The GR5 Trail Guide and Information

The GR5 Trail Guide and Information

What is the GR5 Trail?

The GR5 Trail and information

The GR5 Trail is a famous long distance alpine trail from Lake Geneva to the Mediterranean, it traditionally ends in Nice but can also be finished  via the alternative GR52 route to end at Menton. 

How long is The GR5 Trail?

The route is around 620 kilometres, however this can be varied from 645-725km. We completed the trail over 32 days which matches the GR5 route given in the Cicerone book below. We felt this was split up to make the most of the beautiful route and you didn't feel like you were rushing it.

What is the best Time of the Year to do the GR5 Trail?

We completed the trail in August and September which was ideal in terms of the weather and lack of snow on some of the high passes. 

It is mostly a summer trek as if you start to early or late you may have problems with too much snow and huts being closed. The French holiday season is from mid-july to mid-August so accommodation will be busiest then. We managed to get the best of both worlds doing it when we did as we managed to miss most of the main French holiday makers. 

A GR5 Trail Video

We like this video made by Simon Cook on YouTube as it showcases the beauty of the route in a quick well made film and also shows how doing the trail earlier in the year (June) can mean a big difference in the snow levels.

Trail magazine

GR5 Trail Information & Preparation

The GR5 is an amazing trail and we chose to do it simply because we love the scenery of the Alps. It must be one of the most scenic long distance trails in the area with beautiful green meadows surrounded by snow capped jagged mountains. 

The GR5 Trail does need some careful preparation to help complete it. Here we share essential information that helped us.

Language: There won't be many English speaking people on this trip. Although we don't speak much French it would have been useful to have know a little bit more than what we did. That said- most people can understand what you are asking. It wasn't a huge problem for us but I know others who have found it more difficult. 

Weather: There can be heavy rain or even hail in amongst the lovely sunny alpine weather- there is a reason those meadows are that green! Make sure you have waterproofs and good gear. We actually found a poncho was the best thing to have for the deluges we encountered as they cover absolutely everything including your rucksack. 

Difficulty: You will be carrying a lot of heavy kit and doing a lot of ascent every day- it goes without saying you need to be fit! In numbers you will probably be carrying a 12kg minimum pack and doing 1300 meters ascent each day. You will also need to have the stamina to hike for at least 7-8 hours each day with this load and ascent. 

Essential Reading 

Trekking The GR5 Trail by Paddy Dillon

Trekking The GR5 Trail by Paddy Dillon

The is the main guide we used throughout the trip. It breaks the trek into daily stages which makes the trek look easily achievable however when your carrying  full wild camping gear and food for 3-4 days, take Mr Dillions distances and timings as a rough guide only. His easy ascents and descents really are not easy, this is the alps after all and the terrain is very rugged and every day will be a challenge . We think Mr Dillion marched the route with a day pack and light snacks! We met many trekkers and all commented on how difficult they had found the stages. Use this as a rough guide and if you are wild camping then you can be flexible with your distances.

We downloaded the cicerone book onto our Kindle from Amazon. This saved carrying the extra weight of the book and also because the Kindle has great battery life we knew we could always access the book.

Alone Through The Alps by Antti Rantanen

GR5 Trail reading book- Alone Through The Alps

Antti Rantanen, an experienced and enthusiastic long-distance hiker from Finland, solo hiked one of the most famous trails of the vast GR network: the GR number five, otherwise known as the Grand Traverse of the Alps.
Alone Through the Alps is a detailed and vivid travelogue of an unforgettable adventure across the French Alps, through deep and lush valleys, over high and snow-covered mountain passes—all the way from the shores of Lake Geneva to the sun-drenched Mediterranean coast of Nice.

You can buy the Kindle edition  here  on Amazon. 

A Walk to the Water by Daniel Graham

A Walk to the Water by Daniel Graham GR5 Guide book

An interesting book about two brothers doing a long distance trek which includes large sections of the GR5.

On 14 April 2013, Daniel Graham and his twin brother, Jake, stepped out of their front door in Bristol and on to the path. Longing for a challenge, they set out to complete the adventure of a lifetime: a 3,000-kilometre walk through Western Europe.

You can buy the Kindle or Paperback edition on Amazon  here. 


GR5 Trail Maps


We used Viewranger on our iPhones and it worked brilliantly. We subscribed to the French IGN Geoportail Annual Mapping Service within the app for £18.99. This gives you unlimited use of the IGN France Topographic maps 1:25,000. You will need to download the maps (tiles) that your route follows to your phone. This will allow you to view the maps and your location  without a data signal. You can even have your phone in airplane mode and the app will still locate you.

The traditional route is set in 5 stages:

1-GR5 037 Thonon-les-Bains àLes Houches. Distance 113 kilometres, height gain 7,471 metres, height lost 6,934 metres.    

2 -GR5 038 De Les Houches à Bessans. Distance 113 kilometres, height gain 7,305 metres, height lost 6,612 metres.

3 -GR5 039 De Bessans à Montgenèvre. 116 kilometres, 6,794 metres, height lost 6,648 metres.

4 -GR5 040 Montgenèvre to St Dalmas-le-Selvage. Distance 113 kilometres, height gain 6,854 m, height lost 7,195 metres.

5 -GR5 041 StDalmas-le-Selvage à Nice. Distance 116 kilometres, height gain 6,551 metres, height lost 7,991 metres. (original route ending)

Our route included the Vanoise National Park via the GR55and the alternative ending to Menton via the GR52. Both routes are covered in the Trekking the GR5 Trail book above by Paddy Dillion.

Alternative route ending via the GR52.

5 -GR52 St Dalmas to Menthon. Distance 81 kilometres, height gain 5,929 metres, height lost 7,210 metres. Alternative route ending via the GR52 and the stunning Mercantour National Park. This is a much better better finish and keeps you at a high elevation until the last couple of hours of the last days trek.

Helpful Websites for The GR5 

Long Distance Trail - Blog by Antti Rantanen who completed the route in an impressive 26 days. Antti also created a great guide to camping the GR5. Download it here.

The GR5 Trail photos and information

We trained for the GR5 Trail by doing the Bob Graham Round in The Lake District.

If you have any questions following reading this blog or any general adventure questions then please do contact us we are always happy to help. 

This post contains affiliate links. If you buy anything through them we will get a small referral fee and you will be supporting us and our blog at no extra cost to you.


  • Fiona

    The full GR5 actually starts in Hoek-van-Holland , The Netherlands; continues through Europe (yes with the Alps included), and ends in Nice, France. Overall its around 2300kms. Cicerone have 3 books detailing it that are very useful . What would be cool is a HUGE printable / foldable map of the whole thing with waypoints in English for those of us who are terrible with languages other than our own! Any ideas?

  • Kevin Thomas

    Nice website with some useful resources. I have nearly completed the GR5, just need to complete a missing 3 day section from Modane. In started at the ‘wrong end’, and took the Vallee des Merveilles variant. Like you I also found the Dillon Cicerone guidebook and the IGN 1:25k maps really useful via Viewranger. Also very useful are the IGN Topo Guides book series, four of them. They are in French but they have excellent large scale maps and much more comprehensive info than the single Cicerone book. They can be surprisingly hard to buy en route, so mail order them from IGN before you go. I also used the alternative start point of St Gingolph, easy to reach by train from Geneva. An excellent walk in every way.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.