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The Best Hikes Throughout the Balkans

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This past year, we've been rambling around the Balkans. Although this region was one I had previously visited years ago, road-tripping through Croatia and backpacking in Slovenia, Romania, and Bulgaria, I didn't have the other Balkan countries on my radar.

On thing led to another and it brought us back here, spending the year stretched between Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Montenegro. And I'm so glad it did.

Last time we were in the region, we didn't do too much hiking - much to my dismay. This time has been different. We've spent as much time outdoors as possible and that's confirmed my suspicions: the Balkans are naturally blessed.

With incredible peaks, rolling valleys, stunning coastlines, and dense forests in between, any nature lover will enjoy hiking in the Balkans. Let's dive right into the crème de la crème of Balkans hiking and get you on one or many of these incredibly unique trails.

The trails on this list are ones I've personally done or those that have been submitted by others who fell in love on the winding paths that litter this region.

So we're on the same page, the Balkans to me includes: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, and Slovenia.

Alright, get your hiking boots ready and your trail maps downloaded - it's time to start hiking in the Balkans.

Theth to Valbona

The mighty Accursed Mountains in the backdrop
  • Thethi National Park, Albania
  • 30 km / 18.5 miles
  • Can be done as out & back or 1-way
  • Pet-friendly
  • Trail Map

Located in northern Albania, in the Albanian Alps, or Accursed Mountains (Bjeshkët e Nëmuna in Albanian), you'll find this stunner of a hiking trail. This area in general is one of my favorite places in Albania. When hiking, you have a few options: you can start and end in either Theth or Valbona, or you can make it an out-and-back hike, staying at one of the many hotels or homestays before going back the next day.

When we hiked in early June, we opted to start in Theth and end in the Valbona Valley. By going this route, we had a pretty steep climb to the summit but were rewarded with incredible mountain views on the moderate decline to Theth. If you'd rather a slower incline and a more steep decline, go from Valbona to Theth instead. Personally, Iiked facing Valbona Valley on the second half of the trail. After descending from the peak, you're provided with incredible views straight on nearly the entire back half of the trail.

There are a few things that made this trail unique to me: the stunning scenery and intense peaks of the Accursed Mountains, the wide variety of terrain you'll cover from flowing rivers, dense forests, to wide-open mountain views.

Plus, there are a handful of cafes along the way. This was really unique to me as I've never been on such a long route where you could stop and grab a drink or bite to eat on the way. What's so great about this is that you can refill your water and you don't need to bring so many snacks or drinks as you can refuel at any of these places.

When we hiked in June, the snow was just beginning to melt. We had to cross one snowy area but it was mainly slush. The week before many were struggling to get through this area so keep that in mind if you'll be in the region in spring - the trail might be a snowy one!

This trail is actually part of the famous Peaks of the Balkans. Keep reading to learn more about that hike if you're in the mood for a couple of days in nature.

Valušnica (Prokletije National Park)

Mighty Valušnica lighting up the backdrop of this hike
  • Prokletije National Park, Montenegro
  • 11.5 km / 7.2 miles
  • Can cut the distance by just going to a look-out point and back or make it a loop trail
  • Pet-friendly
  • Trail Map

Also located in the Accursed Mountains, just on the other side of the border in Montenegro, is Valušnica. This is the name of the mountain peak that gives you the best view on the hike but since I couldn't find this trail anywhere except surprisingly on Google Maps, that's the name I'll give the entire loop.

We saw a handful of people on the trail that were simply hiking up to the most direct view point and heading back down but I recommend that instead you go for the entire loop, as shown in the trail map.

The look-out point is incredible, don't get me wrong, but if you do the entire loop, you'll get views of the range for much of the time. After getting out of the woods, we went to the left, to get to the viewpoint first. We made this decision because the weather was iffy and we wanted to give ourselves time to catch the view if and when the clouds opened up. If it's a clear day though, I'd recommend going to the right first and ending at the viewpoint. That's because you'll get views of the mountain range the entirity of the hike, instead of having them at your back like we did.

When we decided to do this hike, we had to decide between going back to the Accursed Mountains or heading to Durmitor National Park instead. Although I've yet to go to Durmitor, I can say this is one of my favorite all-time hikes to date.

