UPDATE: Morocco is reopening to tourists following the tragic earthquake in September 2023 that killed thousands. According to CNN the lower Dades Valley is welcoming visitors, but the villages of the High Atlas may need more time to recover. Intrepid travelers wanting to make the full drive up Dades gorge to Imilchil may want to wait until next summer.
Thinking about visiting the Dadès Gorge in Morocco? I recommend it! It’s well worth a day or three to soak up this scenic spot where geology, history, and modern-day Berber culture intertwine so tightly. Visit for the rock formations, the hiking, the sunsets, the glimpse of Moroccan life within an old kasbah-turned-guesthouse, or just for a scenic break from your city circuit.
Though touristy near the beginning, Dadès Gorge offers a “choose your own adventure” travel opportunity. Stop by for a meal with scenic views, stay the night (or two) and do some hiking, or make the full journey past the main gorge and up the valley to a dirt road leading over a mountain pass. The farther you go, the less touristy it feels. Though the upper valley is hardly untouched, it’s a totally different experience from the first ten miles.
If you’re in Central Morocco I definitely recommend a visit to Dadès Gorge. This post shares everything you need to know, including hard-to-find information about the complete drive up the valley and over the pass, if you’re feeling adventurous. (Don’t worry, you’ll also find what you need for a short and easy visit.)
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About Dadès Gorge
Morocco’s Dadès River flows 220 miles from its origin in the High Atlas mountains, cutting through sedimentary rock formed millions of years ago when present-day Morocco lay at the bottom of a sea. In places the gorge’s walls are over 1600 feet high, and growing higher every year as each deluge of spring snowmelt erodes the walls a little more.
Along the water’s journey to the Sahara it brings life and livelihood to present-day Berber residents who channel its power to irrigate rose, almond, and palm fields. Along this Road of a Thousand Kasbahs some locals still live in fortified mud-brick houses with centuries-old histories. Higher up in the valley you’ll find mountain villages, and nomadic herders in their summer pastureland despite the arid climate.
Ways to Visit Dadès Gorge
There are many good ways to visit Dadès Gorge depending on your schedule, budget, and level of adventurousness. All of them start with getting to the bustling little town of Boumalne Dadès, the gorge’s gateway. It’s usually reached from Ouarzazate in 2-3 hours of driving, or 4-5 hours starting in Marrakech.
By Car (Organized Tour With Driver)
The fastest and easiest way to visit Dadès Gorge is with an organized tour. Many standard 3-4 day offerings include a quick overnight in the lower part of the gorge en route from Marrakech to the desert. More extensive visits, including guided hikes and 4×4 drives, can be booked with a variety of tour companies. If your schedule allows for last-minute arrangements, simply walk into one of several guide offices in Boumalne Dadès to inquire.
By Car (Rental or Your Own)
Since Morocco is a popular destination for Europeans driving their campervans down from Spain (with the help of a ferry of course), it’s common to see people driving their own vehicles in Dadès Gorge. If you flew into Morocco you also have the option of renting a vehicle. In either case self-driving is a fantastic way to experience Dadès Gorge independently and at your own pace.
For a quick taste of the lower gorge, a day trip or single overnight will do. If you have the time, spend a night at one of the guesthouses overlooking the gorge and watch the evening sun bring the landscape’s pink and brown palate to life. If you’re not in a hurry, consider spending two nights: one in the lower gorge and one at a more rustic guesthouse further in, spending your days hiking and exploring.
If you have both time and determination (and a 4×4 vehicle) consider a one-way drive all the way up the valley and over the pass to Agoudal. This is a scenic ascent into the High Atlas Mountains Would be a shame to rush through any faster than 2 days. Even better, take 3 days to make the full 75 mile drive from Boumalne Dades to Agoudal. Stop at a guesthouse or campground somewhere right before the serpentine switchbacks to enjoy the lower gorge, then spent night 2 at a less touristy auberge closer to the base of the big climb.
Motorcycles are a fixture in the Dadès Gorge, usually in large noisy groups. Motorbikes can be rented in Marrakesh or other cities, or driven / ferried from Europe if you’re on a longer tour. A properly equipped bike can go all the way up the dirt road to the pass for a thru-ride of the full valley.
By Public Transport
If you want to visit independently without your own vehicle, you can reach Dadès Gorge via public transit. The most common start point is Ouarzazate, where you can catch a CTM bus (easiest and most comfortable) or a shared grand taxi (cheaper) to Boumalne Dadès. From there you’ll have to book another taxi (or hire a guide) to take you into the gorge. Visit the taxi stand on the main street, and haggle hard.
My personal favorite mode of transport, and arguably the most adventurous: many bicycle travelers pedal through Dadès Gorge as part of a longer bicycle tour through Morocco. Some guesthouses even rent bikes so you can explore the nearby area, though you probably don’t want to go too far on them.
At pedal-pace you have plenty of time to soak up the details and enjoy plenty of stops along the way. The traffic near the beginning of the gorge can be a bit hectic, but after the switchbacks the road grows quieter and the riding is pleasant.
How Far to Go?
