GR20: how hard is the trail?


Posted: Wed, Jul 5, 2017, 20:20

Hi folks,

I'm going to hike over half of GR20 trail in the beginning of august, and having troubles understanding how hard the trail is. I would appreciate some feedback on these points:

- How hard is the North part compared to the south one?
- I've been in Italian Alps last year, following the Orobie trail. Did any of you on that tail before? Could you compare GR20 to it?

Best regards


Posted: Wed, Jul 5, 2017, 20:50

The GR20 is the hardest trail I have ever walked, and the north part is harder than the south.


Posted: Wed, Jul 5, 2017, 23:32

The fitter you are, the more you'll be able to enjoy the trail. If you're not completely out of shape and you know how to use your hands, there won't be a problem.


Regards, Simon


Posted: Wed, Jul 5, 2017, 23:46

@Simon @GRRR 20
Thanks for the hints. We're going in a group of hikers with different fitness level (no rookies thou), so I'm trying to get as many opinions as possible.


Posted: Thu, Jul 6, 2017, 7:08

It depends how you approach these Trails. I have never been to the Orobie Trail but what I have seen on- line is all about an event for the 'rough terrain running fraternity'?....I would guess that this trail could be walked too? A regular series of places to camp or to stay overnight?
When I first went to Corse and the GR20 I expected and got a fine walking holiday in a grand assortment of terrain types.
The distance would appear to be a bit more than on the Orobie Trail and the amount of ascending is greater.
You certainly don't have to be an finely tuned athlete to enjoy the walking on the Island and spreading the stages over fifteen days seemed about right for me.
Sixty-five when first travelling along the route and have returned a few times into seventies but I do keep walking regularly on the hills in Scotland so that the legs have a reasonable work over before reaching Corse. Additionally I camp so I carry a full kit to look after camping/sleeping and cooking en route.




Posted: Fri, Jul 7, 2017, 6:43

I just finished the northern part and the trail is pretty rough but if you don't have old injuries (bad knees etc) and if you're mentally prepared to do a lot of walking up and down (steep) you will surely manage. I had excellent weather for my whole stay which I think helped a lot. I can imagine that if the weather was worse I probably could have done the same route as I did but it would have taken a lot longer and have been less rewarding.
If it is possible make sure you have some extra days in case you need to stay longer at a refuge than planned. I met some people who were really stressed because they had a tight schedule to catch their flight or because they had booked all accommodation for the route in advance.

It is really worthwhile bringing walking sticks as these will be a great help for maintaining balance and making the ascent, and espescially descent a lot easier. Bring them or you'll be sorry you didn't.

Enjoy your trip!


Posted: Sun, Jul 9, 2017, 12:21


The trail is tough, but not as rough or scary as some columns or websites might make you believe. I have met a couple in their fifties that had to quit, because they seemed to have underestimated the trail and took too long to finish a stage. I've also met several people in their seventies (who lived in the mountains and walked a lot back home) that were twice as fast as I was (I only did one stage a day, which for me was perfect).

If you are healthy without injuries and in reasonable shape you shouldn't have a problem. I walked South to North without a lot of training, besides one weekend of practice. If you are travelling with a bigger group, do keep in mind that the slowest people in your party also need to have sufficient breaks, even though you might be happy to continue walking once they've caught up :) this I learned the hard way. Also, I have never used trekking poles and didn't have them on the GR20 either, but I guess it is indeed better if you do, considering that descending is quite heavy on the knees, especially on scree slopes.

The North is definitely tougher than the South, but the type of walking is not much more difficult. The stretches that are most challenging are usually just longer and steeper. There are some short sections of paths with cables in the North, but these are mostly useful or necessary when the rock is wet, otherwise you don't really need them.

Good luck and have fun!




Posted: Sun, Jul 9, 2017, 18:45

The trail is definitely harder than most "normal" hiking trails.

Most days, there are several sections that require some "scrambling". This means that you will need to use both hands and both feet. Sometimes this is needed because there is a steep section. Or you may need to maneuver around a rock on a ledge with some "acrobatics". Sometimes you need to be very careful because there is some exposure in the sense that a fall could cause serious injury. In a few places there are metal chains to help you - but this seems a bit random, there are also places without chains that quite similar.

None of these sections reaches the level of technical climbing, but there is definitely more adrenaline involved than walking on regular trails in the alps. As long as there is no snow or ice, and as long as the rock is dry (no pouring rain) anyone can do it, if you are careful. We saw a 6 year old kid doing part of the GR20.

It is not the case that every day is difficult the entire day; there are typically only a few difficult sections per day. Sometimes it is just a particular small spot (a few minutes). Other times you have to cross a more challenging section for a hour or so.

Then, there are sections that don't involve too much scrambling, but that might have you stomach in your throat if you have an inkling of vertigo. Particularly on some of the optional high routes, there are sections that are relatively easy to walk on, with only very minor scrambling, but that have steep drop-offs, sometimes on both sides (left and right). I myself definitely have a touch of vertigo left and I definitely was nervous at times, but made it through just fine.

Then, finally, there is the general difficulty of distance (hours of walking) and vertical gain and loss. The distances vary quite a bit. Some sections are short (4 hours), some are quite long (8+ hours), especially if you "double" some sections. Many of the sections also have a lot of up and down (500 to 1000+ meters vertical). Since scrambling is quite a bit harder work than just walking a easy trail, make sure you don't underestimate this.

Having said all of this -- it is not as horrendous as some blogs make it sound. Yes, this was definitely one of the more difficult hikes in Europe. But it is not impossible. I would say it is just slightly more difficult than some hikes in the Southern Alps, for example in Mercantour in the area around Refuge de Nice. Lots and lots of people finish the GR20 and have great fun doing so.

Personally, I like doing the hike South to North. If you go North to South, days #1, #2, #3, and #4 are immediately the most difficult sections of the whole hike, and a "jump into the deep end of the pool". If you go South to North, you slowly work up towards the most difficult part.