national parks moroccoWhether you are an eco-tourist or just looking for a break from the crowds of the imperial cities, Morocco’s national parks offer sights and hiking trails for everyone. The country’s parks are home to more than 200 bird species, more than 100 mammal species and plentiful flora. And much like the nation’s cities, each national park offers a unique experience.

1. Toubkal National Park
A visit to this national park is a convenient day trip or overnight escape from Marrakesh. Hiking trails into the High Atlas Mountains vary greatly, with routes suitable for the casual wanderer or the serious trekker. Be sure to take breaks to admire your surroundings as well as the spectacular view of the city. If you’re interested in a challenge, consider a trek that includes climbing Mount Toubkal, North Africa’s highest mountain.

2. Souss-Massa National Park
Along the Atlantic coast near Agadir, this premier bird watching site offers a dramatic mix of dense forests, sandy beaches, rocky cliffs and enormous sand dunes. In a day of hiking, you’ll likely spot ducks, spoonbills, falcons, eagles and warblers, just a few of the park’s many bird varieties. You might even catch a glimpse of the endangered northern bald ibis. There are many other animals in the park as well, including hedgehogs, jackals, weasels, red fox, frogs, geckos and lizards.

3. Lac de Sidi Bourhaba
Another destination for bird watchers, Lac de Sidi Bourhaba is easily accessible from the nation’s capitol of Rabat. The area is built up around a freshwater lake, which is divided by a center causeway. This wetland area attracts several migratory water birds such as warblers, flamingos and godwits. Those looking to slip away from the activity of the capital and unwind can enjoy the secluded walks along the water and even a quiet swim in the lake.

4. Merdja Zerga National Park
Merdja Zerga (Blue Lagoon) is a good place for a quiet boat ride. The park is surrounded by a handful of small villages that live off of agriculture and fishing. To get a local’s perspective on the area, stop by one of these villages on your way to the park – many of the local fishermen will take tourists out in their boats for a reasonable fee. Known for its numerous flamingo colonies, this park is another bird watcher’s paradise. Look for herons, spoonbills, storks and even the rare African marsh owl.

5. Talassemtane National Park
Located in northern Morocco and along the Mediterranean coast, Talassemtane National Park is off the beaten tourist path. It’s a great destination for hikers seeking quiet camping and serene views of hills and streams. The park’s hiking trails take you through the Rif Mountains and the oak, fir, and cedar forests that cover them. The most common starting point for a hike into the area is Chefchaouen, a town just south of the park.

6. National Park of Al-Hoceima
Just to the west of Talassmtane National Park is the National Park of Al-Hoceima, which also offers an abundance of forested hiking trails. The park is renown for its marine habitats, providing a home to dolphins, seals, turtles and waterfowl. If you follow the trails away from the secluded seaside beaches, you’re likely to encounter sporadically placed Berber settlements. You can also expect to see picturesque limestone cliffs, colonies of osprey and Barbary apes.

7. Tazzeka National Park
If your travel itinerary includes a few days in Fez, consider a day trip to the nearby Tazzeka National Park in the Middle Atlas Mountains. The park’s trails wind through open valleys decorated with varieties of colorful wild flowers and hovering cedar and oak forests. The area also has many natural wonders, such as deep canyons, hidden cave systems, babbling streams and gushing waterfalls. This park is yet another popular destination for bird watchers, and if you also watch the ground you’ll notice brightly colored frogs and lizards.

8. Ifrane National Park
Also located in the Middle Atlas Mountains, Ifrane National Park offers a variety of activities for outdoor enthusiasts. Catch your lunch by fishing for trout or pike in the park’s rivers and lakes. Hunting is allowed, and those on the trails in search of game should watch for partridges, boars and hares. In the winter, area ski resorts offer powdery slopes and nearby accommodations. If you prefer to simply take in the sights, a day of hiking should take you to volcanic plateaus, green pastures and cedar forests.

Written by Shelley A. Gable.

Photo by jcb2u.