There’s no time like a new year to blow the cobwebs away with an invigorating hike – and there’s no better place than the UAE to get trekking.
Venture away from the skyscrapers and beach clubs and you’ll soon discover the breathtaking array of mountains, deserts and lush green wadis waiting to be explored.
For our latest instalment, we’re leaving the city behind and following in the footsteps of the city’s trail guides who spend their days rambling through some of the UAE’s most stunning natural spaces.
Exploring desert, mountains and burial sites in Sharjah
For Paul Oliver, founder and chief executive of Absolute Adventure, one of the most unique spots in the country lies up in the mountains of Kalba.
The “Tomb Raider Trek” refers to a 4,000-year-old tomb that Oliver stumbled across while hiking up to Kalba Mountain Camp in the Hajar Mountains.
“We first came across the tomb by accident when we were hiking through a small plateau up in the mountains,” explains Oliver. “We alerted the authorities but when they came to excavate the site, we discovered that it had already been pillaged by grave robbers hundreds or even thousands of years ago.”
Hikers who join the Absolute Adventure tour are given a history of the findings, which are thought to date back to the Bronze Age, before a descent into a wadi, with the whole trail lasting about two hours across 4 kilometres.
“It’s a fascinating hike if you like history, especially given the fact that we found the site and can give a first-hand account,” says Oliver.
History buffs should also make a beeline for Sharjah’s Fossil Rock in Mleiha for a hike through the desert exploring prehistoric archaeological sites, says Oliver.
“The hike here leads through several caves, each containing a glimpse into the past. It’s a really fascinating hike that has huge archaeological significance.”
The three-hour hike starts at a small car park in Mleiha marked as The Water Spring on Google Maps and leads through the desert and mountains, painting a picture of how former civilisations lived in the mountains.
Castles, wadis and farms in Fujairah
Fujairah is known for its stunning beaches and dive spots, but the emirate’s natural beauty is just as spectacular on dry land.
Amy Subaey, managing director of UAE Trekkers, loves Fujairah for its heritage, wildlife and spectacular scenery.
And, for that reason, she recommends aspiring ramblers head to Al Hail Castle.
“A hike around Al Hail is perfect if you’re looking for a bit of culture,” says Subaey. “It’s an incredibly interesting place that’s off the beaten track and there’s a lot of history there."
The 3km walk is a great choice for beginners, lasting about one hour and a half and winding through mountains, a wadi and archaeological sites up to the Al Hail Castle grounds.
“It’s surrounded by little farms and is a great place to spend a couple of hours with the kids,” she says.
“There’s a little town nearby, so you won’t feel totally cut off from civilisation but you’ll still experience the great outdoors.”
For more experienced hikers, Subaey recommends Wadi Dahir for an invigorating five-hour loop through mountains and valleys.
“Wadi Dahir is incredible,” she says. “The views from up there are just out of this world and it’s one of my personal favourite hikes for the sheer beauty of it.
“The trail starts in the mountains and winds through hills and valleys, ending with banana and palm trees and a water-filled wadi.”
The route is easily found on Google Maps, using the wadi’s alternative name, Wadi Al Hina Dam Dahir, and a car park is accessible from the main road, however, Subaey recommends taking a professional guide.
“If you’re not an experienced hiker then it’s a good idea to get a guide on this one,” she says. “It’s not the easiest hike and you really wouldn’t want anything to come between you and those views.”
For her final recommendation, Subaey recommends heading to another Fujairah wadi for an easier ramble.
“Wadi Helo is a Unesco Heritage Site in Fujairah with really cool watchtowers surrounded by farms,” she explains. “It makes for a fascinating hike, especially if you start from the castle and then walk up to the watchtower.
“The whole trail is about 1km long and only takes about one hour, so you can easily do this one on your own and it’s a great starting point for beginners.”
Wadi wandering is Ras Al Khaimah
Ras Al Khaimah has a well-deserved reputation for outdoor adventure and no one knows its hiking trails better than Bryan Doyle, general manager of The Adventure Centre.
“The hike from Wadi Sena to Wadi Kub is stunning,” says Doyle. “It starts with a long steep hill, approximately 2km long with an incline of approximately 1.2km.
“Once reaching the top of the mountain track, there are numerous campsites and lovely areas for a barbecue.
“From there, it is a nice gentle downhill hike through traditional Arabic farms and reservoirs and from here you can either continue west through the wadi to link into Wadi Kub or take one of the many loops back to the start of Wadi Sena.”
Another of Doyle’s favourite trails in RAK begins from Wadi Kub, deep in the Hajar Mountains from co-ordinates 25.492643, 56.101787.
“Within this wadi, you will see an amazing geological phenomenon,” explains Doyle. “The rock is stacked up from thousands of years of movement.
“After any form of rain in this area, you will see spectacular waterfalls coming from the mountains, feeding into one of the many rock pools in this area.”
Oliver is also a fan of hiking in RAK and, although Wadi Showka is well known among the UAE’s hikers, Oliver has discovered an alternative route around the area that not many people are aware of.
“Most people stop at the beginning of the Showka Dam but we tend to drive further into Wadi Showka to an Etisalat mast and hike around the rear loop,” says Oliver. “Most people tend to hike around the front but this loop is a lot more remote and scenic.
“It’s about a three-hour hike in total that takes you high up into the mountains and the views are just incredible.”
Hiking, kayaking and super slides in Hatta
Though Hatta is becoming increasing popular with outdoor enthusiasts, Subaey urges hikers to make the 90-minute drive to discover everything that Dubai’s mountainous little sister has to offer.
“Hatta might not be considered as much of a hidden gem compared to some of the other trails but it’s incredibly beautiful out there,” Subaey says.
“I’d recommend starting behind Wadi Hub. There’s a tonne of trails of various lengths and intensity and it’s a great place to hike with kids.”
As well as spectacular hiking trails, visitors to Hatta can also enjoy kayaking on the Hatta Dam, mountain biking or plummeting down slides at speeds of up to 80km per hour at Wadi Hub.
“The best thing about hiking in Hatta is that you can combine it with something else, like an activity at Wadi Hub or kayaking or even just a nice lunch,” she says.
“There’s always [a] phone signal, you’re never far from water or help if you get into any difficulty. For people who don’t know a lot about hiking, it’s the safest place you can go to explore.
“It feels really remote and you can experience all of the joys of hiking in the mountains without any of the risk.”
Top nine UAE hiking trails:
- Tomb Raider trail, Kalba, Sharjah
- Fossil Rock, Mleiha, Sharjah
- Al Hail Castle, Fujairah
- Wadi Dahir, Fujairah
- Wadi Helo, Fujairah
- Wadi Sena, Ras Al Khaimah
- Wadi Kub, Ras Al Khaimah
- Wadi Showka, Ras Al Khaimah
- Hatta, Dubai