Category: Trip Guides

Guide to Camping on the West Highland Way

After camping our way through the Tour du Mont Blanc in 2017, we quickly realized that backpacking is one of the most fun, rewarding, and budget-friendly ways to travel. For…

After camping our way through the Tour du Mont Blanc in 2017, we quickly realized that backpacking is one of the most fun, rewarding, and budget-friendly ways to travel.

For our next adventure, we chose the West Highland Way (WHW), a 94-mile (151 km) trek that begins just outside of Glasgow, winds its way past the iconic Loch Lomond towards rugged moors and emerald hillsides, and ends in the stunning Highlands at the foot of Britain’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis.

Ben Nevis, West Highland Way

The clouds parted momentarily to allow for a rare glimpse of Ben Nevis on our final stage of the WHW.

 

In addition to its dramatic beauty, the West Highland Way offers some other great perks:

  • Both ends of the hike are easily accessed by public transportation.
  • It can be completed in just over a week.
  • Services are widely available along the route, simplifying resupply and logistical considerations.
  • It’s possible to camp every night (many long-distance treks require at least one or two expensive hut stays).

If you haven’t considered camping, we are here to tell you that you should! Camping along the West Highland Way allowed us to meet so many great people from all over the world, sleep in stunning locations, keep our trip expenses very low, and earn the satisfaction of carrying everything we needed on our backs.

Convinced? Keep reading for everything you need to know to camp on the incredible West Highland Way!

 

Two tents and two chairs at a campground on the West Highland Way

Camping on the West Highland Way=living the good life!

 

For those who want the best information all in one place, you can purchase our printable Guide to Camping on the West Highland Way for less than $10! The Guide includes everything you’ll need to have an awesome experience on the WHW. Save yourself time and money with this amazing resource! 

Purchase your digital Guide for under $10 here

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What’s in this guide?

 

A hiker walks along the West Highland Way with views of Beinn Dorain in the distance.

The West Highland Way traverses a wide range of rugged and beautiful landscapes.

 

About the Hike

Many consider the West Highland Way to be one of the best long-distance hikes in all of Europe. This 94-mile (151 km) trek begins in Milngavie and stretches north to Fort William, encompassing an impressive variety of landscapes in between. The southern portion of the walk is characterized by bucolic pastoral landscapes, rolling green hillsides, and peaceful woodlands. The middle section of the walk traces the entire length of the storied Loch Lomond, allowing walkers to experience its wild, tangled shoreline. In the north, the Way traverses the best of the Scottish Highlands, one of Britain’s last remaining expanses of true wilderness. History, culture, natural beauty, and adventure-the West Highland Way truly has it all!

 

How long is the West Highland Way?

Distance: 94 miles (151 kilometers)

Elevation Gain: 13,000 feet (3,900 meters)

How long does it take to hike the West Highland Way?

Most walkers take 6-9 days to complete the West Highland Way. If you want to hike the entire route in a week or less, be prepared to cover at least 15-20 miles each day. If you prefer to move at a more relaxed pace, your longest day need not exceed 15 miles with most days averaging around 10 miles. Our stage-by-stage camping guide (below) is written for a moderately-paced 8-day itinerary, but could be easily adapted for other lengths. We’ve made note of places where you could lengthen or shorten your itinerary in the stage-by-stage guide.

Read more: West Highland Way Trip Report

 

The path from Milngavie to Drymen on the West Highland Way

Easy walking from Milngavie to Drymen.

Still trying to figure out your itinerary? Let us help!

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When is the best time to hike the West Highland Way?

Although some hardy souls brave the wind, rain, cold, and snow to walk the West Highland Way during the winter months, most will prefer just the wind and rain of the spring/summer/autumn…and hopefully some sunny days too! When it comes to deciding when to complete your trek, you’ll need to consider factors such as weather, midges, and crowds.

April

Unpredictable weather, but few crowds and midges. Snow will likely remain in some areas. Be prepared for shorter days and therefore fewer daylight hours for walking.

May

May is a very busy time on the trail. Expect warm temperatures, wildflowers, relatively little rain, and few midges. You’ll need to book (non-camping) accommodation in advance.

June

Good weather, tolerable midges, and generally less crowded on the trail (compared to May). However, try to avoid walking during the Caledonian Challenge and the West Highland Way Race, both of which take place in June.

July & August

Crowds, midges, and rain are all plentiful during peak summer these months. It’s still very possible to have a wonderful time if you trek in July or August, just make sure you book your (non-camping) accommodation in advance and pack rain gear and a midge net!

September

This is a fabulous time to walk the WHW, although it can be quite wet. The trail is relatively quiet and the midges tend to be less of a problem later in the season. Be aware of the increasingly shorter days as the month progresses.

October

Early October can be a lovely time to trek, with beautiful fall colors painted across the woodlands and hillsides. However, the chance of colder, wetter weather increases with each day that passes. By the end of the month, the days will be short and the conditions are likely to be pretty rough.

Read more: Pack right and be prepared for all of the elements the WHW might throw at you!

 

A snow capped mountain on the West Highland Way

It’s possible that you’ll encounter snow in the Scottish Highlands from October through April.

 

How Difficult is the West Highland Way?

Because of its relatively low elevation and minimal technicality, the West Highland Way 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 won’t be required to traverse over high mountain passes or navigate steep ascents and descents each day, but that doesn’t mean it will be easy!  You’ll be covering long stretches of undulating terrain with a variety of underfoot conditions. The rough and rocky paths can be taxing on leg muscles and create a hotbed for blisters. However, if they train ahead of time and keep reasonable expectations, walkers of all ability levels should be able to complete the West Highland Way – and enjoy themselves while doing it!

What makes the West Highland Way a challenging trek?

  • Long distances covered each day
  • Potentially difficult weather conditions (wind, rain, heat, cold)
  • Rough underfoot conditions (such as large stones or wet paths)
  • Undulating hills

What makes the West Highland Way a beginner-friendly trek?

  • No major ascents or descents
  • Low elevation throughout (plenty of oxygen, unlike higher altitudes)
  • Frequent and plentiful services and accommodation
  • Options for transportation and luggage transfer

On a final note, believe us when we say that 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).

Check out our in-depth article on how to train for the West Highland Way. 

 

Approaching the Devil's Staircase climb on the West Highland Way

Approaching the Devil’s Staircase, the arguably the toughest climb on the trek.

 

Which Direction Should I Hike the West Highland Way?

The West Highland Way is traditionally walked from south to north, but you can easily trek in either direction. Advantages of the traditional south-north direction include having the wind at your back and finishing at the dramatic Ben Nevis. Riding the southbound train through the rugged Highland scenery upon completion of the WHW is a highlight for many trekkers.

Some walkers prefer to head from north-south to meet more new people on each stage and avoid crowds on the trail. Either direction you choose to walk, you’ll have plenty of accommodation options and easy connections to and from the trail. Our stage-by-stage camping guide is written for south-north trekkers, but can easily be reversed.

 

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Weather

Where do we even begin when discussing the famous (er, infamous) Scottish weather? The temperamental and variable weather conditions are a quintessential part of any West Highland Way experience. Regardless of when you complete your trek, it is almost guaranteed to rain at some point. Even in the summer months, it’s common to encounter cold, gray, windy conditions, especially at higher elevations and further north along the trail.

Honestly, you should hope you’re lucky enough to experience some of these steely conditions; the rugged landscape looks its best when shrouded in a layer of dramatic clouds. That being said, don’t rule out the possibility of warm and sunny days. In July and August, it can get quite hot if the sun is shining.

Remember to give the elements the respect they deserve. From hypothermia to heatstroke, the conditions can be dangerous for unprepared walkers. Always check the weather forecast before you begin walking each day and air on the side of caution if you’re not sure if you should attempt to walk. There are plenty of local transport connections available if you need to detour or skip a section due to adverse conditions.

The old adage, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear,” couldn’t be more true when it comes to the West Highland Way.  If you have good waterproofs, plenty of layers, and some common sense, you’ll be able to savor all of the different elements the Highland weather gods throw at you.

The Met Office website is a good resource for detailed and accurate forecasts.

 

The walk towards Kinlochleven on the West Highland Way

Brooding skies on the walk towards Kinlochleven.

 

Food and Drink

One of the many wonderful things about the West Highland Way is that you don’t need to worry about carrying (and eating) eight days’ worth of underwhelming freeze-dried backpacker meals. You’ll be able to find food shops and/or restaurants on nearly every stop of the Way. We’ve noted the availability of these in our stage-by-stage camping guide below. Even though food is abundant, make sure you plan accordingly, as there is quite a bit of variation in terms of what is available.

For budget travelers, it is possible to self-cater with goods from the many shops you’ll pass. This will keep your food and drink costs quite reasonable. You’ll need to bring your own camp stove and cooking equipment if you plan on fixing most of your own meals along the West Highland Way.

Additionally (for those with deeper pockets), many of the hotels, guesthouses, and pubs serve meals. If staying indoors, check with your accommodation provider to see what they offer.

Whichever way you approach your food and drink strategy, be sure to enjoy a pint of ale, a hearty Scottish breakfast, a good cuppa, or any of the other numerous local specialties you’ll encounter along your trek.

Dietary Restrictions

The restaurants and accommodation providers along the West Highland Way are generally quite willing to provide a vegetarian option. Those who are vegan, gluten-free, or have a specialized diet will have a harder time finding suitable meals. While certain places will be able to accommodate your needs (make sure to ask in advance), that will be the exception and not the norm. We’d recommend bringing plenty of your own food as insurance.

Water

All of the hotels, guesthouses, and campgrounds provide potable water. You will pass through many villages with public drinking fountains or cafes that will fill your bottles for you, but make sure to plan ahead and carry 1-2 liters of water each day. Due to the presence of agricultural activity near large swaths of the trail, we do not recommend drinking any water from natural streams without filtering it first. We love using hydration bladders when walking, as they distribute the weight much better and encourage frequent and consistent hydration.

 

Glasses of beer on the West Highland Way

One of our favorite parts of hiking the West Highland Way!

 

Getting To and From the West Highland Way

Glasgow is the most common entry point for West Highland Way walkers traveling from abroad. While it’s possible to travel by foot from Glasgow to the official start in Milngavie, most hikers will opt for a faster method of transit. The easiest way to get from Glasgow to Milngavie is by taking one of the frequent trains that run between the two, but you can also take a public bus or a taxi.

On its northern end, the West Highland way terminates in Fort William. There are buses that run between Fort William and Glasgow, Edinburgh, and other popular destinations, but if you’re traveling to Glasgow we recommend taking the train. The railway between Fort William and Glasgow closely follows much of the West Highland Way, allowing hikers to retrace (or preview) their scenic journey.

For tons of detailed information about getting to and from the WHW (and other practical tips), be sure to read our West Highland Way Logistics article.

 

Wayfinding

On the whole, the West Highland Way is very well marked and relatively easy to navigate. There are signposts bearing the trail icon at frequent intervals and at most junctions. That being said, you absolutely need to bring a map. Furthermore, we strongly suggest using GPS to make your life easier and less stressful.

The trail passes through farmland, tangled forests, wild moors, and villages, with each landscape presenting its own wayfinding challenges. It’s remarkably easy to wander off course when you’re captivated by the scenery or deep in a daydream! Be prepared, pay attention, and you’ll be just fine.

The first step to being prepared? Read our awesome articles about navigating on the West Highland Way! We’ll even teach you how to turn your phone into a GPS device (no data required!)

How to Navigate on the West Highland Way

How to Find All of your Campgrounds on the West Highland Way

 

A wooden West Highland Way trail sign

The trail was well marked throughout.

 

Did you know that our Premium Camping Guide includes custom GPX files for your camping itinerary?

West Highland Way camping guide

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Budgeting and Money

Cash, Credit, and Currency

Scotland uses the British pound and cash is king on the West Highland Way. There are no banks or ATMs directly along the route between Drymen and Tyndrum, so you’ll need to plan accordingly. Most small shops, pubs, and campgrounds require cash, although some larger supermarkets will accept major credit cards.

It will be important to estimate your daily expenses (allowing yourself a healthy cushion for unexpected costs) and to make sure you have enough money to cover you until the next ATM. Generally speaking, the West Highland Way is quite safe, but you should still make sure you carry your money on your person at all times and use common sense.

How much will this cost me?

While it’s true that Scotland is expensive, your West Highland Way adventure doesn’t have to be. Camping is by far the most economical way to trek the WHW. Hikers may be a little shocked by the high prices of some of the campgrounds along the Way, but they are still the best value around. Plus, many include hot showers, indoor lounges, and other small luxuries (and for the purists shaking their heads at this level of “glamping,” just see how you feel after walking in freezing rain all day or being attacked by midges!).

In addition to accommodation, food is the other major expense that can make or break a budget. If you mostly self-cater, you can keep your costs quite low. On the other hand, restaurant meals are very expensive and if you rely on them for most of your sustenance, you should be prepared to pay a pretty penny. Many campers are happy to strike a happy middle ground, cooking most meals but allowing themselves the occasional (or in our case frequent) pint and a well-earned Scottish delicacy (bannocks, anyone?) from time to time.

Read more: How Much it Cost Us to Hike the West Highland Way

A stone Bothy on the West Highland Way

Low budget accommodation on the West Highland Way!

 

What to Pack for the West Highland Way

Making smart choices about what to pack (and what to leave behind) is a vital part of setting yourself up for a successful and enjoyable West Highland Way experience. It’s simple- the heavier your pack, the harder your effort. However, with a little thoughtful planning, you can keep your pack weight manageable while still ensuring you have everything you need to be comfortable on the trail and while relaxing at the inns, campgrounds, and villages along the way.

For a complete packing list, check out this comprehensive article on packing for the West Highland Way

How much should my pack weigh?

This isn’t easy to answer since there are a ton of factors that influence how much is too much for any individual hiker. Some things to think about…

  • How fast are you hoping to hike? Generally speaking, lighter=faster
  • Have you completed a multi-day through hike with this specific backpack and this amount of weight before? 
  • Are you injury-prone or do you have any chronic knee, hip, or back issues? 

As a very general rule, campers should keep their pack weight below 13kg, including food and water. If you’re new to backpacking and/or have chronic injuries, it’s especially important to keep it as light as possible. Fortunately, there are frequent re-supply points along the WHW, so you shouldn’t need to carry much food and water, even if you plan on self-catering. It is possible to use a transfer service to deliver your pack to each stopping point along the trail, although that kind of defeats the purpose of camping (check out our logistics article for more on luggage transfers).

 

A hiker on the shores of Loch Lomond, West Highland Way

Don’t forget to pack a pack cover and your trekking poles!

