Famed for its food, fiestas, and fantastic weather, hiking might not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think of a trip to Spain… But that doesn’t mean it’s not a fantastic destination for a hiking holiday. Spain does, in fact, offer an incredible variety of landscapes for outdoor enthusiasts to explore – with mountain ranges, coastal routes, rivers and canyons, and even volcanic craters to explore, there really is something for everyone.
Things really heat up during those summer months, yet some of the mountain paths become inaccessible in the winter times due to heavy snowfall, so make sure you do your research about the right time of year for your trip. But, whenever you decide to embark on your walking holiday in Spain, it’s bound to be one that you’ll never forget.
Okay, so we’ve covered mountains, rivers, and beaches… but what about Volcanoes? Yepp, that’s right, Spain has quite the range of scenery to choose from. The Santa Margarida Volcano loop is one of our favorite routes and begins at the Santa Margarida car park (although there are also bus journeys that take you most of the way there running from Barcelona if you don’t have a car with you). It’s 11 km in total and there are no refreshment stops along the way, so make sure you have plenty of water and snacks with you for the journey.
The crater left by the now non-functional volcano may seem like an odd site to place a building, but that didn’t stop the Romans from constructing a chapel dedicated to the volcano itself. The crater once formed entirely of rock, is now topped with greenery, and looks like something from another planet (Jurassic Park springs to mind).
Image courtesy of WikiMedia
The El Caminito del Rey is probably Spain’s most famed walk and is located in the South of Spain (more specifically, in Ardales in Malaga). Despite being just under 8 km long, it’s a strenuous route that climbs an almost vertical cliff face in the Gaitanes Gorge. The sheerness of the slopes combined with very narrow walkways has led to several tragic deaths over the years, earning it a reputation as the most dangerous walkway on earth.
To improve safety the walkway was restored and reopened in 2015, and you now need to purchase a ticket to tackle the climb. Tickets are purchased online and sell out quickly, so we recommend booking in advance. It will cost you €10 for an ordinary ticket and €18 for a guided tour.
The one-way walk begins in Ardaels and ends in El Chorro and, along the way, you’ll encounter some spectacular views of the Desfiladero de los Gaitanes area. The river running through it has formed a picturesque canyon, and there’s some cool wildlife to spot if you keep your eyes open, including ibex, eagles, and foxes.
The Ruta del Cares hike in Northern Spain stretches from Poncebos and ends in Cain, both of which are located in the Picos de Europe National Park. The linear route is 12 km in distance (although some people enjoy it so much they double back on themselves and end up hiking 24 km in total!) and, although the first 2 km are a bit of a climb, the route is fairly easy going all in all.
The hike itself leads you across a path etched into the side of a gorge, and you’ll also often hear it referred to as the Cares Gorges Trail. Views of the gorge are consistently impressive throughout the hike, and there’s an especially memorable section just before the endpoint in Cain, where you’ll pass through tunnels with a window-like hole in the rock. As well as the scenery, this mountainous area is filled with forests and is home to tonnes of wild animals, including brown bears and the rare Iberian wolf (as well as other more common animals such as goats, sheep, and horses).
In the far northeast of Spain, very close to the French border, is yet another fantastic hike known as the Pico Sobarcal. The round hike is just over 13 km, and en route, you’ll reach the peak of Sobarca, which offers incredible views of the French Pyrenees Mountains.
Most of the hike is moderate in nature, but to summit, the peak is no easy feat and only experienced mountaineers should attempt the climb. It’s not all rocky mountains though, you’ll pass through luscious greenery and woody forests too, making this a nice and varied hike.
The Camino de Santiago is unlike any of the other hikes on our list not only because of the incredible distances involved but also because of its spiritual relevance.
Although there are various routes available, they will all tea you across parts of Northern Spain, and they accumulate at the city of Santiago de Compostela, after which the hike takes its name. In the middle ages, people of all walks of life headed to this city where their pilgrimage would be acknowledged, earning them a reduced sentence in purgatory. Even now, the midday mass acknowledges those pilgrims that have completed their journey. The hike itself can take several weeks, and there are various shortcuts and starting points available (with the most common route actually starting in France).
Image courtesy of WikiMedia
For those of you who don’t have weeks to spend on a pilgrimage-style hike (which is probably most of you) then the Béjar to Candelario trail may be a far more realistic option. The walk takes place in Western Spain and begins in Béjar (you can even set off straight from the Béjar bus stop).
At roughly 25 km, the route is pretty long, but it’s fairly flat and easy-going. Plus, there are much-needed pubs along the way where you can stop off for a refreshing beverage. One of the things we like best about this hike is that you get to admire the mountainous landscape without undertaking any horrid climbs, winning.
At 3,479 meters high, the peak of Mulhacen is the highest point on mainland Spain. Despite this impressive height, the climb can be done in a day if you hop on a bus service to Paraje del Cascajar from Capileira (bus tickets can be purchased in advance via this website). From the top, on a clear day, you’ll be able to see right down to the Mediterranean Sea.
But don’t worry if things are a little cloudy, the views will be spectacular nonetheless, and you might even spot an ibex if you’re lucky. The way is clearly marked but, if you want to play it safe, there are guided tours available that operate throughout the year. They also run multi-day ascent trips if you think one day in the spectacular mountain range just won’t be enough for you.
This hike is a great one for anyone looking to escape the business of Barcelona for a day, as the starting point is about 1.5 hours away from the city. You’ll begin at the Montserrat Monastery, from which you’ll ascend up a steep but otherwise fairly straightforward trail for around 2 hours. At the top of Sant Jeroni, you’ll be rewarded with gorgeous views of the monastery and countryside below and, on a clear day, you might even be able to spot Mallorca in the distance. There are lovely wildflowers along the way too, and you’ll be amazed at how natural this spot is despite being not far from Barcelona.
How long? 9 km
How high? Elevation gain of 600 meters
How difficult? Intermediate
If all you want to do is stretch your legs and breathe some fresh air for a couple of hours, then we recommend the Cami de Rodes hike. This hike is more of a stroll, yet it offers fantastic ocean views. You can start from an old Benedictine monastery located not far from the nearby towns of Vilajuiga and Port de la Selva, then simply follow the signs from there. You’ll be directed towards the remnants of an old fortress too – ocean views, history, and even mountains in the background, this short hike really does have it all.
As much as Spain’s mountains are impressive, we love a good river stroll too. The Bailón River Trail runs along the banks of the Bailón River (surprise surprise) and is 12 km in total. It’s fairly flat compared to some of the more mountainous treks we’ve looked at so far, and the is definitely a lot greener. This linear path stretches from Poljé de La Nava de Cabra to the town of Zuheros, and you’ll pass through gorgeous holm oak forests and waterfalls as well as witnessing the wonder of the canyon formed by the river itself.
If you prefer coasts to mountains then fear, not the San Sebastian to Pasajes coastal path is a lovely hike that can be completed in half a day… and it won’t leave you absolutely exhausted afterward. This fairly easy trail is just 7 km long, and it begins at San Sebastian. As well as ocean views, you’ll be blessed with luscious green trees that will shelter you from the heat of the sun as you hike. And speaking of blessed… don’t be surprised if you come across one or two pilgrims on this hike, as it overlaps with a section of the popular Camino de Santiago route.
Pasajes itself is a quaint town where you can happily rejuvenate before catching the bus back to San Sebastian (or beginning your return hike if you’re feeling up to it). Alternatively, if you feel like exploring some more, you can hop on a ferry to the village of Pasajes de San Juan, just a few minutes away.