How Much It Cost Us to Hike the GR20  

There are endless ways to fail at the GR20. It’s got a reputation for being the toughest trek in Europe, and for good reason. In fact, some statistics indicate that…

There are endless ways to fail at the GR20. It’s got a reputation for being the toughest trek in Europe, and for good reason. In fact, some statistics indicate that over half of those who start the GR20 don’t complete it. There are a ton  of genuinely legitimate reasons for quitting, and those are totally understandable. 

Want to know the stupidest, least excusable reason for quitting the GR20? Running out of money. 

Chalkboard menu at Refuge de Carozzu

There’s plenty of delicious food available along the trail, but it’s definitely not cheap!

 

Nearly everything you purchase on the GR20 will need to be bought with cash. There are no ATMS along the route, not even in Calenzana, Vizzavona, or Conca, and most establishments do not accept credit cards. If you’re prepared, this is no problem at all. However, without advance planning this could be catastrophic to your trek. Indeed, when we hiked in 2019 we met multiple hikers who were forced to leave the trail due to a lack of cash. Don’t let that happen to you. 

Since you’ve clearly got your act together enough to find this article (and hopefully you checked out our Ultimate Guide to the GR20 too), we feel pretty confident that you won’t earn a place in the GR20 Hall of Shame (at least not for this reason…we can’t vouch for what anyone will do after a couple of Pietras!)

Now that you know you need to carry enough cash to cover all of your expenses along the trail, you just need to figure out exactly how much cash that will be. That’s what we’re here for. 

 

Tents outside the Refuge de Matalza

Camping is a fun and budget-friendly way to do the GR20.

 

Below we’ve outlined what you can expect to pay for all sorts of common goods and services on the GR20. Obviously, you can expect some variation in prices from place to place, but this should give you a general idea of things so you can more confidently estimate your budget. 

 

The GR20: Average Price List

Accommodation:

  • Dorm bed in a PNRC Refuge: €15
  • Hire tent at a PNRC Refuge: €11 tent rental fee + €7 per person
  • Camping (bivouac) with a personal tent at PNRC Refuge: €7 per person
  • Dorm bed in a gite d’etape: €20 per person (€45 per person for half board)
  • Camping at a bergerie with personal tent: €8 per person
  • Camping at a bergerie in a hire tent: €20 per person
  • Double room in a hotel: €100 

 

Food and Drink:

  • Evening Meal at a bergerie, gite, or PNRC Refuge: €22
  • Breakfast at a bergerie, gite, or PNRC Refuge: €8
  • Picnic lunch from a bergerie, gite, or PNRC Refuge: €8
  • Meal at a nice hotel restaurant: €30
  • Large can of Pietra Beer: €6
  • Half liter of wine: €6
  • Large coffee or tea: €2.5
  • Can of soda: €3.5
  • A-la-carte omelette or sandwhich: €7-9
  • Charcuterie or cheese plate: €10
  • Large chunk  of local cheese: €11
  • Bag of pasta: €2
  • Jar of pasta sauce: €3
  • Can of ravioli: €3
  • Saucisson (cured Corsican sausage): €10
  • Bag of peanuts: €2
  • Bar of chocolate: €2
  • Loaf of bread: €2

 

Transportation: 

  • Bus from Bastia Airport to Bastia city center: €9 per person
  • Train from Bastia to Calvi: €16.2 per person (see the full list of train prices here)
  • Bus from Calvi to Calenzana: €8 per person
  • Navette from Conca to Sainte Lucie de Porto Vecchio: €4- €6 per person (depending on number of passengers)
  • Bus from Sainte Lucie de Porto Vecchio to Bastia: €23 per person + €1 per bag
  • Train from Vizzavona to Bastia: €14.6

 

Miscellaneous: 

  • Hot shower: €2 for 6 minutes (This varies quite a bit; some refuges offer free hot showers, while others only offer cold showers
  • Electronics Charging: €2 per device (this is also free at some refuges and unavailable at others)
  • Stove fuel: €6
  • Roll of toilet paper: €0.50
  • Compeed blister bandages: €9
  • Sunscreen: €12
The well stocked shop at Hotel Castel di Vergio

Hike all the miles, eat all the snacks.

 

How to estimate your expenses on the GR20

First, think about the type of accommodation and meals you plan on purchasing. Are you going to sleep in refuges and hotels as much as possible? Are you going to eat most meals at the refuge or will you choose  to buy provisions to self-cater? Will you pay for any of your accommodation in advance? (PNRC reservations require full payment when you make your booking). Don’t forget to account for your meals and lodging in Calenzana, Vizzavona, and Conca. Once you’ve taken all of these variables into account you can get a general idea of what you plan to spend on accommodation per day. 

Next, consider all of your other miscellaneous expenses. These include transportation to and from the trail, electronics charging and hot showers, any needed toiletries or other necessities that arise. Use our list of average prices (above) to determine the amount of money that will cover all of your miscellaneous items. Our advice? Expect the unexpected and give yourself a little extra cushion here! 

Before you get any further,  be honest with yourself about what you’ll want and need on the trail. It’s easy to think you’ll adhere to a strict budget, but once you’ve been hiking all day in the blistering sun that cold beer or bag of crisps is going to be awfully tempting, and you’ll get far greater enjoyment out of your GR20 experience if you allow yourself a few indulgences here and there. Plus,  you’ll be exerting yourself much more than in your typical day-to-day life and therefore your calorie needs will be significantly greater. Keep this in mind when calculating your food budget- hiker hunger is no joke! 

Block of Corsican cheese.

That block of local cheese may be calling your name after a long day!

 

Finally, the amount of money you’ll need will depend on how long you plan on being out on the trail. If you are hiking for longer, that’s more days of food and lodging you’ll need to pay for. We recommend building an extra day into your itinerary to allow for bad weather or other issues that may arise. 

Here’s a breakdown of average daily costs for a few different budgets. Drinks, treats, and unexpected necessities have been accounted for in the “Miscellaneous” category. 

 Food & DrinkAccommodationMiscellaneousAverage Daily Expenses
Budget€6-10€7€5-10€18-27
Mid-Range€25-35€12-15€10-15€47-65
Luxury€45-65€45-60€15-20€105-145

NOTE: All hikers, regardless of their budget, should add at least €65 to their overall estimate to account for transportation costs

Clear rock pool and waterfall on stage 5 of the GR20

Luckily, the best parts of the GR20 are completely free, like this perfect spot for soaking tired feet.

 

Okay. I made my budget, but WOW that’s a LOT of cash! Is it safe to hike with that much money? 

Generally speaking, yes. The GR20 attracts a really awesome community of humans who just want to conquer a challenge and savor the outdoors. There is a sense of camaraderie among GR20 hikers, and people tend to look out for one another. Plus, pretty much everyone you meet on the trail is in the same boat as you, so you really shouldn’t be any more susceptible to theft as the next trekker.   

That being said, you should take the same precautions you would take in any other situation where you’d be walking around with a big wad of cash. These include: 

  • Keep your money on your person or within sight at all times. Many hikers choose to wear a fanny pack for easy and safe access to their valuables.  
  • If traveling with others, split up the money among the members in your group. 
  • Report any suspicious activity to the warden. 
  • Listen to your instincts if something doesn’t feel right. 
  • Keep your money and valuables in a waterproof pouch. 
Hikers sitting on picnic tables outside the Gite U Fagone

Making new friends on the GR20.

 

Can I even take that much money out of an ATM, especially in another country? 

Yes, sort of. It will depend on your specific institution, but some banks limit withdrawals to €500 at a time. If this is the case for you, you may need to make a series of withdrawals over the course of a couple days or use multiple accounts. Hopefully you are using a card that reimburses you for ATM fees! And of course, make sure to notify your bank prior to any travel to prevent fraud alerts and/or getting your account frozen. 

Bus ticket for Sainte Lucie de Porto Vecchio to Bastia

Don’t forget to factor in your transportation costs when estimating your budget!

 

So are you going to share how much you spent or what? 

Time for the big reveal on how much the GR20 cost us! But before we do, we’d like to preface it with a few important points. These are very necessary to take into account in order to truly understand our expenses:

– Our spending number only accounts for what we spent while actually on the GR20. It does not include our flights to Corsica or any gear we purchased for the trek. 

-This number is based on the cost for two people who camped on nearly every stage with our own tent.  We were on the trail for 17 days, including a rest day in Vizzavona. 

-We brought about four days’ worth of meals, which we purchased ahead of time. The cost of that food is not accounted for in this total, and reduced our on-trail spending. 

-We are vegetarians who were happy to cook our own dinners every night (seriously, we ate so much pasta) and snack on peanuts and bread. Due to our natural frugality in this area we tend to spend much less than the average person on meals. 

-A great way to save money, which we made sure to employ on a near-daily basis, is to drink wine. Too good to be true? Not at all! Two people can happily split a half liter of decent wine for the same price as just one beer. Who can pass up a value like that? 

So, in total, we carried €1200 with us on the GR20.

We actually only spent around €700 of that, but we tend to do things very, very frugally. Most people will spend significantly more than this, but this shows that it’s definitely possible to hike the GR20 for this amount or even much less!

 

View from Bocca Piacca Stage 2 GR20

Whatever your budget, we know you’re going to have an amazing trek!

 

Conclusion: 

It is totally possible to hike the GR20 on nearly any budget and have a great time doing it. With a little advance planning and a good sense of your personal travel style, you can eliminate many of the stressors that come with managing finances while on the trail. If you found this article helpful, make sure to check out our other great GR20 content. Happy trails! 

Check out our other GR20 Resources:

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The Ultimate Guide to the GR20 

“The toughest trek in Europe” “One of the top trails in the world” “More rock climbing than hiking” “Unimaginably rugged mountains” “Awe-inspiring scenery” “Mythical.” With so many legendary stories surrounding…

“The toughest trek in Europe” “One of the top trails in the world” “More rock climbing than hiking” “Unimaginably rugged mountains” “Awe-inspiring scenery” “Mythical.”

With so many legendary stories surrounding it, what can we say about the GR20 that hasn’t been said already? We’re here to tell you that the legends are legit. The GR20 is all of those things and more. If you’re a passionate hiker, consider this trek to be your piece de resistance, your Superbowl, your ultimate adventure. Due to its challenging reputation, many hikers feel too intimidated to take on the GR20, and among those who do attempt it, a large percentage don’t complete it. Don’t let that be you!

View from Bocca Piccaia.

Some of the stunning scenery you’ll encounter on the GR20.

 

With the right preparation, you can tackle the infamous GR20 and even (gasp!) have a ton of fun doing it. The key is having realistic expectations and doing some advance planning. Our guide will walk you through everything you need to know to prepare for this epic adventure. Trust us, it is so worth it. 

What’s in this Guide:

Hiker on the GR20

You can expect rugged landscapes like this one throughout the GR20.

 

About the GR20

The GR20* runs roughly north to south across the island of Corsica. Corsica is a semi-autonomous French territory located in the Mediterranean Sea. Sometimes referred to as the ‘Granite Isle,’ Corsica owes much of its beauty to its rich and diverse geologic history. This relatively small island boasts a wide array of spectacular natural scenery, including towering granite spires, lush wooded valleys, and turquoise rock pools.  

* GR=”Grande Randonee,” a term for a collection of Europe’s greatest long-distance footpaths

How long is the GR20? 

Distance: 180 km (112 miles)

Elevation gain: 10,000 meters (32,808 feet)

How long does it take to hike the GR20?

Typically 12-15 days, depending on fitness and pace. Many hikers may want to give themselves 16 days to allow for a rest day and flexibility in the case of inclement weather. Attempting to complete the entire route in less than 12 days is only recommended for the very hardcore hiker who is up for spending long days on the trail. It is important to keep in mind that the GR20 is different from many other hikes due to the amount of scrambling required. While you might have a good sense of your hiking pace on normal trails,those estimates tend to go out the window on the GR20.

Our advice? Give yourself more time than you think you need and don’t try to “double up” on stages. The trek is way more enjoyable (and still plenty challenging) when you’re not rushing through it or pushing your limits too far. That said, when we were hiking, we met a superhuman who was trying to do the entire thing in five days. Different strokes for different folks I guess! 

Auberge on the southern half of the GR20.

The landscape becomes much gentler on the southern half of the GR20.

 

I only have time to do half…should I hike the North or South?

The GR20 is neatly divided into two sections, the northern (“nord”) and southern (“sud”), with the town of Vizzavona at the midpoint. This makes it relatively easy to hop on or off the trail at Vizzavona in order to only hike one half.  If you have to choose, take comfort in the fact that the GR20 is truly spectacular from start to finish and you can’t go wrong with either section!

In our opinion, the north has the most rugged and beautiful mountain scenery and it’s more fun and interesting to hike. The trade-off, however, is that it also entails the most scrambling and greater sections of trail that are steep and technical. The south is a bit mellower, but it definitely isn’t easy. There are still plenty of tough climbs and parts that require scrambling. If you choose to only hike the southern half, you’ll still get some beautiful mountain views, but you’ll also spend a good amount of time down in the forests and valleys. 

How difficult is the GR20? 

There’s no doubt about it- the GR20 is a challenging trek. Some of the major factors that contribute to its difficulty are the large amount of scrambling, steep ascents and descents, overall distance, heat and weather, and exposed nature of the trail. We believe that most reasonably fit people can complete the GR20, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they shouldYou’re much, much more likely to actually enjoy it if you are in good hiking shape and have backpacking experience. Most of the scrambling is pretty manageable; it is just tricky and awkward at times and can become tiring after you’ve been at it for awhile. If you are judicious about avoiding storms and careful on exposed sections, it really isn’t much more dangerous than other hikes. 

Our top tips for making the GR20 less challenging:

1. Carry the lightest backpack possible. 

2. Only hike one stage per day. Don’t try to double-up stages and take on more than necessary. Give your body time to recover in the afternoon rather than spending 8+ hours on the trail every day.

3. Start early! High temperatures increase your effort level significantly. Avoid the worst of the afternoon heat (and storms) by getting on the trail at sunrise.

These three simple things can absolutely be the difference-maker in terms of whether or not you complete the trek (and do so without hating every second of it). 

Hiker scrambling on the GR20.

Sections like this one that require scrambling are frequent on the route.

 

When to Hike the GR20

The typical hiking season for the GR20 lasts from June through September. It may be possible to hike in the later part of May, but you’ll need to be prepared for snow and ice on the trail. 

  • If hiking in May, the refuges will be open but not staffed, meaning that you’ll need to bring all of your own food and fuel. 
  • Beginning in June, the refuges will be staffed and supplied, but you may still need to negotiate some sections of snow and ice along the trail. The weather in June will be warm, but not too hot. 
  • July and August are the most popular months for hiking the GR20. All of the services (accommodation, busses, etc) will be fully operating and the trail should be clear of snow. Expect very hot weather and afternoon thunderstorms. 
  • September brings cooler temperatures and fewer crowds. The refuges remain staffed through the end of the month, but the bus services are reduced and some of the bergeries start to close. 
  • Hiking is possible in October, but the refuges will not be staffed (they will remain open) and snow is likely from mid-October onwards. 

May and October are the least crowded times on the trail. June and September are quieter than the peak season, but still quite busy. The trail is the most crowded in July and August. We recommend making advance reservations for all accommodation (unless carrying your own tent) if you’re planning on trekking anytime between June and September. 

Sunrise on the Spasimata Slabs

Not only will starting early help you avoid getting caught in afternoon storms but you will also get to see beautiful sunrises.

 

Weather

Mountain weather is always volatile, and the GR20 is no different. However, the GR20 is rather unique in the sense that the trail stays high up on exposed ridges for long stretches, making it more important than ever for hikers to be vigilant about the conditions. Getting caught high up in the mountains during a storm is extremely dangerous, but you can greatly minimize your risk by taking a few important precautions.

  1. Always ask the wardens at the refuge for the latest weather forecast and heed their advice.
  2. The Meteoblue App is arguably the best resource for checking the weather. It allows you to see the forecast for specific peaks or coordinates, plus it has excellent radar displays and wind predictions. Check it every time you have cell service.
  3. Start hiking early in the day! Not only will you enjoy gorgeous sunrises, get to camp before the crowds, and avoid the heat, but you’ll also greatly reduce your risk of getting caught in afternoon thunderstorms. 
Looking down on Lac du Cinto

These clouds may look pretty now but the weather on the GR20 is unpredictable.

 

Which Direction?

The traditional GR20 route starts in Calenzana in the north, passes through the midpoint in Vizzavona, and finishes in Conca in the south. However, it is possible to hike in either direction. The northern half of the GR20 has a reputation for being the toughest, while the southern half is a bit gentler. Some trekkers prefer to start in the south to get accustomed to the trail before tackling the tougher sections in the north. Others would rather start in the north in order to put the biggest days behind them early and do so with fresh legs.