 

WHW MVG (most valuable gear)

Footwear

Traditional hiking boots, hiking shoes, or trail runners will all work for the trail conditions on the West Highland Way, but you need to make sure they will work for you too. This means that you should bring a pair of boots or shoes that you know from experience don’t cause problems for your feet. Ideally, you should put at least 30 miles on them before your trek in various terrain and weather conditions to reduce the chance of running into issues on the trail. A nasty blister can be catastrophic on a multi-day trek like the WHW! That being said, you also don’t want your boots/shoes to be too broken in, as you need them to hold up faithfully for many miles of gnarly, muddy terrain. I know we’re asking you to work some Goldilocks magic here, but it’s definitely worth it!

You’ll also want to make sure you have some good socks. Socks are one of those rare things in life where you really do get what you pay for, and high quality socks can be a game-changer. Once again, try to do some hiking in a few different types to figure out how what you like in terms of thickness, cushion, and height. We love merino wool for its quick-drying and anti-stink qualities.

The trail conditions on the West Highland Way are notorious for causing blisters. If you’re blister prone, consider trying sock liners. Many hikers swear by them. Other tried-and-true blister prevention tactics include putting bodyglide on potential hotspots or wearing toesocks.

Backpack

The same rule for shoes applies to backpacks: make sure you complete several practice hikes with your bag packed the same way (and with the same weight) you’ll carry on the West Highland Way. Also similar to shoes, backpacks need to be broken in through use, and your body needs to get used to the feeling of wearing it for extended periods of time. In terms of size, most campers will need between 45 and 65 liters. Those staying indoors will find that 30-40L is perfect. If you’re purchasing a new pack, most good outdoors stores have experienced staff that will help you find the right fit and style for your needs.

Don’t forget to bring a pack cover (included with many newer backpacks) to protect against rain. This is an absolute must-have.

Trekking Poles

These are a total game-changer on a tough walk like the West Highland Way. You (and your knees) will be so glad to have them on steep sections, and this is especially true for campers who are carrying heavier loads.

Good Waterproofs

You are going to get rained on at some point while walking the West Highland Way- this is Scotland after all. We think the brooding weather adds to the magic of the hike. However, it can be pretty hard to fully appreciate that special type of magic when you’re trudging along for hours completely soaked to the bone. A good pair of rain pants and a quality, lightweight jacket can be the difference-maker between loving (or at least tolerating) and hating those damp, Scottish days.

Midge Net Hat

Midges, those tiny biting flies that come out in massive swarms that come our at dusk and in cloudy, still weather conditions, are an unfortunate reality on the West Highland Way. When they are bad, they are really, really bad. If you’re caught unprepared, they can drive you mad and threaten to ruin your day. Don’t let them! A good midge net is essential for keeping the nasty little guys out of your face. We particularly liked the wide brim hat model because it kept the net from touching our faces, giving us more breathing room and keeping the midges further away.

Whatever you do, get a good quality net that is specifically designed for midges. Our friends bought cheap insect nets and the holes in the mesh turned out to be too big. They ended up with midges getting trapped inside their nets! Learn from their mistake and make sure you invest in the right gear when it comes to this one.

Don’t forget to check out the ultimate West Highland Way packing list!

 

Our trusty packs and poles.

 

Electronics

Charging

Nearly all of the campgrounds along the West Highland Way will allow you to charge phones and other devices for free, as will many pubs and guesthouses. Outlets can be in high demand at campgrounds, so don’t be surprised if you have to wait for your chance to charge. If you’re coming from outside of the United Kingdom, you’ll need to use a travel adapter. We like the kind with two USB ports built in to maximize our charging time. It’s not a bad idea to pack a battery backup if you will be relying on your phone for the GPS and camera.

Cell Service

Cell phone service is pretty widespread along the West Highland Way, but it isn’t always reliable or predictable. Expect to get service in all of the larger towns, but less so as you go further from civilization. You might be able to pick up a few bars at high points and unobstructed areas, but definitely don’t count on it.

Wifi

For better or worse, many of the campgrounds, guesthouses, and pubs along the WHW now offer Wifi. It’s typically free to use, although some places may require an additional fee. You’ll usually have to move close to the reception building in order to connect to it.

 

Wild Camping on the West Highland Way

Here’s what the walk’s official site, westhighlandway.org, says about wild camping:

“Under the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, wild camping is permitted. This type of camping is lightweight, done in small numbers and only for two or three nights in any one place. Avoid causing problems for local people and land managers by not camping in enclosed fields of crops or farm animals and by keeping well away from buildings, roads or historic structures. Leave no trace by: taking away all your litter, removing all traces of your tent pitch and of any open fire and not causing pollution. Please also note that within the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park camping byelaws operate between March and September.”

So to sum it up, wild camping is possible in many places along the Way. You don’t need a permit. However, keep a few things in mind:

  • It would be difficult to camp wild on the first stage of the walk, as there isn’t much public land in the southernmost section that would be suitable (most of the open land is working farmland). If you do decide to discreetly pitch a tent, try to get permission from the landowner first.
  • You cannot wild camp on the stretch of trail that runs along the shore of Loch Lomond between March and October. This is inside the national park and therefore has different rules.
  • The Rowchoish and Doune Bothies are simple, free options that may be appealing to campers. While not the same as the solitude of your tent, they offer many of the advantages of wild camping.
  • Always abide by Leave No Trace principles and show respect for the environment and local communities.

For more information, check out The Scottish Outdoor Access Code website, which has a ton of great guidelines for wild camping in Scotland.

 

Glengoyne Distillery along the West Highland Way

Always ask permission before pitching your tent on farm or pastureland.

 

Stage-by-Stage Camping Guide

This guide is based on a moderately-paced 8-day itinerary that begins in Milngavie and ends in Fort William. There are a few sections that would be relatively easy to modify, and those have been noted in the guide. Reservations are not necessary for the campsites, unless explicitly stated. Prices listed are per person.

 

A backpacker walks along the West Highland Way

Stage Zero- Milngavie

Camping Availability: West Highland Campsite (detour required)

The West Highland Way officially starts in the town of Milngavie, which is located about 30 minutes by train from Glasgow. Given you get an early start, it’s not necessary to stay in Milngavie the night before starting your trek, as transportation is quick and frequent from Glasgow and Edinburgh, and the walk to Drymen shouldn’t take more than five hours. Unfortunately, there are no campgrounds in central Glasgow, nor in Milngavie, so you’ll need to stay indoors prior to starting the WHW.

While not the most convenient, there is camping about four miles along the trail at the West Highland Way Campsite (although they advertise that it’s located just “steps” away from the official start, which is a bit misleading). This could be a good option for those starting late and/or those who really want to camp at all costs.

Campsite near Milngavie, Scotland

Camping options near Milngavie.

 

Services at West Highland Way Campsite

  • Toilets
  • Hot showers
  • Potable water
  • Kitchen
  • Electronics charging
  • WiFi
  • Breakfast included

Price: £25 per person

West Highland Way Campsite Website

Nearby in Milngavie

  • Supermarkets
  • Pharmacy
  • Banks/ATMs
  • Post office
  • Outdoor retailer
  • Restaurants/cafes/pubs
  • Train and bus connections
  • Taxi service

Take your planning to the next level with our ultimate camping guide!

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Stage One- Milngavie to Drymen

Camping Availability: Drymen Camping

This small campground is surrounded by rolling hills and picturesque farmland. You’ll see it on the lefthand side of the road about a mile and a half before reaching the town of Drymen. The facilities are basic but functional, and the views more than make up for it. Leave your payment in the honesty box inside the sheltered cooking/bathroom area.

Drymen Camping

Drymen Camping is approximately 1.5 miles from the town of Drymen.

 

Services at Drymen Camping

  • Toilets (Bring your own TP!!!)
  • Hot showers
  • Potable water
  • Dishwashing sink
  • Electronics charging
  • Covered cooking area

Price: £8

Drymen Camping Website

Nearby in Drymen: The nearest services are in the town of Drymen, another 1.5 miles up the road. If you don’t want to make the trek into town after a long day of walking, it makes for a nice stop on the morning of your second day, as you can pick up any forgotten supplies and maybe even a freshly baked breakfast treat. Moreover, Drymen is your last opportunity to visit a full grocery store along the trail until you reach Tyndrum.

  • Grocery store
  • Library (with free wifi)
  • Restaurants/cafes/pubs
  • ATM
  • Post office
  • Health center/dentist
  • Bus connections
  • Taxi service

 

Drymen Camping is located in a peaceful, pastoral setting.

Stage Two – Drymen to Loch Lomond

Camping Availability: Milarrochy Bay Campsite, Cashel Caravan and Campsite, & Sallochy Campsite

The second stage of the West Highland Way presents many options for camping, all of which offer beautiful lochside views.  As you walk north along Loch Lomond, you’ll reach the Milarrochy Bay campsite first, then you’ll see Cashel about a mile further, and if you keep going for another mile or so, you will reach Sallochy.

We chose to stay at Sallochy and highly recommend that you do the same for a number of reasons.  First, the lochside campsites are secluded, peaceful, and totally gorgeous. While this is the most basic of the three camping options, the lack of major facilities means that you get an experience that feels more connected to the amazing natural surroundings of the Loch Lomond area.  Additionally, Stage 3 of the WHW is the longest and most strenuous day of the entire trek, so make it all the way to Sallochy on Stage 2 and you’ll have a head start for the day ahead.

**Remember, wild camping is not permitted on this section of the WHW.**

Campground near Loch Lomond

Camping options along Loch Lomond.

 

Services at Milarrochy Bay Campsite

  • Toilets
  • Potable water
  • Hot showers
  • Cooking room
  • Small shop
  • Electronics charging
  • WiFi

Price: Varies, but expect to pay about £7-10 per person

Milarrochy Bay Campsite Website

Services at Cashel Caravan and Campsite

  • Toilets
  • Potable water
  • Hot showers
  • Electronics charging
  • Dishwashing area
  • Laundry
  • Small shop
  • Children’s play area

Price: Varies, but expect to pay about £9-15 per person

Cashel Caravan and Campsite Website

Services at Sallochy Campsite

  • Composting toilets
  • Potable water
  • Sinks
  • Firepit and firewood rentals (£5 each)

Heads up: You must make reservations in advance for this campsite (the website makes it quick and easy). Make sure to book a lochside site, as the main camping area can get noisy and crowded. As you approach the campground, you’ll see the higher numbered lochside pitches first.  The higher the number, the further away from the toilets and water tap you’ll be, but you’ll also be further from the noise of the main campground.

Price: £7

Sallochy Campsite Website or email sallochy.wardens@forestryandland.gov.scot

Nearby the Loch Lomond area: The town of Rowardennan is about three miles up the trail past Sallochy. There you’ll find a pub, a hotel, and a hostel with a basic shop.

Your lochside site at Sallochy comes with its own private beach just a few steps away!

 

Stage Three – Loch Lomond to Inverarnan

Camping Availability: Doune Bothy, Inversnaid Bunkhouse, Inversnaid Hotel & Beinglas Farm

For those completing the WHW in eight days, stage three is a loooong one. Beinglas Farm is the traditional stopping point, and will be a welcome sight for those who walk the entirety of stage 3 to reach it. If you’d like to stop a bit earlier in the day, Doune Bothy is the best option. 

Alternatively, if you have more time and want to break up this strenuous (15 miles, 8-9 hours) stretch, Inversnaid Bunkhouse and Inversnaid Hotel both offer camping and are located about halfway through stage 3. If you do choose to stop at one of these, simply stay at Beinglas Farm the following night.

Beinglas Farm Camping

Camping options near Inverarnan.

 

Services at Doune Bothy

Doune Bothy is a simple and lovely stone structure with a fireplace. You’ll need to bring/filter your own water and utilize Leave No Trace practices when it comes to your rubbish and bathroom needs. The Bothy is about three miles past Inversnaid.

Price: Free

Doune Bothy Website

Services at Beinglas Farm

We loved camping at Beinglas Farm! Perhaps it was because of the cold beers they sold us after nine hours of hiking, or the excellent and clean hot showers, or the friendly staff. This was the most midgy place we camped, however, so be prepared to get out your net and bug spray as soon as the sun starts to set. It’s about a 10-minute walk from Beinglas Farm to the village of Inverarnan.

  • Toilets
  • Potable water
  • Hot showers
  • Indoor cooking area
  • Laundry facilities
  • Restaurant/bar
  • WiFi
  • Electronics charging

Beinglas Farm Website

Price: £8

Nearby Inverarnan*

  • Hotels
  • Pub
  • Transportation connections

*In addition to what you’ll find in Inverarnan, you can detour to Crianlarich (15 minutes from the trail each way) halfway through your walk tomorrow (Stage 4). This detour is highly recommended if you’d like to resupply at a proper supermarket.

Services at Inversnaid Bunkhouse (alternative option)

This is the first of two options that will allow you to split up stage 3 across two days by stopping in Inversnaid. You’ll need to detour about 10 minutes uphill off the trail to reach the Bunkhouse, but they do offer a free pickup service.

  • Toilets
  • Potable Water
  • Hot showers
  • Free WiFi
  • Kitchen
  • Electronics charging
  • Restaurant/bar
  • Hot tub

Price: £10 per person

Inversnaid Bunkhouse Website

Services at Inversnaid Hotel (alternative option)

Keep walking about five minutes north of the hotel (beyond the boathouse) until you reach a small clearing. The hotel allows campers to pitch a tent for free here. You can use the facilities in the hotel bar during opening hours.

  • Toilets (at hotel bar)
  • Potable water (at hotel bar)
  • WiFi (at hotel)
  • Restaurant/bar
  • Bus connections

Price: Free

Inversnaid Hotel Website

Nearby Inversnaid: Besides the bunkhouse, hotel, and accompanying restaurants there are no other services (except for bus and ferry connections from the hotel).

 

For a shorter day, stop at the spectacular Doune Bothy.

If you want more information about your many options on Stage Three, our Camping Guide is the perfect resource.

LEARN MORE

 

Stage Four – Inverarnan to Tyndrum

Camping Availability: Strathfillan Wigwams, Pine Trees Caravan Park and Camping, By the Way Hostel and Campsite

There are three good options for camping on Stage 4, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Strathfillan Wigwams is two miles short of Tyndrum, meaning you won’t have easy proximity to the services in town. Some might appreciate stopping a bit earlier in the day, however, and the surroundings at Strathfillan are downright spectacular. Pine Trees Caravan Park is massive, considerably less scenic, and mostly dominated by motorhomes, but it’s conveniently located in the center of Tyndrum. Finally, By the Way Hostel and Campground is another well-located option, but be advised that they will only accept one or two-person tents and they will not accept any campers if there has been a significant amount of rain, due to the ground being too water-logged.

Tyndrum Camping

Camping options near Tyndrum.

