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I'm looking for a 5-7 days hike. Or something around that, more or less, I'm flexible.

The idea would be to stay away from hordes of tourists. We don't mind people, but we don't like queuing up on a hike or fighting for a place to put our tent.

How safe is it to tent? Bears? Pumas? Other wildlife I should take into consideration?

Where should we make our approach from? Spain? France? What are the pros and cons?

Any resources to maps, tracks, tips and tricks would be welcomed from people that hiked there or that have researched the topic extensively. Thank you!

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Camping

If you're walking with a tent and pitching it up somewhere high in the mountains (this may not be legal, but if you're well behaved nothing will happen), you won't have a problem with crowds. Very few people hike with a tent. In general, as soon as you're more than ~2 hours from the nearest car park, you're out of the crowds. That being said, it may be difficult (and illegal) to camp in the wild, and you might depend on camp sites. With a small backpackers tent, you won't have a problem finding a spot, but you will be sharing a camp site with car tourists with big tents, electrical light, music, etc; those camp sites are in civilisation.

Wildlife

Bears are rare in the Spanish Pyrenees and non-existent in the French ones.
You're very lucky if you see a bear. There are no pumas. Wildlife is not a hazard for hiking in the Pyrenees.

Maps

On the French side, by far the best maps are the 1:25.000 map series from French IGN. However, for a long trip you might need many sheets to cover the route, so you could choose the 1:50.000 map series instead. On trails, these are usually good enough. The French maps cover part of Spain, too.

On the Spanish side, maps are less reliable. My experience with the official maps from Spanish IGN is that many hiking trails are simply missing on the map. Special park maps, only available for touristic regions, may be better. I haven't been to the Pyrenees, and can't recommend specifically.

Where to hike

I haven't been to the Spanish side of the Pyrenees. From what I've understood, they're quite dry. A friend who has lived in Toulouse (close to the French Pyrenees) recommends Grande Randonéé 10, which runs close to the border on the French side. The entire GR will be too long, but you can do a segment of it. GR's are well-marked with red-white markings.

  • The GR is certainly a good recommendation as they generally are well marked and maintained and getting on/off the trial or getting resupplies is generally quite easy (compared to more remote trails). Because of this the GRs also tend to be quite popular, so if OP is looking to avoid too many people I'd suggest trying to go off-season (or at least gather some info beforehand to let you know what kinds of traffic levels you should be expecting). – fgysin Jan 3 '17 at 8:53
  • @fgysin Crowds are relative. Some find 10/day crowded, some find 100/day crowded, but I've never seen more than a few hundred per day on multi-day hikes. I've also seen routes describes a popular because "nowadays several groups do this trek every summer" (specifically for crossing Sørøya, Norway). – gerrit Jan 10 '17 at 18:23
  • Exactly, I thus my suggestion to read up beforehand on the levels of traffic one should expect. I'm exactly of the persuasion you describe in your comment: meeting a group of people in a 1 week trek is perfect for me, 10/day to me sounds like Disneyland. :D – fgysin Jan 11 '17 at 8:29
  • @fgysin I might ask you for recommendations of some more remote trails that connect to long-distance routes at some point :-) – gerrit Jan 11 '17 at 11:59
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If you want to investigate the Spanish side, you could try the Ordesa Y Monte Perdido National Park. We approached from the French side by car, through the D-137/A138 tunnel, and then drove through the Añisclo Canyon to Nerin, which is a mountain village that makes a good starting point / base camp. It looks like an even more impressive approach might be on foot from Torla through the Ordessa Canyon.

When we went up into the mountains there in spring it was abandoned – there might be more people in summer, but I can't imagine crowds. Incredible flora and fauna.

From Nerin, there's plenty of incredible hiking, through the canyons and the Mt. Perdido / Mt Perdu highlands. For the long hike you want, you could consider the ambitious trek through the Breach of Roland and over to the French side.

Consider the possibility of utilizing the mountain cabins; Refugio de Goriz on the Spanish side and Refuge des Sarradets on the French side. The Goriz website also has trail conditions.

Most of the websites describing the hikes in detail seem to focus on the French approach to the breach, but hikers do go through.

  • Nice links. I'm looking for more personalized hikes like the ones you posted (not everyone can spend 50 days on a hike) but they're really hard to find for the Pyrenees. The Alps have a lot more articles. Weird. – Paul Irofti Jul 7 '13 at 12:36
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    I edited my answer to mention the cabins and Torla. Happy hiking - I'm jealous! – Oreotrephes Jul 8 '13 at 2:19
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    I have done Torla to the top of Mnt. Perdido and back to Torla in 3 days without much hiking experience. One of the best hikes i have done so far and would recommend so. Try teaming up with some people (you'll meet on the way) for the ascent to the top of Mnt Perdido for safety though, but it can be done without much extra perparation. You can take the mountain side one way, and return through the canyon, or the other way around. Up high it may snow during the night, so be careful where to camp. – Sdry Jul 10 '13 at 12:15
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My wife and I have just returned from a week of hiking in and near the eastern Pyrenees, starting from Foix, having flown in to Toulouse. The train journey from Toulouse to Foix is pleasant and takes about three hours.

From there we did three days on the Sentier Cathar, which follows the route of the GR107, then a day south on the GR107 to Ax les Thermes, where we spent a very pleasant day. Then we spent three days on the Carlit Massif, first along the GR10 from Merens les Vals, followed by a final day back to the end of the French train line at Entveigt / Latour les Carols, via a stretch of the Route due Carlit. It is a very lovely area, with lots of options for making up a tour of about a week.

We had more guides than we needed (because I can't resist buying them, in English or French) but you could easily find your way without them, if weight was critical, using just the 1:50000 map for the area. The routes are well marked with red and white markers for the GR routes, and red and yellow for the others that we used. The guides do give you an idea of how much ascent/descent you are in for, however, and how long the day's walking is likely to take. Mind you, we always needed longer than the suggested times, but we are slow! We normally set out by 7:30-8:00 in order to get some distance behind us before the heat of the afternoon.

The only places where it was remotely crowded were where we approached civilisation, for example at the Lac Bioullouse. Otherwise it was gloriously empty, and we actually liked to meet our few fellow travellers along the way when we bumped into them.

At Montsegur we camped at a beautiful, simple, quiet and cheap (4 euros each!) municipal camp site.

We had a tent and slept in it most nights, but mostly outside refuges when in the mountains, and at campsites or gites when lower down. Even lower down, on the Sentier Cathar, you have to think ahead as to whether there will be shops where you can buy food. In the mountains it was significantly cooler than low down, though still felt warm, and we managed OK for water by using fountains at villages when we came across them.

There were plenty of opportunities for wild camping, but I didn't see anyone doing it, probably because the proximity to refuges where we were meant that it wasn't necessary. In fact, unless you are completely averse to using refuges, or are going to an area where they are not where you want them to be, you might want to consider ditching the tent and just using the refuges. I think we saved 18ish euros a night each by using our tent, but had the weight penalty instead. That said, all the hikers we saw who were doing the whole stretch from Hendaye to Banyuls, or vice-versa, by whichever route, did have tents with them.

I would have loved to see a bear, but the closest I came was a marmot.

We both very much want to go back and do more.

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About twelve years ago, I went hiking in Sant Maurici National Park in the Pyrenees. It's the other National Park in the Pyrenees (the first is the one Wajurgmitr mentioned).

There are two viable entrances to the park- from Boi in the west and Espot in the east - I started in Espot. There are ten or so refuges in the park, in which you can eat and sleep, but I think camping is also permitted under some circumstances. There are plenty of trails through the mountains, so a number of routes are possible. There's a famous circuit called the "Carros de foc" (Chariots of Fire) which covers a couple of the refuges and takes up to a week, so that might suit you.

And the park's beautiful- I can attest to that. I slept in a refuge located on a peninsula, surrounded by clear lake water and mountains- I wish I remembered the name, but I think it's in the picture in the top of this (possibly useful) web site.

This TripAdvisor thread describes one possible trek there - within it you can find this more detailed account.

Finally, the book Hiking in Spain has some descriptions of the park- in the link you can find a relevant excerpt.

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