Umbria abounds with unspoiled nature – dense forests and green meadows, soaring mountains and pristine lakes. From the highest peaks to the deepest grottos and everything in between, Umbria offers outdoor experiences for all types of travelers.
The eastern mountains
Rising along the eastern border of Umbria are the mountains of Monti Sibillini National Park, a part of the Apennine Mountain range. These historic peaks – many of which surpass 6500 feet (2000m) in height – are punctuated with glacially-carved valleys, rivers, and a scattering of small villages. The verdant landscape is a haven for wildlife including wolves, deer, foxes and falcons, plus wildflowers like edelweiss, orchids, and lilies.
Here there are hiking trails for all abilities – easy nature walks that leave from the small villages, and more technical hikes reaching high into the mountains. For the very adventurous, multi-day treks are also popular, staying overnight in the rifugi that are scattered throughout the region. In the winter the higher elevation areas in the national park get enough snow for snowshoe trekking excursions as well as cross-country skiing.
A playground in stone
Further north, head for Parco Regionale del Monte Cucco, a regional park also located in the Apennine Mountains. Some 75 miles (120km) of waymarked trails snake through the 40 sq mile (105 sq km) park, which offers everything from hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking to hang-gliding and cross-country skiing.
For a variation on terrestrial hiking, go canyoning – an activity that combines hiking and rock climbing as you navigate through a water-filled gorge. Join a guide for a two-mile (3km) descent through the Forra di Rio Freddo, a deep canyon cutting into the eastern side of Mount Cucco.
One of the most distinctive features of this park, however, is found underground. The Grotta di Monte Cucco is one of Europe's most spectacular limestone caves, with nearly 20 miles (30km) of galleries reaching depths of 3000 feet (900m), all slowly carved into the limestone rock by dripping water. Grab a helmet and a flashlight and join a guided tour deep underground, winding your way through the fascinating speleological sights. Tours vary by ability and range from two- to three-hour ‘discovery’ tours to four- to five-hour ‘crossing’ tours.
Picture perfect lake activities
For aquatic adventures head north to Lake Trasimeno, one of Italy’s largest lakes, which is surrounded by forests, olive groves, and charming towns like Castiglione del Lago and Passignano, draped along its shores like a daisy chain. Given its relatively shallow depth, the water is warm in the summer – perfect for a swim.
Visit a nearby watersports center to rent canoes and kayaks or take water skiing or sailing lessons. Or to pick out a bucolic spot to unwind, there are a number of beaches around the lake, some with amenities like umbrella rentals and sun beds. For the best views, there’s a 30-mile (50km) cycle path that encircles the lake as well.
For more leisurely pursuits, there’s excellent wine tasting at local vineyards. And restaurants, cafes and wine bars line Via Vittorio Emanuele in Castiglione del Lago.
Umbria on two wheels
There are plenty of cycling routes throughout Umbria, many of which traverse some of the most beautiful parts of the region, allowing cyclists an up-close look at the countryside and scenic stops in small towns.
One of the most well-known and accessible routes (with little elevation change) is the Assisi to Spoleto cycle path, divided into two stages of about 16 miles (25km) each. An additional, more challenging route continues on from Spoleto to Norcia, following the path of an old railway, complete with tunnels, viaducts, and bridges. From this route you can branch off to the Nera River cycle path further south that runs for twenty-eight kilometers along the Nera River.
It's easy to rent bikes and e-bikes in the area, with many companies delivering directly to you and picking up at the other end of your bike route if you prefer to plan a one-way journey.
Rivers and rapids in southern Umbria
The southern Umbria region where the Nera River is found is known as Valnerina and has an abundance of outdoor activities, both in and around the river.
Join an adventure guide for a rafting trip on the river or for a “river walking” excursion, a guided descent through some of the pools of the river, an activity suitable for a variety of ages and abilities.
Flowing into the Nera River, Marmore Falls is a waterfall that was created by the Romans in 271 B.C. by diverting the waters of the Velino River over a naturally occurring cliff, where it then merges with the Nera River. Today the falls are among the largest in Europe, and are the tallest man-made waterfall in the world. A number of scenic walks provide access to various viewpoints of the falls.
Not far from Marmore Falls is Ferentillo cliff, a popular rock-climbing location which rewards climbers with sweeping views of the Valnerina valley from the top.
Above the countryside
For more panoramic views of the sweeping Umbrian landscapes, take to the air. For a relaxing adventure, take an early morning hot air balloon ride near Perugia and Assisi, catching unique views of the towns and landscapes below.
For a more active excursion go hang gliding or paragliding with an experienced pilot. The updrafts of wind near Monte Cucco are particularly exciting, with the area having hosted many national and international hang gliding championships.
Outdoor enthusiasts of all types can find ways to explore Umbria’s diverse natural landscapes .Whether you want to be high in the sky or deep below ground, getting your feet wet in the aquatic environments or climbing the peaks, Umbria’s unspoiled beauty provides options for all travelers.