Exploring Northern Spain: Hiking Urkiola

WRITTEN BY: MEGAN KOPP

Disclosure: This post contains Affiliate Links.

Hikers look for parks and natural spaces to explore wherever they go – and we are no exception. Pulling out the map, we spied Urkiola Natural Park, in the heart of Basque Country just south of Durango in northern Spain. A quick internet search unearthed hiking options worth investigating. 

The road winds up and up and up from Durango to Urkiola Pass.

The Sanctuary at Urkiola Pass. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

Driving past the imposing Urkiola Sanctuary shrouded in fog, we parked and began the gentle uphill climb into the heart of the park. From the Sanctuary, it is easy to follow the signposts indicating the route to go up Mount Urkiolagirre.

Urkiolagirre is one of the most important stockbreeding zones in Urkiola Natural Park. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

The fog slowly lifted. Wire fences separate herds of belled livestock. The path climbs gently up the verdant pasture land.

It takes about half an hour to reach the small summit of Urkiolagirre, where photogenic Basque ponies demand to be photographed. Look for the orientation table with the names of some of Urkiola’s limestone peaks and other notable points of interest.

Young Basque pony in Urkiolagirre, one of the most important stockbreeding zones in Urkiola Natural Park. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

 

Pol-Pol spring and its iron-rich water. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

The way down from the peak leads to the Asuntze col, with the Pol-Pol spring and its reddish waters. There are several well-marked paths from the col. A signpost lists various trail options. We chose to head up to Larrano.

Santa Barbara Chapel on Larrano Col. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

It took less than half an hour to  climb up to the Larrano col. Here stone herder cabins and the tiny Santa Barbara Chapel capture the imagination.

This lush, grassy pass overlooking the town of Durango would be a good place to stop, but the rocky series of small summits to the southeast were calling our names.

Up and up and up – the trail winds to the first summit

There isn’t a readily identifiable trail. We headed up, following a fence line and animal trails and then funnelling into a rocky access point where a more obvious route appeared.

A short scramble up to the first summit. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

A short scramble and we summited the first small peak with stunning views of the countryside. Hiking options in northern Spain are endless. Urkiola Natural Park is only one of the hidden gems in this region.

Have you hiked in northern Spain? What gems have you uncovered?

Unique summit marker in Urkiola Natural Park. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

When You Go: 

Read more about the Hiking Routes through Urkiola Natural Park here.

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Exploring Northern Spain: Fuente De

WRITTEN BY: MEGAN KOPP

Disclosure: This post contains Affiliate Links.

Zipping up close to 700 metres (2300 feet) without breaking a sweat sounds like heaven. Indeed, the cable car at Fuente Dé is a little slice of bliss. Exploring the hiking trails of Picos de Europa in Northern Spain just got a whole lot easier!

Picos de Europa

The Southeastern Side of Picos de Europa

There are places that make your heart sing. Picos de Europa is one of those places. From Arenas de Cabrales, we moved southeast to Potes to continue our exploration of Picos from Fuente Dé.

Fuente Dé
Trail marker in field at the base of the cable car in Fuente Dé

It is an easy half hour drive from Potes up to Fuente Dé. The rugged stone wall at the end of the valley draws eyes away from the cable car – or teléforico – passing overhead.

We couldn’t help snapping a few pics before heading over to the terminal for the ride up into the still partially snow-covered alpine. The cable car has been hauling people up the mountainside since the 1960s.

 

Hiking around Fuente Dé

Mere minutes after boarding, we are standing at the cable car summit. Packs on backs, light hikers laced tight on eager feet and we’re off.

Within 20 minutes there are no crowds and only a few other people working their way through lingering patches of snow.

Spring hiking in Picos de Europa. (Photo: Megan Kopp)

We took route PR24 in a clockwise direction. The trail climbs up to a pass before heading down the other side to a red-roofed refugio (closed until summer).

Refugio in Picos de Europa
Looking back at the pass above the cable car summit. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

From the refugio, we took a short detour up onto a rise in search of the elusive chamois.

Scanning for chamois. (Photo: Megan Kopp)

And wouldn’t you know it, we saw one!

