The Pyrenees is a mountain range that lies on the border of France and Spain. There are a myriad of trails on both of the French and Spanish sides of the range. For those that trek over multiple days and multiple nights, the GR-10 trail on the French side goes from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, and the GR-11 trail on the Spanish side does the same. But for those looking for some easier single day hikes, I am going to list 5 that I personally completed and recommend.
The first 3 on my list are in the French Pyrenees, and the last 2 are in the Spanish Pyrenees. Although the French/Spanish hikes may look close to one another geographically on a map, the drive between them in much longer than it seems (because there are no roads directly over the high peaks that sit on the countries borders and you have to drive around them), so keep that in mind while planning your adventures.
1. Cascade D’Ars
Location: Aulus les Baines, France
The hike: The hike to the waterfall takes about 1.5 hours each way (to viewpoint, longer if you walk to base of falls or beyond). The majority of the hike on the way there is entirely uphill (which means your trek back will be all downhill). But there are some flat areas along the way. The first half of the trail is wide open, clear, and near impossible to get lost on. You then cross a little bridge over the stream created by the waterfall where the second half of the trail begins. The second part of the trail becomes more narrow, less clear, and more “natural”, meaning stepping over boulders and roots. The whole trail is pretty much all shaded and underneath trees. There is a point that you can clearly see the waterfall in entirety where most people turn around. We opted to keep hiking (trail a bit less obvious) until we were standing right underneath the waterfall itself. You can keep climbing up from there, but it becomes much more difficult. We completed the hike on a rainy day, so it can be done in all weather conditions. Visibility of the waterfall may not always be clear on a rainy day though.
Misc Info: It is generally a quiet hike without too many people around. There is a room for a few cars to park for free along the street right at the trailhead, and a larger parking lot in town a couple hundred meters down the road. We slept overnight in the lot down the road the night before, which is reserved specifically for those staying overnight. You must go to the tourism office and pay a couple euros to spend the night.. However, we were there on a Sunday (when everything is closed, including the tourism office) so we were able to sleep there for free.
2. Lac De Gaube
Location: begins at Pont d’Espagne parking lot, near Cauterets, France
Costs: hike free, €5/day fee for car parking, more expensive for campervan/RV, cable car option for additional costs
The hike: Takes you up to an absolutely stunning blue lake (Lac de Gaube). The hike is steep, but relatively quick, takes about an hour+ to get to the top (if you walk). There are a few ways of getting up to Lac de Gaube. All beginning from behind the visitor centre of the parking lot. The first way is to just take a cable car directly from the parking lot up to the top of the mountain where the lake is located. From the top of the cable car station, you will have to walk for about 15 minutes on a completely flat trail. But we personally did not take the cable car up.
The second way is to walk on a wide open path near the underside of the cable cars. It is the “easiest” way to walk up. Although it is very steep uphill, it is wide open, cleared out, and near impossible to get lost. We walked this way up simply because we accidentally missed the G-10 trail on the way up.. but glad we did since we didn’t have to retrace our steps on the way down. Which brings me to the third option to get to the lake, part of the G-10 trail. You follow the red/white trail markings. The trail is rather steep in most places. It is filled with big rocks, green ferns, and amazing views of the mountains. Although the most difficult, it is by far quietest and the most scenic way to get up/down from the lake. No matter which option you choose to get to the lake, there are paved pathways near the base of the mountain/parking lot that lead you to the trails upward. You will walk by a few waterfalls with amazing photo ops on this first paved part.
Misc. Info: Overnight parking in the lot is prohibited. I found this ridiculous considering the size of it, but you can’t. There is a bar/cafe located on the lake for a coffee, beer, or quick bite while enjoying the views. We also used it as shelter as it poured rain when we first got up there. This lake is very popular and well known, especially because of the cable car option, so expect a lot of people to be at it. The earlier you go, the less people you will see.
3. Cirque de Gavarnie
Location: starts in the town of Gavarnie, France
Cost: hike free, parking is not.. typically 5 euros/day for car. RV/van overnight parking is only allowed in one lot just before the main street in Gavarnie.. paid by time spent there in a ticket machine.
Hike: The hike brings you to the tallest waterfall in all of Europe, and the area surrounding it is absolutely stunning. The main part of the trail is very easy and anyone can complete it. The trail begins right in town of Gavarnie. Follow it past all the shops until the path is right along the river. Once at the river, you’ll cross a bridge. From here the amazing views of the waterfall in the distance begin. You’ll walk through a forest and then a valley with absolutely amazing views. After the valley, the toughest part of the marked trail begins with a slight incline all the way to the end of the trail. But once you make it to the top of that incline, you’re there! The trail itself ends at the Hôtellerie du Cirque, which is where most people stop.