It is totally a matter of personal preference, although we hiked from north to south and would definitely recommend it. We benefited from the confidence boost that came with conquering the most challenging sections early on, and we felt the ascents and descents were more manageable in this direction. While slightly less people hike in the northbound direction, you probably won’t notice a significant difference in crowds since hikers headed both ways stay at the same refuges. 

Trail sign showing the GR20 Nord and GR20 Sud

Either direction you choose to hike is bound to be a great adventure!

 

Food and Drink

As we’ve mentioned before (and certainly will remind you about again!), keeping your backpack as light as possible is essential for having a successful GR20 trek. Fortunately, you don’t need to carry much food, which will significantly reduce your pack weight. Food can be purchased at all of the refuges along the route. However, there is a lot of variation in terms of what’s available at any given refuge on any given day. It’s not cheap, but it doesn’t have to be super expensive either, providing that you cook your own meals. On the other hand, if you order meals at the refuges, expect to pay upwards of 20 for a glorified bowl of pasta.

Most refuges on the GR20 also have small shops where you can get basics like bread, pasta, sauce, canned fish, canned meals, chocolate, and biscuits. All of the refuges also serve dinner and breakfast, and some offer a-la-carte meals throughout the day as well. Beer, wine, soda, coffee, and tea are sold everywhere. There are no grocery stores along the GR20. The closest you’ll get to a supermarket are the larger, better-stocked shops available at a few refuges and campgrounds along the route. We’ve noted the locations of these within the guide. On the trail between the refuges, there generally isn’t anywhere to purchase food, save for the rare exception of a bergerie selling cheese and charcuterie. 

Refuge de Carozzu menu

Typical food and drink on offer at the refuges.

 

Dietary Restrictions

The GR20 is not very accommodating to those with special diets. Vegetarians will be alright, provided they are okay with eating pasta for dinner every night and consuming large amounts of cheese and bread. We recommend carrying at least one “backup” meal in case you can’t find veg-friendly food at a refuge. Those who are vegan or gluten-free should plan on bringing most of their own food, as their options will be very limited. 

Cooking

Nearly every accommodation along the route provides a cooking area that is free to use for all who are staying there, campers included. All of these cooking areas have a gas-powered cooktops, many have pots/pans, and some have dishes and cutlery. It isn’t necessary to bring your own stove and fuel, but many people choose to do so, as the cooking areas can get crowded. If planning to self-cater regularly, you’ll probably want to bring your own pot and bowl/utensils, since those aren’t provided at most places. Also, you’ll need to bring your own lighter to ignite the stoves. 

Water

All of the refuges provide potable water (usually from a tap labeled “source”).  It is generally safe to drink, and most hikers choose to do so without filtration. There are some water sources along the trail, but they are not always at regular intervals, they’re not on every stage, and many are season-dependent. Some of these require filtration, due to the proximity of livestock (Corsican cows are amazing hikers and you’ll see them in shockingly high places!) Our advice would be to fill up at the refuges before setting out and carry enough water for the entire day (2-4 liters, depending on stage length, heat, and personal preference).

Cheese, bread, and coffee on the GR20

If nothing else you’ll always find good views and excellent local cheese along the route.

 

GR20 Accommodation

You’ll have a range of lodging options along the GR20, although most will be at the PNRC-run refuges and nearly all will be “rustic” at best. We’ve outlined what you can expect from each option below. 

Sleeping Indoors

Refuges

If you prefer not to camp along the GR20, you’ll spend most of your nights in the park-run mountain huts (or refuges). These offer basic, dorm-style accommodation. Beds are provided, but you’ll need your own sleeping bag and pillow. All offer an evening meal and basic breakfast for an additional charge. The refuges vary in terms of their amenities; some refuges have hot showers, proper toilets, and electronics charging, while others have only a couple of cold showers and squat toilets.  Refuges can be reserved through this website

View of Refuge d' I Paliri.

Refuge d’ I Paliri is one of the most beautiful along the GR20.

 

Bergeries

In addition to the PNRC Refuges, there are some privately-owned bergeries along the GR20. These are quite similar to the refuges in that they offer basic dorm-style accommodation and the option for half-pension (dinner and breakfast). 

Auberge U Vallone

Auberge U Vallone is an example of the many bergeries you’ll encounter.

Hotels

There are a few opportunities to stay in hotels while hiking the GR20, typically these opportunities arise when the trail brings you closer to civilization. These hotels offer the typical amenities you’d expect from this level of lodging, such as hot showers, private bathrooms, bedding and towels, and WiFi. 

 

View of a room at Casa Alta Hotel in Vizzavona.

Lovely views from a room at the Casa Alta B&B in Vizzavona.

 

Sleeping Outdoors

Renting a tent

Many GR20 hikers choose to stay in the “hire tents” that are available for rent at all of the refuges and most bergeries. This option costs less than sleeping in dorms, but more than camping with your own tent. Hire tents are typically the Quechua pop-up style for two or three people, and include a sleeping pad or mattress. They offer a good option for those who want the perks of camping (more privacy, less risk of bedbugs) without having to carry all of the gear. While you can reserve a place in a hire tent ahead of time, you cannot reserve a specific tent. The tents vary quite a bit in terms of location within the camping area, levelness of the pitch, and general niceness. Get there early to have your pick of the best tents. 

Hire tents at Refuge de Petra Piana

Hire tents at Refuge de Petra Piana.

Carrying a tent

Carrying your own tent will cost you the least and give you the most flexibility. Wild camping is forbidden on the GR20 (with the exception of one designated spot between Refuges d’Usciolu and Refuge d’Asinau). However, you can pitch your tent outside all of the refuges along the route, and most of the bergeries and gites allow camping as well. Campers have access to all of the facilities at the refuges, including the toilets, showers, cooking areas, and meals. Carrying your own tent is the only accommodation option that does not require advance reservations. That being said, in the busy season you’ll still want to arrive at the campground early to snag a good spot. All of the camping pitches are definitely not created equal! Many pitches are uneven, rocky, and quite far from the facilities, and the campgrounds can get very full by about 4:00pm. If you’re considering carrying a tent, you’ll want to carefully weigh the benefits of added comfort and flexibility versus the added weight in your pack. 

Tent at Refuge d' I Paliri

Carrying your own tent gives you more flexibility and freedom.

 

A few other things you should know about GR20 accommodation:

Reservations

The GR20 is an extremely popular trail with limited accommodation options. Unless you are hiking very early or very late in the season, you can expect the refuges and campgrounds to be full at every stage of your hike. Hikers with their own tent do not need reservations (and we wouldn’t recommend making them), but all others-those using hire tents, those staying in dorms, and those staying in hotels- must make advance bookings.

Bookings can be made online at http://reserver.sitecresa.fr/centraleresa/parcnaturel and need to be paid in full to be confirmed. Wardens at the refuges expect you to print your reservation and present it upon arrival. If you need to change your reservation, you’ll need to call or email the PNRC using the information provided on your booking receipt. Reservations can be cancelled within 15 days of the initial booking date for a full refund. 

Other Important Information:

You need to provide your own toilet paper. Some refuges sell it, but it is not available everywhere. It pays to be prepared! 

-Toilets, showers, and dormitories are almost always mixed gender

Bedbugs are a common problem in the refuges. Bring bedbug spray and be vigilant. 

Sunrise on the GR20

Wherever you choose to spend the night you can bet on waking up to a beautiful sunrise.

 

GR20 Logistics

Corsica is known for a lot of great things, such as its mountains and beaches, but not necessarily for its well-connected, timely, easy-to-navigate transportation system. However, it is certainly possible to get to and from the GR20 without too many headaches, provided that you plan ahead and give yourself enough time. Check out our logistics article for all of the details. 

Wayfinding

The GR20 is extremely well-marked with red and white paint flashes every 20 feet or so. Keep a close eye out for markers, as sometimes the trail heads in seemingly improbable directions! The markers show you the easiest way up or down, so follow them closely, especially when scrambling. If you choose to take one of the many alternate route options, you can expect these trails to be less well-marked. We recommend carrying a map at all times and using a GPS. 

Red and white trail marker.

Can you spot the next trail marker?

 

Money on the GR20

The most important thing you need to know here is that the GR20 is pretty much a cash-only economy. There are no ATMs along the route, not even in Calenzana and Conca at the endpoints, nor in Vizzavona at the midpoint. Therefore, it will be essential for you to estimate your expected daily costs (food and lodging), plus some cushion for transportation and other miscellaneous or unplanned items. Multiply your daily costs by how long you plan to be on the trail, again factoring in some cushion for rest days, bad weather, and your time in Calenzana and Conca. If you make reservations for refuges or hire tents, you will have paid in full for this accommodation ahead of time and won’t need to carry quite as much money.

A small number of places accept credit cards, (such as the campground shop in Vizzavona and many of the hotels) and you might be lucky enough to get cash back in a pinch. In general, things are relatively expensive in Corsica, especially along the trail. Check out our How Much It Cost Us to Hike the GR20 article for more on what you can expect to pay. 

Cows near a tent at Refuge de Manganu.

Unless you’re a cow you can’t camp for free!

 

What to Pack for the GR20

Deciding what to pack (and not pack) for the GR20 is one of the most crucial steps in preparing for a successful trek. The trail demands that you pull yourself up chains on sheer rock faces, squeeze through awkward gullies, and ascend and descend endless scree slopes.  Trust us, this is hard enough without a big, bulky backpack throwing off your center of balance and increasing your overall exertion…no need to make it any harder than it has to be! The good news is, with a little strategic planning you can minimize your pack size while still having everything you need, and you don’t need to go out and buy all of the fanciest lightweight gear to do so.

A few of our top tips:

  • Only carry 1-2 days’ worth of food, since provisions can be purchased at every refuge.
  • Unless you are a passionate photographer, leave your bulky camera at home. Most smartphones take excellent pictures. Plus, you won’t have many chances to recharge a camera battery. 
  • Only pack clothes that you absolutely need. Two shirts will be plenty, as you can rinse them out and dry them in the sun quite easily. 
  • You can cook at the refuges, so you don’t need to carry much stove fuel (if any).
  • Bring trekking poles. They are invaluable on many of the steeper sections. 
  • Many hotels will let you store extra luggage if you have an upcoming reservation with them. 
  • Either hiking boots or trail runners will work, just make sure they are comfortable and supportive.  They should be broken in a little, but otherwise fairly new (the gnarly GR20 trail conditions put a lot of wear and tear on shoes). 
Hikers on a steep trail.

You’ll be happy to have a light backpack on steep trails like this.

 

Electronics 

Charging

Some of the refuges and other accommodations along the GR20 will allow you to charge your electronics, but there is a lot of variation from place to place. Many refuges require a small payment for charging (typically €2) and will only allow you to charge your phone (not your smartwatch, camera, etc). Others will do it for free and allow you unlimited access to plug in whatever you want. Still others only provide charging during a set time in the afternoon, due to the fact that they rely on solar. We’ve noted the availability of device charging within each stage of this guide. If you plan on using your phone for navigation, we strongly recommend bringing a battery backup or portable solar panel. 

Cell Phone Service

Cell phone service is unreliable along the GR20. You might get signal at the high points on the trail and at some of the accommodations that are close to a road or town. WiFi is even less common; you’re only likely to find it at a few of the fancier hotels along the route. 

Cell phones charging

Charging electronics can get a little crazy on the GR20!

 

The GR20

A Stage-by-Stage Guide

Below you’ll find a brief description of every stage of the GR20 in terms of the accommodation options and services you can expect to find there. This guide is written for the typical north to south direction, but could easily be reversed.

Prices for accommodation at the PNRC Refuges are as follows:

  • Dorm Bed: 15 per person
  • Hire Tent: 11 per tent, plus €7 per person
  • Camping (bivouac) in personal tent: €7 per person

These prices are the same at every PNRC refuge, and therefore we haven’t listed prices for each individual refuge. For all other accommodations, prices have been noted in the guide whenever possible or links are provided fo r the most up-to-date information. 

Stage Zero: Calenzana

We strongly recommend that you stay in Calenzana the night before starting your hike, as it’s essential to get an early start on stage one. Calenzana is a pretty town with a good range of accommodation options and services available. If you absolutely don’t want to spend a night in Calenzana, you could stay in Calvi and arrange an early taxi to the trailhead the next morning. 

Accommodation in Calenzana:

  • Dorm beds and camping are available at the Gite d’Etape Communal on the edge of town. Contact them at 04 95 62 77 13 or gite-calenzana@wanadoo.fr for reservations and prices. 
  • Hotel Bel Horizon and the Chambres d’Hote L’Ombre du Clocher offer hotel accommodation in a more central location. Expect to pay around €150 for a room at either hotel.  
  • There are also a few AirBnBs available in town which offer nice apartments for a reasonable price. 

Services in Calenzana

There is a Spar Supermarket in town which sells  a wide range of items, including stove fuel. A bus operated by Beaux Voyages which runs between Calenzana and Calvi, although it’s pretty infrequent (once or twice daily, depending on the time of year). There are several restaurants and bars in town offering everything from casual pizzas to hearty Corsican fare. A post office is located in the center of the village. Keep in mind that there is no ATM in Calenzana

A street in Calenzana, Corsica.

Calenzana is a great place to start your trek.

 

Stage One: Calenzana to Refuge d’Ortu di u Piobbu

In his Cicerone Guide, author Paddy Dillon describes this first stage of the GR20 as a “baptism of fire” Personally, we think this is a little dramatic, but it’s certainly no cakewalk. Regardless of how tough your first day on the trail feels, you’ll be thrilled to get to Refuge d’Ortu di u Piobbu. With its friendly warden and sweeping sea views, it is the perfect introduction to your GR20 experience. When we hiked in 2019 the refuge building had recently burned down, but they were still providing a wide range of services and accommodation was available in hire tents (no dormitory though). There are many good, flat campsites available, most of which are on hard-packed dirt. 

Services:

Hire tents, camping, warm(ish) showers, composting toilets, sinks, potable water available from a spring a few hundred yards down the trail, a small shop, a-la-carte food items (omelettes, charcuterie, sandwiches, etc) available until dinnertime, electronics charging possible (ask the warden), cell phone service, picnic tables. 

Sunset at Refuge d'Ortu di u Piobbu

Refuge d’Ortu di u Piobbu is known for its spectacular sunsets.

 

Stage Two: Refuge d’Ortu di u Piobbu to Refuge de Carozzu

PNRC Refuge de Carozzu is tucked into the woods in a way that gives it summer camp vibes. The refuge has a dormitory with 36 beds, as well as a kitchen and dining room. There are camping pitches in an open area next to the refuge, as well as dotted in the surrounding trees in every direction from the refuge. Keep in mind that the campground can get very crowded, making it difficult to find a good spot. The warden doesn’t arrive until 3:00pm, so if you get there earlier you can pitch your tent (or grab a hire tent) and pay later. There is a lovely terrace in front of the refuge with lots of picnic tables for enjoying the amazing views down the forested valley. 

Services:

Dormitory, hire tents, camping, composting toilets, cold showers (available after 3pm), potable water, shop with very limited offerings, a-la-carte food items available all day, indoor kitchen, outdoor cooking area, sinks, clotheslines, picnic tables. 

Sunset at Refuge de Carozzu

Views from the terrace at Refuge de Carozzu.

 

Stage Three: Refuge de Carozzu to Ascu Stagnu

Many hikers approach stage three with a sense of trepidation, as the trail requires the crossing of the Spasimata Slabs (nicknamed the “slabs of doom” by some hikers). These large, tilted rock slabs are set in a dramatic gorge, and they are fitted with chains and cables to aid crossing in some places. You can relax though; in dry conditions, especially when traveling uphill, they really aren’t scary at all and the surrounding gorge is seriously beautiful!

In any case, you’ll have earned a bit of luxury by the end of stage three, and that’s what you’ll get when you reach the Ascu Stagnu ski area (also known as Haute Asco). What it lacks in prettiness, it makes up for in services. In addition to the 32 dorm beds in the PNRC refuge, hikers can also stay in the Hotel le Chalet (€100 for a double room) or in a dorm bed in the hotel-run gite d’etape (€45 for half pension). Campers will have tons of good pitches to choose from. If camping, you can pay at the PNRC refuge and use its facilities. 

