Magnificent Carros de Foc, jewel of the Spanish Pyrenees and the latest in our ongoing obsession with hut-to-hut hiking in Europe. And, oh my, was it spectacular. Just a constant procession of craggy peaks, reflective lakes and dramatic valleys connecting 9 different mountain huts in a loop that can be hiked in anywhere from 4 to 9 days. And unquestionably one of the most beautiful treks we’ve ever done.
Of course, all this stunning natural beauty comes with a cost. Carros de Foc, for all its tremendous beauty and fascinating landscapes, definitely makes you work for it. Although the pure numbers don’t sound all that frightening (72 km / 4600m elevation gain/loss), the terrain makes it much more difficult than you might expect (certainly more difficult than we expected).
Constantly battling your way up or down (never flat!) rough, rocky trails that force you to keep a close eye on your feet and pick your spots carefully. A few absurdly steep slopes. Some slippery sections of scree. More than a few massive boulder fields requiring scrambling and the strenuous use of all 4 limbs at once. Altogether it adds up to a slow, exhausting journey.
In fact, although no official statistics exist to confirm this, we believe that on the Carros de Foc we may have set a personal record for slowest average hiking speed. On most treks we average around 3-3.5 km/hr including breaks but most of the time on Carros de Foc were doing just 2 km/hr or less. Sure, some of that had to do with Laynni’s sore calf that occasionally got fed up with the grind and seized up in protest, but even at our healthiest we weren’t exactly burning up the course.
However. HOWEVER, even allowing for a certain amount of recency bias, we agree that the Carros de Foc trek is probably (see how I hedged there?) the most consistently scenic multi-day trek we’ve ever done. Right from the first step to the last the scenery is phenomenal. Unlike Nepal where you usually have 2 or 3 meh days at low altitude before you get to the good stuff. Or the Walker’s Haute Route, absolutely gorgeous, but with a couple of relatively monotonous, average-looking passes in the middle. There are simply no weak spots on the Carros de Foc, which is pretty rare.
Much of the trek takes place in Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park in the Spanish Pyrenees, the only national park in the Catalonia region of Spain. It is just a 3-hour drive from famous (and convenient) Barcelona. And a couple of the sections overlap with famous GR-11 overland trek that goes across Spain from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean.
What is Carros de Foc in English?
Carros de Foc is Catalan and translates to “Chariots of Fire”. It was named in 1999 by park rangers who had been challenging themselves to race the route since 1987, sometimes in as little as 24 hours (which is objectively insane).
Now, why is it called that? Well, that part is a mystery. In 7 days, we didn’t see a single chariot and only a few very controlled fires (mainly in hut kitchens or on the end of slim French cigarettes).
Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park, on the other hand, means “The winding streams and lake of St. Maurice”, which is bit long and clunky but at least makes perfect sense.
How Long is the Carros de Foc?
From 55-75 kilometres, depending on the specific route you choose. However, there are multiple access points so it is possible to hike smaller sections if necessary. Most people complete the loop in 5-7 days.
Carros de Foc Details
72 km / 4600 m elevation gain / 4600m elevation loss / 30-35 hiking hours
Hut Altitude Range: 1900-2400m
Highest point: Coll de Contraix 2750m
Moderate to Difficult
These figures are for the entire Carros de Foc loop and are based on our personal GPS recordings. Most Carros de Foc information we read in advance said the hike was 55-65 km but maybe that is if you cut across to Ventosa and leave out Restanca, which seems to have been the old route.
Either way, all of the huts are accessible within a few hours hiking from the nearest road so you can choose to only hike part of it. There are also a few ways you can shorten the route by skipping certain huts and cutting straight across.
Dogs ARE allowed on the Carros de Foc but must be on leash at all times and the refuges don’t really have any specific facilities for dogs so it is probably best to check with them in advance if you’re considering bringing your furry friend.
Also, unlike many of the other top multi-day hikes in Europe, there is no baggage transfer service available on the Carros de Foc. Only a couple of the refuges have road access, and even those require a rough 4×4 journey. So you WILL have to carry your own gear.
Carros de Foc Accommodation
On the bright side, the Carros de Foc huts (refuges / refugis / refugios) provide beds, blankets, water and food, meaning you don’t have to carry nearly as much as you would if you were camping (like those hardcore crazies doing the GR-11). Just a change of clothes, a light sleep sack, rain gear, snacks and a couple litres of water and you’re good to go.
