Trekking In The Caucasus Mountains

Hiking & Trekking In Armenia

Hiking & Trekking In Armenia
By Joel Balsam

With its stunning mountains, sweeping valleys and hundreds of historic churches dating back to the fourth century, Armenia is perfect for exploring by foot.

You can hike from village to village through forests of fruit trees, scale stark Caucasus mountains and visit traditional towns where the way of life hasn’t changed much in decades.

Squished between Georgia, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Iran, Armenia might be tiny – it’s eight times smaller than the United Kingdom – but the country has a diverse landscape with plenty of walking routes for all levels. Beginners and those looking for a quick stroll will enjoy the multitude of day hikes surrounding picturesque towns and there are multi-day treks for more experienced visitors.

Armenia Tatev Monsastery

Tatev Monastery, Armenia

Feel free to set up your tent nearly wherever you want as Armenia has no restrictions on camping except in a few designated reserves and on private property. If you want to camp on someone’s land, don’t be surprised if the owner not only gives you permission, but invites you inside for a dinner of khoravats (barbecue meat skewers) with lavash (traditional thin bread) and a shot of oghee (fruit vodka). Armenians are very proud of their country, their culture, their food and their mountain spring water, which you can generally drink safely throughout the country.

The best time to hike in Armenia is during the spring when millions of wildflowers blanket the valleys or in the fall when fruit trees including fig and apricot (a fruit so prized Armenia put its colour on the flag) are ripe for plucking. Winters in Armenia can be freezing cold and mountaintop trails will be covered in snow.

Wear boots and long pants on trails across the country as Armenia is home to 22 species of snakes including four vipers. You should also avoid hiking near the eastern border with Azerbaijan as an active conflict over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh can bubble up at any moment.

Armenia's best hikes & treks

Armenia Dilijan National Park

Dilijan National Park, Armenia

Dilijan National Park

Known as the ’Switzerland of Armenia,’ Dilijan National Park is a mountainous area covering 240㎢ that offers the best and most care-free hiking in the country. You’ll find beech and oak forests populated with brown bears, wolves, deer and eagles as well as an abundance of fresh fruit including apricots and berries. The town of Dilijan is a wonderful place to recharge in between hikes with plenty of quality accommodation and delicious restaurants.

A great hike to start with is from the town of Dilijan to Parz Lake or vice versa, which takes four to five hours and spans 14.5km. On the hike, you'll cross forests, epic vistas and, if you’re hiking in spring, valleys with millions of wildflowers that can be plucked to make tea. Starting from Dilijan’s helpful tourist information centre where you can rent hiking gear such as poles and sleeping bags, walk out of town to the south and up the mountain until you’re looking down on Dilijan. Follow the signs that indicate the Transcaucasian Trail (TCT), a 3,000km network of paths throughout the region, until you reach Parz Lake where you’ll find accommodation, a khoravats barbecue restaurant, a mini-rope park, paddle boats for rent and an hour-long 2km loop of the lake. You can spend the night here or have the info centre in Dilijan organise to have a cab meet you in the parking lot and take you back to town. If you’re keen to hike some more, you can continue along the TCT another four hours (7.1km) to the 12th-century Goshavank Monastery and to Gosh Lake, which will take an extra hour (4.2km)

A quick option is the 75-minute (3.8km) loop that takes you to two medieval monasteries, 13th-century Matosavank and 11th-century Jukhtavank, which are embedded in lush forest. You can either start this hike by driving to the trailhead on Abovyan St. or you can walk for about an hour from the info centre. Dilijan’s info centre has mountain bikes that you can rent for this loop.

For a multi-day trek, you can spend five to seven days (85.6km) hiking from the village of Kachardzan to Hovk. You’ll travel through forests, gorges and woodlands and see the beautiful 12th-century Goshavank and 10th-century Haghartsin monasteries along the way. There are campsites and guesthouses throughout this hike, but be sure to contact them beforehand to see if they’re open.

How to get to Dilijan National Park

You can take a marshrutka (minibus) from the Hyusisayin Avtokayan station in the north of Yerevan between 9am and 6pm. Minibuses leave when full and take about two hours to get to the central roundabout in Dilijan. The cost of the trip is about 1000 Armenian drams.

A taxi from Yerevan to Dilijan could cost up to 14,000 drams for the 100km journey.

