The best hiking routes: Our advice

The best hiking routes: Our advice

You’re dreaming of nature, escape, mountain tops and breathtaking scenery... it’s pretty clear you’re dreaming of setting off on a hike. But where do you go? How do you choose the route that’s right for you? We’ll give you the basics.

The ultimate outdoor sport, hiking has a major advantage: in terms of routes, you can find one to suit all tastes and all levels. How do you choose the route that’s right for you? What route do you take if you’re hiking alone? As a family? We’ll put you on the right track.

What’s the best hiking route to choose as a beginner?

The priority? Choose a simple, marked route. Don’t venture off the beaten path on your first excursion. Not to mention hikes with technical passages (that’s why you generally avoid air corridors, piles of fallen rocks, steep slopes, etc.).

To start off, choose a hiking route in an area you like! If the ocean’s your thing, start looking for a route that hugs the coast. Ask yourself what would motivate you to move forward when your legs just want to: climb back onto the couch. It could be a historic site, a place rich in biodiversity, a breathtaking panorama, a waterfall... When hiking, there’s something for everyone and it’s always more enjoyable to be in an environment that we appreciate. That’s why you should choose your hiking route with the heart!

The best hiking routes: Our advice

What’s a good distance for a first hike?

If you’re not that sporty, start off on a 7 to 10 km route. For those who already practice sport regularly (one to two sessions a week), you can choose a route 10 to 15 km long

What about elevation? This is the main indicator of the technical level of a particular hike. For a first time, it’s advisable not to exceed a 500 m elevation.. Also important: take into account the distance-elevation ratio. 4 km with 700 m of elevation is steeper than 10 km at 600 m of elevation. To find out everything there is to know about hiking elevation, click here.

Get yourself a map or app you can use to trace out your hike. This advice has a dual purpose. You’re sure to follow the right path and, in the process, not get lost. And, the little advantage: once you’ve completed the hike, you can see the route you took and be proud of yourself. Yes, give yourself a pat on the back, it does you good!

💡If the path doesn’t loop, take into account the outbound time and the return time (or find a dear soul to come and look for you at the start).

Then you can gradually increase the difficulty by increasing the distance, increasing the elevation or by stepping up the pace.

What type of route should you choose for a first trek?

Let’s first reiterate the difference between hiking and trekking. Hiking is generally carried out for a day or over several days but with a return to base camp each evening. Trekking is a roaming journey, in a natural environment and taking place over several days. Walk during the day and then bivouac or sleep in a mountain hut in the evenings.

Here’s our advice for choosing the best route for your first trek:
Distance per day: from 15 to 20 km
Elevation per day: from 400 to 600 m of elevation
Trek duration: 3 to 4 days for a first micro-adventure or 5 to 7 days for a longer trek

In terms of accommodation, a tent or a proper roof over your head? Well let’s just say that nights spent in holiday rentals or inns are always more comfortable than nights spent in a tent when it’s your first trek. There is, however, an additional budget to provide for when organizing your trek. The advantages of making a booking for a night in a hotel: you don’t have to carry a tent, be self-sufficient in terms of food, bring additional equipment, find suitable places for a bivouac... Sleeping in a mountain hut or inn allows you to spend a night feeling warm, with a roof over your head, without having to ask yourself too many questions. You can also enjoy a warm meal in the evening and a hearty breakfast so the day gets off to the right start. The advantage of a inn is also its social appeal: you’re going to be meeting others! It’s always heart-warming to be able to share good advice, share moments and memorable times with others

We’re not however casting the option of bivouacking aside! You can sleep in municipal camp sites or opt for camping out in the open. In terms of logistics, this allows you to work at your own pace without having specific goals in mind. The practical side: you also don’t have to make accommodation bookings in advance. And also, savouring your dinner with pretty scenery surrounding you is undoubtedly a great way to finish off your days. Bivouacking means opting for freedom! Trekking alone is a more immersive experience, but it still comes at a price: your backpack weight.

With trekking, the constraints need to be progressive, don’t try and learn everything all at once. The next time you might choose a longer route, with more elevations or more nights spent in a tent. Choose to your heart’s desire!

The challenge on your first trek: making you want to restart again the next morning and not throw your boots away once you get in for the night!

How do you choose the hiking route most suitable for your level?

Before finding your next route, start by asking yourself some of these questions:
What would my hiking level be? How many hikes have I done over the past 12 months? At what level of difficulty? What is my current physical condition?

Answer these questions as humbly and honestly as possible: this will help you choose the difficulty level of your hike according to your actual personal level.

Several indicators must be taken into account when choosing your hike, the main ones being distance, elevation and the duration of the physical exertion:
Easy: 500 m maximum elevation, 2 to 4 hrs of walking on marked routes
Intermediate: 500 m to 800 m elevation, 3 to 5 hrs of walking on marked routes
Difficult: 800 m to 1500 m elevation, 5 - 8 hrs of walking
Very difficult: More than 1,500 m of elevation, 10 hours of walking or more on a route that is often unmarked and with technical passages (ridges, piles of fallen rocks, aerial passages, climbing, snow, etc.)

