The GR20 is a spectacular 180 km (112 mi) trail, that winds its way along the jagged spine of Corsica’s mountainous centre. Despite the rugged nature of much of the terrain, it is a hike that is within the capabilities of most backpackers, due to it being exceedingly well marked and sporting regular accommodation and resupply options. I hiked the GR20 in 2009. All logistical information has been updated as of March, 2017. Cheers to Paul “Mags” Magnanti (pmags.com) for the loan of the “Quick & Dirty” title!
Avg.Time : 11 – 12 days
- The GR20 is one of those trails where the amount of time needed can vary considerably from hiker to hiker. As a general reference, given average conditions speedy hikers with light packs can usually do it in 5 to 7 days (not including side trips), whereas slower trekkers might take 15 or 16.
Start / Finish :
- Calenzana (North) – Conca (south)
- No real advantage in going either direction.
- Corsica.forhikers.com provides a comprehensive overview of Ferry and Flight options to Corsica. It also provides details on getting to and from the trailheads and other parts of the island.
- Early June to late October.
- Tip: If you want to avoid the crowds, steer clear of July and August.
- Click here for an overview of what you can expect on the meteorological front in Corsica.
- Tip 2: When mapping out your trip itinerary, factor in an extra day (or two) in case of inclement weather.
Maps, Guidebooks & General Information:
- Online: Corsica.forhikers.com is an excellent source for anything and everything pertaining to the GR20. In fact………who am I kidding………if I was you I’d forget about the rest of my write-up and go directly there.
- Guidebook: Cicerone Press publish the The GR20 Corsica: The High Level Route (2016). The trekking notes and sketch maps should suffice from a navigational perspective on this very well marked trail. A Kindle edition is also available.
- Guidebook: If you speak a little bit of French, a good alternative to the English guides is: A Traverse la Montagne Corse [#67]. It has topo maps, is light and compact, and if you can’t pick it up online, it is widely available around Corsica.
- Language: Speaking of which, from a communication perspective (particularly if you are trekking independently), it will be worth your while to learn some French before arriving on the island. Even if it’s just the basics; if locals see you making an effort, it can make a big difference in regards to your overall experience (see Cultural Considerations from the Hiking Abroad section of the website).
- GPS: Free download of GPS data for the trail.
One of the biggest issues for many people on the GR20 is the question of resupply. I recommend the following:
- You can supplement your supplies at Asco Stagu, Castel di Verghio, Bavella and do a full resupply at Vizzavona.
- Enjoy at least a few meals at the refugios (mountain huts). It will save weight, the food’s pretty good, the servings are generous and the prices are affordable. It is also possible to buy snacks such as bread, cheese and chocolate at some of the huts.
- Except for a couple of occasions in the vicinity of livestock, I didn’t purify my water and had no issues (I carried Aquamira drops). That being said, most foreigners hiking the GR20 seem to regularly treat, and it’s probably the safer way to go. If obtaining water from a hut, ask the guardian in charge whether or not it is potable.
Route / Conditions :
- Signage: The GR20 is well marked with red and white blazes. Given reasonably fine weather, it is easy to follow from start to finish.
- Exposed Terrain: Due to its undulating, sometimes rugged nature, walking on the GR20 is often slow going. Certain sections of the hike are very exposed; keep an eye on the conditions at all times.
- Weather Updates: In regards to the weather, cell phone reception can be sporadic in the Corsican mountains. Check the long range forecast before setting out, and then get regular updates at the Refugios (mountain huts) along the way. If a thunderstorm is heading in your direction, discretion is usually the better part of valour. Kick back with a hot chocolate or red wine and ride out the storm in the cozy confines of a refugio.
- Swimming: There are some fantastic swimming holes along the GR20. On a hot day, a dip in one of these crystal clear pools is an absolute must.
- Side Trip: I did the side trip up Corsica’s highest mountain, Monte Cinto. Although the 360 degree panorama from the peak is impressive, I wouldn’t say it was any more spectacular than many of the views along the route itself.
- Huts: As alluded to above, there are mountain huts throughout the GR20, so technically speaking a tent is not necessary. That being said, the refuges are often crowded and noisy. You will also need to book ahead. I recommend bringing your own shelter.
- Camping: Officially speaking, wild camping is prohibited on the GR20. You are permitted, however, to pitch your shelter next to the refuges along the route. To be frank, some of these sites are pretty ordinary. For discreet independent hikers who practice no trace principles, it is not difficult to find camping spots away from the refugios.
- The GR20 is a classic trek along the jagged spine of Corsica’s mountainous centre.
- Forget about all the “toughest trek in Europe” hype. Yes, some of the stages are a bit rugged, but it is uniformly well marked, there is a plethora of trekking information available, and as long as you use some common sense and stay off the exposed areas when the weather is raging, chances are you’ll be fine.
- Tip: Seeing as you have travelled all the way to Corsica, make an effort to spend at least a few days pre or post hike, enjoying some of the villages and beaches around the island. It’s an incredible place with a rich culture and colourful history. The food’s pretty good as well; think a combination of Italian and French cuisine, mixed together with certain elements that are distinctly Corsican.