Col de la Cayolle

Some types of rides are especially tempting. One such type is a loop ride, that cannot be made any shorter, yet at the same time it's just "short" enough, so that - with good effort - it can be completed in a day. And that doesn't even mention the scenery, which helps to make this an extremely popular cycling destination.This is the highest point on such a ride. My extremely small, informal personal poll also had the result, that this is the favorite pass on this loop. For the most part the route is located inside the Mercantour National park, and as you might suspect, natural beauty is the main attraction here.

During my traverse of this route during a week day in early June, I saw more bicycles than cars on the approaches to this pass. As far as the entire Cayolle - Champs - Allos loop is concerned, the riders mainly concerned with scenic beauty seem to prefer the clockwise direction (Cayolle first). The exception seems to be the contingent that is worried about road conditions. They prefer to go up the rough western side of Col des Champs, and descend on the wider good road. I saw roughly the same number of cyclists in both directions during my ride.

The pass marks the border between the Maritime Alps and the Haute Provence Alps. It generally opens sometime in May.

picture page

1.(00.0km,1133m) START-END NORTH: Barcelonnette, bridge over Ubaye
2.(20.0km,1785m) bridge over Bachelard, just after turnoff to Bayasse
3.(28.9km,2326m) TOP: Col de la Cayolle
4.(36.4km,1770m) Estenc
5.(43.5,km,1257m) Entraunes
6.(49.2km,1039m) START-END SOUTH: turnoff on right goes to Col des Champs, profile continues straight into Saint Martin d'Entraunes
7.(61.0km,796m) Guillaumes
8.(80.2km,547m) START-END SOUTH ALT: jct D902-N202 ,west of Entrevaux


From North. When leaving Barcelonnette heading north, and you haven't made up your mind yet, what pass road to attack first, you don't have much time to decide. Either it's Col de Allos or Col de la Cayolle. Col de la Cayolle has a longer, more gradual approach from this side than the other option.

A narrow bumpy paved road follows a narrow gorge, carved by the river Bachelard. In the early morning deep shadows keep the bottom of the gorge and the road cold. There are many narrow one-way sections and a few interesting small bridges. The road gradually climbs to half height of the canyon. By the time the road has reached Bayasse, you are in a high valley surrounded by peaks. The road crosses the Bachelard, and now now climbs out of the valley between meadows and open forest to the pass, crossing two picturesque stone bridges along the way. The approach and of course the pass are inside the Mercantour National Park. The summit is not commercially overdeveloped, as it might be ouside of a National Park. In fact it's not commercially developed at all. The high alpine meadow at the summit seems to be a very popular hangout spot for cyclists.

Col de Cayolle, summit
summit of Col de Cayolle

From South. (described downwards) All of the upper section down to Entraunes has a rough, bumpy road surface. And still - I was the only one with a mountain bike on the entire loop that day, and there must have been hundreds of road bikes. The road descends into the upper valley of the river Var. This river gets to sealevel in record time, so to speak, so you might expect a strong vertically falling landscape. And you would not be disappointed. The fast descend is slowed only by the waves of asphalt, the many serpentines, and two reasonably dark, but short tunnels. Another thing that slowed me down was stopping for the incredible far views of the peaks, and some amazing water falls on the lower section. After passing through the small stopover point of Estenc and then the slightly larger village of Entraunes, the road "normalizes". It takes on regular width, smooth surface, and a correspondingly larger amount of automobile traffic. The turnoff to Col de Champs is a hard right, but it is well signed. The profile follows the valley lower to its junction with the river La Galarge and N202, between Annot and Puget-Theniers.


Like many of the passes close to the border area of Italy and France, the origin of the road is  military reasons. What was a mule trail in the early 1900s was built into a road between 1907 and 1914, prior to WW1. This completed a road between Nice and the Ubaye Valley to the north.

Cycling-Tour de France:  This pass was three times on the Tour de France route, during times when rougher roads were more common. These are the rider who were in the lead at the top of the pass: 1950: Jean Robic (France), 1955: Charly Gaul (Luxembourg), 1973: Vicente Lopez Carril (Spain).

Dayride with this point as highest summit:

Col de la Cayolle , Col d'Allos , Col des Champs : St Anne la Conamine > Jausiers > Barcelonnette > Col de la Cayolle > St Martin d'Entraunes > Col des Champs > Colmars > Allos > Col d'Allos > Barcelonnette > sp: 101.4 miles with 12210ft of climbing in 9:34hrs (VDO MC1.0 m4:12.6.5)
Notes: this is about 20 to 25 miles longer than the normal loop ride over the three passes, because of an extra out and back from St Anne.

The last pass ride with different start and end points on this Extended Tour is: Col de Larche