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A re you curious about what Spain is like outside of the urban buzz of its cities? Stunning natural landscapes, incredible wildlife, and epic outdoor adventures might not be the first thing you think of when imagining a Spanish holiday. However, outside the crowded cities, Spain has some of Europe’s best nature parks and natural destinations. Spain even boasts more biosphere reserves than any other country in the world! If this sounds like a dream, don’t miss these 15 unique spots for nature in Spain. Spain’s natural landmarks are must-visit spots for any outdoor enthusiast and nature lover and include everything from relaxing spots for birders to epic mountain hikes.
I’ve been to Spain many times over the years, but it wasn’t until I slowed down, visiting rural and wild Spain, did I come to appreciate it for its nature. Spanish nature knocked mine and Ganesh’s socks off during our month-long campervan road trip. We drove winding mountain roads through the Pyrenees, swam in natural rock pools in the Sierras, and rode our bikes through the rolling vineyards of Rioja. Taking time to experience Spain’s natural side has moved Spain up to one of the top countries I’ve ever visited.
This guide covers mainland and mostly inland Spain as that is where my most extensive travel has been, and it is certainly not an exhaustive list of natural wonders in Spain. Yet, I hope you find some inspiration for exciting places to add to your Spain road trip itinerary. Did I miss your favorite spot for nature in Spain? – leave a comment to share your experiences!
- Spain has the most biosphere reserves of any country in the world.
- With 16 national parks spanning mainland Spain and the islands, nature in Spain is incredibly diverse.
- Visiting nature in Spain offers an entirely different experience than visiting Spanish cities.
- Some natural parks are remote and uninhabited, offering excellent wildlife viewing, while others are integrated with rural country life for a unique cultural experience.
- Whether you are on a road trip to camp at some of these spaces or making day trips from urban hubs like Barcelona, Spain’s nature is not to be missed.
Responsible Nature-Based Travel in Spain
Each province manages its approach to the natural environment differently, but Spain generally has a progressive approach to conservation. Spain is notorious for granting legal protections to animals and landscapes, treating them with similar rights as humans – highlighting their respect for nature. Parts of Spain are welcoming back the nearly extinct Iberian lynx after a successful reintroduction campaign. Though alternatively, they are large consumers of meat products, such as the Iberian Jamón, which makes it challenging to travel through rural areas as a vegetarian.
As we explored national parks, UNESCO biosphere reserves, and nature parks, we noticed a similar theme; nature needs to be both conserved and protected while allowing humans to enjoy nature and ensuring people can still live off the land, maintaining cultural traditions. Most protected areas and natural wonders welcome visitors to enjoy nature taking advantage of clean air, water, animal sightings, and well-maintained facilities. We saw respectful recreators, clean trails, high regard for nature, well-managed sites, and a welcoming attitude inviting you to learn about and enjoy Spain’s natural wonders. But, it is not all perfect…
Overtourism in Spain’s Natural Areas
The number of people visiting Spanish national parks has increased by 77% in the last ten years, with a steep uptick since the pandemic, contributing to mass over-tourism in Spain’s natural spaces. As people avoid crowds in urban hot spots, sensitive natural areas experience more pressure. While it is generally good that more people are out enjoying nature, shifting mass tourism from cities to nature’s hot spots can have significant negative impacts. To minimize these impacts, tourism development must be accompanied by adequate infrastructure development, community collaboration, scientific research, and management. If nature-based tourism develops too fast without these things, a region’s natural and cultural integrity can decline rapidly.
The pressure from tourism is so great that some national parks are taking action to limit visitors enforcing capacity limits and entrance limitations.
How can you do your part? As you visit these 15 natural wonders in Spain, remember these suggestions:
- Follow all local park guidelines and rules
- Don’t litter
- Don’t go off trail
- Use proper toilet facilities or educate yourself on going to the bathroom outdoors.
- Don’t collect, touch, harvest, or take home any plant or wildlife
- Do not disturb or deface natural features such as rock formations or cave systems
- Research which parks may have capacity limitations or fees. Respect and pay them.
- Do not jump fences, go off trail, or disregard danger signs.
