Trek the GR11 Pyrenees
Trek the GR11 Pyrenees
The GR11 is the star of all the trails in the southern Pyrenees. It is a route of outstanding beauty and landscape diversity that crosses the Pyrenees from the Mediterranean Sea to the Cantábrico Sea. GR stands for Gran Recorrido (long path, in English). The GR11 was finished in 1986 and is 750km.
The GR11 can be walked in both directions, but in this post we will describe the trail from the Mediterranean Sea to the Cantábrico Sea. We have divided the trek into 35 legs:
the first 13 belong to the Eastern Pyrenees (Catalan and Andorran Pyrenees),
15 to the Central Pyrenees (Western part of the Catalan Pyrenees and the Aragonese Pyrenees)
and 6 to the Western Pyrenees (Navarrese and Basque Pyrenees).
However, it is up to you to decide how many days you will spend. It depends on your fitness level and on the season.
The GR 11 has a lot of variants we will not describe in this article. Some of them are mentioned in the article. To find out more, take a look at some of the books in the Books section.
Variants were created to allow walkers to benefit from the most interesting areas which the GR11 crosses, or to get closer to some peaks. I will tell you about the attainable peaks in the description of every walk.
Duration does not include breaks.
How long will it take?
We have divided the GR 11 into 35 sections (legs), but it can be walked in 40-45 legs, or even more. It depends on your fitness level, the kind of accommodation you feel comfortable in (some people prefer not to stay at unstaffed huts) and the duration of your holidays.
What to expect
As stated above, the GR 11 passes through a great variety of landscapes, from high and steep mountains in Catalonia and Aragon, to gentler mountains in Navarra, Basque Country and East Catalonia (next to the Mediterranean sea)
The highest points on the trail attain 2500m. Every leg informs you about the highest point when this is an important issue to be considered. Regarding the elevation gain, some legs have more than 1000m height difference.
Regarding signs on the trail, the GR11 is not always well signposted. That means that you should bring the necessary maps to cover all the legs you want to walk. Also, you need navigation skills, a compass and an altimeter. Otherwise, hire a mountain guide who knows the trail well.
Time of the year
All legs from Cap de Creus to Molló (in the Eastern Pyrenees), and from Isaba to Cabo Higer (Western Pyrenees) can be walked all year round.
However, with middle-mountain gear, you cannot walk the legs from Molló to Isaba in winter: from mid-December until late June. If you have high-mountain equipment and alpine experience you can walk these legs throughout the year.
Nevertheless, you may find some snow patches in July, in the highest parts of the trail. If that is the case, a pair of crampons and an ice axe will help if you have to cross a snow covered steep slope, so long as you know how to use them. For instance, the slopes below the Portella de Baiau pass can be snow covered until late July.
The best sites to check the weather forecasts are:
> Servei Meteorològic de Catalunya (for the Catalan Pyrenees)
> Agencia estatal de Meteorologia (for the Aragonese Pyrenees). Choose “Pirineo Aragonés” on the map.
> Agencia estatal de Meteorologia (for the Navarrese Pyrenees). Choose “Pirineo Navarro” on the map.
> Govern d’Andorra. Servei de Meteorologia (for the Pyrenees in Andorra)
Inns can vary from **** Hotels to unstaffed mountain huts. When the GR11 passes by a village or town you can stay overnight at a hotel or hostel.
However, many legs of the GR11 are in the wilderness so there is no possibility to stay in hotels, rural houses or hostels.
Refugios (in Spanish), refugis (in Catalan) and aterpea (in Basque) are the names for ‘mountain huts’. These can be:
> Unstaffed huts usually lacking amenities such as hot water, power or food.
> Staffed huts usually have hot water and power and provide meals, packed lunches included.
Staffed huts and hotels should be booked in advance. Every staffed hut is managed by a warden who cooks and takes care of everything. The prices do vary from hut to hut, but on average these are the prices per day per person :
— Overnight: 17€
— Bed&Breakfast: 24€
— Half-board: 42€
— Full-board (half-board + packed lunch): 52€
There are some “rules” and things that you should know before booking a staffed mountain hut in the Pyrenees.
> From 22:00 to 6:00, lights don’t work.
> Toilets and shower are basic. Hot water sometimes runs out after many people have taken a shower. So it’s a good idea to shower as soon as you arrive at the mountain hut.
> You cannot go into a mountain hut with your boots on. You have to leave them in a small room between the first and the second entrance. The hut provides you with sandals to use while you are inside, or you can bring your own indoor shoes or slippers if you want.
> Rucksacks should be left in the designated room. You should take only what you need for the night to the dormitory.
> Breakfast is served very early, usually between 6:30 and 7:30. Let the warden know what time you expect to get up in the morning.
> Huts cater for vegetarians so long as you informed them when you reserved.
> Meals are simple but substantial.
> You spend a lot of time with nothing to do so bring a light book to read.
> Huts don’t take your rubbish.
> If you are a member of one of these mountaineering associations:
>> Deutscher Alpenverein (DAV)
>> Schweizer Alpen-Club (SAC)
>> Österreichischer Alpenverein (OeAV)
>> Fédération Francaise des Clubs Alpins et de Montagne (FFCAM)
>> Club Alpino Italiano (CAI)
you can get a discount in the huts situated in Aragón and Navarra.
> To get a discount in the huts in Catalonia, you should be a member of one of these mountaineering associations:
>> Fédération Francaise des Clubs Alpins et de Montagne (FFCAM)
>> Club Alpino Italiano (CAI)
What should I carry when I stay overnight in a hut?
You should add the following items to your check-list:
> There are blankets in the hut, so no need to carry sleeping bag. Use a sleeping-bag shaped sheet instead
> You share a big room with other people, so use them when somebody snores.
> Torch (to use in the hut if you want to use the toilet during the night)
> Cash (huts don’t accept credit cards)
> A bag to put some of your clothes into so you can use it as pillow
>> Small piece of soap (for showers)
>> Small tube of tooth paste
>> Small tooth brush
>> Very small towel
>> Soap to wash your underwear every day
>> Underwear (one spare in the backpack: underpants, T-shirt, socks)
>> Pyjama? I may use the underwear for the following day. However, as I don’t like to sleep with a synthetic T-shirt on, I will carry a cotton T-shirt as the upper piece of the pyjama.
Try to carry as few things as possible, and as light as possible. As I said before, you do not need to carry a tent, sleeping bag, cook, food. Regarding clothes, bring only one underwear spare. This check list is enough if you don’t plan on camping or staying at unstaffed along the way:
– Rucksack. Capacity: 40 – 50 litres.
– Rain cover for the rucksack
– Bottle with at least 1.5 litres of capacity
– Sunglasses and sunscreen (for skin and lips)
– Waterproof mountain boots or trekking boots. The stiffer the better if you plan on using crampons.
– Trekking poles
– A hat/bonnet to protect your head from wind and sun
– Thin gloves
* Ripstop nylon trail pants (other synthetic fabrics are also fine)
* Base layer: synthetic fabric or New Zealand wool T-shirt
* Insulating layer: medium-thick fleece
* Shell layer:
> A Gore-tex (or similar insulated product) thin jacket. Just for rain and wind.
> A thick fleece
> Waterproof trousers
– Plastic bags in which to put things that should not get wet if it rains
– Toilet paper
– Smartphone or mobile phone
Consider the items that I mentioned in What should I carry when I stay overnight in a hut
If you are not led by a mountain guide, you should add:
> A Compass
> An Altimeter
> A Map
> A First Aid kit
> A Survival blanket
> A GPS (advisable)
Websites, maps and books
Websites with useful information:
> Albergues y refugios de Aragon, to book only huts in the Aragonese part of the GR11
> Refugios online, to book huts in the Pyrenees. Difficult to use!
> Refus online, to book mountain huts in Catalonia.
> FEEC. You get useful information about huts in Catalonia but you cannot book online.
> Weather forecast: already listed in Time of the year section.
Best maps are those with a 1:25000 scale. I do not recommend lower scales such as 1:40000 or 1:50000.
Three publishing houses edit maps on the Spanish Pyrenees. Depending on the section of the GR11 you want to walk, you are obliged to choose one of them.
> For the Catalan Pyrenees and part of the Aragonese Pyrenees I recommend Editorial Alpina. (Information in English)
> For Aragon and Navarra, I recommend the links to Editorial Sua:
Unfortunately, the website is not in English.
> Editorial Piolet (Information in English).
> Senda Pirenaica: GR11 de mar a mar – 2 volumes. Maps included.
1st LEG. CAP DE CREUS – LLANÇÀ
Cumulative ascent: 500 m
Cumulative descent: 485 m
Duration: 6h 30’
Highlights: Sant Pere de Rodes monastery. A beautiful and varied landscape. You start and finish near the Mediterranean sea.
Comments: Long leg. I advise starting early in the morning. The path undulates up and down.Easy to find accommodation in Llançà.
I recommend starting below the plaque which marks the starting point of the GR11. It is better to follow the path to a point in front of the S’Encalladora islet. Why? Because you can touch the water of the Mediterrean sea before starting your trek. This is symbolic, and you will do the same when you reach the Cantabrian sea.
Firs you cross the lunar landscape in Cap de Creus, an inspiration for some of Salvador Dalí’s paintings. Then you arrive at Cala Tabellera, a charming small beach with a fresh water well. Eventually you arrive at Port de la Selva village.
Afterwards you ascend for a long time, passing stone walls which used to mark vineyards. At the the top of a crag there is the Sant Pere de Rodes monastery. There is a spring next to a big tree. The views over the coastline are fantastic, and the best are from the viewpoint next to Santa Elena church.
On the descent to Llançà you cross areas that have suffered many fires because of the strong wind (Tramuntana in Catalan).
2nd LEG. LLANÇÀ – ESPOLLA
Cumulative ascent: 245 m
Cumulative descent: 145 m
Highlights: The number of cork oaks.
Comments: Easy leg along the base of the Albera mountain range, part of the Albera protected nature reserve. Most of the trail is broad forest tracks and paved paths, so this part is not very exciting.
Leaving Llançà means saying goodbye to the Mediterranean Sea. On your way we find the Sant Silvestre Romanesque church and the small village of Vilamaniscle. Most of the inhabitants of Vilamaniscle grow wine because the DO Alt Empordà is highly successful.
We are now into the Albera protected reserve, well known because of its megalithic tombs and monuments, and because it is the habitat of the Hermann turtle.
We then get to the Mas Noguer menhir, and later on to the Sant Quirc de Colera monumental site, a 10th Century Benedictine monastery. There’s a spring where we can fill up our water bottles.
From now on the landscape is full of prickly shrubs. We also find many tufts of spartium junceum, the most common shrub in the region.
At the end of the leg, we recommend leaving the GR11 via a track to Espolla, a village where we can find accommodation.
3rd LEG. ESPOLLA – LA JONQUERA
Cumulative ascent: 558 m
Cumulative descent: 666 m
Duration: 6h 40′
Highlights: From the highest spots of the Western Albera protected nature area: beautiful views of the l’Alt Empordà county, to the south, and Costa Vermella, to the north. Recasens castle worth a visit.
Comments: Easy leg. Again, too many boring broad forest tracks along the way. Be careful on windy days.
You start walking at Els Vilars farm. The path crosses fantastic cork oak woods which show you that cork manufacturing took place here many centuries ago. One goal of this leg is to get the La Llosarda pass, because you have awesome views of the Canigou peak and the bay of Rosas. Later on, it is worth leaving the track near Mirapols house in order to visit the 11th Century Recasens castle, which perhaps unfortunately was restored under the influence of Romanticism. The castle is located below Puig Neulós peak (1,263m), the highest summit in the Albera chain.
