Hiking in Sierra Nevada is an experience any lover of nature should have while in Andalucia – it is one of the best places to hike in Spain. This is one of the most touristy regions of Spain, famous for its beautiful cities such as Malaga, Granada, Seville, Cordoba and Almeria. But there’s a much less touristy side to it. Indeed, Andalucia is where the Sierra Nevada is located.
The Sierra Nevada is a fantastic mountain range that spreads across the provinces of Granada and Almería. Most of the range is now part of a National Park, and thanks to its diversity, it has been recognized as a UNESCO biosphere reserve. Needless to say, some fabulous day trips from Granada involve hiking in the mountains.
Aside from the high mountains of the Alps, the Sierra Nevada is the highest mountain range in Europe. The highest peak is the Mulhacén, which reaches 3478 meters. This and other peaks obviously mean that the Sierra Nevada is an outstanding destination for winter sports such as skiing. What’s interesting is that Andalucia remains mild and sunny throughout the winter; while at the same time the Sierra Nevada gets covered in snow.
The good news for nature lover is that hiking the Sierra Nevada is incredible: there’s hiking trails galore, ranging from easy walks to those that require a higher level of fitness. Most trails can be walked in just a day; some go all the way to the Mulhacén, and even among them there’s various levels of difficulty: the hardest trails are those on the northern side of the mountain; whereas the southern part has the easiest ones.
This post is about hiking in Sierra Nevada, and the trails are organized by level of difficulty. I will also be including some tips on how to make the most of them.
The Best Hiking In Sierra Nevada
High Difficulty Hikes
Locals call Travenque “The King,”and there’s a reason for it. It may not be the highest mountain, but when it comes to hiking in the Sierra Nevada, this is as good as it gets. Once at the top, there’s a 360° views of Veleta, the Sierra Nevada ski station, and of the mountains around it. The trail also goes through the splendid valley of Dílar river.
This hiking trail is 16 km long and walking it takes around 5 hours and 30 minutes. As far as hiking the Sierra Nevada, this is one of the most challenging ones – mostly becuase of the terrain (gravel and sand) that makes it quite hard to walk. The trail is well marked, though in parts it’s not so easy to identify it. There is no water fountains or sources (or anywhere to buy water) along the trail, so make sure to take enough.
Trevélez – Siete Lagunas
Those who are hiking in Sierra Nevada whill love the Travélez – Siete Lagunas trail. It goes all the way to the green meadows of Siete Lagunas, which is rather lush compared to the desolate surroundings. From Siete Lagunas another trail goes all the way to Mulhacén and Alcazaba – but beware that it’s practically impossible to walk it in a day.
Among the hikes in Sierra Nevada, this is a challenging yet very rewarding one. It’s a bit over 17 km, there’s a considerable climb and it takes more than 7 hours to walk it. It’s better not to attempt it on hot days, though keep in mind that there’s snow on the trail until the end of May. I also recommend not carrying a lot of weight: it just makes it harder to walk.
The path is properly marked and the terrain good. There’s water about half way, in La Campinuela. Just carry enough anyways: water fountains can be found in Trevélez. Camping is permitted in Siete Lagunas – a nice way to further enjoy hiking in Sierra Nevada.
Vereda de la Estrella Loop
This is one of the longest hikes in Sierra Nevada. The Vereda de la Estrella Loop is 22.5 km long, and it can be walked in 7 hours. It combines the Vereda de la Estrella trail (a path built to access the Estrella copper mine, and a nice hike on its own) with a higher trail on the other side of the valley.
The trail is good in terms of terrain and how it is marked; but the 1000 meters climb make it quite challenging when it comes to hiking in Sierra Nevada. Beware that there is a section between the river and the Refugio de la Cucaracha where the path is not as visible and it becomes quite rocky. Also keep in mind that there’s no water fountains along the way, so make sure to take enough.
Another thing to keep in mind when hiking the Sierra Nevada here is that the can turn quite bad all of a sudden, and snow can be an issue. Keeping this in mind, it is better to hike it during the spring, summer or fall. I love it in the fall, when the colors are just gorgeous. The views are stunning all along, spreading to the three highest peaks of the Sierra Nevada – Mulhacén, Veleta and Alcazaba.
