The Middle Atlas: Cedars, Monkeys, Trout, & Trekking Unknown – Morocco
Skiing, snowshoeing, and springtime trekking aren’t the common weekend pastimes you would imagine doing when in Morocco. But, with an altitude in most places over one-mile (1.6 km), the Middle Atlas shouldn’t be overlooked if you’re searching for an alpine experience.
Rolling ridges run from Fez to Marrakech with cedar forests scattered along the way. In the Azrou and Ifrane areas, Barbary apes watch from their upper canopies. It’s an area of Morocco that, surprisingly, doesn’t get much attention from outdoor enthusiasts who prefer the slopes of Oukaimden and the High Atlas Mountains where they scale to the summit of Mount Toubkal.
Additionally, the Middle Atlas has some of the best trout and fly-fishing in Africa. As the season begins in March, Moroccans and foreigners alike don their gear, and their fishing passes as early as 4 a.m. to ensure a worthwhile catch. If you are in the Azrou or Ifrane area, get your one-day pass the day before your trip. It will cost around 100 dirhams. Ask your hotel, the local tourist office, or stroll over to City Hall to get the logistics out of the way. Be ready to show it to the local game wardens wherever you’re headed.
Winter in the Middle Atlas can be as extreme as that of the High Atlas. With snow and significant precipitation that falls from November through April, the soil of its forests and grasslands in the lower altitudes bring nutritional prosperity to millions. If you come between December and March, be sure to bring your snowshoes, cross-country, downhill skis, or even a snowboard. You can also rent them from one of the many higher-end hotels in Ifrane. The slopes of Michlifen are where most Moroccans and tourists choose to flock. However, if you continue on the same road towards Errachidia and Midelt, the surrounding hills provide much more freedom and flexibility for any of the aforementioned activities.
On a sunny day, you can park alongside the road and trek the open terrain. If you’ve packed your windsurfing gear, try gliding around any of the sizeable lakes you come across. You will most likely be the only person around, but you might happen upon a Berber town, or spot shepherds who know the hills better than anyone. These once warring Berber tribesman are some of the nicest people that you’ll meet in all of Morocco. Don’t be surprised if you are invited for tea in one of their rocky, adobe-like houses.
The Middle Atlas is by far one of the best-kept secrets of outdoor splendor in all of Morocco. Head there for a day or two if you can. If you have a week or more, a new novelty awaits you whether you head for the cedars to see the monkeys, snowshoe the hills, fly-fish the streams, or windsurf its lakes. Make sure to breathe in plenty of the fresh air as the views and the altitude can leave you breathless.