The major hiking trails in France

  • © ATOUT FRANCE/Hervé Le Gac

    © ATOUT FRANCE/Hervé Le Gac

  • © ATOUT FRANCE/Michel Angot

    © ATOUT FRANCE/Michel Angot

  • © ATOUT FRANCE/Fabrice Milochau

    © ATOUT FRANCE/Fabrice Milochau

The major hiking trails in France 75000 Paris fr

Famous hiking trails called known as grandes randonnées (GR for short) and historic pilgrim routes traverse all of Europe but are fully realized in France, where they pass through spectacular landscapes and evoke varying themes, from the great Alps crossing to the Way of St. James, the Sentier des Douaniers by the sea in Brittany and in the footsteps of writer Robert Louis Stevenson in the Cévennes.

The essential landmarks of the hiking Federation

The idea of creating marked pathways originated in 1842 in Fontainebleau, but the GR concept was invented in 1946 in Sologne (Orléans): 20 years beforehand, groups of walkers and day-trippers were thought of as pioneers before renaming themselves “hiking clubs”.

At the time, the Grande Randonnée National Committee was formed to include several organizations, such as the Touring, Camping and Alpine clubs of France, the scouting movement and youth hostels before being recognized as a sporting federation in 1985.

Nowadays, the French network includes no less than 180,000 kilometres of delineated GR and PR (petites randonnées) routes, which extend 20,000 kilometres into 23 neighbouring countries! Some GR were created in full while others take over historic routes and join together with ancestral tradition, like the Way of St. James. The hiking federation itself produces a complete collection of booklets called “topos-guides” which can be found throughout France. It also provides tips and a manual online with practical information for long-distance hikers. 

Examples

  • Angers, the Fontainebleau gardens, springs of the Durance (in the Hautes-Alpes), Troubadours in Haute-Corrèze (Limousin)
  • The Federation organizes hiking-challenges (similar to orienteering) for those with a competitive spirit. It also supports “Hiking for all” trips where experienced hikers share their passion with disabled or disadvantaged people.

Reminder: the hiking charter includes respect for the rules and for the environment

Stay on the marked routes to avoid eroding or degrading fragile sloping areas, limit flower picking, do not disturb animals while observing them closer, do not bring your dog with you (which disrupts local fauna), dispose of trash properly, etc. 


Stride across France...

  • The Way of St. James: a world heritage 

This journey’s origins go back all the way to the 10th century and its success involves the most ancient of medieval “topo-guides”: the Calixtinus Codex! Today, the most popular of the four French routes towards Saint-Jacques de Compostelle remains the Via Podensis, linking Geneva to the Roncevaux pass (in Basque country).

On foot, the Scottish writer-explorer Robert-Louis Stevenson crossed (with a pack donkey as companion) part of Auvergne and especially the Cévennes towards the south, a journey of 252 kilometres in 12 days! This path between the Puy-en-Velay and Alès, crosses the crests of Mont Lozère (at an altitude of up to 1699 meters). Now, it is symbolized by the GR 70 route.

  • On the oceanfront… around the Mont-Saint-Michel bay

The GR 223 follows along the Manche coastline (west Cotentin, Normandy side) from the Veys bay (where a small colony of seals can sometimes be seen) to the bay of Saint-Michel.

And let’s not forget the Breton coastline, by the GR 34 (formerly the Douaniers route.)

  • In the mountains… the great Alps crossing via the GR 5

The GR 5 links Belgium to the Mediterranean and Evian’s surroundings to Nice by exploring the Mont-Blanc, Vanoise, Ecrins, Queyras and Mercantour mountain ranges. The journey is rarely made in continuity (as it includes 15 to 20 stages of around 20 kilometres each) but passionate hikers stride through parts of those wonderful high mountain paths.

  • The Mont-Blanc Tour (MBT)

The name “Mont Blanc Tour” speaks for itself: this route in a continuous loop promises ten incomparable hiking days with stunning views of the different slopes of the highest mountain in Europe, passing by Italy and Switzerland. The routes hanging off the sides of the slopes (known as “en balcon”) allow you to admire the peaks and impressive glaciers up close.

  • The Pyrénées crossing by the GR 10

The Pyrénées mountain range stretches on nearly 400 kilometres between the Atlantic and Mediterranean, offering several atmospheres: green hills in Basque country, savage peaks of the Pic d’Ossau or the Vignemale, the cliffs of Gavarnie’s cirque, lakes and plateau of Ariege or the Canigou mountain. And in the land of chamois (a goat-antelope species) and bears (however few and far between), every hike is a chance to meet full-colour landscapes and characters! 

  • Crossing the island of beauty: Corsica, between sea and mountains on the GR 20

This wild walk will take you from Calenzana (overlooking Calvi) to Conca (upriver of Porto-Vecchio) while passing through  peaks up to 2,500 metres high (like the Cinto and Renonso mountains and the needles of Bavella.) This exceptional diagonal crosses between alpine forest and Mediterranean scrubland, but is demanding both physically and technically. Some twenty steps are punctuated by refuges (where bivouacking is forbidden) but the stake is well worth the effort. 

Some more ideas...

The Jura mountains along the GTJ &

Rediscovering the Massif Central by the GR 4 and GR 30…

Balloons and Hautes-Chaumes: the Vosges in all their majesty

For another take, try equestrian tourism for hiking on horseback. Thousands of kilometres of routes are marked by an orange line and hundreds of equestrian centers offer to travelling riders a unique playing field in Europe.

For mountain bikers, several routes take forest paths or alpine pastures wide enough to welcome every type of adventurer.

More information