Hiking and Backpacking in France: Tips & Trails

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

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

Looking to immerse yourself in European nature far from cities and towns? France is a top choice.

You can hike through beautiful trails in the French Alps, Pyrenees, Massif Central, and Cévennes mountains, and camp under the stars by alpine lakes or in peaceful fields.

In this post, we’ll delve into the world of ultralight hiking and backpacking in France, providing tips to help you prepare for your upcoming outdoor adventure.

We’ll share the TOP 5 trails in France in two parts. The first is for day hikes under 30 miles, great for exploring in one day. The second is for longer multi-day trips.

Key Tips for Hiking and 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 Day Hikes (Under 30 Miles)

We’ve selected top day hiking trails where lightweight gear is especially handy:

  1. Tour du Mont Blanc: Les Contamines – Les Chapieux (10.9 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  2. Tour du Mont Blanc: Notre Dame de la Gorge – Les Chapieux (9.1 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  3. Sentier Blanc-Martel (Gorge du Verdon) (8 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  4. Tour du Mont Blanc: La Ville des Glaciers – La Visaille (10 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  5. Ayous Lakes: Lac Gentau, Lac du Miey, Lac Roumassot (9.7 miles).
    See on AllTrails.

Top 5 Multi-Day Trips

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

  1. Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) (102 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  2. Camino de Santiago: Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port – Finisterre (520.7 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  3. Haute Route: Chamonix – Zermatt (114.2 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  4. Grand Ballon Loop (34.8 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  5. Tour of the Aiguilles Rouges (37.6 miles).
    See on AllTrails.

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):

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

FAQ

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.

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