Southern Spain’s Sierra Nevada natural park is an adrenaline junky’s paradise, offering incredible hiking and biking trails as well as a world-class ski resrort. Here’s our guide to the best sports and adventure activities in the Sierra Nevada, from night skiing to summiting mainland Spain’s highest mountain.
The Sierra Nevada is a hiker’s dream, offering tracks to suit all levels of fitness and agility. Travellers looking for an undemanding few hours of walking can explore the Cumbres Verdes region: spread across the park’s western foothills near the town of Dilar (20 minutes from Granada), its tracks wind amongst beautiful scenery and are dotted with BBQs and picnic tables for chilled summer afternoons. This area’s highest peak is the 2,079-metre (6,821-foot) Trevenque, which features a steep and rocky final ascent.
The biggest hikes in the Sierra Nevada take you the top of three snow capped giants: the 3,478-metre (11,411-foot) Mount Mulhacén, mainland Spain’s highest mountain; the 3,396-metre (11,142-foot) Veleta, the park’s second highest peak and mainland Spain’s third; and the 3,371-metre (11,060-foot) Alcazaba. Mulhacén – aptly referred to as the “Roof of Spain” – can be summitted from starting points at Hoya de la Mora or above Capileira in the Alpujarra and is a demanding trek, especially in the snow. The views from the top, though, are unreal. Veleta is a gentler trek of about four hours (return) which also starts at Hoya de la Mora.
As for Alcazaba – don’t go thinking it’ll be easier to conquer because it languishes in third place. It rears up out one of the most isolated and untamed parts of the Sierra, requiring at least a 20-kilometre (12.4-mile) trek to summit. If you’re taking on this beast, you may want to split your trek overnight and stay at the fully-catered Refugio Poquiera, located at 2,500 metres (8,202 feet) – booking in advance is recommended.
In the Sierra Nevada, cyclists can ride the highest paved stretch of road in Europe. As with the trek to Veleta’s peak, you start at Hoya de la Mora, from where an asphalt road zigzags up the mountain’s northern slopes, overlooking Europe’s most southerly ski resort. Although the tarmac suddenly runs out at 3,300 metres (10,827 feet), the road continues until reaching a dead end at 3,380 metres (11,089 feet) – just 16 metres (53 feet) below the summit of the Sierra Nevada’s second highest mountain. The climb is steady but long, which of course only makes the return journey more fun.
For a less taxing ride, head to the Cumbres Verdes, where circular tracks take you through the park’s tranquil western foothills. Alternatively, routes in the stunning Alpujarras region along the Sierra’s southern extremity will make you work a bit harder (some great routes start from Trevélez, Capileira and Bubión); but the scenery by which you are surrounded will make it all worthwhile. As indeed will your post-ride beer in any of the absurdly beautiful villages that make up the Alpujarras.
Located less than a two hour’s drive from Spain’s Mediterranean coast (Almuñécar is a great little beach town in Granada province), Sierra Nevada’s ski resort is the most southerly in Europe. The season here runs from November to early May, with 106 kilometres (66 miles) of piste spread over the stunning northern slopes of Veleta; the highest point is 3,300 metres (10,827 feet) (where Europe’s highest paved road peters out) and the lowest altitude to which you can descend is 1,200 metres (3,937 feet).
Skiiers of all levels will find a track to enjoy in the Sierra Nevada: there are 19 “Very Easy” Green Runs, 41 “Easy” Blue Runs and 50 “Difficult” Red Runs, whilst expert skiiers will want to tackle one of the seven “Very Difficult” Black Runs. Night skiing is also an option on Thursdays and Saturdays, when around 6 kilometres (3.7 miles) of floodlit piste are open between the popular resorts of Borreguiles and Pradollano (the latter is the Sierra Nevada’s main town and a great place to eat, party and sleep).
Snowboarders visiting the Sierra Nevada will want to head straight to the Superparque Sulayr, home to the largest half-pipe in Spain, at 165 metres (541 feet) in length and 6 metres (20 feet) in height. The park also offers pistes of varying levels of difficulty, featuring pipes and jumps, with a particularly good track for beginners starting in Borreguiles. This superb facility took centre stage last year, when the Sierra hosted the Freestyle Ski and Snowboarding World Championships. Night snowboarding is also an option on the Rio piste on Thursdays and Saturdays.