The Balkans Crown

The Balkans Crown – exploring the amazing and diverse mountains of the Balkan Peninsula walking, mountain biking and ski touring

How it all begun… our collection of walking holidays in the Balkans

It all started in 2018 when we were walking together in the Rhodopi and the Pirin Mountains in Bulgaria with the members of the Bogtrotters Hillwalking Club based it Dublin, Ireland. Bogtrotters are a group of steady walkers who like scenic and remote routes up the mountains, but also the good wine, good food and good laugh and are also curious to explore different areas every year. Their club would consist of a of a group of regular members, but there is also new faces every year.

It was a day with beautiful Spring weather up there – not too warm, not too cold, little breeze. Also quiet, empty trails outside of the peak tourist season. With such visibility and contrast mountain panoramas that are usually privilege of the winter weather conditions and result of the crystal cold air and the winds, washing out all the pollution in the air. We were sitting on the top of a Bulgarian peak and steering towards the mountain ranges bordering the country with North Macedonia and Greece. Finally we got to the idea to organize another trip “on the other side” next year. Bogtotters had already visited only Romania in the area, so the list of the unexplored countries of the Balkans was promising – North Macedonia, Greece, Kosovo, Montenegro, Bosnia&Hertsegovina, Serbia, Albania…

Said and done, after the Bulgarian Rhodopes, Rila and Pirin ranges, next May we were walking the mountains of North Macedonia. We visited Korab and Sharri Mountains, Vodno Mountains and the Ohrid Lake. As both are border mountain ranges that connect the country with Albania (Korab) and Kosovo (Sharri) that was a good contribution to our concept.

A tour along the continental Greek mountain ranges of Northern Pindus – Tymfi and Zagori, Olympus National Park and a visit to Meteora monasteries followed in 2022.

Than we visited the mountains of Montenegro – Bjelasitsa, Komovi, Prokletije (The Accursed Mountains) and Durmitor National Park in 2023.

Little by little we were exploring and getting to know the amazing and diverse mountain ranges of the Balkan Peninsula.


Walking the Greek Olympus mountains – best views towards the main ridge and the Throne of Zeus


What type of walking holidays we organize along the Balkans?

Our way of exploring the mountains of the Balkan Peninsula is a bit different than the thru-hikes style and is developed with the understanding that our guests usually do not have the time to devote for a real long distance hike as well as the motivation to experience some of the rough parts of the routes. That`s why we prefer to visit each country and mountain range either separately (enjoying a small piece of the Balkans chocolate every year), either visiting a few ranges/countries in a row. Especially if you travel overseas to visit Southeastern Europe and the Balkan Peninsula second makes more sense.

We would choose the most attractive routes in each country and mountain range that present the local nature and highlights in the best way. The number of combinations is unlimited and every plan is a unique experience itself. We are happy to take these adventures – on foot, on wheels or on skis. Walking and trekking, mountain biking and ski touring is our way to discover the mountain ranges of the Balkans. Thinking about a name to put on this project and to explain all these routes and programs, we choose

The Balkans Crown – exploring the amazing and diverse mountains of the Balkan Peninsula walking, mountain biking and ski touring

The Balkans Crown is an endless journey through the wild territories of the Balkan Peninsula with its peaks and mountain tops. But we believe the essence of this journey and our key role in it is the communication. Communication both between the humans and the nature and between the local people from the Balkans and our guests from around the world that we guide on this journey with passion and understanding.


The people of the Balkans

Although it is all about the mountains, we will focus on the people first. The annual visits of the different countries of the Balkans and their mountain ranges which often stretch between the borders set a clearer view of the puzzle, called “The Balkans” – a vast yet largely unexplored playground for the curious mountain enthusiasts and keen travelers. But the Balkans are also a cultural puzzle – a mish-mash of nationalities, religions and ethnic groups, each with its distinct image and history. By the way, history has a lot of versions on the Balkans, depending on the point of view. Realizing and accepting this relativism is part of the understanding of the life on the Balkans.

Talking about exploring the mountains, the deeper one dives into to the mountain life and people of the Balkans, the more important gets this parallel exploration of the local cultures and life. It is a mirror abstract image of the rugged peaks of the Balkans. It is still a wild part of Europe, a lost world – could be beautiful and peaceful, but also severe and dangerous as the nature of the mountains themselves.

Although divided by their nationality and very often their religion, the people from the Balkans have much more similarities than differences. The Balkan Peninsula is an area that had experienced a number of cultural influences, was an important crossroad between the East and the West in the past. It was conquered by Ottomans and Byzantians, was ruled by the Communists and a number of local dictators, and last but not least survived numerous armed conflicts that shaped the borders of the countries until nowadays.

