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Carros de Foc: The greatest adventure in Aigüestortes National Park

Crystal-clear lakes, mountain peaks, lush forests, wildlife and great food – the Carros de Foc is definitely a hike you should add to your bucket list!

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 7 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 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!

Mountains

Things to know before you go

Technical details

  • Total distance: 55 km
  • Cumulative elevation gain: 9.200 m
  • Recommended season: Carros de Foc is a high-mountain route. Therefore, its best enjoyed from June to September
  • Days needed: between 4 and 7 days

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:

We chose to start from the village of Espot because there is a big parking car from which you walk approximately 4 km (50 minutes) 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, there’s the option to 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 hut and the Josep M Blanc hut. On this website, you can find 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 (check schedules and trip duration here). You have to stop at the village of Escaló or La Guingueta. From those villages to the entrance of the national park, 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 from the village of Escaló or La Gingueta to Espot by bus. There’s a service called Bus del Parc that covers the area surrounding the national park. From Espot, it’s an hour walk to the Ernest Mallafré hut, from where you can start the hike.

Which direction is best to follow?

As it’s a circular track, you can do it both 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’s 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 of the route with the various mountain huts, their altitude, and the approximate hiking time between them.

Map of the route with the mountain huts and the approximate hiking times

Is the route marked?

There are panels located along the route, as well as cairns that indicate 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 it’s easy to get lost in some places. It happened to us, adding two extra hours of walking on the longest day. It wasn’t fun at all!

You can buy a map online, on some bookstores, at the Roya hotel in Espot or through the Carros de Foc organisation.

🧭 Wikilock track

We also suggest you download the track of the hike on your phone. Here’s our Wikilock track of the route.

Gear recommendations

Although we’re in sunny and hot Catalonia, the weather can change rapidly in the mountains. We recommend you take some winter clothes, 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. Expect any kind of weather and get equipped accordingly.

Earplugs are also highly recommended; we bet you’ll appreciate them if your neighbour starts snoring!

As you’ll spend a lot of 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 useful to take a bag with you to put all the trash there. You’ll be able to throw it at some of the huts or at the village where you finish the route. Please take care of the environment and leave no trace.

Phone service

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

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.

They all have the basic things needed to spend one night there: a place in 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 pretty close together with the neighbour, so try not to move a lot! There are blankets in all the huts, 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 quite high. Keeping this in mind is good, so you’re not frustrated or disappointed after sleeping for a few hours!

Rooms

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

Breakfasts and dinners are served in the huts. Breakfast usually consists of bread with cured meats, cheese, and/or jam, coffee, biscuits, and tea. The guards often cook three dishes for dinner, including soup, salad, and a meat dish, plus a dessert. This can vary from hut to hut, and the food also varies from day to day.

⚠️ Important!

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.

For lunch, you can either choose to bring it from home or buy a picnic at the huts you sleep. We brought the food for the lunch of the five days from home. We took tuna cans, cheese, wrap bread and apples. If you want the picnic, it’s essential to request it at the time of booking. We recommend you also 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. If needed, you can also buy water bottles there.

Cost

You can choose do the hike on your own or through the organisation “Carros de Foc“.

If done through the organisation, hikers are given a forfeit at registration, which will be stamped in each of the refuges. It costs 30 €, and it also includes a map of the itinerary. This option allows you to make all the bookings together on the same website, which is more straightforward.

If done on your own, you have to book each hut on its specific webpage and buy the map yourself.

The cost of the hike varies depending on the huts you sleep, the modality you choose and the meals you select. You can find the prices here. We did the walk on our own, carrying with us the lunch of all days and getting breakfast and dinner in the huts.

⚠️ Important!

Remember to bring cash! In most of the huts they don’t accept card payments, so it’s always better to have cash with you.

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 thinking of having it there, take into account 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, toasts 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. 

The official route continues following a track that taxis sometimes use to get people to the next hut. However, we decided to take an alternative and much nicer trail

Instead of taking the track, we continued following the trail that unwinds next to 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 for a while 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 passPort 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 at, 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 it was silence time. 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 were 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. There were some big rocks 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 that contrasted with the green of the grass and the blue of the lakes.

At some point, there was a sign indicating that the Restanca hut was in the right direction and the Ventosa hut in the left one. 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 that indicated the Ventosa hut following the same way we came. From there, it was a nice descend passing by several beautiful lakes until getting to 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 crosses the highest point of the route. 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.

⚠️ Important!

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, send an email or call the Carros de Foc organisation or the Ventosa i Clavell hut to check on the amount of snow. 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 white of the snow and the blue of the Contraix lake 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 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 it’s easy to get lost around this area. In our case, we left the hut in the wrong direction, and we 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 complication 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 getting to 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 crosseed 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 views of the lake 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 get 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 hut, and the landscape was just jaw-dropping. We grabbed a beer, sat at 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 up early to see the sunrise from the lake next to 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, in which 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 if we wanted to make it to the next hut! The descent was super steep, and at the beginning, the rocks were very decomposed, 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 the Monastero lake, which had a spectacular turquoise colour, and it was one of the route’s most beautiful lakes. It was surrounded by pink flowers, looking like the landscape of a painting.

As we got closer to 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. Be respectful to hut wardens and the local communities. And hike on!


More hut to hut hiking routes in the Catalan Pyrenees

We’ve also written a guide about another multi-day hike we did in the Pyrenees that you might be interested in. Take a look at it here: Hiking Cavalls del Vent in the Catalan Pyrenees. We hope you enjoy it!

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