The Atlas Mountains
With snow-capped peaks, lush valleys & traditional mud-built Berber villages, the Atlas Mountains offer superb trekking and a wonderful respite from the madness, heat and noise of Marrakech. Read on for our guide to accommodation in the Atlas Mountains, trekking options and weather.
The High Atlas Mountains are the most easily reached section of the Atlas Mountains and arguably the most spectacular, the High Atlas Mountains, are only a 2 hr drive from Marrakech centred around the trail head town of Imlil and peak of Toubkal. This guide is primarily concerned with this area.
The area can be reached in a (long) day trip from Marrakech. However given the 2 hr drive each way, we would rather recommend staying overnight. Multi-day treks are a wonderful way to experience the landscape and traditional Berber culture, or you can simply relax on the rooftop terrace of a charming mountain guesthouse and take in the views over a good book and a few gentle short walks.
Accommodation in the High Atlas Mountains
Since the arrival of the (deservedly) legendary Kasbah Du Toubkal, the Atlas Mountains have built a reputation for indulgent and stylish hotels. Kasbah Bab Ourika stands out for pure indulgence and majestic situation. Douar Samra wins the charm award hands down with a wonderfully earthy rambling village property with a just-so shabby chic. And whilst the Kasbah Du Toubkal is more expensive, the superb terraces, lounges and views pull together to create an superb stay.
Hotels are clustered around three broad areas, the Ourika Valley, Ouirgane and Imlil. The Ourika Valley is closest to Marrakech located in the foothills of the Atlas range. It is an incredibly picturesque valley, but is much more densely populated and heavily frequented by tourist coaches with less good walking options. Generally speaking we don't recommend this area with the exception of Kasbah Bab Ourika, a very high class boutique hotel that occupies a prominent hill in the heart of the valley. The Ouirgane area has a number of good options including the superb Domain Malika. However, if you are trying to avoid the heat of summer and or you are keen on walking then the Imlil area is our favoured choice, the scenery is most dramatic, temperatures are a little cooler and the village is at the heart of a wonderful network of walking trails.
Trekking in the High Atlas Mountains
Basing yourself in a hotel (or even on a day trip from Marrakech) there are several good day walks possible in the Imlil area and the near-bye Ouirgane National Park. The area around Imlil offers walks to neighbouring high passes or up to the shrine on the main trail to Toubkal, whilst Ouirgane and Ourika offer less dramatic more low key scenery and gentler walking. See here for our guide to trekking in the Atlas Mountains with children
A nicely balanced itinerary might include 2 to 3 nights in Douar Samra (or Kasbah Du Toubkal if you can afford it) with one or two day walks and plenty of time to soak up the views from the roof terraces and gardens. It is quite feasible to walk on your own, but trails aren’t marked and guides are very good, relatively in-expensive and highly recommended.
A multi-day trek really is the best way to experience the mountains. Most hotels reside in relatively modernised villages, but on a multi-day trek you can explore more traditional mud-built Berber villages, some beautiful valleys and high mountain scenery. All our multi-day treks include a guide, cook (who will prepare a cooked picnic lunch on the trail, dinners and breakfast all from delicious fresh ingredients) and mules to carry your gear.
Two to three day valleys and villages treks are not dis-similar to the concept of a Nepalese tea-house trek. These treks are designed with a lighter itinerary (typically 5-6 hrs max walking per day), stay overnight in traditional village gites and where possible your guide will take you for tea in a village home. These treks avoid the more difficult high passes staying below 3000m, making them perfect for winter and for those whose primary objective is enjoyment rather than testing peaks and passes. We tend to focus most of our valleys treks around the Azzaden and D'knt Valleys as the combination of scenery, varied trails and traditional villages is hard to beat. We have recently discontinued the traverse trek from Imlil to Ourika Valley traverse, because a recent road has been built along most of the route.
Toubkal can be climbed on treks from 2 days up to 6. We don’t recommend the 2 day route as it heads up and back down via the same, over-trafficked route. In three days, you can summit Toubkal and enjoy the wonderful scenery of the Azzaden Valley. In four or five days, there is also time to explore the more remote valleys and villages. The 6 day Toubkal Circuit is the ultimate Atlas Mountain trek, taking a broad circle around Toubkal, reaching the remote and striking high alpine areas around Lak D’Ifni.
It is worth noting that you will need a good sleeping bag (it gets cold at night at altitude), waterproofs and good walking shoes or boots if you are planning on going on a multi-day trek.
Accommodation on multi-day treks usually involves some combination of camping, village gites (guesthouses) and mountain huts (where necessary). Gites are traditional village homes that serve as an inn for guests and can be a wonderful cultural experience. Rooms are very simple and there are bare bones shared bathrooms. If you’d rather not experience the shared facilities, then we can offer two to three day treks staying at the Azzaden trekking lodge, a three (en-suite) bedroom village outpost of the Kasbah Du Toubkal in the Azzaden Valley.
- #1. See our collection of treks in the Atlas Mountains: Trekking in the Atlas Mountains
- #2. See our guide to climbing Toubkal: Guide to climbing Toubkal
- #3. See details of accommodation on trek in the Atlas Mountains: Gites, huts and camping in the Atlas Mountains
- #4. See a customer's detailed review of the Toubkal Circuit Customer’s account of a Toubkal Circuit trek
Weather in the Atlas Mountains
The Atlas Mountains offer a typically warm, dry and sunny climate that makes them a perfect year-round destination. However trekkers need to be aware of snow and freezing temperatures at high altitudes in winter:
Spring (April - May) & Autumn (Sep - October) are unarguably the optimum time to visit, with perfect temperatures and the added bonus of spring growth and autumn colours.
Summer (July - August): In summer the high Atlas Mountains offer a cool respite from the 40 degrees C plus temperatures in Marrakech. The valleys of the High Atlas around Imlil typically experience temperatures in the range of low 30 degrees C during the height of the day, with the lower altitudes of the Ourika Valley and Ouirgane National Park hotter (often too hot for walking). There is a risk of afternoon thunder storms and heavy rain.
Winter:(November - March): Expect mild day time temperatures (10-20 degrees C), cooler night-time temperatures (down to 5 degrees at Imlil, and well below zero at altitude on Toubkal) with the high passes and peaks thick with snow cover. If you are planning a multi day trek, please note that during these months, crampons and ice axes are required for any treks above 3000m.
- #1. See our guide to trekking in the Atlas Mountains in winter: winter trekking in the Atlas Mountains
- #2. Detailed forecast for Imlil and Toubkal: Mountain Weather Forecast