Hiking through the Grand Canyon of Oman
Jebel Shams, the “Sun Mountain” in Arabic, is the highest mountain in Oman at 3009 meters, situated in the heart of the Western Hajar Mountain chain. Here it’s possible to do amazing trekking on the Jebel Shams plateau with incredible views of the gorge of Al Nakhr, and this place is so spectacular to be labelled as the “Grand Canyon” of Oman.
1) Road to Jebel Shams
The plateau is located 90 km from Nizwa (2-hour drive), 240 km from Muscat (4-hour drive). The last 20 km of the road to Jebel Shams climb steadily up to the plateau, and it presents a lot of curves. Most of it is paved, and in right conditions and just towards the end there are about 7 kilometres that are still unpaved. However it was an easy drive, and even though a 4WD is not mandatory to get to the plateau, it’s recommended especially in case of rain.
Getting there is quite easy, there is a Resort, the Jabal Shams Resort, that is close to the starting point of the trekking routes. You’ll find it on google maps as “Jebel Shams Resort” (GPS: 23.207977, 57.198276) whereas you’ll find the dusty car park of the hikes starting point (W6-W6a) as “W6 – balcony walk hike” (GPS: 23.193824, 57.201237).
3) Trekking routes in Jebel Shams
There are three hiking routes at Jebel Shams: Rim hike to the abandoned village (W6 Route), Rim hike to Wadi Ghul (W6a Route) and the Jebel Shams Summit Hike (W4 Route). It’s possible to choose one of them and do it in a day (or half day), but if you like hiking and you want to try all the routes or just relaxing and enjoy the place, the best choice is to have an overnight here.
The one we did
1) Hike to the abandoned village (W6 route – “Balcony walk hike”)
It is the most recommended route for casual hikers because is an exciting and relatively easy hike along the rim of the steep Al Nakhur Canyon walls with spectacular views until you reach an old abandoned village called “Al Sab”. There are some shaded picnic benches along the path so you can even enjoy a short walk. Once got the village, perched on the high cliff, you’ll see traces of terraced gardens, towers, and houses.
Walking time and distance
It is around 1.30 hrs (one way), and it is 4 km. If you don’t want to arrive in the abandoned village, I suggest walking for 45 min (it depends on your pace) until you get a sort of widening marked with many cairns and where you enjoy a fantastic view. After that, the path to the abandoned village becomes a bit more steep descent. The altitude of the hiking route is 1900 to 1800 meters.
Right after the Jebel Shams Resort the road becomes dirt, go on for 3 km until you reach the village of Al Khitaym where you park the car. Google maps: W6 – balcony walk hike. Along this short road, you can also stop the car and walk to the edge to admire the fantastic view but be careful because there are no fences or barriers. There aren’t food-drinks stalls so bring your stuff with you. If you need them, you can buy drinks at the Resort.
Other routes with information we found asking there
2) Rim hike to Wadi Ghul (W6a Route)
This quite steep trek offers some excellent views into the Wadi al Nakhr and also leads to an ancient abandoned village with houses built into the rocks at the lower point of the mountain, into Wadi Ghul.
Walking time and distance
Around 4 hours for fit hikers used to trek, approximately 6 hours for less experienced hikers and the length is 6 km. The altitude of the route is from 1900 meters to 700 meters. The way is marked and signposted by brown coloured signboards at the beginning and painted signs along the route.
The starting point is the same as the W6 route, the village of al Khitaym. You can also start this trek as an ascent from the entrance of Wadi Nakhr (google maps: hike start 6a – GPS: 23.149785, 57.205704) where you will see the old houses built in the rock face. Remember to bring your food-water with you.
3) Hike to the summit of Jebel Shams (W4 route)
This hike offers a spectacular view into the Wadi Nakhr canyon and is a steep climb up the plateau to the top. With no doubt is the most demanding and long of the three and should be done by hikers used to trekking. Most of the visitors split it in 2 days camping near the peak because the round trip could take around 12 hours and it’s not worth rushing instead of thoroughly enjoying the place.
Walking time and distance
The ascent takes 6-7 hours and the round trip around 12 hours. The length is 9 km, and the altitude of the route is from 1900 meters to 3000 meters. The route is marked with brown signboards and coloured flag signs.
Take the turn off at the Sama Heights Resort from the main road and follow the graded road until you get to a dirt car park with a sign indicating the start of the W4 route (GPS: 23.226082, 57.205091).
Need to Know
1) Where to sleep and eat
On the plateau, close to the starting point of the routes, you’ll find Jabal Shams Resort and Sama Heights Resort. You can also set there your tent (they have a place as a campground) or where you want on the edge of the plateau between the Jebel Shams Resort and the village of Al Khitaym. If you want to visit without an overnight, you can stay in Nizwa, Bahla or Al Hamra. We booked our accommodation through Booking.com.
2) When to go
October – March is the best season, remember that at night could be cold since the altitude. Check our itinerary through Oman.