Peaks of the Balkans

The Peaks of the Balkans traverses a wild variety of landscapes

  • Accursed Mountains, Montenegro, Albania, & Kosovo
  • 192 km / 119 miles
  • Loop trail
  • Pet-friendly
  • Trail Map

Submission by Katie Mitchell of Adventure Wingwoman.

The Peaks of the Balkans trail is an 11-day loop through Montenegro, Albania, and Kosovo. It’s 192 kilometers, and you can hop on the trail in any of the three countries. I hiked the loop in August of 2022, and we began and ended in Plav, Montenegro. We liked this because Plav is the easiest of the start cities to access, and the largest! So, we were able to stock up on snacks while we were there.

While it's pretty short when compared to other European thru-hikes, this trail is not for the weak of knees. Every day, you ascend and descend 1000 altimeters in about 20 kilometers, which is a total of 10,250 altimeters throughout the loop. Phew!

The trail has a few options for accommodation. You can either camp along the way (just not in national parks!) or stay in guest houses. We chose to stay in the guesthouses for two reasons: the first was to keep our packs light, and the second was to do our part in boosting the local tourism economy.

The trail was founded to bring more awareness to the Accursed Mountains in 2013 and has seen great success since then. We hiked the trail alone as ambassadors for THRU-HIKING.com and many people chose to hike the trail solo although there are many tours available.

Just make sure to book your permits for each country ahead of time and download offline maps!

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Saranda to Ksamil

One of the many small beaches you'll pass during this hike

  • Saranda & Ksamil, Albania
  • 15.6 km / 9.7 miles
  • Can be done as out & back or 1-way
  • Pet-Friendly
  • Trail Map

If you're looking for a coastal hike, this one is pretty hard to beat. While you can do the hike on your own, the first half there isn't a clear trail so you'll be left making up the route to the best of your ability. It's hard to get lost but the terrain can make each step tough if you don't know where you're going.

I've done this route twice while we were living in Saranda- once with a local guide and again on our own. The first time was in April when the temperatures were cooler and the second at the end of May. By that time, the temperatures had heated up - which would typically be great for swimming along the way, but in this area, that meant snakes.

I don't say this to deter you from hiking but I do say this to deter you from hiking this trail in the summer, unless you have the correct footwear and not an intense phobia like I do.

Now back to the good stuff. Essentially what you're doing here is hiking from one Albanian town to the next but instead of walking along the road, you're hugging the coastline. That means incredible water views and tiny secret beaches you can take a dip or at least a break at. If you open up the trail map above, you'll see it took us 9 hours in total to complete but only 5 hours of moving time. The timing was this long simply because we stopped at 4 beaches each for 1 hour.

There is one bit in the beginning where you'll need to do some scrambling to get down. Everyone in our group was able to do this but it could be difficult if you take the trail as out and back as it would require some upper body strength to get back up that section.

We did it 1-way and took a taxi back to Saranda. If you do out and back, I would recommend staying a night in Ksamil.

Kotor Fortress

Sunset from Kotor Fortress with the Bay of Kotor below

  • Bay of Kotor, Montenegro
  • 2 km / 1.3 miles
  • Out and back
  • Pet-Friendly
  • Trail Map

If you find yourself in the Bay of Kotor, living there as we did or just visiting, this is a great urban hike. A relatively quick one, you'll make your way up mainly climbing an ancient staircase that follows the old walls of the Kotor Fortress itself.

This fortress overlooks the town of Kotor and provides stunning views of the mountains and bay it surrounds. You'll have to pay a small fee for this trail. I've heard there are ways to bypass the ticket booth but personally, I think it's worth the fee to help them maintain the path.

If you're there in the summer, know that Montenegro gets super hot so I would avoid hiking in the middle of the day. The sun rises behind the fortress, so if you hike in the mornings, the sun should illuminate the mountains and bay, giving you some pretty incredible pictures. On the flip side, if you hike in the evening like we did, you'll get a front row seat to the sunset.

You can make this trail more lengthy and difficult by continuing up past the fortress. We unfortunately didn't do that hike, as we were too busy enjoying all the best things to do on the Bay of Kotor itself.

When you do this hike, just give yourself a little bit of time at the fortress to soak up the views. Although in ruins itself, it's still pretty incredible.