The entire Dadès river valley is quite long, but the most popular section of the gorge is rather short. How far up the Valley should you go? Here are your options.
Just the beginning: The first ten miles from Boumalne Dadès are packed with restaurants and accommodation. This area is perfect to explore on a day trip or a quick overnight. It contains the famous Monkey Fingers rock formations and some of the best scenery in the valley as the road squiggles along the gorge walls with views over the river.
Top of serpentine switchbacks: About 16 miles from Boumalne the road begins a short but spectacular ascent out of the deepest portion of the gorge. If you’ve seen a picture of dramatic serpentine switchbacks from Dadès Gorge, this is where it was taken. Though it’s said to be a dangerous road and you do certainly want to keep control of your vehicle, I personally would not say it’s terribly dangerous as long as you take it slow. There’s a restaurant, riad, and viewpoint at the top where you can enjoy the gorgeous views. This is where many tourists turn around, but the road continues (with less traffic) up the valley for many more miles.
Bottom of big climb: Guesthouses, small grocery shops, and restaurants continue for another ~5 miles past the switchbacks, including a short but interesting section where the road passes right next to the water. The town of M’Semrir, about 20 miles past the switchbacks, is said to be the end of the gorge proper but the road continues, transitioning gradually to dirt and gravel about 10 miles past M’Semrir. Services grow sparser and increasingly rustic approaching the start of the major climb, though there are still a few guesthouses to be found.
This section is quieter than the bottom of the gorge and offers a more authentic view of daily life for the valley’s Berber residents. The road is still passable by any vehicle, though it does deteriorate to rough narrow pavement and then dirt about 5 miles before the start of the climb. The last guesthouse before the climb (Auberge Ighounba) lies right at its base.
Over pass to Agoudal or Imilchil: If you have a 4×4 vehicle and some determination, you can drive all the way up the dirt road to Tizi N’Ouano Pass around 9400 feet elevation. The climb lasts for nine slow miles. Once you reach the top you’re home-free, as the road down the other side to Agoudal is mountainous but smooth with fresh pavement. Check conditions with locals during or after significant rain, as the drive may become more difficult.
Where to Stay in Dadès Gorge
There are literally hundreds of places to stay in Dadès Gorge, for every budget. Here’s an overview of the options:
Camping: If you’re traveling by campervan or have your own tent and camping gear, you can grab a spot at a campground in Dadès Gorge for between 70 – 120 MAD per night (roughly $7 – $12 USD). These spots usually come with access to toilets, hot showers, wifi, and the option to buy dinner and breakfast for an additional cost. One of the best campgrounds in Dadès Gorge is Camping Oudinar, just before the Serpentine Switchbacks.
Budget to Mid-Range Guesthouses: In the range of 200 – 500 MAD per night you can find a double room with private bath at plenty of auberges, hotels, riads, etc. Some of them are historic and picturesque kasbahs converted into hotels. Many are highly rated and a good value; personally I would be very happy with most places in the lower end of this range. Breakfast is often included, and possibly dinner as well if you’re negotiating a rate on the spot.
Higher-End Guesthouses: Between roughly 500 – 900 MAD you’ll find the “luxury” tier of Dadès Gorge accommodation, often simply nicer and bigger, sometimes with extra amenties like a spa. It’s almost impossible to find anything more expensive than 1000 MAD as far as I can tell; it’s just not a very ritzy area and dollars go a long way in Morocco.
If you want to book ahead and not bother with price negotiations, we had good results using booking.com.
Distances and Road Conditions
If you are driving Dadès Gorge yourself, you may wonder about the road conditions and what kind of vehicle (and driving skills!) you need. Good news, the road is not particularly crazy or dangerous, but some caution and an adventurous attitude will help. Here’s a list of rough distances along the Dadès Gorge road and what you can expect to find there.
All distances are measured from Boumalne Dades, the gateway town to the gorge, and are approximate.
Mile 0: Boumalne Dades. From here the road is two lanes and well paved. It can be a bit hectic with traffic, but most people are driving slowly.
Mile 11: End of most popular section. Road is still two lanes and well paved.
Mile 17: Top of the famous switchbacks. Road still paved and in good condition, but there are a few sharp turns with low guardrails and steep drop-offs. Between top of switchbacks and mile 45 the road continues in mostly good condition but eventually grows narrower and rougher, still nothing a standard 2wd passenger car can’t handle.
Mile 45: Start of more gravel and dirt than pavement, though it’s a gradual transition. Road is consistently a single lane.
Mile 51: Start of substantial climbing toward Tizi N’Ouano pass. Last auberge before the other side is right at the base of the climb. Road to the top is unpaved gravel, single lane, with well-graded switchbacks. A 4×4 vehicle or dirt-capable motorbike is advisable. There is nothing technical about the driving and no major obstacles, but it could be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. It’s apparently open year-round but may be impassible when not clear of snow.
Mile 60: Top of pass and start of very nice new pavement to Agoudal.
Mile 69: Auberges and touristy caves.
Mile 75: Town of Agoudal, food and lodging; you did it!
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