You pass by Recasens village, the Ferro and Saula springs, and the Santa Llúcia Romanesque church. From there, you can see a curious granitic geological landscape near La Jonquera.
4rd LEG. LA JONQUERA – MAÇANET DE CABRENYS
Cumulative ascent: 478 m
Cumulative descent: 230 m
Duration: 5h 25′
Highlights: Beautiful views of the l’Alt Empordà county. You see huge cork oaks in woods crossed by broad forest tracks.
Comments: Easy leg with a lot of springs.
The tracks you find after leaving La Jonquera are not well signposted. You pass by a very big cork oak named El Suratell, located next to Can Mariné spring.
Later on you arrive at La Vajol, the highest village in L’Empordà. During the Spanish Civil War many works from the Prado museum in Madrid were hidden near here in a disused mine.
La Vajol has a spring in its central square.
Eventually you arrive at Maçanet de Cabrenys. At plaza Major you find the “sword of Roldán”. He was a hero of the Carolingian dynasty, which had as its most famous king Charlemagne.
5th LEG. MAÇANET DE CABRENYS – BASSEGODA
Cumulative ascent: 580 m
Cumulative descent: 463 m
Duration: 6h 20′
Highlights: You discover the High Garrotxa, a calcareous and unique-landscape with many crags and cliffs located in La Garrotxa county. You can read more about La Garrotxa here.
Comments: You still follow broad forest tracks, but the woods are more and more dense. A lot of springs and streams. Accommodation in the Galan mountain hut. You have to deal with two steep ascents. Very hot in summer outside the woods.
During this leg you pass the Romanesque church Sant Andreu d’Oliveda, the Senglar mountain hut and the 11th Century Romanesque church Sant Feliu de Carbonils.
The GR11 crosses Albanyà (a beautiful village for visitors) before arriving at the Galan mountain hut at the base of Bassegoda, the most impressive peak in La Garrotxa.
6th LEG. BASSEGODA – BEGET
Cumulative ascent: 330 m
Cumulative descent: 745 m
Duration: 8h 10′
Highlights: Awesome landscapes. Climbing Puig de Bassegoda is a thrilling adventure: you have to leave the GR11 for a couple of hours and scramble up towards the summit (some steel wires helps you to get there).
Sant Aniol de l’Agulla Romanesque chapel.
Beget, one of the most beautiful villages of the Catalan Pyrenees. There, you can visit the Sant Cristòfol Romanesque church. To learn more about Beget click here.
Comments: Quite a hard leg due to the rugged terrain of the High Garrotxa.
You cross some calcareous stone scree before arriving at Sant Aniol de l’Agulla, where the Benedictines founded a monastery in 859. Good spring nearby.
Afterwards, you reach the Salt de la Nuvia, a narrow pass on the edge of a cliff.
Talaixà is the next break, where there’s a church, a mountain hut and a spring. Excellent views of the Puig de Bassegoda peak.
7th LEG. BEGET – SETCASES
Cumulative ascent: 1,367 m
Cumulative descent: 612 m
Duration: 6h 50′
Highlights: Santa Cecilia de Molló S.XII Romanesque church with its famous bell tower. Setcases: a typical Pyrenean village with many hotels for overnight stays.
Comments: You enter the Ripollès county. The landscape shows you have reached the high mountains: you achieve nearly 1,900m of altitude. Lots of springs and streams.
You cross oak and chestnut woods during the first part of this leg. Later on, you enter Mollò.
After Mollò, you ascend for 3 hours before reaching the Liens pass. The vegetation has changed: no more woods, only alpine meadows and infinite views.
You pass by La Fembra Morta (died woman) pass, where a legend of Mollò says that a girl died in that pass. She was a maid from Mas Galceran, who wanted to show that she did not fear the ghosts that the old folks said haunted that area, so she climbed it one night. Once there, she put a stick in the ground to show how far she had gone, but it inadvertently snagged her dress. She did not see it, and when she felt trapped out of fear she had a heart attack and she died.
Before arriving Setcases, you have an elevation loss of 600m.
8th LEG. SETCASES – NURIA’s SANCTUARY
Cumulative ascent: 1,559 m
Cumulative descent: 842 m
Duration: 6h 25′
Highlights: Fossa del Gegant peak (2,805 m), Nou Creus peak (2,809 m), Nou Fonts peak (2,864 m) crest line, on the ridge between France and Spain: one of the most beautiful ridges of the GR11, with awesome views of Canigou peak and the French Pyrenees. Wild chamois.
Comments: A hard and high leg. Be careful of fog and storms while on the crest line. The Torb is a famous wind in the Ripollès which has caused the deaths of several mountaineers.
You can stay overnight in the Pic de l’Àliga youth hostel. A more expensive option is Vall de Nuria hotel ***.
You will pass by the Ull de Ter mountain hut, located near the sources of the Ter river. La Marrana pass is a milestone from where you will have awesome views of the Canigou peak.
Later on you will pass the Tirapits shelter, small but very useful in case of thunder storm.
On the Fossa del Gegant summit you will see a big ice axe which marks the place where the battle between the Moorish Gedhur and the count Guifré took place, according to the Catalan poet Jacint Verdaguer. A giant died during the battle, hence the name of the peak (Gegant, in Catalan = Giant, in English)
Then you will arrive at the Nou Creus pass, where nine crosses commemorate nine mountaineers who died there because of the snow and the Torb wind.
The GR11 does not go to Nou Fonts peak, but I suggest going there.
9th LEG. NURIA’s SANCTUARY – PUIGCERDÀ
Cumulative ascent: 946 m
Cumulative descent: 1,744 m
Duration: 5h 50′
Highlights: Puigmal (2,913 m) the highest peak of the Ripollès county. Awesome views of the Ripollès and La Cerdanya from Puigmal summit. See amazing pictures climbing Puigmal here.
Comments: Very hard leg. You break away from the GR11 to climb Puigmal. You leave the Ripollès county and enter La Cerdanya (more information about La Cerdanya here). Long though gentle descent to Puigcerdà.