Life on Mars

The unique landscape showing you exactly how this trail got it's name

  • Pag Island, Croatia
  • 7.5 km / 4.7 miles
  • Loop trail
  • Trail Map

Submission & photo by Abbey Rae of Trips on Abbey Road.

One of the best hikes in the Balkans is on Pag Island in Croatia which is known as Life on Mars. This trail can be divided up into sections, where you could treat is an and out-and-back trail like did, the moderate loop (which are the stats mentioned above), or the full challenging loop which is about 23 km (14 miles).

This moderate to hard hike for us was 4 km long in total and took about 4 hours to complete. Life on Mars is an out-and-back trail with beautiful scenery along the way. This epic hike gets its name because of the barren, moon-like terrain that looks like you are walking on the moon. You will also pass by two private beach fronts on the Adriatic Sea where you can stop and take in the views. 

You will need to bring plenty of water, snacks, and a full lunch. The most popular place to stop and have lunch is the second beachfront. The second beachfront is also a very popular place for locals to rock climb. You can hire a guide to take you along the trail and ask them to bring along the necessary equipment so you can try your hand at rock climbing. 

If you are hiking on Pag Island in the winter, you will want to watch out for the bura. Bura is a strong wind that is around from October to April and it can be very dangerous. These winds have been so strong in the past that they have blown over entire ships in the ocean. If you arrive at the Life on Mars Trail and you feel the Bura, you may want to come back another day. 

When you arrive at the parking lot you will see a ship repair shop and many sheep running around. Head back behind the shop and you will see the starting sign for the hike. Although you can hike in tennis shoes it is recommended to wear hiking boots and many people bring their trekking sticks. At some points you will be climbing hand and foot over rocks so a pair of gloves is always a good idea too!

You are going to love this unique hike on Pag Island it is one of the best hiking trails in the Balkans! 

Starigrad Fortress Hike

The incredible sea views that await from the fortress

  • Omis, Croatia
  • 6 km / 4 miles
  • Loop trail
  • Pet-Friendly
  • Trail Map

Submission & photo by Ben from Ticket 4 Two Please.

The coastal town of Omis, just south of Split and nestled directly on the shores of the beautiful Adriatic Sea, is perhaps best-known for being a haven for watersports enthusiasts with a plethora of aquatic-based activities to choose from. 

Something else the town is proud of is the 15th Century fortress that sits high up on the mountain, ominously overlooking Omis and the surrounding bay. Hiking to the Starigrad Fortress in Omis is the best way to get up close and personal with the impressive structure. 

The hike begins at sea-level in the town of Omis, before snaking up the mountain on the well-marked hiking trail - keep an eye out for the distinctive red-and-white circular markers, denoting the trail. 

Enjoy wonderful views of the bay below as you venture through a grassy meadow, before the trail flattens out on the lead-up to the Starigrad Fortress itself. 

The hike is relatively straightforward - experienced hikers should realistically get to the fortress in around 1-1.5 hours. If you prefer a slow walk to take in the surrounding views, then perhaps estimate around 2 hours to get up to the fortress. 

After spending some time exploring the abandoned structure, you can choose to take the same route back to the town, or instead opt to descend the steeper hiking route on the backside of the mountain. The steeper route takes roughly half the time of the original trail but can be quite jarring on your knees. 

Omis may be famous for its spectacular coastal scenery but that shouldn’t deter people from the fact that it is also home to one of the more impressive short hikes in the Balkans.

Plitvice Lakes National Park

You'll be amazed by the colors of the water at Plitvice

  • Central Croatia
  • 3.5 kn / 2.2 miles
  • Loop trail
  • Pet-Friendly
  • Trail Map

Plitvice Lakes National Park is a must visit if you're in Croatia. Easily one of the best places to visit in the country, this is one you'll want to check out. There are a few different trails in the national park but the one described above is the easiest. This walking trail is one you can do at a leisurely pace and takes you through much of the highlights in the national park.

While you shouldn't expect mountain views, here, you'll be rewarded with clear blue and green lakes, waterfalls, and lush green forest. This meandering trail is also one that most can handle, as it's relatively flat. For a more strenuous adventure, you can hike the upper and lower trails in the parks and travese much of the unique landscape.

