Single Track MTB in Morocco's High Atlas - Centre Based
Over years of trekking and dirt road MTB tours in Morocco we have seen many wonderful mule paths that we really wanted to ride on our trail bikes. Now we have settled the matter and created a centre-based singletrack program near Marrakech. Adrenaline, great beauty and a voyage of cultural discovery are waiting for you in the Atlas Mountains.
Morocco’s indigenous people, the Berbers, still use many of the ancient paths to transport themselves and their pack animals, the mules, around the Atlas Mountains, and these trails form the foundation of our new tour. Mules are a very much a live part of the infrastructure in the mountains and on this trip you’ll see locals who make a conscious choice not to use modern dirt roads but stick to the old routes instead. This helps keep narrow, vertiginous and tricky biking trails accessible, and allows for an unbeatable flow and fun-to-pain ratio.
The passion for riding singletracks has grown strong with us over the years and we have long been keen to develop a more refined concept in Morocco. Together with our eminent MTB guide and partner in Turkey, Jon Bawn, we have now created a weekly programme for those looking for a more technically challenging tour that doesn't lose track of it's adventurous routes. We have also chosen to move away from the standard accommodation regime of basic, rustic mountain huts (or gites), and base ourselves at a very comfortable hotel (with pool and wifi) right in the middle of several of the best trail heads. This means not only do we get the best biking and wilderness experience (we do stay in a gite for one night), but we also have a fun “apres-bike” and a bit of luxury along the way.
The paths we ride are often smooth and flowing, through undulating terrain, gardens and villages. However, occasionally there are pretty steep and rocky sections that in places are loose and technically difficult. We also immerse ourselves in a mountain environment, which means that some places are exposed and pose a fall hazard. You should therefore be used to riding intermediate / advanced red and black trails and not suffer too severe fear of heights to enjoy this journey.
We choose to travel in November and in April, when Northern European weather tends to be wet, muddy, dark and cold. Here we can expect perfect dry trails and a pleasant climate where the sun and heat is not an enemy.
Morocco is an exciting country itself, the cultural framing makes the journey guaranteed to be a colourful and interesting break from the mundane everyday life at home. The trip starts and ends in Marrakech- a city that overwhelms us with its bustling street life, architecture and bustling commerce without being too pushy or stressful. In fact, in many ways Marrakech resembles more a big Saharan village than it does a thriving metropolis. Here we stay comfortably in a relaxed, family-owned riad (luxury traditional guesthouse), about ten minutes walk from the world famous Djemma el Fna Square.
We then take up our base nearby the small lakeside town of Ouirgane- surrounded by mountains and world class biking trails. We stay at a charming, small hotel with great ecological credentials and fresh, simple decoration in keeping with local traditions. We also enjoy access to a very nice pool and good wi-fi. We have good contact with their kitchen and they are flexible to our wishes. There is a clear advantage to have control over the food, and if we would like to have a cold beer after the day's exercises, it is not impossible. On one night we ahead away from civilisation, and stay in a simple, authentic Berber gite at the foot of the Atlas Mountains- a wonderful experience!
Some days we go up with the minibus in the morning or we will be picked up in the afternoon and other days we start directly from the accommodation in the morning or arrive there in the afternoon. Each day we will have a support jeep that meets up at certain strategic points- partly for safety and partly to function as a mobile workshop. The chef also goes with the jeep so you can count on substantial and impressive lunches- food is certainly a highlight of this tour!
The trip will be led by Jon Bawn- an experienced MTB guide with a solid background in bike mechanics and five years singletrack guiding experience in Turkey under his belt. Jon is a top class tour leader with a good command of French and his mechanical skills in the field are very impressive. All in all, this trip stands alone in a market of gite-to-gite and dirt road “adventure” tours. This is world-class trail biking of the highest standard, run with a professional, experienced and dedicated team.
The trip day for day
Day 1. Flight arrival in Marrakech.