The ascent to Puigmal is not challenging if the weather is good. You later join the GR11 after descending Puigmal, on the Creu de Maians pass.
This leg ends in Puigcerdà, capital of La Cerdanya, where you will find all kinds of services: restaurants, hotels, supermarkets, etc.
10th LEG. PUIGCERDÀ – J. FOLCH I GIRONA MOUNTAIN HUT
Cumulative ascent: 1,302 m
Cumulative descent: 230 m
Highlights: The Corniols forest. Views of La Cerdanya valley
Comments: Very hard leg. Stay overnight at the Joaquim Folch i Girona unstaffed mountain hut without basic services such as meals, water, heat, etc. So you buy enough food in Puigcerdà for two days before starting this leg.
You can carry less weight if you book your lunch at the Malniu mountain hut. If the hut is open, the caretakers are be happy to cook for you.
On the way you pass by Guils de Cerdanya, a small village where you can visit its fantastic 12th Century Romanesque church. Later on you can fill up your water bottles in the Ase spring, 100m away from the trail.
Before the Feixa hut the GR11 is not well signposted and it’s easy to miss your way. Pay attention!
Break at the Malniu mountain hut: many facilities such as meals, bar, picnic area, spring, etc. At weekends is sometimes crowded. Later on, you cross the Corniols wood, below the Puigpedrós (2914m) mountain.
Eventually you reach the Joaquim Folch i Girona d’Engors hut.
11th LEG. J. FOLCH I GIRONA mountain hut – ENCAMP
Cumulative ascent: 482m
Cumulative descent: 1,420 m
Duration: 8h 10′
Highlights: You cut across the long De La Llosa valley, one of the best preserved valleys of La Cerdanya. Marmots. Madriu-Perafita valley, in Andorra, declared World Heritage by UNESCO.
Comments: Very hard leg. A long leg which permits you enter Andorra. Many springs and streams, as well as huts which are useful shelters during storms and lightning.
Your first milestones are the Portella dels Engorgs pass and the Cabana dels Esparvers shelter. Between both the GR11 is sometimes signalled with cairns. Pay attention at the shelter because is easy to follow the wrong path: three GRs cross, the GR11, the GR 107 and a variant of the GR11, the GR11.10.
The GR 107 is the Cathar trail which goes from Berga (Catalonia) to Monsegur castle (Occitanie – France). The GR11.10 descends along La Llosa valley and link later on the GR11. You should follow the GR11 to your next milestone: the Vall Civera pass, between Andorra and la Cerdanya.
At the l’Illa lake you cross the GR 7, the first GR created in Catalonia in the 1970s
You start the long descend of the Madriu valley. Before reaching Encamp, in Andorra, you pass by two huts Riu dels Orris and Fontvert, and the Engolasters lake.
12th LEG. ENCAMP (Andorra) – BAIAU mountain hut
Cumulative ascent: 1,477m
Cumulative descent: 640 m
Highlights: Awesome mountain lakes, peaks, crest lines, forests … you see them all. Coma Pedrosa (2,946 m), the highest peak in Andorra.
Comments: Very hard leg. You cross the deep and steep valleys of Andorra, achieving three high passes. You stay overnight at the Baiau unstaffed mountain hut which is basic. So you buy food in Encamp before leaving. You leave Andorra to enter Catalonia again (Pallars county).
During the first part of the leg you cross a beautiful pine wood: Coll d’Ordino forest. You do not need to enter Ordino village. However, the trail does cross the Arinsal village. Both have plenty of hotels.
Once the Negre lake has been reached, the meadows and trees have disappeared and you walk only on rocks and stones.
The next milestone is the Portella de Baiau pass, on the border between Andorra and Catalonia. I advise you to climb Coma Pedrosa peak (2946m), the highest peak in Andorra. After reaching the summit, you should come back to the Portella de Baiau.
The scree you have to descend after la Portella de Baiau is sometimes very steep. Pay attention!
Eventually, you get to the Baiau hut.
This part of the path can only walked during the summer, that is to say, from late June until late October. Otherwise, you should carry crampons, ice-axe and either snowshoes or skis, and have mountaineering experience in winter conditions.
The Central Pyrenees include the highest Catalan Pyrenees (from the western border with Andorra), the Aragonese Pyrenees and small part of the Navarrese Pyrenees. That is to say, the wildest Pyrenees you’d ever seen.
13th LEG. BAIAU mountain hut – TAVASCAN
Cumulative ascent: 1,014m
Cumulative descent: 2,401 m
Duration: 10h 15′
Highlights: Vallferrera valley.Tudela forest. Dramatic views from Tudela pass: Monteixo peak, Pica d’Estats (3143m, the highest Catalan peak), Els Encantats (in the Aigüestortes National Park) Dense forests descending to Tavascan.
Comments: Again, a very hard leg. Very steep ascent after Àreu.
You descend during the first part of the leg the Vall Ferrera valley. You pass near the Vall Ferrera mountain hut but you do not need to go to it.
This valley was named Vall Ferrera because a lot of iron was extracted in the area between the 9th and 12th Centuries.
You reach Àreu, the village where the road ends. To visit the village you have to leave the GR11 and walk for 5 minutes. The village has some shops and one hotel.
Your next milestone is the Tudela pass, with fantastic views full of summits, such as Pica d’Estats, Monteixo and Encantats.
Later you arrive at Bordils Sobirà, where you can see the Sant Fruitós Romanesque church, the only one in this part of the Pyrenees with a three-side oriented roof. No shops in the village and only four or five people live there.
Before getting to Tavascan, you pass by the Pollosa spring. The descend to Tavascan is looooong!
Proposal: If these two legs are too hard for you or you’re trekking in winter, you can take an alternative route for three days instead:
- Encamp – Coma Pedrosa Mountain hut. Duration: 10h
- Coma Pedrosa mountain hut – Vall Ferrera mountain hut. Duration: 4h 30’
- Vall Ferrera mountain hut – Tavascan. Duration: 7h 45’
With this option you don’t need to stay overnight at an unstaffed mountain hut: Coma Pedrosa and Vall Ferrera are both mountain huts with various services.
