When thinking about hiking in France, the Alps are what comes first to mind. However, the mountainous range of the Chaîne des Puys Auvergne offers incredible hiking opportunities as well. Indeed, the Auvergne Volcanoes will take you through rolling rural landscape, with vistas gazing over 80 volcanoes and beyond. Hiking Auvergne Volcanoes is such a different yet so rewarding experience. So if you are around Clermont-Ferrand or anywhere around the Auvergne region, check out our list of top trails for your next hiking adventures. Though, even if you are not into hiking, the volcano range should be on any Auvergne travel itinerary!

Parc Naturel Regional des Volcans d’Auvergne

The Auvergne region is home to around 80 volcanoes, stretching from the Monts Dore to the Chaîne des Puys. The highest volcano is the 4,806-ft (1,465-m) Puy de Dôme, though the Sancy Massif in the Monts Dore is actually the highest point in Auvergne at 6,188 feet (1,886 meters). Both are must-vist Auvergne destinations.

Hiking Volcanoes Auvergne Parc Naturel Regional des Volcans d'Auvergne // Trail between Puy de Dome and Puy Pariou

Trail between Puy de Dôme and Puy Pariou

Ancient Volcanoes

The volcanoes formed about 70,000 years ago, though the last known eruption was around 4,000 BCE. Magma turned into volcanic mountains, which slowly eroded into rounded hills called Puys. Hence the name of the Chaîne des Puys – the Volcano Range and a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2018.

Often referred to as the “parc national des Volcans’, the Parc des Volcans is actually a natural regional park in the heart of the Massif Central, as Auvergne is sometimes called thanks to its central location in France. The Auvergne regional park is one of the largest in metro France, covering not only the Chaîne des Puys, but also Monts Dore, Artense, Cézallier, and Monts du Cantal.

Pastoral Traditions

One of the significant differences with parks in most places, like in the US, for example, is that the regional park of Auvergne is home to villages and farms. Livestock is present everywhere, from the famous Salers cows to sheep, horses, and anything in between. Small towns are scattered through the area, with paved roads crisscrossing the region to allow easy access to many trailheads.

People have indeed used the Dôme Plateau for agriculture and livestock even before the Middle Ages. Still, nowadays, shepherds bring their herds to the higher elevations on the volcanoes range in the summertime, for what is called the “estive”, allowing the animals to feed on the green grass. Here and there, it is common to find old fountains where sheep and cows could come and drink water.

Another legacy of human proximity is the presence of abandoned burons, traditionally shepherd’s huts with a thatched roof in Auvergne. A walk almost anywhere in Auvergne will take you by one of these old buildings, some of them still use today. The term buron is now extended to mean a rustic mountain chalet, where hikers can find food and even spend the night for some.

Hiking Volcanoes Auvergne Parc Naturel Regional des Volcans d'Auvergne // Old water fountain between Puy de Dome and Puy de Dome


Old water fountain between Puy de Côme and Puy de Dôme

Hiking Auvergne Volcanoes

With over 186 miles (300 km) of marked trails, hiking in Auvergne can go from easy strolls around lakes to challenging trails around the Sancy Massif. Here are some of our favorite hikes, including some of our wish-list trails we can’t wait yet to explore.

Chaîne des Puys Hikes

The Chaîne des Puys range is easily accessible from Clermont-Ferrand, Auvergne’s main city.

Puy de Dôme

Probably the most iconic of all Auvergne hikes, there are three options to hike the Puy de Dôme. From its top at 4,806 feet (1,465 m), you will have sweeping views of Clermont-Ferrand and the whole Chaîne des Puys. You can also check the ancient Gallo-Roman Mercury temple, or drink a coffee at the restaurant.

In case you don’t feel like hiking or have family members that want to enjoy the views without the hike, board the Panoramique des Dômes train for the fastest and easiest access. From there, you can hike around the top of the Puy, and hike your way down.

  • Chemin des Muletiers
  • Chemin des Chèvres
Hiking Volcanoes Auvergne Parc Naturel Regional des Volcans d'Auvergne // View of Massif du Sancy from the top of Puy de Dome, and Ruins of the Gallo-Roman Mercury temple

View of Massif du Sancy from the top of Puy de Dôme, and ruins of the Gallo-Roman Mercury temple

Chemin des Muletiers

The ancient Roman road is mostly steep as it snakes up the dormant volcano with around twenty switchbacks. The trail is rocky and can be icy and snow-covered in winter. We are fans of this hike as it’s a good workout and the views from the top of the Puy de Dôme are stunning.

  • Departure point: Col de Ceyssat parking.
  • Elevation Gain: 1,150 ft (350 m)
  • Time: between 45 minutes to 1 hour
  • Distance: 1.3 mi (2 km)
  • Difficulty: Moderate+

Chemin des Chèvres

This trail, which is part of the GR 4-441 trail, takes you on longer though less steep route. A section of wooden stairs helps gain elevation, before finishing along with the train rack.

  • Departure point: Maison de site train parking
  • Elevation Gain: 1,150 ft (350 m)
  • Time: between 1:30 to 2 hours
  • Distance: 3.7 mi (6 km)
  • Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

Whichever trail you take, you can either make the Puy de Dôme as your goal for the day or hike further into the Parc des Volcans. Both departure points are about 30 minutes from Clermont-Ferrand by car, making it one of the top things do in Clermont-Ferrand.

Puy Pariou

Another favorite hike from Clermont-Ferrand, Puy Pariou is indeed the second most visited after the Puy de Dôme. It peaks at 3,966 feet (1,209 m) and has a crater depth of 295 feet (90 m). Located barely 1.2 miles (2 km) south from the Puy de Dôme, it can be combined with it as a longer day hike. This Puy can be reached from different trailheads. The walk can be in-and-back via the same trail, a loop going through a different route, or combined with other Puys like the Puy de Dôme for a longer day hike. Note that the Puy of Côme is currently closed due to trail erosion (we did not know about this trail closure at the time of our hike, and there was no sign on the trail either).

  • Departure point: either from the Orcines Golf Club parking or the Des Goules parking
  • Elevation Gain: 630 ft (190 m)
  • Time: about 45 minutes from either parking to the top of the Puy, about 1 h 30-2 h for the loop.
  • Distance: 2 to 4 miles (4.5 to 6 km) depending on the starting point
  • Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Hiking Volcanoes Auvergne Parc Naturel Regional des Volcans d'Auvergne // Puy de Dome from Puy de Come

Puy de Dôme from Puy de Côme (trail currently closed-off)

Puy des Goules

The Puy des Goules is one of the highest points of the Chaîne des Puys with an elevation of 3,760 feet (1,146 m) and features a 98-ft (30-m) deep crater. From there, you can take in numerous volcanoes, among which Puy de Dôme, Puy Pariou, Puy de Côme, Grand Sarcouy (“coffin” in Auvergne dialect).

Puy de la Vache et Puy de Lassolas

At “barely” 8,400 years, these two Puys are considered the youngest volcanoes of the Chaîne des Puys.  The Puy de la Vache sits at 3,828 feet (1,167 m); the Puy de Lassolas at 3,894 feet (1,187 m). Their shapes are particular thanks to the lava flowing from the side rather than the usual lava eruption. In turn, both are striking thanks to the grounds of two colors – red and black that compose the soil. Because of the erosion due to human usage, wooden stairs are now most of the way up to the Puy de la Vache. The rest of the trail is lava sand, which can sometimes be challenging to walk on when the path is steep.

  • Departure point: Saint-Gènes-Champanelle
  • Elevation Gain: 820 ft (250 m)
  • Time: about 1h30 (45 minutes to reach the top of Puy de la Vache)
  • Distance: 2.8 mi (4.5 km)
  • Difficulty: Moderate+

The same Puys loop can be reached from Aurières on a 7-mile (11-km) hike that takes about 2h30 for 975-ft (300 m) elevation.

Gergovie Plateau

In addition to being a historical landmark, the site offers sweeping views of Clermont-Ferrand and the Limagne Valley. The area is flat, and you can hike around the plateau freely, combining leisure walks with ancient ruins.

Gour de Tazenat

About 12 miles (20 km) north of Riom at the northern tip of the Auvergne Volcanoes Chaine des Puys is the small but cute Gour de Tazenat. A 1.8-mi (3-km) trail goes around the lake, a nice short hike in a beautiful area.

Hiking Volcanoes Auvergne Parc Naturel Regional des Volcans d'Auvergne // Gour de Tazenat

Gour de Tazenat

 

Massif du Sancy Area

Puy de Sancy and Mont-Dore

You know the say “All roads lead to Rome”? Well, the Puy de Sancy being the highest point of Auvergne at 6,184 feet (1,885 meters), not one but several trails head to the Puy de Sancy. So you can basically start your hike from different locations:

  • From Mont Dore: 3-hour hike over 4.4 mi (7 km) and 1,800 ft (550 m) elevation, though the Chastreix-Sancy valley.
  • From Chastreix: 6-hour hike over 9 mi (15 km) and 2,494 ft (760 m) elevation, through the Fontaine Salée valley.
  • From Super-Besse: 5h30-hike, 9 mi (15 km) and 2,200 ft (670 m) elevation. The trail passes through the Chaudefour and Chastreix-Sancy valleys.
  • Regardless of which hike you take, this is a difficult trail.

From the top of the hike, enjoy the view from Auvergne’s highest peak and take in the whole Chaîne des Puys. One option is to take the cable-car (féniculaire) from the Mont-Dore ski resort up to the top.

Given the higher altitude, you get a chance at spotting mountain flowers and animals, like marmots, mouflons, and chamois.

Both the GR4 and GR30 pass by the Puy de Sancy.

Falls of Mont Dore (Grande Cascade Loop)

“La Grande Cascade du Mont Dore”, as French people say, is one of the highest waterfalls in Auvergne with a fall of ninety feet (thirty meters). Due to possible snow, the hike is best down in late Spring, Summer, and Fall.
  • Departure point: Mont Dore
  • Elevation Gain: 880 ft (270 m)
  • Time: Around 1h30-2 hours
  • Distance: 3 mi (5 km)
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Another option is the challenging 11-mile (19 km) Grand Cascade – Col de Courre Loop, which also starts from Monte Dore, but sees a 3,025 ft (925 m) elevation.

Banne d’Ordanche Loop

Overlooking the Dordogne Valley, the loop provides one of the nicest views of the Sancy Massif. The area is also a local favorite estive destination for shepherds and their herds. Views can reach to the Chaîne des Puys, Monts Dore, and the Cantal Massif. The day we hiked was so clear we could even see Puy Mary in the distance. Being able to see from the Puy de Dôme up to Puy Mary was incredible.

  • Departure point: Murat-le-Quaire
  • Elevation Gain: 1,800 ft (550 m)
  • Time: about 3 hours
  • Distance: 5 mi (8 km)
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Another option starts from the Lac de Guéry, an 8-mile (13km) trail with 1,150 ft (350 m) elevation gain passing by the lake, up to Puy Gros, and up to the Banne d’Ordanche before returning to the lake about 5 hours later.

Chaudefour Valley Crests

While the valley itself is easy and takes about one hour, (with the option to add one more hour to see the waterfalls), we will focus here on the ridge trail – Vallée de Chaudefour par les Crêtes, as it’s called in French.

Part of the Réserve Naturelle de la Vallée de Chaudefour, the Vallée de Chaudefour is one of the three glaciar valleys of the  Massif du Sancy and is known for its spectacular sharp “dykes”: Rancune Tooth ( Dent de la Rancune), Coq Ridge (Crête du Coq), and Monk Needle (Aiguille au Moine). The “Tour de la vallée de Chaudefour par les crêtes” as it called in French, is one of the top hikes in the Parc des Volcans d’Auvergne. Make sure to go the extra short distance to reach the summit of the Puy de Sancy.

  • Departure point: Parking lot of Chambon Lake
  • Elevation Gain: 3,000 ft (954 m)
  • Time: 6 hours
  • Distance: 10 mi (16 km)
  • Difficulty: Moderate+

Note that dogs, even on a leash, are not allowed in the natural reserve.

Capucin and Puy de Cliergue Loop

The views from Capucin volcano and Puy de Cliergue are simply stunning: Dordogne Valley, Sancy, Millevaches, Tour Carrée rock formations, Cantal mounts. The higher elevations offer a chance to spot ibex, muflon sheep, and marmots! Check the Capucin train (funicular) which dates back to 1898!

  • Departure point: Parking of the Tour d’Auverge restaurant
  • Elevation Gain:1,960 ft (600 m)
  • Time: 4 hours
  • Distance: 7 mi (11 km)
  • Difficulty: Difficult

Add an extra 30-minute hike for incredible views from the Pic du Capucin.

Pan de la Grange Loop

The loop provides a nice viewpoint of the Puy de Sancy.

  • Departure point:
  • Elevation Gain: 1,650 ft (500 m)
  • Time: 3 hours
  • Distance: 4.5 mi ( 7 km)
  • Difficulty: Moderate+

Lac de Guéry and Guéry Plateau

Considered the highest lakes in Auvergne at 1,268 meters, the 4-hour easy loop around Lac de Guéry will take you by some of the finest Chaîne des Puys’ scenery.

For those looking for a more challenging option, head to the Guery Plateau. From there, you will enjoy views of the Lac de Guéry as well as the Dordogne glacier valley.

  • Departure point: Mont-Dore ski resort parking
  • Elevation: 755 ft (230 m)
  • Time: 4 hours
  • Distance: 9 mi (14 km)
  • Difficulty: Moderate+

Lac Pavin

  • Departure/Return point: Pessade
  • Elevation Gain: 430 ft (130 m)
  • Time: 4 hours
  • Distance: 4 mi (6 km)
  • Difficulty: Easy
Hiking Volcanoes Auvergne Parc Naturel Regional des Volcans d'Auvergne // GR30 between Lac de Guery and Lac de Servieres

GR30 between Lac de Guery and Lac de Servieres

Trekking in the Auvergne Volcanoes Regional Park

Multi-day treks are also possible in the Auvergne region.

Grande Randonnee GR® Trails

Several trails of “Grande Randonnée” (meaning long hikes in French) cross the area, from 2 to 8 days. These GR® trails, managed by the Fédération française de randonnée pédestre  (FFRP – Hiking French Federation) are recognizable by the white dash over a red dash mark. Here are the five main GR in Auvergne:

  • GR® 4: High Plateaux and Auvergne Monts (Hauts plateaux et Monts d’Auvergne – Aubusson-Saint-Flour). The GR4 is a 913-mile (1,470-km) long trek, from  Royan (Charente-Maritime) to Grasse (Alpes-Maritimes)
  • GR® 441: Loop of the Chaîne des Puys. A 4-day 54-mile (86-km) trek including the Puy de Dôme.
  • GR® 400: Volcanoes of Cantal, including the Pays de St Flour and Ruynes-en-Margeride, with five distinct loops ranging from 12 to 28 miles (20 to 45 km). The five circuits are the 27-mi (44-km) Alagnon valley loop from Murat, the 24-mi (39-km) Cère valley loop from Super-Lioran, the 22-mi (35-km) Jordanne valley loop from Mandailles-Saint-Julien, the 24-mi (39-km) Falgoux loop, from Le Falgooux, and the 12-mi (19-km) Le Claux valley loop from Le Claux. Some of the loops can be combined for longer trips, even creating an 8-day trek. Highlights of these treks include the Plomb du Cantal.
  • GR® 30: Loop of the Auvergne lakes (Tour des lacs d’Auvergne). The 9-day 117-mi (188-km) loop starts from the Mont-Dore to take by the lakes of Auvergne.
  • GR®465: Chemin de Cluny in Aveyron and Cantal. Launched in 2017, this new GR of 109-mi (175-km) long takes you from Murat to Conques via Bredons and Albepierre.
Hiking Volcanoes Auvergne Parc Naturel Regional des Volcans d'Auvergne // Trekking around Col de la Croix Morand and Lac de Guery

Trekking around Col de la Croix Morand and Lac de Guéry

Auvergne Trekking Routes

Outsides the pre-established GR routes, a couple of favorite loops include the following treks:

La Bourboule – Le Mont Dore Circuit

A 3-day trek starting from La Bourboule and ends in the city of Mont Dore. The loop takes you over a couple of hills (Capucin, Puy de Cliergue, Puy de la Tour Carrée, Le Sancy), though the Chaudefour Valley and by the Grande Cascade.

  • Departure point: La Bourboule / End point: Mont Dore
  • Elevation Gain: 7,150 ft (2,180 m)
  • Time: 3 days
  • Distance: 25 mi (41 km)
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Overnight: either primitive camping or in hotels (Chalet ECIR in Mont Dore, and Relais Voissières)

Chaîne des Puys Loop

This loop between the Puy de Sancy et le Puy de Dôme takes you along the GR®441 and GR®30 trails into the heart of the region, passing by volcanoes, lakes, and the famous Notre-Dame d’Orcival Romane church.

  • Departure/Return point: Pessade
  • Elevation Gain: 4,606 ft (1,404 m)
  • Time: 4 days
  • Distance: 36 mi (58 km)
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Overnight: either primitive camping or in hotels
Hiking Volcanoes Auvergne Parc Naturel Regional des Volcans d'Auvergne // Massif du Sancy from the Puy de la Tache at the Col de la Croix-Morand

Massif du Sancy from the Puy de la Tache at the Col de la Croix-Morand

Puy de Sancy to Monts Dore

This trek passes by the Sancy ridges, the Murol and Besse medieval villages, and by the GR®4 et GR®30 trails.

  • Departure point: Besse / Endpoint: Lac Pavin
  • Elevation Gain: 8,605 ft (2,650 m)
  • Time: 5 days
  • Distance: 44 mi (70 km)
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Overnight: either primitive camping or in hotels

Primitive camping (Bivouac in French) might be possible in some areas. The difference between bivouac and camping in French is the duration of your stay and the types of equipment used. In French, camping is usually over several nights in more or less fixed settings, where you expect to spend time. “Wild camping” (camping sausage) is where people camp outside an actual campsite and is forbidden inside the Volcanoes regional park. Bivouac, on the other end, is generally accepted. Indeed, a bivouac is to be temporary. Bivouac rules are: for one night only, from sunset (around 7 pm – 8 pm) to sunrise, with agreement from the owners (be it a public or private place), and no campfire. And it’s mostly with a small tent, hammock, or under the stars. In the Auvergne Parc des Volcans, bivouac rules also include not staying on the slopes or tops of the volcanoes.

