This is not an ordinary route of just an ordinary animal. A wolf is much more than a dog in a wolfpack, who eats whenever possible and howls freely.
The 17 natural areas of Spain, where this animal can be found, are not enclosed areas where wolves have dinner at a scheduled time. You’ll have to go there equipped with binoculars and patience.
One thing’s for sure: it is definitely worth the wait. Not to mention, waiting to see the wolves at sunrise or sunset also offers the opportunity to observe the wildlife with the perfect lighting.
Iberian wolf © Andoni Canela
Up until the middle of the last past century, the presence of a wolf was very meaningful all around the Iberian Peninsula, however, the Little Red Riding Hood has damaged the reputation of this species. Prevention fed by fear explains the reason why humans kill these animals. This indiscriminate hunt almost exterminated them at one point in Spain.
Spain offers you the possibility of watching wolves from strategic locations. Here you can do interpretative routes of their habitat with expert guides in the 10 different regions where they are found.
In the South, there are just 20 or 30 specimen of wolves, between Andalusia and Castilla La Mancha. If it weren’t for their trails, footprints or feces, we wouldn’t have even known they existed.
This little group finds refuge in the most hidden places of Sierra Morena. Here is a list of them:
1. The Natural Park of Sierra de Andujar: Jaen’s Inner Paradise
It’s possible you might hear some howling in this Natural Park. If it’s your lucky day, you may even see one of the wolves.
Experts have located this specimen at the North of this Natural Park, on the road leading up to Solana del Pino.
Another option to follow their footprints is to take the road on the Viñas de Peñallana detour, leading to El Centenillo, an old miner village which was exploited by the British.
Whichever route you take, you must drive carefully, as there are crossing zones for the Iberian lynx, an endangered species that frequently crosses the road.
2. The Despeñaperros Natural Park: A Historical Gorge (Jaen)
Wolves find refuge in the many caves that accompany this unknown natural area.
Its 7,500 hectares are a pantry of food for its predators due to the amount of deers, fallow deers, wild boars and rabbits.
The Natural Park can be reached by the Aldeaquemada, Santa Elena and Miranda del Rey roads. Once you get there, just wait and wait. I recommend that you explore the Los Muñecos Cave and visit the amazing La Cimbarra Cascade.
Cimbarra Cascade during rainy season © Esteban Ureña
3. The Natural Park of Sierra de Cardeña and Montoro: A Natural Wildlife Refuge (Cordoba)
The movie Entre Lobos (Among Wolves) was shot in these mountains. Based on the true story of a kid, Manuel Pantoja, who grew up in a wolfpack. He lived with them for 12 years until the police found him.
Whether you are a moviegoer or not, I recommend that you go follow the route where this movie was filmed, which crosses Cardeña, the village of El Cerezo and takes the madereros path to Obejo’s bridge over the river of Yeguas.
This bridge marks the border between civilization and wolf territory.
Obejo’s bridge over the Yeguas river
4. The Natural Park of Sierra de Hornachuelos, Sierra Morena Pasture (Cordoba)
More than five years ago, in 2008, wolves coming from the packs in Sierra Morena crossed the Yeguas river, the natural border between the regions of Jaen and Cordoba, up to Sierra de Cardeña. After going through a natural corridor between Cordoba city and Obejo, the wolves arrived to an area located between Villaviciosa and Espiel, where they attacked a flock of sheep.
© Esteban Ureña
That is not an isolated situation. Wolves are capable of going long distances in just one day to find food.
There were those who claim that this group was established in Hornachuelos, which would ensure the survival of the species in the parks that form the Dehesas Biosphere Reserve of Sierra Morena. However, since then their whereabouts have been unknown.
5. The Natural Park of Alcudia Valley and Sierra Madrona, Among Rockroses and Madrones (Ciudad Real)
Located on the Northern part of Sierra de Andujar, their forms a natural corridor with these mountains and the Natural Park of Despeñaperros. Since it is a very uninhabited area, it is a good place for the growth of wolves.
To get there you have to go through Sierra de Andujar, towards Virgen de la Cabeza Sanctuary. Once you arrive to Solana del Pino, take the road heading towards Fuencaliente.
© Esteban Ureña
Solana del Pino is a referential point for wolves. Every year, The Emlobados conference is held there, where the best wolf experts meet.
The situation is quite different in the rest of the Peninsula. The species after crossing the Duero river, have moved from the North to the Central area, where they await to move down south.
During this migration, they have settled in the following areas:
6. The National Park of Sierra de Guadarrama, Pure Landscape (Madrid-Segovia)
The wolves of the Central area of the Peninsula are much more social than those of the South.
Apart from in the mountains of Segovia and Madrid, some have been seen in Navacerrada and El Escorial. Some of them have even reached the residential areas of the Metropolitan area of Madrid.
© Esteban Ureña
From this settlement, they move to the nearby areas of Guadalajara, where its presence has been confirmed in the Sierra Norte and Alto Tajo. Also, in further territories such as Cuenca and Teruel.
7. Regional Park of Sierra de Gredos: the Big Granitic Mass (Avila)
Wolves have been seen for the first time in this area in Navarredonda de Gredos and Navadijos, which is good news for the recovery of the species. This fact also informs us that the species is moving down South to join the survivors of Sierra Morena.
8. The Natural Area of Sierra de la Demanda: Ancient Disputes in the Land of Burgos
The wolf is present in the surroundings of many villages of the Burgos region, such as Espinosa de los Monteros, Canicosa de la Sierra and Palacios de la Sierra. Also, on La Rioja side, near the village of Villavelayo.
Another area of La Rioja where the wolves have arrived is in Najerilla valley, in villages such as Canales de la Sierra, Ventrosa, Brieva de Cameros and Viniegras de Arriba y Abajo, close to the Picos de Urbión mountains.
© Esteban Ureña
9. The Natural Park of Somiedo: Among the Wolves and Bears (Asturias)
This natural park is probably the greatest ecological value of the whole Iberian Peninsula and is an example of sustainable development in all of Europe. Without a doubt, this explains why this area is a Biosphere Reserve and a true haven for the wolves, despite the fact that the area has to share territory with the biggest predator of the Iberian fauna, the brown bear.
From the village of Saliencia, in the heart of Somiedo, a track takes you to the highest point of la Farrapona, where you can begin the most beautiful route in the whole park, the Route of the Lakes.
Lake Saliencia © Esteban Ureña
If you are patient enough, you should choose (as many naturalists do) the Mirador del Principe.
Without a doubt, the best wolf refuge inside the park is the Tibleus Forest, located on the northern side of Sierra de la Palomera, near the peak of Gurugu. It is a restricted beech forest where there are no paths to get in.
Legend tells, according to Carles Castell, that the name Somiedo comes from the scary shout of a peasant who, while crossing the forest in the middle of the night, stopped its horse at the edge of a cliff. He shouted “so” in distress, along with “miedo” (fear in Spanish).
For this reason, and because you need to request a special permit granted by the Natural Park to enter the forest, most naturalists observe the wolves from the other side of the valley. This area is called Laderas del Michu, near the village of La Falguera.
In general, the mountainous regions near the Cantabrian Mountains are areas where wolves can survive, due to its proximity to the Picos de Europa. The Sierra del Cuera shows a clear example of this.
10. The Natural Park of Cadi-Moixero, the Great Barrier Between Pre-pyrenees and the Pyrenees (Lerida)
Catalonia is different. The wolves inhabiting in that area do not come from the Iberian wolf, but from the Italian-French species, where genetical studies have confirmed this fact.
© Esteban Ureña
The cataloging of wolves as a protected species in France, favored the passage of those who went through the Gallic country to reach the Catalan Pyrenees. Nowadays here, there are among 12 to 20 different ones scattered on Macizo del Cadi, and nearby areas such as Alto Urgell, Cerdaña, Alto Solsones, Alto Bergueda and Alto Ripolles.
11. The Natural Park of Gorbeia: The Basque Mountain with a Cross (Alava)
The Basque Country is just a transit area for the wolves. They constantly enter, but do not settle. They only settle in the area of Macizo de Gorbeia (Alava).
In the Natural Park of Valderejo (Alava) Southern Alava valleys, is also another privileged spot where in winter, wolves can be seen.
12. The natural space of Do Courel, the Lung of Galicia (Lugo)
The presence of wolves is all over the province of Lugo. They have even reached areas that are close to the coast. They have been seen in places like A Pastoriza, Xove, Muras and Friol. However, the place with the highest density of wolves is in the Sierra do Courel.
Wolf Ecotourism is well known in that area. Tourist can perform coexisting activities with wolves, with due respect always. The most important thing is not to disturb the breeding groups, in order to prevent them from leaving the territory.
If you want to see some wolves, you should go along the Devesa de Rogueira. You must leave from Seoane heading towards Esperante. From there, you must cross over the river of Lor and exit the camp on your right side. From that point begins an uphill path of almost 4 kilometers, until you find a detour on your right side, taking you to Alto do Couto and Visuña.
Fog in Sierra do Courel
After 4.6 kilometers you will be arriving at the base of Mount Piapaxaro, 1,611 m. Taking the path up to the summit, you will enjoy the best panoramic views over Sierra do Courel.
13. The Natural Park O Invernadeiro: Into the Wild (Orense)
Experts confirm that these specimen of wolves are the only ones maintaining the ancestral customs of this species. They are known as the wildest in the whole Peninsula. That is because their diet is based solely on hunting wild animals.
Studying this behavior is a key factor to the preservation of the species.
14. The Natural Park of Saja-Besaya, Pure Fauna and Flora (Cantabria)
This park made up of thick beech and oak forests, along with wide prairies, makes this the perfect habitat for wolves. They also share that space with bears, just like in Somiedo.
During the 70’s, wolves were extinct here, but now are completely recovered and cover the whole park. To protect them, their movements are not disclosed to the public, so it’s not possible to list them in a census.
We have seen that incidents where wolves attack cattle have multiplied in recent years. Packs coming from the Liebana region or from the mountains of Palencia have easy access to this park. The most frequented area is the Cabuerniga valley and the nearby areas of Los Tojos.
You can reach these areas from CA 280 road, leaving from Cabezon de la Sal up to Palombera pass (1,260 m). Alto de Ozcaba is nearby, where you will find the beginning of two descending routes:
The easiest one takes you to Barcena la Mayor. It goes along an ancient Roman road, although in some areas it’s not visible.
The beginning of the longest route is located at the other end of Ozcaba, which takes you down to Los Tojos or Saja.
Both routes end at the valley, a privileged area to wait for any wolf to appear in the nearby slopes.
15. The Natural Park of Fuentes Carrionas and Fuente Cobre-Montaña Palentina: Palencia’s Peaks
In the mountains in the region of Palencia, between Cervera de Pisuerga and Barruelo de Santullan (Brasoñera), wolf watching is quite easy. It’s especially easy during harsh winters, when they go down to the villages looking for food.
However, the biggest populations are in:
16. Picos de Europa National Park: the First Protected Area in Spain (Part of Leon)
The population of wolves in this National Park, along with the Zamora’s Sierra de la Culebra, represents 60% of the wolf population in the Iberian Peninsula.
The highest concentration of family groups are located in the Riaño Mountains (Leon), but it’s not the only area of wolves in the Picos de Europa.
Wolf and its cub in Riaño © Andoni Canela
In the Cosgaya mountains and the Liebana valley, Camaleño, Cillorigo and Bejes, and Cantabria there are also wolf specimen.
So, choose a higher location in any of the mountains (Corsicao, Altos de Valdeon) and wait until the pack appears in the valley.
17. The Natural Area of Sierra de La Culebra, the Symbol of the Iberian Wolf (Zamora)
With its 65,891 hectares, this area of the country (and of all of Europe) has the highest concentration of wolves.
This is a pilgrimage place for lovers of this animal. In any of those villages, you will hear conversations about wolves.
The most visited watching point is located between the villages of Villardeciervos and Boya, which can be accessed from the ZA-912 road. You will easily recognize it because there is a parking area. From that point, you will have an excellent view of the plains.
Although the most visited areas for wolf watching are Sanabria and Carballeda, the wolves are spread out all over the mountain range. Wolves can also be seen in the regions of Tabara, Alba and Aliste, and even in the Natural Park of Montesinhos in Portugal.
You may think that the wolf is back, but the truth is that it never left.
If you see a wolf, at least once, you can be proud of it. One time is enough. Now it’s your turn to choose which one of these Natural Areas you want to visit and tell us about any wolves you meet.