Table of Contents
Morocco is a country of rugged peaks and endless trails. You’ll find the highest peaks in this North African state, dominated by the Atlas Mountain range in the north and Sahara Desert in the south. The Atlas Mountain range stretches across Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, extending for more than 1,200 miles (2000km). The striking lush green and white rim rises to form a backdrop for this region and livelihood of the people here. I promise you’re going to take in some of the world’s most spectacular views, making the challenges to hike here more than worth it.
The real draw here is Mount Toubkal, also known as Jebel Toubkal. The first hiking groups came here in 1937, summiting from the village of Imlil for the first time. This village is the main starting point for the hikes and is known as the “Little Chamonix of the Atlas Mountains.” The point of real interest is the Toubkal summit reaching 13,665 feet (4,167m), the highest peak in North Africa, surrounded by high snow-capped peaks. The Toubkal trek is the nearest point to Marrakech and the most interesting place to visit in the region. This starting point, and the place where we live, is about 40 miles (65km) from the main city from the Marrakech.
Little Chamonix in the middle of Morocco
Imlil sits at the base of the highest peak in North Africa at the Mount Toubkal National Park. The village of Imlil got its name “Little Chamonix” thanks to French visitors a long time ago. It’s diverse outdoor offerings are similar to Chamonix, so you can go skiing, climbing and hiking. As part of the Atlas Mountain trekking, we are welcomed by the local Berber people living in Berber Village as pictured in the mountains. As the last stop, Imlil has become the heart of Moroccan mountain tourism as this is where many visitors pick up mules and guides to lead them up into the mountains.
Tips for Planning Your Atlas Mountains Hike
Before I get into the best hikes in the Atlas Mountains, here are some things to consider when planning your Morocco hiking trip:
Why hike Morocco with a local guide
At Trekking in Morocco, we’re focused on local guides to give an authentic Atlas Mountains tour. Our team of 15 guides includes city guides, mountain guides and guides who can also take travelers out skiing. We do a lot of Atlas Mountain treks in the desert, as well. I started as a second guide in 2008, but became certified for mountain guiding in 2012. I’ve always wanted to be a guide, since I was a child, because I was born in a local village in the Atlas Mountains at 6,069 feet (1850m) above sea level.
I had my education locally and then traveled to the city where I studied at a university. My aim was always to end up hiking in the Atlas Mountains because I love the mountains, and I love my local village. That’s why I decided to walk a lot and follow another local guide to see how he worked. I wanted to show people about our culture, about our traditions and about trekking in Morocco. I do everything I can to share with people from here or outside Morocco. My love for the place I grew up in is where the decision came from to become a guide. I love the Atlas Mountains and love to share my experience with people from all over the world.
How long does it take to climb Mount Toubkal?
The difficulty level is designed to accommodate everyone. If you want a challenge, there are challenging hikes to go a bit farther up in elevation in the mountains. It’s all customizable. The full day trip starts at 9 a.m. and will last until 6 p.m. upon the return to the city. In winter, the days are much shorter, so you’ll return to Marrakech around 5 p.m. before the sun sets.
What is a typical Atlas Mountains tour?
Atlas Mountain hiking tours are anywhere from one day to 16 days. Every day, we walk at least five to seven hours depending on the fitness level of guests. We’ll then stay at local guests houses owned by Berber families. We also camp outdoors overnight near the villages during the warm months. In winter, for most of the hiking trips, travelers will stay in the villages due to the cold and winds.
We do our best to accommodate a range of schedules. For example, travelers prefer to have one to three days as a compliment to seeing other places in Morocco. Other guests choose to usually do four days maximum. Many of our visitors are short on time for trekking in Morocco with the Toubkal trek as a priority. They often decide to spend a short time in every place to try to cover the whole country. Our guests start in Marrakech, and hike around three or four days in the mountains. Typically the maximum is four days.
A typical day hiking in the Atlas Mountains is season dependent. Short trips are usually mixed with cultural elements and areas to take in the surrounding beauty.
A one-day trip from Marrakech starts at the weekly markets
On a one-day trek, you’ll start in Marrakech and return to the city at night. Beginning at 9 a.m., we drive through the valley and make stops where there are nice views or for weekly markets. Every Tuesday and Saturday, people from around the Atlas Mountains region will gather to buy and sell animals, crops and other goods. Here, you’ll see what traditional foods are grown and what animals there are to buy. This is just one glimpse into the livelihood of the people in the area. Another stop along the way are cooperatives run by local women, which are a newer development, offering handicrafts for sale and to view. It’s another way to connect with the local Moroccan culture.
