Author: Emily@TMBtent

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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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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Planning the Trip of a Lifetime

Here at TMBtent, our top passions include travel, backpacking, and financial independence. For the past several summers, we’ve been fortunate enough to take a few weeks off to explore the…

Here at TMBtent, our top passions include travel, backpacking, and financial independence. For the past several summers, we’ve been fortunate enough to take a few weeks off to explore the world. More recently, we found a way to combine our passions and experience new cultures while trekking through incredible wild places and sleeping under the stars.  We started with the Tour du Mont Blanc, then completed the West Highland Way, and we quickly realized we were seriously hooked on this kind of travel. Now, we are getting ready to realize our longtime dream of taking a more extended trip to get our boots dirty on as many thru-hikes as we can.  We are excited to share our experiences and comprehensive trip guides as we go.  Starting in July, we’ll be loading up our packs (hopefully not with too much weight!) for six months, five major treks, two continents, and countless adventures. In this article, we’ll outline our plans, how we’re pulling it off, and what we’re packing.

The Plan

So many amazing hikes, so little time… Don’t worry, we realize this is a pretty great problem to have.  However, it was a real challenge to choose which treks to complete. Although we are planning to travel for six months, the hiking season in many parts of the world is significantly shorter than that. We used a few parameters to narrow down our options. First, we decided to start in Europe since there are so many treks there that we’ve been lusting after for years. Once we decided on Europe, we tried to string the hikes together somewhat geographically so we could minimize crisscrossing the continent unnecessarily. We also tried to plan our itinerary to maximize our travel hacking schemes and minimize our costs.  That included taking advantage of a free stopover in Iceland and using hotel points for free week-long stays in Munich and Amsterdam. Lastly, we tried to include some longer treks that we might not have the time to complete in the future when we go back to “real life” and limited vacation days. Here’s our current plan:

Hike #1: The Laugavegur Trail, Iceland

We strategically booked our flights to Europe so that we could take advantage of a free week-long stopover in Iceland on the way.  We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see Iceland’s colorful, otherworldly landscapes and hike the acclaimed Laugavegur Trail.  This 54km trek (with an optional 25km add-on to Skógar) climbs over snowy peaks, past towering waterfalls, through stark deserts, volcanic wonders, and green valleys. We hope to complete the hike from Landmannalaugar to Skógar in four days (camping each night), which will give us a couple of days in Reykjavik and some wiggle room to wait out any poor weather.

Beautiful landscapes of the Laugavegur Trail in Iceland.

Hike #2: The Walkers Haute Route, Chamonix, France to Zermatt, Switzerland

From Reykjavik, we’ll fly to Geneva to prepare for the Haute Route.  We fell in love with this part of the Alps while hiking the TMB, and we can’t wait to explore this strenuous, high-level route that takes hikers from Mont Blanc to the Matterhorn. The 180km trail traverses high mountain passes, picturesque valleys and villages, and offers spectacular views of commanding peaks, stunning glaciers, and colorful wildflowers. We hope to complete the trek in 13 days, including at least one rest day in La Sage. We will camp as much as possible, only staying in huts when camping isn’t permitted and treating ourselves to an AirBnB for our rest day.

Hike #3: The Lechweg Trail, Lech, Austria to Fussen, Germany

This lesser-known trail will conveniently help us work our way towards Munich, where we will enjoy our first week off from hiking after completing the Lechweg Trail.  From Zermatt, we’ll hop on a train to the town of Lech, Austria, where we’ll begin our six-day, 125km walk towards Fussen, Germany.  This relatively new trek follows the turquoise waters of the Lech River, as it passes through quaint villages and some of the last wild landscapes in the region.  In doing research on this hike, we found that there was relatively little information about camping, so we are excited to gather information and share it with the community. As of now, we plan on camping all but one night along the route. Since the Lechweg has an overall downhill trajectory, we hope this hike will feel “easy” compared to the previous two and provide our legs with a little bit of a break!

Lech, Austria

Hike #4: The Coast to Coast Walk, England

After a week off in Munich, we’ll hop on a flight to Manchester, England to begin the Coast to Coast Walk. As the trail’s name suggests, we’ll be hiking from St. Bees on England’s western coast to Robin Hood’s Bay on the eastern coast.  We’ll get to experience hiking in the celebrated Lakes District, the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors National Parks, and numerous colorful towns (and pubs!) along the way. We’ve planned to take 17 days to complete this 309km trek, which includes two rest days.  With the exception of those rest days, we’ll be camping every night along the route, and gathering information about the many options for campers along the C2C!

The iconic Lakes District.

Hike #5: The GR20, Corsica

Known by many as the “hardest hike in Europe,” we are excited to take on the challenge of the GR20! This 180km trek covers about 10,000 meters of elevation gain as it traverses the jagged peaks that span the length of the Mediterranean island of Corsica.  For their efforts, hikers are rewarded with amazing views of the coast, forests, and rugged mountain landscapes.  We have allotted 18 days (including a couple of rest days) to complete this trek, and we plan to camp every night.  We gave ourselves lots of time for this one to allow for less-than-ideal weather and other challenges that might arise.  We’re also very excited to spend some time immersing ourselves in the unique and rich Corsican culture.

Stunning Corsican landscape

What’s Next?

