Today I want to take you through one of the most fascinating circular routes in Madrid: the circular route to Laguna de los Pájaros, which will include the ascent to the highest peak in the Provinces of Madrid and Segovia, the Peñalara, and a scary climb to the wonderful, but not apt for vertigo, Risco de los Claveles.

We will share with you photographs of different times of the year so that you can enjoy this hiking route as you prefer. Shall we start?


Start: Parking of the Port of Cotos
Route: circular
Difficulty: medium
Length: 14 kilometers
Elevation gain: 650 meters of elevation gain and descent
Estimated time: 5/6 hours
Best Season: any season is wonderful, but in winter it will be necessary to bring snow equipment to complete the circular route (crampons included)


Cotos car park (1,830 m.) – La Gitana viewpoint – Hermana Menor (2,271 m.) – Hermana Mayor (2,280 m.) – Peñalara (2,428 m.) – Risco de los Claveles (2,388 m.) – Risco de los Pájaros (2,334 m.) – Laguna de los Pájaros – Laguna de los Claveles – Laguna Grande de Peñalara – Mirador de la Gitana – Cotos Parking (1,830 m.).



Ruta circular al Peñalara

With almost 2.5 million visitors a year, the Guadarrama National Park, home of the Peñalara, the peak that we will ascend today in this article, is the second most visited Park in Spain, only surpassed by the Teide National Park, in Tenerife.

It was declared a National Park in June 2013 and in its 33,960 hectares it divides the Castilian plateau in two, separating the river basins of the Duero and the Tagus and the provinces of Segovia (36% of its surface belongs to that province) and Madrid (64%)

With more than 1000 varieties of plants, and 255 different types of vertebrates that make up its varied fauna, the Park is a wonderful place to enjoy the purest contact with nature.

The hiking possibilities in this immense park are “infinite”, but today we will concentrate on what we consider to be the most beautiful circular route in the place: the ascent to Peñalara and the subsequent route to Laguna de los Pájaros, crossing the fearsome for several Risco de los Claveles.



Ruta circular al Peñalara

The route begins at the Puerto de Cotos parking lot, in the Madrid town of Rascafría, in the heart of the Guadarrama National Park. The port is reached from Madrid by the M-607 towards Navacerrada, and then the M-604 directly to the parking lot located at kilometer 41.5, without any loss.

Taking into account the aforementioned in terms of number of visitors, it is advisable to avoid weekends. But if you do not have time to go during the week, it is essential to get up early to be able to find a place to park there, and start the walk around 8 in the morning, since Saturdays and Sundays from noon, the place looks like a pilgrimage (Although the vast majority visit the Laguna Grande and do not make the ascent).

The ascent to Peñalara begins right there, at the 1830-meter-high Puerto de Cotos. You cross the route carefully, you go up some wooden stairs to the Venta Marcelino Restaurant and there, turning to the right, you begin the initial ascent through a beautiful pine forest.



Ruta circular al Peñalara

The first stage, the ascent to the 2428 meters high of the Peñalara, may seem the most complex. But don’t worry, it is not. In fact the climb is quite pleasant.

From now on, we are climbing to the top of the highest peak in the Province, but the 650-meter ascent is overcome in a relatively gradual way. Relatively. You have to be in good shape, of course. But it is not impossible.

The first ascent will take you through a beautiful pine forest from the Interpretation Center of the Port of Cotos to the first stop: the Mirador de la Gitana, from where on clear days, you can see a beautiful view of the Bola del Mundo and the surrounding mountains. , a great prelude to what awaits us on the journey.

Ruta circular al Peñalara

We continue the ascent until we reach a booth. This is where we will have to be vigilant to take the correct path, since otherwise we will end up at the Laguna Grande de Peñalara instead of at the top.

We will leave the booth on the right hand side, following the path that appears in front of us (not that of the stairs). There we will begin to leave behind the crowd and our beautiful zigzag ascent to the first of the three peaks that we will touch: the Hermana Menor, at 2,271 meters high. The most difficult climb is over.

Ruta circular al Peñalara

It will not take us long to reach the Hermana Mayor (2285) and from there we will already see our first goal: the top of Peñalara, 143 meters closer to the clouds.

Ruta circular al Peñalara

The path is not perfectly demarcated, but if you always keep your gaze on the objective, there is no loss, nor is there danger since the space to walk is immense.

Ruta circular al Peñalara

We have reached the roof of Madrid and Segovia. We are at the top of Peñalara. It is time to enjoy the 360 ​​views that the place offers us, and prepare our mind for the next stage of the Circular Route to Peñalara, the most difficult of all: the one that saves the extremely narrow Risco de los Claveles. Are you ready?

Ruta circular al Peñalara


Many people have consulted me about the danger of this ridge, which includes the easier Risco de los Pajaros and the extremely difficult Risco de los Claveles. And I don’t want to be the culprit of putting anyone’s life at risk, that’s why I’m going to tell it from my experience so that each one can be responsible for their own decision.

First a fundamental clarification: with the first frosts of the year, do not intend to ascend the cliff without the necessary material for the mountain that includes crampons, ice ax, and can be complemented with a harness, helmet and rope.

Crossing this cliff is not suitable for people with vertigo. And when I say that it is not suitable I really emphasize that. If you suffer from the slightest vertigo, do not save the Claveles cliff at its top as there are places where MISTAKES CANNOT BE MADE because it would result in certain death.

It should not be forgotten that the Risco de los Claveles represents the point with the most fatal accidents in the entire National Park and the Sierra de Guadarrama.

But don’t worry, you will be able to complete the circular route to Peñalara, and now I will explain how. If you do not suffer from vertigo, this stage will seem the most fascinating of all since you will really feel in the high mountains. But please, always with extreme caution. It is more important to miss a view than to miss a life.

You are in the Peñalara and now you will begin a slight descent on the opposite side to which you have come. In a short time you will see the famous Claveles ridge with its two cliffs. When you get there you will have to make the decision to save it from its top, and enjoy wonderful views of the entire environment and the Pinilla reservoir, or walk its left side in an easy route from where you will also enjoy beautiful views without putting yourself at risk.

Whatever your decision, after a wonderful downhill journey, you will reach the culminating point of the trip: the beautiful Laguna de los Pájaros.



As you descend from the ridge, you will be able to see what in our opinion is the most beautiful lagoon in the region: the small but picturesque Laguna de los Pájaros.

Ruta circular al Peñalara

At this moment you will already be halfway up the Circular Route to Peñalara, so nothing better than taking a break on the shores of this glacier lagoon and enjoying its wonderful surroundings.

This permanent glacial lagoon is located at 2,170 meters high. Of all the ones in the Park, this is the one that is the highest. In winter it acquires a beauty without equal since it freezes in its entirety and reflects the snowy peaks around it. In the warm months it is enjoyed in a more pleasant way since it is an ideal point to take a few minutes and enjoy the views.

Ruta circular al Peñalara

From there you can start your easy return to Puerto de Cotos. You will leave the Cresta de Claveles on your right and go on a gentle descent towards the Port (with the exception of some sections of slight ascent), crossing first the Laguna de los Claveles, leaving the Laguna Grande on the right, and returning through the Mirador de La Gitana to the initial forest path.

This route is perhaps the most enjoyable one, since you have left behind the ascent to Peñalara, the challenging Risco de Claveles, and now all that remains is to enjoy nature, the surroundings, the silence of the Sierra Madrileña.

But if you have a little more time, then we suggest a small detour to enjoy another wonder of the place: the Laguna Grande de Peñalara.



Ruta circular al Peñalara

It is not necessary to reach this lagoon to be able to finish the circular route to Peñalara. But it is a small detour that is totally worth it; the perfect ending for a beautiful day of hiking.

Starting back to Puerto de Cotos from Laguna de los Pájaros, you will find yourself in a moment descending some wooden stairs. It is there where you will have to turn right instead of continuing towards Cotos.

After a short ascent over a wooden walkway you will reach the last of the lagoons: the Laguna Grande de Peñalara. Don’t let the name fool you, you won’t find a BIG lagoon. It is actually quite small, but the setting makes it magnificent.

Ruta circular al Peñalara

This lagoon of glacial origin located at the bottom of the Peñalara circus, at an altitude of 2017 meters, is the most popular excursion in Peñalara. Many people visit the Park to reach its shores in a very easy walk suitable for children. It’s no wonder this place gets pretty busy on weekends.

But it is worth that small detour to now say goodbye to this beautiful hiking route, return to Puerto de Cotos, and start the way back home after having enjoyed the most beautiful of the Guadarrama National Park.

Have you enjoyed this circular route to Peñalara? Do not forget to share it on your social networks and above all, do not forget that nature needs you. A good hiker must love the environment, take care of it and respect it. Enjoy the silence, always pick up your garbage, and if you can, why not, take a small bag to collect what others have left. If we all help each other, we can keep our paths that we love so much healthy.

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