The Ruta del Cares trail (aka Senda del Cares) runs through the deep Cares River Gorge, which divides the Western Massif (Cornión) from the Central Massif (Urrieles) of Picos de Europa.
It’s the most popular walking path in the Picos de Europa Mountains, and it’s said to be the most arresting trail in all of Spain.
You can start the Ruta del Cares trail in either the hamlet of Poncebos in Asturias, or in the village of Caín in León (Castilla y León). We started the hike in Poncebos.
Though there’s minimal elevation gain and loss throughout, the hike is very long and measures 23.6 km out-and-back.
High above the river bed, the trail clings to mountain slopes and chiseled gorge walls. Much of the route follows a wide ledge with a sheer drop on one side.
As we journeyed through the gorge, I kept thinking: If there is a gateway to heaven on this earth, this is it. And, I’m certainly not alone. The Cares Gorge is also known as La Garganta Divina, which means “The Divine Gorge.”
As you progress, the gorge narrows significantly and unravels miraculously. There are a few bridge crossings and tunnels at the end of the trail, near Caín.
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Ruta del Cares Trail: Poncebos to Caín Hike
- Trailhead: Poncebos, Asturias | Google Maps
- Distance: 23.6 km out-and-back
- Time Needed: 6:45 hours (8 hours with breaks)
- Elevation Gain/Loss: 660 meters
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Minimum Elevation: 260 meters
- Maximum Elevation: 523 meters
- Entrance Fee: None
- Where to Stay in Poncebos: Arcea Hotel Mirador de Cabrales (budget), Hostal Poncebos (budget), or Hotel Garganta del Cares (budget)
- Where to Stay in Arenas de Cabrales (Las Arenas): Hotel Picos de Europa (budget-midrange), Logis Hotel Restaurante La Casa de Juansabeli (budget), Apartamentos El Caxigu (budget), or Hotel Torrecerredo (budget)
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Ruta del Cares Hiking Map
When to Hike La Ruta del Cares
The best time of year to hike La Ruta del Cares is May, June, and September.
We do not recommend hiking the Cares Gorge trail in July, or August. It’s far too crowded and your experience will be significantly impacted by the sheer number of people.
If you’re visiting during peak season, avoid weekends and start at sunrise.
We hiked this trail in late May and it was marvelous. We were not alone, but it wasn’t crowded. It rained in the afternoon, but only for about 30 minutes.
Where to Start the Ruta del Cares Gorge Hike
The Ruta del Cares is an out-and-back hike with two gateways.
The northern entry point is the hamlet of Poncebos in the region of Asturias in Northwestern Spain.
The southern entry point is the village of Caín in the landlocked Province of León in the region of Castile-León of Northwestern Spain.
Most people will start in Poncebos, because of its proximity to the Asturian Coast.
We also started in Poncebos. This was the first stop on our Picos de Europa road trip.
How to Get to Poncebos
The closest airports to Poncebos are Santander Airport (SDR) in Cantabria, Asturias Airport (OVD) in Asturias, and Bilbao Airport (BIO) in Basque Country.
To get to Poncebos, you first have to navigate to the town of Las Arenas (Arenas de Cabrales), located along the AS-114 highway.
From Las Arenas, it’s a 10 minute drive, or bus ride along AS-264 to Poncebos.
During the Easter holiday week and between June and mid-October, private vehicle access to Poncebos is restricted.
There are daily shuttles between the car parks in Las Arenas and the Ruta de Cares trailhead in Poncebos. Consult asturias.com for more information.
Due to the popularity of this route, we highly recommend staying 2 nights in an accommodation in Poncebos to secure parking at the trailhead and to ensure an early start on the trail.
Parking in Poncebos
There is limited roadside parking at the Ruta del Cares trailhead (Google Maps). In low season, you can drive to the trailhead. There are no restrictions.
During the Easter holiday week and between June 1st and October 15th, the Las Arenas-Poncebos road is restricted. If the parking area in Poncebos is already full, you will have to park in Las Arenas, or at the Ovar Car Park, and take a shuttle to Poncebos.
The Arenas – Poncebos shuttle costs 3 EUR roundtrip. And, it runs nine times a day, starting at 8 am.
