The Picos de Europa National Park stretches across three regions in Northern Spain: Asturias, Cantabria, and León (Castile and León).
It comprises the majestic Picos de Europa Mountains, a limestone mountain range composed of three massifs. The highest mountain is Torre Cerredo, which stands at 2650 meters.
This mountainous area is defined by lunar alpine landscapes, deep verdant gorges, mixed leafy forests, charming rural villages, sprawling mountain pastures, and majadas (temporary high altitude settlements).
The mountains and the terrain are very similar to that of the Northern and Southern Limestone Alps, but the vegetation is remarkably different. Instead of belts of coniferous forests, there are lush mixed forests of oak, blackthorn, hawthorn, laurel, terebinth, ash, linden, chestnut, and beech.
Twisted holm oaks cling to sheer limestone walls in the most impossible places. It feels like you’re in an alpine rainforest, especially because of the birdsong.
Kati and I are convinced that Picos de Europa National Park is one of the most magical travel and hiking destinations in Europe. I can’t overstate that. This is a pristine, awe-inspiring place that will captivate your heart and leave you speechless.
This guide will introduce you to the main gateways and attractions in Picos de Europa National Park. You’ll also learn about when to visit, where to stay, and how to stay safe.
Complete Guide to Visiting Picos de Europa National Park in Northern Spain
- Entrance Fee: None
- Location: Asturias, Cantabria, and León, Northern Spain
- Dogs: Dogs are allowed in most areas of the park, but they must be leashed at all times.
- Best Places to Stay: Poncebos (or Las Arenas), Sotres, Potes (or Camaleño Valley), and Cangas de Onís. Read Where to Stay in Picos de Europa.
- Main attractions: Cares Gorge, Bulnes Village, Sotres Village, Fuente Dé, Covadonga Lakes, and Covadonga Sanctuary
- Hiking Trails: Hiking in Picos de Europa: Walks, Hikes, and Treks
- Wild Camping: Wild camping is not allowed. However, it’s authorized to set up a tent above 1600 meters 1 hour before sunset. You must dismantle the tent no later than 1 hour after sunrise.
- Recommended Itinerary: 10-Day Picos de Europa Road Trip
- Guidebook: Cicerone: Walking in the Picos de Europa
This post links to products and services we love, which we may make a small commission from, at no extra cost to you. Thank you for supporting our blog!! – Sabrina and Kati
Picos de Europa National Park Map
How to use this map | The green line signifies the Picos de Europa National Park boundary. Click on each map icon and trail to display further information.
Where is Picos de Europa National Park
Picos de Europa National Park is located in Northern Spain. The park spans three Spanish regions: Asturias, Cantabria, and León (Castile and León).
The park’s northern boundary lies only 10-20 kilometers from the Asturian coastline.
Because the Picos de Europa mountains are so close to the coast, they were the first thing sailors would see when returning to Europe from the Americas. Hence, these sailors called these soaring limestone mountains “Los Picos de Europa,” which means the Peaks of Europe.
Picos de Europa Massifs
The Picos de Europa Mountains are made up of three massifs: the Western Massif (Cornión), the Central Massif (Urrieles), and the Eastern Massif (Ándara).
The Cares River divides the Western and Central Massifs. The famous Ruta del Cares hiking trail runs through the Cares Gorge, above the Cares River, between these two massifs.
The Duje River divides the Central and Eastern Massifs. Part of the Ruta de la Reconquista (GR-202) runs through the Duje Valley between Sotres and Espinama.
How to Get to Picos de Europa
The closest airports to Picos de Europa are Santander Airport (SDR) in Cantabria, the Asturias Airport (OVD) in Asturias, and the Bilbao Airport (BIO) in Basque Country.
We flew from Vienna to the Santander Airport and rented a car directly at the airport. You can read about our route in our Picos de Europa Road Trip.
Do you need a car? We think so. It’s possible to access some areas of the park without one, but you’ll be limited with regards to where you can go and at what time.
Also, navigating the bus schedules without being somewhat conversant in Spanish may be problematic. English is not widely spoken in these northern regions of Spain. We used Google Translate daily.