Keep in mind that these figures remain only an indication and also depend on your physical condition at the time of the hike, your load (the weight of the backpack is not the same if you go for the day or you roam) and even the weather conditions. .

Note: a hike over a short distance with a large altitude difference is more strenuous and is done at a slower pace than one over a long distance with little difference in altitude.

Also take into account the starting altitude and that of the arrival point of your hike. Above 2,500 m, the walking conditions become more difficult. A route may only have an elevation of ""800 m, but you could find yourself at 2,800 m at the end if the starting point was already lying at an altitude of 2,000 m.

The best hiking routes: Our advice

How do you choose or create a hiking route tailor-made for you?

To find or create the ideal hike, you can add the following questions to those covered in the previous paragraph:
Determine your goal: Am I looking to enjoy nature or for a physical challenge to overcome? Do I like taking the time to take breaks, observe the flora and fauna, and take photos?
Determine the type of hike: Do I like the physical exertion of climbs and/or descents and do I prefer hikes with a lot of elevation gain, or walking on fairly flat terrain? Do I like rocky or technical passages with steep climbs or descents?
Choose your route depending on your interests: Do I prefer loops that allow me to enjoy a wide variety of different scenery, or rather hikes with a specific goal to reach (a peak, waterfall, lake, etc.)?

The ideal hiking route must combine the answers from as many of these questions as possible! Yes, don’t embark on a steep route with many rocky passages and an intense pace to maintain if your thing is rather to observe flowers and have a peaceful picnic facing the most beautiful waterfalls.

And the musts for finding a tailor-made hike just right for you? Call on a professional guide who will suggest suitable routes and be full of good advice throughout the walk.

What’s the ideal route to follow for a first solo hike?

Are you planning to set off on a hiking route alone? Solo hiking is a real breath of fresh air. It allows you to manage your own pace,, fully experience the moment, and to recharge. You have flexibility in the choice of itinerary, points of interest and taking breaks!

For a solo hike, it’s ideal to set off on the same route you’ve done with friends or family before, so on a terrain you already know.. Even if you’re in good physical condition, it’s not really recommended to tackle a difficult hike if it’s the first time you’ll be going alone.

For your first solo hike, we recommend:
Choosing a marked route, so a maintained, safe path
- Stay on the marked trails and do not change your route along the way (unless you meet people and decide to join a group of hikers).
- Consider your physical condition and hiking level.
- Set off with the food you’re going to be eating, hydration and a charged telephone.
- Tell someone close to you about your itinerary, which is always useful in the event of a problem (and send a short message on arrival😄).

Family hiking: Short or long routes?

Hiking is a great activity to do as a family, as it’s an outdoor sport that can be adapted to suit all levels.

Before setting off as a family, the more courageous can do an initial scoping out tour without the children. Otherwise, the simplest option is to ask the Tourist Office for advice or to refer to printed hiking guides.

The recommendations vary according to the child’s age:
0 - 18 months: You’re the one who’s going to be putting in all the physical effort! With this in mind, we advise you not to tackle distances that are too long, as you’re the one who’s going to be doing the carrying and your child will need to move around and take breaks. Don’t exceed an altitude of 1,800 m and avoid cable cars which expose children to high blood pressure in the ears. The full guide for hiking with a baby is found here.
18 months - 3 years: Your child is starting to want to walk a bit on their own on the route, but they quickly get tired and still need naps. It’s key to have some means of carrying them.
3 - 5 years: At this age, children walk approximately 1 or 2 km / hr. In terms of distance, estimate around 1 km per year, so you can cover 3 to 5 km.
5 - 7 years: This is when you can start increasing the distance, from 6 to 9 km, depending on your child’s physical condition and ability to manage themselves.
+ over 10s: You can choose an adult hike, but of the easy variety (to be adapted according to your little one's level).

If you’re planning to go hiking for a full day, start with a few short, easy walks with your children, to warm up and get them used to this type of physical exertion.

Up to 4 years of age, consider that half of the hiking time is spent having breaks: playing, exploring, making him or her walk alone if you’re carrying them, etc.

In hiking (as in many things in life), your children like to feel dedicated to a mission! Your job as parent: to turn the walk into a fun hike. The orienteering course is ideal as it stimulates children while getting them to exercise. If there aren’t any orienteering courses nearby, we advise you to choose a hiking route with a specific goal to achieve, like a waterfall or a lake. Your children will walk with the aim of reaching something! Splashing around in cool water and enjoying a nutritious snack by a lake can be the reward for all their efforts. To motivate your children on a hike, consider taking along some accessories such as a pair of binoculars or a camera.

GR and other routes to discover in France and Europe

What GRs should I discover in France over four days? Itinerary examples.

