Spain is undoubtedly one of the best countries in the world for trail running. It was hard to come up with a short list of the best places for trail running in Spain, but if you’re planning a visit in the future then the towns and regions that made our list will not disappoint even the most experienced trail runner when it comes to sheer beauty and technicality. As the second-most mountainous country in Europe (second only to Switzerland), Spain offers loads of choice for trail runners and those looking to get out adventuring in beautiful mountain terrain.
Spain has been hit hard by the global Coronavirus pandemic. Once all this has passed (and it will), I hope that people with the means to do so don’t hold back on planning an epic trail running adventure to Spain, which will not only be an awesome trip, but the tourism will go some way to contributing towards the local region’s economy.
Having spent a large amount of time growing up in Spain, as well as visiting multiple times for trail running and adventures, we have pooled our knowledge and experience to come up with the definitive top five best places for trail running in Spain, that you can visit for a runcation vacation or to challenge yourself on a local trail running race!
1. The Pyrenees, North-Eastern Spain
Why are the Pyrenees so great for trail running?
The Pyrenees mountain range spans from East to West along the north-west edge of Spain, separating it from southern France. At 415km / 260 miles long, and elevations that can go over 10,000ft / 3,000 metres, there is plenty of challenging mountain terrain to explore.
There are many popular local as well as well-known mountain running races held in the Spanish Pyrenees, of every distance including ultramarathons longer than 100 miles, if that’s your thing. Otherwise, a high-altitude, technical ‘skyrunning’ distance (around a half-marathon distance, with lots of elevation gain and descent) may be enough of a challenge for most, and you can find plenty of those routes here, too. As the place where Killian Jornet, arguably the world’s greatest mountain runner grew up, you had better bet there’s enough adventure to be had here!
- Typical trail running terrain and conditions – technical mountain trails, high altitude passes, mountain huts and mountain hamlets, through areas including several National Parks, such as Ordesa y Monte Perdido, and Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici.
- Popular local running trails and races – in 2019 UTMB announced their latest race weekend will be held in the Van d’Aran region of the Pyrenees, and we are big fans of the Buff Epic Trail races, which are held each year in the Val de Boi, in Aigüestortes. For more images, read Alastair’s review and race report.
- Climate – the best time of year to visit the Spanish Pyrenees for trail running is from mid-June until mid/late September, depending on the year. From October onwards it can get cool and snow is likely to fall at higher elevations.
- Tourism website – Spain Info and costabrava.org
- Other non-running things to do locally – depending on where in the Pyrenees you intend to visit, you’ll be only a few hour’s drive from Barcelona and the Costa Brava, on the country’s Mediterranean coast. Alternatively, you have lots of options, whether you want to visit some other historic cities, regions, wine country, or head north over the mountains into southern France or the principality of Andorra that sits between the two countries, you’re spoilt for choice in this part of the world.
Traveling to the Pyrenees
The nearest major airport is Barcelona, where you can fly to from international destinations and rent a car, if needed.
Where to stay in the Spanish Pyrenees
Highly-rated accommodation in the area includes:
2. Andalucia and the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Southern Spain
Why is Andalucia a great place to visit for trail running?
Andalucia’s coastal plains, deserts, and a hot Mediterranean climate offer a range of diversity in terrain for trail running.
As well as hotter regions, Andalucia is also home to two national parks, including Spain’s most southerly ski resort, which is located in the Sierra Nevada National Park. While Sierra Nevada translates as ‘snow-covered mountain range’, epic trail running and hiking can be found here year-round, due to the hot climate keeping lower elevations snow-free and with mild temperatures well-suited to winter training.
- Typical trail running terrain and conditions – Trails range from modest elevation up to altitudes in excess of 10,000ft / 3,000m, meaning you can get some good high-altitude training in most of the year, and they range from buffed to very technical. There’s definitely some similarities with the trails in California, a hybrid between parts of Marin and the Lake Tahoe mountains.
- Popular local running trails and races – the Ultra Sierra Nevada is a 100km race in this area, and the same event also hosts shorter ‘Trail’ and ‘Marathon’ distance races the same weekend. As trail markings can be inconsistent, and you don’t want to get lost in the high mountains and given the potential for both freezing temperatures and baking hot days, it’s best to explore with a local guide if you’re not running a race, such as Wild Thyme Trail Running.
- Climate – with 300 days of sunshine a year and summer temperatures heating up to over 100F / 40C as well as mild winter temperatures (assuming you’re not at higher elevations), this is some of the warmest and sunniest mountain running in Europe.