When in Dilijan, there are plenty of taxis that can take you to surrounding towns or to your accommodation, though the town is quite small so it’s easy to walk around.

If you’d prefer to drive, there are several rental car agencies at the airport in Yerevan and it’s an easy drive along the M4 highway.

Armenia Mount Aragats

Mount Aragats, Armenia

Mount Aragats

Armenia’s borders might no longer contain Mount Ararat, the country’s national monument said to be where Noah’s ark first landed, but it does have Mount Aragats, a beautiful mountain in its own right and modern Armenia’s tallest peak. On Mount Aragats you’ll find waterfalls, sheep-covered valleys and pristine snow-capped mountains. To avoid the coldest temperatures, climbing is best between July and September, but don’t be surprised if there’s snow well into August.

All Mount Aragats hikes start from Kari Lake, which has a small hotel and a popular khoravats restaurant. You can climb all four peaks, the tallest and most challenging being the northern peak, which is 4090m high and involves carrying rope and wading through snowfields. The 8.5km trip takes about two days and is for experienced hikers only. An easier, though no less fulfilling option, is to climb the southernmost peak, which spans 4.7km to reach the 3893m-high summit. Hikers also sometimes climb the western peak (3995m) and the eastern peak (3908m).

On your way up or down to Kari Lake, don’t miss Amberd Fortress, a well-kept 7th-century stone fortress that commands beautiful views over the plains. For something different, 20km northeast of the town of Byurakan is a field of Armenian alphabet monuments built in 2005 as an ode to the 1600th anniversary of Mesrop Mashtots inventing the language.

Many hikers stay in Yerevan and come up to Mount Aragats from there, but there are places to stay at Kari Lake, and the towns of Byurakan and Ashtarak, another one of Armenia’s top hiking destinations.

How to get to Mount Aragats

There’s no public transport to Mount Aragats, so you’ll have to get to Kari Lake via taxi from Yerevan (about 10,000 drams) or by renting a car. The drive is 84km and takes about an hour and a half.

Many choose to get to Mount Aragats by hitchhiking, especially on weekends in the summer, but while hitchhiking is a popular way to get around in Armenia it's not recommended as it involves inherent dangers.

Armenia Tatev Monsastery3

Tatev, Armenia

Tatev Monastery

Since as far back as the 9th century, Tatev Monastery in the south of Armenia has commanded a bold place overlooking one of Armenia's most epic sights, the Vorotan Gorge, which dips 800m beneath stark cliffs. The gorge is a sublime destination for day hikes with trails leading to tiny villages and important cultural sights.

The most popular destination is Satan’s Bridge at the bottom of the gorge where legend has it that a bridge magically appeared to save villagers fleeing a rebel army. It’ll take about an hour to get here from Tatev and it’s easy to find right next to the main road. Another option is to leave from the Tatev Monastery and hike six to seven hours (13.5km) through the gorge to the forgotten village of Old Harjis, which is filled with ruins and grass-covered homes. Along the way, you’ll cross oak and hornbeam forests, the new town of Harjis and a lake that you can swim in. Keep an eye out for wild lizards, bears, wolves, foxes, porcupines and snakes. Other popular hikes from Tatev include the village of Tanzatap, which takes an hour, the 17th century Mets Anapad church (two and a half hour) and to the village of Ltsen (five to six hours).

Multi-day treks are less common around Tatev, but you can easily do multiple day trips while basing yourself from Halidzor where there are a few excellent B&Bs and a station for the world’s longest nonstop reversible ropeway, the Wings of Tatev Aerial Tramway. Alternatively, the hilltop village of Tatev has several humble B&Bs and a helpful info centre and cafe with ample hiking information.

How to get to Tatev

There are no marshrutky (minibuses) to Tatev or Halidzor from Yerevan, but you can take one to nearby Goris and then onto Tatev from there. Marshrutky leave Yerevan’s Sasuntsi Davit metro station for Goris at 9am and 4pm and take about six hours (2500 drams). From Goris, minibuses leave for Tatev at 8:30am and 3:30pm from the bus stop on Komitas St and take an hour.

There are shared taxis from Yerevan to Halidzor, but not to Tatev. Ask at your accommodation in Yerevan to have one pick you up. A private taxi from Goris should cost 8000 drams.

