Ah, Jalisco. The birthplace of tequila. Mariachi. Charreria.
Home of the sunny beaches of Puerto Vallarta. The vibrant culture of Guadalajara. The peaceful shores of Lake Chapala.
If you think this idyllic Mexican state is simply a place to drink, party, and relax, think again. Turns out it’s also a world-class hiking destination.
Where should you hike, you ask? Relax. I’ve done the legwork so you don’t have to. These five hikes are some of Jalisco’s finest.
EL SALTO DE NOGAL: Jalisco’s Tallest Waterfall
Plunging 105 meters (344 feet) down a rocky cliff, El Salto de Nogal is Jalisco’s tallest waterfall. It’s also a great place to get your feet wet, literally and metaphorically, on Jalisco trails.
El Salto de Nogal lies about 2 hours and 45 minutes southwest of Guadalajara, near the magical mountain town of Tapalpa. The hardest part? The drive there. Plug in the name and let Google Maps do the rest. Follow a rough, though passable, dirt road to an obvious trailhead, replete with some vendors selling snacks and drinks. Hike over some gorgeous, forested hills, and you’ll shortly arrive at the top of the canyon that has been carved by El Salto’s flow. A detour leads to some intriguing, graffiti-covered caves here.
Follow a path comprised of a mix of cobblestone and steep steps to the lush valley floor, taking in dramatic views of cliffs, rock formations, and flora and fauna. Soon, you’ll come to El Salto’s lower falls, which dramatically plunge 9 meters (30 feet) into a deep pool. Continue on the obvious trail a little further, past a quiet, peaceful stretch of water, and soon, the unmistakable roar of El Salto will fall on your undoubtedly sweaty ears.
El Salto del Nogal is a two-tiered waterfall, plunging dramatically into a boulder-rimmed pool. You can climb all over these boulders to get a different angle for Instagram, or to reach the other side of the river. Exercise caution: a kid slipped and fell in while we were here. Grab a seat, and drink in the view of Jalisco’s highest waterfall, then return the way you came. The entire hike is short and steep: it’s only about 2 km, and it will take you anywhere between 1–2 hours, depending on your pace.
LAS PIEDROTAS: Jalisco’s Biggest Rocks
While you’re in the Tapalpa area, head over to Las Piedrotas and El Valle de Los Enigmas. To call Las Piedrotas just a bunch of huge boulders in a valley doesn’t do their size, grandeur and mystery justice. Just 4 km north of Tapalpa, these monoliths lie directly off of the road, extending in a rough line down the valley as far as the eye can see. Follow signs for Chiquilistlan and Las Piedrotas, and you’ll find these behemoths.
Geologists have puzzled for years as to how these gigantic volcanic rock formations ended up in a grassy, wildflower-laden valley, and chances are you’re not going to be the one to solve the mystery. Instead, just go enjoy yourself.
Don’t feel like hiking? Simply pay the 10-peso admission, and climb all over the closest rocks. Or zipline between the boulders. Or horseback ride. Or do a guided rock climbing and rappelling course. Or hang glide. Or simply stand and admire these otherworldly rocks. The choice is yours.
But, hiking is what this post is all about, so lace up your hiking shoes and head down the obvious path as it slithers across the valley. You’ll catch views of Valle del Lago and Volcan de Colima, as well as rocks on rocks on rocks. After about a kilometer, you’ll reach the end of the path. Turn around, scramble up something on your way back, and call it a day.
LA BUFA: Jalisco’s Best Views
If views are what you’re after, you’d better not skip La Bufa, a mountain near the magic town of San Sebastian del Oeste. From the center of town, follow signs to La Bufa (so named, I’m told, because of the way the wind whistles at its summit), and begin your ascent on a long, serpentine, dusty road through a lush forest. You can drive a significant amount of the way to the trailhead in a passenger car, but you’ll need to park shortly before the entrance to the park. We picked up a couple hikers along the way up the road who were happy for some air conditioning and a respite from the unrelenting incline.
Upon reaching the official trailhead, pay the entrance fee (50 pesos when we were there in early 2020) and hit the trail, descending ever so slightly into a gorgeous forest of pine, oak and yucca. Soon, the trail ascends and La Bufa’s summit rocks come into view.
Once you reach the top, take in 250-degree views of the Sierra Madre mountains all around you. On a clear day, it’s easy to see all the way to Puerto Vallarta and the Pacific Ocean. There’s a guardrail here to keep you from doing anything stupid in the name of selfies, as a precipitous drop lurks at the edge of the summit plateau.