- Tourism website – Andalucia.org
- Other non-running things to do locally – head to the coast to soak up the Costa del Sol’s marina and beach vibes – the Malaga Coastal Path includes 110 miles / 180km of coastal trails to explore. Further afield, check out Jerez de la Frontera, Cordoba, Seville, or the British colony of Gibraltar on the southernmost tip of the peninsula.
Traveling to the Sierra Nevada, Spain
The nearest major airport is Malaga, which is around 1 hour’s drive from the Sierra Nevada. Depending on where you are traveling from, you could also look at flying in to Granada’s smaller, local airport.
Where to stay in the Sierra Nevada
A good place to stay with city amenities and sights is the beautiful historic city of Granada. Alternatively you can stay closer to the Sierra Nevada ski resort to be nearer higher-altitude mountains, in smaller hotels, bed and breakfasts and guesthouses. Highly-rated accommodation in the area includes:
- Catalonia Granada Hotel
- Finca Aldabra – this country house is in the mountains, near Granada
- Casa Morisca, Granada
3. The Canary Islands, particularly Gran Canaria and La Palma
The Canary Islands are a group of volcanic Spanish islands that sit further south than mainland Spain – they’re actually much closer to Africa and are located in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of southern Morocco.
Why are the Canary Islands a great place to visit for trail running?
For many, especially if you’re in Europe, it is typical to assume that most people visit the Canary Islands for warm weather in winter, and to spend time along the coast of the islands. However, in our opinion, you need to head inland to experience the true beauty and adventurous trail running these islands have to offer.
The Canary Islands are made up of eight major islands and several smaller islands and rocks, however the two that we are most familiar with when it comes to trail running vacations are Gran Canaria and La Palma. Other islands popular with athletes are Tenerife and Lanzarote. Tenerife is home to Mt Teide, the tallest mountain in Spain (at 3,718m / 12,200ft above sea level), and Lanzarote is a well-know place for triathetes and road cyclists to spend winters training.
- Typical trail running terrain and conditions – The trails in the Canary Islands vary depending which island you visit and which part of the island you are running in. At higher altitudes in Gran Canaria, for example, the trails are forested singletrack, but this can quickly become dry, sandy trails and then technical rocky terrain.
- Popular local running trails and races – Gran Canaria and La Palma host two of the most famous trail running races in Spain: Transgrancanaria and Transvulcania. While the headline races are both ultramarathons, they both host shorter distance races on the same weekend. Our first marathon was in fact the Transgrancanaria marathon. The Canary Islands tourism website also lists trails on all of the main islands that are good for trail running.
- Climate – the Canary Islands have a tropical and desert-like climate (they’re only 60 miles / 100km away from the western Sahara desert) but they are cooled off by cool Atlantic ocean breezes. This means that the average temperatures are warm all year around, average highs in summer are around 27C / 80F and lows in winter around 15C / 60F.
- Tourism website – Canary Islands tourism website
- Other non-running things to do locally – Being popular vacation hotspots there is plenty to do when you’re not trail running, including opportunities for incredible photography, exploring local villages and restaurants, and watersports.
Traveling to the Canary Islands
Each major Canary Island has its own airport, and you can fly direct from other places within Europe. If visiting from the US you’ll likely need to change planes in either London, Madrid or another major international hub in Europe.
Where to stay in the Canary Islands
Where to stay when visiting – Being popular tourist destinations, there is a lot of choice when it comes to hotels and other accommodation in the Canary Islands, especially on the coast.
In Gran Canaria, the two most popular places to stay are Maspalomas / Playa del Ingles and Las Palmas, and these locations are where the larger resort-style hotels are. If you prefer a mountain retreat then there are a few options inland and you could also look at vacation rentals. Some highly-rated Gran Canaria accommodation options:
- Hotel Riu Palace, Maspalomas
- Hotel Parque Tropical, Playa del Ingles
- Hotel Rural Fonda de la Tea, Tejeda – this hotel is right in the center of Gran Canaria island, surrounded by mountains (those mountains shown in our photo, above), so could be a better option if you prefer to get away from the more resort-focused areas.
4. Mallorca, Balearic Islands
Mallorca is one of the Balearic Islands, which sit off the coast of Spain in the Mediterranean Sea, and has been popular with trail runners and other mountain athletes for many years, as well as being a popular European tourist destination for those who prefer their beach vacations.
Why is Mallorca a great place for a trail running vacation?
Mallorca is a warm-weather trail runner’s paradise! It is rocky, mountainous, and has many mountain and coastal trails to explore. Because the island is not too large, it’s easy to explore on a vacation, as well as find places to stay, eat and drink nearby. The more mountainous areas are in the north of the island, with the highest accessible peak being 1367m/4484ft above sea level. It is also a popular place for road cyclists and triathletes to live and train, either year round or through winter.
- Typical trail running terrain and conditions – while there is plenty of climbing to be done, you’re at a low altitude compared to some of the other great places to run in Spain. Trails are generally well-marked, maintained, and rocky, and you have the choice of mountain running or easier coastal paths.
- Popular local running trails and races – Mallorca has loads of local mountain running races, which tend to be very popular so worth researching based on when you would go. Otherwise, as hiking is a popular thing to do here, the hiking trails make good running trails, especially if you go early in the day when they’re quieter. The Valldemossa Trail Loop (around 8.8 miles) is a challenging mountain loop to run, starting and finishing in the pretty town of Valldemossa. There are also many trails starting from the town of Soller, that pass through neighboring villages and those that head towards the coast and its coves. Runmallorca.com can take you on guided trail runs in the area, or help you put together a running package.
- Climate – similar to the Costa Brava – you can have pleasant weather year-round, with only a few rain storms, and summer months tend to be the hottest and busiest.
- Tourism website – Spain Tourism – Balearics
- Other non-running things to do locally – take your pick – everything from golf to cycling, shopping, swimming and wine tasting.
Traveling to Mallorca
You can fly direct to Palma, Mallorca, from other places within Europe. If visiting from the US you’ll likely need to change planes in either London, Madrid or another major international hub in Europe. Don’t get the city of Palma, Mallorca, confused with the island of La Palma in the Canary Islands, though!
Where to stay in Mallorca
Where to stay when visiting – Being a popular tourist destination, there is a lot of choice when it comes to hotels and other accommodation in Mallorca especially on the coast.
Our personal recommendation is to look at the northern part of the island, in and around Pollenca, as this is close to the mountains which are so great to run in.
5. Costa Brava, the Mediterranean Coast
Why is the Costa Brava a great trail running destination?
Beautiful coastal scenery, fresh sea breezes and challenging hilly terrain – there’s a lot here to explore. Costa Brava and the Pyrenees could easily be visited in the same vacation, to get both the high technical mountain terrain, and the more mellow buffed trails and singletrack closer to the ocean.
Fueling our runs is also important, and Costa Brava, along with the rest of the country, certainly does not disappoint, you’ll eat and drink well here!
- Typical trail running terrain and conditions – Diverse trails, from ancient coastal paths to scrubbier terrain inland. Although not the mountains, there’s plenty of opportunity to get some hills in your legs.
- Popular local running trails and races – The Costa Brava is home to the 334 miles / 538km long-distance hiking trail GR92, which runs along the coast from the border with France, down to 125 miles / 200km south of Barcelona. Spectacular sections include the area to the north near the Aiguamolls de l’Empordà nature park, and the section between Begur and Palafrugell. Inland from the coast, natural parks that are great for hiking and trail running include Montseny Mountain Range and the La Garrotxa Natural Park. Runningcostabrava.com have been offering running tours and vacations in the area for many years.
- Climate – The weather on the coast can be cooler than inland, but it is generally mild year-round, dropping to an average of low of 50F/9C in winter months and up to an average high of 85F/29C in summer. Sea breeze helps keep you cool, but the best months to run here are likely to be up to June or September onwards, to avoid the two hottest months.
- Tourism website – costabrava.org
- Other non-running things to do locally – Similar to Mallorca, as the Costa Brava is popular with a wide range of people of ages and interests, you name it and you can probably do it here!
Traveling to the Costa Brava
YOu can fly direct to Barcelona or Girona airports from other places within Europe. If visiting from the US you’ll likely need to change planes in either London, Madrid or another major international hub in Europe, unless you can fly directly into Barcelona – there are a few direct options at the time of writing.
Where to stay on the Costa Brava
Costa Brava is another very popular tourist destination, for all types of visitors, and it’s a large region so you’re spoilt for choice. For a city stay, Barcelona is an obvious choice, otherwise we would choose a small village or town with a more relaxed, local vibe – it really depends what you enjoy as there is so much choice there’s something for everyone. Here is a selection of three highly-rated hotels in the region: