Morocco’s most northerly mountain chain, the Rif Mountains, slopes upwards from the Mediterranean Sea to the east of Tangier. It’s an astonishingly varied terrain of gentle green foothills, aromatic cedar forests and craggy red-hued peaks. Andalusian-style villages perch on the slopes; one of the best known being the ‘blue city’ of Chefchaouen, which makes an excellent base for hiking.
Despite the region’s rugged beauty, it’s not often frequented by hikers - they eschew it in favour of the High Atlas peaks, where you'll find Morocco's highest mountains. But if you enjoy getting off-the-beaten track, then the Rif offers some of the best hikes in Morocco. You’ll find some of the best options in Talassemtane National Park, a UNESCO-designated landscape of deep valleys, limestone ridges, and forests of Moroccan fir which are home to rare barbary apes.
It’s an astonishingly varied terrain of gentle green foothills, aromatic cedar forests and craggy red-hued peaks...
The Rif Mountains is an economically deprived area, and many of its inhabitants rely on income from exporting kif (cannabis resin powder). Marijuana has been cultivated in the region for thousands of years and while technically illegal, it is widely tolerated due to the money it brings to the region.
However, local guides and homestay owners want to dispel the notion that marijuana is all the Rif has to offer, and are working to raise awareness of the region's cultural and nature attractions - including its brilliant hiking and adventure opportunities. Ecotourism to the area is a new income stream, helping to provide money for many in the local community.
While the Rif is a safe area to travel to, we recommend hiking with a local guide. Accidentally blundering through someone’s marijuana plantation won’t endear you to them. If hiking independently is more appealing, stick to clearly demarcated trails, take a decent map and seek local advice before you set off.
Here are five of our favourite trekking routes in trekking the Rif Mountains.
1. Akchour Falls Hike
Walking Time: 3-4 hours
Your hike starts in the small village of Akchour, around 45 minutes from Chefchaouen, and takes you through the scenic Talassemtane National Park. Akchour can be reached via road - if you’re travelling independently, your best bet is to grab a shared ‘grand taxi’ from the city centre. Once in Akchour, head towards the hydroelectric dam. Here, the trail splits in two - the right fork takes you to a rock formation called ‘God’s Bridge’, while the left trail will lead to the waterfalls.
The trail crosses a bridge and winds through verdant forest, clear rivers and interesting rock formations. After an hour or so you’ll reach the first of the cascades - keep walking until you reach the larger waterfall, which plunges into an emerald pool below. This is the perfect spot to stop for a swim before heading back along the same route you came. Stop at one of the roadside stalls towards the end of the trail near Akchour and grab yourself a well-deserved tagine.
2. Mount Tidirhine
Distance: 12 kilometres
Walking Time: 3-4 hours
Mount Tidirhine, also known as Jebel Tidirhine, is the highest point in the Rif Mountains; a prominent peak with a height of 2,456m. The starting point for an ascent is just outside the small town of Ketama, known as Morocco’s hash capital. Cannabis is illegal in Morocco (although it’s recently been legalised for medical use) but it’s very much an open secret - you’ll see fields of cannabis growing as you begin hiking along the trail.
Walk along a track through the forest, which hugs the side of the mountain. As you wind upwards, you’ll need to head upwards to the summit along a path that forks up the main track. Summit reports suggest that the trail isn’t always obvious, but once the trees begin to clear, you’ll encounter a clear path between the east and west summit tops. The view from the top is of craggy slopes and undulating foothills, covered in trees. And you won’t be sharing it with a soul aside from your group.
3. Mount Tissouka and Sfiha Telj
Distance: 16 kilometres
Walking Time: 8-9 hours
The summit of this sparse, rocky mountain (2,122 m) requires a steep climb and some scrambling, so you’ll definitely need to take a guide with you. They’ll take you to the foothills above Chefchaouen, and up a rocky trail through the forest, waymarked with blue paint. As you climb higher up the mountain there are spectacular views of the blue city and the peaks encircling it, especially if you start early enough to see the sun rise.
It’s steep going, and you’ll need to tread carefully, as there is loose scree on the path. Stop for refreshments at the Ain Tissimlane springs, and then forge on to the summit of Tissouka. From the top you can cross the ridge that connects Tissouka to Sfiha Telj (2033m), and then drop back down into Chefchaouen.
4. Mount Lakraa
Distance: 16 kilometres
Walking Time: 6 hours
The imposing Mount Lakraa is clearly visible from the centre of Chefchaouen. At 2,159m it’s the highest peak in the Talassemtane National Park and accessible via unmarked trails - for that reason, many people take a guided hike. You can reach the summit walking directly out of Chefchaouen, but a more scenic route begins at Plaza España, a scenic forest of Moroccan fir trees.
Climb up through the forest to reach the summit - on clear days, you’ll be able to see all the way out towards the Mediterranean. You can retrace your steps or descend via a different route into the small village of Mechkralla, where you can grab lunch from one of the traditional Moroccan restaurants.
5. Chefchaouen to the Coast
Distance: 66 kilometres
Walking Time: 4 days
One of the allures of the Rif Mountains is their proximity to the ocean. This tough but rewarding four-day trek takes you from Chefchaouen to Oued Laou, a quiet town on the coast - it’s the perfect itinerary for a week off, giving you time to relax at the beginning and end points.
Day one is a six hour hike that passes Chefchaouen’s picturesque Spanish mosque and heads upwards towards the Berber village of Tissouka, before culminating at the village of Affaska. The next day you’ll follow the Farda River through a natural gorge to God’s Bridge, which is a natural red-rock archway. The end point is the village of Ouslaf.
The third day will take you upwards towards the village of Talambote - you’ll climb around 800 metres - before winding through fields and orchards to Beni Malaa village. The final day winds downward to the coast through shady oak forests - keep your eyes peeled for a blue glimpse of the Mediterranean. When you reach Oued Laou, it’s time to cool off with a dip.
Feeling inspired? Explore the underrated Rif region in our Roam the Ancient Cities of Morocco and Glamp in the Sahara adventure.