Along with its iconic cultural attractions, France is widely acclaimed for its vast and varied geography, majestic wildlife, and must-see natural wonders. From the ancient volcanoes and frigid glaciers to the white sand beaches and brilliant turquoise waters, the opportunities to connect with nature are truly endless.
The following list details the best regional and national parks in France, each of which showcases some of the country’s most showstopping scenery and remarkable natural wonders.
Vanoise National Park
Nestled in the French Alps, Vanoise National Park is the largest national park in France and features over 100 mountain peaks standing at over 3,000 meters tall. Vanoise is also France’s first national park, established in 1963 to create a protected area for the ibex species of wild goats.
Plants and wildlife flourish throughout the park, including unique wildflowers, butterflies, marmots, wolves, and over 100 bird species. The area is also filled with exciting attractions ranging from quaint villages to luxurious ski resorts, while the sparkling glaciers and glimmering lakes create a picturesque scene that’s sure to take your breath away.
Pyrénées National Park
Another famous national park in France, Pyrénées National Park is located along the Spanish border and boasts one of the most diverse arrays of plant life in the country. The park is also home to many rare animal species, including the Pyrenean desman, the golden eagle, and the bearded vulture. Gorgeous mountain clusters form jaw-dropping massifs, and cascading waterfalls give way to extraordinary glacial lakes.
If you head over to the eastern area of the park, you can explore the Mont Perdu World Heritage Site, which offers some of the best hiking opportunities in the country. Check out one of the park’s five visitor centers to get a sense of the many other activities available.
Mercantour National Park
If you’re planning a trip to the popular coastal city of Nice, you’ll already be less than an hour away from the natural wonders of Mercantour National Park. With over 372 miles of guided trails, this popular spot is one of the best hiking destinations in the country.
As you make your way through mountains, valleys, and waterways, keep an eye out for the park’s many rare species of plants and animals. The park also reflects the area’s rich mountain culture, with beautiful Alpine villages featuring architectural gems and cozy accommodations.
Écrins National Park
France’s second-largest national park lies in the remote area between the northern and southern Alps. The massive landscape boasts over 400 miles of marked trails and more than 60 shimmering lakes. You can take in the dramatic natural scenery through activities ranging from scenic drives to grueling hikes.
Advanced cyclists may be drawn to the park’s Alpe d’Huez, one of the most challenging climbs of the world-famous Tour de France. The park also contains over 100 marvelous mountain peaks, many of which are reflected in crystal-clear lakes, making for unforgettable views and unbeatable photo opportunities.
Calanques National Park
If you’re ready to hit the coast, don’t skip Calanques, one of the most beautiful national parks in France and an amazing destination for anyone, whether you’re a seasoned hiker or a family of five. Nestled between the port city of Marseille and the fishing village of Cassis, this relatively new park was founded in 2012.
You can spot dolphins, turtles, and whales out in the park’s vivid turquoise waters, with limestone cliffs providing a scenic backdrop. The calm coves and crystalline waters are great for swimming and snorkeling too, even if you’re traveling with young children. You have a wide selection of beaches, ranging from small remote spots to luxurious tourist destinations. You can also embark on several hikes to sheltered bays, pebble beaches, and phenomenal lookout points.
Auvergne Volcanoes Regional Natural Park
Encompassing four volcanic mountain ranges, Auvergne Volcanoes Regional Natural Park is the biggest regional nature park in the country and home to the largest volcano in Europe.
Along with the unique experience of being surrounded by ancient volcanoes, the park offers spectacular hiking trails, historic castles and churches, magical crater lakes, and Vulcania, a volcanology theme park where you can learn all about the volcanoes in the park and around the world. There are also plenty of opportunities for activities like horseback riding, mountain biking, fishing, canoeing, and kayaking.
Port-Cros National Park
Another idyllic national park in France, Port-Cros Park is situated on the Mediterranean Sea. It consists of the coast and surrounding waters of the islands of Port-Cros, Bagaud, and Porquerolles.
