Hiking in the Moroccan High Atlas Mountains

Situated in the Toubkal National Park in the High Atlas Mountains, Jebel Toubkal looms large not just in Morocco as the country’s highest peak but also the highest in northern Africa at 4,167m.  It’s a very ‘doable’ and affordable hike given its proximity to Marrakech, located 63 kms south of the city, and its accessibility in that it can be climbed independently, takes only two days and is largely not too difficult (the final km from the refuge to the summit  is steep and more difficult).

The hike begins in the village of Imlil and there are a few ways to get here from Marrakech, all with varying budgets. Taxis are a dime a dozen round the main square Jemaa el-Fnaa and sit outside the Koutoubia Mosque though for the cheaper grand taxis, you’ll need to head to the Sidi Mimoum Garden (also not far from the square). It’s definitely also worth asking round your Riad or hostel as there may be other people heading through and you could share a taxi.

We had hoped to pick up a map from the info center in Imlil but their maps were pretty useless. and we were forced to rely on the directions in our borrowed Lonely Planet. Finding the trail from town was very tricky but once you do, its a single route up and the directions in the LP were sufficient.

IMG_2977The first day’s walking up to the refuge took some four-five hours and was fairly easy going. While a few sections were quite steep, overall it was a steady up on solid ground. Occasionally rain threatened but thankfully it stayed away and we walked in sunshine most of the day. It was also the nice dry sunshine and not the sticky humid type.

We enjoyed a delicious late breakfast / lunch at the only village we walked through and while the name unfortunately escapes me you cannot miss it – once you cross the dry riverbed of rocks and start heading up you will eventually approach a village and we stopped at the first restaurant before making our way over the bridge.

The path zigzagged steeply after the village for a few 100m’s before the gradient became more gradual and we arrived at the refuge in the late afternoon.

We had booked a dorm bed at one of two refuges – Refuge de Toubkal –  and the dorm-room rate of 30 US$/person included breakfast and dinner. The facilities were clean and basic and the food was hearty and tasty though make sure you bring your own snacks as the refuge’s little shop is very expensive. There were a few people staying at the refuge, both foreign and local, and everyone was in bed straight after dinner.

Many at the refuge were leaving in the middle of the night so as to summit just after sunrise but we decided to be walking by first light. The path was easy to follow and there were quite a few people hiking up. It’s a tough 3-4 hour climb, the start is particularly steep, and at times it’s quite tricky underfoot as you walk on loose scree. We simply took our time and made our way up slowly and carefully.

It was chilly first thing in the morning but once the sun was up it a nice temperature to walk in. It was also quite blustery at times, especially at the summit and though the clouds were around all day, they really moved in as we approached the summit ensuring no more than 10m visibility at the top. We were told, though, that on a clear day you would be able to see Marrakech!

Not much of a view from the summit unfortunately!
Not much of a view from the summit unfortunately!

The clouds gradually parted as we made got lower and we enjoyed beautiful views on our way down. The descent took roughly 2-3 hours and we were back at the refuge in time for a well-needed lunch. From the refuge back to Imlil is easy going, taking no more than roughly 2.5 hours, and we ended a lovely two day hike with a piece of cake and a coffee in town before making our way back to Marrakech.

Enjoying the views on our way down
Enjoying the views on our way down

When to trek?

We climbed in early September which was lovely temperature wise but unfortunately cloudy at the summit and I have read that September or Spring (late March to early May) is best. In theory you could climb all year round though summers would be very hot while in winter (November to February) the mountain would be covered in snow and a skilled guide, crampons and ice axes would be required.

How long?

The trek can comfortably be done in two days though if you had the time, you could very easily spend a second night at the refuge and extend it to three. If you hade more time, there are heaps of other walks to do in the High Atlas range.


Outside of transport to Imlil and accommodation at the refuge, there are no national park fees. Bring your own snacks, though, for the second day.

Can you trek independently?

Absolutely! The trail is easy to follow and given that it is only a two-day trek, you don’t need to be carrying very much. You can also leave any extra items at the refuge when you summit and then collect on your way back.


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