Trekking the Pyrenees: GR10, GR11 or HRP (Pyrenean Haute Route), a short guide to the differences

Map of GR 10 (red), GR11 (blue) and HRP (yellow) in the Pyrenees, as I walked them. As the crow flies the distance from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean is around 420km. For walkers it is about twice that.
Map of GR 10 (red), GR11 (blue) and HRP (yellow) in the Pyrenees, as I walked them. As the crow flies the distance from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean is around 420km. For walkers it is about twice that.

I’ve now walked the length of the Pyrenees three times on different routes. 2700km, Atlantic to Mediterranean: 164 days hiking. I’ve been asked which route I liked best. Is it the Pyrenean Way (GR 10) [guide and forum] in France, the Senda Pirenaica (GR 11) [guide and forum] in Spain and Andorra, or this year’s trek, the Pyrenean Haute Route [Cicerone guide]  (Haute Route Pyrénéenne, HRP, in French; Alta Ruta Pirenaica in Spanish) which flits across the border every second day?

GPS tracks of the three Pyrenean treks

Markers on the French-Spanish border. No 153 is near St-Jean-Pied-de-Port, six day’s walking from the Atlantic; no 565 is near Panissars, two day’s walking from the Mediterranean. There are 602 in all, plus a few subsidiary ones.
Markers on the French-Spanish border. No 153 is near St-Jean-Pied-de-Port, six day’s walking from the Atlantic; no 565 is near Panissars, two day’s walking from the Mediterranean. There are 602 in all, plus a few subsidiary ones.

The problem with making a comparison is that my memory is selective. As time goes on it erases the bad bits leaving a nostalgic glow. Was the GR 10, which I walked first, really that sublime? I’ll try to be objective. I want to start by eliminating the shared features.

Gave d’Ossoue with Vignemale just visible in the background, on GR10 and Pyrenean Haute Route. Photo © Dermot Dolan. See more at http://dermotdolan.blogspot.fr/
Gave d’Ossoue with Vignemale just visible in the background, on GR10 and Pyrenean Haute Route. Photo © Dermot Dolan. See more at http://dermotdolan.blogspot.fr/

GR 10, GR 11 and HRP: what they have in common

  • Weather. There is little difference between the weather on either side of the central ridge. The Spanish Pyrenees are not dryer just because they are in Spain! After all, the average distance separating the northernmost and southernmost routes is only 15km (the maximum is 30km). What you get depends more on the direction of the wind. One day the foehn may shroud Spain in cloud, leaving France gloriously sunny. The next day the inverse.
Misty morning in the Basque country.
Misty morning in the Basque country.
  • On the other hand there is a significant difference between the west (humid), the higher middle (colder) and the east (dryer and hotter). From mid-June to mid-September, the main trekking months, the days tend to start out cool and damp at dawn with the temperature rising steeply until about 16h00 when the rain often starts, sometimes accompanied by thunder and lightning.
    [Spanish Pyrenees weather forecast]  [French Pyrenees weather forecast]
  • Another factor which might be thought to have an effect on the weather is slope direction. On average there are more soulanes (south-facing slopes) on the southern side of the mountains. But the Pyrenees are so convoluted that the effect is only important locally, near the high passes. At the beginning of the walking season the south- and east-facing slopes will be the first to shed their snow.
Some of the runners encountered on the HRP just below the col des Mulets, near Vignemale.
Some of the runners encountered on the HRP just below the col des Mulets, near Vignemale.
  • Walkers. I expected to see fewer walkers on the HRP because it is more challenging but, taking into account all the people on day-hikes, the difference wasn’t huge. Even on the HRP, even on difficult days, I met local walkers who considered the area their playground.
Curious calves at 2000m above sea level near Alòs d’Isil on the Pyrenean Haute Route
Curious calves at 2000m above sea level near Alòs d’Isil on the Pyrenean Haute Route
  • My biggest surprise was the number of cows, horses and sheep grazing on all three routes. I saw farm animals at some time absolutely every day, even on the HRP. Despite peaks reaching 3000m, much of the Pyrenees is somebody’s farmyard. The Pyrenees are not as wild as I thought before I started walking them.
  • How long are the walks? There’s not much in it. But you might as well ask how long is a piece of string. The numerous guidebooks all have different figures for the length of the treks. In any case, the HRP is not a trajectory, more a concept and everybody I met was hiking a different route. The GR 10 and GR 11 also have variants. Let’s say that all the routes work out at between 850km and 960km with the HRP being the shortest. But in the mountains it isn’t length which matters. The average walker will only progress a seemingly pathetic 16–20km a day. It’s the climbing that counts.
The outside toilet (pictured) at the Maupas hostel has no door giving occupants a vertiginous view to contemplate.
The outside toilet (pictured) at the Maupas hostel has no door giving occupants a vertiginous view to contemplate.
  • No need for a tent on the GR 10, GR 11 or HRP. This may come as a surprise to those who have read Pyrenees guide books and blogs, but there is no need to carry a tent on any of the Pyrenees crossings. I camped only once, between Gabas and Gourette on the GR 10 and I could have stayed in a hut. And this doesn’t mean long days racing to get find roof before nightfall. I almost always arrived at my destination before 16h00. See Pyrenees Refuges et Cabanes for free huts available to walkers. I never had a problem with free huts being full, unlike staffed hostels.
    Of course, camping reduces costs and brings with it that special experience of being alone at night in the mountains, but I like to walk ultra-light.
Mont Rouch on the Pyrenean Haute Route, a free hut with beds for 9.
Mont Rouch on the Pyrenean Haute Route, a free hut with beds for 9.

