Hiking in the Picos de Europa
These wild craggy mountains offer an exhilarating hiking experience on a network of trails with some challenging sections.
Rising like a fortress from the Atlantic coast of northern Spain, the Picos de Europa offers something special in Western Europe. Local guide Ana Rodríguez Garcia describes the appeal of hiking through these majestic mountains.
This relatively unknown mountain range encompasses some 700 sq. km of jagged peaks and deep canyons. Some of the isolated villages in the remotest valleys do not have road access. The flora and fauna also surprises here, with wolves and bears still roaming wild. The area was the first National Park to be designated in Spain - and it’s easy to see why.
High above the village of Bulnes
The Picos de Europa range is almost entirely composed of limestone, heavily eroded by glaciers and rain to form dramatic peaks and deep canyons. The deepest canyon forms the most famous walk of the area - La Ruta Del Cares - and is 1.5km deep in places. This canyon passes through the middle of the National Park and divides the mountain range into two.
Classic Picos scenery
Great walking can be enjoyed throughout the Picos: the dramatic views, wildlife and its unspoilt beauty really set it apart from other destinations. Due to the nature of the mountains, some of the walks can be very steep, with numerous sheer drops. The walking routes are clearly marked on wayposts by yellow-and-white lines (day routes) or red-and-white (multi-day routes). Maps are available with some of the walks highlighted. A great way to explore the area is to walk between the several refuges high in the mountains; accommodation here may need to be booked in advance during the high season.
Chamois are often seen
A few things to keep in mind:
- Take sufficient water for the day: on some routes there is no chance of re-supply.
- Rock falls can be an issue especially if it is raining or there are goats above.
- Stick to the paths.
- Route finding can be difficult higher up and rescue is very expensive away from marked routes.
- Don't worry about the wolves and bears; you are very unlikely to see them.
- Very little English is spoken so it’s worth studying a little Spanish to get by - or at least bring a phrasebook.
Tourists to the region normally go to three places: La Ruta del Cares, Los Lagos de Covadonga and Fuente Dé. Each can get busy during peak periods. If you steer clear of these areas you will often have the place to yourself.
TOP 5 EXPERIENCES
1. La Ruta del Cares
The most famous route. The majority of the 12km path has been carved into the side of the of the 1.5km-deep canyon through the middle of the range. The walk is relatively flat, yet dramatic, with amazing views and a crystal-blue river at its base. Most people start in Poncebos and walk to the mountain village of Cain for a refreshing beer before heading back. Navigation is very easy. This walk can get busy in peak periods.
2. El Naranjo de Bulnes
The best known peak of the range and a Mecca for Spanish climbers. There are several routes, however the best option is to start from Pandebano and head up the obvious path. Once at the base of the peak there is a path down to the remote village of Bulnes. To complete the triangle there is a third path back to Pandebano. The walk will last about 8 hours and involves 1,200 metres of assent/decent. You'll need a good map and some climbing experience.
3. Fuente Dé
Located near the town of Potes, Fuente Dé has a cable car taking the less intrepid walker straight from their car to just under 2,000 metres on the side of a mountain cliff. The views from the top are amazing and the 700-metre ride up itself is an experience!
From the top there are many walking routes: one favourite leads to the Naranjo de Bulnes from the southern side. This walk is fairly easy going with a well-marked path, however you will need to be able to read a map.
4. Via Ferrata La Hermida
For those looking for something more sporting there are two fantastic via ferratas. These routes climb straight up the vertiginous canyon cliffs, giving amazing views. The via ferrata in La Hermida is special, with a 40-metre three-cable bridge crossing, and a 120-metre-wide suspension bridge (think Indiana Jones without the crocodiles). Guides and equipment can be provided by appointment, or if you have the relevant experience and equipment you can go alone for free.
5. Charás Mountain Race and Fiesta
We are letting you in on a little secret of our area. There are a few fell races, such as the Travesera de Picos, but this one is probably the most charismatic and charming. The 7km race departs just above Arenas de Cabrales. After the event, a fiesta is set up by the organisers, with goat kid cooked on an open fire (cabrito a la estaca), an infinite supply of local cider and live folk music. When you’re done eating and drinking in a field, you can pay what you think is fair. So nice…
WHEN TO VISIT
Best times to go:
When to go? I was guiding a group from Australia when I was asked why the Picos wasn't spoilt like other areas of Spain: the answer is simple...it can rain! When it does, it is not on the plains, it's on the Picos.
Recent summers have been fantastic, but sunny weather is not guranteed at any time of year. My personal favourite months are March, April, May, September and October. The colours of spring and autum are amazing and the wildlife tends to be at its most active at these times. The summer months are great, too: however it can get pretty hot at lower levels. Remember to take water when hiking as there is very little high in the mountains.
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