French Walking Maps

Top Tips - 28/02/2024

Posted by William, 28th February 2024

If you have or are thinking of booking on one of our independent or self guided walking holidays in France then you'll be supplied with a detailed IGN walking map covering the area you'll be walking or trekking through. 


What walking map should I be using and what is its scale? 

Just like the OS Explorer maps covering the UK, the main French IGN walking maps are at a scale of 1:25,000, with grid lines every 4cm, equating to 1km on the ground. The walking maps in France are known as the Top 25 series. 


What parts of France do they cover? 

There are maps at 1:25,000 covering the whole of France, however, unlike the UK Explorer maps, only certain areas of France are covered by practical walking maps at this scale which show all the different types of trails and footpaths. So the French territory is divided into two areas.  Much of France especially low-lying inland regions are covered by the 'Series Blue' which is at a scale of 1:25,000. But they do not have all footpath information specifically highlighted, with usually only the GR trails marked, although in all other respects they are like the other maps described below. What you will be using on our walking holidays in France are maps in the 'Top 25' series which cover all mountain areas, popular sites, national parks and many regional parks, virtually all coastlines and many of the major cities, i.e. all of the more popular leisure and walking areas of France. This includes trips such as Queyras Best Kept Secret, Brittany’s Emerald Coast, or Auvergne – Volcanoes, Lakes & Historic Villages. Most of our French walking holidays are covered by maps in the Top 25 series. On those rare holidays that are not, like parts of Burgundy for example, we highlight your walking trail on the map so that finding your way is made easier. 


How do the French walking maps differ from their UK counterparts? 

Many of the conventions on the two sets of walking maps are the same, for example grid references are at the same distance, the road colours are coded in the same way, and contours are at 5m or 10m height intervals. In addition, in both sets of outdoor maps the background is white unless areas are covered in forests, orchards, vines or other long-term cultivation and the water features and wet areas are shown in blue. However there are several differences regarding the walking and tourist information. In the UK the footpaths, byways, bridleways and other rights of way are shown in various green dashes. Permissive trails or paths (i.e. where the owners have given the right to use the path at their discretion) are shown in red, whilst other paths are shown by small black dashes. 

On the French IGN Top 25 walking maps, there is trail information, but the rights of way information is not provided. The main waymarked Footpath trails are shown as continuous red lines. The name of the walking trail, eg GR7 or GR de Pays du Beaujolais, is often noted. GR stands for Grande Randonnee. Many of these walking paths only relate to local waymarked trails. They may be shared with other users such as mountain bikers. Long red dashes equate to waymarked trails not on footpaths (for example on mountains), whilst medium dashes equate to non-waymarked paths of interest. Red dashes equate to difficult sections of the walking or hiking trail. Other paths or tracks are shown by continuous black lines, many of which on the ground are also waymarked as local trails. Our independent walking holidays follow, in the main, the solid red lines and ocassionally the solid black lines. 

The other notable difference between the walking maps in France and the UK is the tourist and leisure information, such as historic sites, picnic areas, viewpoints, tourist facilities etc. On the British maps they are shown in light blue and they are far more extensive than their French equivalent which are shown in red for the most part. For example, toilets and pubs are not shown on the French walking maps. 


Where can I buy French walking maps? 

On all of our independent walking holidays you will be supplied with a walking map. If you wish to buy one out of interest for the area or to plan for your independent hiking trip, then you can buy walking maps in the Top 25 series direct from the IGN website or via some outdoor shops in the UK or online. Many shops in France such as supermarkets, outdoor shops and tourist offices have walking maps local to the area available to purchase. 


Are there any other types of walking maps in France? 

There are several other map series in France, just like there are in the UK. Here is a list of the main ones of interest for hikers and cyclists. There is a series called 'Loisirs de Plein Air' which features maps of specific regions such as the Calanques, which we use for our Calanques National Park walk These maps have scales ranging from 1:15,000 to 1:200,000 and are designed for outdoor leisure and nature activities. The 'Top 100' series includes maps covering the whole of France at a scale of 1:100,000 and is designed for different uses, including tourism and easy walking and cycling. The maps have the main trails marked. The IGN also produces a series of trekking maps 'carte de randonnee' at 1:50,000 covering specific mountain regions such as the Vanoise. The main walking trails are marked. 


What is IGN? 

IGN is the French equivalent of the Ordnance Survey and is responsible for much of the survey work as well as producing the maps. Other more schematic style maps are produced by other bodies. For example the Department of Rhone has put in place a series of walking signposts and these are linked to several walking trail maps which cover small areas of the Beaujolais and Mont Lyonnais. Many public bodies and tourist organizations in France have created such waymarkings and local walking maps.