Trekking in Los Picos de Europa

We completed a 10-day trek in Los Picos in early September—arriving in Arenas de Cabrales on 3 September, trekking from 4–13 September, and continuing onward from Arenas on 14 September. It was a self-guided trip. We worked with a company called Natural Adventure, who made our lodging reservations and provided us with apps, maps, and other information we used to complete the circuit that is described on their web site: In this post, I’ll describe the route. For more background information about Los Picos, please see my last post:

This map shows the location of our trek in the Parque Nacional de Los Picos de Europa (area encompassed by dashed purple line). Los Picos consists of three massifs: Western Massif (Cornión), Central Massif (Los Urrieles), and Eastern Massif (Ándara). SELLA, CARES, and DEVA are names of the major river systems. We started in Arenas de Cabrales and completed a counter-clockwise circuit around the Central Massif. Locations we visited included Cain, Posada de Valdeón, Espinama, FD (=Fuente Dé; pink line is cable car lift), Sotres, Tielva, and Bulnes. Map is from Geology guidebook (reference below).
This is a geologic map that shows our route. I’ve labelled locations with the days (#1–10) when we were there. In my previous post, I described the geologic history of Los Picos. This map shows the Carboniferous limestone layers in light blue and purple colors. Notice that the same layers are repeated over and over (from north to south) by thrust faults—lines with triangles on the north side, indicating that thrusting was toward the south. The darker colors of orange and purple are layers of sandstone and mudstone, and the green color east and west of Sotres are Permian–Triassic red beds. Map is from Geology guidebook (reference below).

Arenas de Cabrales and Day 1

Arenas de Cabrales (north end of top map) is a convenient village located just north of the national park. With its outdoor and grocery stores for supplies, excellent restaurants and bars, and a variety of lodging types, it is an ideal base from which to start a trek. We stored some items at our hotel and retrieved them at the trek’s end. In our backpacks we needed only layers for warmth, a few changes of clothes, lunch and water.

DAY 1 of our trek was a loop from Arenas de Cabrales, here visible in the valley to the north (Michael for scale). We hiked 10.2 km (6.5 miles), with about 650 m (2100 feet) of elevation gain. Although it was cloudy, we experienced only a little drizzle.

Day 2: Garganta de Cares (Cares Throat, i.e., Gorge)

On DAY 2, we were transported to Puente Poncebos where we hiked up a steep, narrow gorge along the Cares River (the circled 9 on the geology map above was our route). This is the most popular hike in Los Picos. We were told that, in the summer, thousands of people from all over the world hike this gorge, most of them as a day trip. In the first part of September there were other hikers, but it was not crowded. Once into the national park, we were hiking in ~350-million-year-old limestone.

At one place along the trail, we saw this layer of conglomerate that was inset in the limestone wall. These are deposits of the Cares River when its level was much higher than today, when it was in the process of cutting downward through the limestone.

Day 3: Posada de Valdeón

After hiking 12 km (7.5 miles) up the canyon, we decided to take a taxi from Cain to our hotel in Posada de Valdeón (see maps).

Posada de Valdeón is a charming village located in a part of the park that is less frequented by visitors. The photo shows the town center with some of its welcoming restaurants and bars. Our hotel was a short walk to the south (off right side of photo), where there was also a new Visitors Center—explained in my previous post—that provides a wealth of information about the region.
On DAY 3 we completed a 16-km (9.5-mile) loop westward—with 800 m (2600 feet) ascent and descent—from Posada de Valdeón. This junction indicates the path we took westward (to the left) to Vega de Llos, and the path that goes back to town where we started. This stone house is called La Casa Vieja (The Old House), now converted into a hotel. The smaller building in front of the old house is a granary that was elevated on stilts to prevent rodents from eating the supplies. These granaries are common throughout the mountainous regions of Europe.
A northwest view along our hike to where limestone layers (white color) are thrust over mudstone and sandstone layers. All of the layers are tilted to the north because of movement along thrust faults (see geology map above).

Day 4: Valdeón to Espinama

Our hotel (Ramoña) in Espinama. Our lodgings were comfortable; all provided breakfast, and some (like this one) provided dinner. If dinner was not provided in the hotel, we choose a restaurant in the village where we were staying.

Day 5: Teleférico Fuente Dé

We stayed in Espinama for 2 nights. On DAY 5, we took the teleférico (cable car lift) to explore a higher part of the Central Massif. After hiking for 10 km (6 miles) we returned to Espinama on the teleférico.