Start Atlas Mountain trekking in Imlil with traditional Berber families
We’ll continue driving toward the Atlas Mountains stopping at the foothills at “Little Chamonix” to prepare for the hiking trip. Before getting on the trail, you’ll be invited by a Berber family from the village to have Moroccan tea and local snacks, usually on a roof terrace of a local house. After that, the group will cross a couple waterfalls. On the trail, you’ll have incredible views of the Mount Toubkal trek because the mountain is always in full view, in front of the trail. You’ll end in a local village to enjoy dinner prepared by a local family. Here you’ll get to enjoy the views before heading back down to Marrakech.
Extend the Atlas Mountains trip to multiple days
For the extended trips, we meet in Marrakech at 8:30 a.m., before driving to the starting point. An extension covers two or three days. Aside from that, it depends on what the guests want. If people want an easier trip, they’ll visit more villages to meet locals and take in the views. You’ll enjoy a leisurely pace at the villages and valleys.
If people want to climb the highest mountain in North Africa, then that can be done in two days as well. It’s a five-hour walk to the basecamp at 7,568 feet (2307m) above sea level. There you can stay in a mountain hut or camp outdoors. It also depends on the weather conditions, and if it’s rainy or cold, you can stay inside. If you’re planning a trip for trekking in Morocco, then consider exploring the Atlas Mountains — it will almost certainly offer an adventure for everyone.
Tips to prepare for Atlas Mountains backpacking
If you have any trouble with the elevation, spend a couple of days taking in the sights in the villages before the ascent. You’ll be able to tour through the nearby villages at the lower altitude to help you acclimate. Taking a day or two at the higher elevation is a common method for preventing altitude sickness and gives you a fantastic opportunity to explore more of the Atlas region.
What to bring on your Atlas Mountain hiking trip
Prepare for a typical alpine hiking trip by bringing your own sleeping bag, jacket, hiking boots, hats, warm clothes and first aid kit. For winter treks, you’ll need specialized equipment for snow and ice. Equipment shops are available in Imlil to rent gear for anyone who needs to pack light. We always say, it’s better to bring your own but the option is there.
1. Mount Toubkal
Pros and cons
Your ascent for the Mount Toubkal trek will take two days and culminate in the most spectacular views. The peak is the central attraction of the expansive Toubkal National Park, a year-round destination thanks to its winter skiing and hiking in summer. This challenging but short trek is ideal for anyone who has a packed itinerary, giving you a fantastic opportunity to explore more of the region. A full day of hiking for this Atlas Mountain trek involves around 10 to 12 hours walking. It’s not for first-time hikers.
You don’t need to be super-fit for this trip. The climbs, however, are demanding with some long days of sustained walking with a backpack. A good fitness level is helpful, especially while at high altitude. There will also be mules to carry supplies and baggage making your days much easier to enjoy. Our guides ensure you are on the best route for your group and stay safe during the hike.
Day one: hiking from Marrakech to Imlil base village
The first day of your Toubkal trek, heading out from Imlil at 5,708-feet elevation (1740m), will take about five and a half hours. The hiking starts off easy by taking in the sights and walking through the picturesque village of Aroumd. The small Berber village lies east across a floodplain to the tiny settlement of Sidi Chamarouch. You’ll have time in the traditional village before continuing up the gradual gradient to basecamp at either Neltner Refuge or Refuge du Toubkal.
You will head toward the Neltner Refuge at 10,521 feet (3207m), and depending on the conditions, stay the night at the Refuge itself or in a tent.
Day two: Toubkal basecamp to Toubkal peak
An early start will take you to the top of the highest peak in North Africa standing at
13,665 feet (4,167m) elevation. The summit has an incomparable view of the Atlas Mountain range, the Sahara Desert and the natural environment that has enclosed this area for centuries. Soaking in the views, the time you spend at the top of Mount Toubkal will depend on the weather. You’ll get to spend around 30 minutes at the summit before descending to the basecamp for lunch.
As the rocky path continues up the mountain, the altitude drops. If approaching in the winter, you’ll also encounter snow and ice fields covering the mountain. Travelers have the option to ski part way down on the descent, adding to the adventure and ease of the Toubkal trek. Your day finishes back in Imlil.
The summit has an incomparable view of the Atlas Mountains, the Sahara Desert and the natural environment that has enclosed the range for centuries.
1. Mount Toubkal - Good to Know
13,665 feet (4,167m)
May to October, end of November to April is technical winter hiking
Intermediate to advanced
Can be hiked in one day for a very challenging trek (or run!) for advanced hikers
Accommodation at the refuge or tents
Guides provide transport to and from Marrakech, hiking starts at Imlil
2 days, 10-12 hours of hiking per day
Guides and mules will be present to carry the supplies
2. Berber Villages
Pros and cons
Living in the Toubkal National Park, the indigenous Berber people have been in this area for centuries. They predate the arrival of the Arabs and Islam. The title Berber is interchangeable with Amazigh, and there are many Amazigh tribes throughout the High Atlas range. In each village, live a range from five to 100 families sustaining on farming, raising animals and participating in tourism. It’s also common to encounter villages without electricity, leaving local families to wash clothes in nearby streams and drink water collected from wells. You’ll be invited to experience traditional customs and learn about life here in the Atlas Mountains.
