Crystal-clear lakes, mountain peaks, lush forests, wildlife and great food – that’s what awaits you at Carros de Foc!
Located in Aigüestortes i Llac de Sant Maurici National Park, the hike follows a circular itinerary connecting 9 mountain refugees in the Catalan Pyrenees. Walkers can start at several points along the route and take the direction they prefer.
The route’s distance is 55 km, which can take between 4 and 9 days for you to complete. Each day you hike to a mountain hut with basic facilities, including a bed, shower and, sometimes, wifi. One of the things we remember the most was the food. After hiking all day, you’re treated to delicious soups, typical meat dishes, pasta, river trout, you name it!
We hiked Carros de Foc in July 2019 with some family members, and we did it in 5 days and a half, starting and finishing in the hut Ernest Mallafré.
We hope you enjoy our review, tips, and photos!
* Post written for the first time in June 2021 and updated in August 2023.
Things to know before hiking Carros de Foc
🥾 Total distance: 55 km
🟠 Difficulty: Moderate-difficult (depending on how many huts you stop at)
⬆️ Cumulative elevation gain: 9.200 m
⏱ Duration: Between 4 and 9 days (depending on how many huts you stop at)
🗓 Recommended season: Carros de Foc is a high-mountain route. Therefore, it’s best enjoyed from June to September
The route is graded “moderate-difficult”, which we think is accurate. We regularly hike, and the weather was pretty nice most of the time. So, we found the track to be challenging but not especially difficult.
The cumulative elevation gain is 9.200 m, and day 4 was the most challenging for us, so don’t underestimate it!
Where does the route start?
You can start the route from any of the huts in the park, but you can’t reach any of them by car. However, all of them have access walking from their closest towns:
- Ernest Mallafré hut: You can access it from Espot (1 h walk)
- Amitges hut: You can access it from Espot (2 h 45 min walk)
- Saboredo hut: You can access it from El Port de la Bonaigua (2 h 30 min walk)
- Colomèrs hut: You can access it from Salardú (2 h walk)
- Restanca hut: You can access it from Artiés (2 h walk)
- Ventosa i Clavell hut: You can access it from Caldes de Boí (2-2:30 h walk)
- Estany Llong hut: You can access it from Boí (3 h walk)
- Colomina hut: You can access it from Sallente (2 h walk)
- Josep M Blanc hut: You can access it from Espot (3 h 30 min walk)
We chose to start from the village of Espot because there is a big parking car from which you walk approximately 4 km (50 min) to get to the Ernest Mallafré hut. This is the fastest approach to any hut in the park.
Also, if you want to skip this part of the walk, you can take a 4-wheel drive taxi in Espot that will take you to the San Maurici lake, near the Ernest Mallafré hut. The taxi can also take you to the Amitges and Josep M Blanc hut. Check this website to see the taxi schedule, the price and make the bookings.
Getting to Carros de Foc by public transport
From Barcelona or Lleida, take the bus that goes to Esterri d’Àneu.
You have to stop at the village of Escaló or La Guingueta. From those villages to the national park entrance, you’ll need a taxi because there is no regular public transport service. Make sure to arrange it beforehand.
The taxi will drop you at the parking lot Prat de Pierró, and from there, it’s a 4 km hike to get to the first hut (see Day 1 below for an explanation of this hike).
In summer, you can go by bus from the village of Escaló or La Gingueta to Espot. A service called Bus del Parc covers the area surrounding the national park. From Espot, it’s an hour’s walk to the Ernest Mallafré hut.
Which direction is best to follow?
As it’s a circular track, you can do it clockwise or counterclockwise.
However, we recommend doing it counterclockwise. The shortest and easiest stages are at the beginning, allowing the body to adapt and gain confidence in the terrain.
If we did the route clockwise, there would be an elevation gain of almost 1.000 m from Estany Llong to Ventosa i Clavell, which would be pretty tough.
Also, the highest mountain pass of the route (Contraix) is considerably slippery on the side of Ventosa i Clavell, so it’s safer to ascend it than descend it.
To better plan your approach to this route, here you can see a map with the various mountain huts, their altitude, and the approximate hiking time between them.
Is the route marked?
There are panels located along the route, as well as cairns indicating part of the track. However, the vast majority of the itinerary is not signposted.
Therefore, one crucial thing that you mustn’t forget is to take a map with you.
The route has no special marking, and getting lost in some places is easy. It happened to us, adding 2 extra hours of walking on the longest day. It wasn’t fun at all!
🧭 Wikilock track
We also suggest you download the track of the hike on your phone. Here’s our Wikilock track of the route.
Although we’re in sunny and hot Catalonia, the weather can change rapidly in the mountains. We recommend you take some winter clothes, such as a fleece or long pants, even though you hike in summer.
