A beautiful and accessible hiking trail in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) curves around Wadi Shawka. Located on the Eastern exteriors of the Ras Al Khaimah Emirate, it is only an hour long drive from Dubai. Nestled between Moon-like Hajar Mountains, Shawka dam serves as an ideal start for a relatively easy trekking adventure. This can last between a few hours to a full day of movement. Suitable for most age groups and fitness levels, this trail also has room for picnics and overnight camping along the way.
Although Wadi Shawka is growing in its popularity among outdoor enthusiasts in the UAE, only a few people are aware of this jaw dropping location . I was awed by the vistas. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to get there. Having panoramic spots that surpass those seen on more challenging trails in the region, Wadi Shawka is a perfect introduction to the wild spaces of the UAE – an ideal warm up towards more advanced hikes in the future.
Here is All You Need to Know about Visiting Beautiful Wadi Shawka Trails
I have put together all the information that might be useful for you to prepare for this hike. You can read through the complete post or jump straight to the sections that interest you. You might also want to get yourself hyped up by scrolling through the post to see the views that are waiting for you !
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6/ Shawka Pools
Wadi Shawka Dam to Pools Hike
With hundreds of striking photo opportunities waiting for you along the way, there are multiple hiking routes that you can enjoy around Wadi Shawka. I have taken one of several available trails starting at the Shawka Dam leading up to pools that are filled with water during the whole year. Also, you will get a glimpse of agricultural life and might see some wildlife (goats, camels, various birds) along the route. The parameters of Shawka hikes will vary depending on which route you select. The table below has summary details of the route I took.
SHAWKA DAM TO POOLS HIKE OVERVIEW
SUMMARY / An easy and scenic family friendly hike through clear mountain bike trails with swimming in the pools opportunity
DISTANCE/ ~8 KM from dam to pools and back
TIME / ~2.5 HRS
MAX ELEVATION / 513 M
MIN ELEVATION / 236 M
CAN I BRING MY DOG? / YES!
CELLULAR AND DATA SERVICE/ Available most of the time
DO YOU NEED A GUIDE TO SHAWKA TRAILS? / NO
On my last visit to wadi Shawka, it was raining heavily across the UAE. My hiking companion and I were hesitant to drive all the way to the mountains as the likelihood of being able to hike was really low. Nevertheless, we took a chance and to our pleasant surprise, there were only short moderate rains for the first half of the day and lots of sunshine in the afternoon while the rest of the country was facing massive storms. Certainly, it was an unusual plan that nature had prepared for us – we finished the hike after sunset and watched beautiful thunder and lightning illuminating the sky above the mountains. It was a surreal experience – Shawka was probably the only area in the country that was untouched by the storm that day.
The Best Time to Visit Wadi Shawka
You can hike in Wadi Shawka at any time of the day from November to March. Trekking is still possible early mornings when the weather heats up. You would have to have a good heat tolerance and be well prepared if you choose to go hiking in June, July or August. A note to somebody who has never experienced summer in the UAE – it is notorious.
In general, all the outdoor activities in the UAE are the most enjoyable during the winter or early spring months. Wadi Shawka is highly exposed to the sun with very little natural shade. There are a few man-made shaded seating areas for the hikers to take a rest, however, all the trails are purely out under the sun.
Directions to Wadi Shawka Hiking Trails
The starting point at Shawka Dam is only about an hour and ten minutes away from downtown Dubai. That is relatively close to the city compared to other dams and wadis. Moreover, if you are not planning to drive into the wadi, you do not need a 4×4 car to access the trails. Shawka Dam location is accurately pointed on Google Maps. Otherwise aim for Sharjah-Kalba road (E102) that you can access from Dubai via major highways: E311, E611, E44, E11. On the Sharjah – Kalba road look out for the Shawka road sign. Take an exit and drive left on the roundabout towards Shawka village. Continue for a little less than 5km and take a very sharp right turn (almost 120 degrees) to the road that will take you directly to the dam. Here you will find a parking spot and begin your adventure.
Navigating Shawka Trails
Directions to starting and end points of the trail
Shawka trails are accessible from Shawka dam parking lot. NOTE: currently you can’t access the parking area above with your car as there is a barrier, so you have to park earlier. There is a public parking available down the hill next to family playground. Our hike starting and end point is located on the parking above. You can access this by walking from the family parking area below. I have created a map with some points of interest that you can use for navigation as well.