We recommend using the Discovercars.com car rental platform to search for and book car rentals in Europe. This intuitive booking platform compares car rental deals from 500+ trusted providers, so that you can choose the best option for your trip.
When to Visit Picos de Europa National Park
Travel to Picos de Europa National Park in May, June, September, and possibly October for the best experience.
We recommend avoiding peak season: July and August. In high summer, Picos de Europa is flooded with national tourists, who are escaping hotter areas of Spain. Trails are overcrowded and parking is difficult.
Late May – Early June
We traveled to Picos de Europa in late May to early June. For us, it felt like early July in the Alps.
The trail conditions were excellent. There were only a few lingering snowfields in high alpine areas. The landscapes were overwhelmingly green: greener than green.
On some hikes, we didn’t see anyone for hours, while on others, we saw a pleasant amount of people: the amount of people that makes you feel secure, rather than frustrated on a trail.
The parking was easy. And, dining out was effortless. It was perfect.
The weather pattern was sunny, stable mornings, cloudy afternoons, and rain showers in the late afternoons, or early evenings. The rain didn’t impact our trip, because we started our hikes in the morning (8:30 am latest).
During our stay in Camaleño Valley, near Potes, we saw several cattle drives. Starting on June 1st, farmers can herd their livestock up to the high-elevation mountain pastures.
6 Must-See Picos de Europa National Park Attractions
1. Cares Gorge
The Cares Gorge is a nearly 2000-meter-deep river gorge, which divides the Western Massif (Cornión) from the Central Massif (Urrieles).
The best way to experience this natural attraction is by hiking the Ruta del Cares hiking trail between the hamlet of Poncebos in Asturias and the village of Caín in León.
Learn everything you need to know about this hike in our Ruta del Cares hiking guide.
Bulnes is a mountain village located in the Central Massif of Picos de Europa in the region of Asturias. It’s only accessible by foot, or by underground funicular from Poncebos.
Kati and I took the funicular up to the village and it felt like stepping into a portal.
Bulnes is a place where time stands still. This fairy-tale-like village is clustered around the flowing Tejo River. Chickens and roosters roam about freely. There are neither cars, nor any other visible expressions of modern life. From the perspective of a fleeting visitor, it’s exceedingly charming.
Bulnes comprises a lower village (aka Bulnes de Abajo / La Villa) and an upper village (aka Bulnes de Arriba / El Castillo). Most of the restaurants are concentrated in the lower village.
Bulnes is the starting point of several trails, including this 2-day Refugio Jou de Carbrones hike.
From Bulnes, you can hike to Collado de Pandébano, Sotres, Refugio de la Terenosa, and Refugio de Urriellu.
If your time is limited, we recommend hiking up this Ruta La Canal del Texu trail from Poncebos to Bulnes (1:15 hours one-way), grab a bite to eat in the village, and then return the same way.
The 48-passenger Bulnes Funicular operates all-year-long. During operating times, the funicular departs at 30 minute intervals. It takes 7 minutes to ride the 2.23 km-long track up to Bulnes.
Low Season Operating Times | 10 am – 12:30 pm / 2 pm – 6 pm*
High Season Operating Times | 10 am – 8 pm*
*On weekdays (Mondays – Fridays), there’s also a single funicular ride at 8:30 am. This 8:30 am funicular is used to transport goods to Bulnes and it’s also used for waste management (garbage pick-up, etc…). Though it’s not widely advertised, it’s definitely possible to take this 8:30 am funicular (weekdays only) up to Bulnes. We did.
Tickets | 22.16 EUR roundtrip / 17.61 EUR one-way. We purchased a roundtrip ticket. You can use the return ticket the next day.
The Asturian village of Sotres (1050 meters) is the highest village in Picos de Europa National Park.
Sotres is located along the CA-1 road, which starts in Poncebos, Asturias, and ends in Tresviso, Cantabria.
The 20-minute drive from Poncebos to Sotres is one of the most beautiful drives in the Picos de Europa National Park. Please drive safely and slowly, because you’ll likely encounter cows on the road.
There are several hiking trails around Sotres, including the popular PR-PNPE-20 Monte Camba route, which is a circuit trail that links the villages of Tielve and Sotres.
Kati and I walked through the Duje Valley, between the Central and Eastern Massifs, to Las Vegas del Toro (mountain pasture).