- Respect wildlife, nature, and the surrounding community
- Take time to learn about the natural environment and surrounding culture
- As you can visit during the week or shoulder seasons
- Stay a while in surrounding small towns! Every day you stay, you maximize your positive impact while reducing any negative impacts!
- And, of course, have fun!
- You can read about overtourism in Spain’s national parks, including some hot spots you might avoid visiting outside the peak travel season.
- Read my primer on Ecotourism 101 for a more comprehensive understanding of minimizing your environmental impact.
1. Sant Maurici Lake National Park
Catalonia’s only national park, Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park, loosely translates to “The Winding Streams and St. Maurice Lake National Park.” This special place is easily one of Spain’s most impressive natural wonders. You’ll find 200 lakes, extensive hiking trails, alpine hut accommodations, nature-based tourism, and wildlife observation within the park’s borders. Visiting this park and taking in the ancient forest and quiet nature gave me a new reason to fall in love with Spain.
Everywhere you look while hiking through St. Maurice Lake National Park is a water feature- cascading waterfalls, lakes, streams, or ponds. The water here is so fresh you can drink it straight from the mountain. After hiking through the park and camping in the Spanish Pyrenees, the thing that stood out to me was the tranquility and peacefulness of this natural landscape. It is a well-cared-for national park, making it a haven for animals such as the western Spanish Ibex, Eurasian capercaillie, marmots, bearded vultures, toads, newts, and delicate wildflowers.
Catalonia knows how to manage a national park. Visitor behavior is regulated, so make sure you follow the guidelines handed to you when you first visit the park. They might seem strict, but following the park’s rules means you’ll have a higher chance of spotting wildlife.
You can only enter the park on foot or with a group, 4×4 shuttle taxi departing from Espot or Boí. So, the best way to see Aigüestortes is by hiking. We hiked the central and eastern parts of the park, starting at Sant Maurici Lake. You can hike through the entire park in a day or stay overnight at one of the many Refugis if you plan in advance with reservations.
The park is excellent for snowshoeing and Astro-tourism in winter.
We loved camping outside the park at Camping Voraparc, which was excellent. After spending a day in the park, we came home to swim in the pool and cook in our campervan. You can also book a modern hotel like Els Encantats or a rustic option like Hotel Roya.
Read my guide to visiting Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park for specific trails and everything you need to know to plan your trip.
2. The High Pyrenees Natural Park
First, I should caution you. The roads through the High Pyrenees or Parc Natural de l’Alt Pirine are narrow and winding, sometimes with steep drop-offs. The public roads are maintained and manageable well-suited vehicles. However, we did turn off onto a private road called Carr. De Tor, which is not maintained by the park, and had immediate regrets. It was a 4×4, unpaved, rocky single-track lane winding through the high mountains, and we were in a VW Campervan. Stick to the main public roads in the park. Even then, if you are uncomfortable driving technical mountain roads, I suggest you leave the car at your accommodation, book a 4×4 offroad taxi, or hire a guide.
That being said, the high Pyrenees are stunning. To avoid excessive driving in the park, base yourself in a town called Llavorsí, a lower-elevation hub for mountain adventures. It has hotels, campsites, tour companies, and food options. Anotion option higher in the mountains is Àreu, a small town near some of the more popular hiking trails.
The park is the largest protected area in Catalonia, and there are many things to do. The High Pyrenees in Spain are known for their unique biodiversity. Rare orchids and flowers found only in the Pyrenees fill high alpine meadows. Some, like the Edelweiss, are protected by law as they are scarce and delicate. For wildlife lovers, the high Pyrenees have everything from brown bears to the Pyrenean owl, woodpecker, pallares lizard, and muskrat, which are endemic to the region.
The area has a rich and unique cultural heritage vastly different from the rest of Spain, with a unique dialect and lifestyle. As you explore the park, it is not uncommon to find remains of old stone walls, ditches, ruins of chapels, or silo caves historically used for storing food. The towns in the park are rural and remote, with charming stone buildings and many still living a traditional lifestyle.
