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The Best Times of Year to Visit Spain's Sierra Nevada

Spring in Spain's Sierra Nevada natural park
Spring in Spain's Sierra Nevada natural park | © T.harte / WikiCommons
Located just outside Granada in Andalusia, the Sierra Nevada is Spain’s largest natural park. Read on for the best times of year to visit this spectacular protected area, whether you’re going to ski, hike, or simply marvel at its outstanding beauty.

May/June (trekking and biking)

For trekking and mountain biking, spring and early summer is a great time of year to visit the Sierra Nevada. May and June are especially good months for summiting the park’s two highest peaks, the 3,396-metre (11,142-foot) Veleta and the 3,478-metre (11,411-foot) Mulhacén. At this time, both giants are starting to lose their thick caps of snow, and although there will still be some lying around (certainly in May), trekking near the top of both mountains’ peaks will be much easier than in winter or autumn.

The temperatures in the Sierra Nevada during spring and early summer are also perfect for exploring its vast expanses on foot or by bike. The coldest months are over, but the punishing heat of July and August is yet to come, meaning you can enjoy warm sun as you hike or bike without becoming uncomfortably hot.

A visit to Spain’s largest natural park during May and June will also give you the opportunity to admire its stunning flora. The Sierra Nevada is home to largest population of endemic plant species in Europe, with 70 of the 2,100 types growing here found nowhere else on the planet. Particularly beautiful at this time of year are the daffodil narcissus nevadensis (classified as endangered) and the Nevada violet.

Violets growing on the Sierra Nevada's Mount Veleta © Eduardo León / WikiCommons

November-late May/early June (skiing)

The Sierra Nevada is home to Europe’s most southerly ski resort, with a season running from November to late May or early June (depending on snowfall). Mount Veleta’s northern slopes provide a spectacular setting for the resort, which offers over 100 kilometres (62 miles) of skiable routes spread between 124 pistes.

Such is the park’s location – it’s less than an hour’s drive to Mediterranean coast – that you’re pretty much guaranteed all-day sunshine throughout the season, which only makes the surrounding mountainscapes all the more beautiful. The town of Sierra Nevada itself is also best visited at this time of year.

Night skiing during the season makes for a truly unforgettable experience. From 7.30pm to 10.30pm on Thursdays and Saturdays, almost 6 kilometres (3.7 miles) of the Rio and Maribel pistes are open between the resorts of Borreguiles and Pradollano. Night skiers are given a free cup of soup before starting their descent, which they can enjoy by a giant bonfire at the route’s start in Borreguiles.

The Sierra Nevada's ski season runs from November to late May © Melissa Ramirez / WikiCommons

October (because it’s just as beautiful without snow)

Even though it’s always fresher up in the mountains, the furnace-like heat of an Andalusian summer puts the Sierra Nevada out of bounds for July, August and most of September. October, though, is a great time to visit, as temperatures recede to the mid/low-twenties (Celsius – so in the seventies Fahrenheit) and the first snowfall has usually yet to arrive; the skiers, too, are still a few weeks away, so there won’t be many people around as you explore the park’s rugged terrain.

There is a special, hard beauty to the Sierra Nevada when it lacks its pristine white coating. Grey, rocky landscapes are punctuated by the sudden brightness of wild flowers and the metallic gleam of icy lagoons; and you can see more clearly the undulations – gentle one moment, angular the next – of its hills and mountains. To properly take all this beauty in, visit in October, before snow and skiers descend on this stunning natural park.

A snow-free Mount Veleta in early summer © Por los caminos de Málaga / WikiCommons