Sierra de Grazalema is a little-known gem for hikers with green valleys, deep canyons, and craggy mountains. El Pinsapar trail is one of the best hikes in the area. Here’s all you need to know.
Sierra de Grazalema, in the centre of Andalucía, is dotted with deep canyons, lush green vistas and craggy mountains. In early spring, while many of Europe’s hiking areas are covered in snow, this corner of southern Spain is beckoning hikers on trails bathed in sunshine and framed with colourful flowers.
It’s the perfect time for European hiking.
And one of the best paths in the park is El Pinsapar trail. This half-day hike climbs a ridge with excellent views over Andalucía before sinking into the coolness of the forest. A forest which is a little special since it houses the unique Spanish fir called pinsapo which can only be found here and in the Moroccan Rif.
But it’s not just botanical jewels you’ll find on this excellent half-day hike. Keep your eyes peeled for deer, ibex and a myriad of birds.
Here’s everything you need to know including how to obtain permits for the hike.
Here’s what you need to know.
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IN THIS GUIDE
EL PINSAPAR TRAIL OVERVIEW
A half-day hike for fine views before plunging into forest.
11-kilometre round trip
700 metres (+/-)
April – May
Easy – medium
HIKING EL PINSAPAR TRAIL
The trail slowly winds its way under a canopy of towering pine trees. Dappled light illuminates a carpet of pine needles underfoot; softening footsteps and invading the senses with the scent of fresh pine.
After half an hour, you arrive at the top of a ridge, with views across to the dramatic peak of San Cristobal; the craggy buttresses of El Torreón; and shimmering white towns breaking the swathes of dark green forest.
Following the path left, contouring the steep slope of the mountains halfway between the summits and the valley floor, the trail weaves through pink flowers, yellow gorse and green shrubs. After an hour the walk leaves the warmth of the sun behind and enters the shade of the forest.
EXPLORING THE PINSAPO FOREST
Birds chirp in trees, tiny lizards scraped over rocks and deer rustle leaves in the distance; all surrounded by the rare pinsapo fir. A perfect cone-shaped tree with sharp bristles and small red berries, it’s the botanical jewel of this park and the reason it was made a biosphere reserve.
An hour and a half after leaving the car park, still deep in the forest, the trail reaches the highest point of the walk at 1310 metres. Next, it drops steeply and crosses small clearing that must be a tumult of water after rain.
From the car park to the clearing, El Pinsapo is an excellent short hike. With varied scenery, interesting flora and spectacular views from the top of the ridge across Andalucía, it’s an excellent way to explore this beautiful part of Spain.
PERMIT FOR HIKING EL PINSAPAR TRAIL
Sierra de Grazalema is one of the last places where the Spanish Fir (or Pinsapo) grows. The park looks after the few that remain with a lot of care. Therefore, during the summer season (01 June to 15 October) when forest fires are a risk, hiking is not allowed in El Pinsapar.
In the other months, a permit is required.
Permits can be obtained in person at either the El Bosque Visitors Centre or the Grazalema Visitors Centre. Obtaining a permit for weekdays should be no problem at all, but weekends and public holidays can get booked up.
It’s possible to reserve a permit up to 1 month in advance by phoning or emailing the El Bosque visitor’s centre. Tell them the date you intend to walk, the name of the route (El Pinsapar), the number of walkers and one passport number.
The permit usually needs to be collected in person from the visitor’s centre. However, they may email or fax the permit to you. Please be aware the visitor’s centre staff speak very limited English. If you don’t speak much Spanish, being understood on the phone can be a challenge.
If you are doing multiple hikes on your trip, like the Garganta Verde, you must specify the days you intend to do each walk.
All the permits are free.
El Bosque Visitor’s Centre / 10:00 – 14:00 everyday | Phone: +34 956 709 733
Grazalema Visitors Centre / 10:00 – 14:00 & 15:00 – 17:30 Tue – Sun | Phone: +34 956 132 052
TRAIL CONDITIONS FOR HIKING EL PINSAPAR TRAIL
Like many great hiking areas in Spain such as Picos de Europa, the El Pinsapar trail is very clear and easy to follow (unless there is snow on the ground). There is 700 metres of ascent and descent so it requires some effort, but at no point is the path particularly steep or challenging.
It takes 2 hours to reach the clearing with the benches. You could continue on the path, which drops steeply to the village of Benamahoma, but buses from Benamahoma to Grazalema only run early in the morning and late at night, so you will probably need to take a taxi back.
We suggest you hike back the way you came. Allow about 4 hours for the entire round trip.
EL PINSAPAR TRAIL MAP
A map isn’t needed, but for souvenir purposes, we recommend this one. Guy Hunter-Watts also provides maps in his excellent hiking book detailing the best path around the mountains of Ronda and Grazalema.
WHAT TO TAKE ON EL PINSAPAR TRAIL?
01 – The El Pinsapar trail is not long or difficult but good solid walking shoes are always a good idea.
02 – Half the walk is spent in the sun and the other half is in the shade of the forest. Wear sunblock and a hat to help protect from that sizzling Spanish heat. However, in the forest it can get quite cold, so bring some layers to rug up a little.
03 – There are no refreshments on the route so make sure you have some water and some snacks to give you an energy boost for the 2-hour walk back.
04 – Take a camera and, if you are a bird-watcher, a pair of binoculars.
05 – Don’t forget your permit!
06 – This guide has some great ideas for what to take hiking with a very comprehensive list of equipment.
BEST TIME TO HIKE EL PINSAPAR TRAIL
You cannot hike the El Pinsapar trail in summer (01 June to 15 October) because the park authorities shut the area due to high fire risk.
In our opinion, the best time of year to do the El Pinsapar trail is throughout April and May. At this time, the glorious wildflowers of the region are in full bloom, the weather should be clear but not too hot and tourist numbers will be slightly lower.
March would be a good time as well, but the weather may not be as good.
The hike can be done any time of day, but the light is better for photographs in the morning and evening, and you should probably try to avoid any extreme temperatures.
You could easily include this hike as part of a southern Spain itinerary.
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HOW TO GET TO EL PINSAPAR TRAIL
The El Pinsapar trail is in Sierra de Grazalema, a natural park which is a 1-hour 30-minute drive from either Seville or Malaga.
The trailhead begins at a car park located just past the 3-kilometre marker on the CA-9104, which runs from Grazalema to Zahara. This is a magnificent windy mountain road and well worth exploring during your stay.
There is no public transport to the trailhead. You will either need your own car or take a taxi (+34 666 842 973).
WHERE TO STAY FOR HIKING EL PINSAPAR TRAIL
The closest places to the El Pinsapar trailhead are the white villages of El Bosque, Zahara or Grazalema. El Bosque has the benefit of the visitor’s centre making it easy to pick up the permit. However, it’s not blessed with the most dramatic of locations.
Grazalema sits in picture-perfection at the base of some beautiful craggy mountains, but the whole town goes to bed very early with few options for grabbing a bite much after 7 pm.
Our pick is Zahara – one of the best white villages in Andalucía.
Sitting on a hill just under a Moorish castle, Zahara has magnificent views and great walks. But best of all it has a couple of decent restaurants in a cute square. We suggest you stay at Alojamiento Rural el Pinsapo and head to Cerveceria el Gallo for its tapas.
MORE READING FOR YOUR SPAIN TRIP
Andalucía is one of our favourite areas in Spain. With an excellent climate, world-class cities and beautiful nature parks, it’s a fantastic southern European destination. Here are more of our guides from the area.
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