Picos de Europa is located in the north of Spain and is perhaps one of the most beautiful natural parks in Europe. It is rugged, breathtakingly beautiful, challenging, and varied! The biodiversity is very good here, so you will have some special encounters with animals during your stay in Picos de Europa, such as an eagle.
The best way to get to know this park is by doing a couple of Picos de Europa hikes. There are over 1000+ hiking trails, so it can be difficult to find a hike that’s perfect for you. We hiked in Picos de Europa for four days and are happy to share our tips to help you choose the best Picos de Europa hikes.
What are the best Picos de Europa hikes?
To get straight to the point, there is no ‘best’ Picos de Europa hike because this varies from person to person. We have walked the routes below. The routes are arranged by personal preference. In our opinion, the hike from Sotres to Puertos de Aliva is the most beautiful one to do. When drawing up the list, we took into account the intensity over the days. It is therefore advisable to keep this order if you are staying in Picos de Europa for 6 days. If you stay 4 days you can do the first 4 walks, just like we did.
- Sotres to Puertos de Aliva
- Ruta del Cares
In addition to the above routes, the two routes below are also recommended. Due to time constraints, we were, unfortunately, unable to do these hikes.
- Naranjo de Bulnes
- Covadonga Lakes
You can use the map below to orientate yourself during the walks. You can also see where you can park your car per hike. In addition, you can see where our recommended accommodations are, the best places to eat, and where to take the bus to start the Covadonga hike. Click on the top right corner to enlarge the map.
#1 Sotres to Puertos de Aliva
In our opinion, this is the most beautiful walk you can do in Picos de Europa. It is a technically simple walk that takes a long time. You walk in a glacier valley at 1650m altitude, which is truly beautiful. The views and the silence during this hike are breathtaking.
You start this walk in Sotres and follow a Land Rover track through the valley up to the summer pasture area of Aliva and back. This valley is surrounded by impressive rock walls. At the highest point, you order some food at refugio de Aliva. From the terrace, you have a panoramic view of the valley.
Start the tour on time, as you will probably take longer than 7 hours with resting, taking pictures, and walking. A nice guideline is to start at 8 am.
We can talk for hours about this trip to convince you to do this trip too, hopefully, our photos will inspire you :).
- Distance: 18.8km
- Duration: 7 hours
- Ascent/descent: 735m
- Start and end point: Sotres
#2 Ruta del Cares
Ruta del Cares is the most popular route in Picos de Europa which you need to do! This hike was created after the construction of the canal that runs from Cain to Poncebos. In Poncebos is a power station located that uses the power of water to generate power. It is an impressive walk, as the path is partially carved, you pass several old bridges and find yourself between a huge gorge.
During this hike, you will continuously walk through the gorge with the river alongside you. The views are beautiful! The tour starts at Ponchebos and you walk until Cain. At Cain, you can buy food and drinks. After lunch in Cain, you need to walk back to Ponchebos via the same road. If you are very tired you can take a bus in the village of Cain to Ponchebos, so you only have to walk the path once.
The trek is easy except the start at Ponchebos can be a challenge as you have to climb 150m steeply. Once you have reached the top, the rest of the journey is easy. The special thing about the Ruta del Cares is that the path is right along a rock wall high above the river so that people with a fear of heights can suffer from this. Cynthia has a fear of heights and found the beginning difficult (the first 30 minutes) but after that, she didn’t suffer from her fear of heights at all because she always walked along the wall and therefore only had to look forward instead of down.
- Distance: 22km
- Duration: 7 hours
- Ascent/descent: 250m
- Starting and finishing point: Poncebos
The walk from Ponchebos to the mountain village of Bulnes is a relatively easy and short route, but this does not make the route any less spectacular. It is a great walk because you have to climb a lot on a relatively short part. You can also enjoy beautiful views on this route.
The best part of this route is that you arrive at Bulnes which is a typical mountain village. When you are in Bulnes it seems as if time has stood still here. Bulnes is built as many villages used to be, a church with a couple of houses around it.
In addition to Bulnes itself, you can also walk to the nearby Bulnes Castillo, which is the village that lies above Bulnes. Also, don’t forget to walk to the mirador of Bulnes. In good weather conditions, you can see Naranjo de Bulnes.
For people with reduced mobility, it is still possible to visit Bulnes because you can use the funicular (cable car) from Poncebos. From the exit of the funicular, it is only a 7 minute walk to Bulnes.
- Distance: 8km
- Duration: 3 hours
- Ascent/descent: 433m
- Departure and end point: Poncebos
This is a beautiful trip through the high mountains where you can enjoy magnificent views. On this trip you walk on an old mining road, you are in the middle of the mountains of the eastern part of the park and you will probably see many eagles. This is an area where they are common.
