Want to visit the spectacular Gran Paradiso National Park in Italy? In this post, we share the best things to do and how to get the most from your visit. Read on to start planning your adventure to Parco Nazionale del Gran Paradiso!
What’s in our guide to visiting Gran Paradiso National Park?
2. Things to do in Gran Paradiso National Park
3. How to Get to Gran Paradiso from Turin
4. A Fantastic Day Hike from Turin
5. Practical Details
6. Guided Adventures in Gran Paradiso
When you’re in Turin, the Alps call to you. The mountains arc around the city, far away enough to be mysterious, close enough to be incredibly tantalizing. While wandering Torino, for all that I love the city, part of me just keeps thinking “Why aren’t we in the Alps right now?”
The great news is that it’s easy to visit Gran Paradiso National Park (or Parco Nazionale del Gran Paradiso, if you want to practice your Italian) from Turin.
The park is nestled in the Alps on the border with France, not far from the city. Driving takes a little more than an hour, or you can hire a guide to take you, or even go by public transport.
Whether you want to take a gentle stroll through an Alpine meadow or challenge yourself on an almost vertical hike up above 2,000 m (6,500 ft), you’ll find the opportunity in Gran Paradiso.
The bad news is that there are so many places to hike and so little information available, especially in English, that it can be tough to decide where to go for your day trip!
Start with the Gran Paradiso tourist map — which we didn’t discover until after our visit — which will be big help in planning your trip.
We opted for a challenging day hike, taking us to the peak of Punta Quinseina, just above 2200 m high. Luckily we drove up to about 1500 m first, otherwise we never would have made it to the top!
Though the hike was marked as “medium” on all our apps, it was more than enough challenge for us for that day, leaving our legs sore and our knees aching by the end. It was also incredibly rewarding.
So, if you’re interested in exploring the mountains and finding some time to reconnect with yourself through nature, read on to discover…
How to do a Spectacular Day Trip to Gran Paradiso National Park
Before you start reading the details, watch our short video of our day hike in Gran Paradiso to get inspired!
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What is Parco Nazionale del Gran Paradiso?
The 700 square kilometres (that’s 173,000 acres, fact fans!) of protected area that makes up the park is in the northwest corner of Italy, in Aosta and Piemonte provinces. On its west side, the park borders France and connects with Parc National de la Vanoise.
Gran Paradiso is in the Graian Alps, so you can expect lots of Alpine terrain if you decide to visit.
The park’s origin story is a little sad — it all began because people love to kill wildlife. The area had been a hunting ground for the royal family and was also frequented by poachers. It was originally protected by Vittorio Emmanuel as a Royal Hunting Reserve, so that the Alpine ibex would be protected from poachers (and reserved for Royal hunters).
In 1922, the land was donated by the royals to Italy and it became Italy’s first national park. Though the ibex were supposed to be protected, the law was not enforced at first and the population dwindled to dangerously low numbers.
Now, they are properly protected and the ibex population is healthy and thriving! They are also daredevils.
Things to do in Gran Paradiso National Park
Hike to Your Heart’s Content
Hiking is, of course, one of the main things to do in Gran Paradiso. There are more than 700 km of marked trails to try out, so you could go for a very long walk and never take the same route twice.
Climb Every Mountain
OK, you probably climb every mountain in the park, but there are lots of opportunities for rock climbing and ice climbing in Gran Paradiso.
For climbers, basing yourself in Turin or somewhere on the Piedmont side of the park is perfect, as this is where you’ll find the best climbing routes in the park. Check out the Orco Valley and the Soana Valley for incredible climbing opportunities.
Sleep in a Refuge
If you’ve hiked to a refuge hut anywhere in North America, you might be picturing a small wooden hut, with some sleeping bunks, a fireplace, and not much else.
But in Gran Paradiso, many of the hiking huts (refugio) are European-style. That is to say, they are almost full-service hotels, with restaurants and comfortable beds. Your chance to adventure in style.
Different huts offer different services, so make sure you know what to expect and what you need to bring before you go.
Spot the Wildlife
On our hike up Punta Quinseina, we kept our eyes and ears open for marmots. Alas, it was a little early in the season and we didn’t get to se any. The only wildlife we saw, apart from lots of soaring birds, was the not-so-rare Italian hang-glider. They did make for an impressive site, soaring through the air at 1500 m!
Marmots do populate the park though. These plump rodents evolved to deal with the harsh mountain climates, and can hibernate for up to 9 months of the year. You’ll often hear marmots before you see them. They make a high-pitched chirp that sounds a lot like a bird, and, if you get to close, their chirping will increase in frequency.
