Europe,  Spain

Walking on volcanoes – a circular walk in the Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park

Garrotxa Volcanic Natural Park - distinctive landscape
The Garrotxa Volcanic Natural Park has a very distinctive landscape, formed by volcanic activity in this region 11,000 years ago

Whilst up in the north east of Spain, we wanted to explore some of the inland areas and possibly do some more walking. The landscape in this part of Spain is so dramatic, with the jagged peaks of the Pyrenees providing the backdrop to many a vista. About 50km inland from Figueres (and about the same north west from Girona) is an incredible volcanic area known as the Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park. The Park covers an area of about 120 sq km, centred around the town of Olot, and contains about 40 volcanic cones and more than 20 lava flows. The volcanoes are all dormant, although not extinct, with the last eruption here being about 11,000 years ago. The landscape in the park is very distinctive, with thick vegetation (mostly oak and beech trees) completely covering the volcanic cones and lava flows. It is lush and green and the exceptionally fertile volcanic soils mean that there is a lot of farming here. The area is very proud of its ‘volcanic cuisine’, which makes use of the bounty of locally grown produce.

We found a series of walks detailed on the Park’s website and chose to do Itinerary number 1 (see link at the end to download a leaflet about this walk). This walk was of moderate length (11km) and difficulty and would take us past three key sights/features in the area – the Croscat volcano, the beech woodland of Fageda d’en Jorda and the Santa Margarida volcano. It is a circular walk and you can start it from one of two different service areas, both along the GI-524 between Olot to Santa Pau. The walk passes right through both parking areas and so it is easy to pick it up from either one. We chose to park at the Santa Margarida service area and set off heading north (anti-clockwise, down the hill towards the road) in the direction of the Croscat volcano.

Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park - map of Itinerary 1
Map showing the route of the walk we did (Itinerary 1), together with the locations of the two service areas where you can park and from which you can start the walk

The first interesting area we came to was a sheer wall made up of red volcanic ash. The whole thing just crumbled if you touched it and the ash was made up of smaller and larger pieces of extremely light rock with lots of holes in it. It was also incredibly hard and rough to the touch. After this, the walk skirted around the side of the Croscat volcano, which is the highest volcanic cone in the Iberian peninsular (160m).

Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park - Volcanic ash
A huge wall of volcanic ash – the ash was in hard pellets and the ground just crumbled away when you touched it

The Croscat Volcano

The Croscat volcano has a horseshoe shaped crater and is unusual in that until fairly recently it was quarried and therefore has a wedge cut out of its side. This means that you can see into the interior of the cone and see its structure, which is fascinating. It is like looking at one of those diagrams in a text book where something has been cut away so that you can see inside it. The quarries led to public protests and demonstrations in the late ‘70s and since 1982 the whole volcanic area has been protected. If you want to get up really close to the volcano, you can make an additional loop around that takes you right up to the quarry site (following Itinerary 15).

Garrotxa Volcanic Natural Park - Croscat volcano
The Croscat volcano – until fairly recently, the volcano was quarried and so you can see right into the interior of the cone

From Croscat, the path drops gently down into the Can Serra service area and car park. This is the larger of the two parking areas and has toilets and a picnic area where we stopped for lunch. From Can Serra, the path crosses under the road and takes you down a short flight of steps into the Fageda d’en Jorda.

The Fageda d’en Jordà

Within the park there are 26 natural reserves. One of these is the beautiful beech forest of Fageda d’en Jorda, which stands on the undulating lava flow from the Croscat volcano. It is a sheltered, peaceful spot and the walk meanders through the shade of the trees, around the many scattered volcanic hummocks that characterise this area. These lumps and hummocks (known locally as ‘tossals’) also came from the Croscat volcano and vary in size, the largest ones being over 20 metres high.

Garrotxa Volcanic Natural Park - beech woodland
The beautiful beech woodland of the Fageda d’en Jorda area

From the Fageda d’en Jorda, the path takes you up to the delightful hamlet and 11th century Romanesque church of Sant Miguel de Sacot and then down again before climbing up the south-west flank of the volcano of Santa Margarida.

Garrotxa Volcanic Natural Park - Romanesque church
Our walk took us past the delightful Romanesque church of Sant Miguel Sacot, out in the middle of no-where
Garrotxa Volcanic Natural Park - lovely walk
We had such a lovely walk through this interesting landscape

The Santa Margarida Volcano

Santa Margarida is a freato-magmatic volcano, which means it was formed by a violent explosion that opened up a wide circular crater. Another Romanesque church, dedicated to Santa Margarida, stands in the middle of the crater and there is a short walk you can do down to it if you wish. We were all a bit tired by this point and so we gave this a miss. The crater floor is pastureland, while the sides of the volcano are covered in evergreen holm oak on the sunny, south-facing side and mixed deciduous forest on the cooler north-facing slopes.

The walk takes you all the way around the crater rim, although when you are up there the vegetation is so dense that it is hard to see this. The only clue is that the ground slopes away on both sides of the path. Whilst we were there, Andy located us on Google Maps so that we could see exactly where we were standing (see the blue dot in the picture below). It was pretty amazing to realise that we were standing right on the edge of a volcanic crater!

Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park
Aerial views of part of the Garrotxa Volcanic Natural Park and our location at one point walking around the rim of the Santa Margarita volcano

From here, the route follows a steep, wide path that descends all the way back to the Santa Margarida service area and the end of the walk.

We thoroughly enjoyed our day discovering this volcanic region. Unlike much of the coastal regions, inland Spain has been little influenced by tourism and the development that goes with it. As a result, here we found a beautiful, natural landscape dotted with small hamlets and delightful churches. It was also quiet (apart from when we passed a school group in the forest!) and incredibly peaceful, with breathtaking views all around.

Garrotxa Volcanic Natural Park - beautiful landscape
A fertile and very distinctive landscape

Practical information for your walk in the Garrotxa Volcanic Natural Park:

  • You can access information about the walk and a leaflet with the whole itinerary here:
  • The walk is circular and about 11km long and took us about 4 hours, with a stop for a picnic lunch at the Can Serra Service Area. Picnics are not allowed in the natural reserves.
  • It is mostly an easy, gentle walk, especially the part past the Croscat volcano and through the beech forest. There are a couple of steep sections as you climb to the top of the rim of the Santa Margarita volcano and back down again.
  • You can access the walk from two car parks, the Can Serra Service Area and the Santa Margarida Service Area, both along the GI-524 between Olot and Santa Pau.
  • There are toilets at both of the car parks, together with picnic tables, rubbish bins etc.
  • We parked at the Santa Margarida car park, which is the smaller of the two, and followed the route anti-clockwise, but you can just as easily do it the opposite way. The whole route is extremely well signposted, giving information about the sights/features in either direction and the approximate time and distance of each.
  • The Natural Park territory is protected and you are not allowed to capture animals within its boundaries or collect plants, rocks or minerals.
  • The main park information office is the Casal dels Volcans in Olot, where you can collect helpful hiking maps and information on the many trails and hikes in the area. You can also download a lot of information from their website. (There is an option on the top right of the site to change the language to English)
Garrotxa Volcanic Natural Park - walking trails
The walking trails in this area were very well signposted
Garrotxa Volcanic Natural Park - verdant and fertile area
Due to its volcanic soils, the area is extremely fertile