Hikes in UAE
The past year has been game-changing, to say the least. March marks a full year since COVID-19 hit the world, closed borders, and effectively changed the tourism industry. The pandemic has caused people to look inward, to stay indoors, and to stay safe. As vaccination drives are ramping up across the globe, travellers have slowly ventured out, visiting a few countries that have open borders. Within the United Arab Emirates (UAE), tourists and residents alike have turned to explore the country’s natural attractions, as these spots are one of the few safe havens and accessible locations. Going for a hike, or a trek, is a perfect activity during the pandemic – there’s plenty of open space (which makes it perfect for social distancing), and it’s a great way to explore the country while still staying safe. Luckily, the UAE has no shortage in hikes. From the hikes in Hatta to the famed mountain range in Ras Al Khaimah, the UAE is very hike-friendly and is much more than man-made attractions.
Best Hikes in UAE
Wadi Shawka, Ras Al Khaimah
This hike is not as famed as other hiking trails in the UAE, but is still a favourite amongst local hikers in the region, and is a great hidden gem to discover. Though it is in Ras Al Khaimah, it’s about an hour’s drive from downtown Dubai, and is a perfect start for beginners, or for people who want to have a light trekking experience during a holiday. The Wadi Shawka hike is a perfect introduction to the UAE’s natural landscape as well, and offers many photographic opportunities of the mountains, of wildlife, and of the water-filled natural pools. The hike from the dam to the pools is about 4 kilometres, making it an 8-kilometre hike to go to the pools and back. The hike will take around two to two and a half hours, so make sure you pack enough food and water to last you the entire trip. The hike starts with a man-made staircase that’s built into the mountain, and the staircase rises up to nearly 300 meters. Though the climb is tough, the view at the top is worth it – you will be rewarded for stunning views of the Hajar mountains when you reach.
If you are planning on go, keep in mind that most hikes are not shady, and you will spend most of your time hiking in the sun. Though there are a few seating areas to take a break, all the trails are in the sun, so make sure you have enough sun-screen to last the trek. It would be more comfortable to hike during the cooler winter months, as the sun can get unbearably hot during the summer months.
Jebel Hafeet, Al Ain
The hike up Jebel Hafeet in Al Ain is a relatively short hike, and takes you up to the peaks of Al Ain and the slopes of Jebel Hafeet, providing a fantastic vantage point of the desert at large, and of Al Ain’s lush greenery – after all, Al Ain is an oasis. The hike can last up to four hours, if you wish to slow your pace and take your time, and is about 8.4 kilometres long. The hike may not be the easiest one you can do, it’s a great challenge and is well-worth the effort, as the views from the peak are phenomenal. Jebel Hafeet is the third highest peak in the UAE, making it more challenging than lower, easier peaks in the country. However, for experienced hikers that are looking for a challenge, or for people looking to push themselves and explore new terrain, the hike up to Jebel Hafeet is definitely worth the effort.
The mountain is in Al Ain, which is around two hours from Dubai by car. The mountain range borders the UAE and Oman, and the best time to take this trek is either at sunset or at sunrise, as the rising or setting sun provides some incredible lighting, painting the desert a lush golden colour while highlighting the stunning green of the oasis of Al Ain. If you’re planning to take this hike, it’s important to come prepared, including trekking boots, enough water and food. It’s recommended to do this hike during the day, as the mountain isn’t lit up at night, so it can become dangerous once it gets dark. One final thing to note is that government permission is required to make this climb, so ensure that you file a report with the official authorities before you head out for this invigorating hike.
Jebel Jais, Ras Al Khaimah
Jebel Jais, the UAE’s highest peak, is located in Ras Al Khaimah and is part of the Hajar mountain range that borders the country. The mountain range is ancient (around 70 million years old), and borders the UAE and Oman. The peak is around 1,930 meters above sea level, and the mountain itself is home to incredible adventures, from hikes to the world’s longest zip-line. The mountain becomes much more popular during the warmer summer months, as the high peak is about ten degrees cooler than the temperatures at sea level.
There are six unique hiking trails that are scattered around the mountain, totalling 16 kilometres. The trails will take you through winding roads where you can keep an eye out for the mountain’s rich ecosystem, including its wildlife. The longest trail, the Samar Trail, is about 6 kilometres long, and starts in the lower segment of Jebel Jais. This route is perfect for people who are beginner hikers, and who are looking for a slightly challenging route to take on for their first hike. The trail has some incredible rock formations, old settlements, goats, and scenic mountain views from the lower half of Jebel Jais.
The trail that’s on the upper half of the mountain, the Ghaf Summit, is also suitable for beginners. However, the trail is slightly steep, so it’s recommended that you are suitable fit before tackling this trail, but it’s not too challenging, and is perfect for beginners and amateur hikers. The views are much better from this higher point, but this is not the true summit of the mountain – this is the highest point that the public can access.
Hajar Hiking Trail, Fujairah
This five-kilometre hiking trail in Dibba, Fujairah, is slightly more challenging with twisted trails that start at the floor of the valley, but the end result is definitely worth the effort. The route is quite steep, and is a challenging climb that ends at the mountain’s peak. Out on the East coast, the trail passes by old houses, to eventually provide a panoramic view of the Hajar Mountains. The trip can last from four to five hours, and there isn’t much greenery, so this trail can feel like you’re walking on a barren surface, and some have likened it to walking on the moon. The trip can start with a stunning view, as there’s a lake at the bottom of the valley that’s picturesque in the morning sunlight.
Wadi Tayyibah, Fujairah
For those looking for a fun hike that isn’t too taxing, the hike in Wadi Tayyibah is a great place to start. Located around 20 kilometres north of Masafi, the original hike is used by local farmers and villagers who work at small date farms along the route, though new roads have now been put in place. This hike is more leisurely, and is known for its natural pools and for looking at the traditional irrigation system. Of course, visiting Tayyibah also means staying back to explore the old village, and the town’s museum, which provides a deeper look into an older way of life, one before the country’s modernization. Since the route is quite relaxed, it’s popular to pack some food and make a day trip out of the whole adventure. Therefore, it’s recommended to take this hike during the cooler winter months, as the summer heat can get unbearable after a few hours.
Hatta Hike, along the border of Oman
This trail spans across the border of Oman and the UAE, and is the perfect place for hiking thanks to Hatta’s natural peaks and troughs. Of course, Hatta is famous not just for hiking, but for a myriad of other outdoor adventures as well, including kayaking, paragliding, mountain biking, and horse riding. Camping at Hatta overnight is a very popular activity, as Hatta is close enough to Dubai to make it easily accessible, but far enough from the city lights to provide a clear, star-filled night sky. As Dubai’s largest national park, Hatta also offers glimpses into history, including reconstructions of houses back when the country was a pearl diving village, and a museum that details the history of the region.
Hatta has a variety of trails at varying skill levels, making it inclusive for everyone, from experienced hikers to those beginning to develop the hobby. The entire Hatta hiking trail spans a total of 32.6 kilometres that’s spread across 5 routes. The trails are colour-coded to depict which ones are more accessible, and which ones require some experience with hiking. The trail starts from the Hatta Wadi Hub, which is about 90 minutes away from Dubai. When planning a hike, it’s important to carry a trail map, enough food and water, and to keep an eye out on which trail you’d like to go for, based on your experience, fitness, and skill level.
Stairway to Heaven at Wadi Ghalilah, Ras Al Khaimah
This hike, aptly named Stairway to Heaven, is in Wadi Ghalilah, near Jebel Jais, in Ras Al Khaimah. The trail is recommended for experienced hikers only, as it’s not as easy or as accessible. This peak is not popular because it’s not easy to climb, and can be treacherous if you’re not well-prepared. The trail is actually an old sheper’ds route, that links an Omani mountain village with Ras Al Khaimah, and the route is infamous for casualties and injuries, so make sure you’re well-prepared. The trail can become risky because not all of it is well-marked, so it’s advised to go with a guide, or with a group – there are tour groups and hiking groups that scale the mountain, so it’s recommended to go with others. However, there is a marked trail for some of it, and some choose to follow the marked trail and turn back, rather than make it all the way to the top.
Of course, the risk is worth it – not just for adrenaline junkies, but for hikers and photographers, as the views are incredible, particularly as you keep climbing up. To prep for this hike, make sure you carry at least 3 or 4 litres of water, along with plenty of food, as there is no stop along the way to stock up. It’s better to make this climb during the day, as it can get very difficult to navigate once the sun sets.
When it comes to hikes in the UAE, it’s clear that there’s a wide range of options, from wadis around the country, to the many trails in the Hajar mountain range, to the hikes in Hatta and beyond. What’s even more appealing is that hiking isn’t restricted to the very fit or the very experienced either, as many of these trails are accessible to people of all ages, and it is possible to go for a fun hike with friends and family in the morning, and spend the rest of the day relaxing back home. Thanks to smooth, large highways, most of these hikes are no more than two hours away from Dubai, so day-hikes are a popular weekend or holiday activity among the locals and residents. Of course, planning for a hike is important, and it’s necessary to pack some food, water, and sunscreen, and to dress appropriately for the weather.
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