Take a hike out of Paris
Sometimes you just need to get out of town, take a hike and breathe fresh air. Yes, Paris is beautiful! We Love Paris! Its architecture, monuments and gardens are all beautiful. But living here, with the everyday palette of grey, pavement, slate, smoke and skies, it can grind you down. And, while the air is not as bad as Bangkok or Beijing, the air IS polluted. In the winter of 2016, Paris pollution was at its highest in 10 years and the city’s pollution levels are 80% higher than WHO safe levels.
This can bring out a primal desire to get out and walk on real dirt, among trees that aren’t square and gardens that aren’t manicured. It feels good to get out into nature and breathe air that is fresher among the trees. Yes, it can happen, and it’s not that far away!
Find the walk that’s right for you
I recently discovered an amazing French app and website called Visarando. The English version is hikideas.com. Not only can you search for walks or bike rides by location, length and difficulty, there are downloadable maps and it is GPS enabled to track your walking progress while you are roaming in the woods. But only as long as you have cell coverage. Before I tried this app, which offers a free 48-hour trial BTW, I would normally see green space on the map, search for that park or forest area online and download trail maps from either the park website or other hiking sites like randonee.org. From my experience, I’ve found that trails in France aren’t particularly well-marked, and the trailheads are sometimes hard to find.
‘To hike’ in French is ‘randonner’ and it reminds me of random. That’s how I like to feel when I am hiking. Even though I’m on a path, I feel a little bit random because my thoughts wander while I’m out in the woods.
We don’t own a car but when we do hire one we’ll try to go for a hike in a forest, in between road trips and IKEA visits. The rest of the time, it’s not too difficult to get out into nature, even if it is inside a groomed park. If public transport is near any of the walks listed below, I’ve included the transit stop.
Parc Naturel Régional Oise-Pays de France
After dropping off my sister at CDG on a sunny summer’s morning, we drove a bit further out of town towards some green space we saw on the map. About 20 minutes on from the airport, we found the Oise-Pays de France Regional Park. We visited the ‘Maison du Parc’, the park headquarters, which had lots of trail maps. We chose this 9km hike that started at the Maison du Parc and it took us through residential neighborhoods, farmland, past an old Abby and Chateau, and into the woods. The forest was large enough to feel wrapped in the trees, even if you could still hear jets in the sky. There was not another soul around, and it felt like we had stumbled upon a secret.
The Maison du Parc is within walking distance of the La Borne Blanche RER D stop in Orry-La-Ville. The website hours state that they aren’t open on weekends (because France), but maps are downloadable from the site too.
After our hike we drove over to Chantilly, 15 minutes away, and had lovely lunch at a sunny courtyard restaurant called La Cour Pavée.
The cute little town of Ermenonville, a one-hour drive from Paris, is home to Parc Jean-Jacques Rousseau, which is very nice for a stroll and a picnic. The town also lies within the Oise-Pays Regional Park. We found this brochure at the park office and took this easy and very unpopulated hike, past farmland and into woods with cool rock formations.
Parc Naturel de la Haute Vallée de Chevreuse
‘To hike’ in French is ‘randonner’ and it reminds me of random. That’s how I like to feel when I am hiking. Even though I’m on a path, I feel a little bit random because my thoughts wander while I’m out in the woods. I randomly found this ‘La Forêt de la Claye’ hike on Visorando. The forest was idyllic, peaceful and less than an hour away from Paris. It is just a small part of the larger Parc Naturel de la Haute Vallée de Chevreuse.
During our hike, on a very nice Saturday, we saw one soccer player running, two men looking for a lost dog, and a MAMIL (Middle-Aged-Man-In-Lycra) cycling down the path.
Parts of this park are also serviced by the Baladobus, the shuttle that takes people from Saint-Rémy-Lès-Chevreuse train station to sites throughout the area. It operates on Sundays and public holidays from April-October.
No French hiking list is complete without including some hikes in Fontainebleau. The forest is real, the rocks are rugged and climbable and it’s really big so you can get lost, which can be a good thing. Don’t worry, it’s a popular destination so you won’t be lost for long.
Hiking the Three Pignons – Fontainebleau
Like Bert from Sesame Street, my son loves Pigeons. So, I convinced him that we were going on a hike to the rock of the three pigeons. Well, his French is better than mine and while we were driving there he pointed out on the sign that I was misreading the word, “It’s not Pigeons, Mom! It’s the Massif des Trois Pignons!” But, regardless of the name, he was happy with the hike because he saw lots of other birds.
This circuit, which I found here, was strenuous at times and is part of a larger hike called ‘The circuit of the 25 bosses’. We hiked for about 4 hours, 30% was steep climbing up and down four hills but the remainder was flat and on sand. Along the way we crossed the Sands of the Ass of the Dog (funny translation), a big sandy patch in the middle of the forest. There were large sandy areas with people camped out like they were at a beach with no sea.
The area is very popular with walkers and rock climbers, and the flat parts are popular with cyclists. Overall, it’s a busy place on nice weekends, but still calm and the trail is varied with sand walking, rock scrambling, and great views.
Gorges d’Apremont Hike – Fontainebleau
This hike is also varied like the Trois Pignons hike, with a track that goes up and down interesting rock formations, but it was less crowded.
The circuit led us pass the town of Barbizon where we found a nice outdoor café, La Caverne des Brigands, right at the entrance of the woods that served well-deserved cold drinks and ice cream.
Visiting Fontainebleau without a Car
Trains take less than 40 minutes between Paris Gare de Lyon and Fontainebleau-Avon. Take this easy 2-hour hike up to the Tour Denencourt to experience a great view. There are plenty of other hikes in the same area, just search on Visorando or Hikideas for something close to the Fontainebleau-Avon station.
Domaine National de Saint-Cloud
We found ourselves outside the manicured Domaine National de Saint-Cloud during the Rock en Seine weekend music festival. We stood at the festival gates, envying all the party people, and then we turned our grown-up selves away to go for a walk with the kids. Besides, Cypress Hill didn’t come on until way past our bedtime, so we promised ourselves to go next year.
But because of festival security, we couldn’t enter the domain directly from the Musée de Sèvres stop on tram line (T2), and had to walk around to the Brancas gate side entrance at the end of a residential street. It felt way more natural and woodsy than the main entrance.
The woods inside the park wall felt dense, as if we were deep in the countryside. As we walked out of the woods, back towards the concert, the park became a pretty French garden, with a bonus panoramic view of Paris. We napped in the gardens with the faraway echoes of French punk rockers while the kids ran around.
Parc de Sceaux
Parc de Sceaux is a landscaped garden around a chateau. Like Versailles, minus all the people. But, to my surprise and delight, the park also has designated wildlife refuge areas — quiet spaces that are dense and secluded.
Parc de Sceaux is close to Paris, on the RER B Croix de Berny stop, making it a perfect picnic and promenade spot for an afternoon. People, on their own break, fished in the fountains.
We hope you get the chance to get out, stretch your legs, and enjoy the fresh air when the weather permits! If you want other escape tips, check out our 10 Day Trips from Paris, or discover Parks within the city limits for smaller walks. Remember, the highest park in Paris is here too! There are so many other natural places nearby to explore, and if you’ve taken an enjoyable hike near Paris, please share it here!
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