There is no doubt that hiking the Picos de Europa is a must for adventure junkies who visit Spain, and indeed one of the best places for hiking in Spain. This mountain range is part of the Cantabrian mountains, spreading across the Asturias, Cantabria, Castille and León. This northern part of Spain is known as “green Spain,”for it actually is very green thanks to the persistent rain, which favours the growth of forests and thick vegetation.
Check out my post about the best places for hiking in Spain.
The mountain range, where a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve has been recognized, is located about 20 km inland from the coast, yet the mountains are so high that they are visible from the sea. “Picos de Europa” (Peaks of Europe) was how the sailors coming back from the Americas would refer to them when they saw them from afar. Just imagine the range of hikes in the Picos de Europa, so beautiful they are!
Torre de Cerredo, with its 2650 meters, is the highest peak of the Picos de Europa. There’s several other peaks reaching 2600 meters on this mountain range mostly made of limestone. Another peculiarity is that there’s several caves (some get as deep as 1500 meters) as well as gorges. It’s easy to see why walking in the Picos de Europa is such a fun experience for nature lovers.
Hiking the Picos de Europa is a great experience, and there are many good hiking trails, some inside and some outside the national park. The difficulty level varies, but most trails can be walked in a day and it is not necessary to stay overnight at a refugio.
This post focuses on the best hikes in the Picos de Europa, and shares some good tips that will help make the most of the experience.
Hiking The Picos De Europa: The Best Trails
Ruta del Cares
As far as hiking in the Picos de Europa goes, it is hard to beat Rutas del Cares. Actually, I think this is one of the most beautiful hikes in Europe. The trail goes along the Cares River and is nicknamed “the Divine Gorge.” The hike is 12 km long, and they are mostly along the gorge. Hiking starts in Poncebos, in Asturias, and terminates in Caín, in León. The views along the way are beautiful: cliffs, the river below, and narrow pathways make it simply splendid.
The walk is actually mostly flat and there’s lots of places to stop for breaks and take in the views. Thus, as far as hikes in the Picos de Europa, this is one of the most suitable for children too.
Hiking Picos de Europa, one is bound to walk the Covadonga Lakes circular route. This is located in Asturias, in the northern part of Picos de Europa National Park. The starting point is at the Sanctuary of Covadonga. The first lake, Enol, is at 12 km from the Sanctuary. On the way to Enol the Mirador de la Reina is a stunning viewpoint. Lake Ercina, the second lake along the trail, is at 1108 meters above sea level.
Of the hikes in the Picos de Europa, this is a longish one but fairly easy as it is mostly flat – so it is suitable for kids. The views along the way are splendid: the water in the lakes reflects the snowcapped mountain; there’s wild horses, cows and sheep grazing in the fields.
Brez Circular Route
This is one of the shortes hikes in the Picos de Europa (just around 5 km), so it is a good one for families with children. The starting and ending points are in Brez, a really pretty village in northern Cantabria, which is framed by the gorgeous mountains. The trail goes through the Valley of Camaleño and part of the massif of the Andara.
Puerto de San Glorio to Portilla de la Reina
One of the loveliest hiking in the Picos the Europa, this trail goes through the mountain pass of Puerto de San Glorio, which is set at the south eastern corner of the Picos de Europa, bordering with Castilla y León. The pass goes along the Arroyo de Naranco River, and by the scenic village of Portilla de la Reina. The overall hike is about 9.5 km long, taking between 2.5 to 3 hours to complete.
What makes this one of the best hikes in the Picos de Europa is the views: picture the mossy green cliffs, the forests and the Monumento del Oso (“monument of the bear”) at Puerto de San Glorio, and now imagine how much children are going to enjoy it!
Ordiales Scenic Balcony Trail
Another one of the hikes in the Picos de Europa that is located in the same area as the Covadonga Lakes Trail, in Asturias. The trails starts at Lake Enol and goes to Pradera de Ordiales, for little over 11 km (one way). Walking in the Picos de Europa in this particular area means crossing green mountain pastures and eventually emerging at La Gamonal Pass and the pinnacles of Santa María and La Cebollera. The trails goes down to the tomb of the Marquis de Villabiciosa and the Ordiales Scenic Balcony. The view of the Cornión Massif from there is stunning.
Fuente Dé to Espinama
I did mention in my post on the best hikes in Spain that hiking in the Picos de Europa means going to Fuente Dé. A cable car takes all the way to Fuente Dé, at 1823 meters above sea level and it then is about one hour to go all the way back downhill, all the while admiring the gorgeous views. The village of Espinama, where the trail ends, is lovely.
Ruta de Fuente Dé a Puertos de Aliva
One more hiking in the Picos de Europa that starts with a ride on the Fuente Dé cable car. This trail goes all the way to Puertos de Aliva, in Cantabria. The overall hike (there and back) is 13.4 km long, at a medium level difficulty, despite being mostly downhill. The starting point is at around 730 meters above sea level. The panoramic views along the way are beautiful, and expands all the way to the peaks of Tesorero, Horcados Rojos and Peña Vieja.
