31 jul 2018

Weekend in: Picos de Europa National Park

We used to do a lot of hiking in the US, and hadn’t had the opportunity to hike around Madrid. To fix this, we took a trip to the Picos de Europa in Asturias.

These gnarly jagged toothed mountains are located in the pristine Picos de Europa National Park (the largest one in Spain). The park is located about 444km or a good 5 and half hours drive north of Madrid, along which you’ll pass every type of topography imaginable from high desert to green plains to soaring granite peaks. According to the guidebooks, there are two suggested routes to take in the park, N625 runs north and south along the west side climbing up to Puerto de Panderruedas, and AS114 that runs along the north. We chose the later and drove into a very quaint town called Canagas de Onis. You can’t miss the city’s landmark as you turn into the town which is a medieval bridge known as Puente Romano. Lined with shops and pubs, this town reminded me of some of the small skiing towns in Colorado. The town has two adventure sports centers for the park, where you can get information on skiing in the winter (some what limited) to white water rafting/canoeing and ATV rides in the summer. We stopped to pick up some things for our picnic hike and continued on AS 114. 

We drove along the river toward our destination the Garganta de Cares gorge. Along the way, the mountain range opened up to expose the Naranjo de Bulnes. It gets its name from the orange (naranja) glow the rock produces when the sun hits it, which is very easy to see against the grey and white granite peaks nearby. From here we drove south on AS264 to an even smaller river town called Poncebos. The road narrows, and crosses back over the river and ends at a parking lot. We left the car behind and started our steep climb into the gorge. This is a great hike for all levels because you can hike in and out as far as you like (total of 11 miles) and there is also a surprise around every bend. For instance, we came across the remains of an old stone and mortar farmhouse, which a group of about 20 mountain goats had claimed as their own home. We then stopped for lunch at to take in what looked like the final scene from The Sound of Music, with the breathtaking green hills and hike peaks in the background.

Unfortunately we didn’t have more time to explore the southern part of the park, but something we’ll try to see on our next visit. We went in the spring and the crowds weren’t that bad, but we were warned that in the summer the towns along here swell to over capacity because of people coming up from the south to take in the cool mountain air. This was definitely an easy getaway to take from Madrid for a long weekend.

Picos de Europa National Park: general information and hiking guide.

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