 

Services at Strathfillan Wigwams

  • Toilets
  • Potable water
  • Sinks
  • Hot Showers (£1 for eight minutes)
  • Indoor cooking/lounge area
  • Laundry
  • Electronics charging
  • Small shop
  • WiFi (£3 for 24 hours)

Price: £8

Strathfillan Wigwams Website

Services at Pine Trees Caravan Park and Camping

  • Toilets
  • Potable water
  • Hot showers
  • Laundry facilities
  • Shop
  • Electronics charging
  • WiFi

Price: £10 per person (plus £5 for an additional adult)

Pine Trees Caravan Park Website

Services at By The Way Hostel & Campground

  • Toilets
  • Potable water
  • Hot showers
  • Laundry facilities
  • Heated drying room
  • Indoor dishwashing area
  • Kitchen
  • Electronics charging
  • WiFi

Price: £10 per person

By The Way Hostel and Camping Website

Nearby Tyndrum*

  • Supermarket
  • Outdoor retailer
  • Post office
  • ATM
  • Train station

*Make sure to stock up on food and supplies while in Tyndrum, as you won’t have another chance until you reach Kinlochleven on the final night of the WHW**

**Also, be sure to check out the ruins of St. Fillian’s Priory and the adjacent graveyard for some fascinating history! You’ll see these just before approaching the Strathfillian campground.

 

Quintessential Highlands camping at Strathfillan.

Stage Five – Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy

Camping Availability: Free camping behind the Bridge of Orchy Hotel

When you arrive at Bridge of Orchy, continue past the hotel and across the bridge to the free camping area.  There are no facilities here, but there is a potable water tap next to the main entrance of the hotel. In terms of your bathroom options, there’s a wooded area directly behind the campsite.  Unfortunately, you won’t be the first person to use these natural facilities, and they were a bit polluted with human waste when we were there.  Bring your trowel and a positive attitude, and you’ll be fine.

Alternatively, you can use the hotel restroom if you purchase something at the bar/restaurant or if you leave a donation on the tray by the bar. If the weather is nice, make sure to soak your tired feet in the river while you take in the views of the quaint stone bridge and the green hills beyond.

Bridge of Orchy Camping

Camping at Bridge of Orchy.

 

Services at Bridge of Orchy

  • Potable water (just to the right of the hotel entrance on the outside of the building)
  • Toilets (with purchase, when the hotel bar is open)

Price: Free

Bridge of Orchy Hotel Website

Nearby Bridge of Orchy

  • Restaurant/bar
  • Train and bus connections
  • Post office

For those wanting to extend this stage, the Inverornan Hotel is three miles past the Bridge of Orchy, and it offers free camping, a water tap, and a restaurant.

 

Soak your tired feet under the Bridge of Orchy before enjoying your free campsite.

Stage Six – Bridge of Orchy to Glencoe/Kingshouse

Camping Availability: Glencoe Mountain Resort & Kingshouse Hotel

You’ve got two nice options for camping on Stage Six, depending on how much luxury you’re looking for. The first camping area you’ll come across is the Glencoe Mountain Resort, reached via a very slight detour off the main trail. For a small fee, you’ll enjoy modern amenities and flat, grassy pitches.

If more basic and free accommodation is what you’re after, keep walking a bit further to reach the Kingshouse Hotel. Wild camping is permitted just over the stone bridge from the hotel, and campers have access to public toilets behind the bunkhouse. Be advised that the area can be a bit boggy and level spots are hard to come by. However, you can enjoy the hotel’s bar and restaurant, so you needn’t rough it too much if you don’t want to!

Glencoe Camping

Camping options near Glencoe and Kingshouse.

 

Services at Glencoe Mountain Resort

  • Toilets
  • Potable water
  • Hot showers (£1 for 5 minutes)
  • Sinks
  • Electronics charging
  • Cafe/bar
  • WiFi

Price: £6 per person

Glencoe Mountain Website

Services at Kingshouse Hotel

  • Toilets
  • Potable water
  • Hot showers (£1 for 5 minutes)
  • Restaurant/bar

Price: Free

Kingshouse Hotel Website

Nearby Glencoe Mountain: Besides the ski resort and the Kinshouse Hotel, there are no other services close by. If needed, you can catch a bus or hitch a ride from the A82 to Glencoe Village (9 miles away). There you’ll find a grocery store, ATM, and a medical center.

Beautiful views of Buachaille Etive Mòr from the Glencoe Moutain Resort.

Stage Seven – Glencoe/Kingshouse to Kinlochleven

Camping Availability: MacDonald Hotel & Blackwater Hostel

Once again, you have two excellent choices for where to pitch your tent on this stage. You’ll pass the Blackwater Hostel first, almost immediately upon entering Kinlochleven. It is located on a lovely spot alongside the river and also conveniently located in the center of town. Reservations aren’t needed, but keep in mind that they only allow two-person tents or smaller.

The MacDonald Hotel is at the far end of town and can feel quite tedious to get to after a long day of hiking.  It’s worth the extra walking though! The staff is very friendly, the views of the loch are magical, and you’ll start right next to the trail in the morning. There are only 11 pitches, so reservations are recommended in peak season. Tents must be two-person or smaller at MacDonald.

Kinlochleven Camping

Camping options in Kinlochleven.

 

Services at MacDonald Hotel

  • Toilets
  • Potable water
  • Hot showers
  • Indoor cooking and washing hut
  • Heated drying room
  • Restaurant/bar
  • Electronics charging
  • WiFi

Price: £10 per person

MacDonald Hotel Website

Services at Blackwater Hostel

  • Toilets
  • Potable water
  • Hot showers
  • Covered cooking area
  • Drying room
  • Electronics charging
  • WiFi

Blackwater Hostel Website

Price: £10 per person

Nearby in Kinlochleven

  • Supermarket
  • Post office
  • Outdoor retailer
  • Restaurants/pubs/cafes
  • Library (with free WiFi)
  • Bus connections
  • Taxi service

 

The MacDonald Hotel campground is located on the idyllic shores of Loch Leven.

Stage Eight – Kinlochleven to Fort William/Glen Nevis

Camping Availability: Glen Nevis Caravan and Camping Park

Upon completing the West Highland Way, many hikers treat themselves to accommodation that features four walls and a real bed, but there is an option for the hardcore campers out there. While the hike officially ends in the town of Fort William, you can stop a couple of miles earlier in the town of Glen Nevis and pitch your tent at the Glen Nevis Caravan and Camping Park. This is also a convenient option for those hoping to tack on a climb up Ben Nevis, as the trail is just steps from the campground.

Fort William Camping

Camping options near Fort William.

 

Services at Glen Nevis Caravan and Camping Park

  • Toilets
  • Potable water
  • Hot showers
  • Laundry
  • Dishwashing area
  • Restaurant/bar
  • Small shop
  • Electronics charging
  • WiFi (£2.00 per hour/£5.00 per day)

Price: £10.50

Glen Nevis Camping Website

Nearby Glen Nevis and Fort William:  There is a visitor center and a few restaurants in the village of Glen Nevis. Fort William is another 2.5 miles up the trail. There you’ll find supermarkets, banks, a pharmacy, a hospital, restaurants/bars, an outdoor retailer, a post office, a library, and bus and train connections. 

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What’s Next?

You’re well on your way to an incredible camping experience on the West Highland Way. However, you still have lots of preparation before you’re truly ready! Be sure to read our entire series on the West Highland Way to learn everything you’ll need to know for your trip!

 

8 Comments on Guide to Camping on the West Highland Way

Guide to Camping on the Tour of Mont Blanc

Have you ever wanted to spend 11 days in the world’s most majestic mountains, walking on rugged trails by day, indulging in artisanal cheese and plentiful wine by night, and…

Have you ever wanted to spend 11 days in the world’s most majestic mountains, walking on rugged trails by day, indulging in artisanal cheese and plentiful wine by night, and capping it all off by cozying up in your tent  under the stars as the crisp evening chill sets in? Maybe you’ve never considered it before. We didn’t know we wanted such a thing either…and then we learned about the TMB and that all changed.

Water and steep mountains on stage 4 of the TMB

We’re not exaggerating when we say this is one of the prettiest trails in the world!

 

We first hiked the Tour du Mont Blanc in July 2017. We camped most nights and stayed in a few huts. Even after experiencing several more incredible thru-hikes across Europe, the TMB still stands out as the most unique and rewarding.  We created this guide in hopes that it will inspire more people to camp along the route, which was one of our favorite parts of the entire trip. Ever since completing our own trek, we’ve spent the past few years researching the best campsites and most essential information to share with our fellow tent-dwellers. We even hiked much of the trek again in 2019 to ensure that our guide is accurate and up-to-date (and because we couldn’t help but return to one of the most beautiful trails in the world!)

Thanks for using our guide and we wish you a wonderful trip! As always, we’d love to answer your questions and hear your feedback in the comments below.

Happy Trails,

Emily & Ian

Everything you need to to plan your TMB – all in one place.

Whether you prefer mountain huts or tents, fastpacking or meandering, luxury, dirtbag or something in between, we’ve got you covered. From custom itineraries to maps created specifically for campers we can help you plan your perfect TMB adventure! Our downloadable Guide to Camping on the Tour du Mont Blanc is ultimate resource to help you plan your perfect trip. Pick your digital guide below:

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The 50+ page guide contains resources you won’t find anywhere else, including:

  • Custom GPS files for the entire trek
  • Stage-by-stage itineraries
  • Complete packing list for campers
  • Detailed information on getting to/from the Tour du Mont Blanc
  • A 15-week training plan to ensure you’re prepared for your hike

We truly believe this is the best guide available for the camping on the TMB.  Pick up your guide below and if your not satisfied for any reason we’ll give you a full refund!

BUY NOW

What’s in This Guide:

About the Tour du Mont Blanc

The Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) takes trekkers through France, Italy, and Switzerland on one of the most spectacular trails in the world. Typically completed in 11 stages, the route circumnavigates  Mont Blanc, the highest peak in Western Europe. The trail passes through seven unique and beautiful valleys, where charming hamlets and regional delicacies abound. Between the valleys, the route traverses rugged mountain landscapes and stunning high alpine scenery. The TMB is one of the most popular long-distance treks in Europe and is considered to be a classic walk that belongs on any passionate hiker’s bucket list.

The Mont Blanc massif covered in glaciers and seen from stage 11 on the TMB

The Mont Blanc Massif in all of its glacier-covered glory.

 

How long is the Tour du Mont Blanc?

Distance: 170 kilometers (105 miles)

Elevation Gain: 10,000 meters (32,800 feet)

 Check out our extensive collection of TMB Maps to get a better sense of distance, stages, elevation, and more! 

How long does it take to hike the Tour du Mont Blanc?

It typically takes walkers between 8-11 days to complete the TMB. One of the great things about the hike is that there’s a lot of room for customization when it comes to creating your itinerary. Camping will allow you a lot more flexibility in terms of not needing advance reservations, but you will be a bit more restricted in other ways since camping is not permitted on every stage of the TMB. We’ve structured this camping guide for the classic 11-stage version of the trek, but we’ve noted places where you can adapt your itinerary to combine or reduce stages.

A few other considerations to keep in mind when deciding how many days you need to hike the TMB:

  • If you plan on camping, you’ll need to carry a heavier pack and therefore may hike slower than usual.
  • Do you enjoy spending 8+ hours on steep trails every day? If not, you shouldn’t double-up on stages.
  • Fastpacking the TMB is possible in 7 days or less, but you’ll need to be very fit and experienced.
  • Do you want to take a rest day? If so, don’t forget to factor that into your itinerary.
  • Are you determined to exclusively camp along the trail? If so, you’ll need to adjust your itinerary to avoid stopping in places without camping options. See our stage-by-stage guide for more details on this.
  • Are you interested in taking shortcuts or cutting out sections of the trail? This can be a good option for those who don’t have enough time to realistically complete the entire route or want to tailor it for their ability level.
Signpost with several yellow trail signs pointing in two different directions.

There are lots of variants and shortcuts that can be used to customize your trek.

 

When to hike

The general season for hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc lasts from mid-June through mid-September, although this window is subject to great variability due to snow conditions on the higher passes.

June can be lovely, but you will likely have to negotiate large sections of the trail that are covered in snow. In some cases, you may need to reroute to avoid unsafe areas. Those hiking in June should bring crampons. You can expect an explosion of wildflowers in June and July.

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July and August are typically the best times to be on the trail, but these are also the most busy months on the TMB. Be sure to check when the Ultra Tour du Mont Blanc is happening. This trail-race of the entire circuit typically occurs at the end of August and brings out thousands of spectators – not the best time to be trekking!

Expect increasingly cooler weather and fewer crowds in September; this can be a wonderful time to hike. However, it’s important to note that many campgrounds and other services along the route may already be closed for the season.

Crossing a snow field on the TMB

An easy snow crossing in July.

 

How difficult is the Tour du Mont Blanc?

If you are reasonably fit and have some backpacking experience, you should be well-suited to the physical challenges of the TMB. It is a tough trek that involves long, steep ascents and descents on nearly every stage, but it isn’t too technically demanding. Make sure you have healthy knees, as the downhill sections can take their toll! Keep in mind that carrying a heavier pack will greatly increase the physical demands of a trek like the Tour du Mont Blanc. If camping, some extra weight is inevitable, but if you’re strategic you can avoid carrying too big of a backpack.

Read More: How to Train for the TMB

Everything you need to plan your perfect TMB – all in one place.

LEARN MORE

 

Which Direction?

The TMB is traditionally hiked in a counterclockwise direction beginning in the French town of Les Houches, adjacent to Chamonix. It is also possible to walk the route in a clockwise direction, and trekkers headed this way typically start in the Swiss town of Champex. Below we’ve outlined some pros and cons of hiking in each direction:

Counterclockwise

PROS:

  • Follows the classic route, good if you’re a sucker for tradition.
  • Begins in Chamonix, which is easier to get to from the Geneva Airport than Champex.
  • Rewards hikers with jaw-dropping views of Mont Blanc on the final stage.

CONS:

  • More people hike in this direction, so the trail could feel more crowded throughout the day.

Clockwise

PROS:

  • Fewer hikers walking in the same direction as you.
  • The first few stages are a bit mellower, allowing you to get acclimated before tackling the tougher sections.

CONS:

  • You’ll pass a large wave of people walking in the opposite direction each day, which can get tight on narrow trails.
  • Champex (your starting point) has less amenities and is less conveniently connected by public transport than Chamonix. If you want to start in Chamonix and hike clockwise, be warned that the first day involves a doozy of a climb, which could be a major shock to the system.

Our stage-by-stage guide is organized for hikers walking the circuit in the traditional counterclockwise direction, but would be just as useful for those hiking in the clockwise direction.

Red boats on the shore of Lac Champex

Those who choose to hike clockwise will start in the pretty town on Champex.

