Cascade de Gavarnie ("Gavarnie Falls")

Hautes-Pyrenees, Occitanie, France

About Cascade de Gavarnie (“Gavarnie Falls”)


Hiking Distance: 9.5km round trip
Suggested Time: 2.5-3 hours

Date first visited: 2012-05-13
Date last visited: 2012-05-14

Waterfall Latitude: 42.69347
Waterfall Longitude: -0.00484

Waterfaller Newsletter

Get over the hump of the mid-week blues! Subscribe and get exclusive curated content delivered to your inbox every Wednesday.

La Cascade de Gavarnie was certainly one of the more well-documented waterfalls in France.

This was notable because from what we could tell in our research prior and during our trip, waterfalls in France in general weren’t generally talked about outside of the local French literature.

Gavarnie_206_20120513 - The Grande Cascade du Gavarnie and the Cirque du Gavarnie
The Grande Cascade du Gavarnie and the Cirque du Gavarnie

So for this reason, I’ve seen this waterfall referred to as: Gavarnie Falls, the Gavarnie Waterfall, La Grande Cascade de Gavarnie, or even La Cascade du Gavarnie (where they include the definite article for “The Gavarnie”).

The waterfall sat in a glacial cirque, which I believe was a bowl or depression left behind by a glacier.

The result was what we believed had to be one of the most beautiful locales in Europe let alone all of France.

After all, the cirque featured snow-crusted mountains with steep walls sprinkled with several small cascades including la grande cascade itself.

Tallest Waterfall in France?

Gavarnie_217_20120513 - The full drop of the Grande Cascade du Gavarnie
The full drop of the Grande Cascade du Gavarnie

La Grande Cascade du Gavarnie was said to be the tallest in the country at 422m in cumulative height.

The tallest of its two most visible tiers was said to plunge 281m, which also made it one of France’s highest by this measure (of highest vertical drop).

Le Cirque de Gavarnie resided right at the border of Spain and France deep within the Hautes-Pyrénées (Upper Pyrenees) department of the Occitanie region (formerly Midi-Pyrénées region).

In fact, the glacial source of the waterfalls of the cirque was said to be on the Spanish side of the border.

Viewing Conditions at the mercy of Mother Nature

Gavarnie_007_20120513 - On our first attempt at visiting the Cascade du Gavarnie, we had trouble even getting any sense of what it was like because low clouds blocked any chance we had at seeing it at all
On our first attempt at visiting the Cascade du Gavarnie, we had trouble even getting any sense of what it was like because low clouds blocked any chance we had at seeing it at all

Given its dramatic location, our experience with the Grande Cascade du Gavarnie and its cirque was totally at the mercy of Mother Nature.

Basically, if il fait mal (the weather is bad), you may not be able to see neither the cirque nor the waterfall.

This was exactly what happened to us on our first visit.

Luckily, we came back when the weather finally cleared and we could see the cirque and the grand waterfall from the neighboring town of Gavarnie!

Gavarnie_034_20120513 - With this much fog at the bottom of the Grande Cascade du Gavarnie, we didn't have a shot at seeing this waterfall
With this much fog at the bottom of the Grande Cascade du Gavarnie, we didn’t have a shot at seeing this waterfall

Even though both the falls and the cirque could be seen from afar in town, we thought it was well worth our while to do the roughly 2.5-hour round trip hike from town towards the nearby Hotel du Cirque et La Cascade.

Translated as the Hotel of the Cirque and the Waterfall, it was the nearest structure to the base of the cirque and Gavarnie Falls.

The hotel was closed during our visit, but I suspect that it would be open deep into the peak Summer season.

Yet throughout this hike, we were able to experience the grandeur of the scenery firsthand, especially since the pictures just didn’t seem to do this place justice as the photos on this web page would attest.