If you like adventure sports, you can go white water rafting or canyoning with companies based in Llavorsí. If you prefer a more relaxing and quiet experience, you can take advantage of the many hiking trails. Some of the more popular trails that require permits to limit traffic include summiting the Pica d’Estats on the French border or the Monteixo summit. Other attractions include the hike to or visiting the Pla de Boet and Pla de la Selva. If you are keen, you can take advantage of a network of Refugi and book overnight mountain accommodation for multi-day hikes.
3. Montserrat Mountain Natural Park
Montserrat was my first introduction to Spain’s nature more than seven years ago. Montserrat is a beautiful blend of culture, history, geology, and ecology, offering various nature-based and cultural activities. With evidence of humans occupying the vast limestone caves in the mountains dating back to the Neolithic era, the mountain is an integral part of human history. In the 9th century, monks took shelter in the caves, creating chapels and living in solitude. Over time the monks built a monastery, basilica, and dozens of chapels that dot the mountainside.
The most popular things to do revolve around the basilica and abbey, such as viewing hte famous Black Madonna statue. You can ride the funicular or walk to the Santa Cova chapel, another holy mountain cave. There are also three museums, including the Nature Museum, at the top of the Sant Joan funicular.
But, there is plenty here for the nature enthusiast, like hiking and enjoying the nature park in Montserrat. Above the monastery is an impressive geological feature, Montserrat, or the serrated mountain with its jagged, distinct peaks jutting straight from the winding river below. The unique geology has created an exciting climate that is hot and damp in the summer and cool in the winter. Over 1,200 plant species thrive in the park, including a healthy native oak forest and high alpine flowers. Watch for various birds, small mammals, bats, and salamanders.
The cultural and natural heritage are intertwined here, as many hikes lead to chapels, crosses, or places of quiet reflection. We did an 8km hike to summit Sant Jeroni, which you can start from the Sant Joan Funicular or the monastery. Another option is to hike up to the Monastery from the bottom of the mountain following the G5 trail.
Montserrat nature park and monastery is one of the most popular day trips from Barcelona. You can easily reach it by taking the R5 from Plaça Espanya and then choosing to ride the cable car, rack railway, or hike to the nature park.
We stayed in Barcelona at the Sixties Rambles Hotel was near a metro station with access to Plaça Espanya metro station. You can also stay the night in a small town or at the monastery for a more immersive experience.
I have a detailed and comprehensive guide to Montserrat Natural Park and Monastery, which you can read to help plan your ideal trip to one of Spain’s most iconic natural landscapes.
4. Montsec Mountains
Unfortunately, we just passed through the Serra del Montsec nature reserve on our road trip, but we made a few stops to have a picnic lunch, stretch our legs, and marvel at the landscape. Coming from the water-plenty Pyrenees and the jagged peaks of Montserrat, we could feel summer’s dry and intense heat and see the geological changes in the smooth mountain plateaus. Though, it is not uncommon for this area to receive snow in winter and stunning color changes in autumn. As part of Europe’s Natura 2000 network of protected natural spaces, the Serra del Montsec region is full of stunning nature and fun-filled adventures.
Serra del Montsec is a low-elevation mountainous region separated by a dammed river making it an excellent spot for boating, or hiking. The water appealed to us traveling through Spain during one of the hottest months. Paragliding is another popular activity in the region. You can rely on companies like Agerair Parapent or Àger Aventura’t for guides and equipment rentals.
The river has also carved out gorges like those found at Congost de Mont-Rebei. The unique geological features make for thrilling hiking as you pass through gorges, cross suspension bridges, or traverse cliffs on a boardwalk. The park is home to birds of prey such as eagles, vultures, and various native oak trees.
Aside from the unique nature, the area is full of ruins and remains, such as old castles, Visigoth, and Roman ruins. For example, the Sant Martí de les Tombetes is a Hispanic-Roman archaeological site full of tombs. Poble Abandonat de Rúbies is an abandoned village in the mountains.
You can pass through, stopping for smaller hikes and viewpoints as we did along the main roads, the C12 or C13, or take the winding narrow mountain road. Or you can also stop and stay in Àger to take full advantage of this unique nature park in Catalonia.
5. The Ports Natural Park
We had no intention no stopping at Parc Natural dels Ports, but we slammed on our brakes as we passed the iconic limestone mountain jutting out from green rolling hills. The limestone cliffs are just scratching the surface of what this park offers. Arguably one of Spain’s most important nature reserves, Els Ports protects the Spanish ibex. It is also home to the critically endangered Iberian lynx, whose numbers are recovering after a successful reintroduction campaign. Many other essential species inhabit the park, including thousands of plants, eagles, fish, and the blue rock thrush. As you explore, ensure you are mindful and aware of the vulnerable wildlife.
Even if you are not lucky enough to spot an ibex or a lynx from a distance, don’t dismay; the park is full of stunning blue swimming holes and natural rock pools. There are lots of hiking trails that traverse the park, including the challenging Els Ports trek. The area has plenty of Refugi, so you can rest your head between long days of hiking, especially for those that want to summit El Caro, the tallest peak. There are also more manageable and more accessible hikes and abandoned towns you can pass through.
You should stop at the Natural Park office in Roquetes off the C12 to plan an activity that suits your abilities and interests. For those keen to learn more about the impressive conservation work in the park, visit the Montisià Museum and the Els Ports Ecomuseusm, which both explore the biodiversity and ecological importance of the park.
We stayed across the provincial border in Aragon at a lovely ecological boutique bed and breakfast, Mas del Bot. They welcome slow, mindful travelers and only have a few rooms available. We detoured through the park as we drove to our next stop. Otherwise, I would suggest staying in Tortosa as the town is the gateway to the park.
6. The l’Ebre Delta Wetland Natural Park
One of my biggest regrets was not having the time to stop at this wetland delta and nature reserve. I won’t spend too much time talking about it, as I haven’t personally visited, but I would come back to Spain and visit in a heartbeat. The Parc Natural del Delta de l’Ebre is a famous bird and wildlife reserve. It is known for its beaches, wetlands, and relaxed walking trails. Over 400 species of birds inhabit the region, and it is one of the most important seabird colonies in the Mediterranean. It is also known for its sustainable and ecological tourism that supports conservation and healthy tourism. If you visit, do so during the migratory seasons and send me a photo!
7. The Gorge Trails of Beceite
The trails around Beceite, such as Parrizal de Beceite, require a permit due to their popularity and fragile ecosystem. Our rustic bed and breakfast hosts near Beceite recommended this route as one of the highlights in the area. Beceite is known for the Parrizal hiking route, an 8km there and back trail that follows a vibrant river and tunnels through mountainsides.
The route can be precarious, with parts traversing the cliffs on a boardwalk without a railing. It is also essential to prepare for this hike with shoes that deal with rocky terrain and wet walkways. The region is also hot AF in summer, so bring lots of sun protection and water.
You must apply and pay for permits to access the hiking trail. Licenses for the Parrizal Route are $5, and you need one before you park at the parking lot. You can only purchase them 1-2 months in advance. To access the parking lot, you will search for Parkin de El Parrizal on Google maps. You can drive or bike down the road, but it is narrow with little of a shoulder; thus, walking to the parking lot is not advised. Once you park, you can begin your tour. No dogs, littering, swimming, or motor vehicles are allowed in the park.
While the Parrizal Route is the most famous option, other routes require permits that can be up to $10. To learn more about the routes, permits, and information, you can visit the website and use Google Translate.
8. The Vías Verde Trail Network
Over the years, Spain has converted their old railway tracks into an extensive network of bicycle and trekking routes. We stayed near the Vías Verde del Zafán and Carrilet de la Cava routes on the border of Aragon and Catalonia. We only ventured out for a small ride on the part of the route, but you can easily plan a multi-day bike tour through some of Spain’s most impressive greenbelts and natural areas with these routes.
The development of the trails started in 1993 and continues to this day resulting in nearly 3,300 kilometers of converted railways. Utilizing this network of trails is a great way to explore the rural countryside as day trips from your campervan or campsite or by staying in little bed and breakfasts along the way. One of the best things about the trails is they are accessible for most people, offering relatively flat, wide, and packed trails that allow for all bicycling and walking abilities. Besides the heat of summer, which was too intense for us to do a long ride, I agree the trails were very well-maintained and approachable.
