A Guide to the Best Hikes in the Atlas Mountains, Morocco
Few countries can boast of such impressive biodiversity as Morocco. Though the country offers tourists a variety of attractive escapes, hiking the Atlas Mountains remains the number one activity for most visitors.
Walking through the Berber villages and their ancient Kasbahs – located over some of the toughest mountain terrains – is said to offer the ultimate challenge to hikers who want to explore the vast valleys and the untamed peaks of the Atlas mountains of Morocco on foot.
With the help of this best hikes in the Atlas Mountains guide, ably assisted by loads of Berber hospitality, you can easily make your way over the many vertigo induced vistas on an unforgettable trek.
Introduction to Hiking the Atlas Mountains
The Atlas mountains are a paradise for trekkers of all ages and fitness levels; for those traveling on a budget and the not so intrepid ones who want to hike in luxury. The trip can be modified from a moderate two-day trek covering one tall peak like Mount Toubkal to a unique fifteen-day adventure across four summits of the Atlas mountains.
All Atlas Mountain treks are tailored to match the season and each individual’s fitness levels. Informative sites like Trek Addict can come in very handy as you navigate challenging terrain, especially as first-timers.
How to Prepare for Trekking the Atlas Mountains
For trekking the Atlas mountains, you must prepare yourself well ahead of time, as you would for a walk in any mountain region. You should carry lightweight waterproof trousers and a rain jacket, as you can be warm one moment and buffeted by cold winds and rain the next. Trekkers can choose between staying in Berber guesthouses and heading out on daily excursions or embarking on a multi-day mule trek where you have the option of staying with the Berber families in their camps. Or if you’re feeling really adventurous you can buy your own camping gear, including a lightweight down sleeping bag, for a safe and memorable night under the stars.
The indigenous people of Morocco are Berbers, and it is said that if you want to feel the spirit and soul of Morocco, you have to experience the sheer diversity of Berber culture. Needless to say, no trek in the Atlas mountains is possible without the help of these sturdy nomadic souls who have been staying here for generations. The Berber cuisine is extremely nutritious and well suited for supporting long journeys; many of the tribe’s elders live well into their 90’s.
Hiking Mount Toubkal
The highest peak of Morocco is Mount Toubkal, standing at an altitude of 4167m. Jaw-dropping scenery, awesome hiking paths, and selfless Berber hospitality make Mount Toubkal one of the most incredible places on earth to explore on two feet.
The gateway to the Atlas mountains is the Red City of Marrakech, known the world over for its ancient souks and palace gardens. Compared to the European Alps, the Atlas Mountains are still considered to be remote and untouched by tourism, making trekking here an altogether unique experience and one of the best hikes in the Atlas Mountains.
The ascent to Mount Toubkal takes two days, but the aim is to complete most of the trip on the first day by accessing Neltner Refuge at 3207m. This base station is an excellent place to rest after the 11km walk over mule tracks. Share stories with fellow climbers from around the world before setting off for the summit the next day.
The hiking trail now leads around the south cirque, above the refuge, from where it’s a straight walk to the summit. There are also several refuges on the Azzaden Valley side, but most are packed with shared dorms and noisy trekkers.
There is another scenic but challenging route to reach Mount Toubkal, by way of a three-day circular trek beginning and ending at Imlil. This trek is impassable in winter as some sections get blocked by snow. The trek from Imlil leads to Tizi Mzik on day one, to Neltner Refuge on day two, and finally to the summit and back on a 12-hour hike to Imlil on the last day. On the way, you cross the lovely Azzaden Valley, Aguelzim Pass, and the Plain of El Houaz before the ascent to the highest peak in North Africa.
You don’t have to travel far from Mount Toubkal to access a completely different type of Atlas Moutain trekking terrain. The Tichka Plateau, on the fringes of the Western High Atlas range, is a delight for hikers. Away from the established trekking routes, the climate is warmer and the landscapes greener; it offers superb walking among some of the most magical vistas.
Most of the walking here is less demanding than Mount Toubkal, but the plateau is a place of bewitching beauty, with distinctive Berber villages that rarely see foreigners.