Services:

All of the accommodation options offer indoor flush toilets, sinks with hot water, hot showers, and electronics charging. The refuge has a well-stocked shop, provides meals, and sells snacks, drinks, and charcuterie. It has a nice indoor kitchen with a wide assortment of pots, pans, dishes, and cutlery available, plus a large indoor dining room and some outdoor terrace seating. The refuge also has an outdoor cooking area and clothesline. There is a casual snack bar across the parking lot from the refuge which sells hot meals, drinks, and ice cream. There’s also a fancier restaurant and bar attached to the hotel. Transportation to the town Ponte Leccia can be arranged and laundry services are also available. 

PNRC Refuge at Haute Asco

The PNRC Refuge at Haute Asco.

 

Stage Four: Ascu Stagnu to Auberge U Vallone or Refuge de Tighjettu

You’ll have two choices for your accommodation on stage four. The first option you’ll come across is the PNRC Refuge de Tighjettu, located on a hillside with big valley views. This is a good option if you want to stop a bit earlier (this stage is one of the longest and most difficult of the entire trek) or if you like the predictability of the PNRC Refuges. Tighjettu is also a bit less expensive than your other option, the Auberge U Vallone. If you continue another 30 minutes on the trail past Tighjettu, you’ll reach the privately-run Auberge. In all honesty, the place is a little odd, but the gorgeous views from the terrace, easy access to perfect rock pools, and piping hot showers more than compensate for its quirks. 

Services at Tighjettu:

Dorm beds, hire tents,camping, showers (sometimes warm), toilets, indoor kitchen and dining area, potable water, small shop, meals, sinks. 

Services at Vallone:

Hire tents and camping. Hot showers, flush toilets, terrace, potable water, electronics charging, very limited shop, restaurant, camping and hire tents available. There is no cooking area here, and camping costs €8.5o per person (if carrying your own tent). Reservations for hire tents can be made on their website

Pointe des Eboulis

On Stage 4 hikers will climb to Pointe des Eboulis, the highest point on the GR20.

 

Stage Five: Auberge U Vallone to Hotel Castel di Vergio

The Hotel Castel di Vergio is another example of a stop along the GR20 that you might just fall in love with, certainly not because of the natural beauty of its surroundings (there’s not much of that), but because of the little luxuries you’ll enjoy there. Due to its roadside location, the hotel shop is one of the best along the entire GR20 route, stocked with everything from duct tape and batteries to fresh produce and warm bread. The camping area is one of the few along the route that has nice soft grass (instead of hard packed dirt) on which to pitch one’s tent. It’s the little things in life, right? 

Services:

Hot showers, electronics charging, cell service, flush toilets, sinks, potable water (available from the cooking area sink),  well-stocked shop, and a bar and restaurant located in the nearby hotel. Camping (€7 per person) is available for those with their own tents, but there are no hire tents for rent. Lodging is available in the hotel (€100 for a double room) or in dorms in the gite (€20 per person). Both campers and those staying in the gite have the option for half pension. A complete list of prices and booking information can be found here

The well stocked shop at Hotel Castel di Vergio

The well stocked shop at Hotel Castel di Vergio.

 

Stage Six: Hotel Castel di Vergio to Refuge de Manganu

After the challenges of the first five stages, stage six is a welcome and relaxing change of pace. The hiking is capped off perfectly by a stay at the PNRC Refuge du Manganu. This small refuge is located on a scenic rocky outcrop and enjoys tranquil views of the valley below. There is a dorm with 21 beds, plus many hire tents and camping pitches scattered around the refuge. Despite its sprawling size, it can still get quite crowded and lines for the sinks and toilets are pretty common. Manganu has a fun and lively atmosphere- hikers gather on the rocks to drink beers and enjoy the views or to take a dip in the picture perfect rock pool below the refuge

Services:

Dorm beds, hire tents, camping, composting toilets, sinks, potable water, electronics charging (€2), hot showers (€2 for six minutes), outdoor cooking area, a-la-carte snacks available all day, meals, and a shop with limited provisions for sale. 

Trekkers sitting on rocks at Refuge de Manganu.

Kicking back at Refuge de Manganu.

 

Stage Seven: Refuge de Manganu to Refuge Petra Piana

PNRC Refuge Petra Piana gets a bad rep for its cold, cloudy, inhospitable location. In fact, many trekkers choose to double-up on stages and continue all the way to Refuge L’Onda in order to avoid staying at Petra Piana. It’s true that Petra Piana is often shrouded in layer of chilly fog, but it’s a charming spot nonetheless. The tiny refuge houses a small dorm and a cozy kitchen with a couple of picnic tables where hikers can gather to enjoy the warmth and camaraderie. If you decide to keep hiking instead of stopping at Petra Piana, be aware that there is no lodging available until you reach Refuge de l’Onda. Many trekkers mistakenly think they can stay at one of the bergeries along the way to L’Onda and end up setting themselves up for a much longer day than they anticipated. 

Services:

Dormitory, hire tents, camping, squat toilets, sink, hot showers (€2 for six minutes), meals, small shop, well-stocked indoor kitchen, and potable water. No electronics charging. Credit cards may be accepted here. 

Kitchen at Refuge de Petra Piana.

The cozy kitchen at Refuge de Petra Piana.

 

Stage Eight: Refuge de Petra Piana to Refuge L’Onda

The setting for Refuge L’Onda couldn’t be more different than that of Petra Piana. Instead of the high, misty mountain top location of the previous stage, L’Onda sits down in a sunny, pastoral valley. There is a PNRC refuge up the hill, but most hikers choose to camp down in the valley next to the Bergeries L’Onda. In fact, unless you took the high-level variant to get there, you probably won’t even get close to the actual refuge. If you do intend to stay in the refuge, make sure to inquire ahead of time as it isn’t always open. If camping, hire tents are available, as well as grassy (though not super flat) pitches for those with their own tents. While you are technically camping at the bergeries, everything runs the same as at the PNRC campsites and prices are identical. Insider tip: though not immediately obvious, there are some lovely rock pools nearby, perfect for cooling off after a hot day on the trail! 

Services:

The campsite next to the Bergeries has squat toilets, sinks, a cooking area with pots, pans, and dishware, showers (€2 for hot water, free if cold), lots of picnic tables, and a clothesline. The bergeries sells a la carte items all day, plus meals, and it offers a decent selection of provisions at its shop. The refuge has a small dormitory, kitchen, toilets, and showers. 

Mountain views on Stage 8 of the GR20

You’ll pass through beautiful mountains and forested valleys on Stage 8 of your trek.

 

Stage Nine: Refuge L’Onda to Vizzavona

This is an exciting stage! In reaching Vizzavona, you’ll be marking the halfway point of the GR20. Better yet, you’ll get to celebrate this achievement with all of the luxuries that Vizzavona has to offer. In reality, Vizzanona is a tiny town with just a few hotels, restaurants, and a train station, but it is nevertheless a great place to spend the night or even take a rest day if you have the time. There is a range of accommodation available, from dirtbag to deluxe, but all options offer hot showers and electronics charging (things you’ll want at this point in the trek, trust us). With the exception of the campground, most places also provide WiFi, and many of the hotels offer a laundry service

Camping:

Hire tents, pitches, and dorm beds in a small gite are available at the L’Alzarella campsite on the edge of town. This campground has electronics charging, hot showers (€2.50), clothesline, sinks, toilets, a cooking area, and probably the best stocked shop on the entire GR20. It also accepts credit cards. The campground doesn’t take advance bookings, except for large groups. Camping costs €7.50 per person for campers with their own tents. 

Dormitory:

If you want to sleep indoors without spending a fortune, you have a couple of dorm-style accommodations to choose from. There is a refuge at the Bar Restaurant de la Gare, as well as at the Hotel Restaurant I Laricci (no website available). Expect to pay around €20 for either of these options. 

Hotel:

For a little bit of luxury, we recommend staying at the Casa Alta B&B. The friendly owners go out of their way to make your stay special, the wooded setting is tranquil and beautiful, and the breakfast is ridiculously good.  Another upscale option is the Hotel U Castellu

There is also more lodging available in La Foce, which can be accessed by taking a shortcut before reaching Vizzavona. 

Rocky descent with red and white trail markers.

It’s all downhill to Vizzavona from here!

 

Stage 10: Vizzavona to Bergeries d’E Capanelle

There are a few options for accommodation at this stage of the trek, although it can be a little tricky to figure out what they are. Upon arriving from the north, you’ll first come across the Gite d’Etape U Fagone (which also calls itself the Gite de Capanelle). This is the most convenient and popular place to spend the night. There are beds available in small chalets and large dormitories, plus hire tents and pitches available (although space is very limited).

Just above the gite, you’ll find the very small, very basic PNRC Refuge d’E Capanelle. This unstaffed refuge costs less than the other PNRC refuges, and can be paid for in the gite. Our guidebook said that free camping is permitted outside the refuge, but we found that to be false when we stayed there. All campers were required to pay at the gite. You can also travel up the road to reach the Gite d’Etape U Renosu, which has a few small dormitories and a camping area.

Services at Gite d’Etape U Fagone:

Hot showers, flush toilets, sinks, potable water, clothesline, restaurant serving al-la-carte items all day, meals, well-stocked shop, washing room, cell service, shady terrace with sea views.  It costs €7 per person for camping, €10 per person for a hire tent, and €39 per person for half-pension in the gite. Reservations can be made on their website

Services at Refuge d’E Capanelle:

Basic cooking area, picnic table, bunk beds. You’ll need to walk down to the gite to access toilets, water, and showers. Those camping outside the gite can use the cooking facilities in the refuge. 

Services at Gite d’Etape U Renosu:

Toilets, hot showers, potable water, restaurant, small shop, and cell phone service. It’s €7 per person for camping and €38 per person for half-pension in the gite.  Reservations can be made at +33 6 77 06 25 17. 

Colorful sunrise at Bergeries d'E Capanelle

Corsica’s legendary sunrises can make even the most unsightly ski areas look stunning!

 

Stage Eleven: E’Capanelle to Bocca di Verdi or Refuge de Prati

You’ll need to choose between two different accommodations at the end of stage eleven. There are a few factors to consider when deciding where to spend the night. First, it will depend on whether you take the classic low-level route on stage eleven or if you decide to tackle the high-level variant and the ascent of Monte Renosu. The high-level route is much longer and more challenging than the rather mellow low-level route. Therefore, if you took the classic low-level path on stage eleven, you might want to keep going past Bocca di Verdi to reach Refuge de Prati (another two hours uphill) to get a head start on the long day that awaits you on stage twelve.

Alternatively, if you took the high-level route, you will likely be more than ready to stop at Refuge Bocca di Verdi (Also known as Relais San Petru di Verde) rather than face another two hours of tough climbing after an already long and strenuous day. The other factor to consider is the nature of the facilities at each accommodation option. Refuge de Prati is a PNRC Refuge. Therefore, you can expect basic facilities and the usual prices. On the other hand, Bocca di Verdi is privately-run and provides much nicer facilities at a slightly higher cost (8 per person for camping). 

Services at Refuge de Prati:

Dormitory, large camping area with grassy pitches, hire tents, squat toilets, basic cold shower, meals, very limited shop, potable water. 

Services at Bocca di Verdi:

Flush toilets (with toilet paper provided- a rare sight on the GR20!), hot showers, restaurant, meals, picnic tables, sinks, clothesline, potable water, small shop, cell phone service. Campers can use the kitchen in the main refuge building. Camping costs €8 per person and it’s about €40 per person for half-pension in the refuge.  Beware of the aggressive pigs that wander the campsite in search of food! More information can be found on their website

 

Picnic tables outside the Relais San Petru di Verdi

There are plenty of nice places to relax outside the Relais San Petru di Verdi, but watch out for hungry pigs!

 

Stage Twelve: Bocca di Verdi or Refuge de Prati to Refuge d’Usciolu

Those who claim the entire southern half of the GR20 is “easy” obviously haven’t completed stage twelve. Make no mistake, it is a big day and it’s even bigger if you started at Bocca di Verdi! Don’t worry though, you’ll have a real treat awaiting you at the PNRC Refuge d’Usciolu.  This refuge and its charismatic warden are GR20 legends, and rightfully so. The shop is downright magical, offering a dazzling array of provisions and tasty treats from a tiny shack. The refuge itself boasts an equally magical setting, perched impossibly on a rocky hillside. The only downside of such a setting for campers is that they’ll find themselves hiking a long way up and down that steep rocky hillside to get from their tent pitch to the refuge and its facilities. 

Services:

Dormitory, hire tents, camping pitches, composting toilets, cold showers, sinks for washing up, potable water, clothesline, outdoor cooking area, terrace with picnic tables, restaurant serving a-la-carte items, meals, amazing shop, electronics charging (ask the warden). 

Tents on the hillside at Refuge d'Uscoilu.

Refuge d’Uscoilu boasts an incredible mountainside location, but you may have to hike down the hill to find a good pitch!

 

Stage Thirteen: Refuge d’Usciolu to Refuge de Matalza or Bergerie d’ I Croci

Here’s another stage where hikers will yet again be faced with several  choices. The official GR20 route is broken up into two stages before it reaches Refuge d’Asinau, with Matalza as the first stopping point and Refuge d’Asinau on the following day. However, for those moving at a faster pace it’s possible to take an alternate trail directly from Refuge d’Usciolu to Refuge d’Asinau, effectively cutting out an entire day of hiking. If you opt to stick to the traditional path, you’ll still come across three options for accommodation. First, you’ll pass the Bergeries de Basetta. Keep in mind that if you choose to stop here, you’re in for a very short day with a significantly longer one the following day. Next, you’ll pass the PNRC Refuge de Matalza, which offers a small dorm and camping area. It doesn’t boast the high mountain vistas of some GR20 refuges, but the friendly warden and peaceful pastoral setting more than make up for it. Finally, if you walk another hour along the trail, you’ll reach the privately-owned Bergerie d’ I Croci. The benefits of pushing on to I Croci are the slightly more luxurious accommodations and head start the following day. 

Services at Bergeries de Basetta:

Cabins, dormitory/dortoir, camping pitches, hire tents, well-stocked shop, restaurant, and transport off-trail. Camping is 10 for two people with their own tent, half pension in the dortoir is 38.50 per person, and it’s 43.50 per person for half-pension in a cabin. Reservations can be made at  06.27.25.95.33 o4 reservation@bergeriedebasseta.fr

Services at Refuge de Matalza:

Dormitory, hire tents, camping pitches, toilets, sink, potable water, clothesline, lounge chairs, shady terrace, warm showers (much nicer than they look!), decent shop offerings, electronics charging for a set time period in the afternoon, and a cooking area. 

Services at Bergerie d’ I Croci:

Dormitories, camping pitches, toilets, hot showers, potable water, restaurant, small shop, meals, transport to the town of Zicavo. Camping is €6 per person,  and it costs €10 per person for a bed in the dormitory. Reservations can be made by calling  06 75 49 60 59 and 09 82 12 33 10 and more information is available on their website

Showers at Refuge de Matalza.

The “luxurious” showers at Refuge de Matalza.

 

Stage Fourteen: Refuge de Matalza to Refuge d’Asinau

After being destroyed by a fire a few years back, PNRC Refuge d’Asinau has recently been rebuilt and it’s quite cozy and tidy inside. It has a small dormitory, with space for camping both on the hillside behind the refuge and down below the front of the refuge (many people don’t realize there are pitches down there so you might score something really good!). This is another one of those places where your hiking never really ends for the day, as there’s a long, stony walk to get to the bathrooms and showers. Views from the terrace are wonderful. 

Services:

Dormitory, hire tents, camping pitches, composting toilets, potable water, cold showers, very limited shop, meals, electronics charging (2). 

A rocky trail winds gently uphill on stage 14 of the GR20.

The trail is (thankfully!) a bit gentler on stage fourteen.

 

Stage Fifteen: Refuge d’Asinau to Village de Bavella or Refuge d’I Paliri

Stage fifteen officially ends at Village de Bavella, but if you’re camping, or if you want one last night at a (very beautiful!) PNRC Refuge, or if you want to get a head start on long final stage to Conca, you should keep hiking for about two more hours to the PNRC Refuge d’I Paliri. On the other hand, if you want to spend your last night on the GR20 in a more luxurious fashion, you’ll have your pick of gites and restaurants at Village de Bavella. It’s your final trail decision… it’s Conca or bust tomorrow! 

Services at Village de Bavella:

Dorm beds are available either at Les Aiguilles de Bavella (€34 for half pension) or the Auberge du Col de Bavella (€45  for half pension). Both of these establishments also have restaurants. There is a well-stocked shop across the road from the Auberge du Col de Bavella. Bus and taxi services can be accessed from Village de Bavella. 

