Hiking The Picos De Europa: The Best Trails

There is no doubt that hiking the Picos de Europa is a must for adventure junkies visiting Spain. Part of the Cantabrian mountains, this mountain range is located about 20 km inland from the coast and spreads across the Asturias, Cantabria, Castille and León. 

Now a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, 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 these mountains when they saw them from afar. The highest peak is the Torre de Cerredo, which reaches 2650 meters. There are several other peaks reaching 2600 meters, and several caves (some get as deep as 1500 meters) as well as gorges. 

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 in Picos de Europa
Hikinng in the Picos de Europa guarantees stunning views

Hiking The Picos De Europa: The Best Trails

Ruta del Cares

DIFFICULTY – EASY

LENGHT – 12 KM

As far as hiking the Picos de Europa goes, it is hard to beat Rutas del Cares. Thought to be one of the most beautiful hikes in Europe, the trail goes along the Cares River and along the gorge and is nicknamed “the Divine Gorge.” The starting point is in Poncebos, in Asturias, and the trail ends 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, it is also suitable for children too.

Covadonga Lakes

DIFFICULTY – EASY

LENGHT – 12 KM

The Covadonga Lakes circular route 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.

This is a longish hike, though 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

DIFFICULTY – EASY

LENGHT – 5 KM

This is one of the shortest trail for hiking 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

DIFFICULTY – EASY

LENGHT – 9.5 KM

One of the loveliest hikes 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 hiking trails 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!

hiking in Picos de Europa
Taking in the views when hiking in the Picos de Europa

Ordiales Scenic Balcony Trail

DIFFICULTY – MODERATE

LENGHT – 22 KM

Another hike 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 here you will be crossing green mountain pastures and eventually emerge 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

DIFFICULTY – EASY

LENGHT – 3.5 KM

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

DIFFICULTY – MODERATE

LENGHT – 13.2 KM

One more trail that starts with a ride on the Fuente Dé cable car, it 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

DIFFICULTY – MODERATE

LENGHT – 10 KM

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

DIFFICULTY – EASY

LENGHT – 9 KM

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

DIFFICULTY – MODERATE

LENGHT – 15 KM

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.

hiking in Picos de Europa

Practical Information To Organize Your Picos De Europa Hiking Trip

When to hike the Picos de Europa

The Picos de Europa are located in the region of Spain known as “green Spain.” 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 you go, everything will be green and the vegetation will be lush.

Even if you plan on hiking in the Picos de Europa in the summer months (the driest months are July and August) keep in mind that the weather can change rapidly and it is a good idea to always take a rain jacket and rain gear. The best months to go hiking in the Picos de Europa are probably June and September, when the weather is milder and the days nice and long (especially in June), and there are no crowds.

If you are into birdwatching and wild flowers you probably want to go 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.

hiking Picos de Europa
Hiking Picos de Europa is an incredible experience!

Best starting point for hiking in the Picos de Europa National Park

The easiest place to fly to if you want to hike the Picos de Europa is Santander, in Cantabria, from where it takes less than 2 hours to drive to Potes (it’s around 115 km), the main access. You could also fly to 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).

As already said, the best access point to hike the Picos de Europa is Potes, a lovely village founded in the 8th century, whose its main revenue nowadays is tourism, thanks to its vicinity the Picos de Europa National Park. A maze of narrow alleys, and with a charming atmosphere, Potes is actually a nice place to visit whether you want to hike or not! 

The main sights are:

TORRE DEL INFANTADO – Currently housing the City Council, built in the 15th century.

CHURCH OF SAN VINCENTE – Dedicated to the saint patron of Potes, built in the 15th century, and subsequently rebuilt from the 15th to the 17th century and finally replaced in the 19th century by the new parish church.

BRIDGE OF SAN CAYETANO – Built in the 13th century above the Rio Quiviesa, it has the Ermita de San Cayetano located at one end of the bridge.

ERMITA DE LA VIRGEN DEL CAMINO – A chapel built in the 18th century.

BENEDICTINE CONVENT OF SAN RAIMUNDO – It dates back to the early 17th century.

In Potes, you can sleep at HOSTERIA LA ANTIGUA – a cosy guesthouse in rustic style. In Turieno, at 2 km from Potes, you can sleep in Posada Laura. Other places are Hotel El Jisu, in Camaleño, where rooms have stunning mountain views; Albergue Turistico Briz, in Espinama, a great option for backpackers; and Posada Peña Arriba, at around 1.5 km from Brez, in Cantabria

Other useful information

The best views of the Picos de Europa are from Fuente Dé, which can be reached by cable car. There’s a restaurant serving local food at the top.