Sulayr Capileira – Trevélez
When it comes to hiking in Sierra Nevada, the Sulayr is a rather long trail. The bit that connects Capileira to Trevélez, which are two of the prettiest villages in the Alpujarras, on the southern slopes of the Sierra Nevada, is absolutely wonderful. The views of the mountains and villages throughout the hike is breathtaking and the waterfalls encountered along the way make it even more beautiful.
The hike is long and strenuous. In this case it is not the terrain that makes it hard, but the lenght: 19 km, with some hard climbing bits. Of the hikes in Sierra Nevada, this is a rather well marked path – though it gets confusing in some parts so I recommend taking a map.
Hiking the Sierra Nevada on this side is not possible in the winter months, when there’s high chances of snow on the trail. And in the summer months there’s hardly any shade to take shelter from the sun and heat. Make sure to carry enough water – though there is a spring at the higest point.
Medium Difficulty Hikes
Beas de Granada
In terms of hiking in Sierra Nevada, this is one of the unmissable trails, thanks to the breathtaking views of the entire mountain range. The best time to walk the Beas de Granada is the winter, when the mountains are snow capped and the views even more beautiful.
The trail starts right in Granada, making it one of the nicest day trips from Granada. The hike is 16 km long, but it is not hard. However, keep in mind that there’s no shade along the trail (a good reason to avoid it during the summer months) and that no water fountains can be found along the way.
GR-7 Trevélez – Busquístar
I am a huge fan of long distance trails. I walked the Poon Hill circuit in Nepal and had the time of my life (you can read more about it here). I know that most people won’t have enough time to walk the whole GR-7, but the good news is that the Trevélez – Busquístar is one of bits, and one of the nicest trails when hiking in Sierra Nevada.
The walk starts in the village of Trevélez and from there it goes through a forest, past farmhouses, and a beautiful waterfall before descending to Busquístar. I recommend walking it in the spring, when the flowers are in full bloom. It takes around 4 hours to walk the 13 km trail. It is not a strenous hike – mostly downhill though there’s a couple of uphill bits. There’s no water fountains along the way.
GR-7 Busquístar – Capileira
Another section of the GR-7 is the one between Busquístar and Capileira. It goes all the way through the Alpujarras, the countryside some pretty villages such as Busquístar, Pitres, Capilerilla and Capileira. The views of the Sierra Nevada are gorgeous while approaching Capilerilla – that’s why hiking in the Sierra Nevada here is a must.
The trail is a bit over 11 km long and it takes around 4 hours to complete. The terrain is good, the path well marked. There’s a couple of uphill sections. As it goes through several villages, there’s plenty of places to stop for water along the way.
In terms of hiking in the Sierra Nevada, this trail if perfect for families with children as there’s plenty of wild flowers, fruit trees, a river and the lavander and rosemary bushes along the way: it makes it all the more colorful, especially in the spring or in the fall, when the leaves turn gold. And there’s even a gorge and hanging bridges.
It is a circular route of about 8 km that can be walked in 3 hours or less. It isn’t among the difficult hikes in Sierra Nevada, but there’s bits in which it is necessary to scramble under a rock: do not worry though as metal handles have been placed to help walking past.
Cañada Sereno is one of the easy hikes in Sierra Nevada, thus especially recommended to families with children. It’s about 12 km long, with benches along the way to rest, and even a meadow where it is nice to stop for a picnic. A water fountain can be found near the River Darro, one of the two rivers running through Granada. Though the trail can be accessed throughout the year, keep in mind that there may be snow in the winter.
Melegís – Reservoir
Starting in the beautiful, white village of Melegís, and going to the Béznar reservoir, this 4 km walk goes through the beautiful orange groves of the Lecrín Valley. What makes hiking the Sierra Nevada special here is the favorable micro-climate of the valley, which means that even during the winter t is much milder than in the rest of the region.
When to go hiking in Sierra Nevada
Any season, including winter, is good for hiking the Sierra Nevada – much like Sardinia. The position in Southern Europe is very favourable, but keep in mind that the highest peaks may not be accessible in the winter months because of snow and ice. However, the temperatures are pleasant on the foothills even in the winter, and the views from there are equally beautiful.
