The kilometre-deep canyons and 3,000-metre peaks of Ordesa National Park are simply awe-inspiring when explored on foot. Local hiking guide Phil James describes what's on offer.
High in the central Pyrenees, Ordesa is Spain’s oldest protected area and has received UNESCO World Heritage status for its natural beauty and pristine environment. For hikers it is sheer perfection – with grand mountain landscapes culminating in the extraordinary Ordesa Canyon, plus an abundance of wildlife and flora.
The area is famous for its ‘faja’ paths that thread through the high limestone cliffs. Some of these are jaw-droppingly narrow, while others are much more gentle and suitable for everybody.
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Phil James is an International Mountain Leader who runs Hike Pyrenees. He’s lived in the Spanish Pyrenees with his wife Anna for seven years and they have two children, both born in Spain.
Phil and Anna have hiked all over the world before finally settling down in the Spanish Pyrenees. Hike Pyrenees specialise in walking holidays for all levels of walkers, from gentle rambles in flower...
A wonderful balcony path on the southern cliffs of the Ordesa Valley. A steep climb of 600 metres gives you fantastic views of the border peaks as well as down into the valley. The path then contours around the cliffs for the entire length of the valley before dropping down to its lower reaches. One of the best hikes in the Pyrenees - a long day but not vertiginous.
This is a tremendous path that a full kilometre up on the northern cliffs of Ordesa. It needs to be seen to be believed: a very narrow trail winding for around 5km around the cliffs - there is an ever-present drop of several hundred metres to your right, so it's only recommended for those with an extremely good head for heights! There's a strenuous ascent of 1,100 metres to get to the start of the path, but it's well worth it.
Seeing huge vultures fly just over your head is a wonderful sight and the feeding station in the Garganta de Escuain is the best place to see lammergeier, the rarest vulture in Europe, which feeds almost exclusively on bones. Feeding takes place once a week in summer but on any day there are plenty of vultures in the area. An easy hike heads out to the feeding station and a lovely path heads back to the village of Escuain from the Puentelos Mallos.
The highest mountain in the park and the third highest in the Pyrenees. From the summit you get spectacular views down all four canyons of the park. The normal route from Refugio Goriz is strenuous but fairly straightforward, although experience and the right equipment is required. Snow can be found on Perdido until midsummer so check with the Refugio whether you'll need to bring crampons.
The Brecha de Roland is the only easy place to cross between Spain and France in the park and links Ordesa with the Cirque de Gavarnie. The 'breach' is a spectacular gap in the cliffs that legend says was carved out by general Roland as he was fleeing to escape the Moors during the reconquista. Best reached with a night at either Refugio Goriz or Sarradets on the French side. A wonderful spot.
Best times to go:
The park is open all year, although snow makes access difficult until around Easter time. The main Faja paths in Ordesa are usually snow-free by mid-June, but this changes each year depending on conditions. From 1st July until mid-September you need to take a shuttle bus into Ordesa from Torla - at other times of the year you can drive and park right in the valley.
The Ordesa Valley gets very busy with Spanish tourists from mid-July until the third week in August. However nearly everybody stays on the valley floor path - if you head up higher you soon lose the crowds.
For the higher peaks expect to encounter snow any time from late August and be aware that it not unknown for fresh snow to fall on the summits even in midsummer. The Refugio Goriz website (and also its Facebook page) is an excellent source of information about the state of the paths.
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