After we complete the GR20, we’ll fly to Paris to replace all of the calories we burned in the past several weeks of hiking by consuming as many baguettes, fine cheeses, and local wines as possible. Then we’ll spend a week exploring Amsterdam by foot and bike.  From there, we’ll travel to Slovenia, where we hope to complete some additional hikes, although the length and type will depend on the weather conditions in October. Finally, we hope to head to Southeast Asia for several weeks for our final leg of the trip.  While these plans are still in their early stages, we hope to do some hiking or bikepacking in Taiwan, and also explore Vietnam and/or Cambodia.

The Logistics

Who can afford to quit their jobs and spend six months traveling?

We realize how fortunate and privileged we are to have this opportunity, but we also believe that taking a “mini-retirement” is more attainable than many people realize.  A few years ago, we learned about the FIRE (financial independence, retire early) movement, which basically encourages people to increase their savings rate in order to have more flexibility with their money and time. By getting more intentional about our lifestyle and making some minor tweaks to our spending, we were able to start saving more and living on less.  With the addition of some side hustles, we were soon able to set aside enough savings to get through several months without a paycheck. It certainly doesn’t hurt that we’ll be camping and eating peanuts for a lot of that time!

We also relied on some pretty nifty travel hacking to save thousands of dollars on our upcoming trip.  In essence, we strategically gathered credit card miles and points, and put them towards our flights and hotels. Check out our Travel for Free Series to learn more.

You guys seem like planning nerds, did you leave anything open-ended?

Yes, and no.  For the five hikes we’ve planned so far, we have the distance we’ll cover each day and our sleeping arrangements for each night mapped out.  Many of the campsites on the Coast to Coast and the refuges on the Haute Route get booked up pretty far in advance, so we knew we needed to get our act together ahead of time.  That being said, we know that there are going to be some unexpected surprises on a trip like this. We’ve built in extra days on the bookends of each hike to allow for illness, travel delays, inclement weather, and any other unpredictable occurrences.  For us, planning trips is a very enjoyable hobby, so we didn’t mind going through each part of the trip day-by-day.  In fact, it was essential for wrapping our heads around the practical and unique aspects of each hike.

What does one pack for a trip like that?

It is both exhilarating and a little intimidating to think that we’ll be carrying everything we’ll need for six months of travel on our backs across hundreds of miles of wilderness. To prepare for this trip, we’ve upgraded a few key pieces of gear for lighter, better-quality items.  Outside of that, we are trying to keep our pack weight down by only bringing necessary, versatile items. As hard as it is, we are trying to avoid playing the “just in case” packing game. If we really need something when we’re over there, we’ll buy it.  A full packing list is coming soon!

 

Have you completed any of the treks on our itinerary? Do you have big summer travel plans? Will we cross paths on the trail? If so, we’d love to hear from you!

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Personalized TMB Coaching

  If you’re looking for one-on-one support in preparing for the Tour du Mont Blanc, we can help! We use our passion, experience, and knowledge of the TMB to assist…

 

If you’re looking for one-on-one support in preparing for the Tour du Mont Blanc, we can help! We use our passion, experience, and knowledge of the TMB to assist fellow hikers who want to have their best possible trek.

Who’s it For?

There is a TON of information out there about the Tour du Mont Blanc, so it isn’t absolutely necessary to work with a coach. However, if you don’t want to spend hours combing through books and online resources, a coach can provide you with all of the targeted, individualized information you’ll need while saving you tons of time. Additionally, if you feel anxious about the uncertainties that come with an undertaking like the TMB, working with a coach can help you feel more mentally prepared. Finally, if you have any specific needs, in terms of fitness, diet, budget, or travel logistics, a coach can provide customized advice and solutions.

What We Offer:

While all coaching packages can be customized to fit your individual needs, our basic package includes the following:

  • 30-minute Skype Consultation: Getting to know you, your goals for the trip, what you’d like to get out of working with a coach, and answering any trip-related questions.
  • Itinerary Planning Assistance: We’ll work with you to put together the best itinerary based on how many days you plan on hiking, how much distance you want to cover each day, incorporating a rest day, information on camping, etc.
  • Gear Consultation: We’ll work with to create a custom packing list that minimizes the weight you’ll need to carry, while meeting your specific needs and incorporating the gear you already own.
  • Custom Training Plan: We’ll help you develop a comprehensive and individualized approach to build your fitness and reduce the risk of injury so you can enjoy your trek to the fullest. We will also provide local hike recommendations in your area and give you a breakdown of how they compare to various stages of the TMB.

Price: $100 USD

Why Choose Us?

Both Emily and Ian have many years of backpacking and hiking experience on some of the world’s most iconic trails. We’ve tackled long and short treks in New Zealand, Europe, Namibia, as well as countless adventures in our own Rocky Mountain backyard. Additionally, Emily is a seasoned marathon runner and track coach and Ian is an avid mountain biker, which means we have a good understanding of how to train for endurance events.  As spreadsheet nerds, we have a knack for detailed planning and logistics. Being  stewards of TMBtent.com has allowed us to become very well-versed in all things TMB, and we are continually engaged in deepening our knowledge base. Finally, we truly believe that hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc is a life-changing experience, and we want to help as many people get on the trail and share in that joy.  We work with people from all backgrounds, ages, and ability levels, and we will meet you wherever you’re at with no judgement, only excitement and support.

If you’re ready to get started, fill out the form below and you’ll hear from us soon!

