Before the weather heats up, take the opportunity to explore the region's many hiking trails. From mountains to wadis, deserts to dams, there are plenty of places to go to escape the city, and learn more about the culture and heritage around us on foot.
Not only is hiking a wonderful way to see more of the landscape, it's a fun way to be active in a place where we are all more inclined to use four wheels rather than two feet. Here, we speak to some of the region's guiding experts to find out about the best hikes to try in locations from Ras Al Khaimah to Oman, and from beginner level to advanced.
Wadi Monay, Ras Al Khaimah
This beginner-level hike ventures into the historic terrain off the Sharjah/Kalba Highway, only 1.5 hours from Dubai. The three-to-four hour hike takes participants through the remnants of ancient settlements and across varied terrain. The hike ascends a boulder-filled wadi and comes down to the location of the settlements. It continues over a ridge, where you'll be greeted with breathtaking views of the Hajar Mountains, before a gentle descent. The trip is made easier by the solidity of the terrain, with little to no scree on the route. "We have found the best beginner hikes to be some trails in Wadi Showka and Wadi Monay," says Amy Subaey, founder of UAE Trekkers, which operates hikes in this area. "These hikes have the added benefit of being perfect for kids, with lots of interesting rocks, plants and small creatures, such as lizards and geckos, for kids to encounter. These hikes also have unique and dramatic scenery, and have the added benefit of being just one and a half hours from Dubai, and two hours from Abu Dhabi."
Hatta Hike (along the Oman border)
This hike starts at a local farm near Hatta Dam. It passes through narrow entrances between the mountain ridges initially, before reaching a wider mountain path. There are numerous farms dotted along the way, and you'll pass through a small village before reaching a expansive gorge and heading back towards the dam. Christopher Craver of Emirates Canyoneering Club, which runs treks here regularly, says hikers need to be careful when following narrow valley entrances towards the top of the mountain ranges, as the rocks are fragile and prone to crumbling if you are doing any sort of climbing. Quite the physical challenge, this 10-kilometre mid-elevation trail takes from four to six hours.
Wadi Khutwa, Buraimi, Oman
Some of the region's more adventurous hikes lie on the other side of the Al Ain/Oman border. Many of these treks include water pools, which are usually located near date farms, as the rainwater is used to sustain trees all year round. Water levels encountered during the Wadi Khutwa hike will depend on yearly rainfall, but it is often possible to jump from the top of the canyon walls into the pool below if the water level is not too low. During the descent, you'll spot plenty of local wildlife, including fish and frogs. Further in, you'll find an oasis, where palm trees grow across the top of the valley walls and greenery rises from outlets of water coming from the canyon walls. Though full of adventure, this low-elevation trip is only between 2km and 4km long, and will take two to three hours to complete.
Jebel Qatar, Buraimi (overnight)
This is a beautiful, intermediate-level hike over varied terrain. The ascent takes around three hours, with a two-hour descent over tricky terrain, which involves lots of scrambling. For those training to do bigger mountains, there is a good portion of scree towards the summit, which is good practice for tougher climbs. Situated between Al Ain and Buraimi, the mountain is known as the "Hanging Gardens" due to the lush greenery found at intervals on its cliffside. UAE Trekkers takes groups there overnight, staying in Wadi Shams Resort, and on Saturdays, they hike the banana plantations in nearby Wadi Sharm. An easier hike than the walk the day before, this takes around three hours to complete, with a lunch break and swimming at the wadi.
Wadi Shah, Jebel Jais, RAK
Craver explains that this is a great hike for both beginner and intermediate hikers. It can either be a low-elevation beginner hike of three to four hours, in and back the same way over 6km, or a trickier high-elevation trek around an eight-hour loop covering about 13km. The beginner trail involves an hour or two walking through the canyon, with some light scrambling but mostly level walking, before returning by the same route. You'll get picturesque views of the canyons while following a boulder path where water once flowed, and the colours and topography are jaw-dropping. On the intermediate loop there is a slightly steeper ascent to a shepherd's house, with the potential to spot some animals such as goats and foxes, and you'll also pass a few more abandoned villages and cemeteries. Craver says there is plenty of scrambling, descending and ascending along the way.
Wadi Al Far, Jebel Jais, RAK
With a tough two-hour continuous ascent, this hike offers great views of the valley below, with a surprise picnic spot to be found on the plateau at the top. This hike is not for those who have a fear of heights, or people who are not in shape, Craver says. Though it is only 5km, it takes up to five hours to complete. Eventually, the hike will come to a plateau and an old village terrace that sprouts green after a bit of rainfall, as well as the remains of an old village and its cemetery. Another ascent along the ridge above the plateau leads to an impressive viewpoint. Though the trail down is slightly easier, loose gravel, sharp rocks and thorny plants can make it a challenge, Craver says.
The Hidden Oasis, Jebel Jais, RAK
What Craver calls "one of the most breath-taking hikes in the UAE", this trek heads to a luscious plain in the middle of the mountains, filled with greenery and palm trees. Both Craver and Adventurati Outdoors's Paige Duvenage, who lives in RAK, agree that the location is majestic but difficult to traverse, and they say a guide is definitely necessary to tackle this intermediate-advanced hike. Depending on which one of the two routes you take, the trip can cover between 5km and 15km, and it usually takes between six to eight hours to complete, depending on the speed of the group. As the area is tended by village farmers, visitors must be respectful of the area and vegetation, and must also be sure to take on this hike in daylight. The second leg of the complete route is all ascending and follows the mountain's edge. It is more difficult and dangerous, with additional scrambling, but it is a beautiful way to see the living, working farms of the country's mountain tribes.
Balcony Hike, Jebel Jais, RAK
The views from this hike are pretty much unrivalled. Starting at an elevation of 1,300 metres, the hike heads out towards an old settlement where you'll get a 180-degree panoramic view of Jebel Jais. Duvenage says the hike is "the perfect place enjoy the outdoors at a higher altitude in cooler temperatures, challenge ourselves and enjoy rocky mountains views". With a low difficulty level, the round trip is about 4km and takes two to three hours to complete.
Hajar Hiking Trail Dibba, Fujairah
Located out on the East coast, the Fujairah mountain range offers its own unique experiences for those eager to experience the outdoors. For more advanced hikers, this steep 5km route, which starts near Dibba, has a challenging climb from the valley floor and leads along a twisting road to the top. The trail passes by old houses and offers a panoramic view of the lunar-like landscape of the Hajar Mountains. Run by Al Qela'a Tours, trips leave from the Fairmont Fujairah, and last from four to five hours. "The landscape is quite severe and there is no greenery here," Tomasz Zubko, manager of Al Qela'a Tours, says. "Wandering in the mountains, you have the impression that you are walking on the moon. And maybe this is what makes this emirate special."