The huts on the Carros de Foc are all slightly different but are almost always located in extraordinary locations with amazing views, usually of a lake and/or valley. There are no private rooms (unless you happen to have a group large enough to fill one on your own) so you will usually find yourself sleeping on thin mattress in basic dorms, generally VERY close to complete strangers. All part of the European trekking experience, though, right?
They provide blankets and pillows but NOT sheets so you need to bring your own sleep sack (or very light sleeping bag). Hiking shoes and boots are not allowed inside but they all provide hut shoes/Crocs. All the huts have showers, some have wifi, a few have cell service, all have charging stations and there is always plenty of beer to be had (as well as something stronger, as needed).
It is also important to know that there are more people in the huts than just those hiking the Carros de Foc. As all the huts are all relatively accessible, many other people hike in to spend a night or two, meaning the huts can get quite busy and often fill up well in advance.
We met a couple people trying to trek the entire route without reserving beds and they more or less made it work, although it was September (much quieter than summer) and even then they had to put in a couple long days due to lack of availability. So we wouldn’t recommend it.
The nice thing is that you can book all the refuges under a single reservation at Carros de Foc Refuges. You’ll have to put down deposits of €15-25 per person per night but can do it all in one payment, which is handy.
Through that website, you also have to purchase a Carros de Foc forfeit (or forfait) for €30 per person. This is a small card that you can have stamped in each hut to document your journey. It comes with a good paper map of the route and a free t-shirt which seemed very popular as “evening hut shirts”. You can pick up your forfeit before starting the hike either in Espot at the Tui Rai store or in any hut EXCEPT Ernest Mallafre, Amitges or JM Blanc.
Although, if you aren’t particularly interested in documenting your progress with the forfeit, then you are essentially paying €30 for a map and t-shirt. Either way, we booked all our huts through this site and everything went smoothly.
But there is also another site that offers a similar service but does not offer/require a forfeit, (or provide a map or t-shirt):
Officially, camping is not allowed in the park but we did see a couple of the huts make an exception or two, not sure what the reason was but you should probably discuss it with them in advance.
Where Does the Carros de Foc Start?
One of the best things about the Carros de Foc loop is that you can start (and end) at any of the 9 huts. Private vehicles can’t drive to any of them but you can get a 4WD taxi from Espot to San Maurici Lake (near Refuge Ernest Mallafre), Refuge Amitges, Refuge Josep Maria Blanc or to within a 1 hr hike of Refuge Estany Llong or Refuge Ventosa i Calvell.
Here is the walking distance to each of the huts from the closest public road access:
Ernest Mallafre – Espot (2 hrs) or Prat de Pierro parking lot (1 hr)
Amitges – Espot (3 hrs)
Saboredo – El Port de la Bonaigua (2.5 hrs)
Colomers – Salardu (2 hrs)
Restanca – Artes (2 hrs)
Ventosa i Calvell – Caldes de Boi (2.5 hrs)
Estany Llong – Boi (3 hrs)
Colomina – Sallente (2 hrs)
Josep M Blanc – Espot (3 hrs)
Carros de Foc Direction
You can hike the Carros de Foc in either direction but if you’re going to be doing the entire route or any portion that includes the Col de Contraix, we would strongly suggest doing it counterclockwise. This was one of the best tips we found while researching the trek ahead of time.
The trail between Ventosa i Calvell and Estany Llong involves crossing the highest point of the trek, Col de Contraix at 2,750m. However, it is not the height that is the problem. Well, not the main problem, anyway. No, that would be the extremely steep, rocky scree slope on the north side of the pass.
Climbing up from Ventosa to this (admittedly gorgeous) pass involves a long, arduous morning of scrambling through massive boulder fields, wearing you out, before you start up a short but nearly vertical slope to the top. It is both treacherous and exhausting.
But, in our opinion, that is still far better than having to go down it. Granted, Laynni has always been particularly averse to steep, slippery downhills, but I can’t imagine there is anyone out there who would enjoy this specific challenge.
It is also steep going down the south side of the pass toward Estany Llong but at least it follows an actual path that switchbacks down the hill, making it much easier. Which is where we met up with a sweating, defeated-looking man nearly at the top, desperately looking to add some hope and optimism to his difficult day, sadly imploring Laynni to confirm that “the trail, it is good on the other side?”
“No”, she said.
Then, in case you still aren’t convinced, going clockwise from Estany Llong to Ventosa i Calvell also adds 250m of elevation gain to the day. And I can assure you, on that terrain, the 800m we did already felt like at least double that. Obviously, the total elevation gain of the loop works out to the exact same thing in either direction but at least you can make the hardest day a bit more manageable.