TMB Coaching Inquiry
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How Much it Cost Us to Hike the West Highland Way

If you’re planning a West Highland Way adventure, you’ve got a lot to think about.  You’ll need to pack the right gear, get in shape for the long days of…

If you’re planning a West Highland Way adventure, you’ve got a lot to think about.  You’ll need to pack the right gear, get in shape for the long days of walking, make an itinerary, and figure out your travel logistics.  Before you start all of that, however, you may be a little anxious about how much it’s all going to cost. Traveling in the United Kingdom has the reputation for being very expensive, and that’s generally true, but it is still very possible to have an amazing West Highland Way trek without selling your firstborn child to be able to afford it. One of the best parts about the West Highland Way for walkers on a tighter budget is that there are camping options on every stage of the trek, a few of them even being free. True, some of the campgrounds charge a rather steep fee for the ability to pitch your tent on their midgy, bumpy plot of grass, but relative to other accommodation options, camping is by far the best option and will allow you to keep your overall costs quite low. And, to be fair, the campgrounds are quite lovely; many offer hot showers, nice restaurants, wifi, drying rooms, and other amenities. If camping, you can also stay within a small budget by cooking most of your meals. If sleeping indoors in a bed is more your style, the West Highland Way offers a wide range of accommodation for budgets of all sizes.  The same goes for food and other services.

Below we’ve outlined what we spent on our 2018 West Highland Way adventure. 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 a trip like the WHW 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!

Accommodation

We chose to camp every night of the West Highland Way and highly recommend it for a number of reasons. Many of the campgrounds were quite luxurious, with amenities such as hot showers and wifi. We preferred the privacy of our tent over the dorm-style sleeping arrangements of bunkhouses and hostels. And of course, the price of camping can’t be beat! Depending on how your itinerary shakes out, there are also several bothies that provide a free and authentic WHW accommodation option. Finally, we stayed in Airbnb’s the night before we started our hike and the night we finished.  If it works with your budget, you’ll greatly appreciate these little slices of luxury on the bookends of your hike.

  • Average Campsite Price: £8 (per person)
  • AirBnB in Edinburgh before the hike: £100 per night
  • AirBnB in Fort William: £80 – £100 per night

 

West Highland Way lodging

Lodging options abound on the West Highland Way

Transit

It’s a quick and easy trip to get from Glasgow to the start of the walk in Milngavie. We traveled to the hike from Edinburgh, which was also very efficient. Upon finishing in Fort William, if you’d like to return to Glasgow, you can either take a bus or a train. The bus is cheaper, but the train is very scenic, as it follows the West Highland Way for much of the way. If you choose to splurge on the train, make sure to buy your tickets well in advance. The price increases significantly as you get closer to your departure date.

  • Train from Edinburgh to Milngavie: £12 (per person)
  • Train from Fort William to Glasgow:£13.90 (per person, 90 days in advance)

Flights:

We strategically used credit card points and miles in order to fly from Denver to Edinburgh for nearly free. Read more about how we did it here.

Airline Taxes and Fees (roundtrip): $189.36 (for two people)

Food and Drink

Instead of spending a small fortune on restaurant dinners or fancy freeze-dried backpacker meals, we preferred to stock up on lightweight, nutritious, and tasty dry goods from the local grocery stores to fuel us along the West Highland Way. We tended to eat ramen noodles, mac’n’cheese, or instant curry pots for most dinners. The shops we encountered along the trail had excellent cheap, fresh sandwiches, which were a welcome treat when we were able to get our hands on them.   For lunches, we snacked on a trail mix blend that we made from salted peanuts and raisins that we stocked up on whenever we found them at a reasonable price along the route. For breakfast, we ate muesli with powdered milk and instant coffee. Occasionally, we’d pick up some fruit from a local shop, and we also enjoyed our fair share of post-hike french fries. These foods kept us feeling full throughout long days of hiking, and we found them to be more enjoyable than the space-age style backpacker meals. Plus, they were a fraction of the price!

On average, we spent about £9-13 per person, per day on our food and drink.

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

  • Pint of Beer:£6 – £7
  • Meal at local pub: £13
  • Coffee/Tea: £3

Many of the campsites have lovely bar/restaurants

Miscellaneous

  • Stove Fuel: £6
  • Laundry: £2 (for wash and dry)

What’s next?

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

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How Much It Cost Us to Hike the TMB

At first glance, the Tour du Mont Blanc might seem physically daunting, but many might find it even more financially intimidating. Traversing three Western European countries and staying in the…

At first glance, the Tour du Mont Blanc might seem physically daunting, but many might find it even more financially intimidating. Traversing three Western European countries 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 TMB, 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 a hotel room on our rest day. Below we’ve outlined what we spent on our 2017 Tour du Mont Blanc adventure. 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 TMB 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!

Refuge du Col de Balme.

Accommodation

We chose to camp as much as possible along the Tour du Mont Blanc and we highly recommend it to others for a number of reasons. First, many of the campgrounds were 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 TMB where there are no official campgrounds and wild camping is not permitted. For those situations, we opted to stay in the mountain huts, which offered amazing ambiance and delicious meals for a reasonable price. We also stayed in a hotels for our rest day in Courmayeur, 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: €54 (per person)
  • Average Campsite Price: €12 (per person)
  • Hotel in Chamonix for before and after the hike: €85 (per night)
  • Hotel in Courmayeur for rest day: €132 (per night)

 

Transit

  • Bus from Geneva to Chamonix: €43 (round trip)
  • Bus from Chamonix to Les Houches: €3 (each way)
  • Shuttle Bus from Les Chapieux to Refuge Des Mottets: €3

Flights:

We strategically used credit card points and miles in order to fly from Denver to Geneva for nearly free. Read more about how we did it here.

