How has it taken me two weeks to write this post!? Walking Ruta del Cares ended up being one of my all-time favorite hikes. Not only was it beautiful but it was scary and felt just as challenging mentally as it did physically. Ruta del Cares in the Picos de Europa park of Spain is an 11(ish) kilometer point-to-point route between the towns of Posada de Valdeón and Caín (both fully within the Picos).
I first read about the trail while researching hikes for a winter trip with a friend but it ended up being much too far from our other destinations of interest to visit at the time. It is the most popular hike in the area and is even referred to as the “Devine Gorge” as the route runs along a beautiful canyon with towering peaks above. I’ve been enchanted by Spain since my first visit five years ago and knew I had to make it to Picos de Europa at some point during my travels!
To my luck, our Spanish roadtrip passed relatively close to Picos de Europa and we incorporated visiting the trail into our plans. Choosing one hike for the park was tough but I settled on the Ruta del Cares. The route is relatively flat after the first two kilometers but loose rock and slides falls are a concern the entire length of the path and it is quite visible in some sections! I felt I could handle doing the hike out-and-back style with a total length of about 22 kilometers even with a bit of rain. Also, the car route between the start and end points is about 2.5 hours, not something I wanted to ask my companion to do!
Unfortunately, Northern Spain was experiencing wetter than average conditions the length of our trip and when the day came for Picos de Europa things hadn’t improved. I was in denial about the conditions and expecting to enjoy hiking roughly five hours in the rain. During our drive to the trailhead I was so excited and wanted to make the most of the visit.
Once we arrive at the start there was a brief break in the rain and I set out happily. The clouds were very low and thick, allowing no view of the peaks high above. The mountains appeared dark, towering and sinister. How high were they? I never found out! Clouds and fog hid their true height. As expected, the first two kilometers were a zigzagging narrow path of rocky notches. Rain contiued but as hikers continued to start behind me I felt comforted; if it was such a bad idea to hike in the rain then why were they out too? After about 15 minutes in came loud rolling thunder. This worried me; Steady rain can be dangerous but lightening could be so much worse. As I couldn’t hear or see lightening strikes I decided to wait a bit and hope for conditions to improve. My stubborness and dread at the thought of missing the opportunity was keeping me on the trail. Many people passed me on the way back down, having abandoned the hike themselves. Eventually there was no one in sight on the trail and as far as the eye could see the sky was dark and gloomy. After 30 minutes of rain and thunder I turned around and headed back down to the start point, feeling discouraged and disappointed. What bad luck to have thunderstorms during the exact time as my hike! Feeling sad, I walked a bit slowly and at some point realized I could hear birds chirping in the distance, coming from around a bend in the path. I waited a few minutes more to see if it continued and when it did, decided that the birds must be out and singing, not hiding from a storm. I reversed my direction again and just held my breath! After turning a corner after a long climb, I could see the storm was headed against me and would very soon pass. Whether it would rain again I could not tell but it was a sign that I could go on.
Further along there are some caves carved out into the grey limestone that forms the rocky mountainside and would have made a dry waiting place. Sheep that pasture nearby use them as shelter and sometimes hikers.
Eventually I saw others who must have taken a break in caves during the thunder or who started from the other direction but the rain meant the path has much less traffic. It was sort of a reward for all the stubborn folks that waited out the rain. The hike is long enough to dry off before reaching the end point.
The rest of the hike was a beautiful journey! The river flows bright green and blue and the limestone rock creates jagged shapes in the mountains. There are some wildflowers throughout adding a bit of purple and yellow here and there. The sun even popped out at the very end, just when I needed a bit of of a push.
The hike was difficult with the scary weather but very worth it! I’m so glad to have visited Picos and experienced Ruta del Cares.
Thank you for reading!