Climbing Mount Pico Azores – Hiking Guide and 13 Tips

Climbing Mount Pico Azores – Hiking Guide and 13 Tips

Portugal
Portugal

When Is the Best Time

Hiking to the summit of Pico, the highest mountain of Portugal with 2351 m/ 7713 feet, was on top of our bucket list for the Azores. Our wish was to climb in good weather. We spent eight days in Pico. We monitored the weather forecast for the best possible weather for this once in a lifetime hike to the top of this volcano. Weather Forecast Pico Summit

Pico Mountains and cows grasing.
View from ER 3, a straight road on higher elevation to Pico.

For climbing Pico, you have to apply for a permit. It is a popular climb throughout the year. The number of hikers is limited to 120 daily. You can either book your permit online, what I recommend or ask for availability in the mountain hut on your wished day. Permit Reservation Online 

Hikers queuing in the mountain hut.
Waiting to register, getting the GPS tracker in the morning.

The best time to hike Pico regarding crowds and weather is May, June and late September, early October. July and August are great for hiking, but it is pretty busy, and reservations have to be done in advance. 

Climbing hikers on the Lava Cone of Pico on a sunny day.
The crater and cone of Pico.

From the beginning of May until the end of September you are allowed to hike to the peak 24 hours a day. Many hikers start in the middle of the night in pitch darkness to watch the famous sunrise from the top of Pico. 

Guided Tour to Pico
This guided tour started in the afternoon.

My Tip: Start in the early afternoon, watch the sunset, camp in the crater, and watch the sunrise, too. This is far more a much better experience. There are 32 spaces available for camping. Don’t expect any up there no facilities, therefore, please, carry all your trash back. Be prepared if you wish to do so. It is cold and windy up there at night. Guided tours are offered providing all the needed equipment. Camping fee 10 €

Opening Hours Pico Hike and Mountain Hut

Information Boards at the Mountain Hut
You can find these information boards at the parking.

Before you start hiking, it is mandatory to register in the mountain hut. The guys in the house are amazing and attentive, providing all essential information. Only in very poor weather conditions, and on December 24, the hut is closed. The Nature Park employees let you start the hike as long as you have seven hours of daylight available. This is the estimated duration for the trek to the summit and back.

Volcanic crater and hikers on the Pico treck
The beginning of the track with the parking in the back.
  • Main Season: 1. May until 30. September open 24 hours daily
  • Shoulder Season: April and October open from 8 am to 8 pm
  • Low Season in the winter: 8 am to 6 pm

Weather and Crowds on Pico

View from Lagoa do Capitao to Pico
View from Lagoa do Capitao to Pico - I call it "Mirror Lake" Google Maps Location 

It is said you experience four seasons in one day in the Azores, and this is true. The weather at Pico in high elevation is even more unstable. The reason we hiked to the top on our last day in Pico Island with the best weather forecast you can wish on this hike. The mentioned low temperatures are for the Pico summit.

Sunset at Mount Pico
Frequently the clouds disappear in the evening.

Pico Mountain determines the weather developing orographic clouds called by the residents “hats”. This explanation dates back to the first settlers. The shape of the clouds indicates the upcoming weather. The settlers had known if the weather was stable for fishing or if a storm was coming up. There is usually a significant temperature difference of 10°C or 18°F and more between the mountain hut and the crater caused by fog, strong wind, and rain. The wind is heavy and cold even during our hike in excellent weather. 

Spring (April-May)

Pico Mountain with clouds at the bottom
The clouds frequently disappear in the evening - view from the east.

The hiking season starts on Pico. Decreasing rainfall in April though May to September is the driest time of the year. The temperatures on the peak of Pico's range, on average between 4-8°C/ 39-46°F during the day and nights are freezing. The sky is frequently overcast or partly cloudy. Depending on rain and fog, it isn't easy to spot the next trail marker. 

Summer (June-September)

Mount Pico with a clear blue sky
The first part of the hike to Pico summit.

The summer is the busiest time of the year. Lots of the 120 spaces are booked by tour operators. You may be forced to book your reservation early. If a hiker doesn’t show up for the reserved time, they give the permit to waiting climbers. The weather is relatively stable. It is the driest and warmest time of the year, perfect for camping on Pico. May night temps are still freezing June to September, ranging from 3-7°C/ 37-45°F.

Sunrise on ER 3 with view to Pico
Sunrise at Pico from the main road leading around the volcano

Day temps are around 10°C/50°F, but it feels warmer in the sun without wind but chilly when strong winds occur. From July to September, the chance for a clear blue sky is the highest.

Fall (October)

Pico Mountain with twisted clouds.
Pico cone is visible from the east but not from the west. Appearing clouds called hat.

Increasing rainfall especially from mid-October onwards. Temps are still pleasant for this time of the year, around 8°C/46°F during the day and 4°C/39°F at night. However, it is an uncomfortable hike in the rain with poor visibility, but partly cloudy or sunny days exist as well. Everything is possible on Pico and in the Azores. 

