GR20 Hiking Trail: Navigating the Route, Stages, Map, and Other Essential Information in Corsica

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Last Updated on: 10th September 2023, 03:54 pm

Crowds of tourists visit Corsica every year. The annual number of hikers is about 20,000. The annual But what do you know about this Mediterranean island besides it is the birthplace of Napoleon and a great destination for summer holidays? It is not only about fascinating beaches – Corsica has stunning nature with rocky ridges, crystal-clean rivers and alpine meadows. It all makes the island incredibly popular with active tourists. One of the main island’s attractions is a famous hiking trek – GR20.

This trail does not require special rock-climbing skills, but the excellent physical condition is a must, as GR20 hiking tours are known to be one of the hardest in Europe. Actually, only about 30% of travelers manage to reach their final destination, with the majority leaving the route somewhere in the middle, preferring to complete it by train. So here is what you need to know to make this hiking experience fully enjoyable and successful.

About GR20

GR stands for a network of long trekking routes in Europe, including France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain. The GR20, also known as Fra li Monti, is a Grande Randonnée walking path that traverses Corsica and runs from north to south. The entire route is about 180 km long, with a total climb of 11,000 m. Experienced tourists who travel light and without a heavy backpack can cover this trek in just several days, reaching the end point in the south of the island. However, GR20 is considered being one of the most challenging hiking trails. So normally, it takes 16 days for an average hiker to complete it.

The entire route is divided into 2 stages: the northern part that connects Calenzana and Vizzavona and the southern part that runs between Vizzavona and Conca. The first half of the trail is more difficult and consists of 9 stages. The southern one has 7 stages and is much easier. So it is a total of 16 sections, each of which takes 1 day. The trail is marked along its length, with metal railings and chains in dangerous places and numerous campsites.

  • GR20 north section. The tougher part of the trail stretches for 100 km. It goes through the following points: Calenzana – Ortu di Piobbu – Carozzu – Asco Stagnu – Tighjettu – Ciottulu di I Mori – Manganu – Pietra Piana – l’Onda.
  • GR20’s south section is 80 km long. It passes via Vizzavona – Capanelle – Prati – Usciulu – Mataza – Masinao – Paliri – Conca. It is easier to walk but less spectacular.
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The whole route is signposted with red and white marks on the rocks and trees to prevent hikers from being lost. Additionally, it is not obligatory to do the whole trek, you may join it or leave it on particular points. To better navigate GR20, make sure to get a detailed map of this route. 

When is the best time for GR20 trail?

This trek can be done all year round. However, the best period is from early June to October, when most location points are open. July and August are usually the most crowded months, and the trek is very busy. It makes September ideal for hike planning – visibility is excellent, the daytime temperature is still warm, and there is plenty of reservation options. Winter is more suitable for hikers with mountaineering experience and appropriate gear like crampons and ice axe. The path is covered in snow and slippery, requiring special snow shoes. If you still plan the GR20 for a cold season, it is crucial to check the availability of accommodation and re-stock locations in advance, as many of them do not operate during this period. You may find a lot of helpful information on the GR20 Facebook page.

Accommodation and food on the GR20

There are many options for an overnight stay on the route. These include dormitories, refuges and even hotels. Refuges are most frequently used by tourists. These are huts scattered across the mountains in the way for the hikers to comfortably finish here every day of the hike. During the warm season, they normally offer food and drinking water. You may even find there a small shop to refill your supplies. Camping is officially allowed only in the territory of the refugee. You can rent a tent on the spot.

All refuge huts are under the regional Corsican national parks authority. Planning a budget for the trip, note that a night in a hut will cost roughly €10-20 per person. Food is offered at refuges at an additional cost. Breakfast is between €8 and €10, and the evening meal starts at €15. With regard to water, you will find a lot of potable springs during the northern part of the route. However, it is recommended to use water filtering tablets when consuming water on the south half of the trek.

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Packing list for GR20

A successful trekking adventure means having proper essentials at hand. What to put in your backpack before you start on GR20?

  • Warm and waterproof hiking clothes and boots;
  • Light clothes, sunscreen, sunglasses, swimwear;
  • First aid kit and basic toiletries;
  • A sleeping bag and a walking pole;
  • A flashlight and a pocket map.
  • Energy bars and snacks.

Your essentials should fit into a 35-40-liter rucksack.

Is it worth taking a solo GR20?

It is quite tempting to do the toughest European trek on your own. But if you are seriously motivated, you can do without a guide. Actually, you do not need to be a climber for this hiking route, however, with a daily walking distance of around 10km, it is crucial to be physically fit for this challenge. You should seriously address your reservations. Being an independent hiker allows you to follow your own schedule. It means you can sleep in a tent in a designated area. Even though, tent pitches are always overcrowded. Thus, it is better to register in the Refuge Booking Center in advance to simplify overnight stays. It is officially forbidden to camp in the wild. Another thing to note is a map or GPS. The trail is excellently marked, but signs can be poorly visible in some weather conditions. Make sure to get one of IGN maps and download an application to follow your route. You can also create your own interactive map with Google My Maps

Alternatively, you can opt for a guided tour. In this case, all organizational issues will be settled by the operator, and you will focus on trekking and breathtaking sights, traveling light.

What is so special about hiking in Corsica?

This island, with a unique mix of Italian and French cultures, has what to offer to its visitors. But its main attraction is wild and untamed nature. It is precious to see the wildlife of this forest and mountainous terrain – you will meet unique species like the Corsican deer, rock lizard, wild cows and horses, and even pigs freely roaming around. Besides, make sure not to miss the following stunning places during the hike:

  • Lake Nino, a picturesque jewel hidden among meadows and surrounded by rocks. It is located between Ciulottulu di I Mori and Manganu.
  • Lake Melo and Lake Capitelli that are on the way between Pietra Piana and l’Onda.
  • Monte d’Oro, one of the highest peaks of Corsica.
  • Monte Includine, the highest peak on the southern part of the island.
  • Aiguilles de Bavella, red granite rock cliffs.
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There are no permits needed for GR20. The only thing worth doing in advance is to make all bookings. GR20 is a long and rather exhausting marathon. But after passing this famous track, you will get an incredible experience and satisfaction.

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