We stay in the Berber villages as guests to dine in the local guesthouses, known as gites. Gites often have terraces featuring incredible views of the valley as a perfect compliment to any meal. Most of the homes consist of simple earth and stone buildings, and the villages consist of narrow winding streets. During our trips, guests will visit with people around Beber village. We go inside their houses to have some drinks and they tell us about the culture, as well as teach our guests about how people live their traditions, customs and everyday life.
The Berber villages trip is an extended five-day tour hiking in the Atlas Mountains. You’ll visit multiple villages and see a range of the stunning valleys this area has to offer.
Day One: Start in Marrakech before passing juniper, pine and oak trees on your way to Tinzert
The day will take five to six hours and will start from Marrakech. You will journey from there to Imi Oughlad where you will meet your guide, cook and mule. When you begin the trek, you will pass huge forests of juniper, pine and oak as you head toward the village of Tinzert. First, we have a short but steep climb in a forest of old and gnarled juniper trees. The path follows the valley up and over a pass before dropping gently down the other side to Tinzert where the valley opens out again. We’ll be passing terraced wheat fields and diverse, mineral-rich slopes. We arrive in Tinzert to spend our first night of our Atlas Mountains tour in local gites. You’ll also get a beautiful view of the surrounding Ouirgane Valley.
Day Two: Azzaden Valley is an unexpected delight
After spending the night in the village, your guide will take you along the Azzaden Valley. Azzaden is quieter and just as spectacular a counterpart to the well-trafficked Imlil and Ourika Valley, due to its beautiful gorges and villages. We head here in order to arrive at the Tizian villages where you will stay in a local house. The whole day is a bit easier, allowing from some down time, and should take around five hours.
Day Three: Leave Tizian to traverse to the arid Dkent Valley
As you leave the Azzaden Valley, we’ll travel through walnut forests on our way to the Dkent Valley. You’ll stop at Tizi Taghrhourt and view the incredible spectacle of the Azzaden Valley from 6528 feet (1990m). The terrain is more arid than in the valley bottom. The exposed rocks and soil are varied shades of reds, yellows and greys. Dropping down the other side, we wind our way down into the Dkent Valley. You’ll then travel to the large Tizgui village, where you can spend the night in a local guesthouse. This day should take approximately seven hours to complete.
Day Four: Spend the day with Berber people before relaxing at a hamam
To join in on the daily life of the Berber people, your day will start very early in the morning. This is when the Berber’s start to work the land, milk the cows and make bread, among the various other activities that make Berber life what it is. Today’s Atlas mountain trek will start by Oussol before picking up the trail that leads to the top of the amazing Azzenden Valley. Tizi Oussem is then your destination, where you can visit the local steam bath, known as a hamam, and spend the night in a local guesthouse. The day is perhaps seven hours from start to finish.
Day Five: Trek past waterfalls and view the full Atlas Mountain range
The last day is around five to seven hours of walking and takes you and your party via the largest waterfalls in the Toubkal National Park. After visiting the falls, you’ll join the path that takes you up the Ait Mizan Valley across the Tizi Mzzik pass, sitting at 8,202 feet (2500m). This route gives you the opportunity to view the villages of Imlil and the full Atlas Mountain range. The final leg of the journey will then be to meet your driver and head back to Marrakech.
Azzaden is quieter and just as spectacular a counterpart to the well-trafficked Imlil and Ourika Valley, due to its beautiful gorges and villages.
2. Berber Villages - Good to Know
8,202 feet (2500m)
Beginner to moderate
This route travels to a more diverse range of the natural environment in the Atlas Mountains, as well as additional villages to spend time with the local Berber people.
Local guesthouses (gites)
Transport to and from Marrakech is provided
5 days, 5-7 hours walking per day
Ideal for anyone who wants comfortable lodging and shorter days on the trail
3. Three Valleys Trek
Pros and cons
When trekking the Three Valleys, you will begin in the Imnan Valley and finish in the valley of Ait Mizane. As you head through the visually stunning Azzaden Valley, full of colour and life, you will come to the Tazagahrt plateau, one of the more famous features in the High Atlas known for its amazing waterfalls. This area is also known for the beauty of the apple, cherry and walnut trees as you walk along the rough paths. In addition, the local Berber residents built their houses on a cliffside overlooking ancient irrigated terraced fields of barley, corn and vegetables. The rural and lush area is worth exploring in the following three-day hike.