Note: the car park at the Bulnes funicular valley station is reserved for Bulnes residents only.
Rather than worry about parking and getting to the trailhead at a reasonable time, seriously consider staying in Poncebos. It’s the most stress-free option.
Ruta del Cares Trail Description: Hiking from Poncebos to Caín
Poncebos to Ruta del Cares Trailhead (15 minutes)
Poncebos is a small hamlet located along Rio Cares. There’s no central hub, or gathering area, other than perhaps the Bulnes funicular valley station.
If you’re coming from Hostal Poncebos, walk on the main road in the opposite direction of Las Arenas. You’ll pass through a short road tunnel. You’ll see the Bulnes Funicular valley station off to the left. Soon, you’ll see a green “Ruta del Cares” trail sign indicating 3 hours to Caín. Pass Hotel Mirador de Cabrales and Hotel Garganta del Cares.
As you walk along the road, you’ll be immediately awe-struck by the beauty of the limestone gorge. The wow-factor starts immediately.
The Cares Gorge is nearly 2000 meters deep. It’s overwhelming in its size, length, and beauty.
Pass through another short tunnel.
Soon, you’ll arrive at a signed trail junction. The trail that branches off to the left ascends the Canal del Texu channel to the mountain village of Bulnes. Ignore this “Ruta de la Canal del Texu” trail and continue straight on the road for another 110 meters.
After passing the wooden hut that serves as an information point, you’ll arrive at another signed junction. Make a sharp right in the direction of “Senda del Cares / Caín” (3 hours, PR – PNPE – 3).
Note: the level path that continues straight, closer to Rio Cares, is closed.
Ruta del Cares Trailhead to Los Callaos (40 minutes)
Once you locate the trailhead, it’s impossible to lose the trail. The path is crystal clear.
Ascend the cobbled path, passing by an info board about the dangers of falling rocks.
The trail cuts across the mountain slopes high above the Rio Cares river.
After 20 minutes, the path ascends more rigorously. The terrain is uneven and rocky.
For most of the hike, the hiking path favors the “right” side of the Cares Gorge, clinging to the mountainside of the Western (Cornión) massif.
The path zigzags up to a cluster of stone buildings, now in ruins. From the ruin, there’s an amazing view of Cares Gorge, if you look back in the direction of Poncebos.
The path continues to ascend, though the trail is far smoother than before.
The Cares Gorge trail crosses the mountain slope. There are rock pillars jutting out of the mountainside on you right.
The left side drops down to the dizzying chasm.
The trail steadily ascends to Los Collaos, which is a high point along the Ruta del Cares trail.
Los Callaos to Culiembro (1:10 hours)
From Los Collaos, the trail levels immediately. You’ll pass a stone building ruin and an info board frame – the board itself is missing.
Shortly thereafter, the Senda del Cares trail descends.
Soon, the dramatic ledge trail begins. The carved-out path hugs the limestone gorge wall. It’s neither scary, nor precarious in dry conditions, because the trail is quite wide.
However, there is a sudden drop with no barrier, which is why authorities caution people against bringing children.
The sinuous ledge trail is spectacular. At every turn, there’s a new vantage point, yielding endless photo opportunities.
You’ll start to see the water canal. The Cares trail was originally built in order to provide better access to the water canal of the hydroelectric power plant of Camarmeña – Poncebos. It was opened in 1916 and expanded between 1945 and 1950.
What’s particularly striking is the vegetation and the trees, which cleave to the crevices of the gorge walls. It’s like a gigantic vertical succulent wall, except it’s holm oak rather than succulents that are clinging to impossible places.
We’re still high above the Rio Cares river bed.
A sturdy wooden bridge aids you across the flowing Riega del Saigu stream.
The smooth and level ledge path continues, sometimes through short arch-like tunnels.
There’s a stone shelter ruin built up against the wall.
Soon, you’ll reach Culiembro, marked with a trail sign, indicating 1:30 hours to Caín. This is more or less the half-way point.
Culiembro is an abandoned herdsmen’s settlement.
You may encounter some very friendly goats around here, who will not hesitate to greet you.
Culiembro to Caín (1:15 hours)
Maintain the same direction, following the water canal.