The island of Port-Cros has a rich history of conflict and piracy, though it now serves as a peaceful tourist destination filled with protected species of plants and animals, terrestrial and aquatic alike. Port-Cros is also Europe’s oldest marine park, drawing in history buffs with its unique selection of Roman relics, fort ruins, and even shipwrecks. These attractions offer amazing opportunities for hikes, guided tours, and scuba diving excursions.
Landes de Gascogne Regional Natural Park
Known for its tranquil white sand beaches and mesmerizing lakefronts, Landes de Gascogne Regional Natural Park demonstrates some of the country’s most exquisite natural attractions and is easily one of the best national parks in France. Whether you’re looking for a sporty adventure or an activity the whole family can enjoy, you’ll find it in this unique nature park.
There are plenty of opportunities to explore on your own, or you can sign up for guided tours through the park’s many nature reserves. Be sure to go canoeing and paddleboarding here if you’re into watersports, or even try slacklining if you’re feeling adventurous. The park’s unique features include the Marquèze Eco-Museum, where you’ll learn about the area as it was in the 1890s, and the Forest of Contemporary Art, which merges nature and art along an awe-inspiring trail.
Cévennes National Park
History buffs and nature enthusiasts will revel in the thrilling landscape of Cévennes National Park. Long before the area was established as a park, its forests were the main site of the War of the Camisards in the early 1700s. Nearly two centuries later, Robert Louis Stevenson visited the area and wrote Travels With a Donkey in the Cévennes.
Today, you can hike along the Stevenson Trail and other gorgeous hiking and mountain biking routes that wind through lush forests, around rushing rivers, and across the wide-open countryside. The park’s impressive biodiversity has earned its place in the UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves. You’re sure to enjoy the locally made meats, cheeses, and unique chestnut dishes as well.
Forêts National Park
Next up on our list of national parks in France is Forêts National Park, one of the largest protected nature parks in Europe. This unique attraction is known for its forests that are over 1,000 years old, alluring archaeological remains, and rare wildlife.
Take a trip back in time with a visit to the park’s historic tombs, towering monasteries, and Iron Age relics. You can also embark on adventurous excursions across 600 kilometers of rivers, 200 kilometers of hiking trails, and 1,000 kilometers of mountain biking trails.
Armorique Regional Natural Park
In addition to the magnificent selection of France’s national parks, several thrilling regional parks are certainly worth a visit. Nestled in the French department of Finistère, Armorique Regional Natural Park encompasses both land and sea, including the Arrée Mountains, the Crozon Peninsula, and three islands.
The park is known for its diverse nature that offers a bit of everything. You’ll find breathtaking beaches, dense woodland, swamps, lakes, mountains, open countryside, and even historic relics and architectural ruins within this protected territory. If you’re up for a hike and looking for a glimpse of everything the park has to offer, check out the Aulne Estuary, which winds through forests, hills, coastlines, and various cultural sites.
Verdon Regional Natural Park
Captivating turquoise waters cut through striking rock formations and rush along the Verdon Gorge in this unique French nature park. Its distinctive geology is due to the erosion from the Verdon River. Between the towering mountains and shimmering waters, you’ll find several villages with rich culture and comfortable accommodations.
The remote location makes this a perfect area for stargazing, with plenty of viewpoints throughout the park from which to enjoy the breathtaking scenery, day or night. More exciting activities you can enjoy in the park include hiking, rock climbing, paragliding, biking, and watersports such as rafting and canoeing.
Le Perche Regional Natural Park
Wrapping up our list is a gorgeous regional park in France that demonstrates the area’s mighty selection of idyllic oak forests, enchanting meadows, and historic castles. Located in Normandy, just about two hours away from Paris, Le Perche Regional Natural Park is characterized by its 15th-century architecture and bountiful wildlife, including storks, herons, horses, and wild boar. You can take in the park’s romantic history with a visit to one of the castles and even traverse the forest in a horse-drawn carriage.
We hope this list encourages you to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and explore France’s pristine natural beauty. Whether you’re into mountaineering, scuba diving, museum hopping, or just relaxing on the lake, these protected parks have so much to offer.
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