Hiking at Serra da Estrela? The perfect hideout from the summer heat and tourist crowds exploring the coast and popular historic cities in Portugal. For adventurous souls, this National park is hiding plenty of gems to explore in silence and solitude. Mountains of stars are packed with glacial valleys, deep ravines, also cold mountain streams with deep blue lakes.
Download GPS file with waypoints and route to Your device HERE
Introduction to Serra da Estrela
Serra da Estrela means literally a „Mountains of Stars“. The natural park located in central Portugal stretching between towns Guarda and Viseu. Over 50 kilometers long and 20 kilometers wide with an area of 1010 km². The mountain range is a high alpine valley without trees and deep valleys. It´s also a starting point for some of the country´s most important rivers Mondego and Zêzere. Also is the highest mountain range with the highest peak Torre (1993m) of the Portuguese mainland.
There are over 400 kilometers of marked hiking trails in Serra da Estrela and uncountable length of unmarked trails. This makes the area very attractive to all hikers. You can find also a huge network of trails for mountain bikers, runners or any adventure seekers. Because of its abundance for boulders almost everywhere on the high plateau, the area is very popular for bouldering. Thanks to granite composition there are plenty of climbing routes. The most spectacular climbing route leads from the Vale Glaciar do Zêzere to Cantaro Magro (1928m). There is also the only skiing center of Portugal for winter sports lovers. You can find a couple of skiing lifts at the Torre mountain.
Best time to visit Serra da Estrela
In general, there is any time of the year You will make a mistake. In the summertime, the mountain range is of course much more crowded then offseason. People are hiding here from enormous heat in lowlands. As well as from crowded tourist attractions on the coast.
In the wintertime, there might be snow sometimes. Anyways I´ve visited the area in January and complete mountains were free of snow with pleasant 16°C. So in my eyes, any time of the year is great for some activity. Just check the weather before You came as rains can be very strong in Portugal.
How to get there?
- By Air: The nearest international airport is in Porto (OPO).
- By car: The best and the most convenient way to reach Serra da Estrela. From Porto, You can drive on the highway up to Viseu or even further to Mangualde. From there last, approximately 40-50 kilometers are one hour drive to the heart of Serra da Estrela. In total from Porto expect 2,5 hours to arrive at Manteigas. The highway toll is 0,10 EUR/km for personal cars.
- By Bus: It´s relatively hard to get to any place to Serra da Estrella by bus. It’s a remote and sparsely populated area. If You want to reach the regional center Manteigas. There are two buses each weekday from Guarda, one from Covihã. Forget buses from any other bigger towns on the western or northern foot of the mountain range. The taxis are still the only way of transport for those who have no car.
Where to stay?
- Hotel or Appartments: Natural center and the most convenient and beautiful town of Serra da Estrela is Manteigas. There are plenty of offers ranging from 30 EUR to over 100 EUR per person per night. Also, plenty of opportunities are on the eastern slopes of Serra da Estrela
- Camping: There couple of official campings for pitching a tent or park your RV in the area. Check the map above to get locations or download the GPS file HERE.
- Free Camping: Wild camping is generally forbidden in Portugal. Nevertheless, I´ve slept plenty of times outside here as well as in the camper van and I never had any issue. See the map linked in this post or download the GPS file to get some inspiration for overnight spots. You can also visit iOverlander where I´m inserting interesting and beautiful free camping spots.
- Tent: Serra da Estrela is a great place for outdoor sleeping. Feel free to pitch a tent everywhere You like while hiking Serra da Estrela! Just keep the place clean after you leave.
Serra da Estrela hiking
Torre mountain (1993m)
Portuguese highest peak in mainland with height 1993 m.a.s.l. is definitely a place to visit while You are hiking in Serra da Estrela. Unfortunately, there is nothing spectacular and rewarding while we came here. Because of the wide high-quality road which leads to the top the mountain itself is accessible by any motorized vehicle. That fact makes the peak less attractive and more visited. Personally I don’t like this, but at least the road from both sides is very enjoyable for enthusiast drivers.
The peak is home for Portuguese only skiing centers in the country and it´s not a joke. Even I was laughing while being there it´s a reality. At the end of January, I had a lovely 15 °C as well as the bright sky. Unfortunately, I’ve seen only a tiny patch of snow. Even building a snowman was a problem. What I can recommend is buying cheese from local production on the top of the peak which is delicious.
The peak itself has not-so steep slopes, so it´s easy to climb from every direction. I can recommend climbing from northern slope around lakes Lagoa do Serrano and Lagoa do Covao de Quelhas. Then follow the skiing slopes up to the peak of the Torre. During bright days enjoy the views of Serra da Estrela as well as the coastline of Atlantic ocean. The summit is decorated by an obelisk and ugly old observatory.
