Cascade d'Ars

Ariege / Aulus-les-Bains, Occitanie, France

About Cascade d’Ars

Hiking Distance: 8.2km round trip
Suggested Time: 2.5-3.5 hours

Date first visited: 2012-05-14
Date last visited: 2012-05-14

Waterfall Latitude: 42.76289
Waterfall Longitude: 1.36168

Waterfall Safety and Common Sense

Cascade d’Ars (or the Ars Waterfall) was certainly one of the few waterfalls we had to physically work for in while in France.

So was the effort worth it?

Cascade_dArs_033_20120514 - Cascade d'Ars
Cascade d’Ars

Well, this waterfall was both impressive and memorable mostly because of its unique shape where it plunged in a classic drop before fanning out and then converging once again as it cascaded its way towards the neighboring spa town of Aulus-Les-Bains.

It was said to drop 246m in the three successive stages.

Even though the height figure sounded generous, its figure might be more true than what we initially thought given that we kept looking up at it.

As a testament to its size, we were able to see parts of it while driving the D32 towards the town of Aulus-Les-Bains (though we don’t have a very good photo of this vantage point).

Aulus-Les-Bains resided in the Haut Couserans Ranges within the department of Ariège in the Occitanie region (formerly the Midi-Pyrénées region).

Cascade_dArs_044_20120514 - Angled view of the Cascade d'Ars hinting that there was even more to the waterfall than what the official viewpoint had revealed
Angled view of the Cascade d’Ars hinting that there was even more to the waterfall than what the official viewpoint had revealed

Unlike Gavarnie and the Bridge of Spain, this part of the Pyrenees felt much quieter.

Despite the fact that we could see it from far away from the road, this waterfall kind of teased us in that once we got to town, we couldn’t be able to see it again for a while.

It wasn’t until we got close enough to it on the relentlessly uphill hiking trail that it would finally reveal itself once again.

Following the Bears to the Cascade d’Ars

Along most of the path, we noticed a handful of signs with colored bears on them (I’m not sure what l’ars means, but could it have to do with bears?

Cascade_dArs_001_20120514 - Signage at the trailhead keying colored bears with particular landmarks seen along the hike up to the Cascade d'Ars
Signage at the trailhead keying colored bears with particular landmarks seen along the hike up to the Cascade d’Ars

More on bears later on this page.

These markers were keyed to a sign at a trailhead indicating how far along the trail we had gone.

I suspected that the bears might have been spaced roughly 0.5km or so apart.

We only managed to notice the green, blue, yellow, and black bear, but we somehow missed the rest.

The black bear was at the inconspicuous lookout for the Cascade d’Ars, which was how we were able to tell we were at the best spot to view the waterfall.

Cascade_dArs_017_20120514 - On the hiking trail with the Cascade d'Ars in the background
On the hiking trail with the Cascade d’Ars in the background

However, up until that point, it was difficult to get a clean look at the waterfall given that trees were generally in the way.

In any case, as the trail climbed for the first 40 minutes or so, it gradually flattened out somewhat passing by a pair of trail junctions.

We stayed the course and proceeded to the Cascade d’Ars so we can’t say more about where those other trails went.

Fortunately, most of this section of trail was in the shade thanks to the trees.

Cascade_dArs_021_20120514 - Crossing a bridge en route to the viewpoint for the Cascade d'Ars
Crossing a bridge en route to the viewpoint for the Cascade d’Ars

However, when the trail crossed the bridge traversing the stream responsible for the waterfall (about an hour into the hike), that was when the trail climbed relentlessly once again.

This time, the switchbacks were even steeper and the trail was narrower!

Needless to say, we got a pretty good workout from this hike, and we could understand why there was a calorie counter on that same map sign at the trailhead with the colored bears keyed to it.

All things considered, it took Julie and I about 90 minutes (pretty much as the signage here predicted) to get up to the official view of Cascade d’Ars.

Cascade_dArs_052_20120514 - Beyond the lookout trying to experience as much of the Cascade d'Ars as possible, but I turned around when I got to this misty spot
Beyond the lookout trying to experience as much of the Cascade d’Ars as possible, but I turned around when I got to this misty spot

I did continue to ascend up the trail for a few more minutes to get closer to the waterfall, but the views generally got worse the further I went.

I ultimately turned back when I got to an informal spur trail that took me besides the stream where I could feel the mist from the wide part of the waterfall.

Looking downhill from here, I was able to see the town of Aulus-Les-Bains looking quite tiny, which indicated just how far we walked to get here!

Given the network of trails here, I’m sure there were many possibilities to extend the hike and maybe even go above this waterfall or up to some mountain pass (or col).

Cascade_dArs_047_20120514 - After having my fill of the Cascade d'Ars, I had to make the long hike back down to Aulus-les-Bains, but the town looked so small from here, that I knew that I had hiked a long way to get up here
After having my fill of the Cascade d’Ars, I had to make the long hike back down to Aulus-les-Bains, but the town looked so small from here, that I knew that I had hiked a long way to get up here

Nonetheless, we were pretty satisfied with the Cascade d’Ars itself, and we enjoyed the all-downhill walk to get back to the car (which we managed to do in an hour thanks to gravity helping us).


