Let me share my personal experience of visiting the most unique national parks in Spain. If you love traveling across the Iberian Peninsula and can not live without walks with nature, exploring national parks in Spain should be on your Spain Bucket List.
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Nature in Spain
Unique Spanish Landscapes & Climate Diversity
Very much like Istanbul is often called the gateway from Europe to Asia, Spain is often described as the bridge between Europe and Africa. Just think of it: the country is sort of connected & separated at the same time from the rest of Europe via the Pyrenees and yet it´s only the strait of Gibraltar dividing Spain and the African continent. So, the Iberian Peninsula was simply meant to evolve into something unique, both in terms of nature and culture.
Spain is the land of high mountains, stunning volcanoes, dramatic cliffs, wild-west-looking deserts, charming secret villages, and vibrant local festivities. During the very same summer, you can plan a road trip across the sun-kissed Andalusia, explore the fishing villages of the rainy Asturias, or enjoy the Caribbean-like beaches of Formentera. You can find everything in Spain if you know where to search.
National Parks in Spain
While the concept of National Parks was born with Yellowstone back in 1872 in the States, Spain was one of the first European countries to follow it. In 1916 the country enacted a law that set the official status of the first two Spanish National Parks – Parque Nacional de Covadonga (nowadays called Picos de Europa) and Parque Nacional del Valle de Ordesa (nowadays called Ordesa y Monte Perdido).
As years went by, the list of National Parks in Spain kept growing. Nowadays you can find 16 of them across the whole of the Iberian Peninsula. The last and most recent addition to the list was Sierra de las Nieves National Park in 2021.
To sum up, the main National Parks in Spain today are Picos de Europa, Ordesa y Monte Perdido, Teide, Caldera de Taburiente, Aiguas Tortas y Lago de San Mauricio, Doñana, Tablas de Daimiel, Timanfaya, Garajonay, Archipiélago de Cabrera, Cabañeros, Sierra Nevada, Islas Atlánticas de Galicia, Monfragüe, Sierra de Guadarrama, and Sierra de las Nieves.
You can check the map of National parks in Spain via the Spanish Ministry of Ecology website.
National Park Checklists
Blog Subscribers can download for free Spain National Parks Checklist, a List of Must-do Hikes for each Spanish National Park, and an extensive Hiking Checklist for the Valencian Community (you will get the links at the end of the first newsletter, alongside the other freebies on Spain). Also, you can read more about my hiking essentials in this post.
National Parks vs. Natural Parks
While searching for protected natural areas in Spain, sooner or later you will come across the Natural Parks in Spain (or Parques Naturales in Spanish).
So, in case you thought that by visiting the Top 16 Spanish National Parks (or Parques Nacionales in Spanish) you’d be all set – you were wrong.
Well, National Parks are areas especially protected by the government in order to preserve a unique natural environment. But Spain also has more than 100 Natural Parks (according to IUCN – International Union for Conservation of Nature). These are under the protection of the local authorities in different Spanish provinces.
While National Parks are officially considered of greater importance and usually appear on the lists of the Top Spanish Landmarks, most of my favorite hikes in Spain took place in the Spanish Natural Parks.
So, those of you who enjoy hiking in Spain will be spoilt with choices due to all the National and Natural Parks across the country.
My favorite National Parks in Spain
1. Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park
Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park is one of the most beautiful places to visit in the Spanish Pyrenees.
Located in the region of Aragon and overlooking the French border, Ordesa y Monte Perdido is one of my favorite National Parks in Spain. It was an absolute highlight of my 2022 travels in Spain and I am honestly counting the days till I will be able to return. To my surprise, it also turned out to be an amazing destination to visit with kids.
Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park can be divided into 4 main valleys: Ordesa, Añisclo, Escuain, and Pineta. Its most unique landmark is Monte Perdido (or “the lost mountain” in English) – it´s the highest limestone massif in Europe.
My recent 4-day Spanish Pyrenees road trip was not enough to see it all. Next time I’d love to explore more unique Spanish hikes in Ordesa y Monte Perdido, like Tozal de Mallo, La Cascada del Estrecho, Gradas de Soaso, Bosque de las Hayas, Cañon de Añisclo, Cola de Caballo, and Gargantas de Escuain.