The gorge narrows significantly.
The ledge path leads to a boardwalk bridge called Pasarela de Los Martinez, secured with a handrail and a net. This footbridge was built in order to restore the path after a landslide.
The ledge trail continues.
There’s a sign indicating that we’ve entered the province of León. A stone bridge aids us across another stream.
The trail runs parallel to the water canal. Notice the waterfall ahead.
The final stretch of trail to Caín is characterized by a number of metal bridges, which span the width of the Cares Gorge.
The first metal bridge (Puente Bolín) brings you to the left side of the gorge for the very first time. About five minutes later, you’ll cross back to the right side of the gorge via another bridge (Puente de Los Rebecos).
After the short tunnel, the trail dips down. We get closer to the river bed.
At the trail junction at Casielles, maintain the same direction, passing by a small power plant. Some people detour to the river here to refresh their feet.
Soon, you’ll reach the entrance of a 100-meter-long tunnel with galleries (window-like openings). The tunnel is dark, uneven, and at times slippery, because of the puddles. A headlamp isn’t absolutely necessary, but if you have one, I’d use it. Otherwise, the flashlight on your phone will help.
When you emerge from the tunnel, cross the bridge over the Caín dam (Presa de Caín).
Follow Rio Cares, wider and closer than ever before. After 300 meters, cross the final Puente de los Pinderos bridge. Continue hiking south into the village of Caín.
Lunch in Caín
There are several places to eat in Caín.
You’ll first pass by a riverside snack bar with a smattering of lawn chairs. They sell drinks and sandwiches.
Continue walking into town to assess all your dining options.
We ate two gorgeous, overflowing salads at Albergue El Diablo de la Peña (Google Maps).
After the long hike, it was really helpful to take a long, leisurely lunch here.
This might be obvious, but in case it isn’t, definitely take off your hiking boots when you’re resting and/or eating lunch. We make this a habit when we’re hiking and it really helps rejuvenate our feet.
If your socks are moist, or wet, set them out to dry in the sun. Or better yet, bring a fresh pair of socks to change into.
Again, sorry if that’s painfully obvious.
Caín to Poncebos (3:15 hours)
After coffee, we started the return trek back through Cares Gorge to Poncebos.
We took some intentional breaks along the way.
When we arrived in Poncebos, we were so happy that we didn’t have to drive anywhere.
Ruta del Cares Hiking Questions
How Long Does the Cares Gorge Hike Take?
Cares Gorge walk from Poncebos to Caín takes 6:45 hours out-and-back.
With multiple stops, breaks, and a long 1:15 hour lunch break, it took us 8 hours (8:45 am – 4:45 pm) to hike the Cares Gorge trail out-and-back.
Is It Better to Start the Ruta del Cares Hike in Poncebos, or in Caín?
We think it’s better to start in Poncebos. If you start the hike in the morning, the sun will be behind you. That means that the landscapes ahead will be perfectly illuminated and the sun will never be in your eyes.
Also, there are more lunch options in Caín. So, it’s nicer to take a long lunch break in Caín, before starting the return hike.
Also, Poncebos is more scenic than Caín. So, we also liked starting and ending in Poncebos.
What Gear Do You Need for the Cares Gorge Hike?
You need to wear sturdy hiking boots and sun protection (hat, sunglasses, etc…). Pack a rain jacket and 2 liters of water.
Though we used our hiking poles a lot across Picos de Europa, we did not need them for this hike.
Is the Cares Gorge Hike Kid-Friendly?
Though it’s not forbidden to take children on the Cares Trail, it’s recommended to only take children ages 12 and up.
Are Dogs Allowed on the Cares Trail?
Yes, dogs are allowed. But, they must be leashed at all times. Extendable leashes are not allowed.
How Difficult is the Ruta del Cares Hike?
The hike is easy-moderate in terms of terrain and technical difficulty. However, it shouldn’t be underestimated.
It’s very long. If you’re not used to walking long distances, hiking this nearly 24 km out-and-back hike will be exhausting.
If you have any questions about hiking Ruta del Cares, leave a comment below.
Where to Stay near Ruta del Cares Hiking Trail
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.
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