The waterfalls of the Cares Gorge page was basically my excuse to talk about the famous hike that quite possibly was the quintessential Picos de Europa experience. But it turned out that there was quite a bit of misleading information in the literature concerning whether there really were waterfalls worth talking about on this excursion. So I eagerly anticipated doing this hike not only for the experience and the well-known scenery, but I wanted to see for myself what the waterfalls were like. So in one way or another, I guess this page had to happen as far as waterfalling was concerned.
But first things first. If you're not yet familiar with what the Cares Gorge is about, let me summarize it here. It's basically a 12km route between the towns of Poncebos and Caín de Valdeón along a narrow gorge topped off by tall mountains and bottomed out by a rushing river far below the sheer cliffs flanking the trail itself. The footpath was an old hydroelectric maintenance track, which pretty much meant that the trail would feature tunnels, canals, bridges, and some houses or shelters along the way (something that most natural trails typically don't feature). All throughout the hike, there's scenery as well as butterflies-in-the-stomach moments as there seemed to be constant exposure to the gorge dropoffs as well as the neck-cranking peaks above. Indeed, it's hard to convey in words the powerful experience that this trail could provide, but that's what the pictures on this page are for.
In any case, there are many ways to experience this trail. Perhaps the most talked about option (at least as far as the literature out there is concerned) was the north-to-south one-way shuttle hike option, which started in Poncebos and ended in Caín de Valdeón where a pre-arranged shuttle would take the finished hikers on the long drive back up to Poncebos. However, I exercised the logistically easier (though physically more taxing) option, which started and ended in Caín de Valdeón, where we were staying. And I pretty much hiked as far north as I could before turning back the way I came. I didn't go all the way to Poncebos and back (which would be a whopping 24km round trip), but I did manage to hike roughly 20km round trip where my goal was to reach an impressive natural arch before turning back. That said, in doing this second option, it's really up to you how far you want to go before heading back based on time, conditions, and ability.
But as far as waterfalling is concerned, the thing I realized about most of the waterfalls that I encountered were that they were pretty much man-made. The reason why was because throughout the hike, there were canals essentially paralleling the trail itself. These canals carried water through both open spaces (often times almost next to the trail) as well as tunnels. In many instances, the canals would overflow their banks (or have some kind of a breach) and actually spill over its sides as waterfalls. To a casual observer, they may seem like springs or natural waterfalls, but upon closer inspection, you could quite literally see the canals that gave rise to them.
On this page, I tried to identify the waterfalls that I believed were natural as well as point out those that were artificial. But by and large, the natural waterfalls were pretty much on the Río Cares deep into the gorge. There really weren't any major waterfalls worth noting. So the bottom line is that I don't think you should come here seeking waterfalls. Instead, just appreciate the scenery and take the waterfalls (real or fake) as part of the backdrop to the otherwise surreal landscape before you.
Just to give you an idea of the time commitment for my hiking excursion, it took me just under six hours to do the out-and-back excursion. The following list tells you the landmarks and timetables just to give you an idea of how much time to allocate for your own trip planning. Consult the photo journal (where the photos are in chronological order) to help paint the picture of what you're seeing with these time tables.
1:45pm - Started hike from Caín de Valdeón
2:00pm - Arrived at dam at the head of the Cares Gorge
2:30pm - Arrived at Puente de Los Rebecos (commonly mistaken for Puente Bolín)
2:35pm - Arrived at Puente Bolín; a fake and real waterfall were on either side of this bridge
3:10pm - Saw a gushing waterfall coming out of a hole fed by man-made canal
3:45pm - At a house and rock shelter near Covadonga Trail junction
4:30pm - At another house
4:45pm - Arrived at natural arch; this was my turnaround point
5:50pm - Back at Covadonga Trail junction
6:40pm - Back at Puente Bolín
7:05pm - Back at dam at the head of the Cares Gorge
The Ruta de Cares is not so well-known for waterfalls, but it is certainly well-known for dramatic trailside scenery like what's shown here (near a part called Los Collados)
Prior to the 4-hour drive to Caín de Valdeón from Ribadeo, we had visited Praia As Catedrais Beach the day before, and as you can see, we had very good reason to go through the trouble to get here
After visiting the Ruta de Cares, we eventually wound up in León, which featured an impressive dimly-lit cathedral well-adorned with stained-glass windows
Following the narrow road between Posada de Valdeón and Caín de Valdeón
Just before arriving at the hamlet of Caín de Valdeón, we saw this waterfall tumbling right before one of the road bridges
Entering the hamlet of Caín de Valdeón
Following the road through the hamlet of Caín de Valdeón and towards the Ruta de Cares
Just before I started to do the long hike on the Cares Gorge, I noticed this impressive natural waterfall right across from the end of the hamlet of Caín de Valdeón
Following the Ruta de Cares heading north
Approaching the Cares Gorge and the dam situated right at its head
About to cross the dam and its man-made waterfall before following tunnels dug into the gorge
Once I got past the dam, I found myself in a long series of ledges and tunnels deep in the depths of the Cares Gorge
Looking up at a weeping wall part of the Cares Gorge seen from the initial tunnel section
Looking back at the tunnel section of the Cares Gorge
When I left the tunnel section, I was suddenly seeing rugged mountain scenery like this
It wasn't long before the trail rose high above the deepening gorge thereby presenting constant exposure to dropoffs
Looking back at the Puente de Los Rebecos, which I've seen in the literature often being misidentified as the Puente Bolín
Looking back at an artificial waterfall (because it's caused by a canal overflowing its banks) from the Puente Bolín
Just on the other side of the Puente Bolín, we spotted this attractive waterfall, which I believe to be natural (unless there was another one of those canals unseen further up on the mountain)
Context of the Puente Bolín with the cascade together
As I went further along the Ruta de Cares, I encountered many more of these mini-tunnels or man-made archways
Looking back at another one of these mini-tunnels in the context of dramatic gorge scenery
Parts of the Ruta de Cares followed alongside canals such as this one, and I suspect all the illegitimate waterfalls in the gorge came from these canals
Here is an example of an artificial waterfall caused by a canal overflowing its banks. Note the mini-tunnel above it as the canal was beneath the Ruta de Cares
Looking back at the same waterfall, but this time from a perspective where I was able to appreciate just how far this artificial falls was dropping beneath the Ruta de Cares
As I continued north along the Ruta de Cares, there was more dramatic mountain scenery to be seen. Just imagine how much more surreal the views would be had the weather not been overcast!