Services at Refuge d’I Paliri:

Small dormitories, hire tents, camping pitches, squat toilets, showers (cold, very basic, and a loooong hike from camp-not recommended!), potable water (also need to hike down the trail for this), stunning views of rugged mountains and the sea in the distance, sinks, indoor and outdoor cooking areas, small shop, meals, and electronics charging (2).  

Views of a sheer rock face from Refuge d'I Paliri

Views from the tent at Refuge d’I Paliri…Not a bad way to spend your last night on the trail!

 

Stage Sixteen: Village de Bavella or Refuge d’I Paliri to Conca

You did it! Upon reaching Conca, we sincerely hope you beeline to the first establishment that will sell you a cold beer (FYI-that place is called Bar le Soleil Levant) and toast to your amazing accomplishment. The GR20 is a seriously challenging hike, both mentally and physically, and those who complete it have really achieved something special. Once you’ve enjoyed a celebratory cold one with your fellow badass hikers, you’ll need to think about moving on. If you want to leave Conca that same day, the Bar le Soleil Levant and the Gite d’Etape La Tonnelle offer shuttle services to Sainte Lucie de Porto Vecchio, where you can catch buses to Bastia, Ajaccio, or Porto Vecchio. You may be able to arrange direct service to Porto Vecchio (instead of transferring at Sainte Lucie) as well. 

If you want to spend the night in Conca, we think that you’ll find it to be quite a nice little town. You can either stay at the more upscale Hotel San Pasquale (around 90 for a double room) or the budget-friendly Gite d’Etape La Tonnelle, which has rooms for 2-5 people and a 7-person dorm (€40 per person for half-pension),and camping (€7 per person). Hire tents are also available for 14 per person. 

Services at Conca: 

Both the Hotel and Gite have restaurants. There are two small shops in town, as well as a post office. The gite and the hotel also offer a laundry service. You can arrange transport to Sainte Lucie de Porto Vecchio through the gite. 

Views over the mountains towards the sea on stage 16 of the GR20.

You’ll enjoy fabulous views of the mountains and the Mediterranean until the very end of your trek.

 

Conclusion

We hope the information in this guide leaves you feeling confident and prepared to tackle the GR20, one of the world’s finest treks. Be sure to check out all of our awesome GR20 resources, and as always, post your questions and feedback in the comments below. Happy trails! 

 Looking down on Lac du Melo from above.

Wishing you an incredible GR20 adventure!

Check out our other GR20 resources:

How Much It Cost Us to Hike the GR20 – Plan for all of your expenses with confidence! 

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Tour du Mont Blanc Map

The Tour du Mont Blanc takes trekkers through France, Italy, and Switzerland on one of the most spectacular trails in the world. Typically completed in 11 stages, the route circumnavigates…

The Tour du Mont Blanc takes trekkers through France, Italy, and Switzerland on one of the most spectacular trails in the world. Typically completed in 11 stages, the route circumnavigates Mont Blanc, the highest peak in Western Europe. This post will provide all of the TMB navigational resources you need to familiarize yourself with the route, location, and all things map-related so you can be sure you’re ready to tackle this epic adventure!

What’s in this post?

Where is the Tour du Mont Blanc?

The Tour du Mont Blanc is an approximately 101 mile/162 km trek that takes walkers around Mont Blanc and through France, Italy, and Switzerland. The closest major city to the TMB is Geneva, Switzerland. The route passes through seven mountain valleys (Val d’Arve, Val d’Montjoie, Vallee des Glaciers, Val Veni, Italian Val Ferret, Swiss Val Ferret, and Vallee du Trient) and is typically completed in 11 stages.

Map showing the location of the Tour du Mont Blanc

The Tour du Mont Blanc takes walkers through France, Italy, and Switzerland.

 

The TMB is traditionally hiked in a counter-clockwise direction beginning in the French town of Les Houches, adjacent to Chamonix. It is also possible to walk the route in a clockwise direction, and trekkers headed this way typically start in the Swiss town of Champex. The TMB also passes through the French towns of Les Contamines, Les Chapieux, and Tre-le-Champ, the Italian town of Courmayeur, and the Swiss towns of La Fouly and Champex. The stages for the traditional counter-clockwise route are as follows:

  • Stage 1: Les Houches to Les Contamines
  • Stage 2: Les Contamines to Les Chapieux
  • Stage 3: Les Chapieux to Rifugio Elisabetta
  • Stage 4: Rifugio Elisabetta to Courmayeur
  • Stage 5: Courmayeur to Rifugio Bonatti
  • Stage 6: Rifugio Bonatti to La Fouly
  • Stage 7: La Fouly to Champex
  • Stage 8: Champex to Col de la Forclaz
  • Stage 9: Col de la Forclaz to Tre-le-Champ
  • Stage 10: Tre-le-Champ to Refuge La Flegere
  • Stage 11: Refuge La Flegere to Les Houches

While for many the mere mention of Mont Blanc conjures up images of the famous French mountaineering town of Chamonix, the route of the TMB does not actually go through the town, instead taking a trail high above the Chamonix Valley.

Tour du Mont Blanc map

The Tour du Mont Blanc leads trekkers around the Mont Blanc Massif.

 

In addition to the traditional route, the Tour du Mont Blanc also includes several ‘alternates’. These trails still connect the same start and finish points, but take walkers on a different route between the two points. Alternates can be used to add challenge, avoid certain sections, or lengthen/shorten a particular stage. The map below shows the common alternate routes on the TMB.

Tour du Mont Blanc Map with alternate routes shown.

The Tour du Mont Blanc also includes many alternate routes, shown in the map above.

 

Interactive Map

The interactive Tour du Mont Blanc map below will allow you to zoom in on the various stages as well as view the traditional stops along the route. The map also displays the common alternate routes that are a part of the TMB. You can click on each stage to see the total length, listed in both kilometers and miles.

 

How long is the Tour du Mont Blanc?

The Tour du Mont Blanc is approximately 101 miles or 162.5 kilometers long. This is based on following the traditional route and not taking any shortcuts or alternates. Of course, few if any walkers will stick to this route exactly. You could easily walk less or more depending on your preferences, route choices, and the conditions encountered on the trail.

The maps below show the approximate distance of each stage in miles as well as kilometers. For more detail on each stage be sure to check out our interactive map in the section above!

Map of the Tour du Mont Blanc with stage distances in miles.

Approximate stage distances of the TMB in miles.

 

Map of the Tour du Mont Blanc with stage length in kilometers

Approximate stage distances of the TMB in kilometers.

 

What is the elevation profile of the Tour du Mont Blanc?

Over all 11 stages, the Tour du Mont Blanc has approximately 37,000 feet or 11,300 meters of elevation change! That averages out to over 3,300 feet or 1,000 meters of elevation change per stage for those who complete the walk in 11 days. Of course, there will be days with more elevation gain and days with less. Given that the TMB is a loop trail, you’ll ascend and descend the exact same amount over the course of your trek.

The elevation profiles below, displayed in both imperial and metric units, will give you an overview of what each stage of the Tour du Mont Blanc is like in terms of total elevation change and distance. On the charts elevation is shown on the left hand side while distance is shown on the bottom. Each blue dot represents a stop along the traditional 11 stage TMB route, with the stop name shown at the top.

The steepness of the line between any two points shows the steepness of the trail for that particular stage. The distance between the two points shows the length of the the stage. So for instance you can see that the stage from Tre-le-Champ to La Flegere is rather short in distance, while the stage from Les Contamines to Les Chapieux has a lot of elevation gain.

Elevation profile of the Tour du Mont Blanc in feet and miles

Elevation profile of the Tour du Mont Blanc in feet and miles.

 

Elevation profile of the Tour du Mont Blanc in meters and kilometers

Elevation profile of the Tour du Mont Blanc in meters and kilometers.

Which maps should I carry?

The TMB is a very well marked trail with frequent signs and trail markers. As a result, when we hiked the TMB we did not rely heavily on any of the various paper maps that are available for the route. Instead, we preferred to utilize GPS maps on our phones, as described in the next section. However, that doesn’t mean we didn’t bring paper maps with us. While technology has done a tremendous amount to make navigating while hiking easier, there is simply no replacement for carrying a physical map with you. If your phone runs out of battery or you drop it in a puddle you’ll be glad you had your handy paper maps to rely on.

We recommend bringing the IGN 3630 OT Chamonix and IGN 3531 ET St-Gervais with you, as they provide a detailed view of the TMB route. A weatherproof carrying case like this one wouldn’t hurt to have either.

Tour du Mont Blanc GPS/GPX

If you’re interested in getting access to the GPS data used to create all of the maps in this post, we are happy to offer our Tour du Mont Blanc GPX files for only $4.99. When you download the GPX file, you’ll get route data for each of the traditional stages of the TMB as well as all of the common alternate route, plus waypoints for each stop along the way.

You’ll be able to load the GPX file into the mapping software or GPS phone app of your choice!

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Tour du Mont Blanc map app/offline mapping

As mentioned above we utilized offline downloadable GPS maps on our smartphones to navigate while hiking the TMB. This is a great way to navigate on the trail as it allows you to see your progress for the day and also isn’t reliant on a cell phone signal to display the map. Our How to Navigate on the TMB post has all the information you need to get set up using an app for your Tour du Mont Blanc map. This step-by-step article will teach you how to quickly and easily turn your phone into a GPS device.

Want more Tour du Mont Blanc content?

Be sure to check out all of our great TMB content for packing lists, camping guides, and much more. We also have a FREE TMB Starter Kit and a comprehensive Tour du Mont Blanc Planning Guide that we know you’ll love!

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Guide to Camping on the Lechweg Trail

We firmly believe that every trail has unique rewards to anyone who is lucky enough to wander along them. Some trails grant the satisfaction of summiting high peaks or passes,…

We firmly believe that every trail has unique rewards to anyone who is lucky enough to wander along them. Some trails grant the satisfaction of summiting high peaks or passes, others promise stark and beautiful solitude, while still others transport their walkers to incredible vistas and uncommon places. If you’re searching for a rugged and demanding high mountain trek, the Lechweg isn’t for you. Instead, the Lechweg gently meanders its way through a variety of landscapes as it follows the wild Lech River from its alpine source, across country borders, and to its terminus in the beautiful hills of Bavaria. It isn’t without challenges, however, and it certainly promises to be a rewarding and unforgettable experience for all who walk it. This is a hike that will appeal to a wide range of walkers: nature lovers, less experienced walkers, dedicated backpackers, gastrophiles, history buffs, and truly anyone who appreciates the good life. If you want to spend your days wandering through mossy forests, passing alpine lakes and crumbling castles, viewing the rushing turquoise river, visiting quaint, friendly villages, and tasting fantastic food, this hike surely won’t disappoint! 

Looking back towards Lech from the trail.

 

We walked the Lechweg over six days in late July 2019. This was the third of five treks that would make up our “trip of a lifetime” round the world adventure. After completing the Laugavegur Trail and then the Haute Route, we welcomed the mellower profile of the Lechweg. Despite its good underfoot conditions and its relatively flat nature, we still felt plenty challenged by the fast pace at which we completed the trek (averaging 13 miles per day) and the added effort of camping along the way. As with all of our long-distance treks, we chose to camp as much as possible along the Lechweg. We prefer camping for its budget-friendly nature, flexibility, and because it allows us to maximize our time outdoors in the wild places we’re experiencing. We had a great time camping on the Lechweg and we highly recommend it to others.  When we began researching the Lechweg,we found very little information out there, especially when it came to camping. This is a relatively new trail (opened in 2012), and hikers are still discovering its awesomeness. We hope this guide will be helpful for our fellow tent-dwellers as they plan for their own Lechweg adventure! 

Lake Formarinsee and the start of the Lechweg Trail.

 

A bit about the hike:

Direction: The Lechweg is traditionally walked northeast from Lech, Austria to Füssen, Germany. This trajectory allows hikers to follow the Lech River from its source at Lake Formarinsee down to its terminus at the Lechfall. Since it follows the flow of the river, the trail is predominantly downhill in this direction. We hiked the Lechweg in the traditional northeast fashion and enjoyed watching the river and landscape change along the way. We didn’t feel that it was too much downhill walking (it’s mostly flat with some undulating sections). You could easily hike in the other direction, however. It would be a bit more challenging, as you’d be generally hiking uphill the entire way, but it’s still very doable. If you hiked southwest, you could simply reverse the itinerary and wouldn’t need to make any major changes to the route or logistics. You’ll see plenty of other hikers going both ways, but we never found the trail to be overly crowded in either direction. 

When to do it: The general season for hiking the Lechweg typically lasts from mid-June through early October, although this window is subject to some variability, especially at the higher elevations. You can usually hike the sections between Steeg and Füssen in May, which is a good option if you wanted to do a shorter variation and skip the snowier stages between Steeg and Formarinsee. Most of the accommodation you’ll find along the Lechweg is open year-round (including the campgrounds). 

Notes:

  • All prices listed in this guide are per person, per day.
  • Campers will obviously need to carry more than other hikers, but you should still make every effort to only bring absolute necessities and keep your pack weight down. 
  • This guide is based on a fast-paced 6-day itinerary. There are many itinerary options, ranging from 6-8 days, but the itinerary we recommend in our guide will allow you to camp as much as possible. 
  • According to the official Lechweg website, wild camping in along the trail is prohibited by law. Fortunately, there are official campsites that are easily accessible along the route. While not entirely cheap, we feel it is important to use these facilities whenever they are available in order to give respect to the local communities and the fragile natural environment. If you choose to wild camp, set up after dusk, pack up at dawn, and utilize leave no trace practices. As the trail remains close to civilization for a large portion of your hike, wild camping would be very difficult in many places. In this guide, we noted areas where it would be particularly easy or hard to wild camp. 
  • Reservations are not necessary for any of the campgrounds along the Lechweg. If you’re worried about getting a good pitch, try to get to the campground before 5:00pm and you should be just fine.
  • Overall, food and water are plentiful along the route. However, you’ll need to be a bit strategic if you want to save money by purchasing your food at grocery stores instead of spending a fortune on restaurant meals. We’ve noted the availability of shops and services along each stage of the Lechweg. Use this guide to plan ahead and stock up ahead of longer stretches without shops. Keep in mind that most stores are closed on Sundays. In terms of water, we filled our hydration bladders in the morning and carried 2-3 liters per day (it was quite hot when we hiked). All of the campgrounds provide potable water. On most days you’ll pass through towns with public water fountains, but this is certainly not guaranteed on every stage of the walk.

Flat grassy pitches and mountain views. What more could you want?

 

A Note on Camping: 

If you are wanting to camp along every stage of the Lechweg, you’ll need to be a bit strategic, as camping options are limited on some parts of the trail. There are no official campsites until you reach just past the village of Häselgehr (Camping Rudi). The first stage of the Lechweg begins at Lake Formarinsee and terminates in the town of Lech. We saw a few possible wild camping spots near Formarinsee and also a few miles past Lech. Keep in mind however, that wild camping is technically not permitted. Additionally, there is quite a bit of agricultural land in this area, so make sure to ask the landowner’s permission before pitching your tent near grazing cattle or farmland.  Further past Lech, wild camping becomes pretty difficult, since you’re never far from civilization. If you want to camp, but only in official campsites, you have the option of using one campsite as a base and then taking the bus (Bus 110 runs between Lech and Reutte and you can the tourist card provided by your accommodation to ride for free) to the start of your hiking stage each day. If you choose this option, we recommend choosing Camping Vorderhornbach, due to the fact that it has the nicest facilities and easiest proximity to the bus stop.

Of course, your other option is to stay indoors for the first three stages of your Lechweg walk and camp for the second half. We opted to stay in an AirBnb in Stubenbach (a small village just south of Lech) and use it as a base for completing the first two stages. We stayed in a hotel in Steeg, and then camped from that point onwards. This was a great way to balance luxury with frugality, and it allowed us to thru-hike the trail more flexibly without worrying about the bus schedule or reservations for the later stages of the hike. 

The first few stages on the Lechweg take hikers through higher mountains.

 

Day One: Formarinsee to Lech 

Camping Availability: None

As mentioned above, you might be able to wild camp near Formarinsee or on the outskirts of Lech, but there are no official campgrounds on this stage. For budget accommodation, consider staying in Stubenbach, which is a smaller more affordable town next to Lech. You could also stay at the Freiburger Hütte before beginning the first stage of your hike. This is a cozy, friendly spot with beautiful views of the lake. 

Nearby: There are two grocery stores in Lech, as well as an outdoor retailer, bakeries, ATM, restaurants, a post office, and bus stop. Other than bus stops, there are no services available in Formarinsee or Stubenbach. 

The first stage of the Lechweg Trail finishes in the lovely village of Lech, Austria.