- Coordinates for start & end points by the parking: 25°06’24.0″N 56°02’40.5″E
- Alternative end points: 25°06’14.7″N 56°02’21.9″E
Start your hike by climbing up the man-made staircases at Shawka Dam
A new staircase was recently built to safely access the very top of the mountain with a couple resting stops along the way. This man-made staircase is where our hike begins. Your leg muscles will get a nice burning sensation while climbing up nearly 300 meters. Once you reach the top of the staircase, striking Hajar mountain views will be awaiting for you. NOTE: an info board next to the dam advice visitors about available routes. However, it is not very clear where to start following them. At the time of visiting, the path winding around the dam towards the Wadi Shawka was flooded.
Follow narrow mountain bike tracks
Once you reach the “summit” of the staircase, start following clearly visible mountain bike trails until you reach the drop of the mountain.
From here we descended through donkey path towards the valley bellow where we could see other trails merging together. The descend part isn’t as difficult as it might look. Just be careful stepping down as there are many loose rocks, and take extra caution if it rains.
Once you reach valley bellow, an amazing mountain panorama opens up. Clouds looked dramatic that day, thus it was a perfect spot for a beautiful timelapse.
On the way to wadi Shawka and the pools
In order to get to wadi Shawka and the the pools, we continued following the path to the right until we reached a shaded sitting area. From there we took a left turn towards the other bigger valley.
As soon as you are in the big valley, continue walking to the right aiming towards white telecommunication tower. Once you approach the tower, keep going right until you reach Wadi Shawka.
While strolling through the wadi, you should be able to see AE Gathering Spot building and Wadi Shawka Park ahead (both marked on Google Maps). Head towards those buildings leaving Wadi Shawka on your left. Just before the AE Gathering spot, there is another smaller wadi on the right hand side. Some sort of a fence is blocking access for cars into it. Cross the fence and follow this small wadi . You will soon reach the famous Showka Pools which are the final destination of the hike for the day. Hikers love taking a dip into the pools on a hot day. Pools can get as deep as 2 meters, so you must know how to swim!
After the pools, there is a trail continuing deeper into the wadi and looping around back to the before mentioned AE Gathering Spot. That trail is recommended for more adventurous and experienced hikers who are willing to take extra challenges (not a beginner hike, rated as moderate to difficult).
Since it was getting dark, we had to head back. Instead of following exact same route, we skipped going through the big valley, and took the dirt road in wadi Shawka and turned right towards the biking trails a bit later. We have reached the middle part of before mentioned man-made staircases through the trail winding around the left hand side of the mountain. If you aim for exact same route, you would have to climb up the scree slope to the top of the mountain before you reach the staircases at the very top.
Download and follow this trail on your Wikiloc app
If you are not yet using Wikiloc app, it is very helpful as the trails can be followed offline. I have shared this trail bellow. You can save it, download it, see the viewpoints and comments to help you navigate easily. NOTE: if the map bellow doesn’t load, you can follow this link: https://www.wikiloc.com/hiking-trails/shawka-dam-to-shawka-pools-hike-48002346
How to Prepare for Wadi Shawka Hike
There are two factors you must take into account when preparing for this hike. First is hot weather conditions. Second is unforgiving terrain- it is harsh and hard with thousands of bigger and smaller rocks. Thus, for a perfect and safe hiking experience trekking experts would always suggest to prepare as follows. I can confirm from personal experience that it does make a difference):
What to wear when hiking in wadi Shawka
- Proper hiking boots, preferably high ankle, to keep your foot stable and have a good grip on scree slopes. I had tried hiking in sneakers- bad idea, twisted ankles is what you would be asking for, or worse…
- Sunglasses and a cap– don’t risk getting a heat stroke, it might look as a short hike, but trust me, it doesn’t take too long to get one in the Middle Eastern sun.
- SPF 50 or more sun cream
- Hiking attire of breathable material will make your trekking life feel much more comfortable. All that quick-dry stuff feels much nicer than regular cotton t-shirts that get soaked in sweat in no time and stinks as hell. Consider wearing something with shorter or longer sleeves, for better sun protection. And do yourself a favor- leave jeans for city walks.
- Fleece sweater for winter months.
- Towel and swimming suit if you decide to take a dip in the pools.
- Slippers for after hike– your feet will thank you.
Water and food for the hike
- Lot’s of water, ideally get yourself a Camel Bak that will serve you as a day hiking bag as well, it has stripes to support your back too. Personal experience- I started using camel bak recently and now it is irreplaceable. Camel Bak has a water reservoir that keeps water cool and evenly distributed inside the backpack. With readily accessible straw you can hydrate while you walk anytime you want without stopping. For this hike 2 to 3 Liters will do just fine.