Asturian chamois
A rare Asturian chamois sighting! (Photo: Brad Kopp)

We climbed back up to the route, past Hotel Áliva (again, closed for the season) and down towards an old church.

Hiking in Picos de Europa
The hills are alive with the sound of music! (Photo: Brad Kopp)

The Virgen de la Salud Puerto de Aliva stands out in the meadows like a beacon to all who wander nearby.

Church in Picos de Europa
Worship in the mountains. (Photos: Brad Kopp)

Heading Down from the Alpine

From here the trail joins up with a gravel road for a short distance as it descends back down toward Espinama.

Hiking Picos de Europa
Heading back down towards Fuente De from the alpine meadows above the cable car summit. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

We pass an historic fountain before descending into a thick oak forest. Towards the end of the hike, the trail surface became a bit of a mud bog in early May.

Hiking Picos
Valley bottom trail not quite as pleasant as the alpine! (Photo: Megan Kopp)

The sight of the cable car at Fuente Dé looked even sweeter than it did on our initial approach. What a hike!

Trail PR 24 – over and out.

If You Go:

  • The cable car at Fuente Dé cost 11 Euros each on our visit.
  • The circular route following PR 24 – including countless detours and an extended picnic time – took us 6 ½ hours. Total distance was 16.8 kilometres (10.4 miles).

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Exploring Northern Spain: Cares Gorge

WRITTEN BY: MEGAN KOPP

Disclosure: This post contains Affiliate Links.

More than 500 workers carved over 70 tunnels to carry water from Cain to Poncebos for a hydroelectric project. The project started in 1915 and was finished in 1921. Eleven workers died. Of course we didn’t know any of this when we started out. All we knew is that we were going to hike into the famous Cares Gorge, in Picos de Europa, Spain.

Cares Gorge

The Spectacular Gorge

The Cares Gorge (Garganta del Cares) is a cleft running through the heart of the Picos de Europa mountain range. Carved by the Cares River, this massive rift reaches more than 1000 metres (3300 feet) deep in places. It stretches 12 kilometres (7.5 miles) in length.

A testament to work involved in building the canal in such a rugged canyon. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

Portions of the Cares River were diverted in the early 1900s for a hydroelectric power. Some of the water from the Cares flows through a canal that is built into the mountainside. The maintenance path for the canal is now an extremely popular hiking path through Cares Gorge.

The Path

A local decided to show us the way at the start of the trail! (Photo: Brad Kopp)

It is possible to do the hike in either direction. Because we based out of Arenas de Cabrales, we started at Poncebos. The six kilometre (3.7 mile) drive snakes high into the mountains. After one false start, parking too early and crossing over the canal before the bridge and tunnel, we found the trailhead.

Old stone buildings along the trail speak to the past. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

It is a steep, rocky climb up to the pass. Near the summit, old stone buildings speak to another life. It is also here that the first signs of the canal appear. At the summit, interpretive signs tell the story of the canal’s construction. Who knew?

Rugged and steep, the beauty of Cares Gorge is undeniable. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

Down, down, down – the path levels off as it hugs the cliff above, below and on top of the leaky canal. Stone retaining walls and short tunnels help maintain the grade. We catch occasional glimpses of the fast-flowing, blue Cares River far below. There are numerous side trails – goat tracks for the most part – veering off down into the canyon. The views continue to make us stop again and again for photo after photo.

Should you consider doing even a portion of this walk if in northern Spain?

Without a doubt!
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Tips for Hiking the Cares Gorge

  • Be prepared for hundreds of people if on a weekend.
  • There are no washrooms or trash cans along the route, use Leave No Trace principles.
  • Sporadic signposts help mark distances.
  • Weather can change without warning, pack an umbrella and windcoat.
  • Don’t forget your camera.
  • To get to the trailhead, take route AS-264 to Poncebos from Arenas de Cabrales. Drive across the bridge and through the tunnel and watch for the sign “Funicular de Bulnes.” Take the right fork of the road here and continue uphill to the gate and trailhead.
  • Get a hiking guidebook:

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