Deeper in the park, you might see the Alpine ibex (also know as the Steinbock) which is the symbol of the park. As we said in the intro, it’s because of these long-horned wild goats that the park was established in the first place.
You might also spot a chamois, another species of goat that looks like the steinbock but with shorter horns. However, female steinbocks also have shorter horns, so it’s easy to get them confused.
Keep your eyes to the skies to spot golden eagles, impressive birds of prey that feed on marmots and other small mammals — but are sometimes big enough to make off with a small goat. Yikes!
Finally, a wolf pack has recently taken residence in the Aosta Valley. You probably won’t see wolves (which is a good thing) but you may hear them howling at the moon.
Get on Your Bike
If you’d rather roll than walk, there are plenty of bike trails in the park, from fully paved gentle routes to all-out technical mountain bike trails. Many routes pass through some of the historic Alpine villages that skirt the lower edges of the park.
Explore a Winter Wonderland
If you happen to visit Italy in winter, strap on your snow shoes and hit the park trails. You can also cross-country ski, downhill ski, and go ice climbing in Gran Paradiso.
Visit the Botanical Garden
If you want a little less energetic outing, the Paradisia Alpine Botanic Garden is a great destination. Located on the Aosta Valley, this 10,000 square metre garden gives you a chance to see Alpine flora up close.
The best time to go is mid-June to mid-July, when you can take a guided tour or visit independently using the garden brochure to navigate.
How to Get to Gran Paradiso National Park from Turin
There are several different valleys in Gran Paradiso that all offer access to the park. The Valle d’Aosta valleys (Valsavarenche and Valle di Cogne) are the most popular but also the furthest from Torino. If you want to minimize your drive time, look for activities in the Orco Valley or Valle Soana.
Getting to Gran Paradiso By Car
Though driving is the quickest and easiest way to get to Parco Nazionale del Gran Paradiso, it can also be quite nerve-wracking if you’re not used to the distinctive driving techniques that Italians employ.
Driving in Italy is truly mind-boggling / terrifying!
Once you’re off the busy city streets and fast-moving highways, you’ll also have to contend with winding, narrow roads, often single-lane, that switchback their way up the mountains.
If you don’t have a lot of driving experience and/or nerves of steel, I’d suggest you find another way to get there.
But, if you want drive to Gran Pardiso, here’s how:
From Turin to Valle Orco, point your GPS towards Rivarolo Canavese. From there, take road 460, which follows the route of the Orco River. Turn right at Pont Canavese, onto the SP 47 to reach the Soana Valley.
Getting to Gran Paradiso By Bus or Train
From Turin, you can take the bus to Rivarolo (line 131 Torino to Rivarolo) or the train from Torino Porta Susa to Rivarolo and Pont stations. From there, public bus lines serve Valle Orco (line 137 Rivarolo or Pont to Locana or Noasca) and Val Soana (line 140 Pont to Valprato Soana).
To get to the Aosta Valley from Torino, follow the instructions here →
A Fantastic Day Hike from Turin
If you’re looking for a rewarding day hike within easy reach of Turin, you can try the same hike we did — up Punta Quinseina di Santa Elisabetta. Technically this hike is not inside Gran Paradiso but it’s close enough to get the idea!
The hike starts at the tree line and goes up from there, so you get to experience panoramic views of the foothills and the mountains the entire way. No dull forested trail where you can’t see anything!
If you don’t like climbing, this one is not for you.
It starts with a steep uphill, which takes you to a gorgeous alpine meadow. Spend a little time taking in the views of the Alps and watching the hang-gliders soar above your head. There’s also a small stone hut which is interesting — but resist the temptation to go inside. The structure looks fundamentally unsound.
Past the meadow, the path turns upwards again, and continues on a steep incline until you reach the summit. The trail is rocky and somewhat technical. You’ll need hiking shoes with good grip and support to be comfortable.
As you climb, you’ll be rewarded by the continually incredible views. The most magnificent one is at the summit, where you experience 360 degrees of Alpine perfection.
There’s a guest book at the summit, hidden inside the small cabinet connected to the steel cross. Look for our entry and make sure to leave your own!
If you haven’t had enough after you summit, you can continue along the ridge trail and off into the wilderness. As we took about 3 hours to climb up, we’d had plenty of walking and did not extend our hike!
How to Get to Punta Quinseina
The drive from Turin to the Punta Quinseina trailhead is an experience in its own right. The first part is simple highway driving from Turin to Castellamonte (though that didn’t prevent us from getting lost and having to backtrack).
From Castellamonte to Colleretto Castelnuovo, it’s quiet, well maintained country roads. There are lots of speed cameras, especially around the villages, so stick to the speed limit. The fines are around €70, so not worth it!
After Colleretto Castelnuovo, which is a charming sub-alpine town that’s worth a stop, things start to get interesting.
A paved but extremely narrow road leads out of town. Soon you’ll find yourself on a series of (seemingly never-ending) tight switchbacks up the side of the mountain. It is steep and narrow — only wide enough for one car in many places. If you aren’t a confident driver with nerves of steel, you might think twice before attempting it.
We didn’t meet a single car coming down as we were going up, which was a blessing, because I was not prepared to back down that winding ribbon of road.
If you start the drive and feel like it will never end, just think about the cyclists in the Giro d’Italia — this road was part of their route in 2019. It must be absolute murder trying to cycle up here!
Hike stats. 8 km, 787 m elevation gain, 2,231 m highest elevation, out & back, 4–6 hours for return trip.
Hike summary. There is very little flat terrain on this hike. It’s mostly up, up, up. The trail markers are painted onto rocks along the way, with only a few real signposts.
Go when the weather is clear, as it would be easy to lose the trail in fog. In fact, we managed to lose the trail a couple of times on a perfect, sunny day.
Parking & facilities. There is a small parking lot at the foot of the hike with picnic tables and a public restroom.
Trailhead. The trailhead is a bit hard to find and I think we didn’t manage to start the hike in the right spot. To find the trail from the car park, walk up the paved road until the paving ends.
A road on your left leads to a popular hang-gliding launch spot. Continue past this road on the dirt road that leads toward a small farm. Turn left into what looks like the farm driveway, and you’ll find the trailhead on the left, just before reaching the farmhouse.
There’s an alternative trailhead that starts just behind the hang-gliding launch spot. It’s a little harder to find and starts the hike off with a very steep climb. But it’s do-able, as it’s the one we took!
Use the AllTrails map here to find the directions →
What to bring. As usual, bring all the typical hiking necessities you would bring on any wilderness hike. This includes first aid kit, plenty of water, extra snacks, and warm layers.
We went in early June, and there was still a little snow at the peak, though typically you might find more snow at this time of year. At the bottom, we were in t-shirts and by the time we reached the top, we needed winter hats, gloves, sweaters, and jackets, so be prepared to layer up!
The weather can change extremely quickly up here, so be prepared for any conditions.
Hiking poles would be an asset, for balance and to save your knees on the steep descent. We did the hike without, but I would have loved to have a pair with me.
Also bring a GPS-enabled device and an offline mapping app, so you have assistance in finding your way if you lose the trail (like we did a couple of times). You don’t necessarily need a paper map if you stick to the trail and don’t wander off, but it can be an extra safety asset if your phone dies.
Guided Adventures in Gran Paradiso
If you’re not comfortable hiking Gran Paradiso on your own, or you just want to increase the adventure quotient, you can hire a guide to organize everything and take you to the park.
Mountain Guides Society of Gran Paradiso
Variety of trip lengths and difficulty
The official park mountain guides organization operates every day all year long. They are based in the Aosta Valley but can organize an activity for you closer to Torino if you don’t want to drive that far.
They can guide you on a huge range of activities, from trekking, canyoning, and rock climbing, to snowshoeing, off-piste skiing, and ice climbing.
Explore Gran Paradiso National Park with Trekking Alps
3 days, €449 per person
Rated as 4/5 on the difficulty level, this exciting tour will immerse you in the wonders of Gran Paradiso and give you a chance to completely disconnect from everyday life (to forge a deeper connection to yourself, naturally).
Accommodation is in mountain huts — which are more like rustic hotels, where you get a soft bed and a hot meal — in the wilderness. You can do this as a private hike, or join a scheduled group tour. You can also arrange a self-guided trek through Trekking Alps.
Whether you just want a few hours outside, or you want to challenge yourself on a multi-day hike or back country skiing trip, Gran Paradiso is ideal. Much less crowded than the French Alps, this spectacular corner of Italy offers a true getaway — a place where you can immerse yourself in nature and truly disconnect from everyday stress.
Whatever adventure you’re looking for, big or small, you’ll find it in Gran Paradiso National Park.
We hope this short guide to Gran Paradiso helps you plan your trip. Leave at least one day in your Turin itinerary to visit this magnificent park in the northwest corner of Italy. But if you have time, we recommend spending at least three days to get the most out of the park.
♥ Happy transformational travels, Jane & Stephen
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