Alt Pirineu Natural Park
Alt Pirineu Natural Park: The Baiau mountain hut is located on the eastern edge of this Natural Park. It is my favourite park in the Catalan Pyrenees despite Aigüestortes is more popular. Legs 13, 14 and 15 cross the lower parts of this gem of the Pyrenees. To learn more about this park click here (information only in Spanish).
14th LEG. TAVASCAN – LA GUINGUETA D’ÀNEU
Cumulative ascent: 1,091m
Cumulative descent: 1,262 m
Duration: 8h 45′
Highlights: Several pretty mountain villages, such as Aineto (Sant Romà XI Century Romanesque
church), Lleret, Estaon. Views from Clot de la Calba pass (2,228 m). Numerous bordes: a kind of shepherd’s hut used to keep cattle and to store their feed. They are a heritage of ancient times when farming was the main activity of these villages.
Comments: Two hard steep ascents to reach two passes. You descend during the last four hours of the leg.
One of the milestones is the Carena de Lleret pass, with awesome views. You see many bordes along the way, but the Nibrós bordes are the most spectacular.
In Estaon there is a staffed mountain hostel. Then the ascent to Montcaubo peak is hard and long, and there are no GR markings in some parts of the trail. There is a spring in a meadow where the trail becomes easy to follow again.
Before getting to la Guingeta d’Àneu, you pass by Dorve, an abandoned village.
Take a look at this picture gallery to discover Tavascan.
15th LEG. LA GUINGUETA D’ÀNEU – ESTANY DE SANT MAURICI
Cumulative ascent: 1,005 m
Cumulative descent: 210 m
Highlights: The worldwide famous Aigüestortes National Park of unparalleled natural beauty. View of Els Encantats from St. Maurici lake.
Comments: You stay overnight at the Ernest Mallafré staffed mountain hut.
Your first milestone is Jou, a pretty village made of stone. The second one is Espot, a popular tourist village with many services and accommodation.
In Espot you can choose to follow the variant GR11.20, which passes by the Josep Maria Blanch and la Colomina mountain huts, as well as two villages: Taüll and El Pont de Suert. This option is longer than the main route.
You enter Aigüestortes National Park in Espot. Before reaching the Sant Maurici lake you cross dense dwarf mountain pine and silver fir woods. The classical picture of the lake is the one with Els Encantats mountain in the background.
Legend says that God punished two hunters by turning them into the two summits of Els Encantats.
Aigüestortes National Park
Aigüestortes and estany de Sant Maurici National Park: The most popular and renowned Park in the Catalan Pyrenees. It is full of lakes of extreme beauty. The GR11 needs two legs to cross the park: numbers 16 and 17. To learn more about this park click here.
16th LEG. ESTANY DE SANT MAURICI – COLOMERS
Cumulative ascent: 609 m
Cumulative descent: 419 m
Duration: 6h 45′
Highlights: Again, the worldwide famous Aigüestortes National Park of unparalleled natural beauty. Lots of lakes everywhere. The 48-lake Colomers valley.
Comments: Gentle leg. You stay overnight at the Colomers staffed mountain hut. Climbing Tuc de Ratera peak (2,826 m) is possible, leaving backpacks at the Ratera pass.
Your first and main milestone is the Ratera pass, located between the Ratera peak and the Saboredo chain.
Among the many lakes you pass by, I think Obago lake is one of the most interesting because of its unusual shape. The woods are coloured by the Alpine rose shrubs in blossom.
You reach the staffed Colomers mountain hut, where you stay overnight.
I advise you to spend one additional day in this mountain hut to walk through the 48-lake Colomers glacial valley. It’s worth it.
17th LEG. COLOMERS – CONANGLES
Cumulative ascent: 453 m (climb to Montarto peak not included)
Cumulative descent: 419 m (climb to Montarto peak not included)
Duration: 8h 40′ (climb to Montarto peak not included)
Highlights: Vall d’Aran views from Montarto summit if you choose to climb it. Views from Pòrt de Caldes pass to the west. The pretty Estany de Monges. (Estany = mountain lake), just to mention one of the many you can see. Awesome views of the Tuc de Mulleres peak (3,010 m) from Pòrt de Rius pass.
Comments: You take the GR11 variant GR11-18 to make this leg more attractive. You stay overnight at the Conangles staffed mountain hut.
If you want to climb Montanto peak I advise you to shorten the leg and stay overnight at the Restanca staffed mountain hut. Climbing Montarto is not difficult but it can take you at least two additional hours.
Among the lakes you pass is Rius lake, which has an unusual green colour, unique in the Park. Before you reach it you pass the Restanca mountain hut, where you join the main GR11 trail again.
The views of Tuc de Mulleres peak (3010m) from Pòrt de Rius pass are unforgettable.
Posets-Maladeta Natural Park
Posets-Maladeta: legs 18 and 19 cross this park. This protected area is very popular because it contains the highest peak in the Pyrenees, Aneto (3,404m). Also, there are many peaks beyond the 3,000m, such as Maldito, Maladeta, Alba, Molières, Russel, Vallibierna, Posets (3,375m), Malpàs, Perdiguero, Gran Bachimala, Gourgs Blancs. To learn more about this park click here (information only in Spanish)
18th LEG. CONANGLES – BENASQUE
Cumulative ascent: 1,280 m
Cumulative descent: 720 m
Highlights: Salenques valley. Estanys d’Anglos. From Vallibierna pass, views of the Maladeta massif with Aneto (3,404 m), the highest peak of the Pyrenees. Vallibierna lakes. Benasque: one of the most beautiful villages in the Aragonese Pyrenees.
Comments: Strenuous and long leg. Sticking to the schedule is vital. You should arrive at Coronas mountain hut before the last bus leaves (more information here. Taking this bus will save you a walk along a boring forest track which descends to the road. The bus runs only in summer and drives you to Benasque, a pretty village where you can find several inns to stay overnight. You have entered the Posets-Maladeta natural park. More information here (in Spanish).
After leaving the Conangles mountain hut, you leave Catalonia and enter Aragon, another autonomic region of Spain.
Following the Salenques valley up to the Anglós pass takes you several hours as the elevation gain is higher than 1000m.
However, the main milestone of the leg is the Vallibierna pass, narrow, with steep slopes at both sides, and superb views of the Aneto, the highest peak in the Pyrenees.
In Benasque there are many hotels and all services.
19th LEG. BENASQUE – BIADÓS
Cumulative ascent: 1,320 m
Cumulative descent: 820 m
Highlights: The idyllic Estós valley, which is covered in beech and silver fir trees. Awesome views of two massifs: the Posets and the Bachimala, as well as the Perdiguero peak (3,221m). D’Añes Cruzes valley.
Comments: Strenuous and long leg. This leg will permit you to physically recuperate and recover. This is an area where most of the peaks are above 3,000 m: you are at the core of the wildest Pyrenees. You have crossed the Posets-Maladeta natural park from east to west. You stay overnight at the Biadós staffed mountain hut.
A bus drives you to the Aneto camping area, where you can join again the GR11.
The Estós valley is full of silver firs and beeches. Your first milestone is the Estós mountain hut, a good occasion to stop for a beer. Not far from the mountain hut the variant GR11.2 starts. It is a very wild path that would add a day to your trip, so I don’t advise following it.
The second milestone is the Chistau pass, also called ‘Gistaín’ or ‘Estós’. On the way to your third milestone, the Añes Cruces hut, you follow the amazing El Puerto ravine.
One of the notable features of this leg are the flowered meadows in Añez Cruces and near the Biadós mountain hut.
20th LEG. BIADÓS – PARZÁN
Cumulative ascent: 765 m
Cumulative descent: 1,201 m
Duration: 6h 10′
Highlights: Bordas de Biadós. Bordas de Lisier. The Urdiceto lake.
Comments: Gentle leg which takes you into the beginning of the Monte Perdido massif that you cross during the following legs. Unfortunately, the path between the Urdiceto reservoir and the road is a boring and endless forest track which ends on the road. From there, you follow a path to Parzan, a small village where you can stay overnight
Proposal: To avoid 2h 15’ of boring track, you can leave the GR11 at the Urdiceto reservoir and take a path which goes up to Puenta Fuesa pass, then descends to Cau lake and arrives at Bielsa following the Cau ravine. You can either stay overnight in Bielsa and walk to Parzan the following day, or continue walking to Parzan and stay overnight there, the route for the standard leg.
The main milestone of this leg is the Ordiceto pass, near the Ordiceto lake.
Bielsa is worth a visit but you have to walk 30 additional minutes to get to it; the village was a strategic point during the Spanish Civil War.
Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park
Ordesa y Monte Perdido: is the other National Park in the Pyrenees. This park and the Aigüestortes N.P. are the most in the Pyrenees. The second highest peak in the Pyrenees – Monte Perdido (3,355m) – is in the park, as well as the most demanded mountain hut of the Pyrenees: Goritz.
Leg 21 joins the park and legs 22 and 23 run entirely in the park. To learn more about the park click here.
21st LEG. PARZÁN – PINETA
Cumulative ascent: 1,006 m
Cumulative descent: 910 m
Duration: 5h 55′
Highlights: Views of the eastern slopes of Las Treserols: Monte Perdido (3,355 m) + Añisclo peak (3,259 m) + Cilindro de Marmorés (3,325 m), as well as the peaks on the crest line between France and Spain, such as Pineta peak, Tucarroya peak, Astazou peaks, Marboré peak, all around 3,000 m
Comments: Strenuous and long leg. The terrain is not a problem during this leg. You enter the Ordesa and Monte Perdido national park. More information here (in Spanish). You stay overnight at the comfortable Pineta staffed mountain hut.
After leaving Parzán, you follow the Langorrués valley and reach the first milestone and highest point of the leg, the Pietramula pass, where a break is a must. It is also a must in the beech forest you cross before getting to the Pineta mountain hut.
22th LEG. PINETA – GÓRIZ mountain hut
Cumulative ascent: 1,213 m
Cumulative descent: 294 m
Duration: 8h 15′
Highlights: The Ordesa and Monte Perdido natural park is beautiful all the way. The Pyrenees even better than you had imagined. Views from Añisclo pass.
Comments: Strenuous leg, from the Pineta mountain hut to Añisclo pass, the hardest ascent of the GR11: 1,200 m in only 2 km. You stay overnight at the very popular Góriz staffed mountain hut, which is hard to get a booking for. 10 or 12 months in advance is advisable.
From Añisclo pass to Arrablo pass we have two options:
- The shorter one is the more difficult, but attractive. The path crosses the balcón de la Faixa deras Solas, where a fixed rope helps with crossing the most exposed part. Option to be avoided if there’s ice, snow or it’s raining. Pure adrenaline!
- The longer route descends to Fuen Blanca (Blanca spring) and then goes up to Arrablo pass.
The first and main milestone of the leg is the Añisclo pass. The path between Añisclo pass and Arrablo pass is one of the most amazing parts of the GR11.
23th LEG. GÓRIZ mountain hut – BUJARUELO
Cumulative ascent: 328 m
Cumulative descent: 1,180 m
Duration: 5h 50′
Highlights: Ordesa valley. On the left, the impressive Faja de Pelai follows the Arazas river. Its distinctive shape looks as though somebody cut through the valley with a knife.
Cola de Caballo and Salto Carpín waterfalls. Gradas de Soaso. Awesome beech forest during the last part of the Ordesa valley. Medieval bridge in Sant Nicolás de Bujaruelo
Comments: Gentle leg. You leave the Ordesa and Monte Perdido natural park. We’ll stay overnight at the Valle de Bujaruelo mountain hut.
To descend from Rincón de Soaso to Cola de Caballo waterfall there are two options:
- You can follow the iron pins stuck on the rock. This is not advisable for those suffering from dizziness.
- You can follow a zigzag path which is not as steep.
24th LEG. BUJARUELO – PANTICOSA
Cumulative ascent: 1,212 m
Cumulative descent: 910 m
Duration: 6h 35′
Highlights: View from the Cuello Alto de Brazato pass. Views of the Vignemale peak (3,298 m): according to French people, the most beautiful mountain of
the Pyrenees. Batáns lakes. Brazato high and low lakes. In the central Pyrenees, these mountain lakes are called ibones. In the eastern Pyrenees thery are called estanys
Comments: Steep descent to Panticosa. Rocky and rough terrain in the highest parts of the path. Gentle walk through the Ara valley. You stay overnight at the Casa de Piedra mountain hut. Panticosa is a spa resort where we can stop for hot baths.
The Ara valley is covered by yellow gramineous flowers. Where the Ara river joins the Batanes river, you find some beautiful waterfalls; it’s worth a break to take pictures. You will find the path that heads to the Les Oulettes mountain hut. Don’t take it unless you want to climb Vignamale peak.
Pay attention! Steep screes before reaching the Cuello Alto de Brazato pass, the highest point of this leg (2,500m aprox.). Unfortunately, you lose 1,100m of elevation after this pass and before you arrive at Panticosa. Your knees will complain.
However, before the end of this leg you will see the impressive Brazato lakes, (ibones in Spanish). The biggest is a reservoir.
25th LEG. PANTICOSA – SALLENT DE GÀLLEGO
Cumulative ascent: 1,276 m (climb to Tebarray peak included)
Cumulative descent: 1,611 m
Duration: 8h 35′
Highlights: Low and High Bachimaña ibones, Blue ibones, Tebarray ibon, Tebarray peak (the highest peak you have climbed so far), Llena Cantal ibon. (Ibon =mountain lake in Aragon). Breath-taking views from Tebarray summit: the kingdom of rock and snow where the Balaitús massif and Midi d’Ossau stand out. Beech wood while you follow the Aguas Limpias river.
Comments: Strenuous high mountain path where you find everything: huge screes, ibones, solitude, passes, snowcaps and a good peak, the Tebarray (2,916 m). You stay overnight at Sallent de Gállego, a village with a lot of services.
During this leg you see only rocks, screes and snowcaps, and the whitish marble areas at the high part of the Infierno peak. The Tebarray peak is just 9 meters higher than Puigmal.
26th LEG. SALLENT DE GÀLLEGO – CANDANCHÚ
Cumulative ascent: 922 m
Cumulative descent: 917 m
Duration: 6h 35′
Highlights: Beautiful green meadows near Anayet ibones. Awesome descent through the Canal Roya. You’ll see the Midi d’Ossau throughout; the most beautiful view is at the Anayet ibones.
Comments: Gentle leg. Candanchú has many inns to stay overnight.
From the parking area in Formigal (a popular village because of its ski resort), the GR11 has two routes:
- The southerly route passes by the Gállego reservoir and goes westward to the Izas pass, finishing in Candanchú
- The north one is the route I recommend because you can see the Midi d‘Ossau peak (located quite near, but in France)
You will find the Lacuars mountain hut after descending the Canal Roya. It is almost a ruin, so so use it only in a storm or very bad weather. Just before getting to Candanchú, you find the southern GR11 variant.
Valles Occidentales Natural Park
Valles Occidentales (Western Valleys): legs 27, 28 and the begining of 29 cross this park. This protected area borders France on the North and Navarra on the west. It outstands for its U-shaped valleys, carved by the action of glaciers. Don’t miss the Aguas Tuertas valley! To learn more about this park click here and here (only in Spanish)
27th LEG. CANDANCHÚ – SELVA DE OZA
Cumulative ascent: 365 m
Cumulative descent: 775 m
Duration: 6h 25′
Highlights: Outstanding views of the Bernera range. The Sansanet beech wood. Two megalithic funerary monuments. Aguas Tuertas valley.
Comments: Gentle leg. You’ll stay overnight at the unstaffed Selva de Oza mountain hut.
My advice is to follow the GR11 variant which goes along the Sobordán Aragón river, because on the previous leg you have walked a long way. So you should head to the Causiat pass. From this pass you have awesome views of the Bernera range.
Then you get to the Estanés lake, worth a break because of the views.
The megalithic funerary monuments are located in the Puerto de l’Escalé pass and in Aguas Tuertas valley, on the way to the Achar de Aguas Tuertas. This spot is called Aguas Tuertas because the river course curves like a snake. From a plane you can imagine a snake crawling on green meadows.
If you decide to do the other GR11 variant, you should split the leg into two, and stay overnight at the Lizara mountain hut.
28th LEG. SELVA DE OZA – ZURIZA
Cumulative ascent: 818 m
Cumulative descent: 731 m
Duration: 4h 40′
Highlights: The mountains between the Oza valley and the Ansó valley are extremely beautiful. Beautiful views of the calcareous Ezkaurre massif that you are going to cross tomorrow.
Comments: Easy and short leg. This is the last leg in the Aragonese Pyrenees, so enjoy the last sharp horizons of the Pyrenees. The passes are fewer, and less high.
During the leg you see the Chipeta Alto (2,189m) peak, the most photographed mountain in this part of the Pyrenees because it reminds you a keel of a boat.
The highest point of the leg and main milestone is the Petraficha pass, where you have breath-taking views of the Alano range.
You no longer see granite mountains; they are calcareous, or chalky limestone.
29th LEG. ZURIZA – ISABA
Cumulative ascent: 822 m
Cumulative descent: 1,235 m
Duration: 5h 50′
Highlights: The summit of the Ezkaurre peak and the views from there.
Comments: This is a limestone area so there’s no river or ravine. You should carry enough water for the whole day because there’s no spring on the path.
When you get the Abizondo pass you enter Navarra and leave Aragón, and the landscapes are karstic, limestone in irregular formations. You need to scramble to reach the Ezkaurre summit (2,049 m). This mountain is the second highest peak in the Western Pyrenees (Hiru Errege Mahaia is the highest, also called Mesa de los Tres Reyes)
Pay attention! You need to scramble while descending from the summit to the Ezkaurre lake, because the slope is quite steep and there are plenty of screes.
The beech woods you cross after visiting the Ezkaurre lake worth thousands of pictures.
You stay overnight in Isaba, where you can find a mountain hostel.
30th LEG. ISABA – OTSAGABIA
Cumulative ascent: 778 m
Cumulative descent: 803 m
Duration: 6h 15′
Highlights: Isaba, a beautiful mountain village. Kakaueta peak (1,578 m). Awesome views of the Zaraitzu-Salazar valley from the summit. The Muskilda virgin chapel. Otsagabia, another beautiful small village.
Comments: Gentle leg with a lot of wide forest tracks.
Isaba is located in the Erronkari-Roncal valley, very popular because of its delicious sheep milk cheese.
During this leg you cross many forests: beeches, oaks, poplars. When you are in the Kakueta pass you may ascend to the peak with the same name (1,578 m). It is worth the visit because of the views.
Before arriving the Zoportrea picnic area you cross the GR 13, also called Cañada Real de los Roncaleses. Think about it for your next trip!
31th LEG. OTSAGABIA – ORBAIZETA
Cumulative ascent: 726 m
Cumulative descent: 636 m
Duration: 8h 30′
Highlights: The Selva de Irati, the biggest beech forest in Europe is located in the Abodi mountain range. You can’t miss it! The Arrizabala stone, a huge 6-meter high menhir. Ascent to Arrizabala peak (1,496 m).
Comments: Long but not strenuous leg.
You find the menhir, still fascinating even though it has fallen down, before arriving at Las Alforjas pass. From there getting to the Arrizabala peak is easy and short.
Visit Nuestra Señora de las Nieves church in Casas de Irati village. Then the GR 11 joins the GR 12.
The Orion pass is your second milestone. After that you get to Orbaizeta, where a former arms factory, now in ruins, used wood from Selva de Irati for fuel.
Selva de Irati
Irati forest: The Irati forest (called Selva de Irati in Spanish) is one of the highlights of the GR11. Thousands of beech trees covering a gentle terrain. You can find more information here. (Unfortunately the information is not in English, but in Spanish, Euskera and French)
32th LEG. ORBAIZETA – AURITZ
Cumulative ascent: 666m
Cumulative descent: 608 m
Duration: 5h 50′
Highlights: Panoramic views all the way long. The best from the Astobizkar summit (1,506 m) The Azpegui cromlech. The Soraluze dolmen. Orreaga-Roncesvalles. More information here.
Comments: Gentle leg. Many springs where you can refill water bottles. At the Alto de Ibañeta the GR11 joins the Saint Jacques’ pilgrimage path.
The arms factory, Real Fábrica de Armas de Orbaizeta, was founded in 1432 by Queen Blanca de Navarra.
Then the GR 11 joins the HRP (Haute Route Pyrénéen, in French), another long trail which also crosses the Pyrenees.
You walk near the Urkulu mountain (1,423 m), with a round tower on the summit built by the Roman emperor Pompey.
A break at the Bidarrai spring is worthwhile. Pay attention! The descent to Orreaga-Roncesvalles is very steep. This village is worth a visit.
33th LEG. AURITZ – ELIZONDO
Cumulative ascent: 420m
Cumulative descent: 1,060 m
Duration: 10h 20′
Highlights: As in the previous leg, some interesting beech woods. Beautiful views from Mendiaundi summit (1,215 m). Iturrunburu summit. Urkiaga Mendatea summit, if you are not already exhausted.
Comments: Long leg but on gentle terrain.
You can have lunch at Casa Pablo instead of carrying a picnic. The GR 11 does not get to the Urkiaga Mendatea summit, but I advise you to go there when you reach the part of the trail closest to it.
Again, the GR 11 joins the GR 12 in the Bustalmorro pass. If you run out of water, there is a spring next to the mountain hut in the Zaldegui pass.
You finish your leg at Elizondo, where you stay overnight. In Elizondo, capital of the Batzan valley, you can see the Carlina cactus hung on entrance doors of the houses. It is said that they scare off evil spirits.
34th LEG. ELIZONDO – BERA DE BIDASOA
Cumulative ascent: 595 m
Cumulative descent: 925 m
Duration: 7h 40′
Highlights: Beautiful Navarrese landscapes, from Batzan valley to Bidasoa valley. Awesome views from the Nabarlatz pass.
Comments: Long leg but shorter than the previous one. The path is a continuous up and down. You find bars, shops, etc scattered all the way along.
There are many springs along the path. The summits are between 698 and 930 m, a clear message that you are getting closer to the sea.
The GR 11 joins the HRP trail in the Nabarlatz pass. Most of the trail runs on the border between France and Spain. You find another junction with the HRP trail after Ibantelli summit.
This leg ends in Bera de Bidasoa, pretty village where most people speak only Basque to each other.
35th LEG. BERA DE BIDASOA – CABO HIGER
Cumulative ascent: 410 m
Cumulative descent: 460 m
Duration: 6h 10′
Highlights: Beautiful views of the Cantabrian sea.
Comments: You leave Navarra and enter the Basque country. Gentle hills and woodlands between Bera de Bidasola and Irun. The last section leads us next to the Cantabrian sea, where the GR11 disappears into turquoise green water. We leave Navarra and enter the Basque country.
You can have a break at la venta de Olaberri, a bar which also provides meals. The starting point of the variant GR 11-12 is located in the Ursain pass. Here you have the best views of the Cantabrian sea.
Eventually you arrive at Irún, then Hondarribia, and four kilometres further you reach the beach. You continue along it to the lighthouse of the Cape of Higer. This is the end of the GR 11.