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. It was designed that way so walkers can start at several points along the route and take the direction they prefer.
The total distance walked is 55 km, which can take between 4 and 7 days to be completed. 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 last July 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!
Things to know before you go
- Total distance: 55 km
- Cumulative elevation gain: 9.200 m
- Recommended season: Carros de Foc is a high-mountain route, so 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? Which direction is best to follow?
The track can be started from any of the huts in the park. None of them can be reached by car, but all of them have access walking from their closest towns:
- The Ernest Mallafré hut can be accessed from Espot (1 h walk)
- The Amitges hut can be accessed from Espot (2:45 h walk)
- The Saboredo hut can be accessed from El Port de la Bonaigua (2:30 h walk)
- The Colomèrs hut can be accessed from Salardú (2 h walk)
- The Restanca hut can be accessed from Artiés (2 h walk)
- The Ventosa i Clavell hut can be accessed from Caldes de Boí (2-2:30 h walk)
- The Estany Llong hut can be accessed from Boí (3 h walk)
- The Colomina hut can be accessed from Sallente (2 h walk)
- The Josep M Blanc hut can be accessed from Espot (3:30 h 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 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.
Regarding the direction of the route, we did it counterclockwise. As it’s a circular track, it can be done both clockwise or counterclockwise. However, we recommend doing it counterclockwise because 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.
We recommend you taking some winter clothes (even though you hike in summer), a waterproof jacket and some safety equipment, such as an emergency blanket and a first aid kit. 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. You won’t need to pack a sleeping pad or more than one days worth of water at a time.
One important thing that you mustn’t forget is to take a map with you! The route has no special marking, and in some places, it’s easy to get lost (it happened to us, adding two extra hours of walking. Not 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.
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.
There isn’t any phone service in about 60–70% of the route. It’s good to let family members or friends you’re going, so they don’t freak out if you don’t answer them in some hours.
The 9 huts in the area are located in truly spectacular settings and very different from each other. Keep in mind that the huts are not mountain hotels, and their schedules and rules must be respected.
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.
Not all huts have hot water and the ones they do can charge extra for it (usually 2 €). Think about it as an opportunity to start a cold therapy routine!
There are charging stations at each of the huts, so keeping phones, cameras, e-book readers, etc. charged is a breeze.
Food and water
The breakfasts and dinners are served in the huts. 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. In the huts, you can also buy water bottles.
The hike can be done 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.
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.
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 is on a boardwalk and unwinds between green forests. Then, the trail starts gaining altitude until reaching the hut.
Day 1 is 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 one 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 dinner is served between 7 pm and 8:30 pm.
Day 2 – Iconic spots
Ernest Mallafré to Amitges, 5 km hike, 479 m +, 10 m –
Breakfast is served from 7 am to 8:30 am and consists 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 route continued following a track that taxis sometimes use to get people to the next hut. The trail isn’t steep, but it keeps gaining altitude step after step. Once in the Amitges hut, we took some time to rest and explore the lakes around. 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 continues ascending to the next hut, Saboredo. It took us around 3 hours and a half to get there from the beginning of the route. We did a quick stop to eat lunch and refill the water bottles before continuing.
Saboredo to Colomèrs, 5 km hike, 282 m +, 450 m –
One more ascent, and after that comes 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 runs next to the lake, from where you can already see a hut. Don’t be fooled, though! This is the old Colomèrs hut, and you’ll have to keep walking along the lake until you get 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 is served 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 closes its lights, and it’s 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 is the ascent to the Port de Caldes. There are some big rocks in the middle of the way, so using the hands is sometimes needed. The landscape is similar to the day before. High peaks covered in snow that contrast with the green of the grass and the blue of the lakes.
Restanca to Ventosa i Clavell, 5.75 km hike, 486 m +, 289 m –
At some point, there’s a sign indicating the Restanca hut is 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. Once in the hut, you need to return to the sign that indicated the Ventosa hut the same way you came.
- If you want to shorten this stage, you can skip the Restanca hut and go directly to Ventosa i Clavell
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 –
After a delicious dinner and a good night’s sleep, we were treated to an excellent breakfast. It included typical Catalan cured meats, cheese, bread with tomato spread, coffee, tea, jam and toasts.
We found this day to be the toughest one as the trail crosses the highest mountain pass of the route. However, it’s also one of the most beautiful days due to the variety of landscapes. The first part of the trail is a pleasant hike through a gorgeous closed valley with small lakes and a waterfall along the way.
After some kilometres of advancing without any difficulty, the track becomes more and more challenging. Big rock blocks appear on the trail, making us walk slower. Moreover, the trail gets steeper as we move to the mountain pass. You can see the Contraix mountain pass from the rock blocks, and the truth is that it’s impressive at first glance. It’s a very vertical scree that requires using your 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’ll probably find it easy. If you’re not, you just need to be careful not to slip.
We found some snow on the top of the mountain pass, even though it was the end of July. Suppose you’re going in May or June. In that case, it might be a good option to send an email or call the Carros de Foc organisation or the Ventosa i Clavell hut to check on the amount of snow. There’s the possibility that you might need crampons to cross the mountain pass.
The descent through the hill is not as exposed or complex as the ascent, and finding some snow added a bit of fun to it. The contrast between the white of the snow and the blue of the Contraix lake was jaw-dropping. Oh, and don’t forget to turn around and take a look back at the mountain pass; it’s pretty impressive!
The trail gradually takes you into a beautiful valley that is filled with black pines. As you get closer to the hut and pass the first wooden bridge, pay attention. You have to look for the correct signs, or it’s easy to get lost and walk away from the hut.
The Estany Llong hut is surrounded by trees and has 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 if you want to take a nap!
Day 5 – From lake to lake
Estany Llong to Colomina, 11.4 km hike, 821 m +, 397 m –
Breakfast is 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 has no complication except for the distance. It starts with an ascent through the forest, and as the terrain gains altitude, it becomes stonier. The trail keeps ascending and passing through lakes, finally getting to the Dellui mountain pass. It’s not a challenging mountain pass, but we could feel the fatigue in our legs after so many kilometres accumulated. The views from the mountain pass are fantastic, and the emerald colour of the lake’s water is beautiful. After the Dellui mountain pass, the trail crosses an area with little vegetation and large lakes.
Before reaching the Colomia hut, the trail crosses two dams. After, it follows 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 beautiful 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 crosses more than seven lakes until reaching the Josep M Blanc hut. The only challenging part of this stage is the mountain pass “el pas de l’Ós” because of all the tiredness and kilometres 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 is idyllic. It’s surrounded by lakes of intense blue colour, and the landscape is 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. It’s a must-do!
Although it’s the last stage of the route, you’ll still need some energy as it involves overcoming the second-highest point of the journey, the mountain pass named Monestero. After leaving the hut, follow the signs “collada de Monastero”. The trail to the Monastero mountain pass crosses some beautiful lakes, and it’s not difficult except for the last part, in which you’ll encounter 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.
However, the clouds went away once at the top of the mountain pass, 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 is super steep, and at the beginning, the rocks are very decomposed, making it easy to slip and fall.
From that point on, it only got better. The trail continues descending and descending. Have patience because the descent is loooong. But finally, we arrived at the Monastero lake, which has a spectacular turquoise colour, and it’s honestly one of the route’s most beautiful lakes. The lake was surrounded by pink flowers, looking like the landscape of a perfect painting.
The vegetation changes and more people start to appear as we get closer to the park’s main entrance. The path widens, and it even has some wooden walkways. Finally, we 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. Carros de Foc 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!