You can extend the walk all the way to Refugio de Áliva and El Cable (Fuente Dé cable car mountain station) in Cantabria. This wide track (gravel road) is also used by official and authorized 4WD vehicles.
Sotres is famous for producing Cabrales cheese. This blue cheese is made with cow’s, goat’s, and sheep’s milk. It’s aged in the humid limestone caves of Picos de Europa for 2-5 months. We sampled this spicy Cabrales blue cheese in Peña Castil along with other regional cheeses.
Sotres is also a popular place to stay in Picos de Europa National Park. Check out these accommodations: Hotel Rural Peña Castil (budget), Treselcorral (budget), La Cabaña de Bernardina (midrange), Casa Rural La Ardina (midrange, 2 nights minimum stay).
4. Fuente Dé
Fuente Dé is located at the end of the Camaleño Valley road in the region of Liébana in Cantabria. The closest village to Fuente Dé is Espinama (5 minute drive). The medieval town of Potes is only a 25-minute drive away.
Fuente Dé is located in a gorgeous basin, surrounded by imposing limestone walls. It’s a beautiful place in its own right. However, people flock to Fuente Dé in order to ride the Fuente Dé Cable Car (Teleférico Fuente Dé in Spanish) up to the Central Massif of Picos de Europa.
From the mountain station, which is called El Cable, hikers have a few options. They can hike to Hotel Refugio Áliva and the sprawling Puertos de Áliva meadows, summit Horcados Rojos, or hike through Duje Valley to Sotres.
Learn More: Puertos de Áliva Hike: El Cable to Fuente Dé
5. Lakes of Covadonga
The Lakes of Covadonga (Lagos de Covadonga in Spanish) are two glacial lakes in Asturias: Lago Enol and Lago Ercina.
The Covadonga Lakes are located within Picos de Europa National Park, near the Covadonga Sanctuary (Holy Cave and Basilica) and Cangas de Onís.
This is one of the most popular attractions in Picos de Europa, so private traffic is regulated during peak seasons in order to preserve the environment. Consult guideasturias.com for up-to-date information on access restrictions.
Covadonga Lakes is also a trailhead. You can hike the PR-PNPE-2 Ruta de Los Lagos Hiking Trail (2 hours total), or the PR-PNPE-4 Vega de Ario Hiking Trail.
Read How to Visit the Covadonga Lakes for helpful tips and more information.
6. Covadonga Sanctuary
The sacred and legendary Sanctuary of Covadonga is located in Picos de Europa National Park between the town of Cangas de Onis and the Lakes of Covadonga.
The Covadonga Sanctuary is a place of worship and pilgrimage dedicated to Our Lady of Covadonga.
Covadonga is a very important historical and religious site in Asturias. It’s where the first battle of the Spanish Reconquest (Reconquista) took place in 718.
The Sanctuary comprises a number of buildings and monuments including the (1) Holy Cave, (2) Basilica, (3) Covadonga Museum, (4) San Fernando Collegiate Church, and (5) Monument to King Pelayo.
Read our Covadonga Sanctuary guide to understand the history of this sacred place in Northern Spain.
Where to Stay in Picos de Europa
Poncebos is a riverside hamlet in the Cares Gorge in Asturias. It’s the main starting point of the Ruta del Cares hiking trail. The other starting point is Caín de Valdeón in León.
Poncebos is also the gateway to the mountain village of Bulnes. From Poncebos, you can either hike up to Bulnes (1:15 hours one-way), or ride the funicular.
Flanked by sheer limestone walls, Poncebos is scenically stunning.
The downside of Poncebos is that it’s very small. There are only three modest accommodations here. Each accommodation has its own restaurant-bar. Beyond that, there’s nothing: no stores, no supermarkets, no bakeries, etc…
Luckily, the larger town of Arenas de Cabrales (Las Arenas) is only a 10 minute drive away.
Why stay in Poncebos? If you stay in Poncebos, you will not have to navigate seasonal traffic restrictions and parking at the Ruta del Cares trailhead. Save yourself the headache and base yourself here for a few days. If you need supplies, take a trip to Las Arenas. It’s worth it!
