Trail Markings and French Vocabulary


Trail marking (blaizes or waymarks)

The GR trails (grande randonées, that is, long distance trails) throughout the Alps mostly use the same system of trail marking (“waymarking” in British English). A GR is marked with a white rectangle sitting above or upon a red rectangle.(Local, non-GR trails use other color combinations, or a mark of one color.) If two GRs (Grand Randonnées) cross or branch, the number of the GR will be written on each trail.

You will find the waymarks on trees, on stones, on signs, on walls—wherever there is any question as to the trail, and often just as reassurance that you are on it. I have found it difficult to get off the proper GR trail, but it can happen. If you do, backtrack to the first visible trail mark, or use a map to regain the correct route. Also, there are a a few spots here and there in the Alps where you might want the reassurance of a waymark, and there is not one. So a map or guide book —while not an absolute necessity—can be very helpful.

Upcoming turns of a GR are indicated by four perched rectangles, from top to bottom white, red, white, red. At the turn it self, an arrow will indicate the direction of the turn, and usually, should you miss the turn, the incorrect trail will initially be marked by a red “x” .

For those who are following the GR5 from Holland, in Luxembourg and in Alsace there are separate marking systems that predate the GR5. Obtain local maps or guides: In the Vosges mountains of Alsace the maps published by the Club Vosgien are best.

Obviously, where the GR trail markings diverge from the trace on your map or Topoguide, the markings take precedence. This means the GR has been rerouted. However, during the Alpine crossing, it is quite unlikely that the GR routing will have changed very much.

Trail Markings (almost everywhere):

 White bar over red Bar continue straight ahead
   As above with white arrow
 underneath, or white and red arrows turn in direction of arrow(s)
   White and red X bad direction
Trail Markings in Vosges of Alsace, from the Donon to the Ballon d’Alsace, differ:
Red bar continue straight ahead
Red bar with arrows turn
Red X wrong direction

French Vocabulary:



Hors GR off the GR trail
Tirets dashes (dashed line on map)
Abri shelter
Gite d’étape communal lodging on a road
Refuge communal lodging off road
 Chambre d’hôte guest room, bed and breakfast
Hébergements lodging
Revitallement supplies
Car bus
Distributeur de billets (DAB) ATM
Balisage trail marking, waymarking
Cairn rockpile marking trail


One of several versions of the trail
Avant before
Devant in front of
Derrière behind
Après after
En face facing you
Plus loin farther than
Jusqu’à, Jusqu’au until
En vis-à-vis opposite each other
De, Du, Depuis from (also de, du = of, of the)
Gauche left
Droite right
Tout droite straight ahead
Quelques some
Mètre meter
Route route
Piste rough dirt road
Chemin minor road, dirt road
   (empierré)  (rocky, stone-surfaced)
Rue street
Sentier trail
Voie (romaine) way (Roman)
Carrefour, croissement,
   intersection intersection
Pente slope
En lacets in switchbacks
En contrebas de further down than
Sommet summit
Corniche, Falaise cliff
Arète, Crète ridge
Monter climb
Descendre descend
Sud south
Est east
Nord north
Ouest west
Bˆâtiment building
Église church
Mur wall
Clôiture fence
Pont bridge
Gare railroad station
   Gare routière      bus station
Traverser, Franchir, couper cross
Emprunter, Prendre take (a road, etc.)
Suivre follow
Poursuivre, Continuer continue
Bifurquer sur branch onto
Tourner turn
Se diriger vers go towards
Déboucher come out (at)
Quitter, Laisser leave
en flanc traversing a slope
Vallon valley
Forêt forest
Ferme farm
Rocher rock
Pierre stone
Clairière clearing
Champs, Pré, Pâturage field, pasture
Source spring
Cascade waterfall
Ruisseau stream
Gué ford
Pas not
Practicable traversable
Glissant slippery
Piéton pedestrian
Beginners pronunciation: “a” is as in father, “i” sounds like e in he, “o” or “au” or “eau” is like “o”, “ou” is like “u”. (A “u” is pronounced half-way between u and e.) “é” or “ê” or “er” or “et” is normally like a in hay;

è is like e in eh, “e with no mark is silent or like in the word the.

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