At the airport, we are met by our driver and then have a 30 minute transfer to our riad in the city’s historic centre. We pass the big hotel areas in Gueliz, some royal palaces, and then travel through the millennia-old city wall into Medina and the pulsating heart of Marrakech. The tranquility we meet inside the riad contrast with the alarm outside- this really is an oasis of peace, and in general Marrakech will surprise you with the lack of hustle-bustle (within the old town at least). We have a short briefing before taking a short trip through the souks (market streets), cruising between the snake charmers and fortune-tellers in the unforgettable Djemma el Fna and eating dinner together at a restaurant that lets the atmosphere of North Africa sweep us away.
Day 2. Transfer to Asni. Then Ride – Tinzert – Toror – Anraz – Wirgane (28km / 700m Climb / 900m Descent)
After a relaxing morning building up bikes and checking our kit we load the 4×4 roof racks and leave Marrakech, to arrive in Asni, a great little town that truly feels like the gateway to the Atlas. Here we can enjoy our first tagine, a Moroccan speciality slow cooked in a clay pot over an open fire. We begin biking after lunch with a steady climb, gaining height easily and then descending on a fun, rocky singletrack that is regularly used by villagers on the way to and from their fields. Heading towards Tinzert, the trail gets rougher, and requires some good trail skills and a careful choice of line. This is our first taste of an off the beaten track Atlas village, spell-binding in it’s simple, genuine nature and the friendliness of its people. From here the trail, still mostly downhill, becomes easier, and we cross a traditional salt mine to arrive at n’Ouisadene. Heading south west we pass through the villages of Toror, Anraz and Angoini, mostly on entertaining little singletracks between the garden terraces. Descending into Ouirgane for the first time we enjoy the panorama of the lake and wooded foothills, heading down through the villageon forest singletrack to the lake side. We skirt the lake and then climb up onto the prominent hill above the village. From here there are some great single tracks that lead all the way to our hotel. An easy first day’s ride, but not without it’s fair share of fun or challenge!
Day 3. Toubkal and down. Tacheddirt – Ikkiss – Imsker – Asni. (24km / 350m Climb / 1400m Descent)
This morning we drive for 1 hour up to Imlil and the shadow of Toubkal’s towering 4167m peak (snow covered for most of the year). Continuing in the support vehicles to the Tizi n’Tamartert pass (2100m), we begin the day’s ride- mostly downhill and a great chance to let the bikes roll and give the climbing legs a break! Contouring around the valley to Quanesekra, we enjoy panoramic views down the valley, and up to the Toubkal range itself. Then the real trails start to kick in, as we descend through a number of tiny villages to Tamguist, sometimes on fairly challenging singletrack, but always well used (by the locals) and always well surfaced. From here we follow a scenic dirt road downhill to Imsker, where we eat another great lunch in the shady settings of a local gite (15km done). Soon after the village we turn right and head onto a steep downhill section, crossing the river and climbing steeply to arrive on a very nice technical singletrack. This is true, entertaining trail biking at it’s finest, and as the rocks give way to muddy fields, orchards and irrigation channels we have time to reflect on the day’s descents. Option to ride 10km back to hotel on asphalt or take the transfer.
Day 4. Ouirgane - Ait Zitoun (28 km / +850 m / -750m)
Today we begin a 2-day long mission into the back country and overnight in a simple hostel in the village of Ait Zitoun (of course we will transport your overnight kit bag here for you). We roll down to the dam of Ouirgane and soon begin a trail that runs all the way above an impressive gorge. The first section is substantially exposed and soon heads steeply upward- so be prepared for a little hike-a-bike the first half hour and wear appropriate rubber soled biking shoes. From the crest and there awaits an epic 10 km stretch, mostly downhill, along the river gorge, with awesome views throughout. The path is reasonably wide and not too technical, but there are steep sides and some risk so concentration must be on top. In the bottom of the ravine we turn along the mountainside west onto more undulating paths to the village of Imi n'Tal'at where a hearty lunch waiting for us. The rest of the day sees us tackle a mix of riverbeds, gravel roads and classic singletrack trails around the area of Air Zitoun. Here we have some flexibility and can lengthen or shorten the route based on the group’s wishes. At our finishing point there awaits a local hammam (steam room), dinner and after darkness has fallen, a roof terrace, from where we can see the city lights from Marrakech to the north, the snowy Atlas mountains to the south and thousands of stars above- paradise...