Airline Taxes and Fees: $98.63 + 60,000 United Airlines miles (per person)

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 TMB. 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 with powdered milk and instant coffee. Occasionally, we’d pick up some fresh fruit 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 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 indulgences:

  • Beer: €6
  • Bottle of Wine: €10
  • Baguette: €2
  • Breakfast/Lunch Mountain Hut: €15
  • Dinner at Mountain Hut: €25
  • Coffee/Tea: €3
  • Sandwich: €10

Miscellaneous

As you can see, we happily teetered between dirtbag and deluxe on our TMB holiday. While there’s no escaping the high costs of some essentials, in general, one can experience the Tour du Mont Blanc 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?

Ready to keep planning your TMB adventure? Be sure to read our entire series on the Tour du Mont Blanc to learn everything you’ll need to know to prepare for this incredible adventure!

If you’re looking for one-on-one support in preparing for the Tour du Mont Blanc, we can help! Learn more about our personalized TMB coaching services. 

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How to Train for the West Highland Way

When it comes to having your best possible West Highland Way experience, there are some things that are out of your control (weather, midges, crowds, travel delays), but there are…

When it comes to having your best possible West Highland Way experience, there are some things that are out of your control (weather, midges, crowds, travel delays), but there are a few key things you can control that will make all the difference.  Perhaps even more important than planning out the logistics, knowing how to navigate, and packing the right gear, is making sure you are prepared both physically and mentally for this major undertaking.  Because of its relatively low elevation and minimal technicality, the WHW is a very approachable long-distance trek for the casual hiker. That being said, it’s still a serious feat of endurance that will push you to new limits.  You will enjoy your trip infinitely more if you train ahead of time. This is even more true if you plan on camping (and carrying the heavier backpack that goes with it).  If you don’t know where to start when it comes to training, don’t worry- we’ve got you covered. Read on for straightforward advice on how to feel your best and enjoy your West Highland Way experience to the fullest.

Views from the top of the Devil’s Staircase.

Six Months Before Your Trip: Build the Base

Obviously, everyone will approach the WHW with varying levels of fitness, past injuries, and overall health needs.  You’ll know your individual situation best, but you should generally focus on building your aerobic endurance in the months leading up to your trip. While most of your days on the Way won’t be particularly steep, they will be quite long.  On our 8-day trek we averaged around 12 miles (19.25 km) per day, with our longest day being 15 miles (24 km). These distances are no joke, especially when carrying a heavy pack and hiking day after day with little rest in between. For this part of the training, if you’re already a runner/walker/cyclist/etc, just keep doing your thing!  If you don’t regularly do any sort of “cardio” exercise, or you mainly focus on yoga and strength training, start trying to incorporate longer bouts of walking or running into your regular routine in order to build an endurance base. This will lay your fitness foundation for more challenging training in the future.

Three Months Before Your Trip: Focus on Strong Legs

Relative to other popular long-distance hikes, the topography of the West Highland Way is on the gentler side.  You won’t be required to traverse over high mountain passes each day or spend hours navigating insanely steep ascents and descents. Don’t let these facts fool you into thinking this hike will be easy though- it won’t be! You’ll still be covering long stretches of undulating terrain with a variety of underfoot conditions.  In order to feel great throughout your trip and avoid injury and burnout, you’ll need the endurance base you started building in the previous training phase, plus ample leg strength. Ideally, at this point in your training you should increase the frequency and intensity of your hiking. Your main goal is to build your aerobic endurance and train your leg muscles for long-distance hiking. If you can’t hit the trails, you can achieve similar results by doing anything that involves incline; bike uphill, set a treadmill to high incline, or spend some time on the step machine at your gym.  Heck, you could even walk the stairs at the local high school stadium if you wanted to. Additionally, try to incorporate a leg strengthening routine into your weekly training. Everyone’s fitness goals are different, but we generally recommend completing the following short workout 2-3 times per week to build Highland-ready legs: 10 goblet squats (with medium weight), 10 lunges on each leg (add weight or jumps to increase challenge), and 10 step-ups on each leg (weight optional). Complete three sets of each exercise.

Shoreline walking on Day Two.

Two Months Before Your Trip: Put on Your Pack

Remember all of that brand new gear sitting in your closet? Now is the time to break it in! In the eight weeks or so before your trip, try get in as many longer hikes (or walks) with your gear as possible.  Think of it as a “dress rehearsal” for your trek. The benefits of breaking in your gear at this point are twofold. First, you’ll be able to test your boots, backpack, socks, and so on to ensure that they fit well during longer hikes. Second, you’ll begin training your body to hike while wearing a heavy backpack.  If you’re new to backpacking, you’ll be surprised by how much more challenging it is to hike with the extra weight. For me, the biggest adjustment was learning to deal with the extra strain on my hips and knees when hiking downhill. Even if you’ve been strength training, chances are you’ll be using new muscles when hiking with a backpack. The best way to condition your body? Hiking as much as possible with that heavy backpack! You might be wondering how to add weight to your pack without completely packing for your trip. Our advice? Look around your home and throw anything-literally anything- heavy into your bag. When we were training, we threw  five-pound weights, jars of oats, bottles of water, blankets, and textbooks into our bags. Then we headed over to our local trail. Did some fellow hikers look at us like we were crazy with our giant backpacks? Yes. But did we strike up some awesome conversations AND get our bodies in shape for the WHW in the process? You better believe it.

Reminder: During this training phase, you should keep up your aerobic and strength training from the previous sections!

One Month Before Your Trip: Time for a Test Run (Hike)

This stage in your training is awesome because it requires you to take a vacation (you’re welcome). If at all possible, try to take a 1-2 night backpacking trip in your local woods.  If you aren’t planning on camping along the Way, you don’t need to take an overnight trip, but you should still try to fit in two back-to-back days of long, hard hiking. This important step allows you to try out different ways of packing your backpack for maximum fit and comfort, practice setting up camp, and get your body used to  hiking for consecutive days in a row. It will also give you the chance to see what items you packed that you don’t need, and what you may have forgotten.

Old drover roads can make for rocky underfoot conditions.

Special Considerations for the West Highland Way:

Underfoot Conditions

There are many sections of the WHW that present walkers with less than desirable “underfoot conditions.” When I read that term in my guidebook before starting the trek, I kept thinking to myself,  What does that even mean? Well, let me enlighten you. It means it’s going to be really, really rocky. Like, walking for several miles along an old drover road that seems to be entirely comprised of baseball-sized stones kind of rocky.  We didn’t find this troublesome to the point where a specific training regimen was warranted, but it is worth mentioning for a few reasons. First, even though the trail might be pretty flat, challenging underfoot conditions can mean that you are expending extra energy (both mental and physical) and using additional leg and core muscles to navigate the trail.  This is where your training will really pay off! You might also consider taking an added break and/or slowing your pace on these sections to prevent fatigue. Finally, make sure you have trekking poles and sturdy boots too minimize the chance of twisting an ankle or straining a muscle.

Get Your Head in the Game

This article mainly discussed how to train your body for the West Highland Way, but of equal (if not greater) importance is the mental side of things. Numerous research studies have demonstrated that we can train our brains to improve mental toughness. It is inevitable that you will face challenges during your hike from fatigue, long days, discomfort, poor weather, or swarms of midges.  Hopefully the long training hikes you took in preparation for the WHW will have helped you to build the confidence you need to remind yourself that you can push through the less-than-wonderful moments and savor the amazing experience you’re having. If you focus on building your mental endurance prior to your trek, it will not only pay off on the hike, but also in your life off the trail.  

Chafing and Blisters, Oh My!

So far we’ve talked about training your body and your mind, but unfortunately it’s a little harder to train your skin for the long miles you’ll be covering on the WHW. However, a little advance preparation can go a long way towards making your West Highland Way experience much more enjoyable.  It’s amazing how even a small blister or a little bit of nasty chafing can derail a beautiful day of hiking! This is the most common ailment we see fellow hikers struggle with when we’re out on the trail. Due to the variable and moist conditions (think pouring rain one day and hot and sunny the next) coupled with those lovely underfoot conditions, the West Highland Way presents a huge risk for chafing and blisters. Don’t let those pesky buggers ruin your trek! The best way to prevent blisters is to break in your boots in advance.  Make sure to use the same socks on your training hikes as you plan to use on the WHW. Good quality socks and sock liners can really make a difference. Additionally, if you are especially blister-prone, more breathable trail runners are worth looking into. In terms of chafing, pay attention to any hot spots that arise when you’re training. Try to train in a variety of temperatures, weather conditions, and clothing combinations to anticipate any potential issues. Products like BodyGlide can help prevent chafing and blisters, too.  Finally, make sure to bring some good-quality blister pads in case all else fails!

Adapting the Hike for Varying Ability Levels

The West Highland Way is very accessible for hikers of all ability levels.  If your training doesn’t go as planned due to injury, illness, or the realities of life that inevitably creep in from time to time, there are ways to reduce the level of challenge on the trek. Here are a few suggestions:

  • If possible, consider adding an extra day or cutting out a segment to reduce the average distance you’ll need to cover each day.
  • Consider using a luggage transfer service to eliminate the extra demands of carrying your heavy pack.
  • Plan for a rest day midway through your hike. Bridge of Orchy, Tyndrum, and Glencoe Village all make great options.  See our West Highland Way Logistics article for more information about luggage transfer and rest days.
  • Enlist a few friends or family members to come with you and rent a car. You can alternate between hiking and driving the support vehicle to customize the amount of time spent on your feet.  Plus, you’ll still be able to enjoy much of the same spectacular Highland scenery from the road.

The Bottom Line:

Move, preferably uphill and with weight on your back, as much as possible. Do this and you will be able to enjoy every moment of your incredible trip so much more. Plus, the time and effort you spend working towards your goal will make the real thing that much sweeter. I can’t stress enough how glad we were that we’d prepared for the challenge of a thru-hike like the WHW, and I hope our experience can help you have your best possible trip.

What’s next?

Enjoyed reading our training tips and ready to keep planning your own West Highland Way adventure? Be sure to check out our entire series on the West Highland Way and learn everything you’ll need to know to prepare for your trip!

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Guide to Hiking Chasm Lake

Length: 8.5 Miles. Moderate to Strenuous. Approximate Time: 6-8 hours. Nestled against the granite wall that forms the Eastern face of Longs Peak, pristine Chasm Lake is a truly spectacular…

Length: 8.5 Miles. Moderate to Strenuous. Approximate Time: 6-8 hours.