Weather

Mountain weather is always volatile, and the Tour du Mont Blanc is no different. Conditions can change very rapidly in the Alps, meaning that you can find yourself in the middle of a whiteout blizzard or on an exposed ridge during a thunderstorm without much warning. For the most part, the weather during the hiking season is ridiculously lovely. Expect warm, sunny days, cool evenings, and not too much rain. However, you also need to be prepared for very hot temperatures, very cold temperatures, rain, and storms (and you could even see all of these in the same day!)  Getting caught high up in the mountains during a storm or without the right gear is extremely dangerous, but you can greatly minimize your risk by taking a few important precautions:

  1. The Meteoblue App is arguably the best resource for predicting 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.
  2. Start hiking early in the day! Not only will you enjoy gorgeous sunrises, get to the campground before the crowds, and avoid the heat, but you’ll also greatly reduce your risk of getting caught in afternoon thunderstorms.
Gray clouds partially obscure the mountains on the TMB.

Weather can change quickly on the trail!

 

Food and Drink

One of the many wonderful things about the TMB is that you don’t need to worry about carrying (and eating) eleven days’ worth of underwhelming freeze-dried backpacker meals. Due to the fact that the trail passes through many towns and villages, you will be able to resupply every few days. We’ve noted the availability of shops and restaurants at every stop along the route in our stage-by-stage camping guide below. Make sure you plan accordingly, as there are not shops at every stage.

For budget travelers, it is possible to self-cater and keep your food and drink costs quite reasonable. You’ll need to bring your own camp stove and cooking equipment if you plan on fixing most of your own meals along the TMB. 

Additionally (for those with deeper pockets), many of the hotels, gites, and refuges sell meals and offer the option of purchasing meals. You can just show up for lunch, but you’ll need to order ahead of time for dinner.

Whichever way you approach your food and drink strategy, we think you’ll find that trekking in the Alps is every bit as much a culinary delight as a natural one! 

Dietary Restrictions

The restaurants and accommodation providers along the TMB are generally quite willing to provide a vegetarian option. Those who are vegan, gluten-free, or have a specialized diet will have a harder time finding suitable meals. While certain places will be able to accommodate your needs, that will be the exception and not the norm. We’d recommend bringing plenty of your own food as insurance.  

Water

All of the hotels, gites, and campgrounds provide potable water. You will pass through many villages with public drinking fountains, but make sure to plan ahead and carry 1-2 liters of water each day. Due to the presence of agricultural activity near large swaths of the trail, we do not recommend drinking any water from natural streams without filtering it first.

Bread, cheese, fruit, and a bottle of wine.

Who says self-catering can’t be delicious?

 

Ready to start planning? Let us create your custom itinerary!

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Getting to and from the TMB

The circular nature of the Tour du Mont Blanc keeps logistical puzzles to a minimum, as you’ll start and end your hike in the same place. This makes it easier to store extra baggage and book round-trip transport to and from the trail. If you are travelling from further afield to reach the TMB, you will likely fly into the Geneva Airport (GVA). Depending on where you plan on starting your hike, you’ll either take a bus from GVA to Chamonix or a train/bus combination  from GVA to Champex.

We wrote an entire article with the sole purpose of providing you with in-depth information on TMB logistics. Check it out here! 

The bus stop in Les Houches, surrounded by pink flowers.

The worlds prettiest bus stop? This one in Les Houches has got to be a top contender!

 

Wayfinding

For the most part, the TMB is an extremely well-marked trail. You’ll see a variety of trail markers along various sections of the route, ranging from the iconic yellow and black diamond to the more modern bright green TMB logo. Generally speaking, if you go more than twenty minutes without seeing a trail marker, you’ve probably wandered off the trail. Despite its helpful paint flashes and signage, it is still surprisingly easy to get lost on the TMB if you’re not careful. The scenery is so darn pretty that it will often draw your eyes away from the path and cause you to miss a turn. That’s why carrying a map and (preferably) a GPS device is of the utmost importance. This is even more true if you plan on camping, as many of the campgrounds require you to leave the trail to access them.

No fancy GPS device? No problem! In this post we’ll walk you through exactly how to turn your regular old smartphone into a bonafide GPS– and you don’t need to use your precious data to do so!

Additionally, check out this post on how to find all of your campgrounds on the TMB and this one if you want to see our range of helpful maps and/or download the GPS waypoints for the hike.

Screenshot of GPS locations on a smartphone

You can easily turn your smartphone into a handy GPS device for the trail!

 

Budgeting and Money

Cash or Credit?

While an increasing number of accommodation providers, shops, and other services are beginning to accept credit cards, cash is still the primary payment method used along the TMB. It is important to carry enough cash to cover all of your expenses for several days, as  ATMs are infrequent along the trail. Check out our stage-by-stage guide (later in this post) for availability of ATMs on specific stages. 

Currency

The TMB crosses the borders of three different countries, meaning that you’ll need to switch from using Euros in France to Swiss Francs in Switzerland then back to Euros upon entering Italy. While most places in Switzerland will accept Euros, you’ll be better off using Francs if you can. 

Typical Costs

Although it has the reputation for being one of the more expensive and luxurious thru-hikes, it is still very possible to hike the TMB on a tight budget (camping helps tremendously with this!) Furthermore, you can even eat delicious foods and drink some tasty beverages without breaking the bank.

The two keys to saving money on the TMB? Lodging and food.

Since you’ve found this camping guide, you’re well on your way to having the first one covered. Camping will save you boatloads of money, and you’ll have a better experience too!

In terms of food, the best thing you can do is to avoid eating meals at restaurants and refuges. Sure, stop for a coffee and a pastry, enjoy a post-hike beer, and definitely pick up some local cheese, but if you cook your own meals you will greatly, greatly reduce your overall spending.

Check out this thorough post in which we break down exactly what you can expect to pay for food, accommodation, transportation, and more. 

Hikers take in the views from the top of a pass on the TMB

Fortunately, the best parts of the TMB-like the sense of accomplishment that comes with reaching the top of a pass- are completely free!

What to Pack

Packing for the TMB is balancing act between ensuring you have everything you need and ensuring you don’t feel like you’re giving a piggyback ride to a small elephant for 100+ miles. This is especially true for campers, as you’ll have a more extensive packing list and the stakes are a bit higher if you neglect to bring something essential.

For a complete packing list, check out this article.

How much should my pack weigh?

This isn’t easy to answer, since there are a ton of factors that influence how much is too much for any individual hiker. Some things to think about…

  • How fast are you hoping to hike? Generally speaking, lighter=faster
  • Have you completed a multi-day through hike with this specific backpack and this amount of weight before? If not, you should really try to keep it below 25lbs (including water!) 
  • Are you injury-prone or do you have any chronic knee, hip, or back issues? If so, you need to make sure that backpack is below 20lbs!

Did you know we can help you create the perfect packing list? Learn more here!

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Generally speaking, less is more. Here’s a few tips for preventing baby-elephant piggyback syndrome:

  1. You only need a couple of shirts. Same goes for underwear and socks. Before you write us off as total dirtbags, hear us out. First, you’ll have plenty of time and sunshine to wash and dry laundry (and we actually find it to be quite a fun camp chore). Second, clothes are heavy, so cutting out everything but the absolute essentials will make a huge difference.
  2. Plan out when/where you’ll restock food provisions and don’t carry more food than you need.
  3. Consider leaving your bulky camera equipment at home. Unless photography is your passion, most smartphones take great photos and save a ton of space and weight.

If you have other travel destinations before or after the TMB, you can store your extra luggage in Chamonix. See our logistics article for more on this. 

Caution sign showing a person falling off a cliff.

This poor fellow didnt follow our packing advice….

 

TMB MVG (Most Valuable Gear)

Footwear on the Tour du Mont Blanc

Traditional hiking boots, hiking shoes, or trail runners will all work for the trail conditions on the TMB, but you need to make sure they will work for you too. This means that you should bring a pair of boots or shoes that you know from experience don’t cause problems for your feet. Ideally, you should put at least 30 miles on them in various terrain and weather conditions to reduce the chance of running into issues on the trail. A nasty blister can be catastrophic on a multi-day trek like the TMB! That being said, you also don’t want your boots/shoes to be too broken in, as you need them to hold up faithfully for many miles of gnarly terrain. I know we’re asking you to work some Goldilocks magic here, but it’s definitely worth it!

In terms of other specifications, we feel that the only other must-have is a good, grippy vibrum (or similar material) sole for steep descents and loose paths. Otherwise it’s up to personal preference when it comes to how much ankle support you need, waterproof versus quick-dry, sturdy versus lightweight, and so on.

You’ll also want to make sure you have some good socks. Socks are one of those rare things in life where you really do get what you pay for, and high quality socks can be a game changer. Once again, try to do some hiking in a few different types to figure out how what you like in terms of thickness, cushion, and height. We love merino wool for its quick-drying and anti-stink qualities.

If you’re blister prone, consider trying sock liners. Many hikers swear by them. Other tried-and-true blister prevention tactics include putting bodyglide on potential hotspots or wearing toesocks.

Trekking Poles

BRING THEM. Enough said. Seriously, these are a total game-changer on a tough trek like the TMB. You (and your knees) will be so glad to have them on steep sections, and this is especially true for campers who are carrying heavier loads.

Hikers making their way down to the Vallee de l'Arve.

Big shout out to our trekking poles and pack covers!

 

Backpack

The same rule for shoes applies to backpacks: make sure you complete several hikes with your bag packed the same way (and same weight) you’ll carry on the TMB. Also similar to shoes, backpacks need to be broken in through use, and your body needs to get used to the feeling of wearing it for extended periods of time. In terms of size, most campers will need between 45 and 65 liters. If you’re purchasing a new one, most good outdoors stores have experienced staff that will help you find the right fit and style for your needs.

Don’t forget to bring a pack cover (included with many newer backpacks) to protect against rain. This is an absolute must-have.

Battery Backup

If you plan on using your phone as a GPS to navigate along the TMB (which we highly recommend!), it’s imperative that it stays charged. Many campgrounds will allow you to charge electronics, but this isn’t a guarantee everywhere. Carrying a small battery backup or one of these nifty portable solar panels will give you a little more freedom and peace of mind. In our guide, we’ve noted the availability of electronics charging along every stage.

A few other MVG honorable mentions…

Puffy down jacket: Lightweight, warm, packable and all you need (it’s not necessary to bring a heavy fleece, too).

Kev Reynolds’ Ciccerone Guide to the TMB: An excellent resource.

Don’t forget to check out our complete packing list for the TMB here.  Additionally, if you’re on a tight budget, be sure to take a look at this article for backpacking gear hacks to save you money.

Electronics

Charging

Many campgrounds and other accommodation along the route will allow you to charge your devices for free, although there is some variation in terms of availability from place to place. See our guide for specific information on each stage. We recommend using a multi-port USB adapter, as outlets can be in high demand. If you’re coming from outside of Europe, you’ll need a travel adapter. Thankfully, you’ll use the same adapter in all three countries along the route.

Cell Service

Cell phone service is pretty widespread along the Tour du Mont Blanc, but it isn’t always reliable or predictable. Expect to get service in all of the larger towns, but less so as you go further from civilization. You might be able to pick up a few bars at high points and unobstructed areas (like the top of a mountain pass), but definitely don’t count on it.

Wifi

For better or worse, many of the campgrounds along the TMB now offer Wifi. It’s typically free to use, although some places may require an additional fee. You’ll usually have to move close to the reception building in order to connect to it. The mountain refuges (and most gites) along the TMB do not offer wifi, but it is commonplace at all hotels.

Hikers sitting in chairs and enjoying the views outside Refuge de la Flegere

No wifi? No problem! The views and camaraderie provide more than enough entertainment along the TMB.

 

Wild Camping on the Tour du Mont Blanc

Wild camping along the TMB is complicated and discouraged (and often illegal). The trail passes through three countries and several local municipalities, each with their own specific rules and regulations. Generally speaking, wild camping may be allowed in France at high altitudes between sunset and sunrise, it may be permitted above 2,500 meters (from dusk until dawn) in Italy, and it is strictly forbidden in Switzerland. This website has helpful information on the specific legal codes for each country.

The good news is that there are many official campsites that are easily accessible along the TMB. While not entirely cheap, we feel it is important to use these facilities whenever they are available in order to give respect to the local communities and the fragile natural environment. Furthermore, there are quite a few opportunities to pitch your tent in free sanctioned wild and semi-wild camp spots along the TMB (see the guide below for specific details). If you choose to wild camp outside of these areas, set up after dusk, pack up at dawn, and utilize leave no trace practices.

Wildflowers on stage 4 of the TMB

This might look like an ideal place to camp, but it’s definitely not legal!

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The Complete Guide to Snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park

  If you’ve read any of our other posts on this blog, you’ve probably figured out by now that we really love to hike.  If you ask me, there’s only…

A frozen and snow covered Dream Lake, seen while snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park

Dream Lake in all of its frozen beauty.

 

If you’ve read any of our other posts on this blog, you’ve probably figured out by now that we really love to hike.  If you ask me, there’s only one thing more fun than hiking…hiking in the snow! And the only thing better than hiking in the snow? Snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park! You might be thinking, “Well, no… It’s cold and difficult and boring.” Or maybe you’re thinking, “She’s crazy. Skiing is WAY better.” Before you click over to one of the six other tabs you have open right now, hear me out. 

Snowshoeing allows you to see familiar trails in a completely new way, it’s a challenging and rewarding workout, and it gives you the opportunity to experience popular hikes without the crowds. Oh, and unlike skiing, you don’t have to get up at 4am to battle traffic for hours just to get there. You can rent or buy snowshoes for a very reasonable cost, especially when compared to skis.  Snowshoeing for the win!

As I’ve gotten into the sport in recent years, I’ve found it surprisingly difficult to find good information about snowshoeing near the Front Range, especially snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park.  Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. In this post, I’ll share everything you need to know in order to have a fantastic snowshoe outing in one of our favorite places: Rocky Mountain National Park.

But first, a few reasons why you should showshoe in Rocky Mountain National Park…

-It has a pretty consistent snowpack throughout the winter months.

-It is significantly less crowded in the off-season, allowing you to enjoy its natural wonders in peace and solitude.

-It has a wealth of trails of varying lengths, difficulty levels, and terrain types, making it a great destination for snowshoers of every ability and experience level.

Also, be sure to check out our Snowshoeing Packing List to be prepared for any winter adventure!

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The Ultimate Guide to the GR20 

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

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

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

View from Bocca Piccaia.

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

 

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

What’s in this Guide:

Hiker on the GR20

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

 

About the GR20

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

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

How long is the GR20? 

Distance: 180 km (112 miles)

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

How long does it take to hike the GR20?

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

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

Auberge on the southern half of the GR20.

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

 

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

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

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

How difficult is the GR20? 

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

Read More: How Difficult is the GR20?

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.

 

Read More: How to Train for the GR20

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

For a full packing list and detailed gear advice, check out our GR20 Packing article!

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.

 

Click here to see the comprehensive packing article.