Hike from one end of the 300-meter summit ridge to the other, taking in dramatic views with every step. Scramble up some interesting rock formations, if you’d like. Talk to the other tourists here doing exactly the same thing you’re doing. Then, head back down to the incredibly charming San Sebastian for a well-deserved, authentic Jalisco dinner.
NEVADO DE COLIMA: Jalisco’s Tallest Mountain
Ready to take it up a notch or seven? Why not climb Nevado de Colima? Also known by its indigenous name, Zapotepetl, Nevado de Colima, despite its misleading name, is the tallest mountain in the state of Jalisco. Soaring 4,340 meters (14,238 feet) above the valley floor, it, along with its neighbor, the incredibly active Volcan de Fuego, comprise the Colima Volcanic Complex.
This mountain is a hike, not a climb, so don’t be alarmed by its dramatic summit pinnacle, which looms over you as you drive the two-hour approach road from Ciudad Guzman. This 26-kilometer road is rough, but passable for most passenger cars, although there were four or five spots that made me question the abilities of our Chevy Aveo and the sanity of our plan. Stop at the national park boundary and pay a fee, then continue up the winding road as it ekes its way to a parking lot and a gate. Despite what signs on the gate may say, you are allowed to pass the gate on foot; the park ranger confirmed this.
Though this mountain is not technical, be aware that weather can change suddenly, and come prepared with plenty of rain gear, snacks, and water. Plan on about six to eight hours for this exciting hike, and get started early.
First, you’ll walk through tree-lined meadows and hillsides, soon reaching a turnoff near a scientific station. You’ll be graced with incredible views of Volcan de Fuego from here, and chances are it’ll be erupting, much like it was the day of our climb. Take a right off the road onto a scree-covered trail which works its way directly towards Nevado de Colima’s craggy slopes.
Follow the obvious path as it endlessly circles the mountain, looking for the weakness in the mountain’s summit pinnacle. Finally, head straight up in between some jagged rocks to this majestic mountain’s lively summit. An occasional scrambling move is required, but no climbing gear is necessary. From here, take in incredible panoramic views of Jalisco and Colima if storms haven’t rolled in yet. If they have, it’s best you make haste back down the way you came.
BARRANCO DE OBLATAS: Jalisco’s Grandest Canyon
A guide to hiking Jalisco wouldn’t be complete without the inclusion of Barranco de Oblatas. Lying just north of Guadalajara, this complex of canyons, also known as Barranca de Huentitán, begs inclusion not only for its accessibility, but also for its beauty. Standing on the valley floor amidst towering 600-meter cliffs, rushing rapids, and abundant wildlife, you’d never know you’re just a stone’s throw away from a major metropolitan area. Despite what you might read to the contrary, this gorgeous park is safe and family-friendly.
Let Google Maps or an Uber driver take you to the trailhead on Belisario Domiguez Street, which is lined by vendors and snack shops. After a few short steps, you’ll come to a viewpoint, which lets you take in a pretty spectacular view of the valley in front of you. This is not your destination, though; this is where you begin.
Follow never-ending switchbacks of cobblestone down, down and still down, past more viewpoints, cactus, bird observation zones, and till you reach the valley floor. Finally out of the shade of the forest, you’ll start to wish you would’ve brought more water at about this point. Take a left and hike parallel to the Rio Grande de Santiago, the river responsible for carving this majestic canyon. After about a kilometer, you’ll reach a spectacular bridge across the river. Take it, and drink in the 360-degree views of rock and rapid.
You may read reports of a waterfall nearby. Skip it. It’s beautiful from far away, but up close it becomes apparent that this cascade is fueled by wastewater runoff.
Return across the bridge and hike back towards the trail out of the canyon. You can climb back up using the tracks of a steep, abandoned cog railway; we saw people doing this, but after checking out the structural integrity, or lack thereof, of a few of the rails, we decided that shaving off a few minutes wasn’t worth a potential misstep, and took those grueling switchbacks back up. If you’re anything like me, whatever is in you will most likely be sweated out by the time you make it back to the trailhead.
Jalisco has everything. Mountains, waterfalls, beaches, deserts, forests, lakes. It’s arguably my favorite Mexican state. Not convinced? Go do these hikes and report back. I have a feeling the beauty of Jalisco will have changed your mind.