Where we stayed – Budget | Arcea Hotel Mirador de Cabrales is a hotel and restaurant that offers clean rooms with private bathrooms. Breakfast is included and consists of bread, tomato olive oil spread, jams, croissants, orange juice, and coffee. It’s simple, but the location is unbeatable. You can park in the hotel car park, or along the road, across the hotel.
Budget | Hostal Poncebos is the unmissable orange building, located at the entrance of Poncebos, along the Cares River. This accommodation offers rooms with private and shared bathroom facilities. Breakfast is included. They also have a restaurant and free on-site parking.
Budget | Hotel Garganta del Cares offers simple private rooms and on-site parking in Poncebos. This is the closest hotel to the Ruta del Cares trailhead. Breakfast is an additional charge.
Arenas de Cabrales (Las Arenas) Accommodations
Budget-Midrange | Hotel Picos de Europa is a 3-star hotel in the heart of Las Arenas with spacious rooms, an outdoor swimming pool, bar, and free parking. Breakfast is à la carte.
Budget | Apartamentos El Caxigu offers clean and tidy 1-3 bedroom apartments in the center of Las Arenas. Parking is available on-site, but must be reserved in advance (8 EUR/day).
Budget | Hotel Torrecerredo boasts stunning mountain views, lovely rooms, and an on-site restaurant. Breakfast and parking are included in the room rate. The hotel is walking distance to the town center (7 minutes).
Top-rated – Budget | Logis Hotel Restaurante La Casa de Juansabeli is a stone country house and restaurant surrounded by lovely grounds and a flowing stream. The hotel is 1.5 km from the center of Las Arenas (3 minute drive). Parking is free. Breakfast is an extra charge.
Potes is a medieval town that straddles the Deva and Quiviesa rivers in the Liébana district of Cantabria.
It’s easy to fall in love with Potes. It’s an attractive riverside town with cobbled streets, stone bridges, and historic Casona montañesa buildings. It boasts a vibrant dining scene featuring traditional and fusion local cuisine.
It’s also the gateway to Valle de Camaleño and Picos de Europa National Park.
During our stay in Potes, we visited the villages of Espinama and Mogrovejo, the Santo Toribio de Liébana Monastery, and the Sotama Visitor Center in Tama. We rode the Fuente Dé cable car up to the Central Massif of Picos de Europa and hiked the Puertos de Áliva trail. We also walked from Brez to Canal de las Arredondas.
There’s a lot to see and do around Potes. Read our Potes Travel Guide to learn more.
We recommend staying 3-5 nights in Potes (or Camaleño Valley). We stayed 4 nights and could have easily stayed another two.
Most accommodations in the town center of Potes do not offer on-site parking. If you’re traveling to Potes during the week, you shouldn’t have any problems finding parking. If you’re visiting Potes during the weekend (or during peak seasons), parking will be more difficult. If you’re concerned about parking, stay at Villa Elena.
Midrange | Villa Elena is an intimate B&B, located outside of the town center, but still within walking distance (7 minutes). Stay here for the quiet location, private parking, relaxing garden, and home-cooked breakfast.
Budget | Casa Cayo is a friendly hotel and restaurant set in the center of Potes. A hearty breakfast is included. No on-site parking.
Top-rated – Midrange | Apartamentos Casa de la Abuela (3 nights minimum stay) offers lovely 1-2 bedroom apartments with well-equipped kitchens in a central, but quiet location in Potes. No on-site parking.
Budget-Midrange | Hosteria Sierra del Oso offers clean and tasteful studio apartments in Potes. For the most comfort, book the air-conditioned penthouse apartment. No on-site parking.
Budget | Apartamento El Nial de Potes (2 nights minimum stay) offers 1-2 bedroom apartments with well-equipped kitchens and washing machines. Guests love the location and river views. Beds could be better. No on-site parking.
Camaleño Valley Accommodations
Camaleño Valley runs between Fuente Dé and Potes. It’s essentially the Upper Deva River Valley. The valley is studded with rural villages and farms and furrowed with hiking trails.
The most tourist-friendly town is probably Espinama. Depending on where you stay in the valley, you’ll be anywhere between a 5 to 25 minute drive away from Potes.