While the trail itself is pretty short and can be done quickly, I recommend you take your time and really soak up your spectacular surroundings. We brought out Eno hammock out there with us and even set it up for a little nap. Just be sure you make note of when the last boat out is, we nearly missed it!

I imagine this park gets quite crowded in the summer but in the off season, we had the place relatively to ourselves.

Trebevič Peak Trail

The viewpoint from the cafe at Jure Franko

  • Sarajevo, Bosnia and Hercegovina
  • 20km / 12.7 miles
  • Loop trail
  • Pet-Friendly
  • Trail Map

There are two main ways you can summit Trebevič: starting in the center of Sarajevo at the Latin Bridge or taking the cable car (or driving) mid-way up the mountain and starting there. I opted to start from Sarajevo, and let me tell you, the first half is the most challenging.

This hike is so unique because I was able to start right outside of doorstep of Sarajevo, without needing to take any means of transportation for it. Meandering through the mahalas (neighborhoods), popping onto an abandoned bobsled track, and traversing dense forests are all what you can expect on this trail.

The view from the top is vast, although my favorite viewpoint isn't actually at the summit but instead a bit of a detour at Jure Franko. You won't find this on the trail map but it's only a slight detour and easily connected to the summit. It's worth it! The views of Sarajevo below are spectacular and you can grab a bite to eat and a drink from the small cafe. The vegetarian soup is delish!

On the way back down, you can hike a varying trail to make this a loop, or save your knees the stress, and take the cable car back down to the city center.

Lake Bled Trail + Viewpoint

Adorable Lake Bled, Photo by Márton Novák

If you haven't yet visited Lake Bled, you're in for a treat. This lake, surrounded by the Slovenian Alps is pretty spectacular. Made famous for it's mountainous backdrop and ancient church situated on a small island in the heart of it, I'll never forget my first view of it.

I've included two trails here because I couldn't find a great map that showed both together but my recommendation isn't that you do one or the other but instead combine both into one. The viewpoint trail hits two viewpoints so if you'd like to cut down the distance, just go to the first viewpoint before turning back down to the lake. Below is just the map of the easy loop around the lake itself but above you have links to them both.

The trail around the lake is more of a walking trail than a hiking one, but to get to the viewpoint, you'll go uphill. In my opinion, you can easily do this in tennis shoes though. While not one of the most strenuous hikes in the Balkans, it is one of the most iconic.

Otlica Window Hike

The natural window you can peak out of

Submission by Ben from Ticket 4 Two Please.

The Vipava Valley region of Slovenia has long held world-renowned status for being one of the best wine growing regions in Europe, but in recent times its network of hiking trails, scattered throughout the dramatic landscape, have gained significant notoriety. 

One of the best day hikes in the Vipava Valley region is the Otlica Natural Window Hike. Beginning in the nearby town of Ajdovščina, the hike takes you into the heart of the breathtaking Karst region of Slovenia, before eventually arriving at the Otlica window itself - an impressive natural phenomenon, where the Karst rock has eroded to form a ‘window’, with incredible views of the valet below.  

The majority of the hike up to the Otlica Window is a steep, rocky ascent, so be prepared for a moderate-hard climb to reach the summit. A relatively competent hiker should be able to reach the window in around 2-3 hours, with the descent back down taking less than half that time. 

Due to the rocky terrain, it is recommended you bring hiking poles to help with the ascent, as well as plenty of water and snacks for the journey. Reliable and sturdy hiking boots are also a must for this day-hike in the beautiful Balkans mountains. 

Fun fact: the Otlica Natural Window features on the famous Slovenian Mountain Trail - a cross-country trail that takes an average of 28 days to complete. Making it one of the most advanced hiking routes in the entire Balkans. 

Enjoy the Best of Hiking in the Balkans

While these hikes are absolutely fantastic, I know I'm just scraping the surface of all that the Balkans has to offer. An undeniably underrated region, these trails rival those I enjoyed in my Western U.S. road trip, which is saying a lot.

Each country in the region is home to breathtaking mountains, and natural resources like rivers, lakes, and waterfalls. Some are even home to the spectacular Adriatic Coast. Whether you're a beach bum wanting to get some exercise in while on vacation or someone chasing incredible mountain peaks, hiking in the Balkans won't let you down.

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