A GR is a pedestrian Grande Randonnée route defined and marked with red and white markers. Each GR has a number (and generally a name). There are also some “GR de Pays” (or GR Pays), with only a name and that are marked in yellow and white.. GRs are managed by the French Hiking Federation. Today there are no fewer than 369 GRs (equalling 206,000 km of paths) crossing France: a treat to enjoy!

➡ The Custom’s Trail on the Emerald Coast (GR34), Brittany
Level: easy to intermediate.
Type: loop or out/back depending on the itinerary.
Over 4 days, the various routes allow you to do between 60 and 70 km. This trek is ideal if you enjoy walking along the coast!

➡️ Belle-Ile-en-Mer Route (GR430), Brittany
Level: intermediate.
Type: loop.
Distance: 72 km.
Accumulated elevation: 934 m.
Ideal for a micro-adventure in pleasant sea air! The loop goes round the Belle-Ile-en-Mer’s French Island.

➡️ Tour of the Fiz (GR5 and GR96), the French Alps
Level: intermediate to difficult.
Type: loop, leaving from Passy.
Distance: 37 km.
Accumulated elevation: 2,899 m.
This is a mineral route which faces Mont Blanc and crosses the largest nature reserve in Haute-Savoie: Sixt Passy. There are several aerial passages so if you take this route make sure you don’t have a fear of heights! Mountain huts are open from June to September.

➡️ Beaufortain Route (GR de Savoyard country), the French Alps:
Level: intermediate to difficult.
Type: loop, starting at the Col du Pré (and a trip to Beaufort so you can stock up on cheese on arrival).
There are several possible variants, with the walking time varying between 5 to 8 hours per day. This route takes you through varied scenery, lakes, and you also pass through the famous Pierra Menta. There are a few technical passages to expect (ridges, piles of fallen rocks, etc.)

The best hiking routes: Our advice

What mounting hiking route should I choose in Europe? Examples of destinations.

Looking for some inspiration for your next mountain hikes? We’ll share with you a (non-exhaustive) list of some of the most scenic hikes in Europe:

➡️ The Écrins mountain range in the French Alps. There’s a trekking story in the Écrins for you right here..

➡️ The Vanoise Route (GR55) in the French Alps is a high mountain route for glacier lovers. Adrien shares his trekking itinerary in the heart of the Vanoise with you.

➡️ The Grande Traversée du Jura (GR509)

➡️ La Grande Traversée of the Pyrénées (GR10)

➡️ The Mercantour National Park. We share the story of a two-day trek in the Mercantour right here.

➡️ The Reunion Island Cirques (Cilaos, Mafate). Nicolas tells you about his trek in Reunion in this article.

➡️ The Dolomite mountains in Italy

➡️ The Austrian mountains. Here’s where you can discover 4 trekking routes in Austria suitable for all levels.

GPS tracker, map, etc. What are the key elements for finding your way on a hiking trail?

The GR, GR de Pays and PR trails (walking and hiking) are well marked but all it takes is a lapse of attention at a crossroads to get lost (don’t worry, this can happen to even the best!). That’s why it’s advisable to have a topographic map that displays a detailed view of all the elements comprising a particular territory. This is a map drawn to very large scale.

For pedestrian hikes we recommend the IGN 1/25,000 map (1 cm on the map represents 25,000 cms in reality, thus 250 m). Little tip before setting off: download the map so you can access it even without network coverage. At the top of a ridge or deep in a forest, the signal can be weak or non-existent, so its better to take precautions so you don’t find yourself without directions.

Many of today’s apps provide you with information about the hiking profile: difficulty, duration, km, route, look-out points, viewpoints not to be missed, elevation, etc.

And for those who prefer the good ol’ classics: a printed map and a compass can also prove to be very useful. Here’s where you can find out how to use a compass during a hike.

Where do I go walking in my area? How do I find the best pedestrian routes?

To easily find the hike best suited to you, here’s what you can do:
- Browse hiking, sports and travel blogs which are full of reviews, tips and advice which will help you find inspiration for your next adventures;
- Use an app (which often allows you to geolocate yourself) dedicated to hiking so that you can find those that best meet the criteria you value;
- Go and visit your local Tourism Office which will have some good advice on which hiking routes are accessible in the area.

What’s the best free hiking app?

We don’t know which is the best, it’s up to you to arrive at your own conclusions. However, what we can recommend is for you to test the free Decathlon Outdoor mobile app to discover scenic hikes across France! Each route is shared and rated by the community. You just have to choose the route suited to what you’re looking for, start the guidance and enjoy (the guidance is accessible even without network coverage).

Day hike or trek over several days, walking in the countryside is full of benefits for both body and mind. To choose the most suitable itinerary for you, it’s vital to consider your hiking level and... what you’re looking to get out of it! What will your next challenge be?

Marie Barreau


Web editor

Passionate about dance, keen on fitness centres, lover of water and apprentice runner, when I'm not practising sport, I like to write about its history and benefits!

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