Winter (November-March)

Pico half visible half in clouds from the central massif
View from the inland central road - Location Google Maps

Snow and ice occur on Pico. Crampons, gloves, full winter equipment is needed. The temperatures are low, and nights are freezing. It looks spectacular to watch Pico covered in snow. Nevertheless, mountainous experiences are essential for safety reasons. The Azores are less busy than in summer. If you wish to hike to the peak of Pico, you either have to be experienced or think about a guided tour with equipment. 
 

Best Months to Visit

Jan
Feb
Mar
Apr
May
Jun
Jul
Aug
Sep
Oct
Nov
Dec

Location and Tips

Azores, Pico Island
Portugal
Portugal

Pico Mountain is a dormant stratovolcano. This means the volcano is inactive, but, likely, Pico erupts again. The last eruptions were in 1718 and 1720. Pico is 2351 m high above sea level and even 3500 m from the seabed. Countless eruptions let the volcano grew started estimated 240.000 years ago in three phases. In the end, the “Piquinho Cone” was formed.

A hidden lava tube on Pico Island
An overgrown hidden lava tube like on Big Island in Hawaii.

Pico Island is the second-largest island located in the central group of the Azores. Pico is the youngest island of the nine outstanding islands about 300.000 years old.

Pico Mountain information board
You find this information board in the mountain hut.

Mount Pico is located in the Pico Nature Park the largest park in the Azores. About 35% of the entire Pico Island are a protected zone since 1972. The volcano is the third highest in the Atlantic Ocean. The highest is Teide (3.718 m) in Tenerife and Fogo (2.829 m) the second in Cape Verde.

Two hikers on the Pico trail
These hikers came from Porto. We walked quite a while together.

The hiking trail although climb is a much better description is 7.6 km/ 4.75 miles long and takes 6-8 hours depending on your fitness level. There isn’t any real hiking path. You follow the 47 makers to get to the summit of Pico. It is more climbing up with hands and feet instead of real hiking.

A group of hikers wearing warm clothes
This was a guided early morning tour to watch the sunrise from Pico.

During fog and rain, which frequently occurs, it isn't easy to spot the markers. The mountain hut is located at 1.230 m elevation, the crater is 2.250 m high, and the cone 2.351 m. Due to an elevation gain of 1.121 m, the entire trail is steep.

The monitor with the positions of all hikers on Pico
All hikers are monitored by the GPS tracker.

There is huge parking in front of the mountain hut. The procedure is quickly done. The guys at the hut are super attentive and efficient to let you go on this bucket list hike. After showing your online booking, you get a GPS tracker provided. They monitor all hikers throughout the day. It is mandatory to carry it safely in your bag. In any case of an emergency, you can get in contact with them. A rescue is included in the permit fee.

Permit Fee Pico

The last part the cone of Pico with hikers on the trail
Pico Piquinho - The lava cone 2.351 m above sea level.
  • Hiking until marker 2 to the cave 5 Euro, no advanced booking necessary. Hiking duration one way maximum of half an hour.
  • Climbing until the caldera of Pico to marker 45 and 46 fee 15 Euro. Climbing duration one way 2.5-3.5 hours.
  • Climbing to the summit, the cone from marker 47 fee 25 Euro. The climbing duration for this additional part is 15 minutes. It looks more difficult than it is.

Hiking Trail Details

Hiking Pico above the clouds.
The top of Pico is frequently cloud-free.

When you leave the mountain hut, a staircase leads up to the hiking path. The first part of the hike until the cave and marker two is easy to identify. From now on, the markers are closer together because there isn’t any indicated path. Look how it best suits you to climb and hike to the next marker in front of you. It is a rugged and exposed path walking on loose volcanic rocks. Hiking this trail in darkness to watch the sunrise from the top is challenging, and a powerful torch is essential. 

Pico Mountain Hut in dense fog
The mountain hut and trailhead in poor weather conditions.

You frequently start the climb in clouds, dense fog occasionally in rain. Therefore, be prepared and check out my packing list at the end of this article. Often the clouds disappear somehow after marker 20 and higher offering breathtaking views above the clouds. Also, we started the hike in clouds at 9 am. We arrived at 8.30 am and lined up. The two guys in the hut are awesome and patient giving all introductions in Portuguese and English. The majority of the hikers are tourists. 

The steep track to the summit
It's a breathtaking scenery on the Pico trail.

Climbing up worked very well for us, and we overpassed lots of hikers. However, after every second or third marker, we made a quick stop and drank water. We reached the crater much faster than expected already after 2.5 hours. The scenery in front of us was mind-blowing, with the massive cone at the other end of the crater.

The crater and lava cone on Pico
Marker 45 at the crater rim of Pico.

The crater is a maximum of 26 m deep. We immediately continued hiking through the crater and to the last marker, number 47. It took us another 15 minutes until we reached the top of Pico. It was a bit busy when we reached the summit, the reason we waited until these hikers left. Being above the clouds getting some views down to Pico Island was awesome.

A hiker almost at the lava cone of Pico
Almost at the top of the lava cone - the Pico crater in the back.

Because of the clouds, it is rare to see the other islands Faial and Sao Jorge, from the top. However, it is a once in a lifetime experience hiking and climbing Pico. Although I have climbed many mountains, this is definitely one of my top ten mountains so far. Due to the steep ascent, the descent was more challenging IMO. Wear proper shoes and if you are not used to hiking in the mountains, bring hiking poles for this rugged, steep trail.

View from the cone of Pico
There is a strong cold wind on the top of Pico.

We were fortunate and hiked the entire trail back in the sunshine with excellent views of the surroundings. Nevertheless, we still made short stops every second or third maker to drink water. When we came back, we gave the guys in the mountain hut the tracker back. If the GPS tracker gets lost, the fee is 300 Euros. 

The Pico track above the clouds.
Hiking back above the clouds.

We were in awe when we stretched our legs at the car, looking back to Pico, who shortly after was covered in clouds again. What a spectacular hike here in Pico Island. 

Packing List – 13 Tips

My hiking gear for Pico

  1. Monitor the weather forecast Expect a significant temperature difference of 10°C between the mountain hut and the crater caused by fog, strong wind, and rain. Weather Forecast Pico Summit 
  2. Make your reservation online to secure a space Permit Reservation Pico 
  3. If severe weather turns up, please return. 
  4. Put the GPS Tracker in a safe and dry place in your backpack. If it is damaged, they charge you a fee of 300 €. 
  5. Due to the unstable weather, carry a wind and rainproof jacket. 
  6. If the sun comes out, you quickly get sunburned. A hat and sunscreen are also essential. 
  7. Carry plenty of water, at least 2l for each hiker and take a gulp every now and then. Do you think 2 l is not enough? I agree, but most people carried less water. Drinking plenty of water is the key to such hikes. We sweat a lot on this demanding path but did it easily. 
  8. High energy food, snacks, take a proper break at the crater and recharge your battery. You’ll need total concentration on the steep descent. 
  9. For a comfortable break, I always carry a lightweight seat pad helpful for the sharp stones inside the crater and in poor weather. 
  10. I always carry in case of an emergency my headlamp with me. If you plan to climb in darkness, a powerful torch plus replacement is essential. 
  11. Wear proper hiking shoes with grip, not only trainers. We saw the ambulance several times leaving the mountain hut during our time in Pico Island. One guy injured his knee. A woman fell onto the rocks and hit her head.
  12. I recommend hiking poles for the steep path slippery in some parts, although I rarely need them. A third of the climbers used them up and down.
  13. In winter, crampons are a Must due to snow and icy conditions.

Also, check out My 10 Essential in My Backpack.

My Natural Pool and Restaurant Tip for Pico Island

Tasca O Petisca - fantastic Portuguese restaurant
Tasca O Petisca - My Restaurant Tip

After such a hike, we love to spoil ourselves. We first went to a natural pool and bar and afterwards to one of the best restaurants we've ever been to in Portugal. The majority of my family lives in Portugal, and we went to many excellent restaurants, but the Tasca O Petisca is exceptional. If you visit Pico Island and Madalena, don't miss out on this typical Tasca.

Octopus salad
One of the most delicious octopus salads with corn cakes ever.

Tasca O Petisca - A Tasca is a traditional Portuguese restaurant serving home-style food for reasonable prices. Usually, you meet more locals than tourists in a Tasca. 

Grilled Squid
This grilled squid was mouth-watering. 

It is a popular restaurant, and all tables are already full 15 minutes after opening and for a good reason. The taste and seafood quality are mind-blowing. They offer a buffet and menu for lunch reasonable priced. The staff is super attentive and friendly. If you wish to get a table, be punctual shortly before noon for lunch or 6.30 pm for dinner. I highly recommend the tapas to try as much as possible.

Pica-Pau Carne
Pica-Pau Carne - The meat in Pico is excellent.

My restaurant recommendation is not a paid ad; it is simply my recommendation for their outstanding food quality and taste. This restaurant is one of the Must-Visit places on Pico Island. (Google Maps Location)

Piscinas naturais da Criação Velha
Our favourite natural pool for swimming.

This natural pool; "Piscinas naturais da Criação Velha" is not well known, and a car is needed to get there. It is rarely bustling. We went swimming there several times and enjoyed a "Vivere Vinum" from the tap. This natural pool was our favourite for swimming in Pico. Piscina Natural and bar Google Maps Location

Typical wine cultivation in Pico with Pico in the back
This is the wine cultivation method in Pico.

Pico is famous for its wine cultivation method, like in Lanzarote.

I took all these pictures except the ones with me. If you like to use one of those, get in contact with me. 

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Micha Herber-Bleich
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