National Park Guides

The Best Regional Parks and National Parks In France

POSTED ON January 29, 2020 BY Ralph S.


Introduction

France is not just about Paris and the Eiffel Tower. It is also home to some of the best national parks in the world. These parks offer a diverse range of landscapes, from rugged mountains to magnificent forests and serene lakes to stunning coastlines.

If you are a nature lover or an adventurous traveler, exploring the national parks in France is a must-do activity.

In this article, we will take you on a virtual tour of France’s parks, giving you a glimpse of what you can expect from each of them.

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Pyrenees National Park

Pyrenees National Park

  • Location (map): south of France, straddling along the Spanish border.
  • Size: approximately 177 sq mi (458 sq km).
  • Establishment Date: March 23, 1967.
  • Number of Visitors: around 2 million visitors each year.
  • Number of Hiking Trails: over 135.
  • Total Length of Hiking Trails: more than 217 miles (350 kilometers) of marked walking trails.
  • Lowest Point: Cirque de Gavarnie crater at 1,345 feet (410 meters) above sea level.
  • Highest Point: Macizo de la Maladeta, at 11,167 feet (3,404 meters) above sea level.

Pyrénées national park, a gem nestled in the south of France and bordering Spain, offers a myriad of thrilling adventures to its visitors. The park’s rugged, towering mountains, including the famed Mount Vignemale, offer excellent trails for mountain biking, attracting thrill-seekers from around the globe. During the winter season, the park transforms into a haven for cross-country skiing, with its pristine trails cutting through the snow-covered landscape. History enthusiasts aren’t left out either, as the park boasts numerous historical sites that echo the region’s rich past.

This park is not only an adventurer’s playground but also an exceptional wildlife sanctuary, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A visit to the Pyrenees National Park is incomplete without a trip to the renowned Cirque de Gavarnie, where visitors are often left in awe of its stunning natural amphitheater. Keep your eyes peeled for the magnificent golden eagle soaring above or the myriad of other animals that call this park home.

Vanoise National Park

Vanoise National Park

  • Location (map): Savoie region of France, bordering Italy.
  • Size: approximately 206 sq mi (534 sq km).
  • Establishment Date: July 6, 1963.
  • Number of Visitors: Around 1 million visitors each year.
  • Number of Hiking Trails: not defined.
  • Total Length of Hiking Trails: Approximately 310 miles (500 kilometers).
  • Lowest Point: Around 5,000 feet (1,280 meters) in the Arc Valley.
  • Highest Point: Pointe de la Grande Casse, at 12,638 feet (3,852 meters) above sea level.

Vanoise National Park, the largest and oldest national park in mainland France, is a vast and captivating expanse nestled in the French Alps. Boasting a stunning alpine landscape, the park shares a 9-mile (approximately 14 km) border with Italy, seamlessly transitioning into the Gran Paradiso National Park.

One of the most intriguing aspects for visitors is the opportunity to witness the dynamic interplay of diverse ecosystems as they traverse the park’s marked trails. The landscape invites hikers to keep their eyes peeled for glimpses of elusive wildlife, including ibex and chamois, which inhabit the rugged mountain terrain.

One of the most popular hikes is the Tour de la Vanoise, a 10-day trek that takes you through the heart of the park and offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains.

For those seeking a pretty unique cross-border experience, a visit to Vanoise National Park provides a glimpse into the shared natural heritage of the French and Italian Alps. The park not only offers a visual spectacle of majestic peaks and pristine valleys but also serves as a living testament to the harmonious coexistence of wildlife in the heart of the European Alps.

Mercantour National Park

Mercantour National Park

  • Location (map): Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur and Provence-Alpes de Haute-Provence, southeastern France.
  • Size: approximately 262 sq mi (679 sq km).
  • Establishment Date: August 18, 1979.
  • Number of Visitors: Around 800,000 visitors each year.
  • Number of Hiking Trails: over 75 different trails.
  • Total Length of Hiking Trails: over 372 miles (600 km) of guided trails.
  • Lowest Point: The Roya Valley, at 531 feet (162 meters) above sea level.
  • Highest Point: The Gélas Peak at 10,311 feet (3,143 meters) above sea level.

Mercantour National Park, situated in the French Caribbean, beckons visitors with a tapestry of natural wonders and cultural richness. One of the park’s most intriguing features is the Valley of Wonders (Vallée des Merveilles), a captivating area known for its ancient rock carvings created by Bronze Age people. This archaeological treasure offers a glimpse into prehistoric artistry, drawing enthusiasts keen on exploring the historical legacy of the region. Beyond the cultural allure, Mercantour National Park unfolds a diverse range of ecosystems, from lush rainforests to cascading waterfalls, providing an ideal backdrop for nature enthusiasts.

For outdoor adventurers, the park offers an extensive network of trails, making it a haven for activities like hiking and mountain biking. One of the most popular hikes is the GR5 trail, which takes you through the park and into Italy. The trail offers breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and allows you to experience the park’s unique animals and landscapes.

The Gordolasque Valley, with its mountain villages and protected areas, provides an immersive experience for those looking to explore the park’s natural beauty. 

From the summit of Mont Bégo to the Mediterranean climate, this park offers a multifaceted adventure in a Caribbean paradise.

Ecrins National Park

Ecrins National Park

  • Location (map): Located in the southeast of France in the Dauphiné Alps.
  • Size: approximately 357 sq mi (925 sq km).
  • Establishment Date: March 27, 1973.
  • Number of Visitors: Approximately 800,000 visitors each year.
  • Number of Hiking Trails: about 175.
  • Total Length of Hiking Trails: almost 466 miles (750 km) of well-maintained, signposted trails.
  • Lowest Point: The Durance River at 740 meters (2,428 feet) above sea level.
  • Highest Point: The Barre des Écrins at 4,102 meters (13,458 feet) above sea level.

Ecrins National Park, nestled in the southeast of France, near the Italian border, is a captivating blend of natural beauty and intriguing local culture. The park is a magnet for mountain climbing enthusiasts, boasting several of the Tour de France’s most popular mountain climb routes, including the renowned Alpe d’Huez. The park’s landscapes vary dramatically, with towering mountains, rolling meadows, glaciers, and rushing streams that provide a feast for the eyes and a paradise for nature lovers.

Visitors to the park are greeted with over 700 marked trails, catering to both novice walkers and experienced hikers. The Great Tour of the Ecrins, a 12-day trek, is a popular option that takes you through the heart of the park and offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains. As hikers traverse these routes, they are often treated to stunning views of the park’s diverse wildlife and lush vegetation. For those seeking to delve deeper into the park’s treasures, the visitor centers provide a wealth of information on the park’s pretty unique geology and ecology.

Calanques National Park

Calanques National Park on of the best National Parks in France

  • Location (map): Bouches-du-Rhône, in southern France, between the city of Marseille and the town of Cassis.
  • Size: approximately 201 sq mi (520 sq km).
  • Establishment Date: April 18, 2012.
  • Number of Visitors: Around 2 million visitors each year.
  • Number of Hiking Trails: over 140. Check out the Interactive map of marked trails and regulated zones
  • Total Length of Hiking Trails: Approximately 186 miles (300 kilometers).
  • Lowest Point: At sea level, as the park includes a portion of the Mediterranean coastline.
  • Highest Point: Mont Carpiagne Peak at 2,120 feet (646 meters) above sea level.

Calanques National Park, nestled in the heart of the French countryside, offers a unique fusion of rugged cliffs, crystal-clear turquoise waters, and verdant vegetation. Positioned to the southeast of Marseille, this breathtaking landscape is the only urban National Park in Europe, attracting over 2 million visitors each year. The park is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, offering opportunities to hike scenic trails, explore the vibrant underwater world through snorkeling or diving, or swimming in secluded bays.

The park’s most fascinating spots can be discovered by boat, revealing a labyrinth of calanques – narrow, steep-walled inlets found along the Mediterranean coast. The Calanque d’En Vau, framed by towering cliffs and a secluded beach, is a visitor favorite. For a bird’s-eye view of the park, Marseilleveyre Peak provides a challenging hike but rewards adventurers with panoramic views of the encompassing French countryside and the expansive Mediterranean Sea.

Cevennes National Park

Cevennes National Park

  • Location (map): southern-central part of France, stretching across the Lozère, Gard, Ardèche, and Aveyron departments.
  • Size: approximately 362 sq mi (937 sq km).
  • Establishment Date: September 2, 1970.
  • Number of Visitors: Around 800,000 visitors each year.
  • Number of Hiking Trails: undefined.
  • Total Length of Hiking Trails: more than 1,118 miles (1,800 km).
  • Lowest Point: The Chassezac River at 128 meters (420 feet) above sea level.
  • Highest Point: Mont Lozère, at 5,584 feet (1,702 m) above sea level.

Cevennes National Park, situated in the southern-central part of France, boasts the highest concentration of hiking trails in the country, covering approximately 1,118 miles (1,800 km). This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a paradise for nature enthusiasts, attracting around 800,000 visitors each year. The park’s diverse landscapes offer a stunning range of scenes, from rugged mountains to verdant forests and flowing rivers. The highest point of the park is Mont Lozère, which offers panoramic views of the surrounding beauty.

Another intriguing feature of Cevennes National Park is the Aven Armand limestone cave. Known for its impressive forest of stalagmites, it’s one of the largest known caves of its kind. The park also takes pride in its rich biodiversity, hosting a variety of wildlife such as otters, eagles, and the European wildcat. Visitors can further explore the park’s history through local culture, ancient stone villages, and the remnants of the Camisard rebellion.

Port Cros National Park

Port Cros National Park

  • Location (map): Var department in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, southeastern France.
  • Size: approximately 18 sq mi (46 sq km).
  • Establishment Date: December 14, 1963, making it the oldest land and sea park in Europe.
  • Number of Visitors: Around 6,000 visitors a day and nearly 10,000 people in a single day on Porquerolles Island.
  • Number of Hiking Trails: undefined.
  • Total Length of Hiking Trails: undefined.
  • Lowest Point: At sea level, as the park includes a portion of the Mediterranean coastline.
  • Highest Point: The peak of Mount Vinaigre, at 643 feet (196 meters) above sea level.

Port Cros National Park, a marine sanctuary and haven for biodiversity, is a jewel among France’s natural wonders. Situated just south of the mainland, this Mediterranean marvel is renowned for its crystal-clear waters and exceptional marine life. Designated as a marine park, Port Cros boasts protected areas where vibrant underwater ecosystems thrive, making it a prime destination for snorkeling and diving enthusiasts. The park is an island paradise, and its diverse landscapes offer a blend of rugged cliffs, pristine beaches, and lush forests, providing an idyllic setting for hiking and exploration.

What makes Port Cros particularly unique is its commitment to conservation. The park has designated spots where visitors can witness the untouched beauty of nature, ensuring the preservation of delicate ecosystems. One of the most popular hikes is the trail leading to Mount Vinaigre, the island’s highest point, which offers a panoramic view of the park and the Mediterranean.

Guiana Amazonian Park

Guiana Amazonian Park

  • Location (map): French Guiana, on the northeastern coast of South America.
  • Size: approximately 7,813 sq mi (20,236 sq km).
  • Establishment Date: February 27, 2007.
  • Number of Visitors: Approximately 500,000 visitors annually.
  • Number of Hiking Trails: Unknown
  • Total Length of Hiking Trails: about 81 miles (130 km) of known trails and 2, 255 miles (3,630 km) of river route. However, there are other unknown trails due to the park’s remote location and dense Amazonian forest cover.
  • Lowest Point: The Maroni River at sea level.
  • Highest Point: The Bellevue de l’Inini peak, at  2,792 feet (851 meters) above sea level.

Located on the northeastern coast of South America, bordering the Brazilian National Park of Tumucumaque, in French Guiana, Guiana Amazonian Park is part of one of the planet’s most diverse and unspoilt natural regions. This massive park is home to a wide array of unique flora and fauna, making it a haven for nature enthusiasts. It is also one of the biggest protected areas in the world

Guiana Amazonian Park is renowned for its rich biodiversity. Among the park’s most captivating species are jaguars, tapirs, giant river otters, and numerous species of monkeys and birds. The park also encompasses Mount Galbao, a notable geographical feature that attracts hikers and explorers. Due to the park’s remote location and dense forest, there are few defined hiking trails, making it a thrilling, untamed paradise for adventurous outdoor enthusiasts.

Réunion National Park

Réunion National Park

  • Location (map): The island of Réunion, a French overseas department in the Indian Ocean.
  • Size: approximately 407 sq mi (1,054 sq km).
  • Establishment Date: March 5, 2007.
  • Number of Visitors: Around 400,000 visitors each year.
  • Number of Hiking Trails: over 100.
  • Total Length of Hiking Trails: approximately 559 miles (900 kilometers).
  • Lowest Point: The Indian Ocean at sea level.
  • Highest Point: The peak of Piton des Neiges, at 10,070 feet (3,070 meters) above sea level.

Réunion National Park, located on the island of Réunion, a French overseas department in the Indian Ocean, is truly an absolute dream for those who revel in natural beauty.

What makes Réunion National Park particularly fascinating is its rich biodiversity. The park is a haven for unique flora and fauna, including rare species adapted to the island’s diverse microclimates. The exploration of the park offers a glimpse into the intricate balance of ecosystems, from dense rainforests to high-altitude plateaus.

This park is also dominated by the formidable Piton de la Fournaise, one of the world’s most active volcanoes. The lunar-like landscapes surrounding this fiery giant create an otherworldly setting for exploration. Visitors can venture along well-marked trails that traverse volcanic craters, revealing surreal vistas and the raw power of geological forces at play.

Forêts National Park

Vallée de la Seine France

  • Location (map): Northeast France, stretching across the Côte-d’Or, Haute-Marne, and Aube departments.
  • Size: approximately 216 sq mi (560 sq km).
  • Establishment Date: November 6, 2019.
  • Number of Visitors: estimated visitors annually.
  • Number of Hiking Trails: undefined.
  • Total Length of Hiking Trails: undefined.
  • Lowest Point: The Aube River at 90 meters (295 feet) above sea level.
  • Highest Point: Le Haut du Sec, at 1,726 feet (526 meters) above sea level.

Forêts National Park, located in northeastern France, is a natural gem that spans across three departments: Côte-d’Or, Haute-Marne, and Aube. This park is relatively new but has already captured the hearts of visitors with its stunning landscapes and rich biodiversity. Visitors have endless opportunities to explore the diverse terrain of this park.

One of the most fascinating spots within the park is Mont Tasselot, which stands at a height of 521 meters (1,709 feet) above sea level. This peak offers breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape and is a popular destination for hikers. The Aube River, which flows through the park at 90 meters (295 feet) above sea level, also provides a pretty unique experience for visitors to enjoy.

Guadeloupe National Park

Guadeloupe Mountains National Park

  • Location (map): The islands of Basse-Terre and Grande-Terre in the region of Guadeloupe, a French overseas territory in the Caribbean.
  • Size: approximately 85 sq mi (221 sq km).
  • Establishment Date: September 30, 1972.
  • Number of Visitors: Around 243,291 (2021).
  • Number of Hiking Trails: more than 10, with several wilderness hiking opportunities.
  • Total Length of Hiking Trails: over 80 miles (129 km).
  • Lowest Point: The Caribbean Sea at sea level.
  • Highest Point: Guadalupe Peak, at 8,751 feet (2,667 meters) above sea level.

Guadeloupe National Park, located on the islands of Basse-Terre and Grande-Terre in the Caribbean region of Guadeloupe, is a tropical paradise waiting to be explored. One of the most iconic spots within the park is Carbet Falls, a series of three cascading waterfalls that flow into the Carbet River. Visitors can explore these impressive falls while surrounded by lush tropical rainforest.

Grand Cul-de-Sac Marin Nature Reserve is also a must-visit destination. This marine reserve is home to diverse coral reefs and mangrove forests, making it a popular spot for snorkeling and scuba diving. Visitors can witness an incredible array of marine life while exploring the crystal-clear waters of the reserve.

In addition to its natural beauty, another must-visit spot in Guadeloupe National Park is the trails that brush past lush forest foliage, magnificent waterfalls and the summit of La Soufriere volcano, standing at  1,234 meters (4,813 feet) above sea level. This peak offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape and is a popular destination for hikers.

Regional Parks in France Worth Visiting

France is also home to a plethora of smaller, yet equally enchanting, regional parks that are certainly worth a visit. Each park tells its own unique tale, shaped by its landscape, flora, fauna, and local culture.

From the picturesque marshlands of Queyras Regional Natural Park to the timeless charm of the Parc Naturel Régional du Golfe du Morbihan in Brittany, each park unveils a tableau of biodiversity, outdoor adventures, and a deep connection to local traditions.

Here is a list of three destinations not to miss on your next adventure.

Queyras Regional Natural Park

Le Grand Queyras au crépuscule

  • Location (map): Queyras region in the Hautes-Alpes department, southeastern France.
  • Size: approximately 250 sq mi (650 sq km).
  • Establishment Date: December 27, 1977.
  • Number of Visitors: around 100,000 visitors each year.
  • Number of Hiking Trails: over 100.
  • Total Length of Hiking Trails: undefined.
  • Lowest Point: Guil River at 3,399 feet (1,036 meters) above sea level.
  • Highest Point: The peak of Pic de la Font Sancte, at 11,106 feet (3,385 meters) above sea level.

Queyras Regional Natural Park is a true gem of the Hautes-Alpes department in southeastern France. With its vast expanse of untouched natural beauty and rich cultural heritage, it is no wonder that this park attracts around 100,000 visitors each year.

One of the top things visitors find fascinating about Queyras is its tiny picturesque villages, such as Molines en Queyras, that dot the rugged landscape. These villages are not only charming to look at but also offer a glimpse into regional traditions and ways of life. The park’s tiny villages, with their stone houses and narrow streets, offer a glimpse into a bygone era. Exploring these settlements provides a unique window into local customs and a chance to savor the authenticity of a region shaped by its natural surroundings.

In the winter, visitors can also indulge in cross-country skiing, taking in the breathtaking winter scenery of this alpine paradise.

Haut-Languedoc Regional Natural Park

The Bridge above the Orb River. Roquebrun, Hérault, France. Haut-Languedoc Regional Natural Park

  • Location (map): covering portions of the Hérault and Tarn departments, southern France.
  • Size: approximately 1,006 sq mi (2,605 sq km).
  • Establishment Date: October 22, 1973.
  • Number of Visitors: Around 1 million visitors each year.
  • Number of Hiking Trails: undefined.
  • Total Length of Hiking Trails: undefined.
  • Lowest Point: The Orb River at 590 feet (180 meters) above sea level.
  • Highest Point: The peak of Espinouse, at 3,688 feet (1,124 meters) above sea level.

Enveloping portions of the Hérault and Tarn departments in southern France, Haut-Languedoc Regional Natural Park presents a captivating blend of diverse landscapes and biodiversity. This gem of Western Europe spans dense forests, rugged mountains, and deep gorges, providing a haven for a wide array of bird species, including the magnificent black woodpecker and the elusive Eurasian eagle-owl. A bird-watcher’s paradise, the park offers countless opportunities to sight rare and beautiful avian life amidst pristine natural beauty.

Visitors are also drawn to Haut-Languedoc for its myriad of hiking trails that meander their way into the heart of its wilderness. Each trail promises a unique experience, unveiling the park’s distinctive landscapes that morph with the changing seasons.

Auvergne Volcanoes Regional Natural Park

LE MASSIF DU CEZALIER AU COEUR DE L' AUVERGNE

  • Location (map): Auvergne region in central France.
  • Size: approximately 1,544 sq mi (4,000 sq km).
  • Establishment Date: October 25, 1977.
  • Number of Visitors: Around 600,000 visitors each year.
  • Number of Hiking Trails: undefined.
  • Total Length of Hiking Trails: over 186 miles (300 km).
  • Lowest Point: The Dordogne River at 250 meters (820 feet) above sea level.
  • Highest Point: The peak of Puy de Sancy, at 1,886 meters (6,188 feet) above sea level.

Located in central France’s Auvergne region, the Auvergne Volcanoes Regional Natural Park is a breathtaking landscape shaped by millions of years of volcanic activity. Covering over 4,000 square kilometers, this park boasts an impressive array of reserves and natural features that make it a must-visit destination for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts.

The park is home to two towering mountain ranges, the Massif du Sancy and the Cantal Massif, both formed by ancient volcanic eruptions. Within these ranges, visitors can explore glacial valleys and marvel at magnificent peaks like Puy-de-Dôme. The park also boasts numerous streams, pools, and glaciers that add to its already stunning scenery. Wildlife lovers will be delighted by the park’s diverse animal species, including chamois, wild boar, and numerous bird species.

Conclusion

The breathtaking natural beauty and diverse wildlife make these the best national parks in France. Each offers unmissable destinations for nature enthusiasts, possessing its own unique charm.

Whether it’s the sprawling wilderness of Ecrins National Park, the rich birdlife in Pyrénées National Park, or the ancient volcanic landscapes of Gran Paradiso National Park, venturing into these French national parks provides an unforgettable experience.

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The sheer variety of activities available in any of France’s national parks assures that each visit offers something new.


RALPH S.

Ralph S. is the founder of Silverlight, an avid hiker and trail runner he enjoys spending time outdoors, riding his motorcycle and swimming at the beach when he's not busy replying to customers or developing new Silverlight gear.

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