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How to Explore Morocco's Mystical Atlas Mountains on Foot

Morocco Hiking Backpacking
by Aisha Preece Sep 16, 2019

The Atlas Mountains range traverses across three countries — Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. Spanning nearly 1,000 miles in length, the terrain is earthy and rocky, some of it lined with parks and trails that provide numerous opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts. The dry, hot region is mainly inhabited by Berbers, a group indigenous to North Africa. Much of their ancient culture has remained unchanged by the modern world and many Berbers continue to make their living by herding livestock and farming.

You can embark on a multitude of activities in the Atlas Mountains, from trekking to quad biking to rock climbing. Trekking remains the most popular pursuit, given the plethora of trails available that lead you deep into the wild nature that’s largely unspoiled by tourists. Use this guide to identify the best trek for your trip based on length, number of days, and fitness level.

Identify the right trek for your group

Person in Atlas Mountains

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Expect refreshing views of natural beauty, sprawling valleys, and rocky white mountaintops. The region is rich in biodiversity and you may spot wild animals such as foxes, wild boars, and porcupines. You will also be able to see Berbers going about their daily lives and tending to their vegetables and livestock. Some treks involve walking through local markets, so you will be able to support the local communities by picking up colorful trinkets and presents.

Atlas Trek Shop, Trekking in Morocco, and Atlas Mountain Trekking offer multiday guided treks to the locations listed here. These trips generally include airport/hotel transfer, all meals during the trek, and lodging logistics, whether you’ll be camping or in huts along the route. A more budget-friendly option could be to book a trek on Klook or Airbnb Experiences. The treks range from relatively easy one-day hikes to grueling multiday excursions where you can camp in the mountains.

  • Jebel Toubkal — This hike can be done in two days with one overnight. It’s among the most popular treks in the area because it takes you to the summit of Mount Toubkal at 13,671 feet. Hikers normally begin their journey in Imlil situated 90 minutes from Marrakesh. You’ll stay overnight in a refuge, essentially a catered campsite hut, along the way. The total distance is about 18.8 miles.
  • M’Goun Massif — This is a favorite among experienced hikers. The total length is about 35.4 miles, spread across a six-day, five-night hike beginning in Ait Bouguemez and continuing through the Tarkedit Plateau, the Aghouri pass, and the M’Goun peak. You will have the opportunity to see craggy valleys and strange rock formations on this trek, and avoid the crowds that are out to “bag” Mount Toubkal and then head home.
  • Tizi n’Tacht Pass — This trek is a five-day, four-night hike that takes you through Berber villages and valleys and reaches elevations of over 6,500 feet, where you can see glistening snow-capped mountains from many directions.
  • Imlil Valley — If your fitness levels aren’t up to multiday hikes, or if you are short on time, you can opt for a day hike through the Imlil Valley. Situated 37 miles from Marrakesh, the scenic day hike takes you through the Berber village of Asni, which has a weekly market on Saturday, and then the Imlil Crossing, a lush green valley.
  • Ourika Valley — Situated less than 30 miles from Marrakesh, a trek in the Ourika Valley can be done as a leisurely guided day trip, which takes you to a Berber village and up to a waterfall in Siti Fatma. This is the ideal option for those in a rush or without a full set of backpacking gear.

Best time to go

Animals and people in Atlas Mountains

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It is possible to trek the Atlas Mountains throughout the year, but the best times are spring and autumn as the weather during these periods is the most comfortable. Temperatures average in the mid-70s Fahrenheit and there is minimal rain. In the summer, temperatures can reach nearly 120 degrees in Marrakesh, but are much cooler once you hit higher altitudes.

What to bring and what to wear during the trek

Two people in the Atlas Mountains

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Dress modestly, especially when passing through the local villages. Many parts of Morocco are still fairly conservative, so showing too much skin may draw unwanted attention. Try and avoid extremely short shorts and low cut tops for women. Furthermore, as a general rule, men don’t walk around topless, regardless of how hot the weather is.

Temperatures can scale up to 104 degrees in the summer, so wear light and comfortable sportswear that’s breathable. Appropriate hiking footwear is a must as there is a lot of uneven terrain. Temperatures can also plunge in the evening, so bring an extra layer of clothing. Also, higher up in the mountains, there will be snow, especially in the winter, so specialist snow equipment might be required. Finally, although it is not essential, it may help to have walking poles. Double check to make sure you have all of your backpacking essentials before hitting the trail, such as:

  • At least 2 liters of water per day
  • A high SPF sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat
  • Spare clothes
  • Snacks like granola bars and apples
  • A medical kit (please include antihistamines and diarrhea tablets)
  • A sleeping bag if you want to do a multiday hike
  • Wet wipes and hand sanitizer, as some of the toilets are unsanitary
  • Hiking boots and soft shoes to change into in the evening
  • Earplugs
  • Penknife
  • Whistle
  • Flashlight
  • Cash
  • A coat that’s warm but light

What else to know before trekking the Atlas Mountains

Atlas Mountains in Morocco

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Most of the hikes offer delicious and reasonably priced food, which shouldn’t cost you more than $10 per meal. Food will almost always be Moroccan, so expect to eat plenty of m’smen, a crispy local bread, with fruit and jam for breakfast and then a meat or vegetable tagine for lunch and dinner. If you have dietary requirements, make sure you let the tour guide know ahead of time.

For day hikes, you don’t need to have high levels of fitness as they are relatively slow-paced, but if you are heading to one of the peaks, be wary of altitude sickness. Most people who experience altitude sickness feel nauseous and a bit of a headache, but serious symptoms include vomiting and extreme breathlessness. If you feel the latter, going down straight away is the best and most immediate cure.

On the whole, the region is quite safe. After the devastating incident of two tourists being attacked and killed, it is not possible to hike the region without a guide. Do not stray off on your own. It is also important to bear in mind that you may end up with a parasitic infection if you swim in the freshwater lakes and streams so try to avoid jumping in. Finally, some market vendors won’t have change. Bring enough cash, particularly smaller notes, for the duration of your trek.

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