Overall thoughts and advice

There’s already a ton of information for the HRP freely available online, and I’d encourage you to seek out some of the other resources listed below. What follows is my personal opinion and views after finishing the route and should be taken as such.

Resources and maps

The HRP has been around for a while, and I didn’t have any issue finding websites and blogs covering everything from maps, resupply, and navigation. There is a Cicerone guidebook, which was recently (2019) updated and most hikers I’ve met used this either for pre-trip planning or brought it along. I also came across a pocket guide by Paul Atkinson, which was not only free but also appealed to me more as it often stayed higher than the guidebook HRP, came with suggested variations/alternates and even a free gpx. I found the notes and gpx more than sufficient to navigate along the trail. The last update was from 2020, so a few things had changed but nothing major. I didn’t prepare that much and mostly figured out things along the way. I did not carry paper maps (or a compass) and did not find them necessary. It would have been nice occasionally to plan the next day but I didn’t want to print and carry a whole set. My app of choice is Caltopo and while I added some Pyrenees-specific map layers (IGN maps), I did not find them useful in the end and mostly used the MapBuilder Topo layer.

Paul has a ton of alternates listed on his sites as well as his own recommendations, and I mostly followed those. Weather sometimes was not cooperating so I sometimes had to take lower elevation routes, unfortunately. Often these low-elevation routes were just the “standard” guidebook route. As is the nature of a high route, a lot of hikers stitched their own version together depending on personal preferences, resupply options, weather, and whatever else played a factor.

Other sites I used to some degree for planning or on trail:

Navigation was pretty straightforward. There were hardly any off-trail sections, and while the HRP is not marked as a standalone trail, it often follows established trails that are marked (e.g. GR10, 11, 12). In other sections, the trail is quite faint or disappears completely, but navigation is still as easy as simply following a bearing. In the central Pyrenees around Benasque, the trail involves a ton of boulder hopping, loose scree, and a bit of scrambling, it certainly was never very technical or above Class II. There was maybe a bit of a Class III section up to Pic Canigou, and Col Mulieres (which I skipped) is also supposed to be a bit technical. Compared to the Yosemite High Route, both the passes and navigation were much easier. That said, your mileage might vary - some other hikers struggled more with navigation on unmarked trails (admittedly they had less experience). As I went in the late season, there was no significant snow anywhere. I never felt like a fall would have more than average consequences on the HRP.

Campsites were hit-and-miss. I never really had an issue finding a spot to camp except for right at the end, but a lot of campsites were exposed and/or established (i.e. packed dirt and uncomfortable). The cattle contributed to the rather packed nature of campsites, with the grass often quite short and soil torn up by the cows (or poop everywhere). The views were however often great. There were a couple of local restrictions, such as being 1 hr away from the entrance of national parks, and only being allowed to camp from 7 pm to 9 am in France. As far as I know, camping is technically not allowed in Spain but absolutely nobody cared. French refuges often had a designated bivouac site, while Spanish ones did not allow camping close by. In general, it was not a huge issue but I had to think a bit more about where I’d spend the night than for example on the Arizona Trail.


Resupplying was a dream and very easy. The longest stretch was between Gavarnie and Benasque, and from there to Arinsal, about five days each in my case. I am not a huge fan of going into towns so I skipped quite a few possible resupply locations. You can also easily supplement by having snacks or dinner in refuges and potentially restaurants. A lot of restaurants were already closed when I came through, as were some shops (e.g. Salardu). It seems like a lot of places shut down by mid-September latest, so it’s best to make sure places are open before planning your whole resupply on a shop that might be closed.

Here is where I resupplied:

  • Elizondo: Fantastic, regular supermarket with tons of options.
  • Lescun: Deli, expensive, not a lot of options. Not my favorite. Would probably skip it next time.
  • Gavarnie: Small expensive shop catered towards tourists. There are buses to bigger towns but I’m lazy.
  • Benasque: Fantastic, regular supermarket.
  • Arinsal: Two smaller stores with good options. Decently priced for a ski town.
  • Bolquere: Small supermarket. There is a bigger one about 1 mile off trail but the small one was more than enough for me.
  • Arles sur Tech: Expensive supermarket with okay options

I also bought some snacks in Candanchu (okay) and Perthus (horrible) and had dinner at refuges two or three times. In general, I found the refuge dinners not worth it, as they are expensive (20-25 Euros), take forever, and just aren’t that great. They are technically three courses, but often the first course is a simple salad and the last course a basic dessert, like a brownie or yogurt. It’s also hard to get vegetarian options. I’d rather spend the money in town on pizza and fries. For a more comprehensive list of options, see the Doing Miles website and Paul’s pocket guide.

