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Southern Spain’s Sierra Nevada natural park is a trekker’s paradise, offering trails of varying lengths and difficulty amid humbling mountain scenery. Read on for our pick of the park’s most epic hiking tracks, including a monster route that takes in mainland Spain’s two highest peaks.
The 3,396-metre Mount Veleta is mainland Spain’s third-highest mountain (and the Sierra Nevada’s second), its distinctive sloping peak visible from many spots in Granada city centre. An enjoyable and relatively undemanding route to its summit starts from Hoya de la Mora, a parking and refreshment area located at 2,500 metres (a 45-minute drive from Granada). From Hoya, it’s a couple of hours’ walk to the top of Veleta, from where you can take in some spectacular views as you refuel for the return trek.
Hoya de la Mora can also be used as a starting point from which to trek to the summit of Mount Mulhacén, mainland Spain’s highest peak at 3,478 metres. Conquering this beast is doable without any actual climbing, but the approach on the western flank can be demanding, especially in the snow. The views that surround you and the huge feeling of achievement when you reach the summit (crowned by a ruined little mountain hut) make it all worthwhile, though. Allow up to seven hours for the return hike.
Feeling ambitious? Arguably the most epic hike in the Sierra Nevada starts from Hoya de la Mora and takes in mainland Spain’s two highest mountains, Veleta and Mulhacén, in one go. You tackle Veleta first, taking a short break on its summit, before a brief descent to the path that takes you to Mulhacén. The scenery through which you trek is staggering, with the park’s rocky, barren terrain stretching away to infinity in every direction. Allow 10 hours for this monster hike.
Another popular track to the top of Mulhacén starts at the Hoya del Portillo parking and picnic area, located a 20-minute drive from the beautiful village of Capileira in the Alpujarra region. From there, you hike up through a fragrant pine forest before emerging onto the vast plains at the mountain’s base. This is where the snow-topped giant awaiting your arrival first becomes visible – a view so amazing that it spurs you on to the summit. Allow seven hours for the return trek.
Although not as high as Mulhacén and Veleta, the 3,371-metre Alcazaba is one of the most isolated mountains in the Sierra Nevada, requiring at least a 20-kilometre trek to reach its desolate summit. The most spectacular route starts from the Alto del Chorrillo parking area, located a 45-minute drive above Capileira. From here, allow eight hours for the return walk, or split your trek in two by sleeping at the excellent Refugio Poquiera. The final ascent is steep and the track is barely visible at points, so good navigation skills are essential.
The Vereda de Estrella – named after the Estrella copper mine which it was built to access – is one of the most famous tracks in the Sierra Nevada. Beginning at Barranco de San Juan, a parking area outside the lovely village of Güéjar Sierra, 24 kilometres east of Granada, it snakes through a deep valley from which you can enjoy some breathtaking views of Veleta, Mulhacén and Alcazava, ranged formidably side-by-side like colossal sentries. The return hike takes about six hours.
Situated just outside the small town of Dilar, a 20-minute drive from Granada, is the Sierra Nevada’s Cumbres Verdes region. Here you can trek to the 2,079-metre summit of Trevenque, a four-hour return route that starts and finishes at a wonderful country restaurant called La Fuente del Hervidero. Trevenque might not be as tall as Alcazaba, Veleta or Mulhacén, but its final ascent is steep and rocky, with a track that’s practically invisible at times. It’s a challenge that will only make your post-trek pint at Hervidero taste even sweeter.