Jean Loiseau, an archivist at the Banque de France, was passionate about nature and walking. His passion began with scouting, which he discovered in 1910. After the First World War, he founded a group of walkers, “Les Compagnons Voyageurs” (“The Fellow Travelers”), and he travelled with them on French and European routes for decades. They have an important advantage: they know how to find their way in the wilderness with a map and compass.
The word “hiker” had not yet been invented. Walkers were less numerous than today and were called excursionists, pedestrian tourists, or ramblers. In 1936, an important law was passed: the “paid holidays” law, which made it easier for French people to take holidays and allowed most of them to enjoy leisure activities.
It inspired Jean Loiseau: he wanted to share with others the pleasure of discovering nature on foot. Like his fellow travellers, they would follow routes without the risk of getting lost. He was able to observe the waymarking carried out by Claude-François Denecourt in the forest of Fontainebleau since 1842.
He looked at what already existed in some foreign countries: Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland and even in the United States, in the Apalaches, where they had the good idea of applying paint strokes to various natural supports (rocks, trees, etc.). Walkers are no longer afraid of getting lost as they follow the strokes. With the support of the Camping Club de France (founded in 1910), he began his project to create “long hiking routes” in France.
A few years later, in 1945, Jean Loiseau and the representatives of the CCF had the idea of presenting the project to the “Touring Club de France”, an association founded in 1890 by a group of cyclists, but which had already created a section for hikers in 1904 and had a commission for pedestrian tourism as well. It enthusiastically adopted Jean Loiseau’s project and decided to implement it immediately.
During the year 1946 were implemented a “Master plan” for the national network, signposting rules (the mark made up of a red stroke with a white one on top is adopted), and the recruitment of volunteers within the founding associations. In 1947, several sections of the future GR® were under construction: in the Parisian region, on the banks of the Loire, etc.
The “long routes for hikers” quickly become the “long-distance footpaths”. The words “hiking” and " hiker " are created simultaneously.
From the CNSGR to the Fédération Française de la Randonnée Pédestre
The Comité National des Sentiers de Grande Randonnée (CNSGR) “National Hiking Trails Committee” 22 August 1947 gathering several organisations : le Touring Club de France, le Camping Club de France, le Club Alpin Français, le Club Vosgien, les Excursionnistes Marseillais as well as scout movements and hostels. Its main ambition was to implement an actual network of marked routes to make hiking easier on the whole French territory. It allowed the foundation of the FFRandonnée a few years later. On August 31, 1947, the first 28 km section of the GR®3 was symbolically inaugurated in Beaugency. The start of a great and beautiful adventure.
In 1951, the GR® Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) is achieved.
In 1952, 1000 km of GR® routes.
In 1956, an agreement was made with the IGN (National Geographic Institute) to feature the GR® on the new 1:50000 maps.
In 1957, the first topoguide of the GR®1 was published, printed on a roneo machine, without maps but with sketches.
In 1969: the CNSGR received agreement from the Ministry of Youth and Sports for outdoor activities.
In 1971 : the CNSGR is declared of public interest.
In 1972 : 10,000 km of GR® have been developed and 25,000 topoguides sold.
Over the years, thanks to the work of thousands of volunteers, the GR® network has expanded to cover all French regions. More and more hikers are choosing to use them. It was therefore necessary to think about their representation, which led to the creation of the Fédération Française de la Randonnée Pédestre (French Hiking Federation) on 22 April 1978. That year, it received approval from the Ministry of the Environment for its role in protecting the natural environment.
1978, an important turning point
It then brought together many national and local associations, which naturally regarded the Federation as their representative. The purpose of the association, which was originally mainly to coordinate groups involved in the creation of long-distance footpaths, has been extended to include the study of all issues relating to hiking and actions to protect nature and the environment, as well as the representation and defence of the interests of hikers and their associations.
7 years later, in 1985, a new step was taken
In 1985, the Federation became a state-approved sports federation in accordance with the law governing the organisation of sports federations. This decision enabled it to organise itself with departmental and regional representatives, of which there are now 120. They bring together its driving forces - more than 13,000 volunteers, trailblazers, planners and an increasing number of community activists - with a growing and recognised level of professionalism.
Since 1986, its corporate purpose has clearly included the development of hiking routes, hiking and hikers.
In the meantime, some important dates to remember:
1980 : first waymarking charter (reissued in 1995 and 2006)
1982 : Official launch of the hiking leader training course.
1983 : creation of the PDIPR, Plans Départementaux des Itinéraires de Promenade et de Randonnée (Departmental Plans for Walking and Hiking Routes)
From the creation, development and maintenance of the “stadium” to sport practice and users.
1991 : the first individual licence is created. It is intended for members of affiliated associations and entitles them to take part in guided hikes throughout France, for all levels, destinations and tastes.
1992 : launch of the campaign “Save French paths” and collection of 150.000 signatures. 1st agreement signed with Gaz de France, historical partner of the Federation.
1993 : establishment of the first Hiking Information Spot on waymarked paths.
1994 : 21 regional conferences are organised with the support of local Gaz de France delegations for the safeguarding of French paths. 1st Hiking fest : 350,000 participants.
1995 : at UNESCO, the national conference ended in the prestigious path preservation programme : chaussée Jules César, chemin du Chasse-Marée…
1997 : the Hiking Leader Federal Certificate is approved by the Ministry of Youth and Sports giving the delegation for hiking activities to the Fédération Française de la Randonnée pédestre. That same year, for the 50th anniversary of the GR® footpaths a white paper was published, entitled “Heritage in danger, 800,000 km to protect”. Six hiking relays are organised from the borders and join together in Paris, which was designated capital of hiking with 50,000 participants.