The best part of this hike is the views because with good weather conditions you can even see the sea. As indicated on the map, you can walk the tour in two ways. Walk from Sotres to refugio de Andara, when you have arrived there you can make a circle around the mountain. If you are at the refugio de Andara and there is fog or low clouds, it makes no sense to make the round because you will not see anything. However, if you expect to rise above the clouds, you will have a wonderful experience.
During this trip, you will not encounter any water sources, so it is important to take enough water with you.
- Distance: option I: A-B-A: 13.4km | option II: ABCA: 22.5km
- Duration: option I: 4 hours | option II: 9 hours
- Ascent/descent: option I: 640m | option II: 1150m
- Departure and end point : Sotres
#5 Naranjo de Bulnes
For many adventurers and hiker lovers, the hike to Naranjo de Bulnes is the ultimate hike to do in Picos de Europa. During this trip, you will always be surprised by the landscape. Sometimes it resembles a moonscape, other times it is robust and the beauty is unprecedented.
From the parking lot Pandebano you can start the walk to eventually reach the refugio Vega de Urriellu. It is also possible to start in Sotres, but this is not recommended because the hike will be very long. This hike is tough because you have to ascend and descend 1000m. Start early in the morning because the start of the hike will be in the shade. If you start too late, it can quickly be very hot because the position of the sun changes and you walk continuously in the sun.
It is possible to tap water at the beginning and halfway through the refugio, however, there are signs that the water is not safe. You can drink this, the only thing is that the authorities do not guarantee that this water is 100% pure.
- Distance: 17km
- Duration: 7 hours
- Ascent/descent: 1000m
- Departure and end point: Pandebano car park, Bulnes exit and Urriellu
#6 Covadonga Lakes
Hiking at the Covadonga Lakes is for many the iconic image of Picos de Europa. This walk is not difficult and is easy to do for all ages. The nice thing about this walk is that you see many sheep and cows grazing on the green heights. At the end of the hike, you will be treated with two beautiful lakes called Lago Enol and Lago de La Ercina.
To start this hike you have to use a bus. Travel to Cangas de Onis, here you can park your car at parking grande P1. Then take the bus to Covadonga (indicated on the bus). From Covadonga, you can start the hike to the Covadonga lakes.
- Distance: 24km
- Duration: 7 hours
- Ascent/Descent: 920m
- Start and end point: Covadonga
How many days do you need for Picos de Europa?
We recommend staying at least 3 days in Picos de Europa, so you have the opportunity to do 3 trekking tours. If you love to hike it is recommended to stay 6 days in Picos de Europa.
Picos de Europa walks independently or with a guide?
All the hikes in Picos de Europa can be done independently. Everything is marked and if you use a hiking map, our map, or the Maps.Me application you can easily navigate yourself. You can do all the walks in this article independently.
You only need a guide if you want to climb Naranjo de Bulnes. The hike that is listed on #5 goes to the base of Naranjo de Bulnes, but if you also want to climb the rock you have to do this with a guide. A good organization to climb Naranjo de Bulnes is Potes Adventura.
How fit do you need to be for hiking at Picos de Europa?
Of course, you have to be fit if you go hiking in a mountain area, but it is not necessary to be trained. If you are in good shape, go for a walk at home now and then and select routes that match your fitness, you will be fine. The six hikes in this article are all fine for anyone who has a normal condition.
It is recommended to do some long walks at home before your trip so you can get used to it. It is also advisable to build up the intensity of the tours. The order of the hikes in this article is recommended to follow because it is based on our personal experience in terms of intensity. For example, during the third day of the walk to Bulnes, you don’t have a long trip, so you can rest a bit.
Do you suffer from fear of heights at Picos de Europa?
You can suffer from vertigo during one of the hikes at Picos de Europa. It does depend on the hike and the person how they experience height. Cynthia is afraid of heights and she can assure you that you can do all the hikes without any problems.
Looking at the six hikes in this article, you may suffer from fear of heights during the hikes: #2 Ruta del Cares, #3 Bulnes, and #5 Naranjo de Bulnes. Ruta del Cares is difficult at the beginning for people with a fear of heights because you have steep parts here. It is important to walk close to the wall and not at the edge so that you do not look into the depth. For the hike to Bulnes, you can consider using the funicular (cable car). However, if you buy walking sticks, you can also cover the stretch independently. Naranjo de Bulnes is not recommended for people with a fear of heights, ask at the accommodation whether it is wise to start this hike if are afraid of heights.
Where to stay in Picos de Europa?
There are several villages around the Picos de Europa Natural Park where you can stay. We recommend staying in Arenas de Cabrales or Sotres. Both villages are centrally located so that all hikes are close by. The hikes in the central part of Picos de Europa are also rougher and more impressive in comparison with other parts. You can stay in the east or west part only the disadvantage is that you need to drive 1 hour per hike.
