Key information: Gran Paradiso
- Gran Paradiso, Italy's oldest national park, is spectacular and diverse, with serene valleys and towering mountains.
- The park's flagship 4,061m Gran Paradiso peak towers over this region of the Graian Alps; and other massifs, ridges, cols and peaks provide huge panoramas and wide horizons towards Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn, and to Monte Rosa.
- There are countless well documented and signposted paths through a landscape sculpted still by ageless glaciers and rushing streams. High alpine pasture, low and wide valley meadows, and vast ice-smoothed rockfaces.
- Flora and fauna are widespread and varied; lynx, wolves, chamois and ibex disappearing above and below the treeline; golden eagles and eagle owls soaring and nesting higher up.
- You will be walking in high mountains with unpredictable weather. Come prepared.
Walkopedia rating(Top 100)
- Walkopedia rating90
- Natural interest17
- Human interest4
- Negative points0
- Total rating90
- Length: Variable
- Maximum Altitude: 4,061m
- Level of Difficulty: Variable
Gran Paradiso is Italy's oldest national park; and remarkably untouched, with often-empty paths and contemplative high passes throughout. Its highest mountains, such as the eponymous Gran Paradiso (the only mountain entirely in Italy to top 4,000m), are startlingly juxtaposed with low valley meadows, rising from altiplano at 800m to jagged granite peaks over 3,000m further up.
Each climb presages a new, breathtaking panorama. Horizons fall away, revealing vistas to Mont Blanc, and the Matterhorn, and Monte Rosa. Any level ground is serene meadow abounding with wildflowers, wildlife. Huge skies above.
This terrain quickly changes from lush, to rough, to glacial moonscape; and is etched with hundreds of criss-crossing paths to suit all ages, abilities and timescales. Wonderfully maintained, manned refugi (singular: refugio) dot highland beauty spots, offering tranquility and comfort at the end of a day.
The park, along with Frances neighbouring Vanoise National Park, forms the largest protected area in Western Europe, and wildlife and plantlife prosper accordingly. Alpine Ibex are afforded near-perfect protection, retreating from highland meadows to lower valleys in the winter. Weasels, ermine, hares and marmots flit just above the treeline and then back in. Lynx and wolves tread solitary paths in remoter areas; ibex and chamois stay high. Patrolling the skies are golden eagles, alpine accentor and rock ptarmigan, and the reclusive eagle owl. Butterflies, too.
Running through Gran Paradiso's profusion of vitality, the famous, long distance Alta Via 2, a truly outstanding walk, is labelled 'the nature trail'; but any one of a number of trails, tracks and paths may lead to an encounter with a roaming herd of grazing chamois, or one of many butterfly species in and around the parks teeming woodlands.
Day walks or shorter treks, then, within the park:
- The circular Lago di Loie walk, covered in our Alta Via 2 page: big, changing landscapes, panoramic views, and on its return the spectacular Lillaz Waterfalls.
- Punta Pousset: a hard 1,600m ascent and copycat descent, but breathtaking views up top over a peak known as the 'Gornegrat of Cogne', without the crowds.
- Gran Collet & Col del Nivolet: because we had to get one in within shouting distance of the parks eponymous range. Plus an exhilarating, spectacular pass, and quieter than other 'Gran Paradiso' routes.
- Punta Basei: 12 miles of traverse, col, and lake-filled altoplano. The toughest of these featured walks, but dizzyingly gorgeous (and plain dizzying).
Not written up by us, but Pondels Roman Bridge makes a lovely 1-2 hour walk, just outside the park itself. The 3rd Century multi-level bridge once carried an eclectic mix of water, people and livestock from one side of a sheer, deep gorge to the other, and remains both beautiful and intact. Parking available in Aymavilles and buses to the walk's trailhead.
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Books and Maps
Books on this walk
Gran Paradiso: Alta Via 2 Trek & Day Walks – Cicerone; indispensible. Covers nearly 30 ‘other’ walks in Gran Paradiso National Park.
Trekking in the Alps – Kev Reynolds/Cicerone
Walking in the Alps – Lonely Planet Walking Guide
Rough Guide to Italy – Rough Guides
Maps can be bought locally: the best is published by the Park Authority, available at visitor centres.
86: Gran Paradiso Vallee D’Aosta (admittedly in German)
IGC Italien WK 101 Gran Paradiso (also in German)
IGC Italien WK 3 PN de Gran Paradiso (in, er, German)
Best times to walk/weather
Best times to walk
Open year-round, but access is naturally contingent upon snowfall, avalanches and landslides being manageable (they can obstruct both roads and paths). May – October is best for walkers (but the high refuges are open only late June-late Sept):
- May/June – grazing herds of ibex in the valleys
- July – for flower lovers, particularly on the Piano del Nivolet.
- August – Italian high season (book accommodation in advance, particularly at weekends)
- September – still catching the sun, and summer’s warmth, but dodging the crowds.
- October – Italy stays on summer time, so look forward to rusty hues and crisp, clear days.
Generally fine in season, but come prepared for unpredictable mountain weather and cold nights. Ice can make sections of the path – already tricky – particularly difficult to navigate.
Turin and Milan airports are the most convenient for this walk; routes operated by Easyjet, British Airways and Ryanair. You can then get trains direct to the park (train information: www.trenitalia.com).
By car, the Mont Blanc Tunnel or Piccolo San Barnardo pass take you into the area direct from France. From Switzerland, use the Gran San Barnardo pass and tunnel. Within Italy, the A5 motorway from the south runs through Aosta to Courmayeur.
Coach: long distance coaches run from both Turin and Milan into the area.
Local bus services: www.regione.vda.it/trasporti
See Walk Summary above.
Possible problems, health, other warnings
- Mountain weather: expect snow, rain, severe cold and wind into early summer. Some of the steep rock can get very slippery when wet or icy. Come prepared.
- Heat and strong sun. Carry enough water and protect yourself.
- Heights: can be dangerous; not for those who have difficulties with heights.
- This is remote country: help may be hard to get quickly if things go wrong.
See also the websites in our useful links page for more detailed, and up-to-date, information.
Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and problems can arise on any walk. Many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks and possible problems. This website cannot, does not purport to, identify all actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to a walk or a country. Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
Make sure you have appropriate insurance.
Guided or independent?
Most people do these walks independently, but you will need to be self-sufficient during the day and carry your own lunch and gear.
Some people form or join organised/supported expeditions.
Expedition organisers include:
- Ramblers Holidays – www.ramblersholidays.co.uk
- PLEASE HELP Walkopedia by recommending any reputable tour organizers that you know of – local or otherwise.
The guidebooks have a selection of possible accommodation for the towns you pass.
In the park, wild camping is forbidden, but there should be enough established campsites around.
However, camping means missing out on the various manned Rifugi; real treats. Set often in idyllic, high lookouts, they are either Italian Alpine Club or locally-run, and offer that essential – a hot home-cooked evening meal. In the Italian high season (July but mainly August) advance bookings are likely to be advisable for weekends. The high refuges are open only late June-late Sept, so time it carefully.
Search for Gran Paradiso accommodation here (Italian National Parks list): limited hotel/inn availability inside the park.
Other information and tips
Useful websites and information
There are many websites with relevant information. Here are some that we think are useful or have been recommended to us.
- Valle D’Aosta tourism page – www.regione.vda.it/turismo/default_e.asp
- …And their Alta Via 2 page
- Gran Paradiso Wikipedia page. As usual, a good starting place.
- Gran Paradiso NP – www.parks.it/parco.nazionale.gran.paradiso/Eindex.php
- Try www.flickr.com for pictures of this walk.
Other things to do in the area
Italy has a huge variety of great walks. There is likely to be a good walk within range wherever you may be.
- The Cicerone book has a multitude of ideas.
- Monte Rosa, Mont Blanc & the Matterhorn are nearby (and seen from various parts of the AV2).
- Plentiful walks in the Dolomites, including the famous Alta Via 1.
Skiing, climbing, mountain-biking, rafting. Ahem: Italy, so eating. There is even a cable-car trip to be had directly over the incredible Mont Blanc massif, from Palud (Italy) to Chamonix (France). The list goes on.
Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk.
Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
share your experiences
Add your experiences, suggestions and photos. We would be delighted to receive your writing and ideas (which will be attributed appropriately where published).
Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.
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