2. Teide National Park
Teide National Park is located in the Canary Islands, the exotic Spanish archipelago full of picture-perfect locations and adventurous travel activities. I visited this gem during my family trip to Tenerife, one of the top islands in Spain.
Teide is one of the most iconic national landmarks of Spain, it s the highest peak of the country and the highest volcano in the whole of Europe. Every Spain Bucket List somehow includes Teide and many adventure seekers set the hiking trail to Teide Peak as a personal challenge.
There is even a local mysterious Spanish legend reassuring that from the top of Teide, one can see the secret 9th island of The Canary Archipelago. Surprisingly, you can find the 9th island on lots of ancient maps from the XIII century till 1755, but no one ever has been able to prove its existence. The strange island is supposed to be located near El Hierro.
Teide is one of the most popular National Parks in Spain: it gets more than 4 mln visitors per year. Since 2007 Teide National Park has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The park’s territory is around 19000 hectares, so no wonder that you can find lots of unique travel ideas in the area, like Teide National Park Night Sky Star Safari & Dinner, Teide Crater Tour, Sunset Quad Trip to Mount Teide, Mt. Teide Forest Off-Road Quad Tour, Mount Teide Observatory Guided Tour, and Teide National Park Landscapes and Viewpoints Private Tour.
3. Aiguestortes National Park
Aiguestortes National Park (the full name Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park) is essentially a two-in-one park, made of Sant Nicolau Valley with access in the village of Boi, and Escrita Valley, with access in the village of Espot.
I have completely fallen in love with Aiguestortes National Park during my recent weekend in the Spanish Pyrenees. It´s one of the top places to visit in the Catalonia region, known for some unique Spanish hiking trails (like Ruta del Planell de Aiguestortes y Estany Llong).
However, I have only checked the trail from Boi and plan to hike Cap a les Agulles d’Amitges from Espot during my next visit.
You can read more details about my experience of Aiguestortes National Park in this post.
4. Timanfaya National Park
Timanfaya National Park appeared more than 300 years ago due to volcanic eruptions. The landscape of Timanfaya is still one of the most otherworldly landscapes in Spain, full of peculiar and colorful rock formations.
It´s one of the most protected National Parks in Spain, you can not simply walk around on your own. The easiest way to visit Timanfaya is to book one of the numerous tours: Timanfaya National Park and La Geria Day Tour, Timanfaya and Green Lagoon Shore Excursion, Hike Across Timanfaya’s Volcanic Landscapes, Timanfaya National Park Volcanic Craters Tour, and Timanfaya National Park Trekking Tour.
5. Picos de Europa National Park
Picos de Europa National Park is a must-stop on every Northern Spain Road Trip.
On a more personal note, the stars did not align for me and the Picos de Europa National Park in the past.
Since it’s known as one of the most beautiful national parks in Spain, it was obviously in my plans for the trip to Asturias. But the whole nature-seeking experience ended up with a stressful drive up in the mountains, in the fog, and with random cows on the road.
After finally reaching the famous Lakes of Covadonga we couldn’t see anything due to the weather conditions. Anyway, despite this stressful experience, I still dream of returning to Picos de Europa National Park to check out its famous hike Ruta del Cares.
6. Islas Atlánticas de Galicia National Park
Islas Atlánticas de Galicia (or The Atlantic Islands of Galicia) is one of the Spanish national parks that I dream of exploring the most. Especially, after watching one of the popular Spanish TV Shows, A Private Affair (2002), entirely filmed in the region of Galicia.
The Atlantic Islands of Galicia National Park is composed of 4 archipelagos: Cies, Ons, Salvora, and Cortegada. The first two are the most popular ones to visit.
The Cies Islands are known for some of the most iconic Northern Spain beaches due to their Caribbean look (even though the water is quite refreshing). The Atlantic Islands of Galicia National Park has stayed on my travel bucket list for ages since it´s easier said than done…
First of all the local authorities limit the number of daily visitors for each of the islands. Secondly, you must get special permission via the web of Xunta de Galicia 90 days before your trip. Once you get a confirmation email, you need to purchase boat tickets via one of the authorized companies.
Yet, one more detail – the official boats are offering trips to the Cies islands only during the summer months (or Easter holidays). So, it´s a constant setback with this Spanish National Park, but I´m determined to make it there next summer.
You can download a free guide to the park in Spanish.
Do you have a favorite Spanish National Park? or the one you’d like to visit the most?
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