Day 5. Ait Zitoun - Anoughal - Ourmer - Imgdal - Ouirgane (28km / + 700m / - 1050m)
After breakfast we begin with a short transfer uphill to Anougaldalen village and start cycling uphill at about 1300 meters altitude. Here and there we cross a clear mountain stream so you can enjoy the welcome refreshment of an occasional wet foot! At the top of the valley we turn east and continue uphill on a good trail to the village of Ourmer. Becoming increasingly technical, we climb further towards the 1800m pass and will need to walk the bikes up the last short, steep section. We eat a small picnic at the pass and prepare mentally for a wonderful but not risk-free downhill on fast flowing narrow trails. Here the mountain sides can be steep so it is not the time to lose momentum and fall. We then find ourselves submerged in a river valley that gets rockier and sometimes very troublesome to the village Semghort (big rock riding challenges for everyone here). We take a short breath and get some rest on a short dirt road section before turning to the bottom of the river valley again where awaits several kilometres of quick, simple but immensely fun biking all the way to Imgdal- plenty of water and splash-downs after rains or in early season. We eat a late but sumptuous lunch under the shade of silver poplar trees and go back to hotel for après bike and poolside relaxation.
Day 6. MULE day. Transfer- Amislane – Tizgui – Mules - Assif Zagrawari - Tighfist - Ouirgane 39km / 1100m Climb / 2000m Descent
This is a big day! We have breakfast at 07.30 and then drive for 1 hour on a rough dirt road to the remote village of Amislane at 1800m. The 4WD ride is exciting enough in itself! The day starts with a steep double track climb through lush green high mountain scenery, climbing to 2100m and then hitting an incredible downhill singleteack section that takes us from high plains to green gardens and down onto rocky mule tracks above the thriving village of Tizgui. We stop briefly here, before beginning the first part of the day’s big climb- there are some hike a bike sections but in general it’s rideable. We meet with the mules before the climb gets too steep, and walk together for about an hour, up over a pass and down through a rough canyon. The biking resumes again on a unique stretch of fast, loose, pea gravel with plenty of grip and a wide target- free of the worry and concentration requirement of other trails on the tour. We meet the support car in Assif Zagrawari, and after a good lunch have a short section of relaxing downhill “piste” before the singletrack starts again in earnest! Now comes an 8km descent on well graded, fast and flowing singletrack through the forest high above Ouirgane- the views and the terrain are truly remarkable. Arriving in Tighfist village, the trails don’t let up, and we manage to stay on solid gold trails all the way down to the lake shore at Ouirgane, from where it’s an easy 4km on asphat back to the hotel. What a day!
Day 7. Ouirgane - Kik Plateau - Marrakech (28km / + 500 m / - 1100 m)
We end the trip with a relaxed day biking on the majestically beautiful Kik plateau. From the plateau we have a magnificent views of the areas covered on previous days. We begin with a 20 minute drive up to MyBrahim, where we unload the bikes and cycle offroad through the limestone outcrops, reaching a small dirt road that runs parallel to the edge of the plateau. This is followed by rapid and lovely cycling on a mule trails and rough double tracks that cut across the plateau- a real playground with small jumps and natural velodromes. We enjoy a final trail lunch in the village of Agdour and continue mostly downhill to the village of Tadcherte where we take a small loop on an airy canyon edge, a really nice and special stage. Then it's off down the plateau on a rough dirt road where we can let the speed creep up a little... At the bottom of the plateau our support vehicles await, ready to transport us back to Marrakech around three o'clock in the afternoon. After a little bike wash we go back to our Riad and prepare to go out in Marrakech hubbub. In the evening we go out and eat a festive dinner and celebrate a really successful week- not forgetting some time for souvenir shopping and generally lapping up the atmosphere.
Day 8: Marrakech - Onward travel
After breakfast you might enjoy further sightseeing on your own depending on our flight times. The transfer from our Riad to the airport is easy, so it doesn’t matter at what time your flight leaves- either way the transfers are inclduded. With sore bodies and happy minds we say goodbye to the Moroccan trails for this time, but know we’ll be back- for sure!