If you’re planning a hike to Cirque De Gavarnie, this article is for you. In this guide, I share the details of this popular hike alongside an alternative and jaw-dropping route that not many people know about.
Cirque De Gavarnie is one of the most spectacular sights in the French Pyrenees. A natural amphitheatre of colossal mountains and cascading waterfalls, it might even be one of the most astonishing wonders of Europe.
Accessible via a fairly easy and undemanding hike from Gavarnie village, almost anyone can visit this UNESCO heritage site. There are, however, some restrictions and obstacles in place that you should keep in mind before you make the trip.
I cover everything you need to know about the Cirque de Gavarnie hike in this article. I also share the details of a more challenging and adventurous hiking route to the Gavarnie waterfall that we stumbled upon on our return journey.
So let’s get to it and begin planning your visit to Cirque de Gavarnie.
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Cirque de Gavarnie Hike at a Glance
Time: 4-5 hours
Cirque De Gavarnie FAQs
Before I share the walking routes to Cirque de Gavarnie, let’s cover some key information that will be useful to know before you begin.
How to Get There
The closest airport is Tarbes-Lourdes-Pyrénées located 27 km from Garvarnie.
The closest major town to Gavarnie is Lourdes. From there, it’s around a 1-hours drive.
Best time to Visit
To get the best hiking conditions in the French Pyrenees, you will want to visit between May and October. Outside of these times, it’s pretty common for there to be snow, which can make for dangerous conditions for inexperienced hikers.
Another thing to consider is crowds. As a result of its unrivalled beauty and easy accessibility, Cirque De Gavarnie can get uncomfortably busy – especially during the peak months of July and August.
If you find yourself visiting during this time, aim to head out early to enjoy a serene and stress-free hike. Or, if possible, visit in May, June, or September when fewer people are around.
Cirque de Gavarnie Hike Difficulty
If you are to take the standard walking route to Cirque de Gavarnie, it isn’t too difficult at all. For the most part, it is a flat path which develops into a gradual incline the nearer you get to the Cirque.
Although it’s rocky in some areas, and you may need some sturdy walking shoes, I’d confidently say this is one of the most family-friendly hikes in the region.
It’s only as you approach the final stretch from the Cirque De Gavarnie hotel up to the Cirque that the path gets more challenging. Here the trail is extremely rugged and loose. I had to do a fair bit of scrambling to reach the main waterfall.
On the other hand, if you plan on attempting our alternative route, you can expect a challenging and adrenaline-pumping experience.
This path snakes alongside the standard route but leads you high up into the adjacent mountains. It twists and turns, ascends and descends, encountering various terrains and magnificent vistas.
There are sections of this route that could be dangerous for children and certainly not for anybody with a phobia of heights. It’s also a real killer on the legs!
Parking at Gavarnie
The closest parking to Cirque de Gavarnie waterfall is in Gavarnie village. At the time of writing, it costs €5 for cars and €8 for campervans and motorhomes.
The price is for 24 hours, and you are allowed to sleep in your vehicle. However, there are some brilliant aires with services just outside the village which the ticket also provides access to.
I would suggest sleeping in one of those for a peaceful night’s sleep. Or head up the D923 mountain pass for some awesome wild camping spots.
Cirque De Gavarnie with Dogs
If you are a dog owner looking for dog-friendly hikes in the French Pyrenees, you will already know that it’s not an easy feat.
Dogs are prohibited from entering all national parks in France, including the Parc National des Pyrenees.
Although Cirque de Gavarnie is part of the national park, you can walk as far as the Hotel du Cirque with your dog. You still get a great view of the waterfall from this point and can relax with a drink at the hotel bar.
If you’re hiking in a group, you can always take turns to do the final hike to the waterfall, which is what we did.
Cirque De Gavarnie Hiking Map
This hiking map of Cirque de Gavarnie shows our exact circular route. We took the easier route to the Cirque and the more challenging route on the way back.
Of course, you may decide to do this in reverse. Or, depending on your capabilities, you may choose to take the same trail there and back. The map is there to help demonstrate your options.
The Cirque De Gavarnie Hike
The Pyrenees mountains are home to some incredible hiking trails, and the hike to Cirque de Gavarnie is certainly no exception.
Boasting awe-inspiring scenery from emerald rivers to towering peaks, as well as a multitude of wildlife, it offers a truly surreal and magical experience.
Beginners and experienced hikers alike will undoubtedly fall in love with this picturesque trail. And now, I will walk you through each step of our journey, so you know what to expect.
Cirque de Gavarnie Easier Route
From the roadside parking in Gavarnie, follow the road downhill into the whimsical village. Here you’ll find several shops, cafes, and restaurants, so allow yourself some time to stop and look around.
The Cirque de Gavarnie waterfall is visible from this point, but don’t let that deceive you. You still have quite a walk to do before you get there.
Follow the road out of the village and alongside the left-hand side of Gave du Gavarnie. The emerald alpine river is a sight of its own and is a lovely place to cool off if you dare!
It’s an incredibly straightforward and well-defined trail. You can spear off at various points, but there are plenty of signs (and people) to indicate that you’re heading the right way.
My favourite part of the hike is next, when it opens up into an enchanting valley. Towering mountains, rich nature, beautiful wildlife – it felt like a dream!
You might feel a slight pull on the legs by this point, but the toughest part is to come as you tackle the final two hundred meters.
This section of the hike winds through a beautiful forested area and is pretty steep. But there are plenty of places where you can stop for a breather should you need to.
Cirque de Gavarnie Waterfall
Soon enough, you’ll see the magnificent Cirque de Gavarnie waterfall peaking through the gaps in the trees. With views like this, you’ll make the final push of the hike on adrenaline alone.
Once you get to Hotel du Cirque, grab a drink and enjoy the cinematic views or push on ahead to get up close and personal with one of the tallest waterfalls in Europe.
It’s not all that far to reach the waterfall from this point. But it might take longer due to the unsteady terrain. Allow yourself plenty of time to get there and back.
Follow the trail into the heart of the Cirque, where the immense size and energy of the waterfall will blow your mind. All that lies between you and the tallest waterfall in France now is a vast mound of loose shale.
I’m not going to lie; this last part felt very sketchy. It took a full-on scramble and a few tumbles to get up there, and the descent was no easier. But worth it to experience the full force of the falls.
Cirque de Gavarnie Hard Route
The tougher and slightly more precarious hiking trail that led us back to Gavarnie village starts at Hotel du Cirque.
From the outside bar area, with the waterfall behind you, follow the steep path on the right. It will take you past the hotel and toward Gavarnie. Feel the burn as the trail ascends to 1750m before levelling out.
The views from this point are stunning! Cirque de Gavarnie behind you, mountains to your left and a sheer drop to the valley below where the other trail nestles the river.
Don’t allow yourself to get too distracted, though. The path is narrow, and there is nothing to protect you from falling over the cliff edge. This is not a hike for the faint-hearted.
As you progress, the undulating trail encounters a variety of terrains, from vast open spaces to confined forested areas.
You’ll find yourself ducking and diving beneath boulders, climbing over obstacles, and avoiding waterfalls that cascade from the peaks above. It was a lot of fun – we felt like we were in a video game.
As you edge closer to Garvarnie village, you’ll come across Refuge de Pailha – one of 70 mountain refuges in the Pyrenees mountains that provide lodging and meals to hikers.
Eventually, we found ourselves on the steep descent down towards Gavarnie village. They say coming down is easier, but this part was a real thigh burner!
The trail meets the other path just outside Gavarnie village. From there, you’ll easily navigate the way back to your starting point.
While Cirque de Gavarnie isn’t a highly technical hike, you will still need some suitable gear to ensure a safe and enjoyable adventure.
Here are some essentials I recommend you have in preparation for your walk.
Enjoy your Cirque de Gavarnie Hike!
Well that’s it – that’s everything you need to know about hiking Cirque de Gavarnie. I hope you’ve found this information helpful.
If you have any questions or feel we have missed anything please let us know in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you! Otherwise, we wish you a fantastic hike.
Planning a trip around Europe? Check out our Europe series for more travel tips and advice.
Stay adventurous and Happy travels.