One of the most popular routes is the second-longest greenbelt, Aceite Greenway, which connects Jaén and Córdoba, traversing through seemingly endless expanses of olive orchards. As a more populated area, this route might be suitable for anyone visiting Córdoba as part of a road trip. You can book multi-day tours with expert guides to see some of the more rural routes. Jaén and Córdoba are great launching points for this trail, and of course, we stayed in Beceite, which has access to other sections of the network.
The trails connect small communities through stunning natural landscapes, making these greenbelts a fantastic cultural, agricultural, and nature-based option to add to your Spanish itinerary. You can learn more on their website, including an English PDF download of the routes and detailed information.
9. The Segura Mountains and Forest
The Sierra de Segura mountain region was easily one of our favorite places during our Spanish road trip. We stayed at a lovely family-owned campground called Garrote Gordo, nestled in the mountains and surrounded by hiking trails, natural swimming pools, and an extensive alpine forest. They even have a cozy mountain cabin for those not interested in camping. We stayed for several days, getting up early in the morning to hike and returning to siesta with a cold beer, a swim in the river, and a good book while lounging in our hammock in the shade.
As you turn off CM 412 highway and trek up the mountains, be prepared for narrow, winding roads. On our way to our campsite, we stopped at the natural swimming pool, Olivar, or the Peña del Olivar. This natural swimming pool is well-maintained with facilities and a shaded bank. It was bustling when we visited, but it is well worth the stop if you already feel the day’s intense heat. Though to be honest, the swimming hole we had at our campsite was much better! I mean check out this water!
With my broken Spanish, we were able to plan some exciting hiking adventures in the mountains with the help of our wonderful camp hosts. Our favorite hike was up to El Yelmo. This half-day hike took us to one of the higher peaks in the region for impressive views of the natural park, mountains, and olive orchards. Even though we set our early, the heat forced us to take it slow, seek shade, and drink lots of water. Though in winter, the high elevations are much colder. There are several ways to summit El Yelmo. The route we took was an 8km there and back trail that included some scrambling and traversing, starting from El Campillo parking lot. There is also a 15 km circuit and plenty more hiking routes, including easy walks around the Silas Lagoon or longer multi-day hikes.
Just outside the natural park are numerous small towns called Pueblos nestled at the foothills of the mountains. These towns, such as Siles, Benatae, or Hornos, have less than 3,000 and are excellent stops for a cultural experience. We stopped to grab lunch and explore the narrow streets.
Whether you are interested in swimming, boating, hiking, or impressive panoramic views, small towns, or historical sites, the La Sierra de Segura mountain area is a must-stop while visiting Spain for thrilling nature.
10. The Patios and Gardens of Córdoba
Yes, Córdoba is technically a city, but vibrant blooms fill the streets no matter what season you visit. Colorful pots and flowers hang from every surface flooding the small alleyways with their scent. The flowers and gardens of Córdoba are so famous that every May, they host the Courtyards Festival of Córdoba, which is now a UNESCO-recognized event of cultural significance. But, unknown to most, you can visit some of these courtyards year-round, which is arguably better to help diffuse mass tourism and have a better experience. Many of these courtyards are private; unfortunately, we visited in 2021 when many people were not welcoming strangers into their courtyards. Still, we got to peek at a few which are mindblowing.
If the floral courtyards are not enough, visit Córdoba’s impressive botanical gardens. The gardens house many native Spanish plants, including 130 species from the Canary Islands, plants found only in the Andalucian mountains around Córdoba, and a rare native fir tree found only in two natural parks in Spain. Two museums are in the botanical gardens, including one on Palaeobotany, or the evolution of plants, and one on Ethnobotany, or how people use and rely on plants. The touch-and-smell garden, designed for the visually impaired, is also an excellent place for a fully immersive experience. Visiting the Botanical gardens is an opportunity to learn about some of the plants you’ll see as you explore Spain’s most impressive natural landscapes.
It costs 3 € for adults, with discounts on Sundays and for students, kids, and retirees.
11. Dehesas Forest Biosphere Reserve
Another UNESCO-designated biosphere reserve? Yes, please! We stayed in the best location to visit the three natural parks that make up the Dehesas de la Sierra Morena biosphere reserve in Andalusia. The family-owned Camping Puebla is on the edge of the nature reserve and with access to the nature parks and the charming La Puebla de los Infantes. We spent our mornings exploring the geo-heritage of the UNESCO park and taking an afternoon siesta at camp. Then in the evening, we would ride our bicycles into La Puebla de los Infantes for amazing 1€ tapas and beer.
The Dehesas biosphere reserve includes the Sierra de Hornachuelos, Picos de Aroche, and Sierra Norte de Sevilla. Whether you’re driving, bicycling, or trekking, nature is sure to impress. Dehesa is a type of forest ecosystem and the most notable feature of the landscape. Dehesa is an open forest with cork, holm, and gall oak trees. These are the large trees that almost look as if they are part of an orchard, but they like a lot of space. Under the branches and shade of the trees, some of Spain’s most iconic species thrive, from the endangered Iberian lynx, wolves, black storks, otters, the Spanish Eagle, and livestock animals.
One of the things I found most interesting about this region is that it contains protected natural parks and a UNESCO biosphere reserve, yet the people still use land. Many other places I mention on this list have little human disturbance. But, as you explore the Dehesa, you’ll notice farms, grazing animals, agriculture, and people working the land. I love this because it allows the local people to continue using the land in ways they have for centuries, but it also ensures that they do so in ways that are symbiotic to nature and conservation efforts. This particular region is a world-leading example of how humans and conservation can co-exist.
The best way to find the hikes and activities in the area is to visit the visitor centers in Huelva, Seville, and Hornacheulos. We chatted with our campsite owners again in broken Spanish and found fun geo-heritage trails to ride with our bicycles. The closest hiking trails to where we were staying were part of the Sierra de Hornachuelos at sites like Fuente del Valle and Huerta del Rey. La Sierra Norte de Sevilla is also one of the Vía Verde trails in the park. Some tours depart from Seville to visit the region.
On our way to our next stop, we drove through the Sierra Morena, stopping at some waterfalls, viewpoints, and small towns at whim.
12. Monfragüe National Park
We have to add another of Spain’s incredible national parks and UNESCO sites to this list, and Monfragüe is a great candidate. The park is known as home to one of the world’s largest colonies of Black vultures. We stayed just outside the park at a place called Camping Monfragüe. We thankfully booked this fun campground instead of almost accidentally booking a nudist camp for birders. Hey, I told you my Spanish is rusty :) The location was perfect as we were next to the Visitor Center for the Monfragüe National Park, which you should visit before heading into the park.
The park is relatively small, but there is much to do and see inside the boundaries. We spent one day hiking in the region to see the soaring Black vultures. We followed an 8km hike called the Ruta Verde, a medium-level circuit hike that took about 3 hours. The hike departed from the tourist information center inside the park. We summited a small peak with impressive views of the landscape and vultures soaring in the distance.
On this hike, we had to stop and help a teen having a heat stroke as they were unprepared for the heat and ran out of water. It might be a shorter trail, but trust me; it is HOT in summer. We started very early and planned our circuit to maximize shade. The information center had many maps showing different trails, including some easily accessible routes.
We also drove through to visit some viewpoints. The most famous view is the Mirador del Salto del Gitano. Here you can sit and watch the vultures for hours as they soar, dive, perch, and scavage. Make sure you have your binoculars! The tall peak and river below make for the perfect backdrop. I would also suggest hiking up to the Monfragüe Castle ruin and driving through the park stopping at whatever impressive viewpoints you can find.
There are two tourist centers for the park. The visitor center is a biological museum just outside the park. It is a must-visit to learn about the park’s ecology, black vultures, and the surrounding environment. The tourist information center inside the park will be where you want to stop to plan your day and activities in the region. They do not speak English, but there are some great maps.
13. The Steppe Plains of Extremadura
Honestly, driving through Extremadura at first glance seems boring. For hours, it felt like all we saw was dry, hot plains as far as the eye could see. But, even I have to remind myself that sometimes the aridest places can be home to unique nature. The region is known for its long, hot, and drought-prone summers. Yet, scrubby vegetation somehow thrives on granite rock beds.