 

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 all of our great GR20 resources:

 

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Guide to Camping on the Lechweg Trail

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

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

Looking back towards Lech from the trail.

 

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

Lake Formarinsee and the start of the Lechweg Trail.

 

A bit about the hike:

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

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

Notes:

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

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

 

A Note on Camping: 

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

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

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

 

Day One: Formarinsee to Lech 

Camping Availability: None

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

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

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

 

Day Two: Lech to Steeg

Camping Availability: None

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

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

Great views on the way to Steeg.

 

Day Three: Steeg to Häselgehr

Camping Availability: Camping Rudi

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

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

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

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

Camping Rudi.

 

Day Four: Camping Rudi to Vorderhornbach

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

Camping Availability: Camping Vorderhornbach

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

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

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

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

 

Day Five: Vorderhornbach to Reutte

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

Camping Availability: Camping Reutte 

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

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

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

Quaint villages and lovely flowers along the Lechweg.

 

Day Six: Reutte to Füssen

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

Camping Availability: Camping Brunnen

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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Guide to Camping on the Walker’s Haute Route

Some people say that camping on the Walker’s Haute Route is a more challenging version of the Tour du Mont Blanc. While there are arguably many similarities (including the fact…

Some people say that camping on the Walker’s Haute Route is a more challenging version of the Tour du Mont Blanc. While there are arguably many similarities (including the fact that the routes overlap for a couple of stages), to make that characterization would be to oversimplify and unfairly represent the Haute Route.

The Walker’s Haute Route (WHR) is resolutely and beautifully unique, a rugged, varied, and challenging adventure, sure to bring unforgettable rewards to all that traverse it. One major difference between the Walker’s Haute Route and the TMB is that while the TMB makes a loop across three different countries, the WHR is a point-to-point route that takes walkers from Chamonix to Zermatt, with the lion’s share of the trail residing within Switzerland.

There are many wonderful aspects of spending most of the roughly two weeks inside Swiss borders, but anyone who is remotely aware of their budget will quickly realize that Switzerland is expensive! If you are wanting to do the Haute Route on a smaller budget, or if you simply want to experience the joys of maximizing your time outdoors in the most spectacular Alpine settings, camping along the Walker’s Haute Route is your best bet.

As we began our research on camping along the Walker’s Haute Route, we realized that there are many options, but not a ton of clear, straightforward information about how to make it happen. With this guide, we hope to share what we learned through lots of planning, research, and experience to help our fellow tent-dwellers have their best possible Walker’s Haute Route Adventure.

Chamonix Train Station, the start of the Haute Route.

Starting at the Chamonix train station, the Walker’s Haute Route winds its way all the way to Zermatt.

 

What’s in This Guide?

About the Walker’s Haute Route

The Haute Route is a quintessential Alpine adventure. The classic route begins in Chamonix at the foot of the majestic Mont Blanc and ends in Zermatt at the base of the iconic Matterhorn. The hike is typically broken into fourteen stages which include strenuous high-level traverses and mellower valley walks.  There are several possible variants throughout the trek, so the exact distance covered will vary based on your individual route choices.

The Haute Route passes through two countries and crosses eleven mountain passes. It presents some serious physical challenges, but your exertions are guaranteed to be rewarded royally with some of the world’s most beautiful and varied scenery. Unlike its hundred-year old brother the High Level Route, the Walker’s Haute Route does not require skiing or mountaineering experience. Anyone with good physical fitness, some trekking experience, and an adventurous spirit is destined to fall in love with the Walker’s Haute Route.

Overlooking a chalet and mountain views on the Walker's Haute Route

 

How long is the Walker’s Haute Route?

Distance: 225 kilometers (140 miles)

Elevation Gain: 14,000 meters (45,932 feet)

How long does it take to hike the Walker’s Haute Route?

It typically takes walkers between 10-14 days to complete the Walker’s Haute Route. One of the great things about the hike is that there’s a lot of room for customization when it comes to creating your itinerary. Camping will allow you a lot more flexibility in terms of not needing advance reservations, but you will be a bit more restricted in other ways since camping is not permitted on every stage of the WHR. We’ve structured this camping guide for a 12-stage version of the trek, but we’ve noted places where you can adapt your itinerary to combine stages or choose other variants.

A few other considerations to keep in mind when deciding how many days you need to hike the Haute Route:

  • If you plan on camping, you’ll need to carry a heavier pack and therefore may hike slower than usual.
  • Do you enjoy spending 8+ hours on steep trails every day? If not, you shouldn’t double-up on stages.
  • Fastpacking the Haute Route is possible in 7 days or less, but you’ll need to be very fit and experienced.
  • Do you want to take a rest day? If so, don’t forget to factor that into your itinerary.
  • Are you determined to exclusively camp along the trail? If so, you’ll need to adjust your itinerary to avoid stopping in places without camping options. See our stage-by-stage guide for more details on this.
  • Are you interested in taking shortcuts or cutting out sections of the trail? This can be a good option for those who don’t have enough time to realistically complete the entire route or want to tailor it for their ability level.
Lac Bleu on the Walker's Haute Route

The aptly named Lac Blue, a highlight for many on the Walker’s Haute Route.

 

When to hike

The general season for hiking the Walker’s Haute Route lasts from mid-June through mid-September, although this window is subject to great variability due to snow conditions on the higher passes.

June can be lovely, but you will likely have to negotiate large sections of the trail that are covered in snow. In some cases, you may need to reroute to avoid unsafe areas. Those hiking in June should bring crampons. Campgrounds and mountain huts typically don’t open until the later part of June.

July and August are typically the best times to be on the trail, but these are also the most busy months on the Haute Route. Be sure to check when the Ultra Tour du Mont Blanc is happening. This trail-race typically occurs at the end of August and brings out thousands of spectators. The first few stages largely overlap with the UTMB course, so try to avoid being on those segments during the race.  You can expect an explosion of wildflowers in June and July.

Expect increasingly cooler weather and fewer crowds in September; this can be a wonderful time to hike. However, it’s important to note that many campgrounds, mountain huts, and other services along the route may already be closed for the season.

The best time to hike is mid-August through mid-September, but anytime you go there’ll be a real chance that you’ll need to reroute to avoid snow-covered sections or adverse weather conditions. If that happens, don’t despair. Chalk it up to being part of the Haute Route experience and make sure to give the mountains the respect they deserve.

A large patch of snow below Refuge Col de Balme.

A large patch of snow lingers below Refuge Col de Balme in mid-July.

 

How difficult is the Walker’s Haute Route?

The Haute Route does not require advanced mountaineering experience, but its challenges certainly should not be taken lightly. For one thing, it is a very strenuous endeavor. Expect to cover around 15km and 1,000m of elevation gain each day. Much of the hike requires walking on steep, loose, and rocky terrain.

In addition to the basic physical challenges, there are also some sections that are technically difficult. Parts of the trail along the Europaweg and on the approach to Pas des Chevres are very exposed and come with a small risk of falling rocks.  There are ladders and chains to negotiate at a few points along the trail as well, with the toughest being near Pas des Chevres. Additionally, some hikers opt to take a variant that involves a short glacier crossing, but that can be easily avoided.

One final consideration involves the health of your knees and overall leg strength. There are very long, steep descents on nearly every stage of the Haute Route, and these can create problems and irritate chronic injuries for those with sensitive knees.

If you have a high level of physical fitness and some trekking experience, you should be well suited for the Haute Route. There’s no need to be too intimidated by this trek, but it’s a very good idea to train ahead of time, be realistic about your abilities and expectations, and use good judgement in the mountains.

Climbing a ladder to reach the Pas des Chevres on Stage 7 of the Walker's Haute Route

The ladders are actually the easiest part of the ascent to the Pas des Chevres!

 

Which direction?

Unlike many other long-distance hikes, the Haute Route is almost exclusively walked in the Chamonix to Zermatt direction. You can certainly walk the other direction (from the Matterhorn to Mont Blanc) but most information you’ll find will assume you’re walking from Chamonix to Zermatt. Generally speaking, the difficulty is the same in either direction. However, some of the best views come on the final stretches of the walk (if heading in the traditional west-to-east direction), as the Matterhorn comes sharply into sight for the first time. There is something truly unforgettable about completing your trek with this dramatic peak towering above the deep, green valley. It will literally take your breath away, and it makes for the perfect conclusion to such a rewarding and spectacular experience.

Weather

Mountain weather is always volatile, and the Walker’s Haute Route is no exception. Conditions can change very rapidly in the Alps, meaning that you can find yourself in the middle of a whiteout blizzard or on an exposed ridge during a thunderstorm without much warning. For the most part, the weather during the hiking season is ridiculously lovely. Expect warm, sunny days, cool evenings, and relatively little rain. However, you also need to be prepared for very hot temperatures, very cold temperatures, rain, and storms (and you could even see all of these in the same day!)  Getting caught high up in the mountains during a storm or without the right gear is extremely dangerous, but you can greatly minimize your risk by taking a few important precautions:

  1. The Meteoblue App is arguably the best resource for predicting 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.
  2. Start hiking early in the day! Not only will you enjoy gorgeous sunrises, get to the campground before the crowds, and avoid the heat, but you’ll also greatly reduce your risk of getting caught in afternoon thunderstorms.
Dark clouds gathering above the Moiry Glacier.

Dark clouds gathering above the Moiry Glacier.

 

Food and Drink

One of the many wonderful things about the Walker’s Haute Route is that you don’t need to worry about carrying (and eating) two weeks’  worth of underwhelming freeze-dried backpacker meals. Due to the fact that the trail passes through many towns and villages, you will be able to resupply every few days. We’ve noted the availability of shops and restaurants at every stop along the route in our stage-by-stage camping guide below. Make sure you plan accordingly, as there are not shops at every stage. Keep in mind that shops often close for a midday break and almost always close on Sundays.

For budget travelers, it is possible to self-cater and keep your food and drink costs quite reasonable. You’ll need to bring your own camp stove and cooking equipment if you plan on fixing most of your own meals along the Haute Route. There are several outdoors stores that sell stove fuel in Chamonix and Zermatt.

Additionally (for those with deeper pockets), many of the hotels, gites, and refuges sell meals and offer the option of purchasing meals. You can just show up for lunch, but you’ll need to order ahead of time for dinner.

Whichever way you approach your food and drink strategy, we think you’ll find that trekking in the Alps is every bit as much a culinary delight as a natural one! 

Dietary Restrictions

The restaurants and accommodation providers along the Walker’s Haute Route are generally quite willing to provide a vegetarian option. Those who are vegan, gluten-free, or have a specialized diet will have a harder time finding suitable meals. While certain places will be able to accommodate your needs, that will be the exception and not the norm. We’d recommend bringing plenty of your own food as insurance.

Water

All of the hotels, gites, and campgrounds provide potable water. You will pass through many villages with public drinking fountains, but make sure to plan ahead and carry 1-2 liters of water each day. Due to the presence of agricultural activity near large swaths of the trail, we do not recommend drinking any water from natural streams without filtering it first.

Pastries on a balcony in Les Houches, France.

Fueling up on pastries in Les Houches before beginning our trek.

 

Getting to and From the Walker’s Haute Route

Since the Walker’s Haute Route starts and finishes in different places, it’s a good idea to have a plan for how you’ll get to the trailhead and make your onwards when you complete your trek. Most international travelers will travel through the Geneva Airport. To get from Geneva to Chamonix, you can take a bus or use a private shuttle service. On the other end, Zermatt is easily accessed by train from Geneva and many other Swiss cities.

We wrote an entire article dedicated to giving you the best, most in-depth information on everything concerning Haute Route logistics. Check it out here. 

Wayfinding

For the most part, the Walker’s Haute Route is an extremely well-marked trail. The route is usually marked with red and white paint flashes at frequent intervals.  If you go more than twenty minutes without seeing a trail marker, you’ve probably wandered off the trail. Despite the helpful paint flashes and signage, it is still surprisingly easy to get lost on the Haute Route if you’re not careful. The scenery is so darn pretty that it will often draw your eyes away from the path and cause you to miss a turn. That’s why carrying a map and (preferably) a GPS device is of the utmost importance. This is even more true if you plan on camping, as many of the campgrounds require you to leave the trail to access them.

Trail sign with mountains in the background on the Walker's Haute Route.

Trail signs and markers are plentiful along the Haute Route.

 

Budgeting and Money

Cash or Credit?

While an increasing number of accommodation providers, shops, and other services are beginning to accept credit cards, cash is still the primary payment method used along the Walker’s Haute Route. It is important to carry enough cash to cover all of your expenses for several days, as  ATMs are infrequent along the trail. Check out our stage-by-stage guide (later in this post) for availability of ATMs on specific stages.

Currency

The Haute Route crosses international borders, meaning that you’ll need to switch from using Euros in France to Swiss Francs in Switzerland. While most places in Switzerland will accept Euros, you’ll be better off using Francs if you can. You’ll only spend about a day of your trek in France, so you won’t need many Euros.

Typical Costs

Although Switzerland has a reputation for being extraordinarily expensive, it is still very possible to hike the Walker’s Haute Route on a tight budget (camping helps tremendously with this!) Furthermore, you can even eat delicious foods and drink some tasty beverages without breaking the bank.

The two keys to saving money on the Haute Route? Lodging and food.

Since you’ve found this camping guide, you’re well on your way to having the first one covered. Camping will save you boatloads of money, and you’ll have a better experience too!

In terms of food, the best thing you can do is to avoid eating meals at restaurants and refuges. Sure, stop for a coffee and a pastry, enjoy a post-hike beer, and definitely pick up some local cheese, but if you cook your own meals you will greatly, greatly reduce your overall spending.

Check out this thorough post in which we break down exactly what you can expect to pay for food, accommodation, transportation, and more. 

Zermatt Campground, Walker's Haute Route

Camping along the Walker’s Haute Route is one of the best ways to keep your costs down!

 

What to Pack for the Walker’s Haute Route

Packing for the Walker’s Haute Route is balancing act between ensuring you have everything you need and ensuring you don’t feel like you’re giving a piggyback ride to a small elephant for 100+ miles. This is especially true for campers, as you’ll have a more extensive packing list and the stakes are a bit higher if you neglect to bring something essential.

For a complete packing list, check out this article.

How much should my pack weigh?

This isn’t easy to answer, since there are a ton of factors that influence how much is too much for any individual hiker. Some things to think about…

  • How fast are you hoping to hike? Generally speaking, lighter=faster
  • Have you completed a multi-day through hike with this specific backpack and this amount of weight before? If not, you should really try to keep it below 25lbs (including water!) 
  • Are you injury-prone or do you have any chronic knee, hip, or back issues? If so, you need to make sure that backpack is below 20lbs!

