Hiking in the High Atlas Mountains
The High Atlas mountain range is located in Central Morocco. It is also sometimes referred to as the Grand Atlas range.
Spreading from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the border with Algeria in the west, the High Atlas Mountains are a magnet for hiking, climbing, and trekking enthusiasts. The range is home to the highest mountain in North Africa, Jbel Toubkal, as well as many other peaks, valleys, river basins, and Berber villages. The mountain-dwelling Berber community largely makes a living from farming. Ancient trading routes between the coast and Sahara Desert used passes in the mountains.
The mountains are also home to an interesting array of flora and fauna. Though the landscapes are often fairly desolate and barren, wildflowers add splashes of colour during the springtime. Forests include cedar, pine, and oak trees.
Keen ornithologists should keep a lookout for the Barbary partridge Tristram’s warbler, alpine choughs, booted eagles, rollers, and Moussier’s redstart. Barbary sheep and Barbary stags graze on the slopes, Barbary macaques scamper up trees, and Atlas Mountain badgers scuttle through the undergrowth.
The higher elevations see a fair amount of snow in the winter months. Skiing and other snow activities are possible at this time of year, with Oukaimeden a popular skiing destination.
While hiking in the High Atlas Mountains is still possible during the winter, specialist equipment is needed if you want to tackle the higher peaks. You will also need to be a competent hiker with experience of hiking in snowy and icy conditions. The lower elevations are generally accessible to all, even in the winter. At other times of the year, however, hiking in the Atlas Mountains is a lot more accessible. Late spring to early autumn is often seen as the best time to hike in Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains.
The main towns and villages within the Atlas Mountains area are Ouarzazate, Imlil, Tahanaoute, Tin Mal, Amizmiz, and Ijoukak. The Ourika Valley is a popular trip from nearby Marrakech.
Day hikes are possible, or there are longer multi-day treks for those who love spending time in the great outdoors. It is always recommended to explore with a professional local guide.
Here are some of the best places for hiking in the mighty Atlas Mountains:
The highest mountain in the High Atlas range and also in North Africa, it takes a couple of days to climb to the summit of Jbel Toubkal from the village of Imlil. The towering mountain stands at 4,167 metres and hikes lead through quaint villages where age-old traditions are still very much alive. There are plenty of shorter, and easier, trekking routes available, however, in the surrounding Toubkal National Park.
Hardcore hikers can take on the fairly grueling Toubkal Circuit. It typically takes around 5-6 days to complete the route around the Toubkal Massif. Traversing high peaks and deep valleys, the rising and falling nature of the route ensures that the scenery is constantly changing. A great way for avid and experienced hikers to enjoy the beauty of the High Atlas Mountains, the Toubkal Circuit passes through a number of traditional Berber villages. It is one of, if not the most, challenging hiking routes in the country. Whether climbing Toubkal alone or setting off on the Toubkal Circuit, it’s important that people spend time to properly acclimatise first to minimise the risk of altitude sickness.
A fairly gentle walk close to Imlil, follow the path to the town of Aroumd for a taste of hiking in the High Atlas Mountains. You can enjoy picturesque views and get plenty of great photos to remind you of your Moroccan adventures.
There are varied hiking routes around the M’Goun Massif, ranging from short and fairly easy day treks to longer adventures where you will spend nights in local villages, camp, and be accompanied by equipment-carrying mules. The views are incredible on all treks and you can discover more about the local Berber way of life. See farmers working the land and children cheerily waving to passersby. The soaring peak of Jbel M’Goun is 4,071 metres tall, and the allure to active hikers is great.
A remote valley close to Tabant, there are a number of small family-run homestays to use as your base for exploring this picturesque area. Often said to be one of the most scenic valleys in all of Morocco, Ait Bouguemez has earned itself the nickname of Happy Valley. Sparkling lakes can be found close to the valley, and you can take a day to walk through the valley and hike between local villages, or take a longer multi-day trek and immerse yourself more fully in the Berber way of life. The Sunday market in Tabrant is well worth exploring. Enjoy rustic beauty and agricultural landscapes close to Jbel M’Goun.
Starting in Ait Bouguemez and lasting for around six days, the M’Goun Circuit encompasses the peak of M’Goun, the Tarkedit Plateau, the Aghouri Pass, Tizi n’ait Imi, and the valley of Ain Aflafal. Enjoy sweeping views towards the Sahara and across the Draa Valley. The rugged terrain, complete with lush valleys, unusual rock formations, and traditional villages, is attractive and scenic.
Located on the fringes of the vast Sahara Desert, Jbel Saghro is a perfect place if you want to hike somewhere that sees relatively few visitors. If you’re willing to travel farther into the mountains, and away from major cities like Marrakech, you’ll benefit from a unique and authentic experience, filled with friendly mountain locals, rolling palm groves, and dramatic vistas.
The beautiful Todra Gorge and Dades Gorge are also top destinations for hiking in the High Atlas Mountains. You may also want to tackle one (or both!) of the twin summits of Puanoukrim: Ras Ouanoukrim and Timzguida.
As with any hiking trip, you should ensure that you wear appropriate footwear and clothing, carry plenty of water and supplies, and listen to the advice of your local guide. Hiking poles can be useful in particularly rugged areas. Don’t underestimate the strength of the sun; slather on sun cream, and take sunglasses and a cap. And finally, enjoy trekking in Morocco’s spectacular High Atlas Mountains!