The Ruta de Cares often hugged overhanging vertical cliffs like this one while also exposed to long dropoffs
Looking back along the Ruta de Cares where the trail was actually right on top of a water canal passing through a man-made tunnel. This just shows you the degree of engineering that had to be done to cope with the rugged terrain
Here's a part of the trail where the dropoffs were so sheer that I could quite literally see the Río Cares at the same time I could see the trail
Another telling look at the Ruta de Cares hugging ledges perched high above the depths of the gorge itself
Looking back at the Cares Gorge with mountains rising high above while the trail was still high above the floor of the gorge
Looking back at a waterfall that I believe to also come from a canal whose banks had overflowed
Another surprise while hiking the Ruta de Cares was the presence of mountain goats, essentially confirming that I was hiking in territories typically traversed only by these species and not humans
At some house along the Ruta de Cares near the junction with the Covadonga Trail
Just a short distance beyond the house, I noticed this rock shelter with a tin roof. I wasn't sure what this was for, but the inside was pretty much gutted out and smelled of urine
The dramatic scenery continued along the Ruta de Cares
By this point in the trail, I was really looking for the natural arch, but this man-made one with rock holes above wasn't it
Looking down into the Cares Gorge, where I noticed this cascade, which I believe to be one of the few natural ones
Closer look down at the natural waterfall deep in the Cares Gorge
This could very well be the only legitimate waterfall or cascade that was on the Río Cares itself within the Cares Gorge
Walking over an overhanging ledge with a small tunnel as I was getting closer to Poncebos
Still more mountain goats seen while I was still searching for the natural arch in the Cares Gorge
Approaching the second house that I saw along the Ruta de Cares
This was the scenery of the Ruta de Cares as I was approaching a section of vertical cliffs called Los Collados
Finally, I spotted the natural arch in the Cares Gorge. This was much closer to Poncebos than it was to Caín
Looking right up through the span of the natural arch, which marked the turnaround point of my out-and-back hike from Caín
While I quickly made my way back to Caín, I had to be cognizant of the constant exposure to dropoffs
Another section of the Ruta de Cares that reminded me of how precarious the trail can be
Even though I was quickly making my way back to Caín de Valdeón, the scenery often times compelled me to just pause and take a photo
Looking high up from the Cares Gorge at some large birds (were they eagles? condors? falcons?)
Another look at the impressive natural waterfall (I think) near the Puente Bolín
Finally back at the dam
Finally back at the cascade by the end of Caín de Valdeón
There are many ways to access the Cares Gorge, and I'm sure they're all described in the literature. What I'll describe here is the route that I ended up taking (though I wouldn't necessarily recommend) starting from Ribadeo. I'll also describe the route from León since this was where we ultimately ended up after leaving the Cares Gorge.
From Ribadeo, I took the A-8 autovía for about 170km east until I turned off onto the As-260 road (roughly 18km east of the town of Villaviciosa). I then followed the narrow and twisty As-260 for 17km going over a pass before descending to the town of Arriondas. Once at the town, I then picked up the more reliable N-625 road towards the busy town of Canga de Onís (after about 6km). I'd continue following the N-625 road, which would once again become narrow and twisty (and supporting trucks going in both directions!), until I'd reach the signposted turnoff for the Le-244 road leading to Posada de Valdeón. This turnoff was about 45km from Arriondas or 39km from Canga de Onís.
Once on the Le-244 road, I followed it for about 15km to the Posada de Valdeón, then I continued on the narrow, bumpy, and steep road (but still paved) that went the final 8km to the hamlet of Caín de Valdeón. Overall, this leg of the drive took us a little over four hours with breaks.
As for getting from Caín de Valdeón to León, we returned the way we came on the Le-244 (23km), then continued south on the N-625 road for 18km to the town of Riaño where the N-625 and N-621 roads became one. From Riaño, we then took the N-621 road for the next 29km before turning right onto the CI-626 road, which we followed for the next 48km. Finally, we turned onto the N-630 road south for another 26km as it led us right into the city of León. Overall, this drive took us about 2 hours 30 minutes.
Finally, for some context, León was 185km (under 2 hours drive) west of Burgos, 263km (about 3 hours drive) southeast of Ribadeo, 206km (2 hours drive) north of Salamanca, 337km (over 3 hours drive) southwest of Bilbao, 332km (3.5 hours drive) east of Santiago de Compostela, and 337km (3.5 hours drive) northwest of Madrid.
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