Cantaro Magro (1928m)
Probably the most spectacular and iconic mountain of Serra da Estrela. You will get the best views of the peak from the Valley of glaciers from Covao d´Ametade. Here the important river Zêzere starts as well as the very famous climbing route. Only well-trained climbers should attempt, as the eastern face of the mountain is considered as the most difficult climbing route in Serra da Estrela. Please study some climbing guides and prepare for the strenuous real climb.
For those who still want to climb Cantaro Magro without climbing experience, I have a much easier alternative. Drive the road towards The Torre peak and stop on a small parking lot just under the summit. Even from here the Cantaro Magro peak looks really inaccessible. Despite it is not easy to hike it´s still possible.
Go down from the road to the pass under the peak. Follow closely the narrow unobvious path between the wall and the edge of the cliff on the right side of the mountain. Be very cautious and use both hands to hold Yourself. The cliff You´ve seen from the valley of Glaciers is the one You do not want to fall off. After some time You will reach steep stairs. Once You pass, turn left almost 180° and follow the narrow couloir to the top. Also, this section is not the safest, but there are good holding points and some more space.
Take a deep breath and go to the edge towards the glacial valley and look down. If You look deep enough you may also see a car fallen down from the road You were just driving.
There is also a nice and easy hike starting from Covao d´Ametade into the valley. There are another two glacial lakes upstream the Rio Zêzere. You will not only experience stepping on the glacier bed which was flowing here many years ago. But also enjoy spectacular views of the Eastern face of Cantaro Magro (1928m). Here in the upper part of the valley, the famous Portugees river Rio Zêzere is starting its journey. You have the chance to follow it to its inception.
The start of the trail is from the parking on the hairpin in the valley of Glaciers. You will recognize the place by only birch trees in the area. It´s advisable to spend some time enjoying the reflection of bending trees above the stream of Rio Zêzere. Continue upstream the valley and you will find another two small glacial lakes. It´s a very pleasant and easy hike with really nice views of the surrounding mountains.
Alto da Pedrice (1758m)
It´s a perfect place to see the entire altiplano of Serra da Estrela as well as the highest peak Torre. Also, You have a chance to see nearby lake Lago do Viriato and entire long and wild south valley. You will recognize the peak from a far distance. it has a white obelisk on the top of the rock at the summit.
The best place to start hiking is from the parking lot at the road junction of the one from Manteigas and Covilha. The climb itself is relatively easy and nothing to worry about. In the beginning, You will walk on the gravel road. Very soon it turns left to the steep rocky path leading to the top. As long as You will reach the peak enjoy all the solitude and distant views of nature. Enjoy the entire surrounding from one spot as well as views to the near water reservoir.
Poios Brancos (1704m)
Despite this is more an altiplano highest point I have to list it here! It´s definitely a unique place to visit while hiking Serra da Estrela. If You are wishing to see the iconic face of Cantaro Magro or the highest peak Torre as well as the deep views to the valley of glaciers this peak is for You.
Start the hike from the same junction as you were starting the hike to Alto da Pedrice. The junction of roads coming from Manteigas and Covilha. During this 2,5 kilometers hike, You will walk mostly on a leveled path on the wast altiplano. Boulders everywhere that´s how You can describe the hike to Poios Brancos. Rounded ones, squared ones, tall ones, short ones, straight ones and also shaped ones. All imaginable shapes of boulders are here, so it´s a heaven for every hobby climber of a skilled boulderer.
You will also have to become a climber as the summit of Poios Brancos is placed on a huge boulder. Find Yourself the most suitable route to the top as there are plenty with a different level of difficulty.
Curral da Nave
For boulder lovers, this is a must-do hike! Either there is a nice round hike starting in the Valley in the town Manteigas. This hike is approximately 14 km round trip with 750 meters ascend. For those who are lazy, the option is also to drive a bit higher. Park the car just a few hundreds of meters below the Curral da nave. The offroad seems not to be forbidden. It´s an option to drive on the gravel road to the top as well.
The altiplano on the top of the peak is full of boulders where every adventure seeker can find some fun. For campers who have good clearance, it´s possible to drive up (See the map above). You can camp here and enjoy wonderful skies full of start on Serra da Estrela.
Poço do Inferno
The last, but not least is the trip to Serra da Estrela’s most well-known waterfall Poco do Inferno. This Gem of Portuguese Mountains of stars is actually a cascade of waterfalls. As it´s hidden in the deep valley on the northern slope you will always find comfortable temperatures.
I recommend taking a very pleasant 11 km long hike from Manteigas to the waterfall and back. The trail leads mostly in the forest and luckily the place is very quiet and private. Take lunch with You to enjoy some of the nice stops on the way for a picnic.
Farewell to hiking in Serra da Estrela
Did You like hiking in Serra da Estrela and did you have a good rest out of beaten Path in Portugal? In case you did please leave some comments below, or in case you are missing any information or You wish to add anything don’t hesitate and contact us.
If you like Portugal check our other posts from travels around Portugal. There is also a very similar adventure not far from here in Spain like Climbing Pedraforca or Monserrat in Catalonia. Which can be a good inspiration for the next hikes.