Nestled against the granite wall that forms the Eastern face of Longs Peak, pristine Chasm Lake is a truly spectacular sight to behold. Getting there is pretty incredible too.  The trail climbs gently through varied terrains, offering spectacular views, waterfalls, and plenty of marmot sightings. This hike is only steep and moderately technical in the last half-mile or so; the rest of it should be quite manageable for most fit(ish) hikers.

Getting to the Trailhead

This hike starts at the Longs Peak Ranger Station in Rocky Mountain National Park, which is accessed via CO-7, either from Estes Park or Allenspark. If you are coming from the Front Range, head to Lyons, then turn left onto CO-7. Stay on that road past Allenspark, and keep an eye out for signs for the Longs Peak trailhead.  When you see the turn-off (just after you enter into Larimer County), take a left. You’ll follow this road until it reaches the ranger station and trailhead. If you are hiking on a busy weekend or holiday in the summer, expect to park along the road, as the lot fills up very early. Although the hike is within Rocky Mountain National Park, visitors do not need to pay an entrance fee at this location.

The Hike

Begin your hike by following the East Longs Peak Trail.  You’ll be on this trail for most of the hike, and all of the junctions are very well marked. For the first mile or so, you’ll climb at a mellow grade through lovely pine forests. At the first junction, follow the signage and veer left.  From here, you’ll traverse a few switchbacks as you start to see and hear a stream that courses alongside the trail in several places.  A bit higher up, you’ll cross the stream (there is a bridge), and the views open up towards the forest below.  This peaceful, shady spot is a great place to stop for a snack or a short break. As you keep hiking past the stream crossing, the pine forest dwindles until the only trees left are krumholz, the short, wind-sculpted trees found at higher elevations. As you get above treeline, the views really open up.

The first stream crossing en route to Chasm Lake.

Looking to the east, you get big vistas of the entire Front Range, and to the west Longs Peak looms large. The rest of the hike winds through alpine tundra. Make sure to keep an eye out for the wide array of delicate and colorful wildflowers that dot this landscape in the summer months. The trail continues to climb steadily (and a bit more steeply) until it reaches the next junction at about mile 2.5.  The right-hand fork will take you up Battle Mountain, while the left will continue towards Longs Peak and Chasm Lake. After another mile, you’ll reach a rocky ridge.  There’s an outhouse here, and this is another nice spot to take a break. This is where you’ll leave the Longs Peak Trail (that’s an adventure for another day), and make your final push towards Chasm Lake.

From the junction, the trail hugs the side of the ridge, narrowly in some places, as it curves towards the lake. We hiked in late June and encountered a small amount of snow in this section. While it wasn’t too difficult, traversing the snow on this narrow section of trail might be a bit unsettling for some hikers.  Use hiking poles and keep your weight leaned in towards the mountain, and you should be just fine.  As you approach Chasm Lake, you’ll be treated to stunning views of Peacock Pool and Columbine Falls.  Just before reaching the lake, you will encounter a steep section that contains large boulders.  You’ll need to do some scrambling in a few places, but this tricky section is very short (and very fun!).  Spectacular Chasm Lake is waiting for you at the top.  Grab a seat on one of the many large rocks ringing the lake, relax, and enjoy this beautiful little pocket of  earth. Make sure to head down early enough in the day to avoid being above tree line when afternoon thunderstorms roll in. We capped off this perfect summer day with a post-hike ice cream outing, and we’d highly recommend you do the same.

The final approach to Chasm Lake.

Enjoy the breathtaking views of Longs Peak!

Considerations:

  • If hiking in June, check the snow conditions before you go.  July and August are the best months to complete this hike.
  • The alpine section of this hike is quite exposed, which makes it a dangerous place to be in the event of a thunderstorm. Start early to avoid getting caught up there when weather moves in.
  • If hiking on a weekend, plan for an extra mile or so of walking along the road, as the parking lot fills up very early with hikers attempting to summit Longs Peak.
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West Highland Way Trip Report

We completed Scotland’s iconic West Highland Way with a couple of friends in July of 2018.  The trail is 96 miles (154 km) long and took us eight days to…

We completed Scotland’s iconic West Highland Way with a couple of friends in July of 2018.  The trail is 96 miles (154 km) long and took us eight days to complete. The West Highland Way is an ideal trek for campers, as there’s a wealth of lovely places to pitch a tent along the route. Be sure to check out our Camping Guide for detailed maps, facility descriptions, booking information and more. In the meantime, we wrote this post to share about the less technical and more personal aspects of our journey in hopes that it will get you excited to embark your own WHW adventure. Read on for inspiration, advice, photos, and insider’s tips.

Day One: Milngavie to Drymen (5 hours)

As mentioned above, we hiked the West Highland Way with another couple.  Since we were each traveling separately prior to starting the hike, we had made a plan in advance to meet at the official WHW starting point on the morning of Day One.  Seeing our friends (who we hadn’t seen in nearly a year) in another country at the trailhead was about as good as it gets. Feeling totally jazzed, we set off on the flat and shady path towards Drymen.  We enjoyed warm, sunny weather the entire day as we walked through rolling hills and bucolic farmland.

Easy walking from Milngavie to Drymen.

