We love National Parks in the US and Canada and welcomed the opportunity to visit one in Europe. Parque Nacional de Picos de Europa, in northern Spain, is a beautiful place, a mountain range less than 20 miles from the ocean.
The premier hike in the park is Cares Gorge. This unusual walking path was created partially by the power company for their hydro-electric station. The effect is always spectacular: walking in a deep gorge through the high peaked mountains, with the rushing Cares River below.
We walked through tunnels, past a waterfall, across bridges, greeted a goat family. We even saw the wallcreeper, a bird found in the Park but not widely seen elsewhere in Spain. It helped to have binoculars with us.
Planning and logistics:
The trail is 12km. long. The path surface is not challenging, but the logistics are tricky. The choice was to: 1) hike one-way and arrange for transport to bring us back, or 2) walk roundtrip (24 km). Transport back was time-consuming and expensive, so we decided to make a long day of it and do the roundtrip walk.
The night before this hike, we stayed overnight in Arenas. Right after a hearty breakfast, we jumped into our rental car and headed off for Poncebos, where we would park. Arriving early helps to get a parking space off the narrow road.
On most long hiking trails, we see very few, if any, people. Not so with Cares Gorge! The walk began with a steep downhill that gave us momentum. We joined a steady flow of walkers for the first few kilometers, though this wasn’t really a problem. As it turned out, people-watching became one interesting aspect of the walk.
We arrived at Cain for a late lunch. Several restaurants were there, and we made our decision based on proximity to the trail and outdoor dining. After such a long hike how good the food is seems not to matter: everything tastes like one of the best meals you have ever had!
After-lunch effects and the mid-afternoon heat slowed us down on the way back. Another challenge met us at the end of the walk: that steep downhill at the start now turned into a steep uphill stretch right at the end of the walk.
We can guarantee you that we were completely fatigued, ate a glorious dinner upon our return, and slept very well that night.