1. Picos De Europa National Park
The Picos de Europa National Park has often been called the Switzerland of Spain. It is renowned for its spectacular limestone peaks, deep valleys and craggy ridges. As an introduction into what you might expect from trekking in Spain, it sets a mean precedent. There are hundreds of hiking trails to choose from but probably good to start with one in particular is the Cares River Route.
The Cares route is often considered one of the best hikes in Europe, it has been called the 'Divine Gorge' and for good reason. The hike usually begins at Poncebos, and starts with a steep incline for about 2km – but this is the most difficult section. The trail runs next to the river Cares and while most of it is flat, easy terrain, some areas can be narrow as you hike through small, rocky tunnels and across hanging bridges. Once you get to the top of the incline, you'll hit 12km snow-capped mountain vistas, wildflower fields, small tunnels, forests and crystal clear streams. It will take you about five or six hours one-way to complete and runs about 12km from Poncebos to Cain.
For a more challenging option, you can do a two-day trek through rugged limestone terrain to the highest mountain of the Picos de Europa, Torre Cerredo (2648m), that traverses dirt tracks and rocky trails before negotiating a final scramble to the top. However you will need a harness and helmet to even get close to the summit, and you'll need a guide to get you there.
2. Camino del Norte
The Camino del Norte is an alternative route to the famous Camino de Santiago. It is a scenic route that takes you across Northern Spain, also known as “Green Spain” because of its lush green hills and mountains. You will see a variety of sights along the way, as much of the trail runs along the coast. You can look forward to seeing everything from sandy beaches to small coastal towns, fishing villages to beautiful mountain scenery.
The full route is quite long (825km). It is divided into 34 stages so you have the option to break up the trail by only doing a section. This is a great hiking trail especially if you also like to explore cities and are interested in culture and are a bit of a foodie. You can start your hike in Irun and go through various cities ending up in Galicia.
3. Monte Teide
Monte Teide is the highest summit in Spain, reaching up to 3,718 metres, and is located on the Canary Islands. It’s located on the island of Tenerife in the Teide National Park. This is a demanding hike but utterly unique, you will feel as if you are on another planet. Monte Teide is one of the largest volcanoes in the world and you will encounter a landscape of rock formations, craters and rivers of petrified lava all under the impressive shadow of Monte Teide.
Due to the sensitive volcanic environment on Monte Teide, the National Park does limit the number of people who can climb to the summit of the crater daily. You will need to apply for a free permit to climb to the peak, you can do this through the Teide National Park website. Once you have filled out the form, print the permit and take it along with your ID to present at the beginning of the trail. Be sure to be prepared for the higher altitude, changing temperatures and spectacular views.
There are a few ways you can access Monte Teide. You can take the cable car which takes about eight minutes and you can walk down. You can also do the reverse, starting at the path called La Rambleta, which starts at kilometre 40 of the TF-21, the road that crosses Teide National Park. It will take you about five hours to complete the hike up to the summit if you start with the path La Rambleta. You can also stay here overnight, at the mountain refuge Altavista at 3,260 metres, and catch the sunrise at the summit.
Check out our full feature on the best things to do in the Canary Islands for more.
4. Cahorros, the Sierra Nevada region
This is a beautiful hike through the Monachil valley near Granada. The trail is 8km and will take you about two and half hours to complete the circuit. You will see wildflowers, fruit trees, hanging bridges and dramatic gorges. You will smell the lavender, thyme and rosemary as you pass through this lush valley. This is an especially beautiful hike in spring or autumn.
The hike is fairly easy except for a little necessary climbing near the gorge. Although this is the most beautiful part of the trail, it can be a bit narrow at parts due to low head clearance in some areas. There are metal handles set into the rock at this point to help you. The trail starts in the village of Monachil and follows the river up through the gorge. You can then return by a higher route which will give you great views of the Monachil valley.
5. Oma Painted Forest
In the centre of the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve is a really unique, hidden surprise which combines nature and art. Created by artist Agustin Ibarrola, the Oma Painted Forest is a surreal sight to behold. If you love art and enjoy walking through a forest of pine trees and ferns this is a must.
The best way to access the forest is to park near the Lezika Restaurant. Right across from the restaurant is the main entrance where you will see a trail that will take you to the forest.
It will take you about an hour to reach the forest and an hour back to your starting point. You can expect the terrain to be varied with some inclines, but it isn’t difficult. Be sure to bring water with you as some of the inclines are steady, although not very steep.
Don’t forget to get a map from the entrance so that you can see what the artist intended for you to see. You can also follow the small yellow triangles on the ground.
Combine this walk with a visit to the cave of Santimamine, which is close by in the same reserve. You can add the cave of Santimamine for a great excursion combining modern art and nature with cave paintings which date to the Paleolithic times. The cave of Santimamine is included on the UNESCO World Heritage list and you can take a guided tour for 5 euros to see the 47 paintings from the Stone Age. To reach the cave, starting at the Lezika Restaurant, you will see some stairs just a few hundred metres away.
One great advantage is that this area is accessible by bus and train, which makes it a great day trip if you are staying in Bilbao.
6. Ruta de las Xanas
This trail, Ruta de las Xanas or the ‘Route of the Fairies’, is about 7.5km return. It’s located near the village of Villanueva near Oviedo and will take you a little over three hours to complete. The route takes you through lush, green landscapes and beautiful grey mountains, parts of it hug the mountainside as if the trail were carved into the mountain itself.
The majority of the hike is flat and easy terrain but there are some inclines and some areas with steep drops, that don’t have protective railings. So you will need to have your wits about you but the views are amazing and well worth the extra effort.
One great plus to this hike is that the endpoint is the village of Pedroveya. You will be greeted by the restaurant Casa Generosa, a family-run traditional restaurant that specialises in the local Asturian cuisine. Don’t forget to try the hard cider, it’s famous in this region.