Backpacking in France: TOP 5 Multi-Day Trails

Backpacking in France: A hiker in Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, France.

In this post, we'll take a look at:

Backpacking in France offers immense variety for outdoor enthusiasts, from the dramatic peaks of the French Alps to the rugged coastal paths of Brittany, including popular destinations like Provence.

And that’s what this post is all about – backpacking in France. We’ll provide tips to help you prepare for backpacking in this diverse country as well as showcase the TOP 5 multi-day trails in France.

Interested? Let’s get started.

Key Tips for Backpacking in France

  • What to expect: Hikers and backpackers in France can discover diverse landscapes, ranging from Mediterranean beaches to Alpine mountains, with well-marked trails. Travelers can immerse themselves in the charm of small villages, savor delicious food and wine, and explore rich cultural history. The reliable train system makes solo exploration easy.
  • Essential gear: Remember to pack lightweight layers for changing mountain weather, a waterproof jacket and pants, a map and compass (or GPS device), a first aid kit, a headlamp, and a water filter or purification tablets.
  • Wildlife: When in remote rural regions of France, you may face hazards from poisonous vipers, aggressive wild boars, territorial mountain dogs, elusive wolves, and mosquito-borne illness; however, hiking cautiously and keeping a respectful distance from wildlife allows sharing the landscape safely without conflict from these potential dangers.
  • Wild camping: Camping outside designated areas in France is generally restricted, though some exceptions exist. While setting up tents outside these zones is illegal, you might bivouac for a night in a tent or hammock. Some mountainous areas and long-distance hiking trails may tolerate wild camping. Rules are unclear, and wild camping isn’t encouraged, so it’s important to check local laws. If you want to learn more about stealth camping, check here.
  • Best times to go are spring (May-June) and fall (Sept-Oct) which have mild weather and smaller crowds. Spring has blooming wildflowers and busy wildlife while fall provides colorful changing leaves in northern areas. Crowded mountain trails and hot summer weather (July-Aug) can challenge hiking but are ideal for Mediterranean beaches. Wintertime (Dec-March) brings snowy Alps suitable for skiing but also cold, wet conditions across France limiting outdoor adventure options.

Top 5 Backpacking Trails in France

Discover the most stunning long trails in France for amazing adventures:

1. Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB)

Evergreen trees blanket the foreground while the majestic, snow-capped Mont Blanc massif towers in the distance under a clear blue sky

Length: 102 mi / 164.2 km
Type: Loop
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation Gain: 34 212 ft / 10 428 m
Location: Les Houches
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 21 480 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

The Tour du Mont Blanc is a spectacular 102-mile loop traversing parts of France, Italy, and Switzerland. Offering stunning alpine scenery, this challenging multi-day hike is best attempted June-October by experienced backpackers. The trail passes through quaint villages with accommodation options to extend or shorten hiking days. Highlights include views of Mont Blanc, glaciers, and wildflowers. With proper preparation and conditioning, this iconic trek showcaseing the best of the Alps is a rewarding adventure.

2. Tour of the Aiguilles Rouges

A meticulous stack of rocks balances in the foreground, reflecting in the serene waters of a crystal clear mountain lake

Length: 37.6 mi / 60.5 km
Type: Loop
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation Gain: 15 101 ft / 4603 m
Location: Réserve Naturelle des Aiguilles Rouges
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 9 175 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

The challenging 37-mile Tour des Aiguilles Rouges loop offers stunning alpine scenery and solitude near Chamonix. Passing through nature reserves with panoramic views, highlights include Aiguille de Salenton, Glacier de Buet, and the rocky Brévent descent. With proper preparation, this scenic summertime hike through quaint mountain hamlets and across snowy cols is a rewarding wilderness adventure. Plan to camp at rustic refuges along the way.

3. Haute Route: Chamonix – Zermatt

A lone hiker gazes out at the dramatic panorama of snow-capped mountain peaks stretching across the horizon under a crisp blue sky, taken atop a grassy hill

Length: 114.2 mi / 184 km
Type: Point to point
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation Gain: 38 602 ft / 11 766 m
Location: Chamonix-Mont-Blanc
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 24 400 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

The challenging 114-mile Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt is a stunning high-altitude trek across the French and Swiss Alps. Traversing scenic passes connecting Mont Blanc to the Matterhorn, this multi-day hike offers magnificent views of glaciers, peaks, and alpine villages. Attempted June-September by experienced backpackers only, preparation and conditioning are key for this iconic trek. Highlights include Aiguille du Midi, Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn, and overnighting in rustic mountain huts along the way.

4. Grand Ballon Loop

A lone hiker walks along a rocky ridgeline, surrounded by wispy clouds obscuring the views, on a mountain summit in the Vosges, France

Length: 34.8 mi / 56 km
Type: Loop
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation Gain: 8044 ft / 2440 m
Location: Ballons des Vosges Regional Nature Park
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 5570 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

The challenging 35-mile Circuit des Ballons loop in Alsace offers gorgeous mountain scenery with panoramic views. Traversing the Ballons des Vosges Nature Park from Guebwiller, highlights include the rocky Grand Ballon summit and a breathtaking bivouac atop Petit Ballon. With proper preparation, this strenuous 3-day hike through forests and flower-filled meadows showcases the captivating beauty of the Vosges mountains. Look forward to enchanting vistas, refreshing streams, and wildlife sightings along the way.