Despite the harsh climate, in the area of regional interest called Llanos de Cáceres y Sierra de Fuentes thrive, some of Spain’s best population of steppe birds, such as the Great and Little Bustards, sandgrouse, collared pratincole, partridge, curlew, kites, black stork, and many more. During migration season, thousands of cranes stop to rest in the region, making this region seemingly void of life an excellent spot for birders.
We didn’t visit during migration season, but we would love to return during the shoulder seasons or winter when the climate is less extreme. We made a few stops to stretch our legs, use binoculars, and take photos. It was too hot to do much else. If you are keen to come and see the diverse bird species in person, it would be ideal to stay in the capital of the city of Cáceres and take day trips out to the reservoirs for walking trails surrounding some of the most precious water reserves, vital to life in the arid plains.
14. Gredos Mountains and Glacial Cirques
The Sierra de Gredos Regional Reserve is a mountain region west of Madrid. Unlike the Pyrenees or other mountains in Spain, these peaks show signs of the unique glacial history of Spain. Large boulders the glaciers left behind scar the land. The same glaciers carved out impressive glacial bowls or cirques, forming the gorges, crags, and high alpine lakes dot the mountains. Snow resting on the top of Almanzor Peak, at an elevation of 2,500m, is a common sight. I would suggest only visiting the region from late spring to autumn. Almanzor, the highest peak, was visible from many areas as we drove through Castile and León, and Extremadura.
The unique glacial history and geology provide a home to many endemic species only found in the Gredos, such as the Gredos toad, the marbled duck, and the Almanzor salamander. Herds of Ibex also traverse the mountains.
Gredos Lake and the Gredos Glacial Cirque are the most notable features in the mountain range. The mountains are a hiking paradise for mountain enthusiasts. For more accessible hikes, a few circuits range from 1km to 5km, such as the Pinar de Navarredonda. More challenging hikes include the trail up to the Laguna Grande or Laguna Nava. There are multi-day treks for those keen to use the Refugio system, like the Journey of the Sierra de Gredos. The website lists dozens of hikes, walking trails, and hiking routes, so you can plan a day catering to your ability.
I suggest you visit one of the two visitor centers to learn more about the park and available activities. The Park House Pinos Cimeros is an educational center where the Park House El Risquillo has information about the attractions in the park.
15. La Rioja and Basque Wine Country
Did I save the best for last? It certainly felt like we saved the best for last as we pulled into Spanish wine country to finish our road trip seeing some of Spain’s best nature. We spent our time bouncing between La Rioja and Basque Country, tasting the best wine in Spain. We stayed at the lovely eco-minded Palacio de Samaniego boutique hotel. The local staff were incredible and offered us local travel tips between serving us locally sourced vegetarian-Spanish cuisine and wine.
Spanish wine country is great for bicycle tours through the vineyards to taste wine. We took our bikes out once and rode through the lush rolling grapevines stopping at different bodegas and tasting rooms. The region is dotted with old castles, charming locals, small villages, and unique vineyards, and it is all overshadowed by a small mountain range.
Staying in Samaniego, we visited many of the bodegas in town, including Ostatu, Amaren, and Pascual Larrieta. Plenty of biking and walking trails led straight from the village into other regions. Every time I stepped outside and looked at the countryside, I was just in awe at the beauty of Spanish wine country. I was so sad to be leaving Spain, but this was a great way to end our trip.
Safety and General Preparedness
As you explore some of Spain’s nature, there are a few essential things to remember that will keep you safe.
Much of Spain’s outdoor recreational opportunities are in rural areas. That means a lot of people you encounter might not speak English. Even in one of the more popular national parks in Spain, Monfragüe National Park, no one in the tourist information center spoke English. I even struggled with my high school-level Spanish in the Basque and Catalan-speaking regions. This is important to keep in mind in terms of navigation and safety. Make sure you always grab a map in English and download Google Maps and Google Translate.