- Power snacks and hydration drinks (electrolyte, sports drink or hydration tablets)- from my personal experience the best are protein bars, some salty crackers, dates, nuts, snickers chocolate (not so healthy though), Pocari Sweat and Gatorade works wanders to kill the hunger and give yourself an energy boost.
Must have and optional items for a safer hike
- Trekking Polls are highly recommended by professional hikers to easy the load on your joints, especially when descending. I still do not have a pair but considering getting one soon as I can certainly feel the load on my knees when I hike down the mountains.
- Torch light or a head-light in case you find yourself running late to come back from a hike. But you don’t want to be hiking in complete darkness, it’s just not fun as rocky terrain makes the walk more dangerous.
- Personal first AID kit (Advil, band aid, antiseptic, hand sanitizer, wet wipes, etc.)
- Let someone know when you are starting the hike and when you expect to return.
Shawka Pools- my humble opinion
Shawka pools are locally well known and one of the most easily accessible wadi water places in UAE. That means it sees quite a bit of visitors throughout the year. Sadly, not everyone acts responsibly in nature- the area around the pools was covered with classic trash (plastic bottles, clothes, food leftovers). Thus, I was hesitant to take a dip in the pools- it just did not look clean. Regardless, a man and his four dogs that were visiting the pools too seemed to enjoy the swim a lot.
The place could definitely have a better vibe if we humans were more considerate and didn’t trash the place. Furthermore, talking about the scenery- it is not as spectacular as the views we saw before reaching the pools. But this is my personal opinion only, and by no means, you should not be discouraged to visit Shawka pools. Cleanliness of the place should be addressed though, and I encourage you to always keep your trash with you and, if you can, pick up some as well.
Potential dangers and precautions when hiking
- Running into darkness. To avoid running out of light, always aim to start your hike early morning. Unless you are planning to camp, estimate your abilities to come back before it gets dark.
- Be aware of the rain- trails become slippery and unstable, there is a risk of falling rocks, floods.
- Snakes and scorpions are common in the UAE. Thus, be mindful of your steps and watch out before sitting on a rock. Personally I haven’t seen a snake or a scorpion myself during any of my hikes. However, other fellow hikers where sharing photos of snakes. You don’t need to freak out, but just be aware that they exist. It just something to be cautious of.
- Dehydration- this is a real deal, take extra water even if it means carrying a little heavier load. It is vital to stay hydrated. I have heard scary stories of someone lost their life because of dehydration. Please don’t be discourage though, just be well prepared.
- GPS is a king- navigating UAE mountains can be tricky. Landscapes start looking same o same after you hiked for a while and deep into the mountains. On the way back it might feel as if you are in a completely different place. It can’t be difficult to remember the original path you took. That being said, GPS tracker or Wikiloc app (works offline) is a life saver if you wander out of track. This hike is easy in terms of navigation- chances of getting lost are minor. Nevertheless, it is a still advisable to have a device that can track where you are.
Do you need a guide to Shawka trails?
There is no need to have a guide for this particular trail. The main points of interest are on Google Maps and navigating Wikiloc map is very easy. Chances to get lost are very unlikely, especially when there are quite a few people hiking in the area.
Amenities at Showka Dam
Shawka Dam offers convenient paved parking lot with some basic amenities: restrooms, refreshments and snacks’ kiosk, children playground. Local and expat families with kids choose to come to Showka Dam for a weekend. They mostly hang at the playground area and only some more adventurous ones choose to explore the trails. Be aware that parking has limited spaces and often gets double parked. We had trouble once when we tried to leave the place around late afternoon. That is the time when most of the local people come out for outdoor activities.
There are a few shaded sitting areas at the trails. Thus grab you lunch and enjoy it with the views.
Other activities around Wadi Showka
Wadi Shawka is not limited to hiking trails only. It is a perfect area to practice your mountain biking skills, go camping, off-road driving in the wadi. Basic canyoning is possible if you continue further crossing Shawka pools. Shawka area is locally known but doesn’t get overcrowded. You can wander around the trails, valleys and wadis and have the place completely for yourself. The only times when you see more visitors are Fridays as it is official day off in the UAE.
If you started and finished your Shawka Dam to Pools trail early and still feel like exploring more, you can head to a nearby Buraq Dam which is around 20 minutes away from Shawka Dam. It is a very photogenic spot where local photographers love to gather for star trail photography as well capturing trees sticking out of the water during the rainy season. I had a brief stop by in the beginning of March, and sadly there was no water in Buraq Dam at that time, regardless a drive to the place is still scenic and exciting detour as all you can see around is beautiful rolling hills.
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Enjoy your hike!