Hiking M’Goun Massif
More and more trekkers are being drawn to explore the M’Goun Massif in the Central High Atlas, as it remains relatively undisturbed and unexploited. It’s now one of the best hikes in the Atlas Mountains. The highlights of this area are the stunning gorges, with orange and deep red walls carved by erosion that are a joy to walk and wade through, given that some feature waist-deep water.
While crowds flock elsewhere, nature lovers, families, and all grades of travelers will be rewarded with the pristine and prehistoric landscape of M’Goun Massif.
From your entry point of Marrakech, you can opt to go on another fantastic hike through some of the most beautiful valleys of the Atlas mountains and gain insight into the Berbers’ rural way of life. The three-day trip passes through Imnam Valley, Azzaden Valley, and finally through Ait Mizane Valley, past the big waterfalls of the Toubkal National Park before returning to Marrakech.
Enroute, stay with local Berber residents and enjoy a hammam – or steam bath – to soothe the body. The trek is intermediate grade and open year-round. It’s perfect for families and those seeking a lighter hike.
This Atlas Moutain hike is for those who prefer to trek at low altitudes, view spectacular scenery, and enjoy authentic Berber hospitality. The Berber’s are a farming community, and this trip allows you to stay and interact with them while learning about their customs and traditions.
This five-day cultural experience can be enjoyed year-round and is ideal for families: the lodging is comfortable and the pace leisurely, with between five to seven hours of walking each day. The trail covers a diverse range of Atlas mountains, with additional stops to spend more time with the Berber people.
Morocco has many trekking options, so it comes as no surprise that a route as fascinating as Tafraoute has remained untouched to this day. The Anti Atlas are the last of the significant mountains, featuring two significant peaks, Lekst and Aklim, before merging with the Sahara desert.
The region around Tafraoute is full of lush green meadows and rugged terrain, with Mount Lekst the stellar attraction. Both the Mount Aklim and Lekst regions have a sizable number of Berber villages, protected by their old Kasbahs.
Imlil Valley Trek
Trekkers with limited time and less impressive fitness levels not suited to multi-day hikes need not despair. Located just 37 miles from Marrakech is the Imlil Valley, the gateway to most Atlas Mountain hiking routes. That said, a single day scenic hike to the Berber village of Asmi and the lush green Imlil Crossing Valley is highly recommended.
Another option is to travel 30 miles from Marrakech to Ourika Valley. This leisurely day trip will take you past a Berber village to a lovely waterfall in a place called Siti Fatma. You don’t even need a full set of backpacking gear for this, and you can be back in Marrakech by evening.
General Information about Trekking the Atlas Mountains
Most trekking routes in the Atlas mountains are open throughout the year, but the best seasons to venture out are spring and autumn when the temperatures are at their most bearable in the mid-70s. There’s also less chance of rain. Many parts of the country are still very conservative, so travelers are advised to dress modestly when passing through the local villages.
Avoid shorts, and refrain from removing your shirt, no matter how hot it is! Double-check to see if you have everything you need, especially if you plan to hike high up in the mountains.
For day hikes in the Atlas Mountains, you don’t need to have high fitness levels, but if you’re heading for the summits, be prepared for altitude sickness and headaches. If severe symptoms occur, heading down immediately is the best cure. Even though the region is relatively safe, it is NOT possible to hike these mountains without a guide, regardless of the duration. ATMs are unknown here, so carry enough cash of small denomination to last you the entire trek.
Finally, the food offered will be fresh and delicious, but entirely Moroccan. Expect to find plenty of local bread, fruit, and jam, with mint tea for breakfast and meat and vegetables for lunch and dinner. The food is priced reasonably and should not cost more than $10 for a major meal.
The Atlas mountain range spans three countries – Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco, with the latter providing the best opportunities for hiking enthusiasts. Given the plethora of trails leading deep into nature, it’s no wonder that this mostly unspoiled region has become a mecca for those seeking a hike out of the ordinary.
Related Marrakech reading:
Check our list of the 15 Best Day Trips From Marrakech
Where to Stay in Marrakech – The Best Areas & Hotels
48 hours in Marrakech – Highlights Itinerary for 2 Days
And our top 10 Best Things to do in Marrakech