Hiking in Picos de Europa: Spain's Best-Kept Secret

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Hiking in Picos de Europa: Spain's Best-Kept Secret
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Picos de Europa is a stunning national park in Northwestern Spain, a fantastically preserved hiking secret that remains unknown to many. Here, you'll discover rugged landscapes, beautiful lakes, local culinary surprises, and untouched nature. You might even spot a vulture or a wolf! The coast and cities like Bilbao and Santander are nearby, making the journey convenient. The possibilities for hiking in Picos de Europa are endless. Reason enough for us to explore this area and share with you how to make the most of your hut-to-hut trek in Picos de Europa.

The oldest national park in Spain is a green oasis where you'll encounter a variety of landscapes for hiking, from peaceful meadows with cows and sheep to rugged peaks and charming villages. Glacial lakes sparkle in the sun, and a local shepherd guides his flock through a narrow street. Take the cable car up at Fuente Dé, enjoy the views, and reward yourself in the afternoon with a local 'sidra.' Vamos!

What and Where Are the Picos de Europa?

What does Picos de Europa actually mean? As mentioned, the 'peaks of Europe' are close to the Atlantic Ocean coast, and the white peaks were the first thing sailors returning from North or South America saw. It signaled that they were almost home. The Picos de Europa span three different autonomous regions: Asturias, Cantabria, and Castile and León. The Picos also consist of three different massifs that are part of the Cantabrian mountain range, with the highest peak being Torre de Cerredo at 2,648 meters. The most distinctive peak in the area is Naranjo de Bulnes (locally known as Picu Urriellu) with a height of 2,519 meters. In addition to high mountain peaks, the region also boasts numerous deep caves, some of which are used to age cheeses.

After the Sierra Nevada, Picos de Europa is the second-largest national park in Spain, offering endless hiking possibilities. There are more than 60 peaks higher than 2,500 meters in the area, fortunately, you don't have to climb them all. Alongside the high peaks, there are also many lakes in the area, including the Lagos de Covadonga, which are former glacial lakes.

Being in a national park, there is a great diversity of flora and fauna. It is estimated that there are over 1,750 different species of trees, shrubs, and other plants present. From juniper to lichen and meadow flowers, you will encounter a variety of vegetation along the way.

The cousin of our mascot, the ibex, is the chamois (in the Picos de Europa, the Cantabrian variant), symbolizing the national park. In the past, chamois were nearly extinct due to hunting, but nowadays, you can encounter them high in the mountains. Also, the wolf, not just a topic of discussion in the Netherlands and Germany, has made a comeback in the Picos, and opinions are divided. The chance of encountering one is fortunately small, just like the brown bear that occasionally crosses over from a neighboring mountainous area.

What and Where Are the Picos de Europa?

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Is a Hut-To-Hut Trek in Picos de Europa Suitable for Me?

Picos de Europa offers numerous opportunities for the most beautiful trekking and hiking experiences, ranging from short to long and from accessible to challenging. Bookatrekking.com has put together a hut-to-hut trek, allowing you to walk among the highest peaks of the area and fully immerse yourself in the surroundings. If you have already done a hut-to-hut hike and are looking to take the next step, the Picos de Europa offers a beautiful journey. The daily distances are limited, with a maximum of 14.5 kilometers covered per day. The first day involves mostly uphill climbing as you head into the mountains. It's important to take this into account and leave early. You must also have good footing and no fear of heights, as you'll need to climb and scramble during the stages. Additionally, the paths are often narrow and have a rocky surface. If you're seeking a picturesque hut-to-hut hike in a stunning national park, then the Picos de Europa is the perfect match for you! If the Picos de Europa is not what you are looking for, check out our other hikes in Spain. The Carros de Foc and the Porta del Cel are well worth checking out!

What is the Best Season for the Picos de Europa?

The best period for hiking in the Picos de Europa is from May to September. During this time, the higher-altitude huts and trails are accessible, allowing you to explore the most beautiful routes. Snow remnants may still be present on paths and trails until June. Additionally, keep in mind that July and August are the busiest months, while May, June, and September offer a more tranquil experience.

What is the Best Season for the Picos de Europa?

Hut-to-Hut Trek Picos de Europa Map and Navigation

There are numerous maps and travel guides available to help you navigate the Picos de Europa. Below, you will find a map outlining the various stages of the trek.

Staying in Refugios and Casa Rurales

At Bookatrekking.com, we like to do things right, and when it comes to accommodation during treks in the Spanish mountains, that means staying in mountain huts. In these Refugios, you can enjoy a bed, a meal, and in most cases, even a freshly poured beer or a good glass of wine. In the evening, you can play a game in the communal dining area, and when your eyes begin to close, you retire to your bed in the dormitory. Due to the physical exertion and mountain air, you'll undoubtedly fall asleep like a log.

In addition to staying in mountain huts, you'll also experience a 'casa rurales' during the Picos de Europa. Staying in these old farms or country houses is exceptionally charming, often in small villages or rural locations. With a personal atmosphere and a friendly host or hostess, you'll undoubtedly feel at home.

Picos de Europa Hut-to-Hut Trek: Day by Day

During your Picos de Europa adventure, you will hike from hut tot hut and you will be in the mountains for four days. If you are looking for even more comfort, you can also book a package which includes a before and after stay in Sotres.

Day
1

Sotres - Refugio Vega de Urriellu

Duration: 05:30 h
Distance: 10.1 km
Ascent: 1140 m
Descent: 170 m
Today, depart from Sotres for your first stage. After just over a kilometer, you'll pass the 'Invernales del Texu,' a kind of abandoned village built by shepherds to shelter their herds in winter. You might encounter a herd in the surrounding valleys. The path then ascends, offering a magnificent view of the Naranjo de Bulnes, one of the most distinctive peaks of the Picos de Europa. Continuing through green valleys where cows graze. Along the way, you'll pass Refugio de la Terenosa, where you can stop for a drink. After the stop, you steadily ascend further. The paths become gradually rockier, and the views become more rugged. You might spot an ibex high on the rocks! Your destination for the day is Refugio de Urriellu, located at the foot of Picu Urriellu. The current building has been in use since 1990, and due to its remote location, the construction materials were transported by Chinook helicopter from the Spanish army. During your stay, you'll likely meet Tómas Fernández López, the hut's manager since 1991, who knows the area like no other.

Refugio Vega de Urriellu

Info
Refugio Vega de Urriellu
Day
2

Refugio Vega de Urriellu - Refugio Collada Jermoso

Duration: 05:45 h
Distance: 9.1 km
Ascent: 620 m
Descent: 610 m
Today's stage takes you through overwhelming and rocky landscapes, encountering Via Ferrata along the way, with steep sections. Take time to appreciate the surroundings, including Torre de los Horcados Rojos, one of the most distinctive peaks of the Picos. It's an impressive sight to pass. Then, you gradually descend over rocky paths to finally arrive at Refugio Collada Jermoso. Situated at 2,064 meters, you can enjoy the views while savoring a good meal. Chat with your fellow hikers and retire to one of the cozy dormitories.

Refugio Collado Jermoso

Info
Refugio Collado Jermoso
Day
3

Refugio Collada Jermoso - Espinama

Duration: 07:05 h
Distance: 13.5 km
Ascent: 370 m
Descent: 1520 m
After a good night's rest and a hearty breakfast, today involves descending. You walk around Fuente Dé, amid mountains, cliffs, and channels formed in the Ice Age. Along the way, you can also enjoy expansive views, with Vega de Liordes being particularly impressive. The farther you descend, the greener the surroundings become. The stage takes you to Espinama, back to civilization. Explore the village and end your day on a beautiful terrace.

Posada Sobrevilla (Espinama)

Info
Posada Sobrevilla (Espinama)
Day
4

Espinama - Sotres

Duration: 05:45 h
Distance: 14.6 km
Ascent: 720 m
Descent: 570 m
The last hiking day has arrived, leaving the high mountains behind. Today's stage initially takes you uphill for the first kilometers. After a few kilometers, you'll pass 'Portilla del Boquejón,' and shortly after, you'll reach today's highest point. Naturally, there's a nearby church where you can take a break. Gradually descending, you continue toward Sotres, partially following the flow of the Duje River. During the last kilometers, you'll encounter 'invernales' again, shelters for animals in winter, just like on the first day. Conclude your adventure in Sotres, where you can toast to a successful hut-to-hut trek in the Picos de Europa!
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Bonus Hike: Ruta del Cares

In addition to a hut-to-hut trek, the Ruta del Cares is another highlight for hiking in Picos de Europa. While it's not part of our hut-to-hut trek, it's worth exploring if you have more time in the region.

This beautiful trail takes you back and forth along a deep gorge (La Garganta Divina, or the Divine Throat) through which the Cares River flows. In some sections, you walk hundreds of meters higher than the river, so it's good to know if you have a fear of heights. The total distance of the hike is about 22 kilometers, starting and ending in Poncebos or Caín de Valdéon. The elevation gain during the hike is limited; the initial stretch from Poncebos goes uphill, and the rest of the route is mostly flat. Along the way, you pass by cliffs, through tunnels, and enjoy stunning views of the mountains and the river. If you find the total distance of 22 kilometers too much, you can choose to walk only from Poncebos to Caín de Valdéon or vice versa. In that case, make sure to arrange transportation back to your car or accommodation, for example, by calling a taxi.

Bonus Hike: Ruta del Cares

What Else Can I Do in Picos de Europa?

We've already covered the natural beauty, but beyond nature and hiking trails, Picos de Europa has much more to offer for a delightful holiday.

Gastronomy:

We mentioned caves where local cheeses mature, with "queso cabrales" being a famous example. Additionally, almost every village has its own cheese, so tasting is a must. For enthusiasts, there's much more deliciousness to discover in Picos de Europa. Spaniards take their culinary traditions seriously, so always look for products with the D.O.P. (Denominación de Origen Protegida) certification. This ensures that the cheese, cider, or dry sausage you purchase is locally produced and of high quality.

Caves:

Apart from the towering peaks, Picos de Europa is also renowned for its numerous caves. Formed over 60 million years ago, the soft limestone provided the perfect foundation for extensive cave systems, including Torca del Cerro del Cuevón (-1,589 meters) and Sistema del Trave (-1,441 meters). Torca del Cerro is Spain's deepest cave and currently the fourth deepest cave in the world. Due to the many caves and indentations in the landscape, one could whimsically consider Picos de Europa as resembling Swiss cheese, a delightful coincidence given the local cheese production!

What Else Can I Do in Picos de Europa?

How to Travel to Picos de Europa?

Public Transportation

By Plane:

If you are flying to Picos de Europa, the airports of Bilbao, Oviedo, and Santander are the closest. From Schiphol, you can fly directly to Bilbao. If you choose to travel via Oviedo or Santander, you will need to make a transfer. From the center of Bilbao, Oviedo, or Santander (travel from the airport to the city center), you can continue your journey by bus. Tickets can be booked through here.

It's important to note that from Oviedo, you can take a direct bus to Las Arenas de Cabrales. If you are traveling from Bilbao or Santander, you will travel to Unquera. From Unquera, you'll need to take a taxi to Las Arenas de Cabrales.

Summer Crowds:

Picos de Europa is popular, and in the summer, the region can experience traffic congestion. Therefore, there is a summer schedule with buses and minibusses to limit car traffic in the area. From Las Arenas de Cabrales, you can take a bus to Poncebos. From Poncebos, you can continue to Sotres by minibus. Buses depart every hour from Las Arenas starting at 10 am and return from Sotres starting at 11 am. The last bus in both directions departs at 8 pm. Tickets can be purchased on-site or through the Alsa website.

By Car

If you are driving to Picos de Europa, you can drive directly to Las Arenas de Cabrales. From there, it's another half-hour by car to Sotres. One consideration is to leave your car in Las Arenas and use public transportation to explore the Picos, as parking spaces in small towns like Sotres and Tielve are limited.

How to Travel to Picos de Europa?

Packing List for the Picos de Europa

It doesn't matter where you are going trekking or for how long: Carrying the right equipment with you is paramount. For a hiking trip in the mountains, you will need, first and foremost, a good backpack. Its size will depend on how many days you will be spending in the mountains, the season, and the clothes you will be taking with you. We have prepared a packing list with some essential clothing that you should include and some extras that you may find useful:
  • Essentials

  • Extras

At Bookatrekking.com, we not only book your huts, we also send you on your way with a comprehensive hiking guide with the most important information for your Picos de Europa, including interactive Komoot maps. Browse all our options here and turn your dreams into reality.

What to Do in an Emergency?

An emergency occurs when a human life (yours or someone else's) is in danger and there is nothing you can do to resolve the matter. You should call for help if there has been an accident, if someone is stuck, if you are lost or in trouble and can't go any further because of the time of day or weather conditions, or if you are stuck because of technical climbing challenges beyond your capabilities.

The most important thing to do in an emergency situation is to stay calm and survey the situation. Do not panic or take useless risks if those in need are difficult to reach. In case of an emergency, call the rescue services first and foremost. When you do so, be sure to communicate the location, number of victims and type of injuries. Then protect the victim from cold and other environmental threats and provide first aid, if you can.

Emergency numbers for Spain
  • General emergency number: 112
  • National Police: 092

Safe hiking tips for the Picos de Europa

When you go on walking holidays it is wise to be aware of a few points. Even if this is not your first time, you should never underestimate the mountains. Good tour planning and compliance with the regulations on the mountains will significantly increase safety. To ensure that your hiking holiday is a safe and enjoyable experience, here below you can find a list of 8 recommendations for safe hiking in the mountains:
  • Know your limits

    Hiking the Picos de Europa is the perfect outlet to escape from daily life. It is an endurance sport along with a beautiful nature experience with a positive effect on body and mind —as long as one is in good shape and has a realistic picture of one's possibilities and limits—. Never overestimate yourself or underestimate the route. Don't overdo it! Always choose the slower variant and take more time for your plans. Hiking under time pressure is not fun and at too fast a pace it can be dangerous. Be wise!

