An introduction to hiking in the UAE
If you are a hiking fan, you can find all the essentials you need in the local Columbia stores. I recommend a sturdy pair of boots with ankle support, a light day pack with a hydration pack, short pants and a synthetic shirt which dries quickly, as well as a cap or a hat and sunglasses.
To be safe, you should choose a hike according to the level or your experience and fitness, and if you are not sure, it is always better to start easy and progress to longer and more challenging hikes. The terrain is mostly very loose and not marked so gaining experience on easy hikes is essential before you go out exploring.
Here are some of the best hiking locations in the UAE:
One of the best areas to start hiking is the area around Showka, which is also popular with mountain bikers. There are many trails and wadis you can follow and the area is at the edge of the Hajar Mountains, so most of the tracks are not exposed and are also
family friendly. Drive along the Sharjah -Kalba highway until you reach Showka,
take the first exit and then at the roundabout also take the first exit. You can park directly there and start hiking towards the mountains, or you can continue on the road and stop at one of the wadis or the damn a few kilometres away. If you don’t know the track you are taking and where it will lead, set a turnaround time to make sure you get back before dark.
Product recommendation – a good choice for Showka and wadi hikes is the COLUMBIA FIRECAMP BOOT, which is lightweight and durable to withstand the sharp rocks. The Omni-Tech textile with seam-sealed membrane bootle construction makes the boot waterproof but breathable which is important especially in wadis when you need to wade through water.
Fossil Rock is underestimated and for many is not considered as a mountain; however, it is an amazing hiking location. You can find many ways leading up to the higher plateau overlooking the desert with beautiful sunsets. There is not a marked track so you need to explore a bit to find a good way up and down; depending on your choice it can be more exposed. If you are into fossils you can also explore the edge where the rocks meet the dunes. Fossil Rock is also accessible from the Sharjah – Kalba highway (you need to pass the fence at the top end or if you have a 4×4 you can access Fossil Rock from both sides). Since the mountain is surrounded by desert it is almost impossible to get lost, but it can still be hard to find a good way up and down.
Product recommendation – no matter the temperature, long trousers are always the better choice on this hike, as they protect you from the sun and dry bushes with thorns along the trail or insects. The COLUMBIA SILVER RIDGE cargo pants with UPF 50 sun protection are perfect for hiking fossil rock and the zip lock pockets give you additional storage and make sure you don’t lose your valuables like your keys or wallet.
Jebel Jais has become a very popular weekend destination for cyclists, motorbikes and families. Apart from the sometimes crazy traffic on weekends, the new road makes spectacular hikes accessible with a normal car and there is no requirement for long off-road drives. Compared to the other locations, this area has both very steep and exposed hikes as well as easy short hikes. For the longer and more challenging hikes I recommend using a GPS and referring to plotted routes that you can find online (e.g. at outdooruae.com). Otherwise, just stop the car somewhere on the road and see if you can spot a village, many of them abandoned. Once you have your bearing, look for a track leading there. These are usually easy hikes that take around 30minutes to 1 hour, but of course you can extend them to your liking. Be aware that in the higher areas, you may reach sudden and very steep drops, so unless you know the route, you should always be prepared to return the same way you came. Jebel Jais is in Ras Al Khaimah and there are road signs towards the mountain once you reach the lamp roundabout in RAK.
Product recommendation – if you think it cannot get cold here, you are wrong, especially in the mountains where it can even get cold during the day. Even if you don’t plan to stay for the night a fleece should be in your backpack if you hike in areas like Jebel Jais. The COLUMBIA TITAN PASS fleece jacket is a good option as it is lightweight, packs up very small and keeps you warm whilst protecting you from the wind.
Al Qudra Lakes
If you live in Dubai and are not in the mood to drive for one hour or more, you can do some easy walks and short hikes around the artificial lakes in Al Qudra. Just exit Sheik Zayed Road, Al Khail Road or the E311 onto Umm Suqeim Street / Al Qudra Road and follow the straight road until you reach the last roundabout with a big parking area, restaurants and bike rental. From there head straight into the desert towards the trees. The wildlife sanctuary stretches over a big area and if you come early in the morning you can see gazelles and other wildlife. On weekends the lakes get very busy and crowded with cars, so the best time to visit is during the week.
Product recommendation – if you hike areas like the Al Qudra lakes with more sandy conditions and good gravel tracks, a lighter shoe is a smart choice also for the hotter periods of the year. The COLUMBIA CONSPIRACY IV OUTDRY is a lightweight multi sports shoe which takes you where any trail leads. The breathable mesh keeps your feet ventilated.
No matter when and where you go, always take enough water with you (approx 1l per hour), and make sure you have your navigation prepared as well as what you will do in case of an emergency. Depending on the remoteness and level of your hike you need to pay more attention to your preparation. The best advice is to start with the easy hikes to get a feel for and experience of the terrain, your fitness level, your requirements for food and water and what other things are of importance. Most of the hiking gear suitable for the region and with reliable quality you can find in your local Columbia stores.
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OutdoorUAE does not take any responsibility for accidents or inaccurate or wrong route information, the content of the article presents just recommendations for hiking in UAE. Be aware that you might not have phone coverage and please carry enough water and a first aid kit at all times.
Words by: Daniel Birkhofer
Photos by: Jung Francisco