Cosgaya Accommodations: Rio Cubo Apartments (budget)
Mogrovejo Accommodations: Apartamentos la Ventana de Mogrovejo (midrange).
Quintana Accommodations: Posada San Pelayo (budget).
Baró and Accommodations: La Casona De Baró (budget).
Turieno Accommodations: Posada Laura (luxury).
Cangas de Onís
Cangas de Onís is a town in Asturias, located 7 km northwest of the Picos de Europa National Park boundary. Given its close proximity to the coast, it’s a very popular access point to the park.
Cangas de Onís is a living, breathing town, with many restaurants and shops. Their local speciality shops are amazing! This is a great place to drink sidra (cider) in a sideria (cider house) like La Madreñeria.
From a tourist perspective, the town itself isn’t terribly interesting. The most famous monument is the 14-15th century “Roman Bridge,” which arches over the Sella River.
We recommend staying in or around Cangas de Onís for 2 nights.
Cangas de Onís Accommodations
Where we stayed – Midrange | Hotel Ecos del Sella stands out with its modern, millennial-friendly decor, air-conditioned rooms, and relaxing communal spaces. We loved staying here. The breakfast was phenomenal. The design and concept were refreshing. And, there’s plentiful parking. The only downside is that it’s not within walking distance to Cangas de Onís (3 minute drive to the main car park).
Midrange | Apartamentos Prestin offers spotless 1-2 bedroom air-conditioned apartments with on-site parking. It’s a 7-minute walk to the town center of Cangas de Onís.
Luxury | Hotel Mirador de la Cepada (3 nights minimum stay in high season) is a 4-star hotel that stands on a hill overlooking the Sella River Valley and Cangas de Onís. Rooms are beautifully-furnished, spacious, air-conditioned, and equipped with tea and coffee makers. Free parking is available on site. Definitely book the breakfast. The restaurant and bar are open seasonally.
Budget | Casa Rural Priena is a comfortable B&B with a garden, bar, and free parking.
Budget | Hotel El Repelao is a hotel and restaurant in Covadonga, 1.5 km from the Sanctuary. Rooms are clean and decorated in a country-house-style. We ate lunch in their restaurant and it was wonderful. Breakfast is included.
Midrange | Hotel La Casona de Llerices (3 nights minimum stay in high season) is located in Llerices, close to Covadonga. This is a lovely hotel with 11 comfortable and lovingly-furnished rooms. Breakfast is available. Parking is free.
We felt extremely safe hiking and traveling across Picos de Europa National Park. We did not experience anything scary, strange, weird, or otherwise upsetting during our trip.
Like anywhere else, it’s good to be aware of the risks associated with a new destination. The information below is designed to help, not scare you.
Picos de Europa is home to a small population of Cantabrian brown bears, which are critically endangered.
Though there is a total ban on hunting bears in Spain, they are still poached and poisoned.
It’s very unlikely that you’ll see a bear during your visit.
Fog sweeps into the mountains in waves. Within minutes, you can lose complete visibility. When this happens, it’s best to stay put and wait for the fog to clear, before continuing onwards.
We experienced heavy fog on day 1 of our Refugio Jou de Cabrones 2-Day Hike. It wasn’t stagnant; the fog cleared and then returned in cycles.
Park officials don’t recommend starting hikes in fog.
The high meadows of Picos de Europa are grazed in summer by free-roaming cows, calves, and bulls.
It’s really important to give cows a wide berth on hiking trails.
They are not aggressive animals, but if they perceive a threat to their young, they can attack.
Do not touch, or in any way disturb cattle, or any other livestock. If you want to take photos of cows and calves, do so with a zoom lens from a safe distance.
When passing through a pasture area, walk steadily across the meadow and do not linger. This is not the place for selfies.
There’s no need to be afraid, but it’s good to be cautious. Idiotic behavior can result in deadly consequences.
During our trip, we hiked by hundreds of cows and didn’t have any problems: none whatsoever!
Spanish Mastiffs and Wolf Management
Spanish mastiff dogs protect livestock from wolves in Cantabria and other regions of Spain.
These guard dogs are essential for safeguarding free-ranging cattle and sheep in alpine grazing environments.
