The Picos de Europa are one of the top highlights in northern Spain. This beautiful high mountain range offers adventurous hiking trails, outdoor activities and a mountain scenery that you would rather expect in the Dolomites. We’ll tell you now why you should definitely stop here on your northern Spain road trip, what you can do and what are the best things to do in the Picos de Europa.
We are Sabrina and Andreas, two adventurous travelers who never miss an opportunity to discover the world. Whether by plane to distant countries or with our campervan Bruno, we just love to travel. We hope to give you helpful tips for your next trip on our blog.
Sabrina & Andreas Globetrotters, Travelers, Adventurers
Picos de Europa in Northern Spain
The Picos de Europa are a high mountain range and a national park in northern Spain, by the way, the only national park in Spain that is also inhabited. Almost 200 mountains of the limestone mountains in the Picos de Europa crack the 2000m mark and the special feature of this mountain massif is that you can see it even from the sea.
That’s why it got its name, because the seafarers in earlier times could see the mountains from far away and since they looked so impressive, they were the mountain peaks (Picos) of Europe. Although, of course, the Pyrenees are much higher and not that far away.
The Picos de Europa are a limestone mountain range (like the Dolomites in South Tyrol) and so there are also the typical landscapes and many caves. There are a total of 3 mountain massifs with the names Macizo(Spanish for massif) Occidental, Macizo Oriental and Macizo Central.
The nature and the landscape are really beautiful and it is fun to just drive through the national park. What to see and what to do in the Picos de Europa, you can read in the next chapters.
Picos de Europa – The Best Things To Do
Cangas de Onís
The town of Cangas de Onis can be considered the main town of the Picos de Europa, and at least for the Asturias region this is true. But also in general, Cangas de Onis is the tourist center, the place is relatively large and has a very good tourist infrastructure. Nevertheless, it has retained its charm and you can stroll nicely through the old town.
In addition, there are also numerous supermarkets, restaurants and other stores for daily needs. You can also book many tours and excursions to the Picos de Europa.
Cangas de Onis is also the starting point for one of the most popular highlights of the Picos de Europa: The Lagos de Cavodonga.
Lagos De Covadonga
The Lagos de Covadonga and the town of Covadonga itself are two of the most popular attractions in the Picos de Europa. Covadonga is a place of pilgrimage because, according to legend, it was here that the founder of the Kingdom of Asturias fought the first battle against the Islamic Moors, thus initiating the reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula (Reconquista) by the Christians.
If you continue up the narrow mountain road, you will come to one of the most beautiful areas in the Picos de Europa. Here, at over 1000 meters, are the glacial lakes of Lago Enol and Lago de la Ercina. These two mountain lakes are located in a dreamlike scenery and it gets extremely crowded especially in the high season.
So crowded, in fact, that the access road is closed to private traffic in the summer (and at Easter). About 12 km from the lakes you have to park your car at the chapel of Covodonga (Google Maps) and take the bus from there. The trip takes about 45 minutes and costs 9 Euro per person. Dogs are also allowed on the bus, but must be kept in a cage in the trunk of the bus during the ride. Alternatively, you can visit the Lagos de Covadonga with a guided tour*.
In high season, the area is very crowded. That means full parking lots, long lines at the bus stop and a lot of visitors at the lakes. More information on how to get to the Covadonga lakes can be found on this website (in Spanish).
At the lakes themselves, you can walk a trail around the lakes in about an hour and you will have seen most of it.
Picos de Europa Hiking – Ruta del Cares
One of the most beautiful hikes in the Picos de Europa is the hike through the Cares Gorge. On the Ruta del Cares hike you walk 11 km through a gorge that is partly only a few meters wide. You walk over wobbly bridges, duck through narrow and dark tunnels and experience a really fascinating landscape.
The hike connects the two villages of Cain and Poncebos and is really popular. You can find all the necessary information about the hike here:
The numerous Viewpoints
In the Picos de Europa National Park there are also numerous viewpoints, which you can recognize by the signs with the word Mirador. From these viewpoints you often have a spectacular view over the mountains and the green landscapes of the Picos.
We would like to highlight the Mirador del Corzo on the eastern edge of the national park. Up here you have a great view of the surrounding landscape.
There are also free-roaming herds of cows and sheep, guarded by large (but mostly peaceful) guard dogs. So be careful if you are traveling with a dog yourself.
Potes | Beautiful Mountain Village on the edge of the Picos de Europa
Potes is located at the eastern end of the Picos de Europa and offers an almost Mediterranean climate. The temperatures here are so pleasant that even wine is grown here. The village is really worth seeing and has an authentic, historic center. The river Quiviesa runs through the middle of the town and many restaurants and souvenir stores have settled on the edge of the river. However, it is not so touristy that the medieval flair of the town would be disturbed.
If you are just passing through, then an hour is easily enough to discover the old town. If you have more time, you can also spend the night here (accommodation tip*) and use the town as a starting point for excursions into the Picos. Many travel agencies offer their services here and the cable car Fuente Dé will take you to the mountains in a few minutes.
Cable Car of Fuente Dé
Just 20 km from Potes, the cable car of Fuente Dé will take you in less than 4 minutes to the top of El Cable, at over 1800 meters. Here you are in the middle of the central Picos de Europa and numerous beautiful hiking trails are waiting for you.
The beautiful, but also strenuous hike Ruta Horcados Rojos leads over 6 km to the viewpoint Horcados Rojo. On the way there and back you will overcome almost 800 meters of altitude.
A little bit more relaxed you can walk up to the pass Horcadina de Covarrobles in about 30 minutes. From there you have a great view of the western Picos de Europa.
Opening hours of the cable car:
The cable car is open every day of the year (except Christmas and New Year) between 10 am and 6 pm. Tickets (return) cost 20€ for adults, 10€ for children and 5€ for dogs (with muzzle).
Tips for the Picos de Europa
Overnight stay in the Picos de Europa
If you are driving through the national park with a rental car, then 1-2 overnight stays on site are recommended. We can recommend the following central hotel:
Accomodation in the Picos de Europa
This accommodation* is very centrally located in the Picos de Europa and can be used as a starting point for many excursions.
- only a few minutes by car from the start of the Ruta del Cares hike
- simple, clean rooms
- view to the mountains
- amazing breakfast
If you want to stay several days in the National Park Picos de Europa, then you can stay overnight in Potes and Cangas de Onis:
Picos de Europa Camping
Officially camping is forbidden in the national park, but there are several places where wild camping is tolerated. You can find them in the app Park4Night. There are also several official campsites in the Picos de Europa.
Picos de Europa Itinerary
There are not so many (main) roads in the Picos de Europa. Nevertheless, the question of an optimal travel route arose during our travel planning. Therefore, the following route turned out to be ideal for us.
The travel route through the Picos de Europa leads in a W-shape once past the most beautiful highlights. The route should serve as a rough guideline for your personal travel planning, so adapt the route to your preferences.
- Picos de Europa Map: Our rough itinerary through the Picos de Europa
Best Time to visit the Picos de Europa
The main travel season is the summer months of July and August. At this time it can get extremely crowded (especially at the Lagos De Covadonga). You should therefore, if possible, switch to the months of May/June and September/October.
How many days should I spend in the Picos de Europa?
You should plan at least 2-3 days here, but 4-5 days are better. Because there is really a lot to see and discover and the roads are often very curvy and exhausting to drive.
Especially if you like hiking there is a lot to experience here.