Carros de Foc Highlights
One of the most amazing things about the Carros de Foc trek was how the scenery was ALWAYS fantastic. Obviously, there are some parts that stand out a bit more than others but a lot of that often comes down to weather, mood and energy levels. Either way, here are a few particular standout spots:
Massive and beautiful Estany Sant Maurici with the Els Encantats mountain looming over it.
The stunning and sharp Agulles d’Amitges peaks.
The impressive lakes and expansive views of Colomers Cirque.
Estany de Tumeneia de Baix just after Coll de Tumeneia from Restanca to Ventosa i Calvell.
The spectacular Besiberri Massif full of +3000m peaks west of Ventosa i Calvell and Estany Llong.
But one of the things we enjoyed the most was how dramatic the changes in landscape were between each of the 4 different regions in the park:
Pallars Sobirá (Ernest Mallafre, Amitges, Saboredo and Josep Maria Blanc) – sharp, needle-like peaks reminiscent of the Dolomites.
Valle de Aran (Colomers and Restanca) – high ridges and steep trails.
Alta Ribagorza (Ventosa i Calvell and Estany Llong) – rocky, barren and imposing.
Pallars Jussá (Colomina) – softer, grassy hills with expansive lake and valley views.
Carros de Foc Trail Conditions
As we already mentioned (i.e. whined about), the Carros de Foc trail is not for the faint of heart. It is rough, rocky and occasionally not a trail at all, just a series of cairns glimpsed sporadically through fields of giant boulders. Assume it will be more tiring than you expect and for each leg to take longer than it normally would for those distances and elevation changes.
We saw a few people really struggling with the scrambling/bouldering sections (and can’t claim to be big fans, ourselves) but everybody we met made it, even a couple groups of 70+ year-olds. Slow, steady and very careful, that’s the key.
One thing that frustrated us was the lack of consistent trail marking. We had the paper map we got with our forfeit, which was handy for big picture planning but the scale (1:25,000) was too small to be useful for, say, deciding which way to go around some particularly big rocks. If you don’t purchase a forfeit, you can choose to buy the maps separately online.
More useful were the digital GPS maps we always use, and in the most confusing places previous hikers had generally piled cairns to help, but it would have been nice to have an officially marked Carros de Foc route to follow.
Sometimes there were yellow marks, sometimes we followed the red and white of the GR-11, and through the boulder fields there were usually some wooden posts to give you a general direction to follow, but nothing you could count on.
Especially through the boulder fields where it often seemed opinions were, let’s say, divided on the best route. Heading up through the boulders, rocks and scree to Coll de Contraix, the most difficult section of the entire trek, there were at least 4 different routes marked by a combination of cairns and posts. Some of which were NOT good ideas.
Then, even more frustratingly, was that about halfway down the other (south) side, suddenly there were yellow paint marks everywhere. Of course, by then we were on a very clear trail and they were completely unnecessary.
Now, there is a possibility these marks were made by a generous volunteer, in which case, good on them for putting in the effort. However, if these marks were actually done by a park employee who was given the job of marking the trail, and did so partway up the hill, then decided to call it a day, ignoring the most important sections, and never went back, well, that’s pretty shit, all things considered.
But, for now, that’s the situation, so we have provided links to Wikiloc GPS maps in each section below. If you use a different mapping app you can search for the relevant sections on your own or download the GPX files from Wikiloc, then upload them into your app.
Carros de Foc Map
Carros de Foc Stages
There are many different ways to break up the stages, making the entire trek anywhere from 4-9 days. The distances and elevation gains are those we recorded on our route and the times INCLUDE breaks, usually 1-1.5 hrs per day.
Stage 1: Espot to Saboredo
10 km / +750m / -350m / 5 hrs
These stats are for hiking from Estany Sant Maurici (very close to Refuge Ernest Mallafre) because we took a taxi from Espot up to the lake (just €5.50 per person), saving us 8 uphill kilometres on a road. If you have a car, you can drive to the free Prat Pierro parking lot (4 km from Espot, 4 km walk left to the trailhead).
From the lake you share a nice, scenic trail with a lot of day hikers past Cascada Ratera and a lot of great mountains to Amitges (1.5-2 hrs). After that you’ll find yourself much more alone and as you leave Amitges there are terrific views of three different lakes. Then comes the tough climb up to Port de Ratera (where we had cell service) and then it’s all downhill to Saboredo (2-3 hrs).
Stage 2: Saboredo to Restanca
14 km / +900m / -1200m / 8.5 hrs
Going all the way to Restanca (instead of stopping at Colomers or crossing to Ventosa i Calvell) made this a long, exhausting day that crosses three passes. We started out down past the big horses near Saboredo, then climbed way up to Coll Sendrosa for our first views of impressive Colomers Cirque.
However, it is a really beautiful day with lakes and sharp peaks everywhere. It took us almost 4 hrs (incl breaks) to make it to Colomers to eat our packed lunch with some purchased Cokes to energize us for the next leg. The first building you see is the old hut, the new one is a bit further along and slightly off the trail, but you can’t miss it with its incredible location on a tiny peninsula.
From there it is a difficult climb to Port de Caldes (2-3 hrs with a bit of scrambling here and there), at which point the trail splits, left directly to Ventosa i Calvell or right to start the long downhill to Restanca (1.5-2 hrs), located right on what is probably a lovely lake when it has water in it (when we arrived a pipe had burst and almost completely drained it but there was a crew working on it, at least until 5, when the drinking started).
In the past, Carros de Foc hikers took the same trail in and out of Restanca but now the route from the east is more direct (if you’re hiking counterclockwise) and you head southwest coming back out so there is no backtracking.
Stage 3: Restanca to Ventosa i Calvell
6.5 km / +610m / -430m / 5 hrs
We had it in our mind that this would be an easy day, basically because it is very short. However. Yeah, first off, doing 600m in that little distance also means it is pretty steep. So you slog steadily uphill from the hut through a variety of terrains and past some beautiful lakes and then, suddenly, the boulders start! Which we hadn’t known about on this leg (it’s the surprise that gets you).
We found them to be pretty hard work but, even though it felt longer, we still made it to the pass (Coll de Tumeneia) in just over 2 hours. And up there you get some pretty stunning views, in both directions, but especially towards Ventosa i Calvell.
It never quite got as flat as we dreamed it would on the way down (with yet more bouldering) but we did thoroughly enjoy a long lunch at Estany de Tumeneia de Baix, one of the most beautiful spots on the Carros de Foc.
Then you reach a low area full of mud and creeks and standing water that was very confusing in the midst of a dry fall. I can only imagine it would be a nightmare early in the season. We recommend watching for the posts and being careful to not follow the many different cairns scattered around. Presumably some were set up when water crossings needed to be avoided.
Altogether, a very tiring day, partially because we had it in our heads it was going to be short and easy. Sorry to burst that bubble for you in advance.
Stage 4: Ventosa i Calvell to Estany Llong
12 km / +770m / -1000m / 7-8 hrs
Everyone generally agrees that this is the hardest day on the Carros de Foc, at least among the standard stages. The landscapes are gorgeous, though, and reaching the highest point of the trek (Coll de Contraix – 2,750m) provides a real sense of accomplishment (and relief that we had gone up the north side and didn’t have to go down it).
Even though we saw multiple sources call this 9-10 km, it measured out nearly 12 km for us. Maybe it was all the weaving back in forth in the boulder fields.
So, after starting the day with a pleasant descent into a beautiful valley full of lakes and scenic hills (1.5 hrs), you head into the boulders and start scrambling. Which is both physically hard and navigationally, as you have to rely on occasional yellow posts and the cairns of strangers (when in doubt follow the posts). At least you’re in shade most of the way – small victories.
Unfortunately, that is the easy part. Then you make it to the final stretch, which isn’t particularly long but it is STRAIGHT UP. To the point that from a distance it seems completely implausible. Which it kind of is, but you’re doing it anyway. The last few hundred metres could take close to half an hour, depending on your energy and agility, struggling through steep, slippery scree and precarious rocks.
Basically, it sucks. But, man, the views at the top are pretty great (2 hrs from the valley). Almost as great as knowing you have just completed the hardest part of the Carros de Foc. Thankfully the way down (on the south side) follows a rocky (but real) path, alternating steep and gradual.
Then it just seems to take forever to make it to the bottom – follow the signs even though they seem to send you the wrong way after you cross the wooden bridge. You just loop up to the road (for some reason) and follow it to Refuge Estany Llong, which is one of the only huts not on a lake (although the very nice lake is just a 5-minute walk through the trees).
Stage 5: Estany Llong to Colomina
12km / +800 up / -390 down / 6.5 hrs
Uphill right from the get-go, although on a smooth, shaded trail through the forest before it gets a bit rougher up to the pass. EasiER than the day before but definitely not EASY. Fabulous scenery once again, though, passing by some lovely lakes before it gets a bit rockier and more barren on the far side of Coll Dellui, with Estany Tort the standout here.
Toward the end, you pass (or cross) a dam, follow some wagon rail tracks, then spend close to an hour thinking the hut should be right around the corner before finally reaching it. We did this stage on a Saturday and the area around Colomina was crawling with day trippers and trail runners, which felt strange after the relative isolation of the previous couple of days.
Stage 6: Colomina to Josep M Blanc
8 km / 330m / -430m / 5 hrs
Finally, a day on the Carros de Foc that truly qualifies as “not that hard”. Despite the modest numbers, you still get to pass half a dozen amazing lakes and will have to work a bit on 2 steep climbs (the first just across the lake from Colomina) and 4 different steep downhill sections.
Stage 6: Josep Maria Blanc to Ernest Mallafre (Estany Sant Maurici)
10 km / +430m / -850m / 5 hrs
14 km / +430m / -1100m / 6 hrs to Prat Pierro parking lot
Here we went a bit off-route. To complete the official circuit, you need to hike from JM Blanc to Ernest Mallafre, the starting point in our case. However, we didn’t think it made sense to go that way and have to find a taxi back to Espot, not when we could hike straight to Espot on a similarly nice trail. So the section we did is outlined below this one.
But if you are a stickler for completing loops, you will head north past Estany Gran de Peguero and, eventually, to Collada de Monastero where you’ll notice a dramatic shift in terrain from one side to the other.
You’ll have to brave some steep scree at first, then it gets a little bit more gradual and is just way, way down, all the way to Sant Maurici.
Now, as I said, we didn’t hike this section but based on the description, it is definitely both much harder than the trail to Espot (which has no uphill at all and a very gradual downhill) and more beautiful (our trail did not compare scenically to the previous 6 days).
Stage 6 (Alternate): Josep Maria Blanc to Espot
7 km / +20m / -950m / 3 hrs
Based on recommendations of a local who said this was also a very scenic trail, we chose to hike directly to Espot and bypass the final section back to Sant Maurici and the need for a taxi down. Well, it was certainly the easiest walk of the trek, following a rocky dirt road for about an hour before getting a bit steeper for another 1.5 hours, then turning into a simple road walk for the last 30 minutes.
But there wasn’t a lot to see, other than a nice valley, a nice ridgeline and eventually a bird’s eye view of Espot. A good choice if you’re exhausted or don’t want to take a taxi back from Sant Maurici.
A third option if you left your car at Prat de Pierro parking lot is to follow this route toward Espot but stay on the road the whole way instead of branching off – it will eventually take you directly to the parking area, and much more quickly than if you walked to Ernest Mallafre first.
Now, we were definitely happy to reach our hotel in Espot (the wonderful Hotel Roya) shortly after 11 am – showered and lounging in our private room before noon – but if we were to do it again I’d have stuck to the main route. Even though it would have been a bit harder and slightly more complicated, I think it would have been worth it to have one more day of exceptional Carros de Foc scenery.
Carros de Foc Refuges
While the Carros de Foc trek compares favourably with all of our favourite hikes in the Alps when it comes to scenery and natural beauty, the accommodation situation is, shall we say, a little more basic.
The huts in France, Switzerland and Italy were often draws in themselves – modern, gorgeous and comfortable. As a group of 4 on the Walker’s Haute Route we were often able to get a room to ourselves, for example. Of course, the prices were correspondingly higher, too.
Either way, privacy is not in great supply in the Carros de Foc huts. For the most part, these are old school mountain huts that provide the bare minimum of comfort while ensuring you have shelter, food and a shower. Hard to argue with that, except when you’re piled into a 60-person dorm listening to a symphony of snoring and wondering if it’s actually possible that rancid smell is coming from an actual person.
In general, the huts provide mattresses, blankets, pillows, food (choose your meal options in advance), drinkable tap water, hot showers (usually a fee for hot water), hut shoes, charging stations, heat (if needed), drying lines and, most importantly, beer.
You just need to bring a sleep sack/sheet, towel, an appetite, a nearly dead phone and a body in dire need of a shower.
A few of the huts offered wifi (some paid, some free) and only a couple had a reliable cell signal.
All except Josep Maria Blanc prohibit backpacks in the dorm rooms – you leave them near the front and take up your essentials in a plastic tub. Somewhat inconvenient but it keeps the rooms less cluttered and is a good exercise in prioritizing.
Dinner was usually at 7 pm and breakfast started at 7 am. Picnic lunches could be ordered either when you make your reservation or in person the night before.
