Hiking in the Spanish Pyrenees


We didn’t decide on a location until two days before we set off on the hike. Our only requirements were to find a place that was within driving distance, able to be done in a few days, and contained mountain refuges. Mountain refuges are lodging found in remote areas that mainly accessible by foot and provide anywhere from basic shelter to offering full-service room and board.

During the off-season, when the full-service part of the refuge is closed off, there is a smaller portion that is unmanned and left open. These are technically free of charge to the public although it is generally recommended to leave a small donation per hiker for the use of the property. They may sometimes include basic mattresses and blankets, a gas heater, a table, a first aid kit and an emergency phone but offerings vary from place to place.

hiking-grocery-listWe settled on Parc Nacional d’Aiguestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici (translation from Catalan: “St. Maurice Lake and the Winding Streams National Park”) in the Spanish Pyrenees. Since we were starting from Barcelonnette, we decided to break up the drive in two parts by staying a night in Perpignan to buy groceries and prepare our packs.


The hardest part of the trip by far was finding food that was non-perishable, energy dense, healthy, and light. 

Below, I’ve outlined each day’s menu, basic stats, a review of each refuge, and some comments on the day’s hike itself. Clicking on the refuge name will provide it’s Google Maps location and additional reviews.

Day One

Time hiking: 3h 3min – Distance: 6.2 miles – Calories burned: 2,156

  • Dinner: salad, sandwich, applesauce

Refuge: J.M. Blanc

I had only stayed in a small refuge once in France so I had no idea what to expect. We cheered with joy when we finally caught a sight of where we’d be spending our first night. J.M. Blanc was nestled in between two big, idyllic lakes and even boasted several picnic tables and a rock climbing wall outside. Sheep lazily grazed around us as we stretched and walked around the refuge. At the time, work was being done on the dam near the refuge. The refuge also offered ample shelf space (containing some basic staples like pasta), a space heater, roomy bed space, and a large table.


We left Perpignan at dawn to finish the remainder of the drive to the park. We began our hike from Espot, from where you have a great view of the Encantats, a stunning symbol of the park. There was no entrance fee and we found parking quite easily. The biggest challenge for me was carrying a 30 lb pack. I was very happy, however, to have

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Day Two

Time hiking: 4h 30min – Distance: 5.8 miles – Calories burned: 2,440

  • Breakfast: selection of cookies, fruit, nuts, applesauce, oatmeal, muesli with coffee or tea
  • Lunch: leftover salad, sandwich
  • Dinner: pasta, tuna, tomato sauce, applesauce

Refuge: Colomina

Our second night was spent in the warm, recently renovated refuge of Colomina. It was pleasantly toasty and sunny thanks to the large bay windows which was much welcome in the cold weather but may have been too warm in the summer. The place was very clean and had a mudroom that provided a place to store one’s hiking shoes and it even had house shoes available for use inside the main room. Beds were comfortable but the refuge would have lacked a common space if all the beds had been taken. At night, we had to cover sun-powered lights that were both inside and outside the refuge. The large windows directly across the beds also meant we were treated to a fantastic view of the sun rising over the curling clouds.


One of the most surreal feelings for me while hiking is seeing the “mar de nubes” or sea of clouds twisting and unfurling between the mountains. It’s like getting access to a view only our avian friends are privy to. A thick haze settled right as we arrived to the refuge but we were cold, wet, and hungry so we dropped off our packs and had our picnic on the table outside to wait it out. Afterwards, we decided to hike around our refuge and were rewarded for our patience with beautiful, fog-free views of the area. We came back and met an English woman and her young son. They had recently moved to Spain to a farmhouse with her second husband. She had actually lied to her husband, who seemed to disapprove of her affinity for hiking, so that she and her son could explore the Pyrenees. They both spoke fluent French and gave us tips on our next day’s hike.

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Day Three

Time hiking: 6h 5m – Distance: 10.1 miles – Calories burned: 2,818

  • Breakfast: selection of cookies, fruit, nuts, applesauce, oatmeal, muesli with coffee or tea
  • Lunch: sandwich or pate with crackers and cheese
  • Dinner: instant mashed potatoes, sausages, applesauce

Refuge: Centraleta // Estany Llong

This was my least preferred refuge. It was dark inside, even during the middle of the day and was rather cramped. At night, we had to keep the wood-powered furnace lit but since we didn’t have many windows, it meant the refuge was covered in smoke. It was so unbearably stifling, that in the middle of the night, a French couple sleeping on the top bunks had to move their mattresses to the floor because they couldn’t breathe. This refuge was also unlike our other refuges in that it was 15 min away from the full-service refuge (Estany Llong). On the plus side, it did have a pretty bridge and several streams nearby and the area surrounding the refuge was rather pretty.


This was a day, quite literally, full of ups and downs. We tackled our hardest, longest ascent soon after leaving Centraleta. Before we started climbing, the others took a snack break. I chose to continue up the slope alone because I knew this would be the hardest part of the trek and preferred to climb up in silence. As I neared the summit it felt good to know I pushing the physical abilities of my body but I was also so tired I almost cried. A Spanish couple at the summit must have seen my beleaguered face because they cried out “Vale! Ya casi llegas! Estas tan cerca!” (“Come on! You’re almost here! You’re so close!”). Initially, they were impressed because they thought I had been trekking alone but I explained to them that I had just advanced without my group because I wanted the luxury of cursing alone in Spanish as I struggled my way up. They were quite friendly and gave us advice on the next leg of our hike. We had wanted to go all the way up to the Saboredo refuge but they showed us pictures of their treacherously windy and snowy hike down and advised against it. We parted ways, changed course, and enjoyed our lunch picnic at a picturesque inlet we found off-trail.

The day was so warm and sunny we even dared to bath in the lake’s icy cold water. It felt so good to take our socks off and soak our tired feet in the refreshing lake. For me, it was one of the highlights of the trip. Afterwards, we accidentally took a wrong turn which added an extra hour to our hike and meant that we had to do some major scrambling. As someone who’s scared of heights, scrambling up a steep pile of large boulders with a 30 lb pack on really pushed my limits. We had also spent the majority of the day discussing difficult topics such as feminism and racism so both our bodies and minds were quite exhausted by day’s end.

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Day Four

Time hiking: 2h 42m – Distance: 4 miles – Calories burned: 2,124

  • Breakfast: selection of cookies, fruit, nuts, applesauce, oatmeal, muesli with coffee or tea
  • Lunch: sandwich
  • Dinner: couscous, canned vegetables, tomato sauce, pudding or dark chocolate

Refuge: Ernest Mallafre


Our last night was spent in Ernest Mallafre. It was the closest to Espot, the closest city and also our parking spot. The common room was rather large with a wood stove, large wooden picnic-style tables and clotheslines to hang clothes to dry. The bedroom had two levels of bed space on the left and right with mattresses and plenty of windows that could be opened. The whole place was comfortably warm and it was nice to have the option of airing it out during the day. Another plus was that there are plenty of rivers to walk around and also a friendly horse that hangs around the refuge.


It was a long day because just when we thought we had arrived, we realized we still had a good uphill bit to go. Since we pretty much had this refuge for ourselves, we had a quick lunch of leftovers (since it was the last day of the hike) and we dropped off our pack to go on a little walk around the area. We met some friendly horses and saw plenty of groups hiking around since it was close to the road. In the evening, the English woman we had met earlier ended up staying at the same refuge as well with her son. We played card games with them way past our bedtime (which is usually around 9 pm when all you’ve done all day is walk) but it was pleasant to have some company.

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Day Five

Time hiking: 4h 40m – Distance: 9.2 miles – Calories burned: 2,529

  • Breakfast: leftover cereal bars with coffee or tea
  • Lunch: sandwich or pate with crackers and cheese
  • Dinner: instant mashed potatoes + leftovers

Final Thoughts

The views were absolutely astounding. We counted 24 lakes during our 5 day hike. A few tips:

  • STRETCH, STRETCH, STRETCH. I challenged myself to take time to stretch and breathe every day after our long hikes and it made all the difference in how sore I was the next day.
  • Flaxseeds were a lifesaver since I sometimes get constipated while hiking overnight. Go easy on them (just half a teaspoon) if it’s your first time then slowly add more to your diet as needed.
  • Bring a good map. A family friend lent us a topographic map of the area which turned out to be a lifesaver.
  • Talk to the closest national park info station or tourism station for tips on which routes to take/avoid depending on the weather forecast.
  • You can do this. You’re the best judge of your physical ability but really, as long as you’re generally in good health, you can do a long hike. It’s not as scary as you think and it’s incredibly rewarding!

Total time hiked: 21 hours  – Total distance: 35.3 miles

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