More or less circular route from Montblanc to Prades and back following the GR175 (The Cisterian Route) and 171.2 in one direction and taking the 171 back.
This Montblanc to Prades circular hike could be done in two days carrying minimal gear and staying in accommodation in Prades, but it is better stretched out to a long weekend or more with some wild camping en route to really make the most out of the trip.
Montblanc is the capital of the comarca of Conca de Barberà in the Province of Tarragona. It is most notable for its incredibly well-preserved medieval city walls, constructed in the 14th century.
Aside from its impressive medieval architecture, Montblanc is also famous for being the location of the battle between St George and the Dragon.
If you can plan your trip around St George’s Day, 23rd April, the town celebrates with a week-long medieval festival!
Situated at 950m, Prades is nestled in the centre of the eponymous mountain range. You can quench your thirst from the fountain in the central square. Or one of the many bars…
The Prades Mountains are a limestone massif characterised by large, rounded, rocky outcrops, covered with dense oak, yew and pine forests.
Our route will take in several 1000m+ peaks, the Tossal de la Baltasana (1203 m), the Mola d’Estat (1127 m), and the Mola dels Quatre Termes (1117 m).
The Prades Mountains are a bit like the Pyrenees in miniature. This (relatively) short hike passes through an incredible variety of scenery. See the sections on flora and fauna below for more details.
Montblanc to Prades circular hike via Ermita Sant Joan, La Pena, Tossal de la Baltasana, La Mola d’Estat, La Mola dels Quatre Termes, Rajols
This hike is not technical, but some sections are long and steep. The total distance is just shy of 60km, so best split over at least 3 days, though it can be shortened and done in 2 if you’re an experienced hiker and don’t carry too much weight. (See options later in the route section).
It takes in some spectacular views along the way. The Ermita de Sant Joan and the Mola d’Estats are highly recommended picnic spots!
Start point: Montblanc Renfe Train Station
Our route starts from Montblanc Train Station which is on the Rodalies R13 and R14 lines from Barcelona to Lleida. The best way to check times is via the Renfe Mobile App.
You can take the train from Estació de França, Paasseig de Gràcia and Sants. The journey is approximately 2 hours.
Once you arrive Montblanc has plenty of shops and cafes if you need anything before setting off.
As always we recommend carrying a paper map in addition to the GPS. The map Muntanyes de Prades from Piolet covers the entire route.
We will leave Montblanc following the GR175 / Signs for L’Ermita de Sant Joan.
Be careful not to end up following the GR171, though if you do by accident you can always just follow the loop in the opposite direction.
The Ermita de Sant Joan (St John’s Hermitage) is a short detour off the GR175, and very much worth a visit.
From the hermitage, retrace your steps back down to the GR175, then follow the GR markers and signs for El Monestir de Poblet.
SHORT CUT OPTION: If Monasteries are not your thing, you can cut the corner via “El Sender de L’Artiga”, hiking up “El Tossal de Mata Rucs” (Donkey killer peak, a steep track which lives up to its name…) to La Pena (The Penance).
From the Monastery, we are going to change paths to follow the GR171.4 heading towards Mirador La Pena. (Be sure to refill with water at La Font del Deport).
From La Pena follow the GR171.4 until it rejoins the main GR171, onto which you should turn right, direction Prades / Mola dels Quatre Termes.
Keep following the GR171 all the way to Prades, passing by the Mola dels Quatre Termes (1117 m), the Mola de l’Estat (1127 m), and the Tossal de la Baltasana (1203 m).
SHORT CUT OPTION: Instead of going all the way to Prades, you could just go to Mola de L’Estat or Tossal de la Baltasana as you have to return along the same ridge anyway.
From Prades you can either come back the way you came along the GR171 back towards Mola de l’Estat, or alternatively via the “Camí Antic de Montblanc”.
SHORT CUT OPTIONS: This Camí Antic de Montblanc route is well-signed and rejoins the GR171 on the ridge before Mola de l’Estat but avoids the need to repeat the 1200m summit of Tossal de la Baltasana a second time.
You can also bypass both Molas on the way back if you wish. Instead of taking the steep single-track on the official GR route up to Mola de l’Estat, you can stay on the easy forest road back to Clot del Llop.
From Mola de l’Estats head towards Cogullons Refuge. You can either retrace your steps along the GR171 (but keep following when you get to where you joined it from or follow the alternative route on the GPS track which cuts across follows the PR-C 20 marked with yellow until it rejoins the GR.
Sadly the Cogullons Refuge is now permanently closed. There is however a reliable water source a few hundred meters away directly on the trail at the crossroads where the GR171 and PR-C20 split.
You can then simply follow the GR171 all the way back to Montblanc, passing through Rajols on the way where we recommend stopping for lunch at La Socarrimada.
Please note this route does not pass any rivers or streams and many of the water sources shown on the map can be dry throughout much of the year.
We recommend filling up with water in the towns (Montblanc, Poblet, Prades and Rajols) plus there are two reliable fountains en route: La Font del Deport (between Poblet and Prades) and La Font del Grevol (Between Refugi Cogullons and Rajols).
For the majority of the route, you’ll find yourself in pine and oak forests. The protected area of Poblet Forest is the largest protected oak forest in Catalunya.
The area is most notable for the presence of Reboll Oaks (“re-sprouting oaks which can regrow after being cut), Salze de Cingle (A type of bush sized willow, and Yew trees, none of which are found elsewhere in Catalunya.
You will have a good chance of seeing roe deer and wild boar in the forests. You will also most likely hear the blood-curdling cries of badgers and hoots of owls during the night should you do any wild camping.
Overhead look out for Eagles, both Golden and “Cuabarrades” (Barred tails). You’ll also hear woodpeckers, though I’ve yet to actually spot one!
Where to stay?
There is a very nice camp site in Montblanc: Ermita de Sant Josep as well as plenty of hotels, hostels and B&Bs.
Prades also has a campsite, though I’ve never been, as well as various other accommodation options.
There is also the option to stay in Poblet at Alberg L’Espluga de Francolí Xanascat which comes highly recommended by a friend.
Personally, my preference is “Bivouac”. If you do do this, however, make sure you are not within the limits of the protected natural park of “Bosc de Poblet” as this is strictly prohibited.
When to go?
This route can be done all year round. It’s very unlikely you’ll find snow or ice in the winter but it can get very cold at night so take a good sleeping bag if you’re camping. In the summer (or even Spring and Autumn) it can be very hot and dry so make sure you take adequate sun protection and water.