The Atlas Mountains are a huge mountain range in North Africa, spanning from the west coast of Morocco, right across Algeria and Tunisia. Although most people associate the Atlas Mountains with Morocco, where they’re at their highest, they aren’t exactly small in Algeria or Tunisia either. The highest point in Tunisia is Jebel ech Chambi, at over 1500m, and the Saharan Atlas mountains reach over 2000m in Algeria. That’s still clocking in higher than the Scottish Highlands, but with significantly fewer midges!
A Quick Overview of the Atlas Mountains
There are lots of smaller mountain ranges that make up the Atlas Mountains. Most of them, conveniently, have the word Altas in them. Going roughly west to east, we’ve got: High Altas, Middle Atlas and Anti-Atlas mountains in Morocco; the Tell Atlas and Saharan Atlas mountains in Algeria; and the Aurès mountains that spread across the border from Algeria into Tunisia. That’s a lot of mountains – some 2500km actually.
If you’re going to go to the Atlas Mountains, then the place to go is the High Atlas in Morocco. Not that all those other mountain ranges aren’t awesome in their own right. The Saharan Atlas mark the northern border of the Sahara desert and have imposing summits. The Tell Atlas benefit from a Mediterranian climate and forested slopes overlooking the sea.
As for the Atlas ranges in Morocco, you might like to have a read of our detailed: Trekking in Morocco: A Guide to the Basics. It also includes the Simien Mountains in the north of Morocco.
Atlas Mountains Peak: Mount Toubkal
We couldn’t write a guide about the Atlas Mountains without giving Toubkal a mention. Jebel Toubkal (Jebel means mountain) is the highest peak in the the whole of the Atlas Mountains, never mind Morocco. At a lofty 4,167 m above sea level, climbing this mountain is no mean feat. There will be snow between October and April, although it may linger in small pockets well into the summer – despite scorching Moroccan temperatures. The snow line goes down as far as about 1300m above sea level in winter and up to 3000m in spring.
If you are going with a guided group, it is common to hire muleteers to help carry your belongings to the snowline. That’s a real cultural experience in itself. Many local people make their livelihoods from taking groups up the mountains. Local guide Mohamed has been living in the Atlas Mountains all his life and started his career by leading the mules for hiking groups, as a teenager. Now he runs his own company and is supporting the local mountain community. “I’ve never spent a full day in an office,” says Mohamed, “I now prefer to stay in the mountains than moving down to the city.” You can read the rest of the interview with Mohamed here: Mules, Mountains and the Moroccan Chamonix.
Atlas Mountains Peaks: M’Goun
M’Goun is the second highest mountain in the Atlas Mountains and also in Morocco. Like the younger brother of the heir to the throne, it gets almost none of the limelight. Compared to Toubkal, almost no one climbs M’Goun, so it’s a great way to do a 4000m peak in North Africa away from the crowds. That is if you can bare to know that someone else might be standing on a summit that’s a hundred metres higher.
The mountain isn’t a particularly “technical” summit, but does have great potential for long trekking circuits when combined with nearby ridges. Although watch the weather – high winds are common on the peak and there are several stories of hikers encountering flying rocks in the extreme wind!
If you are going to climb, the best conditions tend to be between June and October for a snow-free route. It can be hard to climb M’Goun in winter because of heavy snowfall, can even block the pass and make access to the hike difficult.
There are Other Peaks…
Of course, there are hundreds of other peaks in the Atlas Mountains. Highest is just the easiest way to pick out some interesting ones. (In fact, if you want more summit fever, try The 7 Highest Peaks to Trek in Morocco.) But, we get it, height isn’t everything. You might not care about the tallest peaks. Maybe you want to visit the most culturally interesting peak in the Atlas Mountains, or the one with the funniest name or the one that looks like a hippo. ‘Fraid we can’t pick them all out for you, but a quick bit of searching could take you into even more remote and unusual adventures.
Or, you could mix any of the Atlas Mountains with the coast that they’re all so conveniently close to. Hiking and mountaineering are great, but there are many more adventures to be had. With the sea so nearby, it would be rude not to take a dip. Here’s an example itinerary for a trip that takes in climbing mountains and surfing in Morocco. Sure, it was written in 2017 so take the details with a pinch of salt, but the general gist should still stand. After all, the mountains and the sea aren’t going anywhere fast.