Arenas de Cabrales is the largest village in Picos de Europa, so you can find a couple of shops, restaurants, and accommodations here. Sotres, on the other hand, is the village in Picos de Europa that is the highest and deepest located in the park. Sotres is a small village where there is not much to do in the evening.
Both villages are fine to use as a base. Depending on how long you stay in Picos de Europa, one is better than the other. If like us, you are staying in Picos dee Europe for around 4 days, it is strongly recommended to stay in Arenas de Cabrales for the entirety of your stay. If you are going to stay longer in Picos de Europa, it is advisable to make a combination between both villages. For example, if you want to go hiking for 6 days, you can stay 3 days in Sotres and 3 days in Arenas de Cabrales.
In Arenas de Cabrales we recommend staying at Hotel La Rivera (€52 double room), this is a family hotel that welcomes you with a big smile. For us, this was the best accommodation we had during our trip through the north of Spain. The rooms are neat, the beds are very good, the breakfast is extensive, it is within walking distance of the main square, but the most important thing is that the owners are very nice. They take the time to explain everything about the area. Be quick with making a reservation because due to its popularity, rooms are fully booked quickly. If hotel La Rivera is fully booked, you can stay at Hotel Los Ángeles (€43 double room).
Sotres is a small village so you have few choices. We recommend Hotel Rural Peña Castil (€60 double room) because the atmosphere here is very good, rooms are neat and it has a restaurant so you can easily dine at your accommodation in the evening. If this is fully booked, Treselcorral (€63 double room) is a good alternative.
Where can you eat well in Picos de Europa?
In Arenas de Cabrales you can find some great places to eat. Our favorite is Sidreria Calluenga. This is a small family restaurant that serves fantastic food. During our stay, we also had lunch and dinner at other places, but we do not recommend this. The best advice we can give is to eat at Sidreria Calluenga every time. You need to try their fabada, the beans and the sauce are delicious. The cider here is also tasty because it comes straight from the land. Also try sidreria vermouth, a delicious Spanish drink for after dinner with some of their awesome chocolate desserts.
If you want to have breakfast in the morning or if you want to order lunch for the hikes, you can go to Panadería Confitería El Desquite. Here you can order sandwiches for €5, the Manchego cheese sandwich is highly recommended!
When staying in Sotres you need to go to Hotel Rural Peña Castil. There is no need to eat at any other place as it is simply the best in Sotres. Try their dishes where cheese of Cabrales is used, this is typical cheese they region. If you want something different, Casa Mi Güelu is nice for a change because you can order a plate of fries with marinated chicken here.
What do you take with you?
Assuming you do the hikes that we recommended you need the following items:
- Backpack, hiking boots. walking sticks, water (2 liters pp), cash, mobile, toilet paper, snacks, lunch (order at Panadería Confitería El Desquite), hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, poncho, specific clothing for hot, cold or wet weather.
Tip: before you leave, ask what the weather forecast is at your accommodation. It is advisable to bring water-repellent clothing, such as a poncho. The weather can suddenly change in the mountains and completely surprise you.
Do you need special travel insurance?
Yes! We never travel without the right travel insurance and recommend that you do the same. Hikes at these altitudes or areas are not always covered by standard insurance. You don’t want that something happens and you’re not insured. We always book our travel insurance with World Nomads and are very satisfied with it. You can easily book your travel insurance for Picos de Europa via this link at World Nomads. Or fill in the form below to get a quote.
How to get to Picos de Europa?
Picos de Europa can be reached by plane, car or public transport. If you want to use the plane you have to fly to Oviedo, there you can then take a bus to Arenas de Cabrales.
It is also possible to drive from other countries to Picos de Europa by car, judge for yourself whether you find this an acceptable travel distance. If the travel time from your location to Picos de Europa is too long you can first visit San Sebastian and Bilbao. San Sebastian is located on the French border which minimalizes long travel distances.
If you are in a city in Spain you can easily travel to Picos de Europa by train, you need to travel to San Roque del Acabal and take a bus there to Arenas de Cabrales. You can buy train tickets here. From countries in Europa, it is not recommended to travel by train to Picos de Europa because of the long travel time.
When is the best time to visit Picos de Europa?
The best time to visit Picos de Europa is during the spring and summer period from April to September. Although this is the high season, these months are recommended because of the pleasant temperatures. Due to the maritime climate, it can be very cold in the autumn and winter. Also, it is not recommended by the locals to go hiking in Picos de Europa during autumn and winter. This is because the weather can suddenly change during this period and it can become dangerous.
Want to see more of Spain?
Following our itinerary through Northern Spain? If you follow our itinerary, Oviedo is your next destination. Read all about what you can do in Oviedo here.
If you aren’t following our itinerary through Northern Spain you can travel from Picos de Europa to Santander, Bilbao, San Sebastian, or the wine region of La Rioja. Read our articles about these destinations by clicking on the link!
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