Day One: Hike up to the Tizi n’Tamatert Pass for lunch at 7,736 feet
The first day is 5-6 hours of walking and will take you from the base village of Imlil to Tizi n’Tamtert, a high mountain pass sitting at 7,736 feet (2300m) above sea level. Here you’ll find a Berber village, as well as views of the Imnan Valley below. There will be lunch on the pass after Tizi n’Tamaterte before you head to the last village, either Tachdirt or Tinghourine, in order to spend the night in a guesthouse.
Day Two: Pass multiple villages in this section of high-alpine hiking
The second day will be about six to seven hours of trekking in the High Atlas Mountains. The route takes you by multiple scenic villages and along the Oudit Pass standing at 7,217 feet (2200m) elevation. Starting from Tinghourine or Tachdirt, depending on where you stay, we’ll hike to Ikkis, Aguersiwal, then past the Matat villages before ending at Ait Aissa. In the evening in the Ait Aissa village, there is a local gite to stay in and a steam bath (hamam) for anyone looking to soothe their sore muscles or just relax.
Day Three: Visit the largest waterfalls in Toubkal National Park
The third day hiking in the Atlas Mountains is six hours total. The route will take us first to visit the biggest waterfalls in the Toubkal National Park. We’ll then join the path that goes over Mzik Pass offering fantastic views over the Ait Mizan valley. Our group will lunch in the Mzzik village and trek down to Imlil. Our team will then transfer your group back to Marrakech.
In the evening in the Ait Aissa village, there is a gite to stay in and a steam bath (hamam) for anyone looking to soothe their sore muscles or just relax.
3. Three Valleys Trek - Good to Know
8,202 feet (2500m)
Beginner to intermediate
Experience a traditional hamam (bath house) to unwind mid-way through the trip
Local houses (gites), tent or refuge
Transport from Marrakech is provided, hiking starts in Imlil
3 days, 5-7 hours per day
Visit the biggest waterfalls in the
Toubkal National park
4. The Circle of Toubkal
Pros and cons
The Circle of Toubkal trek starts you off in Imlil and walking a circular route to finish where you started in Imlil. This route takes you through the Atlas Mountains for three days and two nights while ascending Mount Toubkal, the highest peak in North Africa. This route will feature views of the expansive Sahara Desert and plenty of sights along the trail. Before you return to your starting point, you’ll journey through the beautiful Azzaden Valley, the Assif N’Ouzzaden (the River of Azzaden), the Tamsoult Waterfall, the Aguelzim Pass, the Plain of El Houaz, and of course, ascend Mount Toubkal.
This Atlas Mountains trek runs year-round, but from January to late April, will require the use of crampons. This hike is altered in the winter because major sections are covered in snow.
Day One: Travel from Imlil over the Tizi M’zzik pass
On the first day of this hike in the Atlas Mountains will take around six hours to complete. I will take you from Imlil to a challenging hike over the Tizi M’zzik pass at 8,038 feet (2450m) elevation. The pass gives an incredible view of the Jbel Oukaïmeden range. We’ll also visit the beautiful Azib n’Tamsoult and Ighouliden waterfalls. We’ll then head to the Lipeney refuge to stay the first night.
Day Two: Travel from Lipeney Regufe over the stunning Aguelzim Pass
The second day will be approximately five hours of hiking. Our day will consist of moving from the high-alpine Lipiney Refuge, sitting at 9842 feet (3000m), to the even higher Neltner Refuge at 10,521 feet (3207m). It will include walking up an 82-step zig-zag path and across the Aguelzim Pass reaching an impressive 11,679-feet elevation (3560m) to take in the views. This is certainly a highlight of the trip. We’ll then get to Neltner Refuge, where you will stay the night.
Day Three: Summit the Atlas Mountains’ highest peak at Mount Toubkal
Day three on this route may take you up to 12 hours to trek and complete. It will take you to the top of Mount Toubkal to the 13,665 feet (4,167m) elevation summit. Here, you’ll gain views of the High Atlas range and the Sahara Desert — not bad to be at the highest point in North Africa. This long day will allow you to come full circle with Imlil as your final destination.
This impressive loop includes walking up an 82-step zig-zag path, across the Aguelzim Pass reaching an impressive elevation, and then even higher to North Africa’s tallest peak to take in the views.
4. The Circle of Toubkal - Good to Know
13,665 feet (4,167m)
May to October, end of November to April is technical winter hiking
Intermediate to advanced
This extended trip will take you past two waterfalls, give views of the Jbel Oukaïmeden range and cross high-alpine passes before making the summit.
Accommodation in Refuges or in tents in summer
Transport to and from Marrakech, hiking starting in Imlil
3 days, up to 12 hours of hiking per day