Also, pack a waterproof jacket and some safety equipment, such as an emergency blanket and a first aid kit.
Earplugs are highly recommended; we bet you’ll appreciate them if your neighbour starts snoring!
As you’ll spend many hours hiking, it’s wise to pack light but sensibly. You’ll need to carry your own water, clothes, sleeping bag/sheets, personal items, camera, food (depending on the meals you select when booking), etc.
However, you won’t need to pack a sleeping pad or more than one days worth of water at a time.
It’s also helpful to take a bag with you to put all the trash there. You can throw it at some of the huts or the village where you finish the route.
Please take care of the environment and leave no trace.
There isn’t any phone service in about 60–70% of the route.
It’s good to let family members or friends know so they don’t freak out if you don’t answer them in some hours or days!
In case of any emergency, call 112. For this emergency number, there’s good coverage throughout the hike.
The huts on the Carros de Foc route
The 9 huts in the area are located in truly spectacular settings and are very different from each other. Keep in mind that the huts are not mountain hotels, and you must respect their schedules and rules.
All the huts have the essential things to spend the night there: a place at the entrance to leave your backpack and boots, heating, accommodation, food and showers.
You sleep in a bunk bed in shared dormitories, bigger or smaller depending on the hut. The mattresses are close together with the neighbour, so try not to move much!
All the huts have blankets, so you just need to bring your own sleeping bag or sheets.
We wouldn’t say we’d had the best night’s sleep in a hut, as in a 40-bed room, the chances of someone snoring or moving are pretty high. Keeping this in mind is good, so you’re not frustrated or disappointed after sleeping for a few hours!
Not all huts have hot water, and the ones they do can charge extra for it (usually 1 or 2 €). Think about it as an opportunity to start a cold therapy routine!
There are usually charging stations at the huts, so keeping phones, cameras, e-book readers, etc. charged is a breeze.
Food and water
🍽 Breakfast and dinner
Breakfasts and dinners are served in the huts.
Breakfast usually consists of bread with cured meats, cheese, and/or jam, coffee, biscuits, pastries, and tea.
The guards often cook three dishes for dinner, including soup, salad, a meat dish, and a dessert. This can vary from hut to hut, and the food also changes daily.
If you have a food allergy or dietary requirements (vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, etc.), please say so when booking the huts. The guards will accommodate your requests and make the changes needed.
However, remember that sometimes the hut’s resources are limited, and the special meals can be less varied. For example, vegetarians may only be able to choose between cheese or jam for breakfast, whereas non-vegetarians have more options, such as various cured meat.
You can bring it from home or buy a picnic at the huts you sleep in. If you want the picnic, it’s essential to request it at the time of booking.
We brought the food for the lunch of the 5 days from home. We took tuna cans, cheese, wrap bread and apples.
We recommend you bring some extra snacks, like nuts or energy bars. Think about foods that don’t spoil quickly and don’t take up much space.
Regarding the water, we recommend you take two reusable water bottles of 0.75-1 L with you. You can refill the water bottles in all mountain huts.
Cost of hiking Carros de Foc
You can choose to do the hike through the Carros de Foc organisation or on your own.
If done through the organisation, hikers are given a forfeit at registration, which will be stamped in each of the refugees, and makes for a nice souvenir. This option allows you to make all the bookings together on the same website, which is more straightforward. It costs 30 € and includes a map of the itinerary.
If done independently, you have to book each hut on its specific webpage and buy the map yourself. Also, you don’t get the forfeit to stamp at the huts.
The cost of the hike varies depending on the huts you sleep in, the modality you choose and the meals you select. You can check the prices to get an idea of what it can cost you.
Remember to bring cash! Most huts don’t accept card payments, so having some money with you is always better.
Carros de Foc route
Day 1 (half day) – Getting ready
Prat de Pierró parking to Ernest Mallafré, 4 km hike, 262 m+, 7 m-
We reached the national park by car. From Barcelona, it takes approximately 4 hours, the same as from Girona. From Tarragona, it takes 3.5 hours and only 1 hour and 45 mins from Lleida.
We left our car in the Prat de Pierró parking for free and started the 4 km hike. The first part was on a boardwalk and unwinded between green forests. Then, the trail started gaining altitude until reaching the hut.
Day 1 was definitely the shortest and easiest day of hiking, and we arrived at the hut Ernest Mallafré in one hour.
We planned it this way as we thought it would be too much to drive and hike an entire stage in one day.
Also, it gave us time to enjoy dinner outside, play board games and catch up.
We brought our own dinner from home, but if you’re considering having it there, remember that they serve it between 7 pm and 8:30 pm.
