The best of Aragón’s natural wonders all seem to converge with climactic glory in the Parque Nacional de Ordesa y Monte Perdido. Presiding over the park’s greenery is the Monte Perdido (Lost Mountain) range, the largest limestone chain in Western Europe. Verdant valleys blanketed in beech, fir and pine cut through the terrain, and clear blue streams and gushing waterfalls keep the fields fertile. After the snow melts, honeysuckle, primroses and irises bloom in rocky crevices and on sun-speckled slopes. As for wildlife, the park is teeming with it: Egyptian vultures and golden eagles soar overhead; Pyrenean chamois scamper up hillsides; and trout dart through ice-cold streams.
Many of the deep valleys were created by massive glaciers, at the heads of which are cirques: basins shaped roughly like an amphitheatre with steep walls of rock. Elsewhere, tiny alpine villages, with stone houses crowned with sandstone-tile roofs and conical chimneys, dot the mountainsides and make for pleasant stops along the many routes that meander through the park. The park is divided roughly into three main sections: Ordesa (to the west), Añisclo (to the south) and Escuaín (to the east). The chief town of Torla, 3km south of the park’s southwest border, is one of the more popular gateways, from where trails lead into the park.
Hikes in the park
The park offers a wide range of hikes, from half-day ambles to multi-day treks, all of which take you past natural wonders, including crashing waterfalls, gaping canyons and bright-green valleys. You can access the park on foot from Torla on the well-marked GR15 path from town, which eventually links up with the GR11, a right fork of which goes to Pradera de Ordesa, entrance to the Cañón de Ordesa and the starting point for most of the popular hikes further into the park. The whole trek from Torla to Pradera takes about two hours.
Circo de Soaso
The Circo de Soaso trek is one of the park’s main crowd-pleasers – and for good reason. It offers a lovely overview of the park’s natural highlights – gorgeous greenery, tumbling waterfalls – but is not too challenging, and it can be completed in a day. From Pradera de Ordesa the route leads through forest, followed by a steep climb up the Senda de los Cazadores (Hunters’ Path), which then flattens out as the Faja de Pelay path to the beautiful Cola de Caballo (Horsetail Waterfall). The journey takes about three to four hours (around 6–7hr roundtrip).
Circo de Cotatuero
This trek also has a lovely waterfall as a reward, and takes you along the northern crest of the impressive Valle de Ordesa. The full round-trip hike takes about 5 to 6 hours. Park officials warn that the hike should only be done in the summer or early autumn; in the winter and spring, there is the risk of avalanches. From Pradera de Ordesa, the hike starts steeply and eventually leads to a lookout point below the thundering Cascada de Cotatuero (for an onward route from the Cascada, see Brecha de Rolando). To return from the Cascada, head downhill and then continue on the Cotatuero circo back to the Pradera de Ordesa.
Refugio Góriz and Monte Perdido
From Pradera de Ordesa, trek along the GR11 to Circo de Soaso (about 3hr) and then up to the Refugio Góriz (2169m), the traditional jumping-off point to climb Monte Perdido (3355m). The trek up Monte Perdido (about 5hr) requires intermediate mountaineering skills, crampons and other professional equipment.
Brecha de Rolando and Refuge des Sarradets
If you have a head for heights, try this memorable onward route from the Cascada de Cotatuero: from the waterfalls, on the Cotatuero cirque, you can climb, via a series of iron pegs in a wall, the Clavijas de Cotatuero. Note that you don’t need any special climbing equipment but you should be fit and have the aforementioned affinity for heights. Once you’ve done the climb, it’s about a two- to three-hour trek to the Brecha de Rolando, a large natural gap in the Cirque de Gavarnie on the French border. From the Brecha, it’s then a steep climb (about 500m) to the Refuge des Sarradets (2587m;), across the border in France.
Parc National des Pyrénées and Gavarnie village
The northern section of the park is adjacent to France’s Parc National des Pyrénées, which in total runs for about 100km along the Spain–France border. The French side offers more of the same wild Pyrenean landscape, and a popular trek with hikers is to cross northwest into the French park and on to the pretty village of Gavarnie. Many will do this hike over the course of a couple of days. From Torla, hike along the GR15.2 to Puente de los Navarros and then continue on the GR11 to San Nicolás de Bujaruelo (roughly 7km from Torla), which is marked by a medieval bridge. Here you’ll find the Refugio Valle de Bujaruelo. From the San Nicolás bridge, you can trek over mountains and into France and Garvarnie – about a six- to eight-hour hike.