Generally speaking, less is more. Here’s a few tips for preventing baby-elephant piggyback syndrome:

  1. You only need a couple of shirts. Same goes for underwear and socks. Before you write us off as total dirtbags, hear us out. First, you’ll have plenty of time and sunshine to wash and dry laundry (and we actually find it to be quite a fun camp chore). Second, clothes are heavy, so cutting out everything but the absolute essentials will make a huge difference.
  2. Plan out when/where you’ll restock food provisions and don’t carry more food than you need.
  3. Consider leaving your bulky camera equipment at home. Unless photography is your passion, most smartphones take great photos and save a ton of space and weight.

If you have other travel destinations before or after the Walker’s Haute Route, you can store or transfer your extra luggage. See our logistics article for more on this. 

Hiking boots

Your trusty boots are one of your most important pieces of gear.

Walker’s Haute Route MVG (Most Valuable Gear)

Footwear on the Walker’s Haute Route

Traditional hiking boots, hiking shoes, or trail runners will all work for the trail conditions on the Haute Route, but you need to make sure they will work for you too. This means that you should bring a pair of boots or shoes that you know from experience don’t cause problems for your feet. Ideally, you should put at least 30 miles on them in various terrain and weather conditions to reduce the chance of running into issues on the trail. A nasty blister can be catastrophic on a multi-day trek like the Haute Route! That being said, you also don’t want your boots/shoes to be too broken in, as you need them to hold up faithfully for many miles of gnarly terrain. I know we’re asking you to work some Goldilocks magic here, but it’s definitely worth it!

In terms of other specifications, we feel that the only other must-have is a good, grippy vibrum (or similar material) sole for steep descents and loose paths. Otherwise it’s up to personal preference when it comes to how much ankle support you need, waterproof versus quick-dry, sturdy versus lightweight, and so on.

You’ll probably need to cross some snow at some points along your hike. Gaiters and waterproof boots can be helpful for these situations, but certainly aren’t essential.

You’ll also want to make sure you have some good socks. Socks are one of those rare things in life where you really do get what you pay for, and high quality socks can be a game changer. Once again, try to do some hiking in a few different types to figure out how what you like in terms of thickness, cushion, and height. We love merino wool for its quick-drying and anti-stink qualities.

If you’re blister prone, consider trying sock liners. Many hikers swear by them. Other tried-and-true blister prevention tactics include putting bodyglide on potential hotspots or wearing toesocks.

Trekking Poles

BRING THEM. Enough said. Seriously, these are a total game-changer on a tough trek like the Walker’s Haute Route. You (and your knees) will be so glad to have them on steep sections, and this is especially true for campers who are carrying heavier loads.

Hiker with trekking poles on the Walker's Haute Route

Thank goodness for trekking poles (and improvised sun protection)!

 

Backpack

The same rule for shoes applies to backpacks: make sure you complete several hikes with your bag packed the same way (and same weight) you’ll carry on the Haute Route. Also similar to shoes, backpacks need to be broken in through use, and your body needs to get used to the feeling of wearing it for extended periods of time. In terms of size, most campers will need between 45 and 65 liters. If you’re purchasing a new one, most good outdoors stores have experienced staff that will help you find the right fit and style for your needs.

Don’t forget to bring a pack cover (included with many newer backpacks) to protect against rain. This is an absolute must-have.

Backpacking backpack

The type of pack you’ll need for the Haute Route will depend on your individual itinerary.

 

Battery Backup

If you plan on using your phone as a GPS to navigate along the Walker’s Haute Route (which we highly recommend!), it’s imperative that it stays charged. Many campgrounds will allow you to charge electronics, but this isn’t a guarantee everywhere. Carrying a small battery backup or one of these nifty portable solar panels will give you a little more freedom and peace of mind. In our guide, we’ve noted the availability of electronics charging along every stage.

A few other MVG honorable mentions…

Puffy down jacket: Lightweight, warm, packable and all you need (it’s not necessary to bring a heavy fleece, too).

Kev Reynolds’ Ciccerone Guide to the Walker’s Haute Route: An excellent resource. It’s also available as an e-book, which is a great way to keep your pack weight down!

Don’t forget to check out our complete packing list for the Walker’s Haute Route here.  Additionally, if you’re on a tight budget, be sure to take a look at this article for backpacking gear hacks to save you money.

Electronics

Charging

Many campgrounds and other accommodation along the route will allow you to charge your devices for free, although there is some variation in terms of availability from place to place. See our stage-by-stage guide for specific information on each stage. We recommend using a multi-port USB adapter, as outlets can be in high demand. If you’re coming from outside of Europe, you’ll need a travel adapter. Thankfully, you’ll use the same adapter in all three countries along the route.

Cell Service

Cell phone service is pretty widespread along the Walker’s Haute Route, but it isn’t always reliable or predictable. Expect to get service in all of the larger towns, but less so as you go further from civilization. You might be able to pick up a few bars at high points and unobstructed areas (like the top of a mountain pass), but definitely don’t count on it.

Wifi

For better or worse, many of the campgrounds along the WHR now offer Wifi. It’s typically free to use, although some places may require an additional fee. You’ll usually have to move close to the reception building in order to connect to it. The mountain refuges (and most gites) along the Haute Route do not offer wifi, but it is commonplace at all hotels.

 

A view of the high alpine scenery near Pas des Chevres

Don’t expect to find any cell phone service in places like this (just outstanding views).

 

Reservations

Advance bookings are not necessary for any of the campgrounds along the Haute Route. If you’re worried about getting a good pitch, try to get to the campground before 5:00pm and you should be just fine. On the other hand, it is a very good idea to reserve beds at mountain refuges, gites, and hotels ahead of time.

A hotel with flowerboxes in Arolla, Switzerland.

You don’t need to make advance bookings for camping, but you’ll definitely want to reserve your bed at places like this!

 

Wild Camping on the Walker’s Haute Route

Wild camping along the Haute Route is complicated and discouraged (and often illegal). The trail passes through two countries and several local municipalities, each with their own specific rules and regulations. Generally speaking, wild camping may be allowed in France at high altitudes between sunset and sunrise, but it is strictly forbidden in Switzerland. This website has helpful information on the specific legal codes for each country.

The good news is that there are many official campsites that are easily accessible along the Walker’s Haute Route. While not entirely cheap, we feel it is important to use these facilities whenever they are available in order to give respect to the local communities and the fragile natural environment. As you’ll see in our guide, we opted to camp wild at just one stage along the Haute Route, as there were few alternatives. If you choose to wild camp outside of sanctioned areas, set up after dusk, pack up at dawn, and utilize leave no trace practices.

 

A Stage-by-Stage Guide for Camping on the Walker’s Haute Route

The Matterhorn near Zermatt.

The Matterhorn, your final destination on the Haute Route.

Stages One and Two: Chamonix to Le Peuty

Camping Availability: Le Peuty Campsite

While many walkers choose to stay in nearby Trient, Le Peuty lies more directly on the WHR trail and offers a simple, pretty option for camping. This campground is located next to a small Gite and consists of a grassy field with basic facilities. It’s easy to miss if there aren’t any tents set up yet. There is no registration; instead someone will stop by in the evening to collect payment. You can pay in either Swiss Francs (CHF) or Euros.

Services: Potable water (cold), Toilets (no TP or soap), sinks, sheltered cooking area with picnic tables, trash and recycling, one outlet, portable showers (hot water wasn’t working when we were there), clothesline.

Nearby: There is a restaurant at the Gite next to the campsite, as well as a few other restaurant offerings in Trient. There are no grocery stores or ATM’s in the area, so stock up before leaving Chamonix or Argentiere.

Price: 6 CHF per person (cash only)

Tent at the Le Peuty campsite on the Haute Route.

Nice views from the tent at Le Peuty.

 

Alternative Option #1: Chamonix to Argentiere

Camping Availability: Camping du Glaciers

We combined the first two stages of the Haute Route into one longer day. If you don’t want to do that, you could stop at the end of Stage One and camp in Argentiere.

Services: Toilets, hot showers, potable water, laundry, wifi, a restaurant (which serves breakfast), and a place to purchase snacks and stove fuel.

Nearby: Grocery store, ATM, restaurants, a Tourist Office, and bus services.

Price: 6.10€ per person + 3.10€ per tent + 0,20 € per person tourist tax (includes transit card)

Alternative Option #2: Chamonix (or Argentiere) to Hotel de la Forclaz

Camping Availability: Hotel de la Forclaz

If you decide to opt out of the challenging  Fenêtre d’Arpette route for Stage Three and instead choose to take the Bovine Route, you could get a head start by continuing past Le Peuty for about 45 minutes uphill to Hotel de la Forclaz (and along the Bovine Route). If you’re completing the  Fenêtre d’Arpette, you would not want to do this, as it would add an unnecessary detour. Camping at Hotel de la Forclaz is a bit more luxurious than at Le Peuty, as you’ll have access to hot meals, a small shop, and real showers.

Services: Toilets, showers, potable water, option to purchase breakfast and/or dinner from the hotel restaurant, and a small shop selling snacks and ice cream.

Nearby: There are no other shops or services near the hotel.

Price: 8 CHF per person + 6 CHF per tent

 

Stage Three: Le Peuty to Champex

Camping Availability: Camping Les Rocailles

Camping Les Rocailles is one of the first things you’ll pass as you enter Champex, about a 10-minute walk from the town center.  This lovely little campground offers three terraces with mostly flat spots to pitch your tent, but not much shade to be found.   Check in at the registration office before setting up camp.

Services: Toilets, sinks (with potable water), hot showers, a dishwashing/laundry room (3 CHF for wash, 1 CHF per 10 minutes for the dryer), outlets, microwave, electric kettle, covered cooking areas, and an area for drying wet clothes.  The office sells beer, wine, soda, and chips.

Nearby: Champex has a grocery store, cafes, bars, restaurants, outdoor retailers, and an ATM. The lake offers several tranquil spots along its shore for relaxing after a long day on your feet.

Price: 16 CHF per person (cash or most credit cards accepted)

The Trient Glacier.

Fantastic views await those who hike the Fenêtre d’Arpette

 

Stage Four: Champex to Le Châble

Camping Availability: Camping Champsec

While there isn’t a campground in Le Châble (the official stop of this stage of the WHR), there is a campground a short bus ride away (or a one-hour walk) in the small town of Champsec. To get to the campground, catch the #253 Postbus from outside of the convenience store at the gondola station in Le Châble. The ride takes about 10 minutes and costs 3.50 CHF per person. From the bus stop in Champsec, follow the signs and walk about 10 minutes to the campground. The campground is located in a lovely pastoral setting next to the river.

Tip: the tourist tax you’ll pay at the campground will make you eligible for a free transit card for the following day. The next morning when you take the bus back to Le Châble to continue your hike, simply tell the driver that you stayed at the campground and you shouldn’t have to pay the bus fare (you can then obtain your actual transit card from the tourist office in Le Châble if you also want to access the gondola for free).

Services: Toilets (TP but no hand soap), covered sinks for washing up, warm shower, indoor space with tables and chairs, outdoor seating, and outlets inside the reception and in the bathrooms.

Nearby: There aren’t any services in Champsec, but there is a grocery store (closed on Sundays), bakery, restaurants, bus/train/gondola connections, and an ATM in Le Châble. You could also use your transit card and ride the gondola or bus up to Verbier for more grocery stores, outdoors shops, and restaurants.

Price: 8 CHF per person+ 6 CHF per tent + 1.5 CHF tourist tax per person (includes transit card access) (cash only)

Stage Five: Le Châble to Cabane du Mont Fort

Camping Availability: None

On stage five, the traditional Walker’s Haute Route route climbs steadily upwards to the mountain hut at Cabane du Mont Fort and stays at high elevation throughout stage six. You won’t find any official camping areas again until you’re back down at lower elevations in Arolla, at the end of stage seven. If the weather conditions are really good, you could conceivably wild camp between stages five and seven. Our plan was to stay at the Cabane du Mont Fort at the end of stage five, then hike past the typical end of stage six the following day and reach the Refuge de La Barma, which is unmanned on weekdays. However, bad weather forced us to reroute after spending the night at Cabane du Mont Fort. We ended up taking the train and bus to reach Arolla, then hiking up to Pas de Chèvres from the Arolla the following day. Below we’ve provided an overview of Cabane du Mont Fort, plus other alternative options for these stages.

Cabane du Mont Fort

We camped nearly every night on the Haute Route, but we made exceptions on three occasions. Two of these exceptions were to stay at mountain huts (the other was to stay in a cozy Airbnb on our rest day). We reserved beds ahead of time at Cabane du Mont Fort and Cabane du Moiry, due to the difficulty of camping on these stages and the rave reviews about these huts. If you can, we recommend staying in at least one good mountain hut (known as cabanes) along your hike. It is a unique experience in which you’ll meet fellow hikers and enjoy a fun evening in an incredibly atmospheric setting. Tip #1: Both of the huts that we stayed at along the Walker’s Haute Route allowed us to opt out of purchasing meals and self-cater instead. We paid half as much with this option, while still enjoying all the ambiance and coziness of the hut. Tip #2: Get there early. Some rooms at Mont Fort only have two or four beds. If you’re lucky, you may end up with a private room.

Services: Toilets (TP and soap), drinking water, public wifi access, a la carte food and drinks available for purchase, hot showers (5 CHF for 5 minutes), kitchenette with stove, sink, and cookware, and a classic, cozy hut with great views.

Nearby: The Les Ruinettes gondola station is about an hour’s hike back down the trail. You can present your confirmation email from Cabane du Mont Fort at the Le Châble tourist office and receive a transit card which will allow you to ride the gondola for free down to Verbier and Le Châble. If you need to detour to Arolla due to bad weather or hazardous conditions, this is a great option. There are no other shops or services available along the trail until Arolla (with the exception of a few mountain huts which serve meals).

Price: 37 CHF (dorm only) or 75 CHF (half pension)

View from Cabane du Mont Fort.

Looking out from Cabane du Mont Fort.

 

Alternative Option: Le Châble to Cabane de Prafleuri

If you want to eliminate a day that doesn’t have easy camping options, you could take the gondola up from Le Châble to Les Ruinettes, then walk all the way to Cabane de Prafleuri. The next day you would descend to Arolla, where you’d have access again to a campground. We wouldn’t recommend this option for a few reasons. First, this would set you up for two very long and challenging days of walking in potentially hazardous conditions. Second, everyone we’ve talked has given poor reviews of Cabane de Prafleuri (it was actually closed for a bed bug infestation while we were hiking the WHR). If you’re going to spend the money on a hut, Mont Fort or Cabane des Dix are better options. Cabane des Dix is a further walk from Cabane du Mont Fort.

Stage Six: Cabane du Mont Fort to Cabane de Prafleuri

Camping Availability: Not available

Unfortunately, this section of the Haute Route does not have any options for camping. Here, the trail stays in the high mountains and does not encounter any towns, and thus does not encounter any campsites. The traditional Haute Route has walkers stop at Cabane du Prafleuri after Cabane du Mont Fort, although you can continue on to La Barma or Cabane des Dix as described above or head down to the Hotel du Barrage.

