A summer hiking center and a vast winter ski resort, the snowcapped Sierra Nevada mountain range is where locals go to play any season of the year. Only an hour's drive from Granada, its dramatic centerpiece, Mulhacén, is the highest peak in Spain, rising 3,478m (11,410 ft.). Many other peaks reach a height of 3,000m (9,842 ft.) or more. This vast mountain range extends some 75km (47 miles) west to east. Most of the 1,710 sq. km (660 sq. miles) of wilderness are part of the Parque Nacional.
Many visitors elect to explore Pico de Veleta, the third-highest mountain in the country at 3,390m (11,125 ft.). The view from its summit is one of the most panoramic in all of Spain, sweeping over the vast range of Las Alpujarras (the southern slopes of Sierra Nevada) and all the way to the sea. On a clear day you can even see the coast of North Africa. In July and August, microbuses run to the summit along the highest road in Europe. This dangerous road runs past the ski resort of Solynieve at 2,100m (6,890 ft.) and skirts both Mulhacén and Pico de Veleta. Even on the hottest day in August, it's cold at the top: Bring a sweater.
In 1986 UNESCO declared the Sierra Nevada to be a biosphere reserve. Because of the mountain range's proximity to the Mediterranean, there is a great diversity of flora and fauna. There are more than 2,100 cataloged flora species, 175 native to Iberia and 65 native to the Sierra Nevada. In spring you can see birds like the common chaffinch and the kinglet, and in fall you can observe the ringed ouzel. The rare golden eagle is also found here.
Pradollano is the country's southernmost ski resort and the largest and busiest in Andalusia, a province not normally associated with snow. The resort has 45 downhill runs, for a total of 61km (38 miles), plus 19 lifts. Some of the runs practically start at the peak of Pico de Veleta. The ski season begins in December and normally lasts until April, although in some years it's been known to last into early June. In winter Autobar Bonal (tel. 95-846-50-22) operates buses from Granada to Pradollano, leaving daily at 8am with a return at 6:30pm. In summer departures are daily at 9am, with a return at 5pm. A round-trip ticket costs 8€ ($13).
For more information on trails to the summits of Mulhacén and Pico de Veleta, get in touch with the National Park Service information office at Pampaneira (tel. 95-876-31-27). For information on the town of Pradollano, contact the Sierra Nevada Tourist Office at Pradollano in the Edificio Telecabina (tel. 95-824-91-00), 33km (21 miles) southeast of Granada. In winter call tel. 95-824-91-19 for snow and road conditions.