Jebel Toubkal is a 4.167 metre (13.671 ft) mountain located in the Toubkal National Park in the Atlas mountains of southwestern Morocco. Jebel Toubkal is an ultra prominent peak (3.755 m / 12.320 ft of prominence) and the highest mountain in Northern Africa. It’s an awesome destination for hikers who want to hike a real mountain, but who wants to stay away from the most obvious tourist traps, like Kilimanjaro. I hiked Jebel Toubkal in October 2014.
Where: The Atlas Mountains of Morocco
Starting point: Imlil
Length: 27 km (17 miles) roundtrip
Elevation gain: 2.427 m (7.963 ft)
Time required: 2-3 days
When to hike: spring, summer, fall
How to get there
Fly in to Casablanca (CMN), the biggest airport in Morocco, then catch a train to Marrakesh. It’s also possible to fly directly to Marrakesh (RAK). From Marrakesh there is a 67 km / 1,5 hour drive to the village of Imlil where the hike starts. The easiest way to get to Imlil is to catch “grand taxi” from any of the taxi stands in Marrakesh. The price is negotiable, but 30 to 50 EUR per taxi seems to be the standard. Prepare to haggle. When returning to Marrakesh just hang around Imlil and waive down one of the taxis that have just dropped people off and are looking for a return trip to Marrakesh.
From the village of Imlil there’s a 13,5 km hike to the summit of Jebel Toubkal. The trail follows the valley south for 10,5 km up to Refuge du Toubkal shelter, then there’s a 3 km ascent/scramble East up to the summit. A lot of hikers do Jebel Toubkal as a three day trip: hike to Refuge du Toubkal the first day, summit the mountain and return to the refuge the second day, then return to Imlil on the third day.
I hiked from Imlil to the summit of Jebel Toubkal in one day, then returned to Imlil and Marrakesh the next day. I would characterize the hike as moderate with some strenuous ascents and descents. Cold temperatures at night and sections of scree were my biggest hurdles.
Jebel Toubkal is best hiked from late spring through autumn (April through October/November) when there’s little to no snow. If you are sensitive to heat you might also want to stay away during the middle of summer. I hiked Jebel Toubkal in late October and experienced freezing temperatures at night, but no snow.
Due to the high altitude and alpine climate it is very important to be prepared for freezing temperatures, snow, rain and wind, as well as for sun protection. I carried my standard 3-season set-up at the time, a set-up similar to what I carried on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2012. I camped on the summit of Jebel Toubkal, which turned out to be a cold experience. I wish I had a warmer sleeping bag, but other than that I was fine. I hiked in Brooks Cascadia trail-runners. Beware that there is a fair amount of scree and loose rock on the section from Refuge du Toubkal to the summit. If you need extra ankle support proper hiking boots would be better.
Useful tips for hiking Jebel Toubkal
Morocco is one a country where the Arabic world meets the Western world. In many ways Morocco is a modern country with 21st century infrastructure and a culture influenced by the West. Yes, media sells californication, also in Morocco. There are regional differences though. Casablanca comes off as a modern, western city while Marrakesh comes off as more of a domestic and traditional Arabic/Berber city. As an end-of-the-road village Imlil only has limited services (food and some lodging).
Arabic, Berber and French are the official languages in Morocco, but I was able to get by speaking English.
Wifi was available at all the hotels that I stayed in, both in Marrakesh and Casablanca. I was able to connect to the cellular network using my Norwegian phone and SIM card, but because of the high roaming costs I never used it.
I carried chlorine dioxide tablets for water purification, but as soon as I got up above the villages I just drank the water straight out of the streams.
The Atlas Mountains used to be home of some of the biggest lions in the world, the Barbary Lion, but that is now extinct. There are no big animals to worry about when hiking Jebel Toubkal. Snakes, spiders and scorpions can be encountered in the lower areas, in the valley around Imlil, but I never saw any.
No permit was required to hike Jebel Toubkal in 2014.
I never felt the need to fear for my safety while in Morocco. If anything the biggest threat to my safety was the taxi ride to and from Imlil.