When you’ve checked off all the sights in the area you had planned to visit and you have another couple of days left on your holiday, what do you do? In my case, definitely not just sit back and relax. I take the map and see what else there is to see within reasonable distance. And that’s how I ended up in the Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park earlier this year.
This National Park is situated in the Spanish Pyrenees, right on the border with France. It was one of the first protected areas in Spain and is a UNESCO world heritage site since 1997. Plenty of reasons to head in that direction for the remainder of our roadtrip through Spain.
A friend of mine had visited this park a few weeks before my arrival in Spain which is how this place got on my radar. It was still quite a drive from San Sebastian, but after a few days along the coast of Biscay and Basque Country we were starting to miss the mountains so we were willing to make some sacrifices for our beloved peak views.
While we had done some research on hiking trails in the area on the drive over, we still decided to make a stop at the Tourist Center in Torla-Ordesa. First of all to empty the bladder (hehe), but most of all to get some more information on our options in the park. We only had one day so we wanted to make the most of it.
The nice guy at the desk obviously felt a little bad for us for only having one day here, but directed us towards the Ordesa Valley and the hike to the Cola de Caballo waterfall. This is the most “famous” hike in the park as it is not that technical and offers splendid views. Most of the other hikes would take too much time or might have been a bit too heavy in altimeters for my still injured knee and my father’s injured back (yes, we were both pretty pathetic…)
We first had to drive from the parking lot at the visitor center to a lot a few kilometers in the park. Since it was low season already, we were able to do so. In high season, when many tourists are in the area, you have to take a bus from the visitor center to the start of the hike. This costs 4,5 euros for a round trip. Children under the age of ten can go for free.
From the parking lot, it would take us three hours one way to hike the 9 kilometers to the waterfall. From the very start, you are surrounded by magnificent canyon views, as you can see in the picture above. I almost didn’t know where to look first.
As it was the first day of October, autumn had already arrived and with it the stunning red and orange colors of the tree leaves. So the bits of the trail where we were surrounded by forest weren’t any less beautiful. It was a true feast to the eyes.
The route to Cola de Caballo is very varied and doesn’t bore one single moment. You go from lush forest views, to waterfalls, to a breathtaking view on the walls of mountain, until suddenly the whole trail opens up and you are surrounded by green meadows, grazing cows and enter the beautiful cirque of the Ordesa Valley with in the distance the majestic peak of Monte Perdido. Wow!
The last couple of kilometers in the cirque were absolutely wonderful, but the Cola de Caballo waterfall itself was a bit of a letdown. But that honestly didn’t bother me one bit. The hike itself was the experience and that one was more than worth our time. I rather have a beautiful overall hike with a less impressive end view than a boring hike with only one spectacular view at the end!
From the Cola de Caballo you just take the trail back to the start, with just a minor other diversion along the way. We hesitated for a moment to take the Senda de Los Cazadores back to the parking lot instead of the valley trail as this trail would take us up to a higher viewpoint over the valley and were were quite curious about this other point of view. But it was already 1pm by the time we were done with our lunch at the waterfall and there was a sign notifying us not to take that trail back after 1pm. Goody goods as we were, we chose the safer option and just returned where we came from. Not that that was much of a punishment, the views still astonished us, even the second time around.
After 20 kilometers – we took some extra detours to viewpoints along the way – and about six hours of hiking, we arrived back in the parking lot. A bit tired, but most of all very content of how our day had been spent. A beautiful, not too strenuous, hike through one of the most gorgeous valleys. I’m so, so grateful that we were able to fit this national park into our North of Spain itinerary. It felt like the cherry on top of our trip!
I do highly recommend visiting this park during low season. In high season it apparently can get very busy. The best part of hiking for me is feeling at one with nature and that just doesn’t go as well when you’re walking on the heels of other people. Also not having to take a bus to the start of the hike was a lot more convenient.
So, that was it for my trip through the North of Spain. After Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park, we crossed the border back to France where we spent another day in the French Pyrenees before driving back home. So more on that last stage soon!