It doesn’t hurt to inform your campground host, hotel, tourist center, friend or relative where you are headed for the day. If you don’t return for checkout, someone will know where to look for you. We found most everyone at the front desk of the campsites we stayed at spoke some English, so it was easy to tell them what hike we planned for the day.
The weather can be scorching and extreme if you travel during summer. We typically only hiked half-day hikes (10km or less) in the early morning or later afternoon, staying at camp during the hottest part of the day. Make sure you pack A LOT of water, snacks, and hot weather attire. We had to stop to help a few unprepared people suffering from heat stroke on the trail, sharing our water.
Alternatively, in the winter, you might encounter snow or colder temperatures and snow in higher mountain areas such as the Pyrenees or Montserrat.
If you are alone or unsure of your ability to hike in a rural area in a foreign country, hire a guide or find a hiking/travel buddy.
Make sure you pack all your essentials. These are some of the things I had while exploring Spain’s Nature.
- Day bag – I only ever use Osprey bags. They last me 10+ years, making them a sustainable long-term investment. My Osprey is so old that I’m not sure they even carry the same bag anymore, but I have a day bag similar to this with hip support.
- Wool socks – Farm to feet is my favorite sustainable and ethical U.S. brand. These keep you warm, dry, and stink-free!
- Hiking boots – I have a German brand that you can’t find many places outside of Germany. Finding a good hiking boot is best done in person at your local recreational store.
- Hiking pants – I am all about those zip-offs
- Hiking shirt
- Camelbak bladder – I use the 2L for day trips and 3L when it is extra hot. I sometimes even carry the extra 1L as a water bottle. I tend to accidentally finish my Camelbak without noticing. That extra liter has saved the day more than once.
- Snacks – I always pack my snacks in reusable bags or bee wax wraps.
- Eco-friendly Sunscreen
- Trekking poles – you might not need these, but I always have them on hand if I get in a sticky situation, get tired, or want to increase my calorie burn with an arm workout. My REI Co-Op poles have lasted me nine years, and they are still going!
- Battery charger
- Camera or phone
- Binoculars – you’ll want these to see all the wildlife.
Discuss and Share
I hope this post inspires you to step outside the cities of Spain and venture out into the rural and wild countryside for awe-inspiring nature. As a large and diverse country, Spain has many unique natural landscapes, from the high Pyrenees in Catalonia to the Extremadura plains, Andalusia oak forests, and so much more. Spain’s nature is breathtaking and offers something for everyone. Spain is the perfect place to hike tall mountains, bike through the rural countryside, see unique wildlife, or swim in a refreshing mountain watering hole.
Have you experienced Spain’s nature? Let me know in the comments the best natural escape you’ve found in Spain. If you haven’t, which of these 15 natural destinations would you like to visit on your next trip to Spain?
Looking for more responsible content covering the very best of Spain? Don’t miss these in-depth guides to discover more of Spain.
Wow, I didn’t realize there was so much amazing landscape in Spain. I only knew about the architecture. Thanks so much for sharing this!
I hope you are able to visit Spain’s incredible nature in the near future!
Wow,Beautiful, I been in Spain few times and I love it there. You show me different places to visit.
I had no idea there was so many national parks in Spain. Absolutely beautiful! Saving this one for my next visit to Spain.
I must admit that most of the time we spend in Spain has been in cities. So your post was a great reminder of all the beautiful outdoor spots we need to enjoy on return visits. I can see how you socks might be knocked off! But with the crowds now visiting some of these spots we would definitely plan to visit in off season and enjoy the beauty without crowds. Definitely keeping this post for future travels.
We had only really been to cities before as well. While they are incredible, seeing Spain’s nature gives you a different perspective and experience. I hope you are able to see some of the nature in Spain soon!
I would love to hike around Spain! Parc Natural dels Ports looks like an particularly interesting place to visit. What great trip ideas!
The mountain features in Parc Natural dels Ports are just stunning!
I had no idea how diverse Spain’s wildlife and ecosystems are! Thanks for the reminders on ecotourism and leave no trace principles. I absolutely love canyoning – doing it in the High Pyrenees looks incredible!
Spain’s nature is so incredible. The High Pyrenees was one of our favorite areas – amazing scenery and exciting adventures.