Largely ignored by most tourists, Vikos-Aoos National Park might be one of the country’s best kept secrets. An absolute paradise for hikers and outdoor lovers, this uncharted frontier of the Pindos Mountains offers pristine trails, from easy beginner treks to epic alpine affairs, thus serving all levels and tastes.
While each year anew, millions swarm Greece’s famous shores to bronze under a blazing Mediterranean sun and plunge into translucent waters, few choose to forsake this picture-perfect postcard paradise and venture inland.
Those who do will find a very different Greece, however.
Beyond the myriad of colourful parasols and occupied deck chairs awaits a rugged land of soaring heights and abysmal depths, virgin woodland and blooming pastures, oh so alien to the country’s albeit true yet very one-dimensional maritime image held aloft by international travel brochures.
Indeed, beyond the rhythmic sound of galloping waves, Greece presents an unfamiliar side, far removed from the whitewashed dwellings of the Cyclades and miles of glistening beaches hailed by the world’s sun worshippers. Where scarps rise to dizzying heights, Greece turns out to be a wanderer’s dream, a stunning hiking destination far off the beaten path.
During my time in Ioannina, I explored several of the many trails permeating the Pindos Mountains and have thus compiled this comprehensive list of my favourite treks to provide you with a solid introduction to the various options available within Vikos-Aoos National Park.
Vikos Gorge is grand. She is extraordinary. She is simply spectacular.
Parting the majestic Pindos, the world’s deepest canyon relatively to its width is an impressive sight to behold. Yet despite her decades old record status and relatively good accessibility, Vikos has stayed largely off the tourist trail. However, the missing popularity and thus resulting seclusion have created a unique biosphere, a sanctuary for many a threatened creature, such as bears, wolves, and eagles, and an unspoiled habitat for hundreds of local plants and herbs.
Although, the gorge still remains the most popular destination within the national park, most visitors will stick to the various view points and restrain from traversing the canyon on foot (which I highly recommend you do!).
Overall, Vikos Gorge is a somewhat challenging intermediate hike (mostly due to the steep ascent/descent), but a wonderful introduction to Epirus’ magical Zagori region.
DISTANCE | 12 kilometres
DIFFICULTY | Medium
DURATION | 5-6 hours
ELEVATION | +/- 420 metres
DRAKOLIMNI | THE DRAGON LAKE
Nestled in between verdant meadows and endless cliffs, and surrounded by the daunting summits of Tymfi, the location of this incredible mountain lake couldn’t be more dramatic.
Thought to have been the obscure hideout of a fearsome dragon in times past (no worries, no fire breathing beast spotted!), Drakolimni, the fabled “Dragon Lake”, is an utterly enchanting destination. High above the rushing torrents of the Aoos river, eagles soar in silence, while reckless chamois live out their suicidal tendencies on the mountain’s intimidating surface, the serene scene spotlessly mirrored in the still waters of the loch.
Even though, the long and exhausting ascent might present a challenge, all the hardships will be forgotten once your gaze finally falls upon Drakolimni, the crown jewel of Pindos!
DISTANCE | 17km round trip
DIFFICULTY | Medium
DURATION | 7-8 hours
ELEVATION | +/- 1050 metres
Despite the abundance of fantastic treks available to the intrepid hiker in the national park, none of those I braved compares to Gamila.
Leading you to the very edge of Tymfi, it is an epic journey across uncharted reaches of boulder-strewn pastures, barren scree slopes, and icebound fields (if you go early in the season), before the ground rises towards wind-swept peaks and the world drops to fathomless depths.
Ascending Gamila, Tymfi’s highest summit, is a true adventure, a mesmerising tribute to the raw beauty of this untouched land and an ode to leaving the trodden path. Without a doubt, the best way to experience Greece’s wild north.
DISTANCE | 14km round trip
DIFFICULTY | Hard
DURATION | 6-8 hours
ELEVATION | +/- 700 metres
MEGAS LAKKOS GORGE
While Vikos basks in the limelight, the trails of Megas Lakkos lie in solitude.
Although, carving out a lonesome existence in the shadow of her record-breaking sister canyon, Megas Lakkos Gorge stands as proud, and no less impressive. What she might lack in sheer magnitude, is easily compensated by her remoteness and rugged charm, elevated by the majestic peaks encompassing the horizon.
Stretching all the way from the wonderful woods of Vikos to the vast pastures of Tymfi, the gorge is the perfect choice for those seeking a less popular hiking trail and an alternative route towards the Tymfi massif (instead of ascending from Mikro Papingo).
DISTANCE | 14 kilometres
DIFFICULTY | Easy
DURATION | 5-6 hours
ELEVATION | +/- 660 metres
FULL GUIDE | Hiking Megas Lakkos Gorge
Beyond the towering silhouette of Konitsa Bridge, rise the scraggly scarps of the Aoos Canyon.
Breaking through the mountains near the eponymous village of Konitsa, this is by far the best accessible and beginner friendliest hike on this list. Following the flow of the Aoos river, that emanates deep inside the national park, all the way to the tranquil grounds of Stomiou Monastery, it is an undemanding yet beautiful trail and an ideal daytrip option from Ioannina.
Also, since it is not advised to swim in Pamvotida Lake next to Ioannina due to pollution, the Aoos Canyon is a wonderful respite during Greece’s scorching summer months, offering absolutely pristine spots to plunge into the crystal-clear water and unwind amidst this brilliant scenery.
DISTANCE | 9km round trip
DIFFICULTY | Easy
DURATION | 3-4 hours
ELEVATION | +/- 260 metres
FULL GUIDE | Aoos Canyon | A wonderful daytrip from Ioannina