Services: Toilets, sinks (NO drinking water), showers, restaurant, outlets.

Nearby: No services nearby.

Price: Contact the Cabane for current prices.

 

Stage Seven: Cabane de Prafleuri to Arolla

Camping Availability: Camping Arolla

After a couple of days of crossing rocky, barren, snow-covered high mountain landscapes, the sunny, green valley and the village of Arolla are bound to look very inviting. As you descend into the small town, you’ll pass a couple of shops and hotels. To reach the campground, you’ll need to hike about 15-20 minutes further downhill. There’s a nice trail leading to the campground which can be accessed behind the Hotel du Glacier. You can’t miss the hotel, as it takes Alpine flower boxes to a whole new level. Camping Arolla is a nice, large campground with decent facilities and grassy terraces for tents. The reception has limited hours in the morning and evening, so pitch your tent and check back in later if they’re closed when you arrive. Tip: there are only a couple of showers for a whole bunch of campers, so try to get in there early if you want to avoid a long wait.

Services: Toilets (TP, no soap), sinks for washing up (hot and cold potable water), showers (1 CHF for 4 minutes), shop at the reception (limited hours) which sells snacks, beer/wine/soda, camper meals, toiletries, but no stove fuel, morning bread available for order, outlets in the bathrooms, wifi near the reception building, recycling (need to purchase bag for trash items), tent and camping gear rentals.

Nearby: The campground reception has a small shop and there is a pizza restaurant in the hotel next door to camping Arolla. There’s also a bus stop (Arolla, La Monta) just down the road from the campground. For all other services, you’ll need to walk back up to Arolla proper. There, you’ll find two small grocery stores, a few restaurants, and a tourist office.

Price: 8.70 CHF per person + 7.50 CHF per tent (cash or credit cards accepted)

Tents at Camping Arolla on the Haute Route.

A lovely evening at Camping Arolla.

 

Stage Eight: Arolla to La Sage

Camping Availability: Camping Molignon (Les Haudères)

The typical endpoint for this stage of the Haute Route is the town of La Sage, but those wanting to camp should stop instead in the town of Les Haudères, where there is a large campground with good facilities. Bear in mind that Les Haudères is at the bottom of the valley, while La Sage is further up the hillside. This means that you’ll have about 45 minutes of additional climbing to do at the beginning of the next day’s stage. We think this is a worthwhile trade-off, since Les Haudères is a charming village and also has way more services than La Sage. Camping Molignon is a big, busy campground on the edge of town. It’s located on a grassy area next to the river with nice views and easy proximity to the grocery store and bus stop. You’ll be in the minority with your tent, as most of the campground is occupied by camper vans. Though it is very large and crowded, you’ll find the facilities are quite nice and the location is ideal.

Services: Toilets (TP and hand soap), several covered sinks for washing up, potable water (hot and cold), showers, outlets, restaurant, small shop selling snacks and essential items, pool, hot tub, ping pong, playground, recycling, and trash (bag purchase required).

Nearby: Les Haudères has a grocery store, restaurants, cafes, outdoor shop, post office, and bus stop. You won’t find much in La Sage except for a few hotels and restaurants, so stock up in Les Haudères regardless of where you decide to spend the night.

Price: 7.50 CHF per person + 10 CHF per tent + 1.10 per person tourist tax

Campground near Les Hauderes, Switzerland.

Not a bad place to pitch a tent at Camping Molignon.

 

Stage Nine: La Sage to Cabane de Moiry (or Grimentz)

Camping Availability: Camping Ilôt Bosquet (Grimentz)

According to many Haute Route hikers, an overnight stay at Cabane de Moiry is a “can’t miss” experience. We opted to spend the night at Moiry instead of camping and found it to be a worthwhile splurge. The mountain hut is situated remarkably close to a truly stunning glacier, and the modern renovations (glass-walled dining room and spacious terrace) make for an atmospheric and wonderful space in which to study the glacier and soak up the views. However, by taking a variant to Grimentz, you have the option to camp instead, if you prefer.  Additionally, if you want to stay along the Moiry variant of the trail but still want to camp, we did see many people wild camping in the area between the upper reservoirs and Lac de Moiry.

Cabane de Moiry:

Services: Toilets (TP and soap), drying room, complimentary tea and coffee served in the afternoon and complimentary fruit tea in the morning, option for self-catering, restaurant/bar, sleep sheets available for rent (5 CHF), showers (5 CHF for 5 minutes), foosball, picnic tables, sinks but NO potable water (we recommend bringing a lightweight filter instead of buying the overpriced plastic bottles at the hut).

Nearby: There is a drinking water fountain located about an hour down the trail past Cabane de Moiry. There are also bathrooms at the parking lot next to Lac de Moiry.

Price: 40.50 CHF (dorm only) or 86.50 CHF (half board) (cash or credit cards accepted)

View of the Moiry Glacier.

The terrace at Cabane de Moiry gets you up close and personal to the incredible Moiry Glacier.

 

Alternative Option: Camping Ilôt Bosquet

If you would prefer to (legally) camp on this stage, your best bet is to continue hiking past the Barrage de Moiry and onwards for about two more hours to the town of Grimentz. If you plan on spending the following night at the Hotel Weisshorn, you’ll head straight there the next day, effectively cutting out a stage of the WHR. Alternatively, if you still wanted to complete the typical stage ten segment, you could take the bus back to Barrage de Moiry the next day and the complete the hike to Zinal. Another option (which would also cut out stage ten) would be to hike directly from Grimentz to Zinal (about 2.5 hours) and then continue on to complete stage eleven to Gruben all in the same day (which would be quite a long day of walking). Regardless of the option you choose, here’s a bit about the Camping Ilôt Bosquet:

Services: Toilets, potable water, picnic tables.

Nearby: Bus stop, tourist office, restaurants, bank, post office, shops.

Price: 5 CHF per person + 4 CHF tourist tax per person

Stage Ten: Cabane de Moiry to Zinal

Camping Availability: Camping Relais de la Tzoucdana

As you begin your long descent towards Zinal, you’ll be able to see the campground far below. It sits next to river on the far edge of town (about 20 minutes’ walk to the town center). If you arrive in the afternoon, don’t be surprised to find the campground’s restaurant positively buzzing with families and hikers stopping by for a drink or some ice cream. Don’t worry, the crowds disperse as the evening sets in. At first glance, the campground is a little strange; there are various animals housed on site, people recreating everywhere you turn, and the area for tents is a bit cramped. However, it grew on us as we spent more time there. The showers are hot and clean, the staff is super friendly, the pitches are flat and grassy. Tip: There are two options for your descent from the gondola station into Zinal. If you choose the less steep variant (which follows a gravel road), the trail ends immediately next to the campground. If you take the steeper option, you’ll have to walk through town for a bit to reach the campground. The reception is located at the restaurant.

Services: Toilets (TP and soap), hot showers, water tap with cold, potable water in the camping field, sink with hot and cold potable water in the main building, porta potties in the camping field, restaurant/bar, picnic table, outlets, and a playground.

Nearby: Grocery store, shops, ATM, bakery, restaurants, bus stop, gondola station, tourist office, post office.

Price: 7 CHF per person + 6 CHF per tent + 4 CHF per person tourist tax (includes transit card) (cash and credit cards accepted).

Stage Eleven: Zinal to Gruben

Camping Availability: Wild camping only

The typical route for this stage brings hikers into the lovely, quiet Turtmanntal Valley and to the little hamlet of Gruben. Gruben is a quaint town situated along the river. However, for what it provides in rural, small-town charm, it lacks in camping options. If you want to camp along this stage, your only option is to camp wild. If you choose to do this, keep in mind that it is not technically legal, and you should therefore make every effort to minimize your impact. Upon arriving in Gruben, most campers continue uphill past the Hotel Schwarzhorn, following the trail towards the next stage. If you continue up past Gruben, you can scout for potential camping spots tucked within the trees. There are few flat spots, but they do exist. Once you find a workable spot, you can head back into Gruben, grab a beer at the hotel, fill up on drinking water at the tap in front of the church, and wait for the sun to set before setting up camp. In the morning, make sure to get packed up early. Bonus: you’ll have a head start on the next day’s walk! Tip: We chose to cook and eat our dinner on a bench next to the water tap. This allowed us to minimize our impact at our campsite and gave us easy access to water for cooking and washing up.

Services: Drinking water is available in town in front of the church. If you purchase something at the hotel and ask for the password, you can get wifi access there.

Nearby: Besides the hotel and restaurant, there’s not much in Gruben. Be sure to stock up at the shop in Zinal unless you want to buy some very expensive meals at the Hotel Schwarzhorn.

Price: Free

Big mountain view on the Haute Route.

Fantastic vistas on the descent to Gruben.

 

Stages Twelve through Fourteen: Gruben to St. Niklaus to Zermatt

Camping Availability: Camping Attermenzen (Randa) or Camping Alphubel (Täsch )

The final days of the Haute Route present hikers with a lot of choices. You can choose to complete all, some, or none of the high-level Europaweg trail, you can complete the stages in two or three days, and you can use various forms of transit to shorten some sections. If you want to complete the entire Europaweg section, you won’t have many convenient options for camping. We’ve laid out all of your options for the final stages below:

Alternative Option #1: Gruben to St.Niklaus/Gasenried/Grächen, then  St.Niklaus/Gasenried/Grächen to the Europa Hut, then Europa Hut to Zermatt.

Camping Availability: None

If you want to complete the entire Europaweg section of the Walker’s Haute Route, your options for camping will be quite limited. You can choose to finish stage twelve either in St. Niklaus, Gasenried, or Grächen. Unfortunately, you won’t find campsites in any of these towns. Upon finishing stage twelve, you’ll first pass through St. Niklaus, which has a budget hotel, a grocery store and bus connections to Gasenried and Grächen. If you keep walking for about two hours uphill (or take the bus from the St. Niklaus train station), you’ll reach Gasenried next. This is the most convenient location from which to start the long and challenging Europaweg section the following day, but there is only one hotel in the town. Alternatively, you could detour to Grächen (2 more hours or bus) where you’ll find a shop, restaurants, and a few budget accommodation options. From our observations, it appeared to be quite difficult to wild camp near St. Niklaus, as it was quite populated. We didn’t pass through the other towns, so we can’t say how possible it would be.

Europa Hut:

Services: Toilets (TP), sinks, dining room, terrace, restaurant.

Nearby: No services nearby.

Price: 30 CHF per person (dorm only) or 65 CHF (half board)

Alternative Option #2: Gruben to Randa or Täsch, then Randa /Täsch  to Zermatt.

If you’d rather stick with camping instead of having to stay at the Europa Hut, or you want to cut out the sketchier parts of the Europaweg Trail, or if you just need to shorten your hike by a day this option is for you. After reaching St. Niklaus at the end of stage twelve, you’ll have a choice between two campgrounds. If you want to take the valley trail the following day, we’d recommend staying at the Randa Campground (it’s actually a bit past Randa towards Täsch). This campground will be closer to get to after a long day of hiking from Gruben and balance the remainder of the hike so your next day isn’t ridiculously short. If you want to hike on the Europaweg trail for the final day (highly recommended in good weather), we suggest camping in Täsch. You can hike directly up from the campground in  Täsch to meet up with the Europaweg Trail (about 1.5-2 hours) and take that all the way to Zermatt. By choosing this option, you’ll still get the incredible Matterhorn views that the Europaweg trail has to offer, while avoiding most of the exposed areas and the suspension bridge (of course some hikers will see this as a disappointment while others will rejoice). If you decide to stay in Täsch, you’ll likely want to shorten your hike there by either taking the gondola down from Jungen to St. Niklaus or taking the train from St. Niklaus to Täsch. If you want to walk all the way from Gruben to Täsch, prepare for a 10-12-hour day and a lot of downhill and uninteresting valley walking.

Camping Attermenzen (Randa):

Services: Toilets (TP), sinks for washing up, hot and cold potable water, washer/dryer, shop selling food, drinks, and camping equipment, and outlets.

Nearby: Keep in mind that this campground is about a 15-20 minutes’ walk past the town of Randa. To get to the grocery store, restaurants, bank, post office, or train station, you’ll have to walk back to town.

Price: 7 CHF per person + 6 CHF per tent + 3 CHF tourist tax per person + 1 CHF waste fee per person

Camping Alphubel (Täsch):

This van-packed campground is located conveniently next to the train station and grocery store. However, you’ll pay for that convenient location in the form of frequent noise from the road and railroad tracks. Ear plugs are a total game changer here, so make sure you pack them! The area for tents is small and cramped, but the facilities are decent and the proximity to the trail can’t be beat.

Services: Toilets (TP, no soap), potable water, covered sinks for washing up (hot and cold water), wifi (2 CHF), laundry room, outlets in the bathrooms, bread available for order, recycling and trash, picnic tables, and ping pong.

Nearby: Grocery store, ATM, train station, shops, tourist office, restaurants, post office.

Price: 9 CHF per person + 6 CHF per tent + 4 CHF per person tourist tax + 1 CHF garbage tax (cash only).

View of the Matterhorn and Zermatt.

First glimpse of Zermatt from the Europaweg.

 

Zermatt

Camping Availability: Camping Matterhorn

Upon completing a challenge like the Haute Route, many hikers consider rewarding themselves with a night or two in a hotel in Zermatt. However, once they start looking at the prices of hotels in Zermatt, many of those hikers decide that one more night of camping doesn’t sound so bad after all. Lucky for them, there is a decent campground located near the center of town. While it is quite noisy, a bit cramped, and the showers aren’t the warmest, this campground has a lot of redeeming qualities, too. The wifi is excellent, there are plenty of chairs and tables that can be moved around to suit your campsite, and the proximity to the grocery store and train station are quite convenient. This campground is a great budget option if you’re just staying one night in Zermatt before traveling onwards.

Services: Toilets (TP, no soap), covered area with sinks for washing up, potable water (hot and cold), “free stuff” exchange shelf, tables and chairs, warm showers, wifi (get password from the reception), and outlets in the bathrooms.

Price: 17 CHF per person (cash only).

Conclusion

We think that camping is the best way to do the Haute Route, not only for the money-saving aspects, but because it allows you to more fully immerse yourself in the natural surroundings you’re there to experience and to meet some really cool fellow campers along the way. Hopefully this guide helps to pave the way for your own Haute Route camping adventure. Happy trails!

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Camping on the Haute Route the complete 2020 guide

What’s Next?

