We made a day trip to the top of Tenerife and hiked in the moon landscape of Mount Teide National Park. This became a great family day out up at 2000 meters and a drive to remember.
The beaches are what most tourists come for to Tenerife but try to leave them at least for a day. Driving to Mount Teide by car is a highlight of any trip to Tenerife.
Tenerife is one of the seven Canary Islands off the African coast, next to the Tropic of Cancer and three hours bu plane from Spain. All islands have volcanic origins but Tenerife is the one where you most clearly feel it. And Tenerife has the biggest volcano, Mount Teide, 3718 m.
Roques de Garcia hike with children, Mount Teide by car
Mount Teide has a huge caldera below it, a nature wonder designed by lava flows during millions of years. It’s a collapsed crater of a still higher volcano that blew in the air. The caldera contains strange rocks, large stretches of black lava and colored stones in different shades.
The caldera was a sacred place for the Guanches, the original people of the Canaries. Today it is a both national park and on the UNESCO World Heritage list and a popular day trip destination.
We rented a car and went to see what Parque Nacional del Teide, Mount Teide National Park is like. I will show you our Mount Teide drive but will first tell about Mount Teide.
Mount Teide on the Top of Tenerife
Mount Teide, 3718 m above sea level
The 3718 m high volcano Mount Teide is in the center of the holiday island and divides it in two: the green north and the dry south. Teide is not only the highest peak of the Canaries but also the highest mountain in Spain, and it’s the third largest volcano in the world.
But that’s not the whole truth. The massive volcano continues below the water line so that its total height from the ocean floor is 7500 m. That compares to the Himalayas.
Mount Teide and smaller volcanoes
Teide is a sleeping volcano and not the only one on the island.
Tenerife volcanoes have been quiet for more than a hundred years now, the last eruption was in 1909. Until that there was activity about once in a century, sometimes even more. The eruptions have formed the island and so will the next one that nobody knows when its time will be.
So the volcanic landscape around El Teide is a place to visit – and a place to hike.
Hiking in the moon landscape of Mount Teide National Park
Mount Teide National Park
Mount Teide National Park in the caldera of an ancient volcano
There are not many national parks that are located in a crater. The Mount Teide caldera was formed 3 million years ago when another, still higher, volcano exploded. It must have been a huge one as the caldera’s walls are 16 km apart and 500 m high.
Whatever happened we today have this sheltered plain at 2000 m – and all these strange rock formations.
Las Canadas crater, 2000 m above sea level
This sunny plain is isolated from the rest of the island and has its own flora and fauna. It also has its own stones in different colors, jade green, turquoise and blue. The color and glitter comes from iron, copper and other minerals that these volcanic rocks contain.
Flora of Parque Nacional del Teide
Green rock of the national park
Day Trip to Mount Teide by Car
So we made a day trip by car to this stunning place, with the family. We were four adults and four children from 1 to 7 years and as always we were driving with two cars. We don’t fit in one car so we always rent two.
This all became a mini adventure and one of our Tenerife highlights that our one year olds won’t remember – but we others will. Fantastic nature, strange stones, mountains above clouds, moon landscape and sandy paths – and a self-made picnic lunch on our 3,5 km hike.
On the top of Tenerife: Mount Teide by car
We started from South Tenerife where we were staying. Here is our driving itinerary on the map:
Mount Teide by Car: Itinerary on the Map
There are two routes to choose from south coast resorts and two from the north. The drive is not long, one hour one way without stops. Mount Teide is an easy trip and doesn’t require much sitting in the car.
We took the road from Los Cristianos in the morning and came down to Tamaimo and Chio in the evening. The reason was that we wanted to have get the morning sun on the way up and evening sun on the way down. Driving the opposite way would mean more shade.
Tenerife Sur to Mount Teide by Car
Playa de las Americas and Los Cristianos after a 15 minute drive
The road climbs up and makes hairpin bends. The first village is Arona which looks like a place we could even stay at. So close to the coast and so original compared to the resorts lower down.
From Arona there are two alternative routes. We took the smaller side road which was narrow and a bit scary in places but what was positive there was no meeting traffic. The scenery was fantastic.
Driving to Mount Teide
Later on came the vineyards, tomato fields and almond trees in flower. In certain places all trees had dropped their leaves, it was winter. Then came the pine forests and after them the lava fields.
This is El Pino Gordo, a giant pine tree and a local sight. It’s just north of Vilaflor. Vilaflor is at 1400 m and the highest village in the Canaries and we keep on climbing…
El Pino Gordo, Tenerife
The huge pine trees are Canary Island pines and they have giant cones. As soon the kids saw how big the cones were they wanted pick them from the roadside. So big cones compared to what we have back home!
In Parque Nacional del Teide
Driving in the moon landscape of Mount Teide
So we entered the moon landscape through Boca de Tauce. As there’s only one road through the caldera you don’t have to wonder which road to take. Only one road but many hiking trails criss-crossing the valley.
