Hiking the Faja de Pelay & Circo de Soaso
If you’re looking for one of the best day hikes in the Spanish Pyrenees, then this is it! Hiking the spectacular Circo de Soaso and the Ordesa Valley via the famous Faja de Pelay offers steep switchbacks, undulating paths and valley floor woodland, all the while following the crystal clear waters of the tumbling Rio Arazes. The scenery is dramatic, the waterfalls breathtaking – you will not be disappointed!
At a Glance
When to Go
May to October is the best time for hiking in the Pyrenees mountains of Spain.
Cars can park in the Pradera de Ordsea car park, a 30 minutes drive from the nearest town of Torla-Ordesa.
Motorhomes can park here or in the large car park in Torla-Ordesa. It is possible to stay overnight here outside of high season, with the permission of the Tourist Information Centre located in the town (where you can also pick up a detailed Ordesa national park map). From here you can catch a bus to the Pradera or drive yourself.
The high and steep Faja de Pelay route would not be suitable for children due to the sheer drops and unpredictable surface of the switchback path. You can hike to the Circo de Soaso via the Ordesa valley floor. It’s a long hike but there are lots of waterfalls along the way, so you could just do a portion of it.
There is a cafe and toilets in the Pradera de Ordesa but nothing on the route.
This has to be one of the most popular hiking areas in the Spanish Pyrenees. The Valle de Ordesa is 11 miles long and the Circo de Soaso is enormous – often you can hike for some distance without seeing other people. The Faja de Pelay route is less busy although there can be a bottleneck at the mirador where hikers stop for a breather and to grab a photo of the stupendous views.
Other Things to Know
This UNESCO World Heritage Site and UNESCO Biosphere Reserve is one of the oldest national parks in the world and was Spain’s first protected area, established in 1918. Treat the flora, fauna and environment with respect and leave no trace of your visit.
The Circo de Soaso has to be one of our all time favourite hikes in Spain. The start of the hike takes you high above the valley floor along an initially steep, then undulating path which clings to the sheer walls of the valley. You drop down into the Circo de Soaso before reaching the welcome and refreshing Cola de Caballo (horsetail waterfall), before following the Arazes river back along the incredibly picturesque Ordesa valley, part of the Parque Nacional Ordesa y Monte Perdido.
Near the information centre in the Pradera de Ordesa (car park) you’ll find a sign for the ‘Sendero de los Cazadores’. Take the path south, across the river and continue straight on at the crossroads. You’ll see a sign telling you this path is dangerous – unless you have vertigo, the path is passable and not dangerous. However, the switchback path is quite steep in places and the surface can be unstable with small rocks and organic matter. If you are not sure-footed, use poles for this section of the hike.
At the altitude of 1875 m, take the left fork and continue. This path has amazing views of the sheer walls of the Ordesa canyon and takes you to the Calcilarruego mirador (lookout) at 1950m. It will take around an hour and a half to get there from the car park. There is a basic shelter here for those on a camping tours of the area.
The mirador is a perfect spot for pictures of the impressive valley with its gravity defying walls and dramatic peaks. From here, the rest of the hike is a pretty easy amble with with little further elevation gain…you’ve done most of the hard work!
From the mirador, head east along the clearly defined path – this is the Faja de Pelay. This is an easy path with a level surface and the most incredible views across to Monte Perdido (which translates to lost mountain, as it cannot be seen from France), the third highest peak in the Pyrenees at 3355m. You’ll also spot the iconic Brecha de Rolando, a very distinctive notch on the skyline and the Faja Racon, a similar path on the other side of the canyon. Many of the 3000+ peaks in the area are also visible from points along the Faja de Pelay.
The Circo de Soaso is a feast for the eyes from your vantage point. The thundering Cola de Caballo is in front of you, feeding the glittering Rio Arazes, which in turn creates more waterfalls and crystal clear pools along the valley floor. Stop at the Cola for lunch, there are lots of convenient flat rocks which make perfect seats to admire the view.
Take the clearly marked wide path into the valley and make your way along the river back to the car park. There are lots of stunning waterfalls, cascades and pools to stop by, with the Estrecho waterfall and the Gradas de Soaso being the most impressive. Halfway back, at 1540m, you can cross the river and continue the hike on the south bank of the river. Whichever you choose, all routes from here lead back to the car park and the end of your hike.