Their purpose is to maintain the coexistence of wildlife (wolves) and livestock farming. The alternative is hunting wolves to extinction, or doing away with livestock farming altogether.
So, it’s important to remember that these dogs are trained to protect their herds from threats. They are not pets.
We didn’t run into any working mastiffs during our hikes. But, we spotted one sign with guidelines.
Kati and I have limited experience hiking in areas where there are guard dogs. So, I reached out to the Picos de Europa National Park office in Cantabria. They sent over an infographic created by Life Euro Large Carnivores, which I Google translated below:
- The Spanish mastiffs establish a security perimeter by approaching and barking. They are large and strong in order to intimidate intruders. If you get close they will try to scare you.
- The dogs usually wear collars with outward spikes that deter the wolf. They are legal and do not imply animal abuse.
- They are not abandoned even if you don’t see them next to the flock. If you see an adult or a puppy, don’t take it.
- If a mastiff barks at you, stay calm and walk away. If you run or yell, it will get nervous and try to scare you away.
- Make a detour and stay at least 20 meters away. If you go with your dog, keep it on a leash and avoid eye contact.
- If you’re riding a bike, get off it and continue on foot.
- Don’t get any closer.
- Don’t take pictures with the cattle, or livestock.
- Don’t give the dogs any food.
Wolf management is a contentious topic. And, there’s no perfect method.
If you follow us on Instagram, you know that we LOVE dogs. Over the years, our travels have brought us in contact with street dogs, guard dogs, and wild dogs.
Having had some hair-raising encounters with such animals, we have tremendous sympathy for anyone who is afraid. So, long story short, I like to highlight whenever there are working dogs, or barking dogs (anything that activates the nervous system), around a trail.
In researching this topic, I didn’t find a single news story about mastiffs attacking humans in or around Picos de Europa National Park.
If you thought this post was helpful, follow us on Instagram @moonhoneytravelers
Picos de Europa Trip Planning Essentials
Picos de Europa National Park stretches across three regions in Northern Spain: Asturias, Cantabria, and León (Castile and León).
It comprises the majestic Picos de Europa Mountains, a limestone mountain range composed of three massifs.
How to Get to Picos de Europa
The closest airports to Picos de Europa are Santander Airport in Cantabria, the Asturias Airport (aka Oviedo-Ranón, OVD) in Asturias, and the Bilbao Airport in Basque Country.
We recommend renting a car from the airport and driving directly to Picos de Europa National Park. Follow our 10-day Picos de Europa road trip itinerary for inspiration.
Use the intuitive Discovercars.com car rental reservation platform to search for and book car rentals. This easy-to-use booking platform compares car rental deals from 500+ trusted providers, so that you can choose the best option for your trip.
Where to Stay in Picos de Europa
We recommend dividing your time between Northern Picos de Europa and Eastern Picos de Europa. If you have more time, extend your visit to Southern Picos de Europa and Northwestern Picos de Europa.
Northern Picos de Europa: Poncebos, Arenas de Cabrales (Las Arenas), Sotres, or Tielve in Asturias
Eastern Picos de Europa: Potes, or Camaleño Valley in Cantabria
Southern Picos de Europa: Valdeón Valley, or Caín in León
Northwestern Picos de Europa: Cangas de Onís, Soto de Cangas, Llerices, or Covadonga in Asturias
Find out where to base yourself in the national park in Where to Stay in Picos de Europa.
Hiking in the Picos de Europa National Park
Hiking in Picos de Europa National Park is an extraordinary experience filled with magical landscapes of lush forests, craggy mountains, and deep gorges.
We also hiked this riveting 2-day Refugio Jou de los Cabrones trek.
Picos de Europa Packing List
- Day Pack: Osprey Tempest 30 Women’s Backpack / Osprey Talon 33 Men’s Backpack
- Grade B/C high-cut hiking boots: Meindl Schuhe Island Lady (Kati’s Boots), Women’s Hanwag Tatra II GTX (Sabrina’s Boots), Men’s Hanwag Tatra II GTX (men’s equivalent)
- CAT 4 Sunglasses: Julbo Shield Mountain Sunglasses
- Hiking Poles: Black Diamond Trail Trekking Poles
- Reusable Water Bottle: Ion Leakproof 32 oz Water Bottle