Some visitors assume that the beauty of the Algarve is limited to its famous coastline – but, as shown by the Parra Trail, this is far from true. Set within a protected habitat, this hike is located in a remote yet very significant area of the Algarve’s interior.
Parra Hiking Trail - Herdade da Parra National Forest - Algarve - Overview

TRAIL FACTSHEET
Location: Herdade da Parra, São Marcos da Serra, Silves municipality; GPS Coordinates : 37° 18′ 2.00804″, – 8° 25′ 14.17737″ (DMS); 37.30055778974359, -8.420604824628212 (Decimal Degrees); Grade: medium-high difficulty; some stretches are difficult for elderly or very young visitors; Type: loop trail (circular route); this trail is signposted; Length: 9.5 km/ 5.9 miles (in total, from the parking spot shown on the map below); Average Completion Time: up to 4.0 hours; Best Time to Visit: spring, autumn and late winter; this trail is more interesting in late spring; Activities: nature walks and hikes; birdwatching.

The Parra Trail was created to encourage visitors to explore the often-overlooked Algarvian ‘Serra’. This sparsely populated area features a squat mountain range that extends from the Spanish border all the way to Monchique in the west. Here, the hills and small mountains are all relatively low. However, despite their modest elevation, they create a distinctive landscape of rounded peaks separated by narrow, steep valleys. Most of these valleys are crossed by ephemeral winter streams.
Parra Trail - Algarve

This rugged terrain also has a significant climatic influence. By blocking northern winds, it protects the coastal Algarve from colder temperatures. Conversely, by hindering moist southern winds, it reduces rainfall in the region north of the Algarve, the Alentejo. This contributes to making the Alentejo one of the driest areas in Portugal.
Parra Trail - Serra do Caldeirão - Algarve

Composed of very ancient rocks such as schist and sandstones, the hills have thin, nutrient-poor soils. Still, this is only significant for cultivated crops. For native plant species, the lack of soil fertility is just a fact of life. On the Parra Trail, you will find an abundance of these native plants. The noblest and most iconic are native trees such as Cork Oaks, Holm Oaks, and Portuguese Oaks (shown below, from left to right). All these coexist with introduced trees like the Beach Casuarina and the Bangalay Eucalyptus.
Parra Trail - Silves - Native Tree Species

But the most striking plants are the smaller ones. In spring, you’ll enjoy the fragrances of French Lavender and Green Lavender, and be captivated by the flowers of the Purple Phlomis, and by the large, colourful Brotero’s Peony (pictured below, from left to right).
Native Flowers - Parra Trail - Algarve

Plants are not the only highlights of this hike, though. In fact, the ecosystem along the Parra Trail also supports large mammals such as Otter, Badger, Red Deer, Wild Boar, and the elusive Wildcat. Additionally, this area is a prime habitat for the world’s rarest and most endangered feline: the graceful Iberian Lynx (image below). Thanks to the efforts of Portuguese and Spanish authorities, the Iberian Lynx population has been brought back from the brink of extinction. However, for now, you’re quite unlikely to spot these famous Lynxes crossing the Parra Trail. But, in the future, that’s everybody’s hope.

Iberian Lynx - Serra do Caldeirão - Silves - Herdade da Parra National Forest

Due to their shyness, the same goes for some birds in the area like the Wryneck, the Red-legged Partridge, and the Iberian Green Woodpecker. However, birds of prey might be much easier to spot along the trail. Pictured below, these include the Short-toed Snake Eagle, Northern Goshawk, Sparrowhawk, and the majestic but endangered Bonelli’s Eagle.
Birds of Prey - Parra Trail - Algarve

The Bonelli’s Eagle can be identified by the stark contrast between its white belly and dark wings. It only inhabits areas with abundant prey, good forest cover, and minimal human impact. Its presence is an important indicator of a healthy habitat.
Picnic Area and Log Bridge Along the Parra Trail
The Parra Trail has several observation points where you can spot any one of these species, as well as several rest areas. At the beginning of the path, you’ll find a picnic area where you can have a snack to give you the energy needed for this somewhat challenging hike (image above, on the left-hand side).
Topographic Profile - Parra Trail

Further along, you will come across the Odelouca dam reservoir (aerial image below). Besides enriching the landscape, the water from this reservoir is crucial in a region like the Algarve, which is constantly threatened by drought. Surrounded by convoluted hills, the scenery here is spacious and very vivid. At this point, you will need to climb a rustic staircase that winds along a hillside.
dam-monchique-odelouca

Continuing along the path, you will then encounter one of the many springs of the Parra Forest. Some of these springs have iron-rich water, which is geologically unusual and gives the water a distinctive brownish-yellow colour.

Whether iron-rich or not, all these springs are vital for the plants and nesting birds in this biodiverse area. Unfortunately, in 2018 a large forest fire destroyed about 60 percent of precious forest cover. But nowadays, Parra is recovering and visitors finally have the chance to explore this unique and often overlooked ecosystem. We hope you enjoy it.

Parra Trail: Further Tips and Advice
The best time to visit the Parra Trail is undoubtedly spring. Of course, due to the heat and lack of shade, summer is not always ideal for this hike. Be sure to wear suitable footwear for difficult terrain and bring plenty of drinking water.

One possible drawback of the Parra Trail is the lack of mobile phone coverage for most of its route (but such remoteness has its advantages for wildlife, of course). Therefore, never hike alone and inform someone beforehand about your plans. To increase your chances of spotting the shy animals, it may be advisable to bring binoculars.

Please note that parking is generally required at the location indicated on the map above, not at the official start of the trail. This situation may change in the future, but for now, you will have to walk over 1.5 kilometres to reach the trailhead. The path is challenging in several sections, with loose stones, narrow, muddy, or steep areas. However, with proper footwear and normal precautions, the trail is perfectly manageable. Considering the terrain, it is not a surprise that this trail has many twists and turns – to avoid unnecessary hikes, please follow the official trail markings. Although it should go without saying, it is important to remember that leaving litter or starting fires is strictly prohibited in this highly sensitive ecosystem. Discover more about the Parra Trail on our interview with the Institute for Nature Conservation and Forests (ICNF). Enjoy!