1998 : the Court of cassation acknowledged the intellectual property of the Federation on the hiking itineraries. UNESCO classified the roads to Santiago de Compostella as World Heritage. The Federation signed an agreement with Gaz de France and the Ministries of Youth and Sports, of Employment and of the Environment as well as with the Secretary of State for Tourism and the DATAR (Interministerial Delegation of Land Planning and Regional Attractiveness) to create 120 “Youth jobs” to promote hiking routes.
1999 : “Walk to the year 2000” action in Paris, with 35,000 hikers. The Federation and Gaz de France participate in the exhibition of the Planetary Garden in the Grande Halle de la Villette.
2000 : Martinique welcomed the first Technical Meetings, held every two years, on hiking and its contribution to tourism.
The Gaz de France corporate foundation was awarded the Oscar for environmental sponsorship for its support of the Federation’s preservation actions.
2001 : for the Euro-Rando year, 10 hiking itineraries crossed 23 countries via 20,000 km of routes, 3 itineraries crossing France and converging in Strasbourg.
2002 : the Federation signed the Alliance with Gaz de France enabling regional and departmental committees to collaborate with Gaz de France regional delegates for the development and maintenance of the path as well as creating jobs for young people, etc.
2003 : in the Senate, the Federation organised a symposium over the topic “Can sustainable development save the heritage of French footpath?” with all the players in the field of tourism, planning, and environmental protection.
2004 : Jacobean Holy Year named “Year of mythical and legendary paths”. Launch of the operation “Un chemin, une école®” (a path, a school), 1st Rando Challenges® French Championship and setting up of the Eco-Veille® (ecological monitoring) network.
2005 : Publication of the Agenda 21 programme in favor of sustainable development. The Federation modernised its visual identity and changed the logo. According to a Carat Sport survey that year, walking-hiking ranks top on French peoples’ favorite sports (68% of respondents) above swimming, tennis and football.
In 2007, 3,040 affiliated associations formed a network in French territory, metropolitan and overseas. At the time, the Federation had 180,000 kilometres of marked trails in France and 192,221 members. The FFRandonnée became one of the top 15 single-sport federations, ahead of athletics and table tennis. The pioneers of 1947 wouldn't have believed it! Nor could the millions of hikers who followed the famous white and red Ariadne's thread of the GR®.
In 2008, June 15: For the first time, together with its main partner, the Gaz de France hike will take place in the heart of historic Paris. Starting from the Place de la Bastille, the route takes in the Place des Vosges, the Buttes Chaumont and Belleville. 15,000 participants: a huge success!
In 2009, the FFRandonnée launches its strategic plan. It aspires to:
fully serve the associations and their members
Using its skills for all types of hiking activities
Ensure the quality of the routes (accessibility, safety, maintenance, etc.)
Strengthening its work with local authorities to promote territorial development
Increase its notoriety and develop its resources
In 2010, the FFRandonnée launched the first regional GDF SUEZ Hikes, starting in Bordeaux. Lyon, Metz and Bordeaux would follow.
In 2011, the FFRandonnée launched a digital project to facilitate its work in the maintenance, development and promotion of hiking routes.
In 2013, as part of its digital project, the FFRandonnée created new jobs such as route data “collectors”. Using a specific grid, specially trained volunteers record: tracks using GPS, the surface of the ground and any irregularities on the path... This data is then entered into a GIS (Geographical Information System) as part of a national approach to managing the routes and harmonising their quality.
In 2016, the FFRandonnée launched MonGR.fr, the first national reference portal, a source of information and services dedicated to preparing your itinerary on all the GR® in France. As a true "digital companion", MonGR.fr offers complete, qualified and up-to-date information: reports, stories and news on touring, advice and tips and hiking suggestions with step-by-step instructions and maps, GPS tracks, accommodation and photos on the main long-distance hiking routes.
In January 2017, the federation became delegated for Aqua Walking. This delegation enables the federation to play a leading role in the competitive field, in the organisation of sporting events and in the setting of equipment and safety standards for the sites where the sport is practised. Aqua Walking, also known as coastal aquatic walking, is a walking activity and an outdoor sport in its own right.
Designed to give a breath of fresh air to the 28 million French people who regularly go hiking, walking for a few hours or backpacking for several days, this application has been created to inspire and facilitate hiking for all outdoor sports enthusiasts.
In practical terms, MaRando® is the result of the passionate work of the FFRandonnée's volunteer teams who, since 1947, have been marking out and maintaining a stadium with over 180,000 kilometres of footpaths.
In March 2022, at the invitation of the French Minister of Sports, Roxana Maracineanu, the President of the French Hiking Federation, Brigitte Soulary, signed her delegation contract for summer sports on Tuesday 14 March 2022, valid until 2025. As far as hiking is concerned, the FFRandonnée has been officially legitimised by the state delegation for all forms of hiking in all types of areas, particularly in the mountains and in urban areas. Without neglecting any activity, the Federation will increase its efforts to work on mountain hiking and to support the development of urban walking and active mobility. The FFRandonnée is also becoming a legitimate player in the development of pole walking. As far as Aqua Walking is concerned, the Federation's project to create a “French collective” and the international events that are currently being developed give full meaning to the delegation received.