5. Sentier des 4000 Marches

Golden hour light illuminates a rugged mountain landscape in Lozère, France, accentuating the textures and contours of the peaks and valleys

Length: 29 mi / 46.7 km
Type: Loop
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation Gain: 7083 ft / 2159 m
Location: Cévennes National Park
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 4700 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

The challenging 29-mile Sentier des 4000 Marches loop in the Cévennes National Park offers magnificent vistas from the summit of Mont Aigoual. Traversing four vegetation zones with steep ascents and descents, highlights include panoramic views of the Mediterranean Sea and Pyrenees Mountains. Attempted April-October by experienced hikers only, this strenuous trail through scrubland and forests rewards with breathtaking scenery. Look forward to the refreshing climb through shaded woods, the exhilarating ridge walk to the meteorological station, and the knee-testing descent back to Valleraugue.

Annual Weather Averages

France has diverse climates across its regions, so the annual average weather can vary. Here’s a general overview:

  1. Southern France (e.g., Provence, French Riviera):
    • Hot summers with temperatures often exceeding 86°F (30°C).
    • Mild winters with temperatures around 41°F (5°C).
  2. Central France (e.g., Paris, Loire Valley):
    • Summers ranging from 59°F to 77°F (15°C to 25°C).
    • Winters with temperatures between 32°F and 41°F (0°C to 5°C).
  3. Eastern France (e.g., Alps):
    • Alpine regions can experience colder temperatures, especially in winter, with snowfall at higher altitudes.
  4. Western France (e.g., Brittany):
    • Maritime climate with milder temperatures.
    • Summers around 59°F to 68°F (15°C to 20°C).
    • Winters around 41°F to 50°F (5°C to 10°C).
  5. Northern France (e.g., Normandy):
    • Similar to the western regions with mild summers and winters.

Before you grab your backpack and head outdoors, take a look at the weather statistics for France (Annecy):

High °F414453606774787770604942
Low °F283035414854575651443530
Rain/Snow (D*)9899111099910910
Note: This table is approximate; weather can change with altitude.
D* – Days of rain or snow.

Alternative Backpacking Destinations

Not sure if France is right for you?

Don’t forget to check out our backpacking guides for Switzerland and Italy.


Can I have a campfire while camping in France? 

Regulations vary depending on the region, season, and current drought conditions, but fires are typically banned in summer months across much of southern and central France. Where permitted, campfires must be built in established fire pits at campgrounds rather than on the forest floor and must be fully extinguished before departing. Leave No Trace principles still apply to properly contain and douse campfires using the drown, stir, feel method.

What are some safety tips for backpackers in France?

Backpackers exploring the diverse wilderness and coastal regions as well as cultural hubs of Europe’s France should keep some basics in mind to travel safely. Knowing some key French phrases aids navigation and asking for help, as does carrying a translated emergency contact card. When trekking remote areas, leaving an itinerary with others and properly preparing for variable coastal or mountain weather avoids difficulties. General travel precautions like avoiding poorly lit streets at night and only drinking bottled water reduce health risks, as do utilizing tracking apps that can locate hikers in rugged terrain when cellular service may be spotty. With situational awareness and taking basic safety precautions amid France’s varied cultures, hikers and travelers can feel secure adventuring throughout this stunning European country.

Which are the most popular hiking trails in France?

Many backpackers and hikers love exploring the beautiful landscapes of France. Some popular trails include the GR20 in Corsica, an island, which has stunning coastal and mountain views along its 205-mile route. There’s also the Camino de Santiago, a historic pilgrimage route dating back to the Middle Ages, spanning northern Spain and southern France. The French Alps offer multi-day trails around Mont Blanc, and in the Luberon Regional Nature Park, you can hike through green hills and limestone cliffs. The Pyrenees have trails that go through high mountain pastures with snowcapped peaks in the background. Additionally, sections of long-distance trails like GR5 and GR10 pass through amazing places like Verdon Gorge and the Cévennes Mountains.

Do U.S. citizens need a visa to visit France?

U.S. citizens can visit France for up to 90 days without a visa. To enter France, your valid U.S. passport should be valid for at least 3 months beyond your planned departure date from the Schengen Area. With just your passport, airline ticket, and proof of sufficient funds, Americans can visit France visa-free as tourists or for business.

Which regions or cities in France are must-visit destinations for backpackers?

For backpackers, the French Alps near Chamonix are a must with stunning trails along the Tour du Mont Blanc route revealing glacier-carved valleys and wildflowers blanketed meadows. Provence captivates with lavender fields and quaint villages perfect for wandering. The Pyrenees offer magnificent multi-day treks to alpine lakes and limestone peaks. Hikers also flock to the Vosges Mountains in Alsace and the charming villages nestled within. Wherever backpackers roam in the diverse French countryside, they can replenish with the fabulous local cuisine from fresh baguettes to pungent cheeses that pair perfectly with the adventure.

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