The GR20 is a 110-mile point-point trail that traverses the Corsican Mountain Range on the French island of Corsica in the Mediterranean Sea. It’s a popular trek that is completed over the course of 16 stages of tough, rocky, mountain trekking. The trail provides stunning views of the island and surrounding Mediterranean Sea.
Quick Stats of the GR20
Distance: 110 Miles
Elevation: 40,000 Feet
Highest Point: Monte Cinto at 8,878 Feet
Start: Calenzana (North)
End: Conca (South)
Average Time: 9-12 Days
Fastest Known Time: 1d 6h 26m 15s
Hiking Season: Beginning of June through end of September
Hiking Overview & Route Conditions
Whereas the hiking is tough on the GR20, the trail is well-built, well-marked, and well-maintained making it a good choice for anybody with some backpacking experience looking for an adventure.
Since the trail is broken down into 16 stages, the amount of hiking per day can actually be quite light if following a one stage a day plan.
Many people choose however to double or ‘jump’ stages which would increase the number of miles some days and cut down the total number of days.
The most common way to hike the GR20 is by starting in Calenzana and hiking south to Conca. There’s a general consensus that the northern half of the trail, which is the section from Calenzana to Vizzavona, is more difficult than the southern half.
I would mostly agree from my experience but you can’t write off the southern half as easy. The first half is pretty relentless and seems to constantly be climbing or descending and over hard rocky terrain.
Although less popular, many people still do start from Conca in the south, one of the reasons can be due to snow left in June and starting from the south would buy you a little extra time for it to melt.
I hiked the trail the first week of June in 2021 which I later found out was a lower-than-average snow year. There were minor sections of snowpack still covering the trail but nothing that was even close to requiring micro spikes or an ice axe.
The trail is very popular so expect to not be far from anyone at most times when hiking. You won’t feel the crowd when hiking but camping and sleeping at huts will definitely have a large crowd.
The first refuge I camped at coming up from Calenzana in the evening was L’Ortu di u Piobbu and it had over 115 people there. It was a complete shock!
It was a Friday or Saturday night so many people were presumed to have started because of that and things were spread out after a day or so with some people doubling stages or not.
Huts & Camping
You have a few different options of sleeping arrangements over the course of this trek which cater to all different interests of hikers.
Refuges (a term for a mountain hut) are located between each of the 16 stages and are required to be slept at each night, wild camping is not permitted however there will be some sections you could get away with it if you’re practicing good Leave No Trace principles.
Here are the 3 sleeping options broken down:
First: You can reserve a bunk to sleep in at the refuge. This is done online beforehand from the link below and may cost around 25 euros per-person per-night.
Second: You can reserve a pre-setup tent for 1-4 people outside the refuge. The tent comes with sleeping pads but not sleeping bag. This is done online beforehand from the link below and may cost around 25 euros per-person per-night.
Third: You can show-up with no reservation at the refuge and choose a designated tent pad spot and pay 10 euros per-person to the refuge guardian on arrival. It will be required that your group carries their equipment such as tent and sleeping pads.
It should be noted that tent pads can be reserved in advanced online, you can get a discount online as well, and in some select few refuge locations this may actually be required as they can be overbooked.
From my experience only one refuge initially told me they were fully reserved for tent pads and that I would have to wait for no shows which at that point I had several options to choose from.
Staying at a refuge includes all refuge amenities such as potable water source, bathrooms and outhouses, showers (sometimes cold), and cook space and kitchen including stoves, pots, and dishes for your use.
A downside of booking online is that you have to estimate your hiking plan which can be tougher for those who may double up some stages. If this happens you can request date changes to your reservations as you go.
Food & Resupply
Easily one of the best features of this hike is the luxury of the refuges which sell food and drinks as well as serve a pretty gourmet dinner.
Dinner is available at all refuges and can be purchased for typically between 20-25 euros per person. No reservation is typically required but have your name added to the list on arrival because they could max out their capacity.
Other food options including snacks, sandwiches, breads, cheese, and charcuterie are available to purchase ahead of dinner time.
Now for the best part. Beer and wine are available at all refuges for an affordable price. Wine is served by glass, half liter, or full liter and usually 2, 5, and 10, euros respectively. Beer was typically 7 euros for a 16oz local pilsner and came cold.
The refuges have lots more to sell including soda and resupply options (at a very reasonable price!) They provide a lot of local Corsican products which are a nice tough.
This is a trail where you never need to carry more than a day or two worth of food. So keep your pack light and purchase as you go!
Some resupply options are bread, cheese, to-go sandwiches, sardines, tuna salad cans, apples, macaroni, pasta and sauce, chocolate, and again, all for an affordable price.
There are only 3 very small towns along the trek and none with a full-size grocery store so what you purchase at the refuges will be similar to what you can find at other stops along the trail.
Maps & Guides
For my trek in 2021 I mapped out the presumed route via GaiaGPS and you can take a look at that map here.
You can also follow the AllTrails map too.
I’m not the biggest planner but if you would like to know more about the trail and in-depth stage details then a guidebook will serve you well. This one from Cicerone Guides is probably the most common.
If you’re looking to order a paper map, National Geographic has one on Amazon too.
*This website has all the information you need and want so give it a look-through. The refuges are listed in order from north to south and can give you an idea of stage lengths and difficulties.
Getting to / from the Trailheads
Both trailheads start from small towns off the coast of the island which means you’ll need a mix of transportation options to get there typically.
To get to the Calenzana trailhead the most popular way is by taking a train to outside of Calvi and then hiring a cab, walking, or hitchhiking to get to Calenzana.
To get to Conca you’ll want to take a train or bus to Porto-Vecchio and at the bus terminal there is a shuttle for hikers that runs throughout the day to Conca.
Many hikers stay their final night in Calenzana or Conca to celebrate before moving on giving them a full day to arrange transportation and their next accommodations.
Getting to Corsica
There are two different options of how you can get to the Island which are either by plane or by ferry.
Plane is becoming increasingly popular because of the number of routes being added from mainland Europe during the summer months.
Corsica has 4 main international airports: Ajaccio, Calvi, Porto-Vecchio and Bastia.
Arriving to any of these are a fine place to start your journey to the trailhead. Calvi and Bastia are easier if starting in the north and Ajaccio and Porto-Vecchio are more direct if starting in the south.
If you are on the mainland and flights are too expensive, an alternative way to reach the island is by ferry. Plenty of ferries run daily to all three of these port cities. The ferry times vary but expect an overnight 10 hours or so trip.
I flew from New York to Milan then took a train to the coast for a ferry and woke up to this incredible sunrise.
Favorite Trail Sections
The climb out of Refuge de Carrozzu on your second or third day was an incredible climb and at the top by Lac de la Muvrella is a great view looking down the rock out to the Mediterranean.
The next day the climb out of Asco the small ski village and up to Monte Cinto which is the highest point on the island.
Lac de Nino and the flowed lands are a favorite among hikers. It’s a bit lighter of a day in the north as well so a good break between the north rocky climbs.
The pass after Refuge de Manganu is a favorite and final northern pass. It’s a giant amphitheater of rock with two lakes below (see blog cover photo). This is a classic spot where snow can remain on the trail and cause dangerous conditions.
The ridge near Refuge de Prati has great views on all sides to the sea and some cool high plains and rocky ridge hiking.
The last section in the south that has the three-pillars alternate is a great section with some chains and rock scrambles. The normal GR20 is more distance and relatively boring so this alternate is recommended
Final Tips and Knowledge Shared
If you learn some basic French before setting off it will be helpful. Corsica has its own language which is a mix of French-Italian but everybody seemed to at least understand French.
Carry plenty of euros with you on the trek. There are no ATM’s at any of the towns or along the trek as of 2021. Some refuges take card which is always good to ask to keep your cash reserved.
People tend to think main summer months are most popular for this trek but they’re actually not. The heat becomes a huge factor in July and August making these months less popular for hikers. At anytime however be prepared for a large crowd at the refuges.
Is the GR20 the ‘Toughest Trek in Europe”? No, this is a gimmick that you’ll see online. Compared to many other Europe treks the stats of elevation per mile and rocky terrain makes this more difficult but it’s nothing that a fit hiker can’t do. The refuges make it quite enjoyable too.
Eat at least a couple dinners at the refuges. They come as multiple course meals and each refuge has its own meal it serves.
Some favorite food points along the trek:
Refuge de L’Onda: Serves trail famous vegetarian goat cheese lasagna with goat cheese fresh from the goats on their farm
Refuge de Petra Piana: Has some of the best views of a refuge and serves fresh French fries and soft serve ice cream
Asco, Vergio, and Capanelle: These are the three ski resort villages along the trail. Each has an official or unofficial refuge as well as typically a hotel or other restaurant giving you not many, but at least another type of dining option. Asco and Vergio had separate restaurants and Capanelle had a pizza station.
The GR20 Bar: If ending in Conca there is a bar called the GR20 which is where the shuttle picks you up and drops you off. It’s also a famous spot for hikers celebrating their accomplished trail.
Cell Reception and WIFI: Cell Reception is best in any of the three ski villages and Vizzavona. Elsewhere will be very limited. Wifi is definitely available from the hotels in Asco, Vergio, and Vizzavona. Additionally, some refuges you can pay for Wifi but don’t expect to be watching Netflix.
Vizzavona: This town is the half way point and is the only town with a train station. It’s popular for people to only hike half the trail and depart from here.
Be very weight conscious on this trip and you’ll enjoy it much more. If you plan to carry your sleep set-up, make sure it lightweight. Don’t carry lots of excess food. 3 Days of food to start max! You’ll figure out as you go. Don’t bring ice equipment if it’s not needed. Contact refuges or others from Instagram who hiked before you to get a real trail report.
Exploring Corsica Afterwards
Corsica is a popular vacation spot for Europeans during the summer so once you’re done hiking go hit the beach for a few days and explore as much of the island as possible.
Porto-Vecchio is an amazing port city in the south with many beautiful beaches to enjoy. The town has a couple good campsites, the most popular in walking distance to the town is Camping Matorna.
Corsica can be tough to travel without a vehicle so consider having your group rent a car or better yet a scooter for your time at the beach.
Bonifacio is one of the most popular and cool old fortified port towns on Corsica and is a short drive from Porto-Vecchio.
The island is also the birthplace of Napolean and his original family’s home is a museum in the capital Ajaccio.
The food is a wonderful mix of French and Italian so put your hiker trash self together and go out for some incredible dining!
Have a question? Drop me a comment or reach out via Instagram @secrethike
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