Create Your Own Trek 

If for whatever reasons, you don’t want to do any of these established hikes and want to define your own, that’s totally feasible! Grab a TOPO map (or Google Maps), research the area for rules and regulations, and pack your bag! Here is one of the trips we put together:

Col de la Croix-Morand – Lac de Servières

Rolling hills, old buron, view of the Massif du Sancy, Lac de Guery, Lac de Servières, new forest plantation. The trail was partly defined, partly cross-country, crossing fields, and small creeks. There is a buron at the pass where one can enjoy some food after the trek.

  • Departure point: Col de la Croix-Morand
  • Elevation Gain:  m
  • Time: 2 days
  • Distance: 70 km
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Overnight: primitive camping (bivouac)

Auvergne Volcanoes Hiking  Trips

  • Water Availability. Depending on which trail you take, you might not find much water. Or even though there might be some in spring, drought happens in the summer month. Check the status of each trail before heading out.
  • Filter your water: Given the presence of livestock potentially everywhere, make sure to filter the water. We always carry this water filter which can be fixed on our water hydration system, on a pouch, or a water bottle. Click here to see what filter we recommend.
  • Appropriate Hiking Gear: Bringing the relevant gear is what makes a great trip. We learned the hard way that the wrong shoes or a not-so-waterproof jacket make for terrible experiences once you are on the trail, can’t walk, or shivering from cold. So if you are new into hiking or trekking, getting yourself equipped with the right gear is key. For tips on what to use, we share our list of gear which includes everything you need for a day or longer hikes.
  • Wind, waterproof Jacket: Due to its usually barren landscape, the wind tends to be present and usually on the strong side. It can rain throughout the year so combining with the wind, make sure to bring a waterproof jacket with you at all times. We both carry Arc’teryx jackets with we love. They are on the pricy side but these jackets keep us dry through trekking in Papua, horseback riding and trekking in Mongolia, to snowboarding in the US. They are solid and I could not imagine any outdoor activities without them in my bag. Find out more about the Arc’tery Jacket I wear. But not all jackets are equal, and everyone is looking for something slightly different, so check out our review of lightweight jackets for comparison.
  • Hiking Poles: The trails tend to be steep on the volcanoes slopes so bring a pair of trekking poles if you have a heavy bag and want to be easier on your knees. I usually carry a pair of lightweight, adjustable, carbon fiber trekking poles that are easy to set. They helped me in numerous occasions as trails can be slippery when muddy in spring, or down the loose lava sand that rolls under the shoes. Check what type of poles we use.
  • Lodging. When going on multi-day treks, it’s often possible to spend the night in a hotel (gîte), or primitive camping (bivouac). Note that some of these gîtes or restaurants might be only open in the summer months. Plan your itinerary ahead of time.
  • Fences. Because livestock is so present in the park, it’s common for the fields to be fenced. There is usually a way to cross, so look around, as to not damage the fence, and keep any gates secured after you pass.
  • Patou Dogs. It’s often the case that Patou dogs are present to watch over the herds. Do not approach them or the pack, keep calm and walk around them.
  • Dogs. Due to the fragile environment and livestock presence, dogs might not be authorized in some areas of the park.
  • Natural Reserves: Several natural reserves lie within the limits of the Volcanoes regional park, and each might have additional or different regulations than the others when it comes to dogs, bivouac, among other things. Always check the individual rules.
  • Seasons. Winter temperatures can be sold, and snow present on most Puys. The Mont-Dore area is a ski resort come winter. Depending on the snow level, you could probably snowshoe some of these hikes.
  • Auvergne hiking maps and books: Volcans et Lacs d’Auvergne (Volcanoes and Lacs of Auvergne), Walking in the Auvergne, and the IGN Massif Central, Massif du Sancy, parc des Volcans d’Auvergne
  • Auvergne travel books: Lonely Planet, the Michelin Guide Auvergne, and an English-French phrasebook to explore Auvergne like a French!

We are exploring more hikes whenever we can so we will surely add more trails as we do. In the meantime, feel free to let us know in the Comment section if we miss another favorite hike!

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Top Trails for Hiking Volcanoes Auvergne Parc Naturel Regional des Volcans d'Auvergne // Collage

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