This Stunning Spanish Park Has Gorges, Caves, and Almost No Americans
Our aspirations to hike on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees were thwarted when I pressed snooze for the second time on my iPhone alarm. After nine days of exploring Barcelona, driving up to Basque country and back through Pamplona, the idea of spending yet another several hours in the car to reach Ordesa National Park only to drive further after our hike was significantly less tempting than when my girlfriend and I added it to our itinerary from the comfort of our couch in New York City.
Eager to still spend the last day of our trip outdoors, soaking up the fresh Spanish air before the city smothered us once again in our chosen landscape of light, noise, and air pollution, we (OK, my girlfriend; I am less resourceful) found a smaller, closer park, just a half-hour drive outside of Pamplona: Foz de Lumbier.
The foz (which translates to gorge) sounded mystical and foreign. Pictures of lush trees and Grand Canyon-esque (but significantly smaller) drops further intrigued us. The Google reviews almost exclusively in Spanish and by locals upped our excitement to visit this public nature reserve. Unlike Iceland’s Blue Lagoon or the actual Grand Canyon, this was likely a place no one we know had been before. So we grabbed a few euros worth of cured meat, cheese, bread, and Spanish Doritos from the local Carrefour and drove straight to the Foz de Lumbier’s unpaved parking lot.
While it’s usually the restaurants, museums, and historic sites that fill my itinerary in any destination, my girlfriend is outdoorsy, and a day trip to this national park further proved to me that the green spaces on any map are certainly worth exploring, even for those of us more comfortable sitting quietly in a café people-watching. Beyond being clusters of natural wonders, Spain’s national parks, often less accessible than city parks (you need a private ride), are their own unique havens of European culture, nearly unperturbed by foreign visitors.
About 75,000 people visit the Foz de Lumbier annually, according to a representative from the park. Most of the visitors live in Spain, but travelers from France, Germany, and the U.K. make up the majority of foreigners in the park. Very few visitors from non-European countries stop to admire the landscape and spend a day in this natural wonder in the Navarre region.
About 1,300 meters long with rock walls as high as 150 meters, the gorge has two easy-to-navigate walking paths, which pass through completely dark, man-made caves, once used for trains to pass through but now accessed exclusively by hikers.
Seeing the entire gorge in half a day is doable, though if you stretch out your visit, using the on-site outdoor grills to cook a meal or just lounging on one of the rock formations, it’s easy to spend an entire day in the park. Potable water isn’t available on the trail, so the park recommends bringing along as much water as you’ll want to drink. Wear hiking boots to accommodate the uneven terrain and binoculars are also recommended, as, depending on the time of year and migration patterns, griffin vultures and other large birds can be seen overhead.
Those interested in learning more about the gorge can start their day at the Visitors Center in the town of Lumbier, which explains the history and natural intrigue of this specific gorge, but we went straight for the outdoor path and had our questions about what we saw answered by rangers at the entrance (and Google).
Everyone starts their hike (or for some, bike ride) on the same path, which leads through the caves and follows the gorge’s river and eventually divides into a long loop or a short loop. If you have a few hours, opt for the long loop, which leads into grassy, lush terrain, populated with olive trees and completely unobstructed mountain views. Few benches are available to rest on, so pack a thin blanket or towel to picnic at pretty much any point of the trail.
There’s no bad time of year to visit the Foz de Lumbier (Nerea Martinez Zunzarren, an environmental instructor at the Gorges Interpretation Centre, confirms this) and no matter how much time you have to spend here (Zunzarren, naturally, recommends the long loop), just seeing a tiny, sensational corner of the earth that few get to see is completely worthwhile.