Day 2 – Iconic spots
Ernest Mallafré to Amitges, 5 km hike, 479 m+, 10 m-
Breakfast was from 7 am to 8:30 am and consisted of coffee, toast with jam, muffins and fruit.
Once finished, we started the track and, in less than 15 minutes, we found the first highlight of the day: Sant Maurici lake and els Encantats. This is the national park’s most emblematic spot.
Instead of taking the track, we continued following the trail that unwinds beside the lake. At the next bifurcation, we went right, and we were soon in front of an impressive waterfall: the Cascada de Ratera.
From there, we followed the taxis’ track until taking another detour to the Mirador de l’Estany. The views from this lookout were a perfect postcard of the Sant Maurici lake and the Encantats mountains.
We backed off until we found a trail on our left hand, which took us to the Amitges hut passing by a beautiful lake named Obagues de Ratera.
This was definitely a better option than the official track! No noise from taxis, a more beautiful landscape…
Once in the Amitges hut, we took some time to rest and explore the lakes around.
👌🏼 Our tip
We recommend you look at the landscape from the hut’s terrace; the views are amazing!
Amitges to Saboredo, 5 km hike, 261 m+, 330 m-
The track continued ascending to the next mountain pass, Port de Ratera.
Save some energy during the climb because the last final stretch until getting to the top of the mountain pass can be tough!
Once on top, you can breathe! From there to the little Saboredo hut, it’s all descent.
It took us around 3 hours and a half to get to the hut from the beginning of the route.
Once there, we made a quick stop to eat lunch and refilled the water bottles before continuing.
Saboredo to Colomèrs, 5 km hike, 282 m+, 450 m-
One more ascent, and after that came a long descent. Although the legs were getting tired, the views grabbed all our attention, making us forget about the pain. No matter the direction you looked, you could see a lake.
The final part of the track ran next to the Estany Major de Colomèrs lake, from where we could already see a hut.
Don’t be fooled, though! This is the old Colomèrs hut, and we had to keep walking along the lake until getting to the new one, located at 2.135 m of altitude.
We spent the afternoon dipping our feet in cold water, reading and sunbathing. Not having anything to do is something we rarely experience nowadays and the feeling was incredible!
The best part was yet to come: dinner time. Dinner was at 7 pm and, when we were there, it was a delicious soup, followed by river trout with salad and chocolate pudding as a dessert.
At 10 pm, the hut closed its lights and was silent. The truth is we were so tired that by 9.30 pm, we were already in bed.
Day 3 – Walking twice the same track
Colomèrs to Restanca, 7.25 km hike, 554 m+, 680 m-
Although the distance was less than the day before, we found this stage harder.
We woke up early as breakfast was served from 7:30 am to 8 am.
After walking a couple of kilometres, we marvelled at the views of the hut in the morning. Such an energy boost to start the day!
The first part of the track was the ascent to the Port de Caldes. Some big rocks were in the middle of the way, so using the hands was sometimes needed.
The landscape was similar to the day before: high peaks covered in snow contrasted with the grass’s green and the lakes’ blue.
At some point, a sign indicated that the Restanca hut was in the right direction and the Ventosa hut in the left. Here you have two options:
- To complete the official Carros the Foc route, follow the direction to the Restanca hut
- If you want to shorten this stage, you can skip the Restanca hut and go directly to Ventosa i Clavell
Restanca to Ventosa i Clavell, 5.75 km hike, 486 m+, 289 m-
Once in the Restanca hut, we returned to the sign indicating the Ventosa hut the same way we came.
From there, it was a nice descent passing by several beautiful lakes until our next destination.
Ventosa i Clavell was the hut we loved the most. It was renovated in 2017, adding hot showers and more services to improve users’ comfort. It has a lake nearby, ideal for chilling during the afternoon if you get to the hut early.
The dinner was also superb; we got a massive portion of bolognese pasta, sausages with salad and fries, and fruit as dessert.
Day 4 – The hardest one
Ventosa i Clavell to Estany Llong, 8.78 km hike, 682 m+, 910 m-
This day was the toughest one as the trail crossed the route’s highest point. But it was also stunning due to the variety of landscapes.
The first part was a pleasant hike through a gorgeous closed valley with small lakes and a waterfall.
After advancing without any difficulty, the track became more challenging. Big rock blocks appeared, which slowed us down.
We could see the Contraix mountain pass from the rock blocks, and it looked impressive! It was a very vertical scree that required using the hands on a couple of occasions. For some of us, this climb was super fun. For others, it was a nightmare. If you’re an experienced mountaineer, you won’t find any difficulties. If you’re not, just be careful not to slip.
We found some snow on the top of the mountain pass, even though it was the end of July. If you’re going in May or June, email or call the Carros de Foc organisation or the Ventosa i Clavell hut to check the snow amount. You might need crampons to cross the mountain pass.
The descent was not as exposed, and finding snow added some fun to it. The contrast between the snow’s white and Contraix lake’s blue was jaw-dropping.
The trail gradually took us into a green valley. After passing the first wooden bridge, we had to pay attention and look for the correct signs; otherwise, it’s easy to get lost and walk away from the hut.
The Estany Llong hut was surrounded by trees and had a river nearby. We recommend you to walk to the Llong lake (only 700 m from the hut), as it’s not only beautiful, but it’s also a great spot to chill and take a nap!
Day 5 – From lake to lake
Estany Llong to Colomina, 11.4 km hike, 821 m+, 397 m-
Breakfast was served between 7 and 8 am. As it was the longest day, we decided to wake up early, eat breakfast fast and get ready to leave by 8 am.
Carrying a map is helpful as getting lost around this area is easy. In our case, we left the hut in the wrong direction and lost one hour trying to find the right track—an excellent way to start the longest day.
Once back on track, the trail had no complications except for the distance.
It started with an ascent through the forest, and as the terrain gained altitude, it became stonier.
The trail kept ascending and passing through lakes, finally reaching the Dellui mountain pass. It wasn’t a challenging mountain pass, but we could feel the fatigue in our legs after so many km accumulated.
The views from the mountain pass were fantastic, and the emerald colour of the lake’s water was beautiful. After the Dellui mountain pass, the trail crossed an area with little vegetation and large lakes.
Before reaching the Colomia hut, the trail crossed two dams. After, it followed the old wagon train path used to transport materials when the dam was built.
We stopped at the Colomina hut to have lunch and enjoy the lake views next to the hut.
Colomina to JM Blanc, 6.7 km hike, 304 m+, 407 m-
The next part of the trail crossed more than seven lakes until reaching the Josep M Blanc hut.
The only challenging part of this stage was the mountain pass El pas de l’Ós, because of all the tiredness and km accumulated. But keep pushing; the reward is worth it!
When descending to the hut, pay attention to the signs as it’s easy to get confused and end up in Ernest Mallafré.
The location of the Josep M Blanc hut was idyllic. Lakes of intense blue colour surrounded the place, and the landscape was jaw-dropping.
We grabbed a beer, sat on the terrace and soaked up the views during sunset. We couldn’t have asked for a better way to end the longest day!
Day 6 – Goodbye Carros de Foc
JM Blanc to Prat Pierró parking, 13 km hike, 432 m+, 1.109 m-
We woke early to see the sunrise from the lake beside the hut. Seeing the mountains come alive was such a peaceful and beautiful moment.
Although it was the last stage of the route, we still needed some energy as it involved overcoming the second-highest point of the journey, the Monestero mountain pass.
After leaving the hut, we followed the signs “collada de Monastero”. The trail to the mountain pass crossed some beautiful lakes, and it wasn’t difficult except for the last part, where we encountered some big rock blocks.
We didn’t have the opportunity to take many pictures because we were walking as fast as possible due to the rain.
Once at the top of the mountain pass, the clouds went away, and the sun started to shine.
We were lucky because we needed all our attention in the descent to make it to the next hut!
The descent was super steep, and the rocks were very decomposed at the beginning, making it easy to slip and fall.
From that point on, it only got better. The trail continued descending and descending. Have patience because the descent is loooong.
Finally, we arrived at Monastero lake, which had a spectacular turquoise colour, and was one of the route’s most beautiful lakes. It was surrounded by pink flowers, looking like the landscape of a painting.
As we approached the park’s main entrance, the vegetation changed, and more people started to appear. The path widened, and it even had some wooden walkways.
We finally arrived at the Ernest Mallafré hut, where we started this adventure 5 days ago.
From there, we only had to follow the path that left us again in the Prat Pierró car park, where we concluded this incredible journey.
Would we recommend Carros de Foc?
We can’t recommend it enough! The Aigüestortes i Llac de Sant Maurici National Park is the only national park in Catalonia, and it’s worth spending some days exploring such a beautiful spot.
Carros de Foc is a great way to discover the park and traverse its wide variety of landscapes. This hike is perfect for anyone who wants to experience the Pyrenees but would like the comforts of staying in a hut, carrying less weight and eating yummy food!
Remember to take care of the environment. Be kind to fellow hikers and respectful to hut wardens and the local communities. And hike on!
More hut-to-hut hiking routes in the Catalan Pyrenees
Check our “Hut-to-hut hiking in the Pyrenees: Five stunning routes + Essential info” guide to discover more thru-hikes in the Catalan Pyrenees.