If you are up for a steep climb, challenge yourself to reach Pico Grande where you will have an incredible campsite, views of Pico do Arieiro & Pico Ruivo, and amazing stargazing from the summit. This 15-kilometer out-and-back route begins at Encumeada and has almost 1500 meters of vertical gain throughout the entire course. It can be done as a day-hike but to enjoy sunrise and sunset at the peak, it is best to camp overnight at Pico Grande.
PICO GRANDE HIKE DETAILS
Hike Distance: The total distance of the hike was 15 kilometers out and back.
Hike Duration: The hike will take you about 4 hours on the ascent and 3 hours on the descent if you consider the awkward terrain, stairs, and the fact you will be carrying your camping gear. If you are doing it as a trail-run you can probably cut those times in half.
Hike Difficulty: The most challenging aspect of the hike was the incline. A vertical kilometer is never easy and with the camping gear and photography equipment, it was a pretty tough ascent. It was made more difficult because I hiked up in the afternoon under the hot sun in humid conditions. The trail itself was a mixture of stairs, grass, gravel, and rocky scrambling. There were a few moments of exposure but for the most part, I felt pretty safe on this trail. I wouldn’t necessarily advise to do it in the rain or in the dark as it was a little more technical than a regular trail with all of the stairs, roots, and uneven drops.
Hike Incline: Total incline for the hike up was 1000 meters and on the way down it was 387-meters of incline due to the undulating course.
HOW TO GET TO THE PICO GRANDE HIKE
This is a pretty straightforward one to find as the hike begins directly from the Encumeada Viewpoint (Miradouro da Encumeada). This is a little viewpoint area with a souvenir shop, cafe, and parking lot. The cafe is a good place for a beer or coffee after the hike. The trail begins just down the road from the cafe where you will see an official sign on the right-hand side of the road painted in red and yellow. The sign never says Pico Grande but you follow the same route to Pico Ruivo until partway through the hike when it splits off to head to Pico Ruivo. The hike was easy to follow using Maps.me app. When you are at the cafe, just route to Pico Grande on the app and you can follow the app directly.
I’ve pinned the location of the viewpoint below so you can plan your route to the starting point of the hike.
MY EXPERIENCE HIKING AND CAMPING AT PICO GRANDE
The hike began in the late afternoon with a hot sun beaming down. With a sticky, humid heat, I was in for a sweaty ascent from Encumeada to Pico Grande. I packed a tent, sleeping pad, inflatable pillow, sleeping bag and some food for dinner and breakfast and , of course, I had my camera gear as well.
To begin the trail, you park at the cafe/souvenir store and then walk down the hill until you see the red and yellow sign on your right. It says Pico Ruivo and Achada do Teixeira but don’t worry this is the path that will lead you to Pico Grande.
The trail is an uphill battle from the very first moment. You are not eased into the hike, you immediately start climbing stairs at a rate of about 150m incline per kilometer for the first couple of kilometers. You can see in the photo below I’m looking down from the stairs and you can spot the cafe where you begin the hike all the way down there in the distance.
I found this trail really challenging and fun because you have to keep mentally focused with the stairs and uneven surfaces but the landscape is also constantly evolving with drop-offs and views throughout the valley.
After the initial stairs there is a bit of a grassy plateau before you begin to enter the rocky terrain at the base of the mountain peaks. This was the first time I was hiking on grass after months of trails in Madeira. There were often tree arches and it felt very wild even though the route was maintained and trimmed back to keep it clear for runners and hikers.
After just over seven kilometers, you will reach the base of Pico Grande. It’s quite an interesting peak because it really feels like the heart of the island. It is surrounded by mountain ranges, whereas it feels more like a lone peak due to its structure. With other trails spotted nearby, you can really get an idea of how all the hikes are connected and start to plan some of your next routes.
It might look a bit dangerous or tough to climb but there is a fixed metal chain that helps you up to the top of the peak. It’s also got a nice little groove that means you aren’t doing any rock-climbing or intense scrambling. It’s much easier than it looks and you will see that when you arrive at the base. It takes only a minute or so to get to the top of the rock from the base. At the top, take a seat and enjoy the sunset in one of the most spectacular spots on Madeira. On the day I visited, I didn’t see a single another hiker. I picked a very clear night so there was no cloud inversion except for much lower down but it also meant there was no rain or clouds blocking my view. The sunset was quite nice but it would prove to be nothing compared to the sunrise in the morning. That’s the advantage of camping there overnight.
There are a few places to pitch your tent directly below the base of the peak. None of them were perfect and it was a little hard to get the pegs into the hard ground but there was just enough space for my small tent to have a flat surface. It wasn’t windy on the night I camped and I was so confident in the weather I slept without the rain fly so I could watch the stars through the top of the tent all night. It was a pretty magical camping experience although I can imagine if it’s cold, windy and rainy it would be a different story up there.
The next morning, I woke about 45 minutes before sunrise and made the short climb back on top of Pico Grande. The great part about this peak is that it has panoramic views. You can see all the way to Bica da Cana in one direction and then across to Pico do Arieiro in the other. With no clouds blocking the view again, I had an incredible line of sight towards the sunrise with the Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo hiking route sticking out very clear in the distance with its sharp peaks. The sunrise colors were truly amazing although you don’t quite catch the sun as it rises over the ocean you need to wait until it creeps over the mountain range in front.
As the sun crept over the mountain range, I hung out atop Pico Grande for just a little while longer while flying my drone. I still was yet to see another person and felt like I was alone, on top of the island. With views as far as the eye could see, I couldn’t believe I was unable to spot any other hikers.
The way back down was exactly the same route as you took on your way up. Except this time, you are mostly headed downhill although you do still pick up almost 400 meters of incline. It might help you to know that there wasn’t any water available at the summit area although at the 4-kilometer point of the trail there was a small trickle coming from the cliff that I used to fill my bottles. I would count on not having any water available, especially if you visit in the drier months. The trek back down took just over two hours for me at a pretty solid pace.
I hope you enjoyed this guide to camping and hiking at Pico Grande on Madeira Island. Happy hiking and stay safe out there.