While not of exceptional height by European standards, Mulhacén is the highest peak in Europe outside the Caucasus Mountains and the Alps. It is also the third most topographically prominent peak in Western Europe, after Mont Blanc and Mount Etna, and is ranked 64th in the world by prominence. The peak is not exceptionally dramatic in terms of steepness or local relief. The south flank of the mountain is gentle, and presents no technical challenge, as is the case for the long west ridge. The shorter, somewhat steeper north east ridge is slightly more technical. The north face of the mountain, however, is much steeper, and offers several routes involving moderately steep climbing on snow and ice (up to French grade AD) in the winter.
Mulhacén can be climbed in a single day from the villages of either Capileira or Trevélez, but it is more common to spend a night at the mountain refuge at Poqueira, or in the bare shelter at Caldera to the west. Those making the ascent from Trevelez can also bivouac at the tarns to the northeast of the peak.
On March 7, 2006 three British climbers from Teesside died on the mountain from suspected hypothermia. Initial reports quoting the Spanish Civil Guard stated that the three were ill-equipped for the extreme conditions. This claim was subsequently disputed both by the family and a colleague of one of the climbers, and by one of the rescuers. A plaque dedicated to them has been placed at the summit.