Morocco’s Haut Atlas Oriental National Park covers 555 square kilometres of territory in the eastern sector of the High Atlas mountains. This section of the high altitude mountain range between Midelt and Er Rachidia was declared a national park in 2005 to protect the Barbary sheep and Cuvier’s gazelle populations, and to preserve the cultural significance of the area.
The national park holds great cultural and traditional value for the Berber community, many of whom live in the High-Atlas Mountains. The outlying village of Imilchil attracts thousands of visitors during the annual Berber marriage festival. The western part of the park comprises twin lakes at the base of the Atlas Mountains, offering fantastic birding opportunities. The centre of the park is hardy mountainous terrain (popular with hikers), while the scenic stepped ridges occupy the east of the park.
The north-facing slopes support dense pockets of wooded montane forests, while the south-facing slopes are open landscapes dotted with low-lying shrubbery. The cedar forests are of great significance as they are the only forests to inhabit such a vast expanse of rocky topography. The High Atlas mountain range is one of the world’s best hiking destinations, and visitors are often treated to sightings of wildlife while summiting. The closest village is Imilchil, and the major tourist destination of Marrakech is only a two-hour drive from this remote destination.
The two most commonly spotted species include the Barbary sheep and Cuvier’s gazelle. Both these species thrive in extreme conditions, which are synonymous with the High Atlas Mountains. The cedar forests support populations of Barbary Macaque, wild boar, fox, golden jackal and other small mammals.
Across the entire range of the national park, there are over 30 species of reptiles and amphibians. There’s prolific birdlife in the national park, in particular around the fringes of the lakes where birders can spot 20 species of waterbirds, some of which includes the greater cormorant and common coot. In total, there are 120 species of bird in the park which include rare specimens such as the booted eagle and the long-legged buzzard.
The High Atlas has varying climatic and temperature conditions. Snow tends to fall during the harsh winters, which is generally from November to April. The higher peaks have longer periods of snow, which can last from September through to June. May and August are good months of the year to visit.
Snow falls between November and April but can last from September to June in the mountain peaks. For a more snow orientated holiday, visitors are encouraged to visit during these colder months. Hiking is best done during autumn and spring.
Trekking through the High Atlas Mountains in pristine terrain teeming with birdlife and local species creates a lifetime of memories. This is one of the world’s premier hiking destinations. The local Berber guides know the mountains and run several guided treks through them. Guides will lead hikers through deep gorges, to observation points around the lakes and introduce visitors to the fascinating life of the Berbers.
Berber communes look like an extension of the landscape and are often seen while trekking through the Atlas region. Most of the more lengthy treks include lunches in these local villages. Visitors who enjoy a challenge, opt to mountain bike along the more well-worn roads and paths through the Atlas mountains. Annually, there is a famous Berber engagement festival in the village of Imilchil. This is part of the cultural heritage of Morocco, and a major drawcard for locals and tourists.
Trekking through the High Atlas Mountains in pristine terrain teeming with birdlife and local species creates a lifetime of memories. This is one of the world’s premier hiking destinations. Agoudim is a Berber commune inside the Haut Atlas National Park and offers a variety of hostels and family stays for visitors to the area. Homestays offer traditional teas, homemade Tajines, couscous and traditional sweet treats.
For a more tourist orientated experience, visitors tend to stay in Imilchil where there are beautiful hotels, inns and guesthouses. Alternatively, Marrakech is just two hours away and offers a powerhouse of accommodation options.