Having read our Trailblazer guidebook (highly recommended, by the way), we knew to look for the Glengoyne Distillery as we neared Drymen. Without hesitation, we took the slight detour from the trail to check it out. We were expecting a quaint, hiker-friendly tasting room in which we could unload our dusty packs for a wee dram before continuing on our way.  Instead, we found ourselves in something that felt a little more Disneyland than Scotland.  The woman at the visitor’s center informed us that there was in fact no tasting room, and we would have to pay royally for an hour-long tour if we wanted to taste their whisky.  Perhaps she saw the disappointment on our sweaty faces or maybe she just wanted to find a way to keep us from going on the tour, because she then proceeded to offer another option.  She suggested that we buy some shooter bottles in the gift shop as an alternative.

Glengoyne Distillery is just off The Way.

So a few minutes later we found ourselves back along the trail, picnicking in the sunshine while sipping on some fine whisky.  Not a bad lunch break! The final hours of the day were challenging due to the long, hot stretches of road walking and the newness of having a heavy pack on our backs. We arrived at Drymen Camping early enough to secure a nice pitch, grab a hot shower, and savor some slow hours spent looking out across the green hills.

Day Two: Drymen to Sallochy (7 hours)

We awoke to gray skies, but the rain was kind enough to hold off until we’d packed up camp. After a relaxed breakfast of coffee and muesli, we hit the road.  Knowing that we needed to stock up on provisions, we made an early detour into the town of Drymen.  As we were picking up the customary instant noodles and granola bars, we made an important discovery in the bakery aisle: fresh, warm chocolate croissants! If there’s something better than a hot pastry on a damp and chilly morning, we haven’t found it yet.

Back on the trail, we headed towards Conic Hill, the first real ascent of the trek. As we climbed upwards, the rain grew steadier and the landscape became more rugged.  The steely weather made the scenery even more beautiful.  After cresting Conic Hill, we descended steeply towards Balmaha and caught our first glimpses of Loch Lomond.

Approaching the top of Conic Hill.

Shoreline walking on Day Two.

We made a quick, impulsive stop in Balmaha to pick up a bottle of wine for the evening (it was vacation after all), and then continued along the shores of the loch towards our campsite. Arriving at Sallochy, we had our pick of gorgeous lochside campsites, each with private beach access. We quickly made camp as the rain picked up again. Once it let up, we enjoyed a damp but fabulous dinner while watching the evening light play across the expansive loch.

A lovely lochside pitch at Sallochy Campground.

Day Three: Sallochy to Beinglas Farm (9 hours)

We’re still scratching our heads as to how this happened, but on Day Three we didn’t start walking until about 10:00am.  Knowing this was our longest and most difficult day, this was especially idiotic. The first part of the hike started innocently enough, ambling along gentle dirt roads.  A few hours in, we stopped at the adorable Cherry Tree Cafe for a slice of lemon cake and some fresh fruit, patting ourselves on the back for making it to the “halfway point.” Little did we know, we really had another five hours of hiking ahead of us!

The Cherry Tree Cafe makes for a great lunch break along Loch Lomond.

As we continued along the trail, it grew more and more challenging.  Hugging the shoreline, the path afforded some spectacular views of the lake, but also presented us with steep, undulating hills, technical rocky sections, and lots of ducking over and around tree branches. It was slow going, especially with heavy packs on.  Bearing in mind that we had to get past the end of the loch, it was a bit torturous to keep looking out at the long lake and viewing just how far we still had to go.

Leaving Inversnaid, the trail continues to follow Loch Lomond for a few more miles.

The steep ascent away from Loch Lomond.

When we finally reached the end of Loch Lomond, we still had a long climb and another hour or so of walking before we reached Beinglas Farm campground.  Learn from our mistake and don’t underestimate this stage of the hike! We finally arrived at Beinglas weary but very happy.  After a hot shower in the luxurious facilities, we opted to forgo stove cooking and treat ourselves to curry and beer in the restaurant. It was a splurge, but totally worth it. As we wandered back to our tent rather delirious from the exhaustion and a few pints, we didn’t realize that the campsite had transformed into a full blown midge-fest once the sun had set. Before we knew it, we were absolutely covered in the little buggers.  Up until this point, we’d experienced a few midges, but we now understood what all the hype was about. Luckily, we escaped into the shelter of our tent and immediately fell into a deep sleep.

Beinglas Farm camping.

Day Four: Beinglas Farm to Strathfillan (6 hours)

Day Four brought a much easier day of walking, and we didn’t mind at all. About halfway into the day, we took the twenty-minute detour into Crianlarich.  There, we stopped at the supermarket for a lunchtime feast of cheese sandwiches, bananas, and cookies- a real upgrade to our typical backpacking lunch which consists of handfuls of peanuts and not much else. Throughout the day, we did a lot of gentle climbing and passed several sheep farms.

Gentle walking through beautiful scenery.

Highland cattle grazing at Strathfillan.

Our day ended in a gorgeous valley, surrounded by green hills in every direction.  We arrived at the quirky Strathfillan Wigwams just as the sun began to peek through the clouds.  Although the place was a little strange (think Native American motifs and a slightly sad petting zoo), the actual campsite was downright stunning.  The valley offered peaceful, wide open views punctuated only by the occasional sound of sheep bleating. We forked over the extra fees for hot showers and laundry, and then we enjoyed a fabulous (midge-free) dinner at a picnic table near our tents. It was one of those perfect evenings: great weather, good times with friends, and a totally relaxed atmosphere.