The meeting point in center of the valley is a hotel, restaurant and tourist information point, the Parador las Canadas del Teide. It’s the only hotel in the national park, state owned and popular among hikers. If you want to book do that well in advance. You can do it here: Paradores de Turismo.
There’s also another visitor center but that’s on the north side of the park where you enter from Puerto de la Cruz.
Visiting Mount Teide by car
The plateau is at 2000 m and Mount Teide rises beyond it. To get to the top of El Teide you can climb along a marked route, a demanding hike that takes hours – or pay and take the cable car almost to the top. The cable car takes you from 2300 to 3500 m and there are always long queues. If you want to skip the queues pre-book your ride. To do that check out the Volcano Teide website.
But our interest was not the cable car, we are hikers and even the small ones are learning to hike.
Hiking in Mount Teide National Park
What kind of hikes are there? Many, and different, you just have to know.
Mount Teide National Park has 21 walks the shortest of which is 600 m and the longest 17 km. They are self-guided walks and well marked on the park map.
Mount Teide National Park Hiking Map
This is Mount Teide hiking map where the routes are numbered and marked with red. The scenic spots are marked with binoculars.
Map of Mount Teide National Park (Source: Gobierno de Canarias Parques Nacionales)
The hiking routes of the map are explained on the Gobierno de Canarias Parques Nacionales website: Gobierno de Canarias, Teide Hiking Routes.
So we had to choose a hike. Climbing Mount Teide is definitely not a family hike so we took one of the short ones, the one we believed was the prettiest. We hiked around the Roques de Garcia.
Roques de Garcia Hike
View from Sendero 3, Roques de Garcia
Roques de Garcia is hike number 3 and starts from the Visitors Centre of El Portillo. The 3,5 km track goes around the impressive row of rocks you can see from all over the valley.
The beginning of the track is flat and accessible but north of the rocks there is a climb where you will need better shoes than flip flops. Turning back south the track is all stones on the way down to the plain Llano de Ucanca from which there is a steep climb to where the track ends.
Here is our Roques de Garcia hike on the map:
Roques de Garcia hike on the map
And here is the hike more in detail:
Walking North: Flat, Accessible Path
Mount Teide by Car: Starting our family hike
As advised we walked counter clockwise so the strange rock formations were all the time on the left hand side. Here we are starting the walk, in sweaters as the air up here is cool. As at 2000 m the sun is strong we are prepared with hats, sunglasses and a lot of sunscreen on our faces.
Hiking Teide National Park with children
The first half of the walk is accessible so you can do this part even with a stroller.
The kids were excited about it all and found many things they liked.
Picking up lava stones
2. Picnic Break
Mount Teide by car: family picnic in the outdoors
After 1,5 km the trail started climbing a little bit and after the climb all children were hungry. That meant it was time for a picnic which we enjoyed sitting on warm lava stones.
Roques de Garcia rock formations
We enjoyed the Alpine sun and super clear skies. Mount Teide National Park mostly has clear skies since the crater is above the clouds that mostly gather between 500 and 1500 m. That’s why the national park also is a perfect stargazing destination.
Believe it or not Mount Teide National Park draws 3,5 million visitors a year which makes it the most visited national park in all Europe. Yet we didn’t see those visitors, being almost alone in the park and on the paths. Maybe all tourists come at the same time. We were visiting just after the Dia de los Reyes that ends one of the main tourist seasons.
Even the smallest ones walked the first part but after the picnic they took their afternoon nap and spent the rest of the walk in rucksacks.
3. Llano de Ucanca
Hiking between volcanic rocks of Teide
It was a perfect afternoon nap timing and carrying the small ones from from now on was good.The track simply was not for them. But with bigger kids it’s different, they loved the rocky trail and left adults far behind.
We came down to the plain – and look at these rocks! Fantastic! No wonder the rocks of Garcia are the most photographed in the national park.
Roques de Garcia rock formations, Tenerife
4. The Final Climb
Sendero 3, Roques de Garcia
Sendero 3 is a loop walk so we came back to where we started. As the air up here is thin the last climb was a bit hard but the kids didn’t notice it, they were still running. We did it!
Of course all kids were hungry again so we took a break at the visitor center before heading back to the coast.
Mount Teide by Car: Back to the Coast
La Gomera and La Palma from the road
The drive down was very scenic, the evening sun was on this side of the island and made the dark lava fields shine even more. The clouds were still far below us and at distance were the neighboring islands La Palma and La Gomera.
The kids slept all the way down and missed the scenic downhill drive. But they didn’t miss the beauty of Mount Teide National Park.
UNESCO listed national park: lava in its all forms
El Teide from the road to Chio and Tamaimo
More about Canary Islands
See my other Canary Island posts: