A Quick & Dirty Guide to Corsica’s GR20

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!

Distance :  112 miles (180 km)gr_20_map

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.

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Season :

  • 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.

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Maps, Guidebooks & General Information:

  • OnlineCorsica.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.

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  • 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).

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Resupply

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.

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Water:

  • 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.

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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.

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  • 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.
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Swimming Hole Heaven

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Summit of Monte Cinto | Corsica’s highest peak.

Sleeping :

  • 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.

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Overview :

  • 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.
  • Tips 2: Attention history buffs, Napoleon was born in the Corsican capital of Ajaccio. His ancestral home is now a museum. Well worth a visit.
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Final Sunrise of the GR20

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Final Sunrise of the GR20.

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The descent to Conca – the southern terminus of the GR20.


Comments

A Quick & Dirty Guide to Corsica’s GR20 — 19 Comments

  1. Thanks, very interesting.
    And this made me laugh: “In fact………who am I kidding………if I was you I’d forget about the rest of my write-up and go directly there.” 🙂

    • No worries. As for the other website, what can I say, it definitely seems to be the best online resource for the GR20!

      Cheers,

      Cam

  2. Nice Article…I did this trek a few years ago…’forget the toughest trek hype’…I wouldn’t…75% drop out rate… I lost a stone in weight in 10 days…it is the toughest GR…I loved it… highly reccomend

    • Hey Tim,

      It’s definitely a great walk, however, I think the high drop out ratio might have more to do with the experience level of many of the hikers, than it does the difficulty of the trek. It may well be the toughest GR, but it isn’t the toughest trek in Europe. As I mentioned, it is very well marked, there is a plethora of info available and there are plenty of accommodation and culinary options along the way.

      Cheers,

      Cam

  3. Out of curiosity why do you think it’s got the reputation of toughest gr? Everywhere seems to agree but without saying why. Can’t imagine there is more height gain or loss than some stages of say gr10 so is it the terrain? Is there much scrambling?

    Just wondering as I’m planning a solo trip this year.

    • Hey Amanda,

      Some of the sections are quite exposed and there is a bit of scrambling involved. Going over these segments when the elements are raging can be challenging. That being said, as long as you keep an eye on the weather, it isn’t too difficult too wait out the occasional big storm front in more sheltered environs.

      All the best for your trip!

      Cheers,

      Cam

  4. I’ll be starting the trail from Calvi on May 21st and I’m curious if it would be possible to rent crampons/pick in Corsica. As opposed to me bringing them on my entire 3 month hiking trip of Europe. Unless of course you don’t think they would be needed?

  5. Good Morning
    Im planning to hike the gr 20 around Sept 15 to end of September. It will be a solo trek unless i meet up with someone. Planning sleep in own tent. Use Jet-boil for boiling water. some questions:

    1. end of September good time to go?
    2. is reservation required if i tent?
    3. where can i buy gas canister for Jet-boil stove?

    any other useful info is always welcome.
    Thank you
    Bruno

    • End of September should be ok, and to the best of my knowledge reservations aren’t required if you are camping. I can’t help you with your third question; try corsica.forhikers.com.

      Cheers,

      Cam

  6. Hi,

    Thanks – very informative.

    I’m doing it later this year and am interested in your views on footwear. I’m an experienced Fellrunner and am intending to do it in Fell shoes, so I can move rapidly over the ground, (well, I mean a brisk walk or slow jog). Any specific observations as to whether walking boots would be a better option.

    Thanks

  7. I’m an inexperienced hiker and was wondering if it would be a bad idea for me to attempt to hike the GR20 (or half of it). I there any special equipment required? And if i wish to do so, could i spend only 2-3 days on a part of the trail…or are there other hiking trails in corsica that are better suited for beginners who want to witness breathtaking views?

    • Your best bet would be to check out Corsicaforhikers.com. It contains a wide range of options for hikers of all different levels of experience. They also have a forum with up-to-date information on hiking in the region.

  8. I did the GR20 3 years ago with 4 french french friends and I would highly recommend it. We did it in October when the huts were open but not manned so were able to use the cooking facilities and the bunks. We doubled up the stages so each day was between 9-11 hours of walking. I’m no fan of heights and didn’t feel it was particularly scary(although the then open Cirque was exciting). People say it is the toughest trek but I think that is because it is relentless (=c1450m per day up and down), 10 hours walking, you are never on a flat surface (imagine walking over large rocks on a beach so always having to watch your steps), you have to carry your food and after 8 days you are itching for anything rather than rice and water!, there are no WC’S and you wash from a freezing cold tap (in the cold if you do it in october) and the huts are basic. At the end if you have done it you feel a massive achievement, probably have lost a stone in weight, the countryside is stunning and for me it will be something that will stay with me for ever. If you have the chance do it! My advice is keep your ruck sack as light as possible.

  9. Hi Cam,
    Thinking of doing this this summer. Great write up- thanks for turning me on to this route! I’ll probably go with my son and figure we’ll need 8-9 days or so. I’m wondering if resupply for cold soaking is a workable option? I’m usually happy with oatmeal, ramen, couscous, and beans. Will I need to bring a stove or plan to carry 8 days of dehydrated beans? It seems like we could get by without carrying too much food by eating at the huts, but wondering if that would slow us down much.
    Also, do you have any ideas about the easiest way to fly there? I’ve been looking at the corsica hiker’s site and using the flight search engines but haven’t hit on a plan yet. I know I probably just need to crank away till I figure it out, but since you’ve been there, I thought I’d ask. Thanks for everything! Love the poncho tarp!!

    • Hi Adam,

      In regards to cold soaking, you should be able to pick up oatmeal and ramen. Not sure about couscous, and I doubt you would have much luck finding dehydrated beans (I could be wrong). Maybe a go for a combo of a four dinners in the huts and four bean dinners that you carry from the start?

      In regards to flights, if memory serves I caught a cheap flight to Nice and then got the ferry over from there.

      Best of luck on your hike!

      Cheers,

      Cam

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