View westward from the teleférico station. The lower elevations are mostly more-erodable sandstone and mudstone, whereas the high peaks are less-erodable limestone layers.

Day 6: Espinama to Sotres

From Espinama, on DAY 6, we took advantage of the Teleférico Fuente Dé to gain elevation. From there we hiked a mostly downhill route of 14 km (8.5 miles) eastward to Puertos de Ávila, then northward to Sotres (see locations on geology map above).

Northward view into the high peaks of the Central Massif from the top of the teleférico. From there we hiked eastward (to the right) in the direction of the signs’ arrows.
This eastward view is of Puertos de Ávila. The red-roofed building is a refugio that provides lodging. Ávila was an active mining area in the 19th and 20th centuries. The geology map (above) shows an area of green that represents the black-colored mudstone visible in the foreground. The mudstone is overlain by limestone. The geology map also shows an area of white that represents sediments deposited by glaciers during the past 10s of thousands of years. My previous post shows some closeups of the moraines along the edges of the valley. The circled 10 on the geology map is our route.

Days 7–9: Hiking around Sotres

From Áviles we hiked northward in the valley that continues to the left (north) in the photo above. We spent four nights in Sotres, from where we did day hikes.

On DAY 7, we were transported to a trail head east of town, where we walked 12.5 km (7.5 miles) uphill to the old Ándara mine site (photos in previous post). The photo is a view to the west from the trail, as we headed back to Sotres—the houses in the valley. Sotres is in the Eastern Massif, which is separated from the Central Massif by the valley extending south–north (left–right) below Sotres.
Michael and Nanci walking on the trail as we returned from Ándara. View toward the east in the Eastern Massif.

On DAY 8, we decided to have a low-key outing and did a 6.5 km (4 mile) trek around Sotres. Here are Nanci and Jay on a knoll west of town with stellar views of the town and surrounding mountains.
An eastward view over Sotres from the viewpoint shown in the photo above. We thought Sotres would be a delightful place to linger for a month—there are good restaurants, friendly people, and many hiking options to choose from. The next group of photos capture some of Sotres’ ambience.
On DAY 9, we were scheduled to hike up to a refugio at the foot of Picu Urriellu, in the heart of the Central Massif (see geology map for location). Unfortunately, the forecast was for thunderstorms and low cloud cover—not the best weather for climbing on exposed rock faces at high elevations. We decided to stay in Sotres another night, and choose a 7 km (4.2 mile) hike to the village of Tielve (see maps above). Although we had planned to hike back to Sotres, a downpour changed our minds and we taxied back to town instead. Jay, Nanci, and Michael happily hiking on the trail to Tielve.

Day 10: Sotres to Bulnes and Arenas de Cabrales

On DAY 10, we hiked 10 km (6 miles) westward to Bulnes (see maps above). In this valley, we got a view of Picu Urriellu, the blocky-shaped peak on the left side of the photo. After the previous day’s rain, the sky was bright and clear. Although we could have made it to the refugio on this day, our schedule required us to return to Arenas de Cabrales where we had hotel rooms and a reservation for transportation back to the coast the following day.
The settlement of Bulnes with several restaurants. A funicular between Bulnes and Puente Poncebos (see geology map above) makes this an easy destination for visitors. After several hours of a slippery, muddy downhill trail to Bulnes, we opted for a funicular ride downhill to Poncebos. After one more night in Arenas, we continued on to complete the rest of our trip.
Jay and I next went to Santander, capital of the Cantabrian autonomous community. Santander has a large embayment on the east side, and the open ocean on the north side. Here is a view eastward across the bay just after sunset.


Parque Nacional de Los Picos de Europa Guía Geológica (geology guide):

Posted in


  1. Darryl & Alice on October 31, 2023 at 10:22 pm

    Wow. Wow. and Wow. Such wonderful narration and photos. And great to have a company like Natural Adventures to make the pre-arrangements. Thank you Karen for bringing your “followers” along on your journeys, while informing our geographic, geologic (and cultural) knowledge base. ~Alice & Darryl

    • Landscapes Revealed on November 1, 2023 at 9:23 am

      Thanks for reading — love you two!

  2. Kathy Knoke on November 1, 2023 at 3:07 pm

    So appreciate your geological travelogue. The pictures are beautiful and your commentary is fascinating. Am enjoying this virtual hike that at age 91 I could not quite manage.

    • Landscapes Revealed on November 1, 2023 at 3:35 pm

      Thanks for reading Kathy. So glad you enjoy the posts.

Subscribe to Blog

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.