  • Plan carefully

    Good planning is half the work! Hiking maps, literature, the Internet and expert advice are invaluable when planning the route in the Picos de Europa and enable you to determine the length, altitude difference, difficulty and conditions of the hike. When planning group treks, the itinerary should always be planned for the weakest member of the group! The weather in the mountains can change incredibly quickly and rain, wind and cold all increase the risk factor. For this reason, always check the weather forecast beforehand and contact our trekking experts to find your way around before you start.

  • Be fully equipped

    Equipment is everything. In the most extreme case, it makes the difference between life and death, and in any case, it definitely makes the difference between having fun and having a bad time. Food and water, sunscreen and waterproof and warm clothes must always be in your backpack, as well as a first aid kit and a mobile phone with a full battery (in case there is an emergency). However, packing light makes walking easier, so don't take too much extra luggage with you. Your equipment should always be suitable for the terrain you'll be hiking on in the Picos de Europa.

  • Wear suitable footwear

    Good walking shoes protect your feet and provide a better fit. Shoes with a good fit, with non-slip soles, water-resistant and lightweight are a must for additional walking pleasure during the Picos de Europa. Trail running shoes are great for a weekend in the mountains, but on longer hikes or more technical trails, you'll want at least A/B hiking boots. That means it is recommended wearing high mountain shoes that are water-repellent with extra ankle support to prevent sprains.

  • Stay on marked trails

    Picos de Europa has endless marked hiking trails, which are controlled and maintained and should not be deviated from. It may be tempting, but it's not a good idea to take shortcuts or alternative routes through unmarked terrain. It increases the risk of disorientation and you're more likely to get lost and have accidents or fall in the mountains. Even steep slopes of packed old snow are often underestimated and dangerous. Are you in doubt? Better don't do it. For easy navigation we work with our trusted partner Komoot, whose interactive maps, also available offline, provide you with the necessary digital means to get from A to B. As a backup, make sure to bring a hiking guide or a paper map with you. FYI, 75% of stumbles occur due to carelessness on marked paths or roads, not in open terrain!

  • Take regular breaks

    Remember you're on a hiking holiday. Timely and regular breaks not only provide welcome relaxation but also make it possible to enjoy the Picos de Europa. The body needs a regular food and drink intake to maintain performance and concentration. Our advice is that if you have little time, it's better to follow the short itinerary than to speed up the long one.

  • Stay reachable

    If you are hiking solo or in small groups it is advisable to inform people back home about your plans, what route you are taking and when you plan to return. Even small incidents can lead to unpleasant emergencies so make sure you are available at all times. Bring a charged phone containing at least the phone numbers of immediate family members, your accommodations en route and the emergency phone numbers operating in the Picos de Europa.

  • Respect nature

    Leave no rubbish behind, prevent noise, stay on the marked trails, do not disturb wildlife or grazing animals, and respect protected areas.

How Much Does a Hut-To-Hut Trek in Picos de Europa Cost?

A hiking trip doesn't have to be expensive. Huts are usually simple but provide everything you need to recharge your mental and physical batteries for the next days of hiking. For a 5-day trek in Picos de Europa, including overnight stays in mountain huts and a rural house (casa rural), you can expect to spend around 90 EUR per hiking day. This includes route description, navigation assistance, accommodation in a mountain hut/casa rural, and half-board where possible. For hut-to-hut treks in general, we recommend bringing 40 to 60 EUR as pocket money. This covers lunch and your drinks. Most of our pocket money usually goes towards that ice-cold beer in the next hut!

How Much Does a Hut-To-Hut Trek in Picos de Europa Cost?

Where Can I Book the Picos de Europa?

At Bookatrekking.com you can book the self-guided Picos de Europa and many other treks. We take care of all the details for you, including arranging accommodations and providing you with relevant information well in advance of your trek. Find our offers here. Our easy-to-use platform allows you to browse and compare different trekking options and find the perfect fit for your interests, abilities, and budget.

If you have any questions about a specific trek or need help choosing the right one for you, our team of trekking experts is here to assist you. Simply reach out to us and we will be happy to provide you with personalized recommendations and advice to help you plan the trekking adventure of a lifetime.

Is the Picos de Europa not your cup of tea and are you looking for other epic adventures? Check out one of our following blog posts:

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