To reserve the huts, you can use either of these two websites:
https://refusonline.com/en/online-map-reservations (no forfeit if you go with this option)
And here is a price list to help you budget:
We have listed all the huts below in counterclockwise order starting from Estany Sant Maurici. For obvious reasons we have included much more information on the 6 huts we stayed at than the 3 we didn’t. We booked them all half-board (dinner and breakfast) and that is the price listed, then we ordered picnic lunches along the way as needed (usually €12-15 each).
A basic and traditional hut that is the most common starting (and ending) point of the Carros de Foc. Close to Estany Sant Maurici, one of the nicest lakes on the trek.
Another small, older hut that works well as a first night stop if you start hiking at Prat de Pierro parking lot. Even if you don’t stay there, be sure to check out the amazing views from the terrace. It is also supposedly one of only two huts where you can pay with a card.
€74 / 28 beds / 2310m / 1 toilet / 1 shower
This was the smallest and oldest hut we stayed at, and the only one that made you walk to a separate building to use the toilet (not ideal for the nightly 2 am procession of us old guys).
Terrific views (an ongoing theme, but still) and a traditional charm, although the breakfast wasn’t great (no protein). It was one of the only huts that had cell service, though.
It has amazing location on a little peninsula on the lake, surrounded by mountains. Even the views from the bathrooms were, to borrow a cliché, pretty cool. However, the people we talked to that stayed there didn’t really rave about much else, said it was basically “fine” and they all agreed it was too crowded.
€56 / 80 beds / 2010m / 4 toilets / 4 showers
Restanca was a bit of a disappointment, but only because a pipe had broken, almost completely draining the lake. So what would have been a stunning view had a bit of a fetid pond feel to it. Although there were several guys hard at work fixing it (by day) and drinking at the hut (by night), so by the time you get there it should be back to its best.
There were lots of charging stations, wifi that didn’t work very well, no cell service, a really slow checkin process (even though we were only second in line – I would hate to see it when it’s really busy) and the beds were all side by side on two levels in hot rooms with squeaky floors and auto lights in the hall that kept us from leaving the door open.
The meal was quite good but the tables were crowded (as usual) and they were very sticky about making sure we cleaned up our area and stacked things oddly specifically.
Restanca also falls on the GR-11 long distance trek across the Pyrenees from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean so the crowd had a different feel. More than half were hardcore GR-11 trekkers who had been camping most of the way so this felt like a real treat for them (hence, the surprising number of groups doing rounds of shots right before lights-out).
Breakfast was good with ham, cheese, toast, pastries, orange juice, etc.
€64 / 70 beds / 2220m / 3 urinals (the first we’d seen) / 2 toilets / 2 showers (+1 that wasn’t working)
This recently renovated hut is one of the most popular on the Carros de Foc, partially because this is the start of the stages that are very hard to adjust. Pretty much everyone stays here, at Estany LLong and Colomina simply due to the hiking distances between them.
There was no cell signal unless you could find the elusive and possibly mythical spot “halfway down the hill just past the river facing this way down the valley…” and, although there is wifi, it is only for hut use, not that of guests.
They had the worst clothes lines of any of the huts – just a few strands along the wall of the hut that filled up quickly. I came out at one point to find someone had draped their huge pack towel (is it still a pack towel if it is the size of a duvet?) right over top my shirt. It is probably for the best I didn’t see who, or run into them as I was stuffing their huge blanket down at the end of the line.
The dorm beds were all side by side in one long line but at least they had small wooden dividers between our heads and a bit of a shelf, too.
Great views and an awesome deck, except no shade at all in the afternoon and their only beer choices were IPA or dark. Like a social experiment or something. On the other hand, their door handles were made out of animal bones, so that was pretty cool.
Breakfast was slightly different, offering tortillas as well as toast, ham and cheese. There was cereal but you were strictly only allowed one glass (no bowls!) so there were some difficult decisions to make if you liked, for example, orange juice, tea AND cereal.
The beds are upstairs and the bathrooms downstairs, yet there were no lights at all until 7 am – even the staff had to set up breakfast in the dark.
The picnic lunch was a mixed bag – the first hut that gave us an egg, but the main portion was a rather unappetizing tuna pie. Then basically a bunch of different chocolate products.
Having urinals was a treat and certainly helped congestion at the main toilets, although more than once Laynni was vexed to find the seat up in the toilet, meaning not everyone was a fan of progress.
€86 / 47 beds / 1985m / 2 toilets / 2 showers
An old, small place and probably our least favourite hut – partially because it is in a tree-filled valley with no real view (other than the mountains above but we’d gotten picky by this point) and partially because they wouldn’t let us into the dorm rooms until after dinner (because they “needed that hallway”).
Altogether a weird setup – backpacks were hung right in the dining room and one of the showers opened directly into the dining room, as well. The two small toilets were attached to the same building but you had to go outside to get to them and they were often lined up.
I will say, it was the first (and only) time we have ever seen a “toilet paper jamming stick”. None of the huts allow toilet paper in the toilets. Which meant the trash bins next to them often get quite full (and inevitably gross).
So, rather than, you know, empty them more often, Estany Llong tackled that particular issue by providing a metre-long stick wrapped in tape with a diagram taped to the wall demonstrating how it was to be used to tamp down the shitty toilet paper as needed. I tried it once. Quite therapeutic.
They also stuffed 12 people at each table (which would comfortably seat 6-8) and never ventured out of the kitchen themselves, requiring us to come and collect each course for the table as it was prepared.
There was no cell service but the paid wifi worked pretty well, there was a big, sunny clothesline, a good meal, the lake itself was beautiful and just a 5-minute walk through the trees and, even though it didn’t rain, our beds had two separate drip buckets rigged up over them so even if it had, presumably we were golden.
€60 / 50 beds / 2420m / 3 toilets / 2 showers
In our opinion, the relatively new and modern Colomina is the best hut on the Carros de Foc. Strong words, I know, at least unless you consider the competition. But it has another phenomenal location overlooking a valley on one side and glassy lake on the other, with an expansive hangout area, terrific terrace and spacious, comfortable dining area, cell service AND wifi.
Dinner of chicken soup, salad, pork stew and chocolate mousse was excellent, although it is possible I’ve been unreasonably influenced by the chocolate mousse, as usual (although our vegan Israeli friend’s dessert was just an apple with the sticker still on it, so you never know).
The staff at Colomina was also the most helpful, offered the best meal service and – Laynni and several others agreed – were particularly easy on the eyes.
€64 / 60 beds / 2350m / 3 toilets / 3 showers
JM Blanc, as it is often called, would be our runner-up for best hut after Colomina (and not just because we knew it was to be our last dorm stay for quite awhile). With yet another exceptional location on a tiny peninsula, approaching from the hills above was pretty spectacular.
It had a nice, big terrace overlooking the lake, good 6-minute showers, plenty of outside areas to hang out, good beer, no cell signal but decent wifi for €1.
They do 2 separate meal times (7 pm and 8 pm) so if you’re like us and like to eat as early as possible (so un-Spanish of us), check-in as soon as you arrive rather than lingering on the deck with a beer or 3.
It was all very efficient, including the meal service, and the dorms were separated into slightly smaller groups (12 per room) but still a bit cramped and warm.
Places to Stay in Espot
We spent two nights in Espot – one before and one after the Carros de Foc – at the wonderful Hotel Roya. This efficient hotel is very familiar with the hike and they are obviously used to hosting trekkers. The price was very reasonable, breakfast was outstanding, they let us leave our car in their free lot while hiking and stored a couple of bags for us while we were gone.
We stayed in a standard room before the hike and it was a bit old but comfortable. Then after the hike we treated ourselves to a superior room which was bigger, more modern, had a couch and views of the mountain. The superior was 50% more expensive and, all things considered, probably about 50% nicer. So, your call.
A couple other places to stay in Espot:
You can rent a full apartment just a short walk out of town at Apartamentos Les Picardes. Nice places, fully equipped, good views and you will be able to self-cater.
Or for a serious budget option, check out the basic rooms at Camping Solau, with a nice terrace, friendly vibe and shared kitchen facilities.
Carros de Foc Food and Water
When booking the huts you have to choose your meal plan and the site very specifically warns you that it can’t be changed after the fact (at least not easily). We chose only half-board because we often end up just sharing one picnic lunch and there was no problem adding those whenever we checked in.
You also need to make sure you sign up for vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free options right from the start.
Although we had almost all our meals provided by the huts, we also carried quite a few snacks just in case (trail mix, beef jerky, Snickers, a few boiled eggs from our previous stop).
Dinner was typically a soup, a salad, a meat dish (or substitute) and dessert. Quality varied by hut (and by who you asked) but there was always plenty to go around.
We could have done with a bit more protein at breakfast but overall were pretty happy with them – usually cereal, juice, some kind of bread (often a toaster), usually meat and cheese. We understand not doing eggs on demand but don’t quite understand why they don’t provide a big bowl of boiled eggs. Easy and perfect hiking food.
All of the huts provide free drinking water (even the tap water is fine) so there are no problems there. During the day you will pass dozens of lakes, ponds and streams where you could filter or treat more water. However, there is a lot of livestock around so make sure you choose your spots carefully.
Carros de Foc Costs and Prices
The exact cost will vary depending on which huts and meal plans you choose, but here is an overview of the costs you can expect:
Bed and breakfast €22-60 pp
Picnic lunch €10-15
On average, we spent €85/per person per night including our taxi from Espot to the trailhead, our forfeits and a couple drinks everyday. We reserved half-pension in all the huts (dinner and breakfast) then 4 of 7 days we both ordered picnic lunches, 2 days we shared a single picnic lunch and on our last day down to Espot we didn’t buy any.
Can I Pay with Card on the Carros de Foc?
Only JM Blanc and Amitges accept credit cards and there are no ATMs, so you’ll need to bring enough cash to cover the rest of your stays. And I’d personally take enough to cover those ones as well just in case it’s a bad cell service day or the internet goes down or something (seems like the kind of thing that would be common in the mountains).
Carros de Foc: When to Go and Weather
The Carros de Foc is a high-altitude mountain trek that is mostly over 2000m so, as you might expect, the weather is pretty variable. It takes a while for the snow to melt off the trails so the huts are typically open from late June to the end of September.
If you want to the best chance of avoiding snow (old or new) you should try to hike between mid-July and the end of August. These are obviously the warmest (or hottest) times to hike, as well.
September is nice because it isn’t quite as busy, although supposedly it sees more storms than the summer. However, we hiked from Sep 5-11 and had sensational weather – clear, sunny days the whole way until a short, 15-minute burst of rain and hail on the last day ruined our chance at completing our very first long-distance hike without any rain. Oh, well.
The huts usually have pretty accurate forecasts or you can check these pages that seemed pretty good for us:
How to Get to the Carros de Foc
One of the most interesting things about the Carros de Foc is that you can start anywhere along the route. Of course, some are easier to reach than others, especially if you are using public transportation.
Espot, on the east side of the park, is by far the most popular choice, though, as it is well-connected to other parts of Spain and offers easy taxi options to get to the trailhead. Boi and Caldes de Boi, on the west side, are other common choices that also offers taxis to spots a short walk from the trail.
It is a 3-hour drive from Barcelona to Espot or you can take a bus to Esterri d’Aneu, where you can switch for the final leg.
Barcelona to Caldes de Boi 3.5 hrs by car / 6.5 hrs by bus
Lleida to Espot 2.5 hrs by car / 3.5 hrs by bus
Lleida to Caldes de Boi 2 hrs by car / 2.5 hrs
Bus del Parc is a network of buses that connects destinations around the park.
Carros de Foc Packing List
There is no luggage transfer available on the Carros de Foc so you need to pack as light as possible. You can usually leave a bag of unnecessary gear behind at whatever hotel you stay in before the hike (or in your car, if you have one). Hotel Roya was happy to hold a couple bags for us until we were done the trek.
I won’t go through an item-by-item packing list since if you’re considering the Carros de Foc you probably have a pretty good idea what you need for mountain trekking, but we do have a few tips specific to this hike.
Bring a sleep sack, not a full sleeping bag. The rooms were full of people and very warm. Even if the weather turned cold, all the huts provide blankets.
Hiking shoes/boots are not allowed in the huts but all of them provided hut shoes. We brought our own because we weren’t sure but it wasn’t necessary.
Bring ear plugs – big dorms with a lot of people and plenty of snoring.
Bring an eye mask – big dorms with a lot of headlamps and sensor lights in the halls.
Bring rubber tips for your hiking poles. We just had metal which was perfect most of the time but the rubber tips would come in handy in the boulder fields.
We just had a set of hiking clothes and a set of hut clothes. Our trek was only 7 days and we were able to hand-wash along the way a couple times.
Even if the forecast looks good, bring rain gear and warm clothes because, hey, you never know in the mountains. Also, even on nice days it gets cold in the evenings above 2000m if you want to spend time outside at all.
Carros de Foc Summary
The Carros de Foc long-distance trek is simply stunning from start to finish. As I said before, we agree that we had never before been on a multi-day hike that was so impressive the whole way. So if you love mountain scenery and amazing alpine lakes, and are willing to set aside a bit of comfort and privacy for a week, this trek is definitely for you.
Other Posts You Might Like: