Calanques National Park: The Complete Guide

Aerial shot Calanque d'En-Vau in Calanques national park, French Riviera, France

Marco Bottigelli/ Moment /Getty Images

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Parc national des Calanques

Address
France
Phone +33 4 20 10 50 00

Nestled between Marseille and Cassis on the western edge of the French Riviera, Calanques National Park is a stunning maritime refuge created in 2012. It attracts thousands of visitors a year with its breathtaking cliffside trails, water sports, postcard-perfect blue waters, and close proximity to major destinations and cities on the Riviera.

The park is unique for its calanques: steep limestone cliffs and coves that meander for 12 miles along the coast of the Mediterranean. Several islands off the coast have been incorporated into the park and form a stunning archipelago. Shockingly blue "sea creeks" flow around and through the park's 26 calanques, creating tranquil beaches and river-like areas ideal for kayaking and other water sports. The park is also a wildlife refuge with marine and terrestrial species, from seagrass to starfish and striped dolphins.

Things To Do 

There's a wealth of outdoor activities to enjoy at the park, from hiking and biking to swimming, boating, snorkeling, and wildlife viewing. Entrance to the park is free for all. However, due to its protected status and visitor safety concerns, strict rules are enforced around all of these activities. Make sure to learn about rules and regulations at the park before your stay.

Swimming and snorkeling can be enjoyed from the many sandy and small-pebbled beaches in the park—Saint-EstèveSormiouSugiton, and En-Vau are the most popular. Only Sormiou and Saint-Estève beaches have lifeguards during the summer months. Be aware that these and other popular beaches can be pretty crowded in the summer, and there are no shopping facilities, public restrooms, or waste bins in close reach of the beaches. Bring your own food and water, and make sure to take any and all waste with you in your pack or bags.

Boating, sea-kayaking, paddleboarding, diving, and other water sports are also popular activities to enjoy at the park. Experienced boaters or kayakers can rent a vessel for a memorable day of touring the calanques. Boat tours are also available for those who just want to sit back and relax. There are plenty of ways to enjoy the water.

Climbing, biking, and hiking enthusiasts will find plenty of scenic trails and challenging climbs at the park. Make sure you adhere to the regulations and best practices before climbing around on your own.

Calanques National Park also offers a variety of guided tour packages, including hikes, nature walks, and cruises with qualified guides.

Best Hikes & Trails

The park is crisscrossed by numerous trails of varying difficulty, from easy to challenging. Many offer stunning views over the cliffs, sea creeks, and the open water beyond—an ideal setting for wildlife spotting. Before heading out for a hike or walk, make sure you have proper gear (including sturdy shoes or hiking shoes with good tread, sunscreen, adequate clothing for the weather, a safety kit, etc.), and bring plenty of water and snacks, as well as a bag for any waste. Smoking and campfires are strictly forbidden in the park due to fire risks. Find maps and more information on trails and popular hikes at tourist offices in Marseille and Cassis, or download the My Calanques mobile app for online maps and tips.

  • 3 Calanques de Cassis: This is a moderately challenging circular walk that departs from Cassis and takes you to some of the most beautiful and scenic calanques in the park: Port Miou, Port Pin, and En Vau. It features stunning cliffside panoramic views, a stop at the beach at Port Pin, and stretches of forested trails surrounded by pines. In total, the hike takes around three hours (just under five miles), and it features some challenging stretches over and down rocky terrain.
  • Calanque de Sugiton Walk: This is a moderate-intensity hike (around 1.5 hours and just under four miles) that departs from the outskirts of Marseille, near the Luminy University campus. It offers breathtaking panoramas over the Calanque de Sugiton, the open Mediterranean sea, and the Torpilleur island. The terrain is abundant with wildflowers and other native Mediterranean species.
  • Les Goudes, Col de la Selle, and Col du Brès Hike: This is a circular, relatively difficult walk for more experienced hikers, extending for a total of around seven miles and taking about 4 1/2 hours in total. The trail climbs to altitudes of 2,800 feet and extends east to west from the park's center, winding up and around a boulder called the Rocher des Goudes and taking you through several rocky cliffside paths. It provides stunning inland views of a lake, the cliffside, and the open Mediterranean. This is a popular walk for nature and wildlife enthusiasts since it affords plenty of opportunities for spotting flora and fauna along the way.

Where To Stay Nearby

There are numerous options for accommodations in and around the park, including in nearby Marseille and Cassis. Unfortunately, the park does not allow camping onsite, but several campsites are a short drive away.

  • La Petite Calanque: For quaint B&B accommodations within the park itself, consider booking a room at La Petite Calanque, a seaside property with rustic, traditionally decorated rooms and sea views.
  • Camping du Garlaban: If you prefer camping, the Camping du Garlaban site just outside of Marseille is an ideal spot. Nestled in a pine forest, the site allows you to pitch a tent, park your RV, or stay in one of several cozy cabins and thematic lodges. Some come with bathrooms and kitchens. The campsite allows pets.
  • Cassis Hostel: For younger travelers and students, the Cassis Hostel is just 20 minutes away from the entrance to the national park and features seaside views, a pool, and easy access to beaches, shops, and restaurants in Cassis.
  • Staying in Marseille or Cassis at a hotel or other accommodations affords quick and easy access to the park.

How To Get There

The main entrance to Calanques National Park is located roughly 10 miles from Marseille and 14 miles from Cassis. It's easy to access via car, but no train services take you close to park entrances. If traveling by car from Marseille, take the Chemin de Morgiou or the Cor. Président John Fitzgerald Kennedy south to the main park entrance (be prepared to pay toll fees along the way). You can also attempt to get there via bus, but you'll need to transfer buses at least once in most cases. Finally, for access to If, Frioul, and Les Goudes, take the Frioul-If Express from the Vieux-Port to the Frioul archipelago. The RTM sea shuttle departs from the Vieux-Port and Pointe Rouge to Les Goudes port during the summer months. 

From Cassis, by car, the best option is to drive to the Les Gorguettes Park and Ride Car Park and take a free shuttle to the park entrance (driving is not recommended due to heavy traffic and full car parks). By foot, the Cassis-adjacent park entrance and the Calanque de Port-Miou are a 30-minute walk from the town center.

Accessibility

For visitors with motor impairments or with wheelchairs, the park and its trails are largely inaccessible due to their uneven terrain and lack of ramps. However, the calanques of Sormiou and Morgiou can be accessed by car, and visitors in wheelchairs may explore these areas for short distances. Tourists with motor disabilities can also take boat tours of the calanques and access panoramic viewpoints of the park from the Route des Crêtes. Roadside parking is available at various points. Meanwhile, visually impaired visitors can access a free audio-guided walking tour of the park. For more on accessibility and current initiatives to improve access to the park, visit the park website.

Tips for Your Visit

  • While the park is open year-round and seven days a week, access is occasionally restricted or forbidden between June 1 and Sept. 30 due to fire risk.
  • Cars and other motor vehicles are banned from certain roads and access points leading to the park at certain times of the year.
  • Many of the calanques, including the most stunning ones, are only accessible by foot, and some trails can be long and challenging. Before you set out for a particular walk or cycle ride, ensure that you study your route, consider bringing a print map, confirm you have the proper gear, and pack plenty of water and snacks as well as a safety kit for the trip ahead. You can download the My Calanques mobile app for online maps and guidance.
  • Find out what you want to see and prioritize before visiting the park.
  • Diving and swimming from cliffs, attempting to swim in or around caves and caverns, and climbing without proper equipment or supervision can all be dangerous. Ensure to heed all park warnings and safety guidance, and abstain from risky activities when in doubt.
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The Ultimate Guide to Calanques National Park in Southern France