Thru-hiking culture

I hardly met any thru-hikers in the beginning but would run into more and more towards the end, meeting three on my last day in Banyuls alone. Two of them had actually left a day before me and moved at exactly the same speed, so I never met them until right at the end. Because of the many variations of the route and the amount of vertical change, hikers naturally spread out quite a lot. Apart from one day, I hiked and camped along pretty much the whole time, but I’ve met groups of hikers that had only met on trail and decided to hike the rest of the route together. But don’t be fooled, this won’t be like the PCT or even the AZT with a developed thru-hiking culture. There are no trail angels, hiker boxes, or anything else like that. Long-distance thru-hiking does not have the same tradition in Europe, but there are some efforts to create new long-distance trails such as the Hexatrek or the Trans-European Alpine Route (TEAR).

The lack of American-style thru-hiking culture was also reflected in the equipment. It was a lot more traditional than what you’d see in the US, with hikers either lugging around massive backpacks and wearing heavy boots, or using a lightweight approach - e.g. wearing trail runners and having a lightweight tent, but still carrying luxuries and not fully going ultralight. Cottage industry gear was rare, as were trekking pole tents. In fact, I still remember some of the cottage gear items: One Liteway pack, a Zpacks tent and rain wrap (American hiker), and Tarptent Aeon Li. The three hikers I ran into at the end were the only other ultralight hikers, with even some MYOG gear.

My pack and choice of shoes often met with surprise and curiosity at best, and judgement at worst. A few people showed interest in what I packed, with one French family being incredibly excited (incroyable, they kept saying).


This was my first backpacking trip in Europe, having mostly hiked in the Western US (California, Arizona) and Canada (GDT). Usually preferring more isolated trails/routes, I was curious how the Pyrenees would compare. And while some sections felt crowded, it certainly was not worse than popular trails in Yosemite in the summer, and I was surprised by how few people I saw in some spots, often going hours without seeing anyone. As Europe is much more densely populated than the western US, trailheads were a lot more accessible and it was reflected in the types of hikers. Instead of just encountering young men (as I’m largely used to), I saw families with kids under 10 years, seniors crushing up mountains at an insane speed, and large groups of older women hiking hut to hut. I’m not claiming to have done an exact demographic study here, but the difference to the typical (thru-)hiking crowd was very obvious.

The huts definitely played a role in this, as the barrier to entry is a lot less with huts - no need to spend a ton of money on gear and routes are easy to plan as well. Of course, spending a week in huts also adds up quickly, so there’s still a financial barrier. Spaces in huts are limited and often need to be reserved, which means that huts often play the role of trailhead permits. It was nice not to have to deal with permits.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by the remoteness of the trails despite some pretty low lows (e.g. ski lifts), as the highs were equally if not higher.

Cultural diversity

Another major difference was the internationality of the hikers. Naturally, I expected French and Spanish hikers as the route is right on the border, but I’ve also met Germans (about a million, conservative estimate), Brits, Dutch, Norwegians, Poles, Romanians, Swiss, Belgians, one lone Italian and one American (shoutout to Fancy!), and probably a few more nationalities I cannot remember right now. After a decade in the US, I had forgotten that this is just how things are in Europe.

Communication with other hikers was typically in English, which most spoke at a high enough level to have a proper conversation. Exceptions were definitely the French hikers, who mostly spoke French and only basic English. In ski towns (Candanchu, Arinsal) and bigger towns (Elizondo, Benasque) people spoke fluent English, while in other towns (Gavarnie, Lescun - you might see a trend here…) I had to rely more often on basic French/Spanish, Google Translate, and some gesturing. I always succeeded in communicating my needs - it’s not that hard when all you need is a bed and some food. A lot of locals in the border towns are bilingual in Spanish and French, so speaking either is definitely a massive advantage. My French is on Flight of the Conchords level and I managed to survive.

I can definitely recommend downloading Google Translate and the relevant languages. And if you think Spanish and French are the only relevant languages, I have some bad news for you. You will also encounter Basque, Gascon, Aragonese, and Catalan - but only the latter is actually spoken widely enough for it to matter on the hike. Basque has quite a few speakers, but the majority are bilingual, while the other two are mostly historical and only noticeable in place names - you will notice how the words for passes and lakes will change depending on which province you are in. For example, ibón is the Aragonese word for a small mountain lake or tarn, instead of the Spanish lago. In Catalonia/Catalunya and Andorra, Catalan is the main language and not all signage will be bilingual, confusing Google translate to a degree where it will only give you gibberish. Speaking of linguistic diversity, if you’re relying on the excellent pocket guide, you might want to look up some Scottish/British terms like corrie and lochan before heading out.


  • Pic Canigou and Pic Carlit are amazing climbs with amazing weeks
  • The descent into Alois D’Isil as a fun off-trail light bushwacking adventure
  • Everything before and after Benasque (Col des Gourgs-Blancs, Col du Pluviometre, all the lakes, …)
  • Easy logistics, can easily spend some time in Barcelona or Paris afterwards (not that I did)
  • Starting and finishing at an ocean is awesome
  • The ridge walking between Bolquere and Arles
  • A good mix of smooth trail and non-existing trail
  • Tons of alternates you can choose


  • Coming out of nowhere and seeing a refuge with 100 people (Refuge Wallon…)
  • High impact in some locations, especially campsites
  • Nobody seems to know how to dig a cathole
  • Weather was suboptimal, with lots of fog, which made some ridge walks impassable
  • Everything after Arles is a major letdown

Daily mileage

For once, I tracked all my mileage with a Suunto Ambit Peak 3 in case you’re really into stats. The places I resupplied are in bold. I took a zero in Gavarnie because of some stomach issues, and three in Arinsal as bad weather was forecast (1" rain in a day) and I had to take care of some unrelated logistics/paperwork anyways.

Day Start - End Distance (mi) Gain (ft) Loss (ft)
1 Hendaye - Biriatou 5.98 1830 657
2 Biriatou - Merendero 21.62 7716 6997
3 Merendero (Elizondo) - Col de Meharroztegui 15.27 5460 4479
4 Col de Meharroztegui - Cromlechs d’Ilarrita ou d’Okabe 21.22 7636 6048
5 Cromlechs d’Ilarrita ou d’Okabe - Cabane Ardane 16.96 6364 6544
6 Cabane Ardane - Lescun 19.06 5960 7444
7 Lescun - Candanchú 20.34 8901 6587
8 Candanchú - Refuge d’Arrémoulit 15.66 8488 6127
9 Refuge d’Arrémoulit - Lac d’Arratille 11.8 4780 4860
10 Lac d’Arratille - Gavarnie 14.33 4981 7835
Zero (stomach issues)
11 Gavarnie - Col de la Sède 14.55 8158 4780
12 Col de la Sède - Cabaña de Llisier 19.99 7219 9447
13 Cabaña de Llisier - Lac du Milieu 13.02 8642 6065
14 Lac du Milieu - La Basurta 12.19 5901 7883
15 Benasque - Estany Gran 13.03 7590 4040
16 Estany Gran - Refugio de la Restanca 12.6 4324 5018
17 Refugio de la Restanca - Estany Superior del Rosari 14.57 7038 6153
18 Estany Superior del Rosari - Riu del Port 15.62 6516 8446
19 Riu del Port - Pla d’Arcalis 16.23 8344 7183
20 Pla d’Arcalis - Arinsal 7.64 3001 4794
Three zeros (logistics)
21 Arinsal - Pleta de la Serrera 12.51 7447 5064
22 Pleta de la Serrera - L’Hospitalet-près-l’Andorre 16.47 6626 9165
23 L’Hospitalet-près-l’Andorre - Pyrenees 2000 19.32 7471 6274
24 Pyrenees 2000 (Bolquere) - Refugi d’Ull de Ter 17.45 6305 4862
25 Refugi d’Ull de Ter - Refuge Cortalets 21.42 6526 6789
26 Refuge Cortalets - Arles sur Tech 15.22 3150 9195
27 Arles sur Tech - Coll de Portells 17.06 7640 6150
28 Coll de Portells - Refuge Tomy 17.67 6015 5198
29 Refuge Tomy - Banyuls de la Marenda 5.6 499 3682
Return to Haute Randonnée Pyrénéenne (HRP)

See also