Beautiful sunset at the Strathfillan Wigwams.

Day Five: Strathfillan to Bridge of Orchy (4 hours)

Due to the great conversation, easy walking, and gorgeous weather, this day flew by and we were at Bridge of Orchy before we knew it! The path followed the highway for quite a long stretch which didn’t make for the most ideal walking conditions, but the scenery was still pretty fabulous. Upon reaching Bridge of Orchy, we set up camp, soaked our feet in the river, and then headed up to the hotel for some afternoon beers. Expert tip: the stout at the hotel bar is really excellent.  The evening proved to be relatively midge-free, so we were able to enjoy our time outside long into the evening.

Beinn Dorain dominates the walk to Bridge of Orchy.

Lovely camping at Bridge of Orchy.

Bridge of Orchy frames the Highlands beyond.

Day Six: Bridge of Orchy to Glencoe Mountain Resort (4 3/4 hours)

We awoke  at Bridge of Orchy to another spectacularly sunny day. This stage of the trail was the most remote of the entire trek, winding through wide open moors and breathtaking highlands scenery. As we skirted past Rannoch Moor, fifty square miles of uninhabited wilderness, we remarked on the goodness of such wild land in an increasingly developed world.

Rannoch Moor, 50 square miles of uninhabited wilderness.

We tackled a few good climbs on this section, which was a nice change of pace from the mostly flat walking of the previous few days. After another short day, we arrived at the campground at Glencoe Mountain Resort. We’d heard that there was free camping further along the trail at Kingshouse Hotel, but since it was under construction we didn’t know what the conditions would be like.  Deciding to play it safe, we opted to stop at Glencoe instead.  Embracing the developed, ski-resorty vibe, we enjoyed a few pints in the lodge.

Buachaille Etive Mòr comes into view approaching Glencoe Moutain Resort.

Despite its location next to a large car park, our campsite had spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. Upon retiring to our tents after hanging out at the lodge, we discovered that the campground was being used by some enterprising kids as a mountain biking course.  We watched as they repeatedly caught air, landing within a foot or two of the surrounding tents.  It was pretty impressive and rather funny, but didn’t lend itself well to an early bedtime.  Eventually, as the sun set and the rain began, the kids packed it up for the evening and we did the same.

Great views from our campsite at Glencoe Mountain Resort.

Day Seven: Glencoe Mountain Resort to Kinlochleven (5 hours)

We started Day Seven in very wet, cold conditions.  After cooking breakfast under the covered porch of the lodge building, we forced ourselves to step out into the rain.  As is typical of these types of things, the rain wasn’t as bad as it looked.  Even better, it soon eased up into a more gentle mist.  As we walked towards the infamous “Devil’s Staircase,” we spotted several red deer set amidst the breathtaking valley views.

The walk towards the Devil’s Staircase.

Hiking into the clouds on the Devil’s Staircase.

Views from the top.

As for the dreaded staircase, it was a steep ascent, but nothing too terrible.  Plus, the views just kept getting better as we climbed! After a lunch break at the top, we began the winding descent to Kinlochleven.  If your knees are anything like mine, you’ll agree that the downhill portion of this day is way harder than the climb up Devil’s Staircase! In any case, we eventually made it down to our final campground of the trip. The Trailblazer guide describes Kinlochleven as “an ugly, modern village,” but we found it to be quite charming. It has an industrial vibe, but one that’s balanced out by friendly people, quaint pubs, and a beautiful natural setting.

Picnicking at the MacDonald Hotel.

We camped at the MacDonald Hotel, which was situated in a quiet location right on the edge of Loch Leven. Since the rain had cleared up, we decided to have one final picnic in this lovely setting.  After picking up wine, cheese, olives, and an assortment of other goodies in town, we enjoyed a leisurely dinner on the banks of the loch.

Day Eight: Kinlochleven to Fort William (7 hours)

Knowing we had another long day ahead, we applied the lessons learned on Day Three and made sure we were up and out a bit earlier this time. The day began with a fairly steep climb out of Kinlochleven, then passed through the wild expanse of the Lairigmor. We took our time on this final day, savoring our last hours of fresh air, simpler routines, and great companionship.

The winding path through the Larigmor.

As we neared Fort William, Ben Nevis came into view. This massive mountain is completely captivating, and we made frequent stops to admire it and snap more photos than were probably necessary. For the final stretch into Fort William, we took an alternate route in order to avoid another long stretch of road walking.  We followed the Cow Hill trail, which involved one last climb up to some great views of the town below.  Upon arriving in Fort William, walkers are required to traverse the entire length of the main commercial district before arriving at the official end of the Way. While it was a bit of a shock to the system to be back in the hustle and bustle of the town, the final stretch was fun and festive.

Catching a glimpse of Ben Nevis on our final day of walking!

We celebrated our achievement with  a delicious pub dinner at the Grog and Gruel, followed by an ice cream cone and a stroll through town. In the morning, we rode the train back to Glasgow.  As we sipped coffee, we gazed out at the green wilderness, recounting stories from the previous week, and soaking in the lifelong memories we had made on this amazing experience.

What’s Next?

Enjoyed reading our trip report and ready to get to work planning your own West Highland Way adventure? Be sure to read our entire series on the West Highland Way to learn everything you’ll need to know to prepare for your trip!

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