People always remember the number one. Who was the first person on the Moon? Neil Armstrong! The second? Uhmmm… Most people don’t know (pssst, it’s Buzz Aldrin). People are drawn to and remember the first, the biggest, the fastest and so on. And yes, I shamelessly nicked that moon landing analogy from Seth Godin’s book, The Dip. It’s a good one, read it! But what I’m really trying to get at here is that I feel like we have the same thing going on with travel. We are drawn to the highest mountains and the most well-known cities. Unlike Seth’s book, however, where he urges you to be the best in the world within your niche, sometimes the second highest mountain range is just as worthy of attention as the highest one.
The Sierra de Huétor and la Alfaguara Natural Park
This blogpost is about the Sierra de Huétor and la Alfaguara Natural Park, which includes the Sierra de Huétor, Sierra de la Alfaguara, Sierra de Cogollos, Sierra de Arana and a couple of other moderate-altitude mountain ranges. It is just outside Granada, with easy access by car or even public transport. However, it’s not getting the attention it deserves, because it is right next to the Sierra Nevada. That is an amazing and imposing mountain range, with the Mulhacén, the highest peak almost scraping 3500 meters, earning it the title of the highest point of mainland Spain. You can see the snow-capped mountains from many streets in Granada, so it’s not hard to see why it gets all the attention.
The Sierra de Huétor – I’ll just simplify and call the whole natural park and its surrounding areas that for brevity... I know it’s inaccurate – is tiny in comparison. It covers a much smaller area and the highest peak, which lies outside of the natural park boundaries in the Sierra de Arana, is barely above 2000 meters. The average mountains are between 1500 and 1800 meters. But it’s not about how high they are! The landscape is scattered with imposing cliffs and the whole natural park is really punching above its weight in terms of how epic it is. If this natural park was in Hungary for example, it would be by far the most interesting and cool mountainous area in the entire country. It is instead right next to the Sierra Nevada, so it gets much less of the attention.
Visiting the Sierra de Huétor
It took me four months of living here to actually go for a hike in the area, although I did bike close by earlier. As you arrive to Granada on the bus from Madrid, you can see these mountains just before you arrive to the city, so visiting has been on my mind for a while and I purchased a map about 2 months ago. But finally this week, I decided to go and I’m very glad I did.
I climbed an interesting peak called the Peñón de la Mata, which I tried to translate and it either is something along the lines of “Rock of Death” or it means “Rock of the Bush”. I feel like the first one is more sinister, so we will go with that. It isn’t the most difficult mountain to climb until you get close to the top. I did the hike around sunrise with a great view of other peaks, steep ridges and massive cliffs and it was a pretty comfortable climb. But once you get to the top, you realize that the tip of the peak is actually just a big slab of rock, with vertical or near vertical sides all around. It looks impossible to get up there without rock climbing skills and the correct equipment. But after a little walking around, there is a little path on the north side of it that leads up to the top with only some scrambling.
I hope I never get tired of the feeling of seeing the view from the top of a ridge or a peak for the first time… This one really stood out, because it not only gave me a view of the whole Sierra de Huétor, but also the Sierra Nevada and out towards the flat lands on the other side of Granada, as well as the further-away mountain ranges like the Sierra de Elvira. It was probably the best snack spot I’ve had in a long time!
After that, I eventually decided against climbing more big peaks due to time constraints and just explored the quiet small paths through the forest and walked along some forestry roads. It was a very peaceful experience – I was there on a Monday, so there were no people at all, I could only hear the birds and the rustling of the trees in the wind and it just felt very calm. Occasionally, the forestry road would wind up the side of a hill and an amazing view of the smaller peaks here and of the snowy Sierra Nevada would open up. I enjoyed this just as much as I would have if I set off to bag another peak.
After a good 20ish kilometers of walking, I turned down another forestry road on the south side of the Sierra de Huétor which led me back to Víznar where I could catch a bus back to Granada. That forestry road had the best views, especially at a place called Mirador de Víznar! As it wound down the side of the Sierra de Huétor, I could see the valley of the Río Darro, the nearby peaks and a breathtaking vista of the Sierra Nevada. In total, I walked about 29 kilometers and I will definitely be back to explore more of this area!
The Sierra de Huétor is a truly epic mountain range, but in a much more compact and accessible format than the Sierra Nevada. The peaks are less daunting, less dangerous and you can see more of the park in a day. A lot of it is just bustling with nature, as most of it is covered in coniferous forests full of birds and you get to see plenty of other animals as well. I know it’s an odd comparison, but I somehow had a similar feeling here as I did when I was in the Lake District in the UK: epic, challenging and great-looking peaks, but you can still get back to civilization and have a nice dinner in the evening. Except here you get good weather and no lakes. It is also accessible year-round, because it very rarely gets snow, so the walking is quite safe. I was hiking in a sweater for most of the day in January and that was more than enough, although the mornings and evenings are damn cold.
Of course, while it is less dangerous than the Sierra Nevada, I’m sure there are plenty of ways to get yourself into trouble. There are many cliffs, which should be avoided by hikers, but are probably a paradise for rock climbers. Finally, it has plenty of interesting history: the whole area is littered with trenches and fortifications from the Spanish Civil War.
While it is only the second highest mountain range near Granada, it’s definitely worth paying attention to the Sierra de Huétor. It is a truly awesome area, with plenty of challenging hikes and an epic landscape. And the best of all? Instead of freezing your ass off in January at 3000 meters in the Sierra Nevada, you can hike in your sweater and get the views of snow-capped peaks without all the suffering!