 

Day Two: Lech to Steeg

Camping Availability: None

Despite the lack of camping availability, we recommend spending a night in Steeg if you’re able to. This was one of the most charming towns we visited on our walk, and it has a variety of options for accommodation and services. 

Nearby: Grocery store, bus stop, restaurants, ATM, fromagerie. 

Great views on the way to Steeg.

 

Day Three: Steeg to Häselgehr

Camping Availability: Camping Rudi

If you’re up for a long day (17 miles), you can finally reach your first real campground on this stage of the walk! The lovely Camping Rudi is located a bit past Häselgehr, and requires a short detour from the trail. Despite a recent fire which damaged the original facilities, the campground still provides very nice toilets and showers in a portable structure. They are in the process of building new facilities in the near future. The campground, like most along the Lechweg, is dominated by caravans and camping vans, but there is a nice grassy area with plenty of flat spaces to pitch a tent. 

Price: €8.60 per person + €4 for small tents + €1.30 tourist tax per person (cash only)

Services: Hot showers, toilets (soap and toilet paper provided), room for washing up, small covered sitting area, outlets in bathrooms, and free wifi. Ice cream, beer,  and stove fuel are available for sale at the reception. Bread and pastries can be ordered for the morning. Trash and recycling available. Tourist card provided (includes bus pass).

Nearby: There are no shops or other services near the campground. You’ll need to walk about 15 minutes to reach the bus stop. 

Camping Rudi.

 

Day Four: Camping Rudi to Vorderhornbach

If you’re feeling tired after the long distances you’ve covered over the previous days, you’ll be happy to know that it’s just a short hike to reach Camping Vorderhornbach. Even though today’s walk will likely take you less than three hours, Camping Vorderhornbach is the most practical next stop for campers. Plus, with its excellent facilities, it’s the perfect place to spend an afternoon off. 

Camping Availability: Camping Vorderhornbach

Price: €9 per person + €12.50 per tent + €1.40 per person tourist tax. 

Services: Very nice facilities including showers with hot water, sinks for washing, and an indoor space with coffee machine. Free wifi available throughout along with restaurant, beer garden, laundry drying racks, and swimming pool (additional cost). Bread and pastries can be ordered for the morning. 

Nearby: There is a bus stop and a restaurant in the town of Vorderhornbach, which is a ten-minute walk from the campground. There are no shops within walking distance of the campground, however. 

The Lech River widens as you make your way towards Fussen.

 

Day Five: Vorderhornbach to Reutte

In order to camp on this stage of the Lechweg, you’ll need to detour from the trail a bit (the detour takes about half an hour).  Reutte, although not officially on the Lechweg, is worth a visit. There are multiple supermarkets, several cute cafes, shops, and good restaurants. The campground is a sprawling collection of caravans with retro-looking facilities (which are rather far from the tent pitches), but it is a convenient stop before your final stage on the Lechweg. Keep in mind that getting to Reutte requires another long day of walking, as well as the additional 30 or so minutes you’ll spend walking back to rejoin the trail the following day. 

Camping Availability: Camping Reutte 

Price: €10 per person + €2.00 per person tourist tax (cash only)

Services: Toilets (TP and soap provided), sinks with hot and cold water, washing up room, covered area near tent pitches with picnic tables and clotheslines, hot showers (€0.5 for 4min or €1 for 8 min), washing machine and dryer, restaurant, free WiFi available near reception, and sauna. 

Nearby: There are a few supermarkets and an ATM within 15 minutes’ walk from the campground. There is a bus stop 5 minutes away. It’s about a 25 minute walk to the shops, cafes, and restaurants in the city center. 

Quaint villages and lovely flowers along the Lechweg.

 

Day Six: Reutte to Füssen

Upon completing your Lechweg trek, it would be quite understandable (and well deserved) if you opted to splurge on indoor accommodation in Füssen. That’s what we did, staying at the lovely, moderately priced, and centrally located Hotel Ludwigs. However, if you prefer to camp, Camping Brunnen is located a bit outside of town, but can be easily accessed via the #78 bus

Camping Availability: Camping Brunnen

Price: €12.10 per person + €1.90 visitor tax per person + €9-15 per tent (depending on type of pitch)

Services: Toilets, hot showers, spa access, laundry, dish washing room, electronics charging, restaurant, beer garden, mini-mart, wifi, and bicycle rentals. 

Nearby: The campsite is located on the shores of Lake Forggensee. Although there’s not much in terms of services in the surrounding area, this large campsite has its own restaurant and shop, and it’s about a 10-minute walk to the bus stop. 

The magical town of Fussen and official finish of the Lechweg.

 

The Lechweg Trail is a truly unique and beautiful hike that can be customized to all paces, abilities, styles, and budgets. Like so many other great walks, we believe it is best experienced by carrying your tent and spending as many nights under the stars as possible. Hopefully this guide will help and inspire you to embark on your own Lechweg adventure! 

 

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Walker’s Haute Route Photo Gallery

Take a visual tour along the Haute Route in anticipation of your upcoming adventure! The Haute Route traverses 112 miles of the French and Swiss Alps and takes you through…

Take a visual tour along the Haute Route in anticipation of your upcoming adventure! The Haute Route traverses 112 miles of the French and Swiss Alps and takes you through a stunning array of landscapes. Walking from Mont Blanc to the Matterhorn brings an endless array of unforgettable sights and vistas.

Be sure to check out the rest of our Haute Route posts below:

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How Much it Cost Us to Hike the Haute Route

At first glance, the Haute Route might seem physically daunting, but many might find it even more financially intimidating. Traversing two very expensive and staying in the many “quaint” (read:…

At first glance, the Haute Route might seem physically daunting, but many might find it even more financially intimidating. Traversing two very expensive and staying in the many “quaint” (read: pricey) resort towns along the way? Buying enough food to fuel yourself through day after day of long miles on the trail? Doesn’t seem cheap, does it? The beautiful thing about the Walker’s Haute Route, however, is that it’s pretty much up to you how expensive you want to make it. There are hikers who choose to spend more to take guided tours, stay in private rooms at upscale hotels and huts, and buy all of their meals at restaurants along the way. Others take the extremely frugal route, camping as much as possible, cooking their own meals, and minimizing expenses wherever they can.

We tend to travel on the frugal side, as we enjoy the simplicity and authentic experiences that go hand in hand with this type of travel. That being said, we’re not claiming the most hardcore budget travelers out there; we certainly allow ourselves to indulge in things that bring value to our experience, such as a post-hike beer or an Airbnb on our rest day. Below we’ve outlined what we spent on our 2019 Walker’s Haute Route adventure, as well as some tips for keeping your expenses down . We hope that by sharing this information, our fellow hikers will be able to plan and budget more accurately for their own trip. Additionally, you might find that an experience like the Haute Route is more within reach than you originally thought, if you just make a few intentional decisions when planning your travel. So grab your tent and get out there!

Note: We’ve listed most prices in Swiss Francs, since that’s the currency you’ll use for the majority of the trek. When applicable, we’ve listed prices in Euros and U.S. dollars as well.

You’ll need to bring a bigger pack if you want to camp, but the freedom and money-saving perks of packing your tent are pretty unbeatable!

 

Accommodation

We chose to camp as much as possible along the Walker’s Haute Route and we highly recommend it to others for a number of reasons. First, many of the campgrounds are quite luxurious, with amenities such as hot showers and wifi. We also preferred the privacy of our tent versus the dorm-style sleeping arrangements of the huts. Sleeping outdoors in such spectacular alpine surroundings became a highlight of our trip. And of course, the price of camping can’t be beat! There are a few places along the Haute Route where there are no official campgrounds. For those situations, we opted to either stay in the mountain huts, which offered amazing ambiance for a reasonable price, or to wild camp along the trail. In general, wild camping is discouraged (and sometimes illegal) along the Haute Route, so if you choose this option make sure to ask permission before camping on private land, use leave no trace principles, and be as discrete as possible.  We also stayed in an Airbnb for our rest day in Les Hauderes, which proved to be a wonderful treat after roughing it for so many days. Here’s a breakdown of our accommodation spending:

  • Average Hut Price:  40 CHF (dorm only) or 80 CHF (half pension)
  • Average Campsite Price: 15 CHF (per person)
  • Hotel in Chamonix for before the hike: €85 (per night)
  • Airbnb in Les Hauderes for our rest day: 70 CHF (per night)
  • Average Price of dorm bed in a dortoir: 35 CHF (per person)
  • Mid-range hotel in Zermatt for after the hike: 150 CHF (per night)
  • Shower at a mountain hut: 5 CHF for 5 minutes

Staying at Cabane du Mont Fort isn’t the cheapest option out there, but the views from the terrace are worth every penny!

 

Transit

  • Bus from Geneva to Chamonix: €20 (per person, one-way)
  • Train from Zermatt to Geneva Airport: 55 CHF (per person, one-way)
  • Local ride between towns on the Postbus: 3-8 CHF (per person, one-way)
  • SBB train (if detour is needed): 15-20 CHF (per person, one-way)
  • Average cable-car ride (if you want to avoid a downhill section): 15 CHF (per person)

Be sure to check out our Walker’s Haute Route Logistics article for more information about transportation before, during, and after your trek.

The train station in Chamonix, where the Haute Route begins.

 

Flights:

We strategically used credit card points and miles in order to fly on IcelandAir from Chicago to Geneva, with a free week-long stopover in Iceland (where we hiked the Laugavegur Trail). Check out our entire Travel for Free series to learn more.

Airline Taxes and Fees: $150.00 + 27,500 Alaska Airlines miles* (per person)

*Alaska Airlines is a partner with IcelandAir, thus allowing us to use their miles to purchase our tickets. Unfortunately, the amount of miles required for this trip has increased since the time we booked our flights.

 

Food and Drink

You may be backpacking through rugged mountains, but that doesn’t necessitate spending a small fortune on fancy freeze-dried meals. We preferred to stock up on lightweight, nutritious, and tasty dry goods from the local grocery stores to fuel us along the Walker’s Haute Route. We tended to eat ramen noodles or local cheese, sausage, and bread for most dinners. For lunches, we snacked on a trail mix blend that we made from salted peanuts and raisins, which we purchased copious amounts of whenever we found them at reasonable prices along the route. For breakfast, we ate muesli and instant coffee. As much as possible, we’d pick up some fresh fruit and veggies from a local shop. These foods kept us feeling full throughout long days of hiking, and we found them to be more enjoyable than those space-age style backpacker meals. Plus, they were a fraction of the price!

On average, we spent about 8-12 CHF per person, per day on our food and drink.

Of course, we allowed ourselves a few treats along the way, too. Here’s what you can expect to pay, on average, for the following items and indulgences:

At a restaurant or mountain hut:

  • Beer: 5 CHF
  • Bottle of wine: 30 CHF
  • Meal: 20-30 CHF (per person)
  • Coffee: 4 CHF
  • Pastry: 6 CHF
  • Packed lunch from mountain hut: 10 CHF

At a grocery store:

  • Ramen/Instant Meal: 2-3 CHF
  • Loaf of bread: 2 CHF
  • Cheap Beer: 1 CHF
  • Cheap bottle of wine: 3 CHF
  • Block of local cheese: 3 CHF
  • 1 kg bag of Muesli: 3 CHF
  • Bag of peanuts: 2-4 CHF
  • Pre-packaged sandwich: 5 CHF

Money saving tip: If you choose to stay at the mountain huts, be sure to ask them if you can self-cater instead of paying for half-board. At most huts, the price is double if you want meals included. Sure, they typically serve pretty tasty food, but for half the cost we were happy to cook our own food. Plus, some huts (like Cabane du Mont Fort) even have a small kitchen area that you can use.

Self-catering at the mountain huts gives you a chance to eat outside and enjoy the views!

 

Miscellaneous

  • Stove Fuel: 7 CHF
  • Laundry: 8 CHF for both wash and dry
  • Guidebook (we recommend the Cicerone version)
  • Luggage transport from Chamonix to Zermatt (via the post-see our logistics article for more on this): €46
  • Average Tourist Tax (paid at every accommodation): 1.5-4 CHF (per person)

A sink and a clothesline offer a budget-friendly alternative for getting those stinky hiking clothes clean(er)!

 

As you can see, we happily teetered between dirtbag and deluxe on our Walker’s Haute Route trek. While there’s no escaping the high costs of some essentials, in general, one can experience the Haute Route on a modest budget (and enjoy some excellent wine and cheese while doing so). Obviously, you’ll also want to factor in the cost of hiking gear that you’ll need to purchase prior to setting off on your trek. Check out our packing list to get an idea of what you might need to purchase ahead of time. Also, our Backpacking Gear on a Budget article has some helpful ideas for keeping your costs low when putting together your backpacking kit. Whether you choose to splurge or keep it simple, we feel confident you’ll have the adventure of a lifetime.

What’s Next?

Be sure to read our entire series on the Haute Route to learn everything you’ll need to know to prepare for your trip!

 

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The Laugavegur Trail | Map, Routes, and Itineraries

The Laugavegur Trail and Fimmvörðuháls Trail offer the best of Icelandic trekking. Stunning waterfalls, brooding volcanoes, geothermal hot springs, powerful rivers, and deep canyons are just a few of the…

The Laugavegur Trail and Fimmvörðuháls Trail offer the best of Icelandic trekking. Stunning waterfalls, brooding volcanoes, geothermal hot springs, powerful rivers, and deep canyons are just a few of the wonders you’ll discover on these hikes. Traversing this spectacular region by foot is one of the best ways to experience the incredible diversity of landscapes Iceland has to offer.  This beauty combined with easy accessibility make the Laugavegur and Fimmvörðuháls Trails two of the most popular hiking destinations in Iceland. Read on to learn how to plan for these epic treks!

Laugavegur Trail Map

Need to Know

The Laugavegur Trail covers 34 miles (55 km) between Landmannalaugar and Þórsmörk (pronounced Thorsmork) while the Fimmvörðuháls Trail connects Þórsmörk and Skogar via a very difficult 15-mile trail. While the two trails are technically separate, many walkers will combine the two into a longer, 48-mile hike. Here are the need to know facts to get your planning started:

Direction: We hiked the Laugavegur from north to south and we’d certainly recommend traveling in this direction if you want to avoid some very long climbs and increase the chances of having the wind at your back.  If you do plan on hiking from south to north, expect a more challenging trek and plan for longer days on the trail. The “traditional” direction to hike is from north to south, but don’t expect to have the trail all to yourself if you go in the opposite direction. We saw several dozen hikers traveling northbound each day while we were out there.

Where to stay: The Laugavegur and Fimmvörðuháls Trails feature an excellent system of mountain huts and campsites along the routes. Most of these are run by Ferðafélag Íslands (FI), which is the Icelandic Touring Association. Additionally, there are private campgrounds and huts located at Þórsmörk and the Fimmvörðuskáli Hut (along the Fimmvörðuháls Trail), as well as a privately-run hostel and hotel located at Skogar.

The mountain huts along the Laugavegur and Fimmvörðuháls Trails provide basic communal sleeping quarters (bring your own sleeping bag), cooking facilities (you’ll need to bring your own food), bathrooms and showers (with the exception of Hrafntinnusker, which does not have showers) and are staffed by very knowledgeable wardens. Additionally, the huts have small shops carrying some basic food items and trekking essentials. If you’re planning to stay in the huts along the Laugavegur Trail advance bookings are essential as the huts fill up quickly! You can make your reservations here: Laugavegur Trail Hut Reservations.

All of the huts along the Laugavegur Trail cost 9,000 ISK per night, while the Fimmvörðuháls / Baldvinsskáli hut costs 7,000 ISK per night.

Ferðafélag Íslands publishes a very helpful Frequently Asked Questions page on the Laugavegur Trail huts here.

Hrafntinnusker Hut

Looking down on the hut at Hrafntinnusker along the Laugavegur Trail.

 

Camping: In addition to the excellent hut system, camping is allowed at all the huts along the Laugavegur Trail. The campsites do not require any advance reservations and cost 2,000 ISK per night. We always recommend camping as it provides an added layer of flexibility and an escape from the sometimes crowded huts! For an in-depth guide on camping check out our Guide to Camping on the Laugavegur Trail.

Please note that you must camp in the designated campsites!

Tents at Alftavatn along the Laugavegur Trail

Camping at Alftavatn.

 

When to do it: The weather in Iceland can be extremely harsh. No matter when you go, expect cold, wet, and windy conditions for a least some parts of your trek and pack accordingly. This is especially important for campers. We hiked in early July and had great weather throughout, although it was still very cold at times. Even though it was peak season, it wasn’t overly crowded on the trail if we got an early start.  With the right gear (check out our packing list for more on this topic), walkers can typically complete the hike from mid-June through early September. Make sure to always check with the hut wardens for the latest conditions and never attempt to hike through unsafe weather. In the summer months, you’ll enjoy nearly 24 hours of daylight. While this is quite nice for camping and hiking, there are a few important things to remember. First, don’t attempt to hike during the nighttime hours, even though it might still be plenty light outside. The temperature drops significantly at night, and you’re less likely to have the energy and mental clarity to make safe and responsible decisions. Second, make sure to bring an eye mask to ensure you can get a good night’s sleep!

River Crossings: You will encounter several river crossings along the Laugavegur Trail. These can very in depth from ankle deep all the way up to your waist depending on the time of year, recent rainfall, and weather conditions. We can’t stress enough that you need to check with the wardens at each hut about the current condition of the rivers, and always cross in the designated areas. Also, you’ll want to bring a pair of sturdy sandals or other water shoes to make these crossing. Flip-flops will be pulled right off your feet by the swift currents and walking across barefoot is a dangerous endeavor.

More information: Be sure to read our Laugavegur Trail Logistics article for more information on getting to/from the walk!

River crossing along the route.

River crossing after Álftavatn. Be prepared for lots of these!

Itineraries and Routes

The Laugavegur Trail can be walked in 2 – 4 days depending on your hiking ability, pace preferences, and weather conditions. If you’re interested in adding on the Fimmvörðuháls Trail, plan on an additional 1 – 2 days of walking. The following itineraries give you a sense of the possibilities. Also, be sure to check out our interactive map and elevation profile for the route to get a comprehensive understanding of all of  your options!

Click on the interactive map above to learn more about each of the stops on the trail!

Laugavegur Trail Elevation Profile

2-day Laugavegur Trail + 1-day Fimmvörðuháls Trail

Completing the Laugavegur Trail in 2-days with the option of adding the Fimmvörðuháls Trail on the third day is the fastest way to complete the walk. This is the itinerary we chose and found it to be quite enjoyable; there were certainly long days of walking, but still plenty of time to enjoy the scenery and sights.

Day 1: Landmannalaugar to Hvangill (15.5 miles)

Starting your trek early from Landmannalaugar ,you’ll climb steadily along the well-marked trail  and eventually reach the first hut along the walk at Hrafntinnusker. Enjoy the spectacular view from the hut and be glad you’re not camping in this harsh location! Continuing on from Hrafntinnusker you’ll enjoy a gentle downhill leading to a short but steep climb before a long descent to the hut and campground at Álftavatn, approximately 13-miles into your walk. While it may be tempting to stop here, we highly recommend continuing on for another 2.5 miles to Hvangill to shorten your day tomorrow as well an enjoy the smaller and quieter hut at Hvangill.

Day 2: Hvangill to Þórsmörk (17.5 miles)

Get up early and prepare for a long, but lovely day on the trail! Leaving Hvangill, you’ll walk on an undulating trail before making the largest river-crossing of the Laugavegur Trail at Bláfjallakvísl. Take great care here, as the current moves fast and can water levels can typically reach thigh-high depths! After crossing the Bláfjallakvísl River, the trail flattens out and you’ll walk through what seems like an endless black sand desert before reaching the hut and campground at Emstrur. Upon leaving Emstrur, you’ll soon come to a spectacular bridge over the Syðri-Emstruá River – take a moment to enjoy the incredible views! From here, you’ll continue down the trail to a final river crossing before reaching the well-maintained hut and campground at Þórsmörk and the end of the Laugavegur Trail!

Optional Day 3: Fimmvörðuháls Trail to Skogar (15 miles)

Those who wish to add on the Fimmvörðuháls Trail to Skogar will want to get another early start for this epic walk! Plan on 10-12 hours of walking to complete the Fimmvörðuháls Trail in a single day, and be sure to reward yourself with a beer once you reach Skogar! Climbing steeply out of Þórsmörk, the trail winds steadily uphill before passing between the two glaciers- Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull.  You’ll also witness firsthand the volcanic remnants of the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano and the youngest mountains in the world. The juxtaposition of jet black ash beneath blindingly white snow are simply magnificent. As you start your descent, keep your eyes pealed for glimpses of the Atlantic Ocean on the horizon. You’ll then begin the long trail down, descending past dozens of beautiful, glacially-fed waterfalls. The trail finishes at the spectacular Skogafoss Waterfall – an apt finale to a wonderful walk!

Hvanngil Hut along the Laugavegur Trail.

The Hvanngil hut and campground, a perfect stop for those completing the Laugavegur in 2 days.

 

3-day Laugavegur Trail + 1-2 day Fimmvörðuháls Trail

Adding an extra day to complete the Laugavegur Trail will make for a gentler pace and ample opportunities to enjoy some of the great side trips along the route. This moderately paced itinerary will be best for the majority of walkers. You’ll have the option of completing the Fimmvörðuháls Trail in a single day, or overnighting at one of the huts along the trail.

Day 1: Landmannalaugar to Álftavatn (13 miles)

Starting from Landmannalaugar you’ll climb steadily along the well-marked trail past the Hrafntinnusker hut and campground. Continue on, enjoying the spectacular views on the trail before beginning the long-descent to Álftavatn. You’ll be able to see the large lake at Álftavatn well before arriving. Just before reaching Álftavatn you’ll cross the  Grashagakvísl River, which does not have a bridge (requiring you to walk through it). Finally, you’ll arrive at the excellent facilities at Álftavatn – be sure to enjoy a cold beer at the bar/restaurant!

Day 2: Álftavatn to Emstrur (10 miles)

Leaving Álftavatn, you’ll soon cross another river (no bridge) before reaching the Hvangill hut and campground. Continue on, soon after arriving at the Bláfjallakvísl River, which requires great care to cross safely. From here you’ll walk through a flat, desert-like landscape before reaching the Emstrur Hut and Campground with its spectacular views.

Day 3: Emstrur to Þórsmörk(10 miles)

Leaving Emstrur, you’ll cross the spectacular gorge formed by the Syðri-Emstruá River. Continuing on you’ll soon have the option for a short detour off the trail to view the confluence of the Markarfljót and Syðri-Emstruá Rivers – we highly recommend checking them out! Finally, you’ll continue down the trail to a final river crossing before reaching the well-maintained hut and campground at Þórsmörk and the end of the Laugavegur Trail!

Optional Day 4 and 5: Fimmvörðuháls Trail to Skogar (15 miles)

We highly recommend adding on the Fimmvörðuháls Trail to your Laugavegur adventure. This 15-mile trail can be tackled in a single, long day or broken up into two days with a stay at either the Baldvinsskáli Hut owned by Ferðafélag Íslands (7,000 ISK per night) or the Fimmvörðuskáli Hut owned by Útivist (also 7,000 ISK per night). The huts are located approximately 7.5 miles from the start of the trek, a nice halfway point if you decide to stop. Be sure to take your own hiking abilities into consideration before deciding whether to tackle the Fimmvörðuháls Trail in one or two days.

Emstrur hut looking out over a large expanse.

The hut and campground at Emstrur offer exceptional views!

 

4-day Laugavegur Trail + 2 day Fimmvörðuháls Trail

The most leisurely-paced way to walk the Laugavegur Trail is to take 4-days, with no single day requiring more than 10 miles of walking. This itinerary is best for less confident walkers or those who wish to take their time and enjoy all the sights along the way. For trekkers utilizing this itinerary who also wish to add on the Fimmvörðuháls Trail, we recommend completing it in an additional 2-days with an overnight at the Baldvinsskáli Hut.

Day 1: Landmannalaugar to Hrafntinnusker (6 miles)

The six-mile walk from Landmannalaugar to Hrafntinnusker is one of the more physically demanding sections of the trail. You’ll gain approximately 1,500 feet of elevation over six-miles before reaching the Hrafntinnusker Hut and Campground. We don’t recommend camping here as the conditions can be quite rough.

Day 2: Hrafntinnusker to Álftavatn (8 miles)

Leaving Hrafntinnusker you’ll enjoy a gentle downhill trail before a short-climb leads to excellent views. From here you’ll embark on a long and steep downhill to the Álftavatn Hut and campground with spectacular views of its namesake lake!

Day 3: Álftavatn to Emstrur (10 miles)

Walking out of Álftavatn, you’ll cross the Bratthálskvísl river (no bridge) before reaching the Hvangill hut and campground. Continuing on, you will soon arrive at the most difficult river crossing of the walk at the Bláfjallakvísl River. From here you’ll walk through a flat, desert like landscape before reaching the Emstrur Hut and Campground with its spectacular views.

Day 4: Emstrur to Þórsmörk(10 miles)

Leaving Emstrur, you’ll enjoy a nice trail with a spectacular crossing of the Syðri-Emstruá River gorge. Continuing on you’ll soon have the option for a short detour off the trail to view the confluence of the Markarfljót and Syðri-Emstruá Rivers – we highly recommend checking them out! As you make your way further down the trail you’ll have a final river crossing before reaching the well-maintained hut and campground at Þórsmörk and the end of the Laugavegur Trail!

Optional Day 5: Þórsmörk to Baldvinsskáli Hut (7.5 miles)

Walking the Fimmvörðuháls Trail in two days will give hikers a chance to fully enjoy every moment of this spectacular hike. Leaving Þórsmörk, you’ll hike steeply uphill while taking in beautiful views of the surrounding glaciers. After crossing a very exposed section you’ll climb an extremely steep (but short) section of trail to reach the high point between the Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull Glaciers before overnighting at the Baldvinsskáli Hut.

Optional Day 6: Baldvinsskáli Hut to Skogar

Leaving the Baldvinsskáli Hut you’ll have a steady downhill walk all the way to Skogar. With the most difficult sections of the Fimmvörðuháls Trail out of the way you’ll be able to enjoy the dozens of spectacular waterfalls along the route. Take your time and enjoy the steadily changing landscape before reaching the end of the Fimmvörðuháls Trail at the awe inspiring Skogafoss Waterfall!

Hiker walking on the Fimmvorduhals Trail.

Otherworldly landscapes near the top of the Fimmvörðuháls Trail.

 

Walking South to North

If you’re interested in walking the Laugavegur and Fimmvörðuháls Trail from south to north, the following is a basic 4-day itinerary. Be sure to take a look at the elevation profile to get a sense of how much climbing each day will entail, as it will be significantly more than if you walk the route from north to south!

Laugavegur Trail Elevation Profile

Be sure to study the elevation profile before deciding to walk from south to north!

Day 1: Fimmvörðuháls Trail: Skogar to Þórsmörk (15 miles)

Walking the two trails from south to north means your first day will be by far your most difficult. You’ll begin your walk on the Fimmvörðuháls Trail in Skogar and climb steadily past a beautiful landscape of waterfalls and rushing rivers. You’ll continue upwards and the landscape will begin to change from the lush green hills to a barren, volcanic landscape. At around the half-way point you’ll arrive at the Baldvinsskáli Hut, where you can stay if you’d like to break the Fimmvörðuháls into two days. From here you’ll continue uphill until reaching the high-point between the Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull Glaciers before starting a long, steep, and at times exposed descent towards Þórsmörk. Take your time here and enjoy the beauty surrounding you! From the high point of the trail it’s about 7 miles down to Þórsmörk, where you’ll undoubtedly need to treat yourself to a beer!

Day 2: Þórsmörk to Emstrur (10 miles)

Upon leaving Þórsmörk you’ll quickly have a river-crossing to navigate. Once across, you’ll wind your way up steadily with plenty of excellent views. As you near Emstrur you’ll have the option to take a quick loop trail to view the beautiful canyon formed at the confluence of the Markarfljót and Syðri-Emstruá Rivers – a highly recommended detour! From here you’ll have a short walk before reaching the hut and campground at Emstrur.

Day 3: Emstrur to Álftavatn (10 miles)

Continuing on the Laugavegur from Emstrur, you’ll enjoy a relatively flat day en route to the lakeside hut and campground at Álftavatn. Soon after leaving Emstrur you’ll traverse a large, black sand desert before coming to the major river crossing at Bratthálskvísl. Take extra care here as this is the most difficult crossing of the walk. Once past the river, you’ll come to the hut and campground at Hvangill before tackling one more smaller river crossing just before reaching Álftavatn.

Day 4: Álftavatn to Landmannalaugar (13 miles)

Your final day will be one of your toughest, with a steep uphill section starting just after leaving Álftavatn. There is another river crossing at this point, so be prepared to get your feet wet. Once you’ve finished your climb out of Álftavatn you’ll soon come to the hut and campground at Hrafntinnusker. It’s all downhill from here! After leaving the hut you’ll enjoy tremendous views on the steep descent into Landmannalaugar and the finish of the Laugavegur Trail. Be sure to commemorate your accomplishment with a soak in the natural hot springs!

Hikers soaking in the hot springs at Landmannalaugar.

A soak in the hot springs at Landmannalaugar is a must!

 

Getting there

The best way to get to and from the Laugavegur and Fimmvörðuháls Trails is to utilize Reykjavik Excursions’ Iceland on Your Own Hiker’s Pass. The Hiker’s Pass provides walkers with transportation to the start of the Laugavegur trail as well as back to Reykjavik from the finish. You can take as much time as you need to complete the hike and can be picked up from any of the three main access points on the Laugavegur: Landmannalaugar, Þórsmörk, and Skogar (for those also completing the Fimmvörðuháls). The cost as of 2019 is 14,000 ISK and the bus picks up at the Reykjavik Campground as well as the BSI bus terminal.

Reykjavik Excursions bus to the Laugavegur Trail

Reykjavik Excursions provides easy access to and from the Laugavegur Trail.

What to bring

For anyone walking the Laugavegur and Fimmvörðuháls Trails there are some essential items you’ll want to be sure to pack. These include:

For the complete list of what to pack for the Laugavegur and Fimmvörðuháls Trails be sure to check out our full packing/kit list here.

What’s Next?

Be sure to read our entire series on the Laugavegur Trail to learn everything you’ll need to know to prepare for your trip!

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How Much it Cost Us to Hike the Laugavegur Trail

At first glance, Laugavegur Trail may seem physically daunting, but many might find it even more financially intimidating. After all, Iceland has a reputation for being one of the most…

At first glance, Laugavegur Trail may seem physically daunting, but many might find it even more financially intimidating. After all, Iceland has a reputation for being one of the most expensive countries in the world. There’s no doubt that it’s not a cheap place to travel, but those on a budget need not despair. In fact, trekking the Laugavegur might be one most affordable ways to see the best of Iceland, if you know what you’re doing.

We tend to travel on the frugal side, as we enjoy the simplicity and authentic experiences that go hand in hand with this type of travel. That being said, we’re not claiming the most hardcore budget travelers out there; we certainly allow ourselves to indulge in things that bring value to our experience, such as a post-hike beer or a hotel room on our rest day. Below we’ve outlined what we spent on our 2019 Laugavegur adventure, as well as some tips for keeping your expenses down. We hope that by sharing this information, our fellow hikers will be able to plan and budget more accurately for their own trip. Additionally, you might find that an experience like the Laugavegur is more within reach than you originally thought, if you just make a few intentional decisions when planning your travel. So grab your tent and get out there!

Looking over the hut and campground at Landmannalaugar.

 

Accommodation

We chose to camp along the Laugavegur Trail and we highly recommend it to others for a number of reasons. First, there is camping available at every hut along the trail, making easy to customize your itinerary. Unlike the huts, you don’t need to reserve your campsite in advance, affording you flexibility while hiking. The campgrounds provide drinking water, sinks, toilets, showers, and small shops, making them quite convenient and mildly luxurious. We also preferred the privacy of our tent versus the dorm-style sleeping arrangements of the huts. Sleeping outdoors in such spectacular surroundings became a highlight of our trip. And of course, the price of camping can’t be beat! In you decide to stay in the huts instead, expect to pay a bit more. However, many hikers who’ve chosen to stay in huts have found it to be well worth the extra money for a warm, dry place to end the day and for the ability to carry a much lighter pack. Here’s a breakdown of what you can expect to pay for either accommodation:

  • Average Hut Price: 9,000 ISK (per person)
  • Average Camping Price: 2,000 ISK (per person)
  • Shower at huts: 500 ISK (5 minutes)
  • Hostel in Skogar: 6,500 ISK (per person for dorm bed)
  • Average mid-range hotel in Reykjavik: 18,000 ISK

 

The hut at Hrafntinnusker.

 

Transit

  • Round-trip transport between the Laugavegur Trail and Reykjavik (via the Reykjavik Excursions “Hiker Pass”): 14,000 ISK (per person)
  • Strateo (public) bus between Skogar and Reykjavik: 5,640 ISK (per person-one way)
  • Strateo bus from Keflavik Airport (KEF) to central Reykjavik: 1,880 ISK (per person-one way)
  • Private Transfer from Keflavik Airport (KEF) to central Reykjavik: 3,449 ISK (per person-one way)

Be sure to read our Laugavegur Trail Logistics article for detailed information on getting to and from your trek.