However, you can keep walking all the way under you are literally standing underneath the falls. This is what we did and it was by far the best part of the hike. Not many people go out there, and even if they did you are so spread out from one another that people look tiny. It had large chunks of ice underneath multiple waterfalls, sheep, sheer mountainous landscape, etc. So beautiful. But this area by the falls doesn’t have a marked path, is very rocky, and not for those in poor physical condition. (highly recommend it though.. one of my favorite hikes we did!).
Misc Info: The main trail very popular, as stated above I recommend going out past it. The earlier the better. We started at sunrise and had most of the trail to ourself. On the way back, there was a ton of people. The walk itself shouldn’t take more than 1-2 hours one way if you don’t stop, but there are so many photo ops you will probably take longer. We spent a few hours exploring/photographing the valley and area underneath the falls before heading back out.
4. Valle Pineta (Cascada Larri)
Location: Spanish Pyrenees, E side of Ordesa National Park
Cost: €2/day to park, trails free
Hike: A stunning area, part of Ordesa National Park, with views of one of the highest peaks in the Pyrenees, Monte Perdido. There are multiple trails from the parking lot here, most leading up to the Plains of Larry. We opted to hike up along Larri Falls to the Plains of Larry. The Larry Falls trail up was like a staircase, with the falls next to us the entire way up. There are multiple places to stop and view different tiers of the waterfall. We were the only people on the this trail (most take the less steep and wider trail up). The peacefulness was nice. Once at the top of the waterfall, it connects with the wider main trail that will take you up to the Plains of Larry (go right at the top of the Falls trail). If you go left, this wider trail will take you back down to the valley where you parked (we took this trail back down after Plains of Larry). Plains of Larry is a flat wide valley up near the summit of the Valle Pineta area. Great spot to stop for lunch and stunning views before heading back down. On the way back down, try and take whichever trail you didn’t take up. There are so many different falls and things to see on each one. Took us a couple of hours (3ish) to complete it all.
Misc Info: One of the quieter areas in the Spanish Pyrenees. We actually came to this area on accident, but sometimes the places you find on accident are some of the most beautiful. You are not allowed to camp overnight in this area, nor are you allowed to stay overnight in a car or RV. But the trails are worth walking there during the day.
5. Cola de Caballo Falls (Ordesa National Park)
Location: Torla, Spain, W side of Ordesa National Park
Cost: This depends on the time of year you go. In the winter months, you can drive your personal vehicle directly into the park and park your car at the trailhead. In the high season (typically May-September), you have to take a bus into the park. The bus is €4.50/person roundtrip. However, the lot where you park your car/RV at the bus stop, is free.
Hike: BEAUTIFUL. There are multiple trail options from the trailhead to Cola de Caballo falls. I will describe the 2 we took. On the way there we opted to walk through the forest along the left side of the valley. This took us about 2.5 hours to get to Cola de Caballo. It is the easier route of the 2, but way less scenic. Most of it is underneath trees with very few viewpoints. Towards the end though, once you are out of the trees, the trail opens up into the valley which is the best part. You walk along the bottom middle of the valley. It is massive and beautiful with mountains on all sides of youand makes you feel so small. This trail was did not have a steep incline, but rather a gradual bearable incline up to the valley.
Cola de Caballo falls is located in the back left valley. We had a snack here then opted to take the more difficult, but more scenic, route back along Faja de Pelay. With our back to the falls, we steered to the left, to a trail that led us upwards along the opposite side of the valley that we came in on. For the next 2 hours we walked up a steady incline on a very narrow trail with a steep drop-off, but with amazing views of the mountains along the entire way. After 2 hours of walking you’re up insanely high, but pretty much directly over the parking lot where you started. Which means you have to go all the way down to the lot on a very steep grade from here. For this reason we were SO glad we opted not to take this trail on the way THERE (because you’d have to climb UP this steep grade for the first part of the hike, instead of the nice forest trail we took). It took us an entire hour just to get down that steep part.. and really hurt my knees. So a total of 3.5 hours to hike back from the falls. For a grand total of 6 hours of hiking, not including stopping for lunch. Give yourself plenty of daylight because the trail we took back would be dangerous in the dark.
Misc: HIGHLY recommend getting the first bus into the park. When we went, it was at 6am. Even this bus was full of people. The next bus is at 7am and then they are about every 20 minutes after that. So the later you go, the more people will be on the trails. Hiking is always better when its quiet and you have the trails to yourself. Another bonus of going so early was the wildlife! We saw mountain goats and groundhogs and other animals out early in the AM.. But then they were no longer around in the afternoon. The last bus out of the park was at 9pm when we went. If you dont want to take the bus there or you miss it on the way out, you are allowed to walk from/to where you parked your car.. but it is a long, boring, walk along a paved road.. nothing to see.