“This is an excellent option offering amazing views of Piton de la Fournaise-the third most active volcano in the world.”
— Karl W
This is an easy route along wide flat trails with amazing views of an active volcano.
If the route down into the crater is closed or if you're looking for an easier option with amazing views of Piton de la Fournaise, consider following this family friendly route along the top edge of the ramparts ("Remparts" in French). Parts of the trail can be very rocky but other than that it's easy going. You'll get amazing views of the volcano, many of the small craters and spatter cones that have formed over the years, views towards Piton des Neiges
in the west, and even views of the Indian Ocean. This route is set up from the Gite du Volcan, a hikers' hostel and restaurant that is the closest place to stay to the volcano, but you could easily skip the hostel sections of trail and just begin and end at the main parking area.
Need to Know
Much of this trail, and the entire area of Piton de la Fournaise, is exposed to the sun.
If you plan to stay in Gite du Volcan you'll be able to sleep right at the trailhead and meet other hikers/runners which is neat. You can buy breakfast and dinner - even draft beer. But you should reserve in advance.
There is a good sized parking area at the Gite du Volcan. From there take the stairs on the northern end of the parking area and look for the trail sign post on the southeastern side of the hostel's driveway.
The first trail section is singletrack and very rocky. Parts of it are easy to see, but you'll want to keep an eye out for the white blazes to help you in other areas as the volcanic terrain here can easily look just like the trail. Keep an eye on the rock you're hiking on to see evidence of lava flows that cooled into neat formations. You'll gain some steady elevation as you head southeast from the Gite. This trail pops out right at the gate to Sentier du Cratere Dolomieu which leads to the base of the main crater and then to the summit of Piton de la Fournaise. This gate will be closed if access is restricted due to active or potentially active eruptions.
Head east along the wide and clear trail (Sentier du Piton Partage et du Nez Coupe de Sainte-Rose
). This trail is pretty easy going, and some sections are made of a pleasant dark dirt that is quite the reprieve compared to the rockier sections of this route. There are a few good view points, but much of the trail is back from the very edge of the crater so you can power along to the amazing view point on top of Piton Partage. The climb is pretty easy as it seems to double as a service road for some seismic equipment that you must share the view with. Enjoy the awesome 360 degree views from the top!
Head back past the gate to Sentier du Cratere Dolomieu and then continue along the crater's edge towards the parking area. This is the "main" trail and you'll notice it is much wider and more heavily used. There are a few spur trails to built-up view points (stone walls and benches) that you won't want to pass up. When you get near the main parking area there will be a large viewing area with a stone wall built right along the edge of the crater (and many more tourists). This area is called Pas de Bellecombe. There are services here such as a restroom as well.
Head back the way you came, but at the information kiosk about a quarter mile from the main parking area look for a marked trail on your left. You can take this narrow, and infrequently used trail back to the Gite parking area. You can of course retrace your steps completely, but this way you can see a little bit more variety. Keep a keen eye on your route as this trail is much more faint than the primary trail to the Gite. Shortly before the Gite you'll rejoin the main trail at an intersection with some equestrian trails. Just follow the signs for the Gite and you're back!
History & Background
Piton de la Fournaise, meaning "Peak of the Furnace", is a very active shield volcano that has formed about a third of the island of Reunion. It most recently erupted in 2018 (writing as of 2018).
Piton de la Fournaise has been part of the Reunion UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2010.
Gite du Volcan has been family run since 1930.