Reykjavik Excursions provides easy access to and from the Laugavegur Trail.

 

Flights

We strategically used credit card points and miles in order to fly on IcelandAir from Chicago to Geneva, with a free week-long stopover in Iceland. Check out our entire Travel for Free series to learn more.

Airline Taxes and Fees: $150.00 + 27,500 Alaska Airlines miles* (per person)

*Alaska Airlines is a partner with IcelandAir, thus allowing us to use their miles to purchase our tickets. Unfortunately, the amount of miles required for this trip has increased since the time we booked our flights.

Food and Drink

Iceland’s reputation for being expensive is largely due to the pricey nature of food and drink. While preparing for our trip, we came across tales of tourists bringing extra suitcases full of food from home and of people swearing that you couldn’t find fresh produce anywhere in the country without paying a king’s ransom. These reports are certainly unfairly dramatic. In general, you can find decent prices on necessities at the grocery stores in bigger cities, such as bread, cheeses, and other staple items. We found that Budget and Krónan stores had the best prices. Produce is expensive, but once again, you can find reasonably priced items if you’re willing to keep it simple and be somewhat flexible.

Outdoor dining at its finest!

 

However, since you can’t buy much food along the trail anyways, you may want to consider bringing some of your hiking foods from home. This will ensure that you’ll have a better selection and more predictable prices. Obviously, you can only bring sealed, packaged items through customs, but that jives well with nonperishable hiker foods anyways. We brought all of our meals for the trek from home, and it definitely saved us some money. If you choose to buy your food once you get there, be sure to stock up on as much as possible while in Reykjavik. The huts (with the exception of the restaurants at Álftavatn and Þórsmörk) do not provide meals, which is helpful on the budget since eating out in Iceland tends to be insanely expensive! Most huts have a small shop stocked with candy, chips, soda, beer, and sometimes ramen, but you’ll still need to cook it yourself and the prices at these shops are quite high. This is understandable, considering the effort it takes to get a Twix bar from the point of production to a remote location in the far reaches of the Icelandic wilderness! Below we’ve listed what you can expect to pay for a variety of items along the trail and in Reykjavik in order to give you an idea of what things might cost:

At a grocery store in Reykjavik:

  • Loaf of sandwich bread: 350 ISK
  • Bag of muesli: 800 ISK
  • Block of cheese: 400 ISK
  • Package of noodle soup: 500 ISK

At a shop in the huts:

  • Beer: 1,300 ISK
  • Bag of chips: 500 ISK
  • Candy bar: 400 ISK
  • Cup of noodles: 700 ISK
  • Meal at Álftavatn or Þórsmörk: 3,500 ISK

The Mountain Mall at Landmannalaugar – a great place to pick up snacks.

 

Miscellaneous

While there’s no escaping the high costs of some essentials, in general, one can experience the Laugavegur Trail on a modest budget (and have an amazing experience while doing so). Obviously, you’ll also want to factor in the cost of hiking gear that you’ll need to purchase prior to setting off on your trek. Check out our packing list to get an idea of what you might need to purchase ahead of time. Also, our Backpacking Gear on a Budget article has some helpful ideas for keeping your costs low when putting together your backpacking kit. Whether you choose to splurge or keep it simple, we feel confident you’ll have the adventure of a lifetime.

What’s Next?

Ready to keep planning your Laugavegur trek? Be sure to read our entire series on the Laugavegur Trail to learn everything you’ll need to know to prepare for this incredible adventure!

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Haute Route Trip Report

After an exhilarating week in Iceland, where we explored Reykjavik and hiked the Laugavegur trail, we set off for our second country of many on our extended travel adventure. While…

After an exhilarating week in Iceland, where we explored Reykjavik and hiked the Laugavegur trail, we set off for our second country of many on our extended travel adventure. While visiting new places is obviously one of our favorite things in life, there is something incredibly wonderful about returning to a well-loved and familiar spot. For us, it was all happy memories and good vibes as we made our way towards the Chamonix Valley in France, where we’d spend a couple days before hiking the Haute Route. This was our first “repeat” travel destination together, and we made an effort to revisit special experiences while also creating opportunities for new ones. Instead of staying in Chamonix this time, we spent a few nights in nearby Les Houches. We enjoyed the low key atmosphere of this smaller town as opposed to the hustle and bustle of Chamonix. Our days in Les Houches were largely spent fueling up for the Haute Route with fresh pastries and 3 euro wine, stocking up on various hiking items, and making several trips to multiple post offices in order to figure out how to ship some items to Zermatt (and thereby lighten our packs for this challenging trek). Finally, we dropped our parcel off with a “here goes nothing!” kind of mentality, packed up our backpacks, and got ready to hit the trail.

Breakfast of champions at our Airbnb in Les Houches.

 

Ever since hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc in 2017, we knew we wanted to get back to these mountains. If asked, neither of us would be able to choose which one of the five treks we’ve planned for this summer that we’re most excited about, but the Haute Route was definitely a strong contender for both of us. I’d imagine this is how parents feel when asked to choose their favorite child; of course they don’t actually have a favorite, but there is always one they sort of like better… Anyways, suffice it to say we were pretty darn excited. Words (at least my novice words) can’t begin to capture the feeling of taking in the panorama of snowy peaks on a high mountain pass, crossing a narrow section of trail with hundreds of feet of open air below you, or simply taking your boots off after eight hours of trekking, but I’m going to give it a shot anyways. In the following trip report, I’ve attempted to sum up this most incredible adventure to my best ability, but trust me when I say there aren’t enough superlatives in the world to do it justice.

Day One: Chamonix to Le Peuty

Since we stayed in Les Houches, we needed to hop on the train to get to the Chamonix Station and the official start of the Haute Route. After a lovely train ride accompanied by chocolate croissants, we were ready to hit the trail. Despite the cool morning air, the sun was already warm as we wound our way out of town. If you plan on starting the Haute Route in Chamonix, be warned that the beginning of the trail is a bit hard to follow. The route takes you along busy roads, through a golf course, and past many confusing trail junctions. Keep your map handy! After passing through a festive market in the town of Argentiere, we began to climb up our first col. We felt strong and the conversation flowed as we worked our way up the many switchbacks to Col de Balme. At the top, we tucked out of the wind, pulled out the gallon bag full of peanuts that we call “lunch,” and savored the views. Our fresh legs handled the descent like champs (shocking foreshadowing: they wouldn’t feel as great ten days from now), and we made it to camp early enough to enjoy a relaxing afternoon. After setting up our tent at the Le Peuty camping area, we strolled over to the nearby town of Trient. We enjoyed a nutritious dinner of ramen and cookies in the company of some other campers (most were TMB hikers) and got to bed early in anticipation of a big day tomorrow.

Nice views from the tent at Le Peuty.

 

Day Two: Le Peuty to Champex

We got an early start on Day Two, as we were excited to tackle the infamous Fenêtre d’Arpette. Literally translating to “window to Arpette,” this stage involves a long, steep climb (with some scrambling) up to a keyhole-like pass that looks down into the Val d’Arpette. The ascent to the pass was nothing short of spectacular. As we gained height, the Glacier du Trient came more clearly into view, until we felt like we were right next to it. Studying the blues and grays, the cracks and contours, and the overall dynamic nature of the glacier was an unforgettable experience. It was bittersweet, as the glacier is receding rapidly due to a changing climate. It was a privilege to get to experience the glacier before it’s gone and a sobering reminder of the impacts of our human choices, both collectively and as individuals. That’s the beauty of travel and trekking; you never know when you’ll be struck with a moment that changes your perspective and increases empathy. Anyways, after mostly-fun scramble over large boulders to reach the pass, we began our descent down. I don’t have as many sentimental or poetic things to say about the descent. Basically, it started with falling on our butts on loose scree, then transitioned to falling on our butts on steep snow crossings, then to slowing picking our way through large boulders, and finally to a long, rocky descent towards Champex. With enough snacks and some well-timed jokes, we managed to keep our spirits high. Upon reaching Champex, we set up camp and then feasted on bananas, baguettes, and local cheese by the lake. It was a long and challenging day, but so beautiful and rewarding. Afterwards, we felt strong, happy, and ready to take on the rest of the Haute Route.

Getting up close and personal to the magnificent Trient Glacier.

 

Day Three: Champex to Champsec (Le Chable)

When you think of camping, you probably picture a solitary tent peacefully nestled in a remote, wilderness setting. Most of the camping we’ve been doing on this trip is not like that at all. Picture instead a large campground with the tents close enough to hear the Frenchmen next you sawing them off in vivid clarity, and perhaps some noise from trucks barreling down a nearby road. Experience has taught us a few things about how to enjoy these types of campgrounds, and arguably the most important wisdom we’ve gained is that earplugs are truly a game-changer. Which is how we found ourselves sleeping ever-so-soundly through our alarm on the morning of Day Three. We are not sponsored by any earplug manufacturers, but we can tell you firsthand that those things really do work! Fortunately, the walk to Le Chable, our destination for the day, was relatively quick and easy. We passed so many quaint villages! We had planned on restocking on food at the grocery store in Le Chable, but it was a Sunday and you’ll be hard-pressed to find an open grocery store on a Sunday in this part of the world. We ended up deciding to combine a fun day-trip detour to see the uber posh ski area of Verbier with a visit to its grocery store (which was miraculously open on Sundays). After a shockingly expensive bus ride and a trip to the very well-appointed CoOp store, we struggled to define “worth it” for this particular context. After heading back down to the valley, we made our way to the little town on Champsec, where our campground was located. Although it was a funky place, it was well-appointed and the friendly host welcomed us with fresh local apricots and strawberry wine. After reading the cloud patterns (okay, actually after checking the weather.com app) we tightened our rain fly and prepared for a soggy night.

Passing through the lovely town of Sembrancher on our way to Le Chable.

 

Day Four: Champsec to Cabane du Mont Fort

We awoke on Day Four to a very wet and rainy morning. We were so focused on keeping everything as dry as possible while packing up camp that it wasn’t until we were nearly finished with our coffee that we took a good look up at the surrounding mountains. Peaks that had been clear and rocky the previous day were now totally blanketed with a fresh layer of pillowy, white snow. All that rain we’d gotten down in the valley transpired to make for a heck of a July snowstorm at the higher elevations! Better yet, it was those very same high elevations that we were set to hike across for the next three days. Feeling mildly daunted but still optimistic, we caught the bus to Le Chable, where we phoned the Cabane du Mont Fort hut. The warden assured us that it would still be possible to hike up to the hut, but traversing the trail beyond that point would be “very difficult.” We were already booked to spend the night at Mont Fort, so we decided to continue the hike as planned and figure out our next move once we got there. This was one of our favorite days of hiking along the Haute Route. The trail wound up and up through picturesque meadows, misty, enchanting pine forests, and finally to the high alpine world. Best of all, the day involved nearly five hours of uphill walking and absolutely no long descents to speak of! Our knees were so happy. Upon arriving at the insanely cozy Cabane du Mont Fort, we were met with the wonderful surprise of receiving a private room. We spent the afternoon deliberating (first over coffee, then over beers) about tomorrow’s hike. We had originally planned to continue past the typical stopping point at Cabane de Prafleuri and wild camp near Refuge de La Barma. With the weather and trail conditions as they were, a very long day on sketchy, snowy trails followed by a night in our tent at high elevation sounded irresponsible at best. Even though we knew that the safest, best choice was to detour from the trail, the decision was still somewhat agonizing. Our sense of adventure beckoned us to take on the challenge, while a little voice in our heads warned that we’d be “cheating” if we didn’t do the whole thing. Ultimately, however, our sensible sides won out and we made a plan to detour around the unsafe sections. We have enough hiking experience to know that it’s always better to give mother nature the respect she deserves, rather than put ourselves in a situation that isn’t safe and certainly isn’t fun. After some great conversation with some cool hikers we met at the hut, we finally tucked into our first real beds in few days.

Cabane du Mont Fort is a classic mountain hut, well worth a visit!

 

Day Five: Mont Fort to Arolla

The section of trail between Cabane du Mont Fort and Pas de Chèvres stays at high elevations and is frequently impassable due to snow, rockfalls, or adverse weather conditions. Unfortunately, there are no lower-elevation trail options for connecting these two points, so it’s kind of a whole thing if you need to avoid these sections. If you can’t get as far as Prafleuri, your best bet is to go back to Le Chable and then use transit to get to Arolla (the next town the Haute Route passes through). This is what we ended up doing. It was a long day of riding gondolas, trains, and buses, but it was relatively easy to navigate and fun to see some different parts of the region. When we finally arrived at the campground in Arolla, we were delighted to learn that there were showers available (it had been a few days since we’d had one). The showers promised four minutes of hot water for 1 Euro, but as we waited in the shower line, word spread amongst campers that the hot water in the men’s room wasn’t working. Rather than risk squandering a euro on a disappointing four minutes or tepid showering, Ian decided instead to just take a fully cold shower. His report: “It was good…Kind of. It was kind of good.” What a champ.

Beautiful wildflowers on the trail near Arolla.

 

Day Six: Arolla to Pas de Chèvres

Although we weren’t able to cross the Pas de Chèvres (the pass leading into the valley towards Arolla), we decided we could still cover as much of the trail as possible from the other direction. On Day Six, we enjoyed the ultimate luxury of leaving our tent set up (we would camp another night at Arolla before continuing along our hike) and our heavy bags behind as we set off for our day on the trail. The hike up to the pass felt effortless without a 25-pound pack on! Pas de Chèvres is infamous for its series of long ladders and catwalks that traverse the steep rock wall up to the pass. In reality, the ladders are the easy part. They are sturdily secured to the mountain and quite easy to navigate. If you get a little antsy around heights (like I sometimes do), just take your time, maintain three points of contact, and they really aren’t so bad. The scramble through the boulderfield on the approach to the pass is another story, though. It is steep, difficult, and there have been several close calls recently with falling rocks. We didn’t have to cross this section since we approached the pass from the other direction, but we got a good look and can confirm that it is challenging. Definitely use caution when completing this part of the trail. Since we had the freedom of light loads and lots of time, we diverted from the Haute Route to check out some other trails in the surrounding area before descending back towards Arolla. After picking up some fresh apricots and dinner items at the shop in town, we made our way back to camp. We spent the evening enjoying some beers and some people watching, but decided to skip the cold showers this time.

Emily conquering the ladders at Pas des Chevres- thankfully without a heavy pack!

 

Day Seven: Arolla to Les Haudères

Day Seven promised to be a short, easy day of walking so we allowed ourselves a nice slow morning. After a lazy breakfast and an hour of drying out the tent in the sun, we made our way towards Les Haudères . We were excited to get there since this is where we’d scheduled our rest day and had splurged on an Airbnb for the occasion. The trail was a little less straightforward than we’d expected, as it undulated through dense forest and crossed narrow, exposed sections. However, it wasn’t too demanding, and we reached Lac Bleu before lunchtime. While this lake is a bit overrun by visitors, the vivid color is stunning(as implied by the name). Upon our arrival in Les Haudères , Emily’s high school French was put to the test when we needed to phone our Airbnb hosts to figure out how to get to our place. It’s one thing to fumble through speaking a foreign language in person (at least you can pantomime), but it’s a whole new world of challenge to do it over the phone without any context clues! Somehow, after some really pathetic French communication, we found ourselves getting into the car of a nice elderly man who claimed to be our host. This sounds like it could be the beginning of a cheesy horror movie, but fortunately it all worked out. The hosts and our flat were both downright lovely. For days, we’d been wanting to try a rosti, a regional dish that is essentially a giant hash brown pancake, and Ian cooked one up for dinner. It was a delicious start to our days off in Les Haudères.

The aptly-named Lac Bleu.

 

Day Eight: Les Haudères Rest Day

Today consisted of all of our favorite rest day pastimes: sink laundry, eating pastries, sitting at sunny cafes, strolling through quaint streets, and lots of, well, rest. We thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the town of Les Haudères , practicing our French, and soaking up the local culture. We went to bed ready and excited to get back on the trail for the second half of our Haute Route adventure.

Soaking up the village charm in Les Hauderes.

