Opening of the Camino to Roncesvalles


Here we are, spring has finally arrived! And with it, the opening of the Camino between Saint Jean Pied de Port and Roncesvalles that pilgrims were waiting for.
The winter closure is over: from April to October, let’s walk up the mountain!

The opening in a few words
It has nothing to do with the weather!
Can pilgrim go whatever is going on?
Other options, in case you need a plan B

Finally, the Napoleon route is open to pilgrims!
Marion, Santiago in Love – CC BY-SA-NC

The opening in a few words

From April 1st to October 31st, there are no restriction to access the Napoleon route. Pilgrims leaving Saint Jean Pied de Port can reach Roncesvalles through the mountain, legally.

As a reminder… We’re talking about the “opening” of the route in opposition to its winter closure, effective from November 1st to March 31st.
The closure is only relevant to the Spanish stretch of the stage, which is strictly forbidden during that time. Pilgrims who wander there anyways are subject to sanctions.

It has nothing to do with the weather!

The opening and closure of the stage is an arbitrary administrative decision that has nothing to do with the weather forecast.

20°C and a clear blue sky in winter? 2°C and snow in altitude in May? Both are very common between Saint Jean Pied de Port and Roncesvalles!
But whatever the weather is, the section is close from November 1st to March 31st and open from April 1st to October 31st.

What does it mean in a practical way?

It’s not because the Napoleon route is open that the weather necessarily becomes pleasant!
Marion, Santiago in Love – CC BY-SA-NC

When the section is close, passage is forbidden. From a legal standpoint, you don’t have a choice: your presence there puts yourself at risk to get a fine.
Even if the weather is great and there’s no danger to do the stage!

When the section is open, passage is free. From a legal standpoint, there are no restrictions nor sanction, even if pilgrims get into trouble.
Even if the weather is horrible and could put you in danger on the stage!
And please take good note of this: bad weather can happen anytime throughout the opening period. Snow and cold (around 0°C!) can last until May or start as soon as October. There can be violent thunderstorms in summer. You can also experience cold, wind, rain and fog all year around.

Can pilgrim go whatever is going on?

From a legal standpoint, yes! You are free as a bird, the mountain is yours. No one can stop you to go on the Napoleon route or sanction you for that choice.

BUT… Does having the right to do something mean that it’s something you shoud do?

Accidents also happen while the stage is open!
Photo: Bomberos de Burgete, 2016

Wisdom and common sense should be enough to answer that question. Even if you can go through the high route, it’s of course better to renounce it if the weather is bad.

It may seem obvious, even stupid to say it… However, (too) many pilgrims get in trouble every year because they decided to go on the Napoleon route in spite of a terrible forecast.

For sure, it’s disappointing to miss out on that stage because of the weather. But the Camino is not worth putting yourself in danger! Better pick another option that will be part of an amazing pilgrimage all the same.

Seek information once there: we may have a lot of tech at our disposal, but the weather is hard to predict in the mountains. Prefer to ask locals rather than Google to know what the forecast is!
Pay a visit to the Pilgrim’s Office, the Pilgrim’s Store or the Tourism Office. You could also ask your accommodation’s host or local store owners (but be careful then: not everyone knows what the weather really is up the mountain as it can be very different from the one in Saint Jean Pied de Port!)

Other options, in case you need a plan B

The Napoleon route may be open, you scheduled the stage right during a snowstorm… Or a thunderstorm, or something else… What should you do?

  • Postpone your crossing of the Pyrénées
    If you have the luxury of time, why not just wait it out? Stay a day or 2 in Saint Jean Pied de Port (or around: the train makes it easy to spend a day in Bayonne). It could buy you enough time to be able to go through the high route without problem
  • Go through Valcarlos
    No time to wait but it’s too risky to take the high route? Going through Valcarlos is recommended to reach Roncesvalles more safely when the weather isn’t good (be careful anyway, especially on the stretches the Camino shares with thee road!)
  • Divide the stage in 2
    There’s some snow and it makes the stage to hard to do in one day? Forecast predicts thunderstorms in the afternoon? Think of planning your stage differently! There are various ways to cut this stage in 2, check them out on this page
  • Surprise, surprise
    The weather was great when you left Saint Jean Pied de Port but it changed for the worst on the way? Evaluate the situation honestly and eventually, find shelter or double back. Be wise: it’s far better to stop walking and/or get a taxi than it is to be rescued!
Winter closure Camino sjpdp
Going through Valcarlos, the most common alternative to the high route


  1. From April 1st to October 31st: opening of the Spanish section of the stage Saint Jean Pied de Port-Roncesvalles
  2. No legal ban: the decision to go through the Napoleon route or not is left up to you (and your common sense)
  3. Whatever the weather is! The stage is open, even if the weather is horrible
  4. Be wise! If the forecast isn’t good, prefer another option:
    • wait it out and postpone your stage
    • go through Valcarlos
    • (re)organize your stage over 2 days
    • if the weather changes unexpectedly, find shelter or double back
  5. Buen Camino! May Santiago watch over you!

In case you’re in trouble, call 112!
This number works everywhere in Europe, without unlocking your phone. It also works without a network: restart your phone and enter the number before you enter your PIN code.
While you wait for rescue, keep warm! Isolate yourself from the ground, put on more warm clothes and protect yourself from the weather.

What about you? Have you done Saint Jean Pied de Port-Roncesvalles between April 1st and October 31st?
What was the weather like? Did you encounter any problem? Have you been forced to give up on the Napoleon route even if it was open?

Tell us with a comment!


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