Gavarnie_244_20120513 - Following the Gavarnie Stream up to the cirque as seen from the town of Gavarnie. Compare this to the photos above, and you can get a sense of how much Mother Nature makes a huge difference (even in as little as 24 hours!)
Following the Gavarnie Stream up to the cirque as seen from the town of Gavarnie. Compare this to the photos above, and you can get a sense of how much Mother Nature makes a huge difference (even in as little as 24 hours!)

Speaking of pictures, we weren’t fortunate enough to be here when the lighting was best due to the combination of weather and circumstances.

However, the most optimal time from a lighting standpoint would have to be late afternoon when the sun’s warm glow would splash right onto the Cirque and Cascade de Gavarnie themselves.

Hiking up to the base of the Cascade de Gavarnie

In any case, the trail followed both sides of the Gavarnie Stream while taking in a handful of surprise cascades along the way.

The cirque was almost entirely visible throughout the trail though the perspective changed the further we went.

Gavarnie_056_20120513 - View of the cirque from near the WC in the town of Gavarnie
View of the cirque from near the WC in the town of Gavarnie

There were also a handful of cafes (they made excellent dessert crepe at L’Edelweiss) and souvenir shops where the town gradually gave way to Nature.

Most of the trail was flat and developed as it was flanked with the buildings, farms, and residences with even a few sections of pavement and cobblestone.

A couple of bridges allowed us to take our pick of which side of the Gavarnie stream to walk along.

Once we got past the town of Gavarnie, the trail ascended the first of two major uphill sections.

Gavarnie_070_20120513 - Beyond the town of Gavarnie and walking closer to the Grande Cascade du Gavarnie and its cirque
Beyond the town of Gavarnie and walking closer to the Grande Cascade du Gavarnie and its cirque

It was here that the trail became mostly wide dirt road, which got progressively narrower the further we went.

After briefly descending then traversing another flat area (a bridge here reconnected the split Gavarnie trails on both sides of the stream), the trail went up the second ascent.

At this point, we followed along a gorge before it reached the remote Hotel of the Cirque and Waterfall.

The trail up to this point was so tame that we saw plenty of families doing the hike (in both good and bad weather) though I didn’t recall any of them bringing infants.

Gavarnie_154_20120513 - Julie on the trail leading us to the base of Cascade de Gavarnie
Julie on the trail leading us to the base of Cascade de Gavarnie

Once we went beyond the hotel, the trail narrowed even more and got a little more rugged as it continued to follow along a deep gorge carved by the Gavarnie Stream.

Given the narrowness of the gorge and the imposing cirque ahead of us along with the rush of cascades and rapids below us, it got pretty loud here.

In any case, this rugged stretch was very short.

The trail then continued to go across a somewhat “scary” unbridged stream crossing.

However, there were wooden planks present so I’d imagine there would be a bridge traversing this crossing later in the season.

Gavarnie_167_20120513 - The buildings up ahead belonged to the Hotel du Cirque et de la Cascade du Gavarnie, which was the nearest structure to the Gavarnie Falls
The buildings up ahead belonged to the Hotel du Cirque et de la Cascade du Gavarnie, which was the nearest structure to the Gavarnie Falls

Anyways, with hiking sticks and/or Gore-tex hiking boots, the stream crossing looked worse than it really was, but the reward for going further was snow (la niege).

Personally, I wouldn’t recommend going further in the presence of snow due to avalanche and rockfall danger.

However, perhaps later in the season, the snow would be gone and it would be possible to go all the way towards the base of Gavarnie Falls itself!

In summary, we felt this was one of those places where you have to let the scenery get into you (provided Mother Nature would be kind enough to reveal this treasure)!

Gavarnie_157_20120513 - Looking back at the Cascade de Gavarnie with a crescent moon hovering above it
Looking back at the Cascade de Gavarnie with a crescent moon hovering above it

In other words, don’t be in a rush and allow yourself to be immersed.

There’s only so much writing about this place that I could do and still inadequately convey the beauty and grandeur of this place.

So just scroll down to see more pictures and videos.

After all, you could be doing what we did and say, C’était féerique, when all is said and done!

Authorities

La Grande Cascade du Gavarnie resides near Gavarnie in the Gavarnie-Gedre commune in the Hautes-Pyrenees department of the Occitanie province (formerly Midi-Pyrenees) of France. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their tourism board website.

Gavarnie_003_20120513 - When we first showed up to Gavarnie, we parked near the visitor center and then had to walk through town before even embarking on the hike to get close to the waterfall. Unfortunately, the weather was not good on the day of our visit
Gavarnie_004_20120513 - Continuing to walk along the main throughfare of the town of Gavarnie though the backdrop was obscured by stubborn low clouds refusing to reveal any bit of the Grande Cascade du Gavarnie
Gavarnie_005_20120513 - Looking along the Gavarnie Stream at some buildings flanking it on the bad weather day visit of the Cascade de Gavarnie
Gavarnie_006_20120513 - Continuing to walk past some local eateries fronting the small road that also doubled as a walking trail leading up to the Cascade de Gavarnie
Gavarnie_009_20120513 - Going past some signs and farms on the way up to the Gavarnie Falls with the cirque and waterfall pretty much hidden by low clouds
Gavarnie_011_20120513 - Looking towards a side waterfall barely visible under the clouds behind this farm on the way up to Gavarnie Falls
Gavarnie_016_20120513 - Julie now on a narrowing trail as it ascended beyond the farms and the town of Gavarnie and getting closer to the cirque of Gavarnie
Gavarnie_020_20120513 - Looking ahead as the trail momentarily descended though we never seemed to be able to shake the low fog obscuring the views of the Cirque du Gavarnie
Gavarnie_025_20120513 - The next uphill stretch of the hike leading up to the Cascade de Gavarnie
Gavarnie_026_20120513 - Approaching the Hotel du Cirque et la Cascade, which was the last structure before continuing on to the Gavarnie Falls
Gavarnie_038_20120513 - This patch of snow basically stopped any further progress nor any hopes of trying to experience the base of the Grande Cascade du Gavarnie
Gavarnie_044_20120513 - Returning to the town of Gavarnie after being defeated by the weather and disappointed that we spent a pretty solid 3 hours here (not counting the drive) for a futile effort
Gavarnie_043_20120513 - Under bad weather, this place provided warmth as well as delicious drinks and crepes
Gavarnie_061_20120513 - The next morning, we came back as the storm finally cleared, and we immediately saw a world of difference as the Gavarnie Falls was finally revealed
Gavarnie_065_20120513 - Walking through Gavarnie town revealing the context of the Grande Cascade du Gavarnie and its cirque backing the town
Gavarnie_068_20120513 - Walking past the last of the businesses of Gavarnie as we started to continue onwards to the Cirque of Gavarnie under a crescent moon in the very early morning
Gavarnie_069_20120513 - Horses allowed to graze freely by the Gavarnie Trail early in the morning
Gavarnie_091_20120513 - One of the surprise cascades along the way to Gavarnie Falls behind a farm. Note how much for of this waterfall you can see compared to the same photo taken a day earlier
Gavarnie_096_20120513 - Looking ahead at the Cirque du Gavarnie with the Grande Cascade du Gavarnie dwarfing some house in the foreground
Gavarnie_100_20120513 - Looking down at the Gavarnie Trail after finishing the first big uphill section
Gavarnie_115_20120513 - Context of where the Gavarnie Falls Trails on both sides of the stream converge
Gavarnie_126_20120513 - Looking ahead at the Gavarnie Falls and its attractive cirque as we continued to push forward on the hike
Gavarnie_142_20120513 - The Gavarnie Trail becoming more naturesque the further you go
Gavarnie_156_20120513 - Another surprise cascade seen along the hike to the bottom of the Cascade de Gavarnie
Gavarnie_176_20120513 - Loud cascades fronting the Cirque and Cascade de Gavarnie as we are getting closer to the end
Gavarnie_178_20120513 - One benefit of early-morning hiking is the possibility of seeing the moon above the Cascade de Gavarnie
Gavarnie_189_20120513 - Broad view of the Cirque and Cascade de Gavarnie as we continued to push beyond the Hotel
Gavarnie_197_20120513 - The trail narrowing and hugging the gorge beyond the hotel en route to the Gavarnie Falls
Gavarnie_232_20120513 - Trying to photograph all the waterfalls accompanying Cascade de Gavarnie at the cirque as we continue to approach the end of the trail
Gavarnie_241_20120513 - Looking back at the Cirque et Cascade du Gavarnie as we were returning to the town of Gavarnie
Gavarnie_249_20120513 - Last look at the Grande Cascade du Gavarnie from town as we were about to return to the car and move onto the next part of our trip

join-booking-970x240-1.jpg


We drove to the Cascade de Gavarnie from the charming village of St-Savin along the D921.

Even though it’s possible to do this drive in a half-hour (most likely if you’re a local who knows these roads like the back of their hands), you’re probably looking at something more like 45 minutes to an hour each way.

This is because the mountain road is twisty and narrow.

Unless you’re a real early bird, you’re most likely going to be following someone going slow anyways.

Gavarnie_052_20120513 - View of the Gavarnie Waterfall as seen from a lawn area where there was paid parking next to the public WC in the town of Gavarnie
View of the Gavarnie Waterfall as seen from a lawn area where there was paid parking next to the public WC in the town of Gavarnie

This is especially since passing lanes are non-existent in this stretch and slow drivers pulling over at the few pullouts or shoulders seem to be more the exception rather than the rule.

So plan on at least a half-day to do this excursion and even longer if you want to be more fully immersed in the experience of Gavarnie.

There is parking in the town of Gavarnie.

However, the free public lot is near the visitor center closer to the start of town (meaning it will increase the amount of walking you will have to do to even get started).

Generally, the closer the car park is to the trail, the more you have to pay.

However, there was one spot we noticed near a WC where some folks figured out no one was asking for parking money.

For geographical context, the town of Gavarnie was 35km (about an hour drive) south of St-Savin, 49km south of Lourdes, 224km (3 hours drive) southwest of Toulouse, and 754km (7 hours drive) southwest of Lyon.

Bottom up sweep from one of the footbridges over the stream panning up towards the cirque


Full 360 degree sweep from a lookout along a cobblestone section of the trail


Fixated on the cirque from a distance


Starting with a zoom-in on the Cascade du Gavarnie then zooming out progressively showing the context of the falls


180 degree sweep from along the trail showing a side cascade before panning to the cirque itself


Cascades beneath the cirque before zooming out showing its context, then finally zooming in on the cascades within the cirque itself; seen from the Hotel du Cirque et Cascade du Gavarnie


Sweep starting downstream showing the nearest hotel then circling around the cirque and all neighboring cascades before honing in on the cirque itself


Fixated on the cirque and its waterfalls

Trip Planning Resources


Nearby Accommodations




Tagged with: gavarnie, pyrenees, saint savin, st savin, cauterets, southern france, france, waterfall, cirque



Visitor Comments:

No users have replied to the content on this page


Share your thoughts about what you've read on this page

You must be logged in to submit content. Refresh this page after you have logged in.

Visitor Reviews of this Waterfall:

No users have submitted a write-up/review of this waterfall


Have you been to a waterfall? Submit a write-up/review and share your experiences or impressions

Review A Waterfall

Nearest Waterfalls

The Waterfaller Newsletter

The Waterfaller Newsletter is where we curate the wealth of information on the World of Waterfalls website and deliver it to you in bite-sized chunks in your email inbox. You'll also get exclusive content like...

  • Waterfall Wednesdays
  • Insider Tips
  • User-submitted Waterfall Write-up of the Month
  • and the latest news and updates both within the website as well as around the wonderful world of waterfalls
Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of the award-winning A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
Read More About Johnny | A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls.