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Best Day Hike French Pyrenees: Cirque de Gavarnie

One of the best day hikes in the French Pyrenees is the Cirque de Gavarnie. This blog will give you great tips on how to hike the Cirque de Gavarnie.

Where is the Cirque de Gavarnie located?

Hidden among the many villages of the French Pyrenees is an amazing region of hiking trails, the most popular sight including the largest waterfall in Europe in a crescent-like shelter of gray, purple, and green rock faces—a cirque.

What Is The Cirque de Gavarnie?

A cirque is a half-open steep-sided hollow at the head of a mountainside, formed by old glacial erosion.  The hike includes bridges, wide dirt trails, steep rocky sections, and the most pristine nature in the region.  The greatest part about this hike is not only the surreal beauty but the cultural experience that comes with it.

Towns Near Cirque de Gavarnie

Be sure to stop and grab some pastries in Lourdes at Boulangerie des Pyrenees—they have the best pastries I’ve ever tasted in my life! 

Also, stop in the town of Luz-Saint-Sauveur for the most local French experience of your life.  Stop at the butcher, the cheese shop, the chocolatier, and the produce stand and you won’t be disappointed!

How To Get To The Cirque de Gavarnie

From the town of Lourdes, the French side, the route is pretty direct.  You’ll follow the highway south, following signs for Luz-Saint-Sauveur, until you near the mountains where the road will begin to wind between cliffs.  When you arrive in Gavarnie, you’ll see a large parking lot (great overnight parking for climbers) just past the visitor center.

Pro Tip: Check out the urban sport climbing by the Gavarnie visitor center. You can see most of the bolt lines looking down from the sidewalk of the lowest parking lot.

You can also choose to leave your car in Lourdes and take the bus up to Gavarnie

If you’re coming from the Spanish side there is no road directly to the town of Gavarnie but you can still hike to the cirque. 

How To Hike To The Cirque de Gavarnie From The Spanish Side of the Pyrenees

In Ordesa National Park, you can start from San Nicolas de Bujaruelo and hike through the Breche de Roland to get to the cirque but would be a challenge to hike in a day.  See more about that here.

Best Way To Hike The Cirque de Gavarnie

Due to the abundant amount of trails in Gavarnie, there are many different ways you can hike it but I think this is the best way to hike it. 

Start the hike walking straight through the town, following the paved road and river until you cross a bridge left and the road becomes a dirt trail.

town of Gavarnie in the French Pyrenees
Walking through Gavarnie

Follow the trail signs straight for four miles upon which you’ll reach the cirque.  You’ll get to see the waterfall get closer by the minute as you walk towards the large crest of the cirque.

Trail at the start of the hike: Cirque de Gavarnie in the French Pyrenees
Dirt trail toward the cirque

Once you come to the hotel, enjoy a snack with the beautiful view of the waterfall. 

Hotel du Cirque, Cirque de Gavarnie
Hotel du Cirque

Tip: Hopefully you picked up some of those pastries from the bakery and now you can enjoy them here.

Continue directly toward the waterfall, scrambling up and around the cirque as much as you’d like.

Scrambling on our hike up to the Best Day Hike in the French Pyrenees, Cirque De Gavarnie
Scrambling up to Gavarnie Falls
Amazing views on our Best Day Hike in the French Pyrenees, Cirque De Gavarnie
Amazing views of Cirque de Gavarnie
Waterfall, Cirque de Gavarnie in the French Pyrenees
Up close with the largest waterfall in Europe

From the waterfall, backtrack 15 minutes toward the inn where you’ll see a multitude of yellow trail signs.

Trail signs, Best Day Hike in French Pyrenees: Cirque de Gavarnie
Trail signs

Instead of heading left and going back the way you came, go right here on a small dirt trail toward the Refuge des Éspuguettes (where you can choose to sleep in you want to backpack and explore more of the beautiful Pyrenees).

Further along the trail, you will eventually see signs for Gavarnie.

views from ridge, Hiking Cirque de Gavarnie in the French Pyrenees
View from the ridge while hiking Cirque de Gavarnie

I highly recommend taking this trail on the way back instead of backtracking because, a) It’s the same distance as backtracking b) This trail is much less crowded and more secluded, and c) The views are unique and AMAZING!!

It’s 8 miles roundtrip when hiked this way.

Backpacking

For an even more epic adventure, make this a multi-day backpacking trip and explore the Troumouse and Estaube cirques nearby.

You can also opt to hike out 3 miles and stay at the Hotel du Cirque de la Cascade.

Beautiful views on the best Day Hike in the French Pyrenees, Cirque De Gavarnie
Views of the Hotel du Gavarnie de la Cascade

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Logan Schauer

Tuesday 31st of October 2017

Hey Gabi,

Thanks for posting this! It's helped me sort of figure out what I want to do in terms of hiking. I'm a student from the U.S., studying in Spain, so naturally I'm not too sure what I'm doing LOL!

Anyways, I do have a question. I know you said that you could take the bus from Lourdes to the Cirque. Do you remember what it was called? How to book it? And where exactly does it take you (straight to the trailhead, or somewhere else)? Also, in terms of taking it back to Lourdes, is that simple?

Thank you!

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[…] Luz-Saint-Sauveur we headed thirty minutes further to where the road ended at Cirque du Gavernie.  When we arrived it was October and not crowded, however, I don’t think that is the case in […]

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[…] waves, a bakery with chocolate croissants, a grocery store with Comte cheese and wine from the Pyrenees, and a restaurant that sells my favorite glace, pistache.     In fact, that’s what […]

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