Ruta de Torres de Orcado Rojos
One of the highest peaks of the Picos de Europa is Torre de Horcados Rojos, which reaches 2343 meters. It’s a nice place to go hiking in the Picos de Europa, as the hike to the top isn’t difficult. It takes around 4 hours to walk the 10 km trail which (guess what) starts at Fuente Dé cable car. What makes the hike worth it is the view of the Cantabrian Sea and the Sierra de Cuera to the north, and those of Cabaña Verónica and its peaks to the south.
Bajo Los Picos Trail
Bajo Los Picos Trail is one of the easiest hikes in the Picos de Europa region, so it is suitable for families with children. It is a circular route of around 9 km. The trails starts and ends in Mogrovejo, in the northwestern part of Cantabria. Though there is an initial ascent that may seem quite hard, after that the rest of the hike is easy, going through beautiful pastures and villages.
Vega de Ario Plane
The Vega de Ario Plane trails is 15 km long, and it takes around 5 hours to walk it. The trail starts close to Lake Ercina (one of the Covadonga Lakes) and goes to Vega de Ario plain, Vega de Ario refuge and eventually back to the lake. Hiking the Picos de Europa here means having gorgeous views of the lake, of the pastures and of the peaks in the distance: they are just breathtaking.
The best time for hiking the Picos de Europa
I have mentioned already that the Picos de Europa is located in the region of Spain known as “green Spain” (of which the Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia are also part.) The reason this part of the country is so green is that it rains pretty much all year. The good news is that, no matter when one decides to go hiking in the Picos de Europa, everything will be green and the vegetation will be lush.
Even when planning to go hiking in the Picos de Europa in the summer months (the driest months are July and August) keep in mind that the weather does change rapidly and it is a good idea to always take a rain jacket and any other rain gear. I think that the best months to go hiking in the Picos de Europa are June and September, when the weather is milder and the days nice and long (especially in June), and there’s no crowds.
Those who are into birdwatching and wild flowers may consider hiking the Picos de Europa in April, May and October. In any case, keep in mind that this area of Spain doesn’t get nearly as much tourism as other regions, so chances are that no matter the season, there won’t be many people on the trails.
The nearest city go to hiking in the Picos de Europa National Park
The best access point for anybody who is interested in hiking the Picos de Europa is Potes, a village that however, in the peak season when more people visit the national park, gets more crowded. The village is lovely: it was founded in the 8th century, and its main revenue nowadays is tourism, thanks to its vicinity the Picos de Europa National Park.
Actually, regardless of the intention of going hiking in the Picos de Europa, the village is nice to visit. Imagine a maze of narrow alleys, and a charming atmosphere. The Torre del Infantado, which houses the City Council, was built in the 15th century. The church of San Vincente, which is the saint patron of Potes, was built in the 15th century, and subsequently rebuilt from the 15th to the 17th century. It was eventually replaced in the 19th century by the new parish church.
There’s other interesting places to visit in Potes, too. The Bridge of San Cayetano was built in the 13th century above the Rio Quiviesa. The Ermita de San Cayetano is located at one end of the bridge: nowadays it is the venue for cultural events and exhibitions. Other places worth visiting are the Ermita de la Virgen del Camino, a chapel built in the 18th century; the Ermita de la Virgen de Valmayor, built in the 16th century a bit outside the village; and the Benedectine Convent of San Raimundo; dating to the early 17th century.
Where to stay when hiking in the Picos de Europa
There’s a good choice of accommodation options for those hiking in the Picos de Europa National Park. Potes has the best places. Anyways, here’s a selection of hotels, hostels and campsites in the area:
- Hosteria La Antigua, in Potes: a cosy guesthouse in rustic style. Click here for reviews and check the latest rates here.
- Posada Laura, in Turieno: at around 2 km from Potes, this is a nice country hotel. Click here for reviews and check the latest rates here.
- Albergue Turistico Briz, in Espinama: perfect for backpackers and solo travelers as it has dorms. Click here for reviews and check the latest rates here.
- Posada Peña Arriba, at around 1.5 km from Brez, in Cantabria: there’s double as well as family rooms, and an onsite restaurant. Click here for reviews and check the latest rates here.
- Hotel El Jisu, in Camaleño: there’s gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains. Click here for reviews and check the latest rates here.
Those who want to go hiking in the Picos de Europa can access it from various airports, all served by budget ailines too. The nearest one is that of Santander, in Cantabria, from where it takes less than 2 hours to drive to Potes (it’s around 115 km). This is the main access. Other airports would be Oviedo, in Asturias, which is 165 km far from the national park (around 2 hours drive) and Bilbao, in the Basque Country, which around 200 km far ( about 2 and a half hours drive).
Other useful information
Those hiking the Picos de Europa usually find that the best views are from Fuente Dé, which can be reached by cable car. There’s a restaurant serving local food at the top.
Various companies and tour operators organize one-day and even multi-day hikes in the Picos de Europa, catering to adventure travelers as well as families traveling with children.
The website of Spain Tourism Board provides information on how to organize hikes in the Picos de Europa.
Have you ever been hiking in the Picos de Europa?