Slot canyons, unique red stone formations, hidden life in the heart of the desert. This is what awaits you on your hike through the Monkey Fingers. Here’s everything you need to know about this incredible hike, including where to park, how to find it, what to expect, and tips and tricks.
The Monkey Fingers hike is located in the Dades Valley, near the city of Tamellalt, Morocco. It is about 5 hours from Marrakech and just a short cut-off from the road from Marrakech to Merzouga, where you can stay in the dunes of the Sahara.
This is definitely an off the beaten path thing to do in Morocco, but one that I highly recommend! In fact, after spending a morning in the Dades Valley, we wished we had had a whole day (or even two) as part of our 10 day Morocco itinerary to explore the region.
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Where to Stay in the Dades Valley/Tamellalt
Before you begin, I recommend you stay overnight at the TAFTSUT guesthouse. It is conveniently located right off the main road, has very lovely and colorful guest rooms, and the most incredible rooftop seating area. Plus, the owners were very helpful and accommodating and the breakfast was one of my favorites in all of Morocco.
Parking at the Trailhead
While TAFTSUT is actually within walking distance of where you’ll hike the Monkey Fingers (you can walk along the river to the trailhead in about 20 minutes), it’s also convenient to drive there. Head north and further into the Dades Valley for about 5 minutes until you find the Auberge Kasbah Ait Marghad. We were able to park here for free.
Note: You can see there’s a dirt road heading down just on the other side of the hotel sign. Don’t drive down there! Park up at the main road.
Finding the Trailhead
So… that “side road” you shouldn’t drive down? Walk down that path instead.
You’ll quickly come to a bridge over the stream and enter a relaxing, lush area. Seriously, the amount of greenery is such a contrast to the whole region and we loved the feel of that setting. The path divides a few times, with some paths leading into a small village, but you’ll want to follow along the stream.
Continue for about 5 minutes while keeping your eyes toward the right side of the mountains and you’ll find the canyon entrance.
Starting in the Canyon of the Monkey Fingers Hike
Hiking the Monkey Fingers canyon was absolutely delightful. You get a nice combination of interesting rock formations, slot canyons, vegetation, places to scramble on rocks, and stunning views.
The canyon trail begins with some of the “Monkey Fingers” near-by. If you’ve been paying attention to the mountains at all while driving in the Dades gorge, you’ll have seen that several mountains have uniquely ridged features. Now that you are here, it’s incredible just how large these structures are.
Like most canyon hikes, the start of the canyon is fairly wide, with a gravel path and pretty scenery. But quickly the trail takes a more exciting turn as the path twists and winds through increasingly narrower sections until you get sections that feel more like a slot canyon.
The first 10-15 minutes will continue like this until you reach a natural break point. Here the canyon is largely blocked by massive boulders. Press on! The boulders are fairly easy to scramble if you don’t mind free climbing a few meters.
From this point the path is more straight-forward, though the canyon walls get higher and higher around you. We were the only ones on the trail, except for a local guy who was also doing the hike. We kept passing each other and exchanging conversation – he’ll come into play more in a little bit.
The rocks are fairly grippy, and after about 30 minutes you’ll be in this section, where the canyon walls are much more moderately sloped and you can scramble on the rocks a bit.
At this point, the local guy we had been chatting with showed us an alternative path that you cross over to, which will either take you farther into the mountains, or take back to the village. We needed to turn back so we could start driving out to Merzouga and the Sahara, but you can also definitely keep hiking in the canyon farther beyond where this turnoff point was (more on that below).
The Alternate Path
We crossed from the lower trail to the upper trail at about ¾ of a mile into the hike. You’ll see a small pathway up the rocks to the ledges above to your left.
At first it seems like you’ll be scrambling on rocks, but you join up with a trail pretty quickly. At this point, you can just follow the ridgeline back.
This higher up path was really fun for several reasons:
First, it was faster as you can take a more direct path instead of winding in the canyon. Second, being higher you get great views of the canyon and back out over the Dades valley. And third, and most of all, this section has some excellent examples of the Monkey Fingers that are best viewed from this higher perspective.
After about 30 minutes of walking we reached the valley. You can swing back down to the river you entered by or exit through the village. Be aware that this path is completely exposed to the sun, so if you are low on water or getting hot, it actually might be better to stay in the shade of the canyon.
Verdict: We loved this hike so much. The canyon was beautiful, the lush vegetation such a contrast to the desert, and the rock formations were just so cool.
If we hadn’t been pressed for time to make it to the Sahara that day, we would have absolutely loved to explore this region of Morocco more.
The Full Monkey Fingers Loop
You can continue on the trail much farther than the turnoff we took – we grabbed this screenshot from Alltrails and you can really make a big loop of it. The yellow star is where we parked. The green/black circle is apparently another spot you can start from. I would still start at the yellow star because you are closer to the Monkey Fingers rock formations.
After you’re done with your hike, drive another 10 minutes up the road to the famous switchback section of the Dades gorge. The view from the top is really something!
The best view is from the patio of this restaurant (this is what it looks like, but you can’t miss it!). You can go inside to look at the view, but you will have to buy something (and it will be overpriced – we just bought some water bottles).
To find this spot, put in “Café-restaurant Timzzillite Chez Mohamed” or “Riad Bleu Afriqua” (the riad right next door) into your maps. Do not just search “Hotel Timzzillite”, it will take you to another, incorrect location.
It’s a quick stop, but for sure worth it if you are in the region anyway.
Some Trail Stats:
- Difficulty: I would classify this as an easy hike, as it was almost exclusively flat, with the exception of the few times we had to climb and scramble up and over something.
- Distance: 1.5 miles for the out and back we did, 6 miles for the entire loop
- Total time: 1.5 to 2 hours (we did stop for pictures often and to scramble around on the rocks)
Final Thoughts on the Monkey Fingers Hike
If your exploration of Morocco brings you near the Dades Gorge, make a stop and hike the Monkey Fingers. You won’t regret it!
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