 

Day Nine: Les Haudères to Cabane de Moiry

We rose early on Day Nine and enjoyed a relaxing breakfast before beginning the steady climb through pretty alpine meadows towards Col du Tsaté. We enjoyed winding our way up through the lovely town of La Sage, and we didn’t see any other hikers on the trail until we were over the pass. It was pretty awesome to have the top to ourselves and we soaked in the breathtakingly rugged mountain views for a good while. It was one of our biggest days in terms of elevation gain (over 6,000 feet), but we both felt great after our rest day and made it to the hut before the forecasted afternoon rain moved in. Cabane de Moiry is a fantastic mountain hut that is perched impossibly high on a mountain ledge and jaw-droppingly close to the Moiry Glacier. The final ascent to the hut is quite steep and definitely presents a final challenge before reaching the beautifully renovated Cabane de Moiry. Upon reaching the hut, we shared an excellent blueberry tart and complimentary afternoon coffee in the all-glass dining room while studying the glacier for hours. This was our second and final stay in a mountain hut of our entire trip, so we decided to make the most of it! We still opted to self-cater on our camp stove outside instead of paying for the exorbitantly expensive dinner though, and we were rewarded with having the entire terrace to ourselves for most of the sunset hours. We were even lucky enough to see some Ibex poking around below the hut. We stayed up later than usual, enjoying good conversations with fellow hikers and playing board games well into the evening. We’ve noticed that the Haute Route definitely attracts a more experienced set of hikers, and it was cool to hear about people’s various treks and adventures. If you’re considering a stay at Cabane de Moiry, we highly recommend it! It’s an unforgettable experience.

Enjoying a wonderful stay at Cabane de Moiry!

 

Day Ten: Cabane de Moiry to Zinal

Cabane de Moiry really does have a spectacular location high on the mountainside, but those views come with a cost. While the hike up to the hut on the previous day was tiring but manageable, the steep hike down from it the next morning definitely felt a lot tougher. Maybe it was our cold legs or maybe it’s because there wasn’t a homemade blueberry tart waiting at the end this time, but whatever it was it made Emily very cranky. As the trail started to veer upwards again, so did our moods, and we enjoyed the lovely long traverse of the green hillside on a stunning balcony trail. The hike over Col de Sorebois was relatively easy (as far as Haute Route passes go at least), and we found ourselves making our way down towards Zinal in no time. We stopped for lunch at the gondola station where we found some very comfy lawn chairs to kick back in for awhile. After consuming way too many peanuts, we began the seemingly endless (yet thankfully mellow) switchbacks to get down to the valley floor. When we arrived at our campground, the adjacent restaurant was positively swarming with day-trippers eating ice cream and drinking beer. Despite the crowds and the strangeness of the place (think petting zoo meets mini-golf course meets campground), we happily settled in and enjoyed a lovely evening watching the sunset over the beautiful surrounding mountains.

Breathtaking views from the Col de Sorebois.

 

Day Eleven: Zinal to Gruben

Today’s destination, the tiny hamlet of Gruben, was slated to be our first wild camping of the trip. Since we wouldn’t be able to pitch our tent until after dark, we figured there was no point in rushing to leave our campsite and get on the trail early. It was nice to sleep in and take our time, but by the time we started the long ascent towards the Forcletta Pass it was very, very hot. Although we were spared the worst of the heat wave that was currently plaguing much of the rest of the continent (temps were reaching over 100 degrees in Paris!), the sun was still beating mercilessly down on us as we trudged uphill. After a difficult start, we found our rhythm, and enjoyed some beautiful scenery at the top of the pass (which we had to ourselves once again). In reading about today’s hike and the linguistic regions of Switzerland, we learned that we’d be crossing into the German-speaking side of Switzerland once we got across the pass. In fact, many people refer to this divide as the “rosti line,” as the potato dish is more commonly eaten in the German parts of the country. As we climbed our way up to the pass, we imagined a rosti stand at the top, serving up hot, salty rostis to all of the weary hikers who reached it. Alas, all we found at the top were a couple of cairns, some baby marmots, and some pretty incredible views. Oh well, maybe that’s better anyways. After a long and tiring descent, we finally reached Gruben in the early evening. The idea of another hour of hiking with our heavy packs in search of a suitable camping spot was totally daunting. We decided to take our shoes off and kick back for awhile in the shade of the town’s church before making any big moves. Feeling restored, we began by scouting along the river for a good campsite. We found a few spots that would work if they had to, but nothing great. Then we headed uphill along the trail, where we found a spot we were happy with. It was still too early to pitch our tent, so we hiked back down to Gruben and ordered some large beers at the hotel. This seems to be the thing to do; campers hang out at the hotel, drink a beer, wash up in the bathroom, and then head up the trail as inconspicuously as possible. It’s hard to tell if the hotel loves it or hates it, but at least they tolerated us and served us cold beers. At the hotel, we saw another group of hikers with the same plans as us. When they started putting their boots on after dinner, it became obvious to us that they must be wild camping. Who puts their stinky boots back on after a long day of hiking and a relaxing dinner unless they absolutely have to? Anyhow, after cooking our ramen on a bench in front of the church (we felt like total weirdos, but one local gentleman was very amused and bid us a hearty “Bon Appetit”) we made our way up the hillside. We set up camp quickly as the last of the light receded behind the high peaks and were asleep in no time.

Alpine lakes and glaciers made for a beautiful hike to Gruben.

 

Day Twelve: Gruben to Täsch

Wanting to be as discreet as possible, we woke up very early and packed up camp as the sun came up. We hiked up the trail for a bit before finding a pretty spot to have breakfast and make some coffee. It was nice to have a head start on the trail and enjoy the cool, fresh early morning air. I know I’ve said something along the lines of “amazing views” in nearly every post of this trip report, but believe me when I say that today’s views were really, really good. The trail climbed through a peaceful meadow, crossed the majestic Augustabord Pass, and wound its way through a large boulder field before rounding a shoulder to reveal the final valley of the hike. The snowy peaks, huge glaciers, and the deep, narrow green valley so far below came together to truly take our breath away. We were feeling good and savoring every moment until about halfway through the looooong descent into St. Niklaus. We had the option to take a gondola from Jungen to St. Niklaus to cut out a lot of the downhill slog, but we knew we needed to get several miles further along the valley to the town of Täsch (in order to camp and to be well-positioned to rejoin the Europaweg trail tomorrow), so we decided to use our “cheat” transportation to take a train from St. Niklaus to Täsch and cut out a couple hours of road walking in the valley instead. By the time we made it down to St. Niklaus, we were pretty wrecked. We were dehydrated (it was another very hot day), and each of us had a cacophony of aches and pains from so much steep downhill with a big pack. We finally stumbled into the campground in Täsch feeling totally spent. However, after some lukewarm beers, a loaf of bread, and copious amounts of hummus and bananas, we started to feel like ourselves again. Even though we were exhausted, it was more than a little sad and totally hard to believe that tomorrow was our final day on the Haute Route.

The peeking into the Mattertal Valley from Jungen…and realizing we still had a long downhill hike to get there!

 

Day Thirteen: Täsch to Zermatt

We awoke in Täsch feeling better than expected. We packed up camp and began an uphill hike through the trees towards the Europaweg trail. Originally, we thought we would need to do the entire valley trail in order to avoid staying at the Europa Hut, but after a little research we realized we could still hike the second half of the Europaweg Trail, the infamous high-level traverse at the finish of the Walker’s Haute Route. We were so glad we chose this option! For the first hour or so we hiked on switchbacks through dense forest until suddenly the Matterhorn revealed itself through the trees. Wow! What a stunning mountain! From there, the views only got better. Once we joined the Europaweg, we were spoiled with wide open views of the Matterhorn and the surrounding peaks, and then down towards Zermatt, tucked in at the edge of the valley. The hiking was pretty easy, which was very appreciated on our tired bodies and allowed us to really take our time and savor the scenery. When we finally made our way into Zermatt, it was a bit of a shock to the system. There were more people and shops just in the town center than we’d seen on the rest of the hike combined! Also, for claiming to be a “car-free” town, there are a heck of a lot of electric taxis whizzing through the crowded pedestrian streets, making the whole atmosphere a bit chaotic. We struggled to find someplace casual enough to permit two very dirty backpackers to grab a celebratory finish beer, and eventually ended up on the patio of a surprisingly upscale Italian restaurant. We continued to struggle by accidentally ordering some sort of fancy syrup beer, which was not exactly the refreshing beverage we’d hoped for, but made for a funny experience nonetheless. After some showers and strolling around the town, we settled into the Zermatt campground with a bottle of wine and a picnic and reflected on our trip. The Haute Route was a unique and beautiful hike. We loved the variability of the landscape, as well as the many options for routes and variants along the way. It was a rewarding and unforgettable challenge, one that left us feeling like stronger, more experienced hikers and even more in love with these mountains than before.

All smiles heading into Zermatt!

Keep Reading

Be sure to read our entire series on the Haute Route to learn everything you’ll need to know to prepare for your trip!

 

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Laugavegur Trip Report

The Laugavegur Trail was our first of the five treks we’ll complete as part of our “trip of a lifetime” adventure. By booking our flights to Geneva (where we’ll start…

The Laugavegur Trail was our first of the five treks we’ll complete as part of our “trip of a lifetime” adventure. By booking our flights to Geneva (where we’ll start the Haute Route) through Iceland Air, we were able to get a free week-long stopover in Iceland on the way. We’d seen pictures of the otherworldly landscapes and colorful vistas, and couldn’t pass up a chance to experience Iceland’s wilderness firsthand. Due to its proximity to Reykjavik, relatively short distance, and exceptional beauty, we thought  hiking the Laugavegur Trial would be a perfect way to spend our week in Iceland.

The Laugavegur Trail is Iceland’s most popular and iconic long-distance trek. It is divided into four segments, each marked by a mountain hut and camping area at the finish. At the official end of the trail, there is the option to add on another day’s hike on the Fimmvorduhals Trail, which climbs up to pass between two glaciers and then descends into the small town of Skogar. Our plan was to combine the first two segments of the Laugavegur Trail on our first day to complete the entire thing and make it to Skogar in a total of four days. Keep reading for a summary of each of our days on the trail:

Views from Landmannalaugar and one of many amazing landscapes you’ll encounter on this hike.

 

Day Zero: Landmannalaugar

We arrived in Landmannalaugar in the afternoon with plans to camp there for the evening and then set off for our hike early(ish) the next morning.  Landmannalaugar is known for it’s amazing geothermal landscape, which is punctuated by otherworldly colors, random steam-spewing crevices, and some truly lovely hot springs. We almost talked ourselves into skipping the hot springs, considering the fact that we hadn’t brought swimsuits and didn’t want to haul around wet clothes in our packs for the next few days. Fortunately, Ian pulled the whole “It’s not everyday that you find yourself at some dope geothermal hot springs” card and I was quickly convinced. Us Coloradans would have preferred to soak in nude, but after a quick survey of the scene we determined that Iceland wasn’t ready for all that and opted to sacrifice one of our precious few pairs of underwear for the cause. Soaking in the hot springs, surrounded by dramatic mountains and dynamic colors in every direction was truly an unparalleled way to kick off our trek. We returned to a very chilly night in our tent before hitting the trail the next morning.

The lovely hot springs at Landmannalaugar.

 

Day One: Landmannalaugar to Hvangill

We began Day One in good spirits. The initial uphill climb helped us thaw out a bit (did I mention that Iceland is a cold place for camping?) and the views blew us away from the start. Iceland is like no other place on Earth that we’ve ever been. The geothermal activity, volcanic landforms, vibrantly colored mountains, wide rivers, black sand deserts, and powerful waterfalls all come together to give this place a character that is completely unique and totally spectacular. The first day of hiking on a long-distance trek is always a bit of a euphoria-filled blur.  For example, we were so blissed out on our first day of the Tour du Mont Blanc that we missed an obvious turn and walked in the wrong direction for an hour before realizing it. On our first day of the West Highland Way, we stopped for a very long lunch (whisky included) thinking we were much closer to our stopping point than we actually were. On the Laugavegur, the trail really gave new meaning to the expression, “a surprise around every corner.” It seemed like every hill we crested or bend we rounded presented a completely new and wondrous landscape. Despite hiking for over eight hours, we finished feeling energized and totally stokey about the next day. Therefore, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that we decided to combine the next two segments into another big day the following day. Why sit around and be cold at the campsite when we could spend the entire day exploring the trail?

Crossing snow on day one!

 

Day Two: Hvangill to Basar

On Day Two, we packed up camp in damp conditions and a literally bone-chilling wind. One plus side of this weather is that it makes instant coffee taste like the elixir of life. Another positive was that although we had nearly perfect weather throughout the hike, we did at least get a little taste of Iceland’s moody dark side. We set off towards the next hut feeling a little stiff after the previous day’s efforts but totally excited for what the trail would bring. We did have some trepidation however, as we’d read that the biggest of our river crossings would occur on this stage of the hike.  For such an expensive country with otherwise impeccable infrastructure, Iceland seems curiously reluctant to build bridges over rivers. Both people and vehicles are routinely expected to ford sizable rivers if they would like to carry on towards their destination. The warden’s notes at the previous huts warned hikers to take caution crossing the Emstur River, and recent reports suggested the water could reach mid-thigh depths. We’d hoped we’d get an hour or two of walking behind us to warm up before crossing the icy water, but lo and behold, we met it within a few minutes of starting the day. For the second time this week in Iceland, we found ourselves stripping down to our underwear and stepping into the steely glacial waters. This time, however, there was no geothermal action to soften the blow. We forged into the icy, fast-moving currents, carefully choosing every step even though we just wanted to run to the other side and get out as fast as possible. Well, that was one wickedly efficient way to wake up in the morning.

Nothing like crossing an ice cold river to wake you up in the morning.

 

The rest of Day Two was tremendously beautiful, but definitely more of a slog than Day One, due to very long stretches through rocky desert and the fact that our bodies were starting to feel the miles a bit more. Still, we saw so many amazing sights, like the enormous canyon where two rivers-one slate gray and the other sepia toned-together hundreds of feet below us. Finally, we reached Þórsmörk, the technical end of the Laugavegur. We bought a ridiculously overpriced, but yet so necessary, Twix bar at the Þórsmörk campsite shop and then continued on another mile to the campsite at Basar where we’d be better positioned to start the next day’s big hike. Upon reaching camp, the sun had fully made an appearance and we enjoyed some very relaxing evening hours soaking up the endless daylight before putting on our sleeping masks and turning in for the night.

End of the Laugavegur Trail at Þórsmörk.

 

Day Three: Basar to Skogar

Day Three brought more excellent sunny weather, and we knew we had to take advantage of it and bust out the last big day of walking before allowing ourselves a rest day. Today we would complete the Fimmvorduhals Trail.  Have you ever wanted to climb between two glaciers, see the youngest mountains on earth, witness recent volcanic eruptions where black ash meets white snow, crest a mountain pass to see the ocean in the distance, or gaze at 20 waterfalls all in one day? Well we never knew we wanted all those things either until we hiked this trail, but it turns out that it definitely doesn’t suck. You’ve got to work for your views though.  The trail included some ridiculously steep climbs, a mildly sketchy exposed section, and lots of hiking through slushy snow fields. Technically, today was supposed to be way harder in terms of challenge than the previous day, but we both felt significantly better. It was one of those all-around perfect days in nature.

The second half of the Fimmvörðuháls Trail passes no less than 17 waterfalls!

 

Reaching the end of the hike was an interesting experience. Skogar, where the Fimmvorduhals terminates, is a huge draw for tourists due to its proximity to the main highway and its very impressive waterfall, known as Skogafoss.  To us, after being on the lightly trafficked trail for the past few days, it felt like a total zoo. Giant buses dropped off camera-wielding tourists who aggressively fought their way into position for the perfect Instagram shot.  It was such an entertaining spectacle that we had no other choice to embrace it and relish the experience. The campground was smack dab in the center of the action, so we enjoyed an endless stream of premium people-watching from the comfort of our tent. The waterfall views were pretty sweet too. Although we appreciated Skogar for what it was worth, we realized pretty quickly that we would struggle hang around at the campground for the nearly 48 hours until our bus was scheduled to pick us up (since we finished a day early). Fortunately, we were able to change our tickets and decided to make the most of our extra time by heading back to Reykjavik, where we spent the night at the lovely Reykjavik Campground.

The Laugavegur Trail completely blew us away. Every day brought dramatic beauty, dynamic challenges, and huge, wild spaces.  It was an unforgettable experience and the most incredible way to kick off our round-the-world adventure. Iceland’s rugged landscape is bound to carve a special place in the heart of anyone who is lucky enough to explore it.

Crowds gathered at the Skogafoss Waterfall.

 

What’s Next?

Ready to keep planning your Laugavegur trek? Be sure to read our entire series on the Laugavegur Trail to learn everything you’ll need to know to prepare for this incredible adventure!

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