planning the perfect trip by looking at the best places to stay in the French Pyrenees. What are some of your favourite hikes? Let me know in the comments below or find me on Instagram. If you’re in the area don’t forget to check out some beautiful day trips from Toulouse.
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