Cascade d’Ars resides near the town of Aulus-les-Bains in the Ariege department of the Midi-Pyrenees province of France. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their tourism board website.

Cascade_dArs_002_20120514 - Starting on the long uphill trail leading to the viewpoint for the Cascade d'Ars
Cascade_dArs_003_20120514 - Ascending past some farm buildings on the long way up to the viewpoint for the Cascade d'Ars
Cascade_dArs_005_20120514 - Passing by the green bear, which was one of the keyed spots on the sign by the trailhead probably for progress tracking or calorie counting or to point out some landmark
Cascade_dArs_008_20120514 - Looking through foliage towards part of the Cascade d'Ars in the distance as I continued my long ascent to the official lookout of that waterfall
Cascade_dArs_053_20120514 - Passing by the blue bear, which was another one of the bear insignias that I noted to help keep my attention while making the long ascent to Cascade d'Ars
Cascade_dArs_009_20120514 - The yellow bear, so we're only at the 30-minute point of the long hike to the viewpoint of the Cascade d'Ars
Cascade_dArs_011_20120514 - One of a few trail junctions on the way up to the Cascade d'Ars viewpoint
Cascade_dArs_014_20120514 - Finally starting to see Cascade d'Ars somewhat cleanly from the trail for probably the first time since we descended to Aulus-les-Bains as we drove into town
Cascade_dArs_025_20120514 - The trail to Cascade d'Ars got narrower and steeper beyond the bridge over its creek
Cascade_dArs_027_20120514 - Finally made it up to the official viewpoint as denoted by this black bear
Cascade_dArs_030_20120514 - Focused look at the Cascade d'Ars and its main drops from the official viewpoint
Cascade_dArs_031_20120514 - Another look at Cascade d'Ars from the official viewpoint
Cascade_dArs_054_20120514 - Almost done with the hike as I had nearly completed the long descent from the Cascade d'Ars to the trailhead by Aulus-les-Bains
Cascade_dArs_057_20120514 - Looking down at Aulus-Les-Bains from near the trailhead towards the conclusion of the Cascade d'Ars hike

To get to the trailhead for the Cascade d’Ars, we first have to get to the town of Aulus-Les-Bains.

We happened to drive here from the St-Savin or Lourdes area.

This was about a solid 2.5 hours drive via a combination of the autoroute A64 and several local roads along the D117, D3, and D32 leading to Aulus-Les-Bains.

Cascade_dArs_058_20120514 - Trailhead parking for the Cascade d'Ars around this hairpin bend near Aulus-les-Bains
Trailhead parking for the Cascade d’Ars around this hairpin bend near Aulus-les-Bains

Once in town, there were signs leading us across a bridge then uphill to the first hairpin bend of the D8F.

That was where there were limited pullout spaces on both sides of the road around the hairpin.

Something worth mentioning was that as we drove around the Ariege area, we couldn’t help but notice graffiti on the roads saying “NON OURS” practically everywhere we went.

If my interpretation of the meaning of l’ars is correct, then perhaps all this is in reference to a push by the O.U.R.S., which also seemed to be the authority in charge of the upkeep of trails like the one we did for Cascade d’Ars, to reintroduce bears back into the Pyrenees.

O.U.R.S. stands for Ordonnance Uniformisée de Randonnées de Santé [Uniform Ordinance of healthy hiking?].

The native Pyrenean bear was originally hunted to extinction.

We could be wrong, but we speculated that all OURS-related graffiti were from locals protesting this move as it probably threatens livestock.

For additional context, Aulus-Les-Bains was 133km (2 hours drive) south of Toulouse, 142km (2.5-3 hours drive) southwest of the historical walled city of Carcassonne, 456km (over 5 hours drive) west of Marseille, and 590km (over 6 hours drive) southwest of Lyon.

Find A Place To Stay

Starting with trail context then zooming in on the falls

Fixated on the falls from the official lookout

Protractor-shaped sweep following the water before panning up towards the falls. Seen from higher up the trail than the official lookout

Right to left sweep starting with downstream view then panning over to the misty base

Right to left sweep of the falls from close to the stream with hint of the main plunge at the end of the movie

Fixated on the fanned out part of the falls filmed from as close to the falls as I was going to get

Tagged with: ariege, pyrenees, southern france, carcassonne, france, waterfall, bears, non ours, aulus-les-baines, couserans

Visitor Comments:

Got something you'd like to share or say to keep the conversation going? Feel free to leave a comment below...

You have to go to the top! (Cascade d’Ars) February 13, 2016 6:05 am by Jackie - My Mom grew up in this town. I hiked to the top when I was 15. This person went 2/3 of the way. The last part is steeper. I couldn't do it at 55, but I bet my husband could. He's 55 and he hikes every day. This place is gorgeous! When you think of… ...Read More
Cascade de l’Ars and ‘Non aux ours’ May 30, 2014 10:51 pm by Stephen - Great hike,steepish but steady. The 'Non aux ours' / 'Non O ours' is nothing to do with the trail society (O.U.R.S.) - it is a protest against the reintroduction of bears - which local farmers hate because they kill their livestock. ...Read More

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