Hiking in France – How to Get Ready?

A person hiking in France, near the Alps.

Anyone who’s ever hiked in France will tell you exactly the same: there’s nothing that can even mildly compare to it. Okay, maybe French goat cheese (Buche de Chevre) or gorgeous wine regions, or even some contemporary literature: F. Beigbeder’s not bad at all, for instance. Now, that’s certainly not the point of today’s article (or, more precisely, this entire blog). Still, you can enjoy all of the above while participating in a hiking tour of France.

It’s not so surprising we’ve associated France with hedonism almost immediately. However, it’s a shame France’s jaw-dropping nature always seems to take second place. In the article below, we’ll try to ease out the consequences of that mode of thinking. If you’re wondering how to get ready for hiking in France, then we can’t say anything else than keep on reading! 

First, you’ll have to pick out a season of your hiking trip. You can’t go wrong choosing autumn or spring. Since that’s the time many folks plan their hiking adventures, book accommodation far in advance. Also, you’re bound to meet some fun-loving French hikers during your stay. If you’re afraid of wild animals ruining your trip – just don’t be. 

The previous paragraph’s just a neat little preview we like to put up front. Feel free to read the whole thing!

Do people hike in France a lot?

They surely do! We’ll give you a profile of folks hiking in France, made out according to the official statistics. Here’s what an average hiker in France looks like:

  • Hiking in France is an activity mostly enjoyed by the senior population (60+ years).
  • French hikers are pretty autonomous (only 9% of them belong to a certain hiking club).
  • The majority of folks hiking in France think of themselves as beginners.

Now, don’t let these statistics fool you. Believe it or not, hiking is a more popular activity than swimming in France. Now, that’s something you wouldn’t expect to find out, right? Also, it’s not enjoyed solely by retirees. They’re just the majority; each age group participates in this fantastic activity.

Why’s hiking so popular in France?

There are good reasons behind the phenomenon (if we’re allowed to call it that way). First, the sport isn’t expensive at all: hiking gear doesn’t cost much and the only necessity is a solid pair of hiking boots. Secondly, France’s hiking trails are more than accessible. Not to mention the sole pleasure of walking surrounded by mind-blowing natural scenery. As if that’s not enough by itself, right?

Here’s a bit of history also. The whole let’s-protect-nature-from-rapid-urbanization movement started in the 1930s. At first, hiking was enjoyed only by the upper social classes (it seems a bit ironic, doesn’t it?). Anyway, hiking experienced widespread popularity in the post-WWII period (and not just in France). No longer were there any (visible or invisible) limits on who has the luxury to enjoy outdoor walking.

Nowadays, France has got 11 national parks and more than 50 regional parks which serve as a backdrop for a fantastic outdoor experience enjoyed by the country’s hiking enthusiasts and nature-lovers en général. 

Okay, it seems we got a bit carried away with the introductory section. Shall we dive into the main section of the article?

A man hiking in a French national park.

Hiking in France – How to get ready?

So, you’ve chosen France as the location of your hiking adventure? That might be one of your best decisions yet, if not the best one. Here’s how to prepare for the trip!

Pick out a season

Wondering which season’s the best for hiking in France? If so, it depends on which part of France are you planning to visit. Still, spring and autumn are ideal for hiking in most areas of France. Also, the southern part of France can be too hot for walking in the height of summer but is absolutely great if you hike there during the winter. Hiking in the Alpine region is the best between late June and the end of September (basically: the whole summer). That’s the period of the year when snow’s cleared from the paths and passes.

Also, we might wanna mention the main difference between the north and south of France when it comes to the hiking experience. Of course, we’re talking about latitude. Unless you’re high in the mountains, hiking in the south of France will be pretty unpleasant during the summer, as we’ve already said. Oh, and what about hiking during winter?

Hiking in the wintertime

If you plan on walking, hiking, or trekking during the winter months, you’ll want to consult with the local tourist office. They’ll give you all the info on the snow conditions and accessible areas for the activity you plan on doing. You’ll want to pack solid hiking boots, plenty of warm clothes (which you can add in layers), high-quality trekking poles for much-needed stability, and so-called microspikes or something similar good for icy weather.

How long do you intend on staying?

That was kind of a rhetorical question. Anyway, let’s say it’s your first hiking holiday or you haven’t got a lot of time on your hands. Just a few days worth of hiking and enjoying the outdoors will prove to be more than enough. You’re bound to see a noticeable mood improvement. On the other hand, if you’ve got a wider hole in your schedule, a two-week trip is the optimal solution. A fourteen-day stay will enable you to fully explore the area and really get into it. Additionally, you’ll have a chance to enjoy a longer route without feeling like you’re a bit short on time.

Should you book accommodation along the trail far in advance?

It depends on when do you plan on hiking in France, and how many people are you taking along with you on the trip. For instance, if you’re planning on hiking at the height of the season, and you’re bringing a group of more than three or four friends, booking far ahead of time is most recommended, if not necessary. Also, you’ll want to create a thorough schedule for each stage of the hiking trail. Don’t forget to include the contact details of the accommodation you’ve booked.

In case you’re planning your trip off-season or on a route less popular, booking far in advance isn’t necessary, unless, of course, the accommodation is well-known to be in short supply.

Learn a thing or two about French hikers

Don’t worry! This isn’t a warning statement or something similar. Quite the contrary! We’ll tell you a bit about the average French hiker. There’s a solid chance you’ll make good friends with some of them. Here’s what you can expect:

  • They’re very chatty and sociable. Well, just like all Frenchmen.
  • They’ll probably be delighted by your presence and the fact you’ve chosen France as the location of your hiking adventure.
  • They’ll most likely criticize their own country or socio-political class. Not to mention they’ve got a great sense of humor.
  • They’re tough (in the best possible sense). It means they’re more likely to spend the night in a communal place (even without a functioning toilet & shower combo).
  • They’re quite used to taking seven to eight hikes a year. That could explain why they didn’t save the funds for better accommodation.

Alright, that should do it! All in all: we’re sure that you’ll adore your French fellow nature seekers. A quick hint: always be aware of the cultural context. In other words: the French are very outgiving and warm-hearted!

Don’t worry ’bout a thing

You can easily say hiking in France’s a safe pursuit. No matter how isolated a certain trail is, the chances of you stumbling upon a dangerous wild animal are pretty close to zero. For instance, poisonous snakes (every hiker’s worst nightmare aside from insane after-hike hunger) are pretty rare and mostly associated with watercourses. If you’re afraid of wolves, know that they are never seen in daylight. What about wild bears? There ain’t enough of them for anyone to be scared.

Hiking in France – How to get ready? (a summary)

Here at Outdoor Is Home, we (usually) like to sum things up near the end of the text. That’s exactly what we’ll do here. So, what does one need to know in order to get ready for a hiking tour in France?

  • Pick out a season that suits you most. You can’t go wrong with autumn or spring.
  • Hiking in the wintertime? Consult with the local tourist office about the conditions.
  • Think about how long you intend on staying. If you can sacrifice two weeks’ worth of spare time, you’ll be just fine.
  • If you’re hiking during the season’s peak, book accommodation far ahead of time. 
  • Learn a thing or two about French hikers. You’re bound to meet someone interesting.
  • Don’t worry about a thing. Chances of you encountering wild & dangerous animals are next to zero.

That’s about it, folks! Hope you’ve enjoyed this one as much as the last! For more hiking tips, feel free to check out this page.

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