If you’ve read our Guide above, you’re well on your way to having an incredible experience camping on the Walker’s Haute Route Trail. However, you still have lots of preparation before you’re truly ready! 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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Guide to Camping on the Laugavegur Trail

Hiking in Iceland gives a whole new meaning to the term wide open spaces. The volcanic landscapes on this stunning island are dynamic, colorful, wild, and unbelievably vast. One of…

Hiking in Iceland gives a whole new meaning to the term wide open spaces. The volcanic landscapes on this stunning island are dynamic, colorful, wild, and unbelievably vast. One of the most wonderful ways to experience the best of what Iceland’s backcountry has to offer (waterfalls, glaciers, geothermal activity, canyons, aquamarine rivers…you get the idea) is to hike the iconic Laugavegur Trail. This 34 mile (55 km) walk typically takes hikers 2-4 days.  It allows walkers to experience the remote and often harsh landscapes of the Icelandic wilderness while still providing some basic comforts and amenities. Those who want to maximize comfort might choose to stay in the mountain huts, while those seeking a more rugged (and affordable) experience can camp at every stage of the trek. Completing the hike is pretty straightforward, but there are nonetheless some important factors to consider in advance. This is particularly true if you are planning to camp along the trail. This guide will cover everything you need to know in order to prepare for an amazing Laugavegur camping adventure! 

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  • Custom GPS files for the entire trek
  • Three unique stage-by-stage itineraries
  • Complete packing list for campers and those staying in huts
  • Detailed information on getting to/from the Laugavegur
  • A 15-week training plan to ensure you’re prepared for your hike

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Cascading falls on the way to Skogar.

 

First, a few basics about the Laugavegur:

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

When to do it: The weather in Iceland can be extremely harsh. No matter when you go, expect cold, wet, and windy conditions for a least some parts of your trek and pack accordingly. This is especially important for campers. We hiked in early July and had great weather throughout, although it was still very cold at times. Even though it was peak season, it wasn’t overly crowded on the trail if we got an early start.  With the right gear (check out our packing list for more on this topic), campers can typically complete the hike from mid-June through early September. Make sure to always check with the hut wardens for the latest conditions and never attempt to hike through unsafe weather. 

Notes:

  • All prices in this guide are per person, per day.
  • This guide is based on a moderately-paced four day itinerary that begins in Landmannalaugar and ends in Þórsmörk (pronounced Thorsmork). There is an option to extend your hike by completing the Fimmvörðuháls Trail which connects Þórsmörk to Skogar. We have included information about this option in the guide as well. Many segments of the hike can be easily modified and these have been noted in the guide. For those hiking from south to north, most of this information still applies in reverse. Any exceptions have been noted in the guide. 
  • Wild camping is not permitted in Iceland. 
  • Campers will not have access to outlets for charging electronics until they reach the campground at Skogar. Plan accordingly. 
  • Reservations are not necessary for any of the campgrounds. 
  • You’ll find only a very limited inventory of (very expensive) supplies for sale at some of the huts along the trail. You should plan on stocking up on food, stove fuel, and provisions for your entire trek before leaving Reykjavik.

Campsite and hut at Landmannalaugar, the start of the Laugavegur Trail.

 

Day One: Landmannalaugar to Hrafntinnusker

If you are planning on starting your hike in Landmannalaugar, you’ll likely need to catch a bus there from Reykjavik (see our Laugavegur Trail Logistics article for more on how to do this). The bus ride takes about 4.5 hours, so you’ll want to take this into consideration when planning out your first day of hiking. If you take a morning bus and arrive in Landmannalaugar by midday, you could complete the first stage to Hrafntinnusker in the same day. Alternatively, you could camp at Landmannalaugar and begin hiking the following morning. If you went with the latter option you could combine the first two stages into one longer day to make up time and avoid camping at Hrafntinnusker (see more on that below). Additionally, there are some great day hikes near Landmannalaugar as well as some truly incredible hot springs. 

Landmannalaugar: 

Services at Landmannalaugar: Indoor toilets, hot and cold water (safe for drinking), hot showers (500 ISK for 5 min), clothesline, sheltered cooking area, trash and recycling, small shop selling snacks, beer, and hiking necessities (blister pads, maps, and stove fuel), picnic tables. Note: The ground at the Landmannalaugar campsite is very hard and rocky. You’ll need to use the rocks provided to secure your tent, as you are unlikely to be able to get your stakes into the ground. A nice sleeping pad is also recommended. 

The “Mountain Mall” is also located at Landmannalaugar. This eccentric shop is housed within a ring of retro school buses. They sell snacks, hiker meals, warm drinks, beer/wine, and hiking necessities. They also have some nice indoor and outdoor seating areas. 

Price: 2000 ISK per person.

The lovely hot springs at Landmannalaugar.

 

Hrafntinnusker: 

The camping area at Hrafntinnusker is adjacent to the small hut which is located near the top of the pass. This is definitely the most exposed and rugged of all the campgrounds along the Laugavegur. You should think twice before deciding to camp here, since it is likely to be very cold and windy. As with all huts along the route, campers will not be allowed inside the hut, even in stormy conditions. If you decide to camp here, you’ll want a 0°F sleeping bag and a high-quality three season tent. If you’re feeling slightly less hardcore, you have a couple of options. You could splurge on a bed inside the hut for this stage (book in advance on the Ferðafélag Íslands website), or you could combine the first two stages of the hike and camp either at Álftavatn or Hvanngil. More on these alternatives below. 

Services at Hrafntinnusker: Drop toilets, cold water (safe for drinking), sinks for washing up. 

Price: 2000 ISK per person

The hut at Hrafntinnusker in early July.

 

Harsh camping conditions at Hrafntinnusker.

Alternative Options for Day 1:

If you’d like to combine the first two stages of the Laugavegur into one long day, this is definitely possible if you are prepared and start early. However, due to the nature of the steep climbs and possibility of snow-covered trails late in the day, we do not recommend combining these stages if you’re hiking from south to north. If hiking north to south, you can either hike to Álftavatn (24km) or continue on to Hvanngil (an additional 3.8km, or 27.8 km total). There are some pros and cons of each option. 

Álftavatn:
Pros: Closer (it’s already a long day). More services (see below). Beautiful setting on a very lovely lake. 

Cons: More crowded. Very exposed campground-could be unpleasant in poor weather. 

Hvangill:
Pros: Much smaller and less crowded than Álftavatn. You’ll begin the third stage of the hike with a head start since you’ll be 3.8 km closer to the next hut. 

Cons: Fewer services. There is a river crossing between Álftavatn and Hvanngil which might seem daunting at the end of a long day of walking-some people may prefer to tackle it with fresh legs on the next day. 

Day Two: Hrafntinnusker to Álftavatn (or Hvangill). 

Services at Álftavatn: Toilets, cold water (safe for drinking), sinks for washing up, restaurant/bar selling hot meals, hot showers (500 ISK for 5 minutes), picnic tables. There are sinks very close to the camping area, while the bathrooms are slightly further away. 

Price: 2000 ISK per person. 

The restaurant/bar at Álftavatn.

 

Camping at Álftavatn.

 

Services at Hvangill: Toilets, cold water (safe for drinking), sinks for washing up, warm showers (500 ISK for 5 minutes), shop selling beer, snacks, and hiking basics, semi-sheltered picnic table. 

Price: 2000 ISK per person.

Approaching the hut and campsite at Hvanngil.

 

Day Three: Álftavatn to Emstrur

The Emstrur Hut and campground are located in a lovely little valley alongside a pretty stream. The hut has some nice decks with great views and picnic tables that are accessible to campers. The camping area is located below the hut and is reached by descending down a rather long flight of stairs to the banks of the stream. Campers will need to climb back up the stairs to use the toilet facilities and sinks. 

Services at Emstrur: Toilets, cold water (safe for drinking), sinks for washing up, warm showers (500 ISK for 5 minutes), shop selling beer, snacks, and hiking basics, picnic tables, clothesline. 

Price: 2000 ISK per person.

The hut and campsite at Emstrur.

Alternative Option for Day Three:

It is possible to complete stages three and four into another long day and make it to Þórsmörk at the end of your second day. We chose this option in order to take advantage of good weather and free up time to complete the Fimmvörðuháls stage. Plan for 9-11 hours of hiking to complete these stages in one day. 

Day Four: Emstrur to Þórsmörk

Upon nearing Þórsmörk, hikers will reach a junction in the trail with a sign that denotes three options for camping. The campgrounds are a few kilometers apart, so pay attention to which direction you want to head before setting off. 

Volcano Huts: This privately-run campground is located in the opposite direction of the other two camping options. If ending your hike in Þórsmörk, be sure to check with your bus service to ensure that they pick up from Volcano Huts, not just the Þórsmörk/Langidalur Campsite. 

Services at Volcano Huts: Indoor toilets, hot and cold water (safe for drinking), indoor cooking area, restaurant/bar, free wifi access at the main service building, shop selling snacks and hiking basics, trash and recycling. 

Price: 2600 ISK (includes access to hot showers, sauna, natural warm soaking pool, and wifi access). 

Þórsmörk/Langidalur Campsite: This campground is a bit more basic than Volcano Huts, but is still lovely nonetheless. It is run by the Icelandic Touring Association (Ferðafélag Íslands or FI for short), which operates all of the other huts and campsites along the Laugavegur up to this point and the facilities will likely feel familiar.  It is located on the riverbed and has plenty of nice grassy areas for pitching a tent. It is well-positioned for pickup if ending your hike in Þórsmörk, but it would also be a good option if you’re continuing on to Skogar. If you plan on completing the Fimmvörðuháls hike, you should definitely plan to camp either here or at the Básar Campground. 

Services at Þórsmörk/Langidalur: Toilets, cold water (safe for drinking), sinks for washing up, warm showers (500 ISK for 5 minutes), shop selling beer, snacks, and hiking basics, picnic tables, sheltered area for cooking, trash and recycling. 

Price: 2000 ISK per person.  

The Þórsmörk/Langidalur Campsite and Hut at the end of the Laugavegur Trail.

 

Básar Campsite:  This sprawling campground is run by the Útivist Travel Association. You’ll have to walk another 1.5 km past the Þórsmörk/Langidalur campsite across the rocky riverbed to reach it, but you’ll have a head start if you’re hiking to Skogar the next day (which could be valuable since Fimmvörðuháls is a long hike). This campground doesn’t have a lot in the way of views, but it does offer nice facilities, sheltered campsites, and grassy pitches. 

Services at Básar: Indoor toilettes, cold water (safe for drinking), sinks for washing up, picnic tables, hot shower (500 ISK), cell phone charging (500 ISK), BBQ area. 

Price: 1500 ISK per person + 300 ISK tax per tent. 

Conveniently located campsite at Básar.

 

Day Five: Þórsmörk to Skogar (the Fimmvörðuháls Trail)

The trail from Þórsmörk to Skogar is long and challenging, but the beautiful sights are incredibly rewarding. If you are committed to camping, you’ll need to complete the entire 25km (10-12 hours) hike in one day since there are no camping options along the way. If you would like to break it up into two days, you have the option of either staying at the Útivist-owned Fimmvörðuháls Hut or the more basic FI-owned Baldvinsskali Hut, both of which require advance reservations. Otherwise, if you complete the hike in one day, you’ll end at the impressive Skógafoss waterfall and right in the center of the Skogar Campground. Be warned that after being in the remote wilderness for the past few days, Skogar might feel like a bit of a zoo. The falls are a big destination for large tour buses, as well as individuals driving the famous Ring Road. You’ll know you’re getting close to the end of the hike when you start to see jean-clad tourists leaning precariously over the edges of cliffs with their selfie-sticks. You’ll hear all sorts of people and traffic noise late into the evening at the campsite, so ear plugs are a good idea. Because of the campground’s central location, non-campers frequently use the facilities. Expect to wait for the bathroom during the middle part of the day. If you can get past the crowds, you’ll find that Skogar is a pleasant place to camp, with grassy pitches and views of the falls from your tent. 

Services at Skogar: Indoor toilets, hot and cold water (safe for drinking), sinks for washing up, warm showers (300 ISK for 5 minutes), free cell phone charging (just ask the warden), picnic tables. There is also a more upscale restaurant/bar in the hotel/hostel nearby, as well as a more casual restaurant and a shop selling some souvenirs, camping equipment and snacks. There are a couple of other restaurants if you walk further down the road. 

Price: 1300 ISK per person. 

Waterfall views from the Skogar Campsite.

 

Many people are intimidated by the idea of  backpacking in Iceland, citing the prohibitive costs, tricky logistics, and harsh conditions. Camping along the Laugavegur Trail is the perfect way to see Iceland’s most beautiful sights without spending a fortune or getting caught in the tourist circuit. Hopefully our guide can help you plan out your best possible adventure in one of the most incredible landscapes on earth. Happy trails!

What’s Next?

If you’ve read our Guide above, you’re well on your way to having an incredible experience camping on the Laugavegur Trail. However, you still have lots of preparation before you’re truly ready! Be sure to read our entire series on the Laugavegur Trail to learn everything you’ll need to know to prepare for your trip!

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Guide to the Milford Track: Te Anau Downs to Milford Sound

The Milford Track in New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park is known as the “finest walk in the world” for good reason. Accessible only by boat, this 4-day, 53.5 km route…

The Milford Track in New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park is known as the “finest walk in the world” for good reason. Accessible only by boat, this 4-day, 53.5 km route traverses untouched rainforest, high-alpine passes, crystal clear rivers, and spectacular waterfalls before finishing at the idyllic Milford Sound. While the Milford Track is the most regulated of New Zealand’s Great Walks, with proper planning you’ll still find ample tranquility and a true wilderness experience on this epic tramp. In this article, we’ll walk you through each step in the planning process so that you’re ready to have the perfect Milford Track adventure.

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Guide to Conundrum Hot Springs

Conundrum Hot Springs, located in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness just outside of Aspen, Colorado is a truly incredible backcountry experience. The 8.5-mile long hike along Conundrum Creek leads you to…

Conundrum Hot Springs, located in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness just outside of Aspen, Colorado is a truly incredible backcountry experience. The 8.5-mile long hike along Conundrum Creek leads you to natural hot springs with fantastic views of the entire valley. This is a one-of-a-kind hike is an experience that you’ll never forget. We’ll walk you through everything you need to know to plan your very own Conundrum Hot Springs trip.

(Note: The Conundrum Hot Springs trail and backcountry area experience very heavy usage, and have suffered in recent years as a result. The Forest Service is implementing a reservation system beginning in 2018, which will hopefully help to keep this wilderness area pristine. Please do your part by abiding by the Leave No Trace backcountry practices.)

Conundrum Hot Springs

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Guide to Lake Verna/East Inlet Backpacking

Lake Verna, located on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park and accessible via the East Inlet trailhead, offers some of the most spectacular backpacking in the region. Less…

Lake Verna, located on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park and accessible via the East Inlet trailhead, offers some of the most spectacular backpacking in the region. Less crowded than other areas of Rocky Mountain National Park, Lake Verna and the East Inlet trail make for a fantastic backcountry adventure in Colorado’s most famous national park. We’ll walk you through everything you need to know to plan your own Lake Verna backpacking trip.

Lake Verna

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