The drive from Yerevan is 250km and takes about five hours.

Kasagh gorge

Kasagh gorge, Armenia

Hiking to Ashtarak and Kasagh Gorge

In the Western Armenian province of Aragatsotn, the massive Kasagh Gorge is overlooked by not one, but two of Armenia’s most striking monasteries; Saghmosavank, which was built in the 13th century and Hovhannavank, which dates back to the 5th century.

The two monasteries are connected by an easy 7.5km trail along the edge of the gorge, which takes about five hours to complete a return trip. A longer hike (10km) starts from Saghmosavank and goes down into the gorge along the banks of the Kasagh River. The river eventually flows into the Metsamor River where you can take a dip before finishing the hike in the village of Karbi.

The area has stunning views of Mount Ararat, Mount Aragats and Mount Ara and is populated with apricot trees, wild rabbits and foxes. The region is also known for its wine and there are a few wineries to try in the area.

The town of Ashtarak is a good place to base yourself with its beautiful 19th-century black tuff buildings, pleasant tree-lined streets and several good restaurants.

How to get to Kasagh Gorge

Ashtarak is very easy to get to from Yerevan. Marshrutky (minibuses) leave from the Kilkya Avtokayan bus station every twenty minutes between 8am and 8pm and take 40 minutes (250 drams). To get to the Kasagh Gorge you’ll need to drive, hitchhike or walk — Hovhannavank is 7km from the centre of town.

Ashtarak is just 30 minutes from Yerevan by car or taxi. GG and Yandex, Armenia’s equivalent to Uber and Lyft, will have the best rates.

141333385 m

Yeghegis Canyon

Yeghegis Valley

Surrounded by huge peaks, charming villages, medieval churches and roaming animals, the Yeghegis Valley in Armenia’s Vayots Dzor province is excellent hiking territory. Don’t believe me? Take it from the Silk Road merchants who passed through here on their way to and from Western Europe and Asia. You can still find evidence of their journeys with a well-kept 14th-century caravanserai (shelter for weary travellers) in the Selim Pass. Summers in this region can get very hot at midday, so hiking between May and June or October and November is ideal.

A popular modern-day hike is from the village of Artabuynk to an 800-year-old Jewish cemetery beside the town of Yeghegis. The trek will take you past the 5th-century Smbataberd Fortress, which offers gorgeous views over the valley, down into a meadow and then up again where you’ll find the 10th-century Tsakhatskar Monastery. From there, you’ll walk down to Yeghegis, a village which hasn’t changed much in centuries and features three historic churches dating from the 13th, 14th and 18th centuries. A few minutes east of Yeghegis is a rickety bridge that leads to an 800-year-old Jewish cemetery said to have the remains of Jews from Persia who walked the Silk Road. The whole trek is 10km and takes about five hours to complete. Boots and long pants are especially important on this hike as vipers are frequently encountered.

A scenic 125km multi-day trek starts from the Selim caravanserai and heads south to the village of Ughedzor. The partly marked TCT trek winds through lakes, valleys and streams to the gorgeous Noravank Monastery, which glows reddish gold at sunset. You’ll also pass by the Areni-1 cave, the world’s oldest recorded winery dating back over 6,000 years. The trek continues through remote villages and up the Syunik Mountains before ending in Ughedzor.

There are several guesthouses and homestays in the area, including an eco-hotel made out of shipping containers near Yeghegis and some of Armenia’s finest guesthouses and wineries in Yeghegnadzor.

How to get to the Yeghegis Valley

Buses leave Yerevan from the Sasuntsi Davit train station in the morning for Yeghegnadzor, the area’s main hub, and take about two hours (AMD1200). From there, you’ll need to take a taxi up to Artabuynk or the Selim caravanserai, which costs the standard AMD100 per kilometre rate.

A taxi from Yerevan to Yeghegnadzor costs about 15,000 drams and takes two and a half hours.

Driving is a good idea as there’s plenty to explore in the region but few buses to take you there. However, keep in mind that if you’re planning to do the Artabuynk to Yeghegis or Selim to Ughedzor hikes they aren’t loops, so you’ll have to find your way back to where your car is parked.

Hiking & Trekking In Armenia

Joel Balsam

Joel Balsam is a Canadian freelance journalist and Lonely Planet guidebook writer.

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