I wouldn’t recommend hiking Sierra Nevada in the summer, definitely not the foothills, as it may simply be too hot. The peaks may give a break from the heat. In any case, keep in mind that wheather can turn to the worst all of a sudden and it may rain even in the summer.
The good news to those who want to go hiking in Sierra Nevada is that most people outside of Spain only know Andalucia for its cities, so the trails hardly get crowded. Quite obviously, the easier the trail the more people on it.
Nearest city to access hiking in Sierra Nevada
The beautiful Granada is the perfect starting point to go hiking in Sierra Nevada. This is one of the most famous places to visit in Andalucia and even in Spain (for more places to visit in Spain, check my posts on the Basque Country or that on Galicia). Some of the trails start directly in the city, making some of the hikes great day trips from Granada.
Among the places to visit in Granada there’s the Alhambra, a fortress built in the 9th century and which is a wonderful testimony of the Moorish rule over Spain. Another must see is the Generalife, thought to be the summer equivalent of the Alhambra. Spring and summer months call for a visit to the gardens of Carmen de los Martires.
Those who need a break from hiking in Sierra Nevada should visit the oldest neighborhood in Granada, the Albaicin, an incredible maze of beautiful, narrow alleys, cobbled streets, small squares and tiny shops and cafés where I enjoy getting lost (my friends know I have an obsession for narrow alleys, like those of the Old City of Jerusalem).
Further interesting places to visit in Granada are the Cathedral, built in a mixture of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles starting in 1518 and took over 180 years to finish. Charles V Palace, the royal residence that was built in tribute to Charles V parents Ferdinand and Isabella (who freed Granada from the Moorish rule in 1492) makes for another good visit.
Best places to stay when hiking the Sierra Nevada region
Those who want to go hiking in Sierra Nevada will find the best accommotation options in Granada. Having said that, there’s a bunch of good places to stay in the rest of the region. Here’s a selection of the best places to stay in the Sierra Nevada region:
- Hotel Parraga Siete: it has comfortable and stylish rooms. Click here for the latest rates and check out reviews here.
- Gar Anat Hotel Boutique: set in a gorgeous historic building. Click here for the latest rates and check out reviews here.
- Lemon Rock Hostel: perfect for backpackers. Click here for the latest rates and check out reviews here.
- El Castañar Nazari, in Busquístar: there’s beautiful views of the mountains from here. Click here for the latest rates and check out reviews here.
- Refugio Alpujarra Alta, in Trevélez: there’s dorms and even a family room. Click here for the latest rates and check out reviews here.
- Hostal Rural Las Terrazas de Alpujarra, in Bubion: it offers basic, yet comfortable rooms and the common area is quite cozy. Click here for the latest rates and check out reviews here.
- Hotel Rural Real de Poqueira, in Capileira: the main perks are the stunning mountain views and the pool. Click here for the latest rates and check out reviews here.
Although wild camping is supposedly permitted in the Sierra Nevada National Park, there’s a lot of restrictions so it may not be the best choice when hiking in Sierra Nevada. In any case, there’s campsites in the villages and cities where tents can be pitched and they tupically have places to park camper vans. Most also have cabins, while all have basic restaurants, a pool, a bar and laundry facilities.
The nearest airport for those who want to go hiking in the Sierra Nevada is that of Granada, connected to the rest of Spain and Europe via budget airlines. Another option is flying to the best connected airport in the region, Malaga, which however is located at about 200 km (less than 3 hours drive) from the Sierra Nevada.
Other useful information for hiking the Sierra Nevada
When hiking in Sierra Nevada, the best views are those from the Mirador de Travélez, a two hour walk on the southern side of the Mulhacén mountain. Several companies offer guided hikes in Sierra Nevada, varying in difficulty levels and duration.
The most comprehensive, updated site about hiking the Sierra Nevada is Trek Sierra Nevada, which also has downloadable maps and pdf information on the various hikes.
Have you ever been hiking in the Sierra Nevada? What did you enjoy the most about it?