Stretching 2,500 km (1,600 mi.) through Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, the Atlas Mountains separate the maritime climates of the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts from the vast expanse of the Sahara Desert. Morocco’s highest peak can be found within the range, as well as thousands of animal and plant species that only thrive here. While seemingly inhospitable at first, the Atlas Mountains have been home to the Amazigh (Berber) people for at least 3,000 years, and even today a traditional way of life is maintained. Electricity and modern plumbing are still considered luxuries in most villages, and residents still rely on traveling markets for food and any other supplies.
In such a unique place, it’s no wonder tourism is booming for culture hounds and adventure seekers alike. The High Atlas Mountains–located in central Morocco between the Anti-Atlas Mountains to the south and the Middle Atlas Mountains to the north–offer the most challenging hikes within the range as well as some of the most spectacular views and experiences.
Morocco’s highest peak, Mount Toubkal, is also the nation’s most famous hike. Towering 4,167 m. (13,671 ft.) above sea level, this one is not for the faint of heart. Book a licensed guide in Marrakech along with a cook to make sure you’re well-fed and a mule to carry all the supplies. Plan to spend at least three days for this hike; one to get to the town of Imlil and then hike to a refuge midway up the mountain, one to ascend to the peak and then descend back to camp, and one to return to Marrakech. Along the way, expect breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains, Amazigh villages that are seemingly frozen in time, and an incredible workout.
Imlil to Setti Fatma
Another three-day trek, this hike also sets off from Imlil and brings you to Setti Fatma, a small Amazigh village famous for its seven waterfalls. The hike to the first waterfall is pretty low-key, but from there it’s literally an uphill battle on a rocky, unstable path to reach the remaining falls. The trail also includes multiple water crossings (some with bridges, some without), so waterproof gear is a must. Even if you’re not up for the full hike, three of the waterfalls can be viewed from a lower vantage point. Despite the altitude and challenges of the path, a bewildering number of cafes and souks are set up along the trail and at the base of the first waterfall–a testament to the locals’ centuries of experience living in a mountainous environment like this.
The remote valley of Ait Bougemez is pure, unspoiled beauty. Lush, green terraced gardens and orchards are surrounded by snow-capped mountains, and tiny villages dot the valley’s steep walls. Getting here, however, is no easy task. Until a few years ago, the only option was to arrive via mule or on foot. In recent years, roads have improved enough for vehicular traffic but the ride is not for the faint of heart and, during winter, the road is often rendered impassable by snow. That said, the trek is well worth it. If you do make the effort to venture to Ait Bougemez, plan to stay a few days to enjoy all it has to offer. An experienced guide will be able to lead you along old caravan trails as you explore the valley on foot. A more strenuous hike up Mount Mgoun (the third highest peak in the country) will be rewarded with spectacular views of the Ait Bougmez Valley waterfall and the valley below.
With the exception Ait Bouguemez, where you’ll either have to camp or arrange in advance to stay with a local Amazigh family, accommodations in the Atlas Mountains are easy to come by. Our own collection of vacation rentals in Morocco includes private homes close to all of Morocco’s best adventures.