Remember to always get a good travel insurance for your hiking trips. You can find a good one here.

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?

Further readings

Are you planning a trip to Spain? Make sure to read my other posts:

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Discover the best hikes in the Picos de Europa - via @clautavani

18 thoughts on “Hiking The Picos De Europa: The Best Trails”

  1. Hello Claudia, thank you for this insightful post!
    I’ve been dreaming about hiking in Picos de Europa for a long time and now I’m starting to gather some information about this amazing place.
    Keep up the good work 🙂

    Reply
  2. Pingback: SENDERISMO – TREKKING: 30 POSTS QUE AYUDAN PARA VIAJAR [1] | Viatges pel Món
  3. Hi Claudia, great article! we spend last year also some days in the picos de europa and is such an amazing landscape.
    Best wishes,
    Jan

    Reply
  4. Hi Claudia,
    Great article! I find it very difficult to get information on the picos, this was helpful!
    Would you say you need a car to experience the most out of the picos de europa?

    Reply
    • Hey Sanne, glad you found the post useful. Honestly, a car would definitely make your life easier!!

      Reply
  5. Hi, Claudia! Thanks a lot for the articles – they are great! Very informative. I have done Ruta del Cares last month hiking from Cain to Poncebos. The views are fantastic and the route itself is quite hard to be honest. A word of caution, which I hope will be useful for those who plan to do it. The route is approximately 12 – 13 km long by foot. It is not a circular route, so if you arrived by car, you will either have to walk back, which might be very tiring or take a taxi, which costs 130 Eur. The reason for the high price is that there is no quick road for driving. The distance from Cain to Poncebos by car is 115 km which takes 2 hours and 30 minutes. So just be aware, as it may confuse you. Other than that – the route is really nice and worth doing.

    Reply
    • Thank you so much for the tip Vladimir – I love it when my readers contribute with first hand information and experiences! This will come in very handy to others!

      Reply
  6. Thanks for sharing the descriptions. Very well organized post.
    I have a question. I will be hiking in the Picos de Europa in early July. I would like to know if one can leave my car at Cavadonga Lakes to do the circular route of Cavadonga Lakes (which you recommend very highly). Is there a parking? Are there any restrictions to use the road?
    Thank you, Krystyna

    Reply
    • Hi! Yes, there is a parking lot that costs €2 if I am not mistaken. The road is only open to tour buses so you can actually do a guided tour if you want (or a guided hike, obviously).

      Reply
  7. Hi Claudia ! Many thanks for this very complete overview of Trekking in the Picos…I’m off there next month to check it out 😀

    Reply
  8. Hi Claudia, I chanced upon your article on Picos de Europa, which I found it really useful! For some reason, it’s very hard to find information on this National Park. I have a few questions regarding Picos de Europa as well as Ruta del Cares, which seems to be the most recommended trail. Sorry in advance that this is going to be long.

    – Is Potes the town that I should be basing in, if I want to hike Ruta del Cares? It seems quite far from either end of the trail. And does it means that I have to walk back the same way or is there transport at both ends of the trail to bring me back to the base town?

    – I understand that Ruta del Cares is a route that runs along the gorge. Would it be possible to detour from the route to head towards one of the lakes in the National Park or combine Ruta del Cares with something else?

    – I’m likely to travel by public transport, from Madrid; what would be the the most recommended way of getting to Picos de Europa?
    I’ve seen people mentioning that I should take a train from Madrid to Santander before changing to a 2.5hour-long bus. That makes the whole route 7 hours. Would it be better to get to Leon instead? But I’m not sure how I should travel on from there because information is limited (at least in English).

    – Is there any website that you would recommend for looking up how to get around the area? Preferably in English but if it’s in Spanish, I can always use Google Translate!

    Thank you in advance!

    Reply
    • Hello Lala, thank you for your comment.

      To hike Ruta del Cares, the best starting points are either Caín or Poncebos-Arenas de Cabrales. Keep in mind it’s a 12km trail so you can’t really walk back on the same day. But if you do, you are better off starting in Poncebos. There isn’t much in terms of public transportation between the two – chances are you will have to hitch a ride, hire a taxi or something like that. I recommend enquiring at your hotel or hostel about that.

      The hike is long enough the way it is, so I do not recommend detours.

      Santander is the best place to start your journey to Poncebos – Arenas del Cabrales. It is a long journey indeed. I’d recommend spending a day in Santander to break the journey a bit, if you have time!

      Viaje Camino de Santiago has some more information about the Route – and it’s in English. Please be aware that I don’t recommend hiking this alone!!

      Reply

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