GR 10, GR 11 and HRP: the differences

  • Height. To my mind, the biggest difference between the three treks is their elevation, best illustrated by the number of passes over 2500m
    • GR 10 – 2
    • GR 11 – 12
    • HRP – 23 plus 8km along the frontier ridge N of Núria
  • Walking season. The heights are snowed up until early summer, so the walking season for thru-hikers without crampons is determined by the first high passes. Dates given below are a guide to what you might expect in an average year but check with nearest hostels for an update (Respomuso has a webcam).
    • GR10 –
      Hourquette d’Arre (2465m, Day 17 from W). Nearest hostel: Gourette
      Col de Coma d’Anyell (2470m, Day 9 from E). Nearest hostel: Bésines
      earliest date without crampons 14 June
Climbing near the Col de Tebarray on the GR11, 25 June 2013 with Hike Pyrenees
Climbing near the Col de Tebarray on the GR11, 25 June 2013 with Hike Pyrenees
  • GR11 –
    Collado de Tebarray (2766m, Day 14 from W). Nearest hostel: Respomuso
    earliest date without crampons 21 June
    Coll de Nou Creus (2800m, Day 9 from E). Nearest hostel: Ulldeter
    earliest date without crampons 21 June
Walking up to the Collada de la Facha on the HRP, 16 July 2016
Walking up to the Collada de la Facha on the HRP, 16 July 2016
  • HRP –
    Collado de la Facha (2664m, Day 14 from W). Nearest hostel: Respomuso
    or Col de Cambalès (2710m, Day 14 from W). Nearest hostel: Respomuso
    earliest date without crampons 28 June
    In 2016 the approach to the Collado de la Facha was still covered in snow on 16 July and I used crampons, though others passing later in the day did without.
    Coll de Nou Creus (2800m, Day 9 from E). Nearest hostel: Ulldeter
    earliest date without crampons 21 June though crampons could be useful between the Soula and Renclusa hostels all summer.
  • Ascent. The GR10 involves about 48,000m of ascent; the GR10 and HRP around 42,000m.
  • Freedom. This is what I liked about the HRP. I didn’t feel constrained to a single path with red and white waymarks to tick off. The HRP (in all its variants) has no specific waymarks although it often coincides with other routes making navigation easier.
The Pyrenean Haute Route crosses soul-destroying fields of boulders, like this one on the W side of the Col Peyreget, near Pombie
The Pyrenean Haute Route crosses soul-destroying fields of boulders, like this one on the W side of the Col Peyreget, near Pombie
  • Difficulty. To my mind the GR10 is the easiest of the three paths, despite the amount of climbing and the length, largely because it has existed longer and the creases have been ironed out. The only technical challenge where hands are needed is the Pas de l’Osque. There is a cable to help but it is badly positioned.
    On the GR11 many of the higher passages are bestrewn with irregular boulders requiring care. I had to use crampons many times in 2013 after a severe winter, though looking back this may have been better than boulder-hopping.
    The HRP is the most technical route, with lots of boulder-hopping and several awkward or vertiginous passages. From W–E: Crète de Zazpigain, Passage de Orteig, Hourquette de Héas, the climb up to Puerto de Añes Cruces, Col de Litérole, Collada de Mulleres, Col du Picot and the Cheminée de Canigou. But one pass stands out from the rest. Descending the Collada de Mulleres (Coll de Molières) is rock climbing and I wouldn’t have done it without the help of a professional guide. (The bad reputation of the Gourgs Blancs glacier is unfounded: it no longer exists, though the subsequent descent from the pass and the boulders before the Portillon hostel are very trying.)
Estany de Romedo de Dalt near the Certascan hostel on the GR11
Estany de Romedo de Dalt near the Certascan hostel on the GR11
  • Terrain. All three routes are similar at both ends; but in the middle the HRP and GR 11, being higher, are more frequently above the tree-line and more rugged. The HRP visits more (stupendously beautiful) lakes than its rivals.
The Arrémoulit hostel on the HRP. If you don’t book you may have to sleep in the tent. At 2257m it could be cold.
The Arrémoulit hostel on the HRP. If you don’t book you may have to sleep in the tent. At 2257m it could be cold.
  • Accommodation. The GR11 often spends the night at a hotel in a village whilst the other two hikes favour isolated hostels. I stayed in six unmanned huts on the GR10, seven on the GR 11 and eight on the HRP.
Isards (sarrios or rebecos in Spanish) near Ulldeter on the GR11 and HRP
Isards (sarrios or rebecos in Spanish) near Ulldeter on the GR11 and HRP
  • Flora and fauna. Whichever path is chosen, you will see marmottes, isards and vultures. No bears. Above 2500m the landscape is predominantly bare rock, so for animals, flowers, and birds the GR10 is probably best.

So which route did I like best? The Pyrenean Way (GR10) is still in first place. What do you think? See comments below.

27 thoughts on “Trekking the Pyrenees: GR10, GR11 or HRP (Pyrenean Haute Route), a short guide to the differences”

  1. Hi a friend and I are wanting to just do a few days maybe 4 hiking the gr 10 or 11 and preferably sleeping in huts but open to hostels and trying to figure out best area for that.

  2. Hi Steve,

    Myself and a friend are hoping to do 4 days of fast packing along one of these routes. We are both ultra distance trail runners, interested in technical terrain (loved the GR20 northern section) and can cover a good amount of ground per day. We can happily carry our own tent or stay in refuges and have both decent experience in the mountains. Is there a section you would recommend? Our major constraint is access to the route from public transport. Annual leave days are limited so we need to fly in from Ireland & the UK and get on the trail quickly to maximize time we have to enjoy the mountains. Any advice would be gratefully received. I would expect we will be doing this trip in September.

    1. Hello Avril

      Since you want mountains, it has to be between Zuriza and Setcases on the GR11 or HRP or between Gabas and Bolquère on the GR10 (Canigó is high but isolated). Access is easier via France.

      A good starting point would be Etsaut (GR10) or nearby Candanchú (HRP/GR11) accessible by train (or a bus pretending to be a train) from Pau, Tarbes, Toulouse, Barcellona airports. Assuming you can do between two and three walkers’ days in one day running you could do GR10 Etsaut – Gourette – Cauterets – then cross over to GR11 Respomuso (via Wallon) – Candanchú. Potentially you could do the last day on the HRP from Respomuso via Arrémoulit and Pombie to Somport if you want to stretch yourselves.

      Or continue on the GR10 to Luz-St-Sauveur Etsaut – Gourette – Cauterets – Bayssellance – Luz.

      If you are going before mid July you may need crampons and ice axe for certain sections (Bayssellance or Wallon-Respomuso). See comments on snow conditions in the Pyrenees my other site.

      I hop this helps. I’d really like to know how you get on and what you think of the mountains.

  3. Hi Steve, thank you for a very practical guide to all three routes. It already increases my heart rate and longing for the vacation 🙂

    Could you recommend a possibility to join some of the routes in Andorra region for 4-8 day trip ending on public transport with possibility to go back to Andorra or Barcelona? We are experience walkers but will be heavy with a tent and rations. Thanks a million

  4. Hi Steve! Brilliant comparison, very to the point.
    I want to hike any of the 3 trails, but due to work, I only got time in November. I also want to do it light weight and without a tent, like you. Is there any chance in your mind? which route and what direction would you recommend?Thanks!

    1. Hi Paul

      November really isn’t the time for lightweight. Most hostels are shut and it will certainly snow at some point. Unless you are super fit and experienced at mountain running you will need more than 30 days.

      On the other hand, if you just want to sample the mountains for a couple of weeks, start at the Mediterranean and work inland. Check out which hostels leave basic accommodation open in winter and also the numerous huts.

      Keep warm!

  5. Hi Steve! Your websites are really helpful. Can you recommend a section of the HRP (or maybe a particularly good bit of the GR11) for 2-3 days trekking? My brother and I are travelling to northern Spain in the first week of October and were hoping to spend a few days in the mountains.

    We both have lots of experience in the Rockies etc. We’d like to sleep in a tent but understand that may not always be allowed on these routes. Isolated hostels are better than nights spent in town.

    Many thanks,
    Peter

    1. Sorry Peter that I didn’t reply earlier: I’ve been away.

      At that time of year there will be accommodation in Nuria and the Ulldeter hostel is open at weekends. Although the Vall de Nuria itself isn’t wild as soon as you get out onto the frontier ridge it is quite different, as the nine crosses commemorating the shepherds who died there attest. So you can go from Nuria to Ulldeter on the ridge and back via the Coma de Vaca hostel, also open weekends only.

      Or cross over to France and stay at excellent Cal Pai in Eyne coming back up the Eyne valley but then cutting across east to Nou Creus before descending to Nuria again.

  6. [To clarify my comment above: we won’t have a car, so we’re looking for trailheads accessible by public transport. Vall de Nuria looks like a potential jumping-off point, but ideally we’d find something more isolated.]

  7. Hi Steve! I am interested in doing a bit of one of the three trails, I only have 4 days off and am coming from Ireland. Do you have any recommendations for a shorter trip accessible by public transportation? I am flexible on where I fly in/out of and am in good physical condition and am an experienced hiker. Thank you!

    1. Hi Christine
      It depends when you are coming. If it is before mid-October, fly to Toulouse, train to Cauterets and then do the GR10 to Oulettes de Gaube, Gavarnie, Luz St-Sauveur, Cauterets. To shorten it you should be able to get back to Toulouse from Luz St Sauveur.

      I hope this helps

  8. Hi,
    It’s great description.
    I have a question.
    I was in Dolomites, Tirol and Mont Blanc.
    Each time no more than a week of hiking.
    What is your recommendation up to 7 days with return back by some public transport or taxi.
    I’d like to take rest each night on gite, refuge or hotel. GR 10 or GR 11. Do you help me with some advice.
    Thank you very much.
    Boris

  9. Hi Steve,

    A truly fantastic resource and insight! The last few years I have been doing some multi-day treks less challenging than these trails (Westweg in the black forest) and shorter more challenging hikes/scrambles (Zugspitze, Bernese Alps) and I would like to combine the two and do a more mountainous multi-day excursion. My easiest access is to the east of these trails (Andorra I can fly into directly). Having about 5-7 days what stages would you recommend of the GR11 to see the best possible of the pyrenees? Many thanks for all your help!

    1. Hi Stephen

      Go west from Andorra. You should get as far as Conangles, through the Parque Nacional de Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici. Note that this is only feasible July to October. From Conangles you should be able to find a bus to Barcelona airport.

      have fun.

  10. Hi Steve! Thanks so much for such a detailed comparison! We are three friends who fell in love with long-day trails last year. We did Tour de Montblanc and now looking for a new route. We have 6-7 days in June or July. We are thinking of something semi challenging with decent ascents and peaks (~ 2700 km) but not involving extra equipment. What would you recommend? And may be you know some circle routes not far from Bilbao? We like La Senda de Camille, but it’s a bit far.

    Thanks!
    Elena, Anna and Maria

  11. Hi Steve,

    Thank you for this useful information. I’m considering walking (part of) the HRP next summer. I am not planning to carry a tent. Is it necessarry to carry a matrass and blanket or are these available in the huts/refuges along the route?

    Looking forward to hear from you,
    Best regards,
    Eke
    (from the Netherlands)

    1. Hi Eke

      You don’t need a tent if you plan your huts carefully. All of the staffed hostels/refuges have matrasses and blankets but many of the free, unstaffed huts don’t have either. Generally, facilities in unstaffed huts are better in Spain than France, so if you have a choice plan to spend more time in Spain than France (I calculate I crossed the border 28 times!)

  12. Hi Steve, thanks for your time and effort documenting the trails of the Pyrenees. I was hoping you could provide some advice for an upcoming trip.

    My girlfriend and I are flying into Barcelona in late September this year and are looking for a ~10 day backpacking route through the Pyrenees. We are experienced back country hikers and live in the Sierra Nevada of California. As such, we would like to experience the mountains, beautiful scenery and mountain towns of the region.

    Based on your site, I think the GR11 would be a good choice for us. Where would you recommend we start and finish to get the most out of our trip?
    Are there any spots you can recommend to cross over to the HRT and get back to GR11?

    Thank you,
    Scott

    1. Hi Scott

      I suggest walking from Conangles to Puigcerda, which are both (relatively) accessible from Barcelona. I presume you mean HRP (Haute Randonnée Pyrénéenne) not HRT. This is a good idea, as the HRP route through Andorra is better than the GR11 (wilder). You can join it at Tavascan and come back to the GR11 from the Juclar refuge.

      Happy planning

  13. Hi Steve,

    Thanks for the awesome info. !

    I am going to walk east to west in 30days for charity. Starting 25th June in Hendaye. I am concerned about the requirements for ice axe and crampons! I will be camping every night and want to keep weight down- must I carry them?
    Are there any resources to see how much snow fell this winter?
    Which route would you recommend to ensure completion?
    Many thanks in advance for your valuable insights!

    1. Hi Paul

      Since you are setting out on 25 June you won’t need crampons if you take either the GR10 or GR11. If you take the HRP there is a chance that you might have to go around some small residual snow but that shouldn’t require crampons. One of the best guides to the amount of snow is to look at the Pyrenees webcams listed on my other site. At present the webcam at Respomuso (for example) is showing a lot of snow: by the time you get there that long valley should be almost completely snow-free (assuming you take the GR11).

      I’m wondering if you are intending walking the whole way from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean in 30 days as you seem to suggest? You don’t say how much experience you have of high-mountain walking. I would estimate that only the fittest 5% of experienced mountain walkers could do the distance – and above all the climbing – in 30 days. Especially as you will be carrying a tent etc.

      Good luck

  14. Hi Steve,

       
    I’m sorry for all of these questions, but I have just one more. I’m coming to Europe in the middle of June. I’m 65 but still in good shape.
    Since I retired 6 years ago, I’ve been hiking very often, (3 weeks ago I finished Three Passes Trek, last year I did the JMT, a section of the PCT in Washington State, Cordillera Huayhuash …etc).
    I prefer to go alone with my tent for privacy, but this time I am going with two of my friends. They are also in good shape.
    We want to begin in the middle of June, and we would like to go to the Pyrenees. We have a car, but we don’t like day hikes.

    I would like to ask you  if you have any recommendations for our two weeks.
    Thanks,
    Kaz

    1. Hello Kaz

      You’re my age then… You have two weeks and a car and want to do multi-day treks in mid-June and you will be staying in hostels.

      By that time the hostels will be open. So the only constraint is that there will still be snow on some of the higher passes and on the highest peaks (3000m+). I’ll assume you don’t want to take crampons, but maybe I’m wrong? In any case you have plenty of options.

      You could walk a section of any of the three routes and use public transport or taxis to get back to your car – as you will see from this page on accommodation for walkers in the Pyrenees many of the hostels have car access. At that date you might need to go around some of the higher passes between the points marked on this page on (snow on the GR10, GR11 and HRP). On the other hand you may be lucky and find that the snow has disappeared – it is difficult to be certain at this stage.

      Alternatively you might like to combine the routes using cross-frontier paths. Or consider a couple of circular walks like the Muntanyas de Libertat, the Senda de Camille, or the Porta del Cel. Brian Johnson has just brought out a new Cicerone guide to Short Treks in the Pyrenees which should be very useful to you.

      Happy planning

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