Each of the counties on the Balkans had its glory periods of powerful rulers and wealth, but also had its dark times when people had to fight for their lives. That made the people from the Balkans more compassionate, more philosophic about the ups and downs of life and developed their sense of humor in a certain way. Sorrow is part of life on the Balkans but the real strength is to be able to laugh even on your own sufferings.


Long distance walking routes along the Balkan Peninsula. Thru-hiking on the Balkans

Back on the case of hiking the mountains, here is a list of the most popular long distance walking routes that cross this part of Southeastern Europe – the Balkan Peninsula.

The cross European E-paths that cover most of the mountain ranges across Europe are also presented on the Balkan Peninsula. These are developed by the European Ramblers Association and are the ultimate thru hikes across Europe as well as the most popular thru hikes on the Balkan Peninsula. Here is a list of the routes that cross the Balkans:

E3: 8.880 km Santiago (E) – Vézelay (F) – Echternach (L) – Fulda (D) – Zakopane (PL) – Ártánd (H) – Nesebâr (BG).

Most popular Balkan part of this route is the Kom-Emine Trail in Bulgaria that follows the main ridge of the Balkan Mountains from the border with Serbia (Kom peak) down to the Black Sea coast – more than 700 km of hut to hut ridge trekking. Known as the “Balkan High Mountain Trail”. It offers a unique opportunity to experience the wild beauty of the Bulgarian mountains, traverse the Central Balkan national park and explore historic sites along the way.

E4: 12.090 km Tarifa (E) – Grenoble (F) – St-Cergue (CH) – Budapest (H) – Beograd (SRB) – Sofia (BG) – Lanaca (CY).

Again, the Bulgarian part of E4 connects some of the highest mountains on the Balkan Peninsula – Rila and Pirin mountain ranges, as well as the interesting border range of Slavyanka Mountains. E4 also crosses the magnificent Olympus Mountains in Greece, where the second highest peak of the Balkans is located – Mount Mytikas (2917 m). More info on climbing Mount Mytikas itself.

E6: 6.030 km Stockholm (SWE) – København (DK) – Goslar (D) – Koper (SLO) – Alexandroupolis (GR)

E7: 6.370 km El Hierro (E) – Lisboa (P) – Andorra (AND) – Nice (F) – Ljubljana (SLO) – Nowi Sad (SRB)

E8: 6.240 km Dursey Head (IRL) – Hull (GB) – Hoek v Holland (NL) – Bonn (D) – Wien (A) – Brasov (RO) – Svilengrad (BG)

The “Balkan” part of E8 includes the highest peak on the Balkan Peninsula – Mount Musala, as well as the vast area of the Rhodopi Mountains in Bulgaria. It is also supposed to cover some parts of Carpathean mountains in Romania, but the route is still under development.

More about the Bulgarian parts of the E-routes

We have also described a short route version that covers Rila Mountains only. The Rila Traverse – a shorter route to cover the Rila Mountains, partly following the E4 route hut to hut style for 7 days.


The Balkan Peninsula offers several other long-distance walking routes that traverse its diverse landscapes, showcasing the region’s natural beauty, cultural heritage, and historical sites. Examples of long distance trekking routes developed by different NGO-s that connect the mountains of the Balkan Peninsula are the Via Dinarica Trail, The Peaks of the Balkans, The Macedonian Traverse and The High Scardus Trail.


Via Dinarica: This long-distance trail (actually a network of trails with a few variations) stretches for approximately 1 200 kilometers along the Dinaric Alps, traversing several Balkan countries, including Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, Kosovo, and Albania. The route showcases stunning mountain scenery, national parks, traditional villages, and cultural landmarks. The Via Dinarica is a long-distance trail system that spans the Western Balkans, encompassing several countries along the Dinaric Alps. It offers a unique opportunity to explore the diverse landscapes, cultures, and natural beauty of the region. Here is some information about the Via Dinarica trail:

Divisions: The trail is divided into three main routes:

  1. White Trail: This northern route covers Slovenia and parts of Croatia, passing through the Julian Alps, Gorski Kotar, and Velebit Mountain.
  2. Blue Trail: The central route, which traverses Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro, takes you through the Dinaric Alps, including the popular sections of Paklenica National Park, Durmitor National Park, and the Tara River Canyon.
  3. Green Trail: The southern route crosses Montenegro, Albania, Kosovo, and ends in Serbia. It showcases the Albanian Alps, Rugova Gorge, Sharr Mountain, and the Prokletije Mountains.

Highlights along the trail:

  1. Natural Beauty: The Via Dinarica offers breathtaking scenery, including dramatic mountain peaks, deep canyons, crystal-clear rivers, glacial lakes, and lush forests. The landscapes vary from rugged and rocky terrains to gentle meadows and alpine pastures.
  2. Cultural Heritage: Along the trail, you’ll encounter traditional villages, historic towns, and archaeological sites that reflect the rich cultural heritage of the Balkans. Each region has its distinct traditions, cuisine, and local customs.
  3. National Parks: The trail passes through several national parks, such as Triglav National Park in Slovenia, Plitvice Lakes National Park and Paklenica National Park in Croatia, Durmitor National Park in Montenegro, and Bjeshket e Nemuna National Park (Accursed Mountains) in Albania. These protected areas offer exceptional natural beauty and opportunities for outdoor activities.
  4. Mountain Huts and Accommodation: The Via Dinarica provides access to mountain huts and shelters along the route, offering accommodation for hikers. In some sections, you may also find guesthouses or campsites in nearby villages or towns.


Peaks of the Balkans: This 192-kilometer circular trail explores the border regions of Albania, Kosovo, and Montenegro. It takes you through the rugged Accursed Mountains (Prokletije) and offers breathtaking views of mountain peaks, glacial lakes, remote villages, and traditional shepherding communities.

Route: The trail forms a circular route, starting and ending in the village of Theth in Albania, and passing through the border regions of Albania, Kosovo, and Montenegro. The exact route may vary, but it typically covers a distance of around 192 kilometers, taking you through breathtaking mountain scenery, traditional villages, and rural areas.

Highlights along the trail:

  1. Accursed Mountains (Prokletije): The trail winds through the Accursed Mountains, which are known for their rugged beauty, pristine alpine landscapes, and towering peaks. You’ll encounter glacial valleys, deep gorges, pristine lakes, and stunning panoramic views throughout the journey.
  2. Theth National Park: The trail starts in the village of Theth, located in Theth National Park in Albania. This area is renowned for its natural beauty, including dramatic canyons, waterfalls, and traditional stone houses. It’s worth exploring the picturesque village and visiting the famous Blue Eye, a natural spring-fed pool.
  3. Valbona Valley National Park: The trail continues into Valbona Valley National Park in Albania, where you’ll experience breathtaking mountain vistas, dense forests, and the turquoise waters of Valbona River. The valley is also home to traditional guesthouses that provide accommodation and a taste of local hospitality.
  4. Rugova Gorge: After crossing the border into Kosovo, the trail takes you through the dramatic Rugova Gorge. This natural wonder features vertical limestone cliffs, crystal-clear streams, and numerous waterfalls, providing a spectacular backdrop for your hike.
  5. Prokletije National Park: As you enter Montenegro, you’ll explore Prokletije National Park, which encompasses the Montenegrin portion of the Accursed Mountains. The park offers stunning glacial landscapes, high peaks, and the opportunity to spot rare wildlife, such as lynx and chamois.


The Macedonian Traverse: This 200-kilometer trek takes you through the diverse landscapes of North Macedonia, starting from Mavrovo National Park and leading to Lake Ohrid. The route encompasses mountainous regions, remote villages, lush forests, and stunning lakes, allowing you to experience the country’s natural wonders and cultural heritage. It is considered as an extension of the Via Dinarica trail, but the route has its own history and role in the development of the Macedonian mountaineering in the 20th century.

The trail typically starts at the Mavrovo National Park in western North Macedonia and ends at Lake Ohrid in the southwestern part of the country. The exact route may vary depending on the hiker’s preference, but it generally passes through the following areas: Mavrovo National Park, Galichica National Park, Galičica Mountain, and the Ohrid region.

Highlights along the route:

  1. Mavrovo National Park: This beautiful national park is known for its mountainous landscapes, dense forests, and the picturesque Mavrovo Lake. It’s a great place for hiking, wildlife spotting, and enjoying nature.
  2. Galičica National Park: Situated between Lake Ohrid and Lake Prespa, Galičica National Park is home to diverse flora and fauna. The park features stunning viewpoints, such as the peak of Magaro, where you can enjoy panoramic vistas of both lakes.
  3. Galičica Mountain: The trail takes you across Galičica Mountain, which is characterized by rugged terrain, alpine meadows, and rocky peaks. Hiking through this mountainous section offers breathtaking views and a sense of adventure.
  4. Lake Ohrid: The final destination of the trail, Lake Ohrid, is a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its crystal-clear waters and historic significance. Ohrid town, located on the lake’s shores, is rich in cultural and historical landmarks, including ancient churches and monasteries.


The High Scardus Trail is the newest long distance hiking project on the Balkans. It is 362-kilometer long walking route in the Western Balkans that connects the countries of North Macedonia, Kosovo and Albania, following the ridges of Sharri (Scardus) Mountains, as well as crossing the mountain ranges of Korab, Deshat, Jablanica and Galichica mountains. The start point is at Staro Selo (North Macedonia, 40 km from Skopje and 25 km from Tetovo). The end point is Sveti Naum at Ohrid Lake (North Macedonia, 30 km from Ohrid). It involves border crossings that need to be per-arranged. The route of the High Scardus Trail is divided to 20 sections.

These are just a few examples of the long-distance walking routes available on the Balkan Peninsula. Each route offers unique experiences, allowing you to immerse yourself in the region’s rich history, stunning landscapes, and local cultures.


What means “Balkan”?

“Balkan” is a Turkish word that means a mountainous, rugged area. People would often use it as “wild balkan” – a difficult to access and unknown place that could be dangerous as well. This vision about the territory of the peninsula was introduced by the Ottoman conquerors and they simply named it “Balkan”. It was the natural border between the Ottoman empire and the Western countries, both a border line and a gate between the East and the West, between Asia and Europe. Crossing the Wild Balkans was never easy, nor ruling their territories – both because of the rugged mountainous terrain and the rugged and stubborn character of the locals.


Geography of the mountain ranges on the Balkan Peninsula

Balkan peninsula mountains


From geographical point of view, there are a few remarkable mountain ranges that are situated on the Balkan Peninsula – the Dinaric Alps with their southern extension – The Pindus range, The Carpathians, The Balkan Mountains and the Rila-Rhodope Massif.


The Dinaric Alps

Called also Dinarides, these mountains are a vast range located in the Southern and Southcentral parts of Europe. It divides the continental parts of the Balkan Peninsula from the Mediterranean – the Adriatic Sea. The chain stretches from Italy in the northwest through Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, and Kosovo to Albania in the southeast.

The Dinaric Alps extend for approximately 645 kilometers along the western Balkan Peninsula from the Julian Alps of the northeast Italy, downwards to the Šar and Korab massif, where their direction changes. The Accursed Mountains (Prokletije) are the highest section of the entire Dinaric Alps; this section stretches from Albania to Kosovo and eastern Montenegro. Maja Jezercë is the highest peak and is located in Albania, standing at 2 694 meters above the Adriatic.


The Carpathian Mountain Range

It is also known as Carpathians and forms long chain stretching as an arch across the central parts of Europe. Approximately 1 500 kilometers long, it is the third-longest European mountain chain after the Russian Urals that prolong more than 2 500 km and the Scandinavian Mountains extending roughly at 1 700 km. The Carpathians stretches from the far eastern corner of Czech Republic (3% of the territory) and Austria (1%) towards the northwest through Slovakia (21%), Poland (10%), Ukraine (10%), Romania (50%) to Serbia (5%) down to the south.

The Tatra mountains in Slovakia are considered as the highest range within the Carpathians where the highest peaks exceed 2 600 m. The second-highest range is in Romania – the Southern Carpathians – with its highest peaks ranging between 2 500 m and 2 550 m.

Carphatians are divided to three main separate sections:

  • Western Carpathians: Austria, Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia;
  • Eastern Carpathians: Romania, Ukraine, southeastern Poland and eastern Slovakia;
  • Southern Carpathians: Romania and eastern Serbia.

The Eastern and some of the Southern Carpathians are located within the Balkan Peninsula.

Some of the largest European populations of brown bears, wolves, chamois and lynxes find their habitat within these mountains, mostly concentrated in Romania. Over one-third of all European plant species are also found in the Carpathians. Romania hosts the second-largest area of wild forests in Europe after Russia. It is estimated to 250 000 hectares (65%), mainly in the Carpathian mountains, which makes the Southern Carpathians Europe’s largest consolidated virgin forest territory.


The Balkan Mountains

The Balkan mountain chain, also known as Stara Planina, is a a mountain located mostly in Bulgaria, with some parts in Serbia (including the highest peak of the country of Serbia – Midzur peak). The chain is a natural border between Bulgaria and Serbia and also cuts the country of Bulgaria into two – northern and southern part. It is known as the backbone of the country as it stretches all the way from the western down to the eastern border by the Black Sea coast.

There is an understanding that the name of the Balkan Peninsula originates from the name of this mountain range. Whatever the story is, Stara Planina fulfills the meaning of the word “balkan” as a wild, unexplored and difficult to access mountain. Although not the highest in the area, Balkan is known as a difficult mountain due to its rising slopes and changeable weather.

It has almost mythological image for the Bulgarians as it was a natural border and line of defense against the Turks (and probably other conquerors in the past). It was a place for the guerillas to hide and for the army to protect the mountain passes. Nowadays Balkan is famous with probably the most famous long distance walking route in the mountains of Bulgaria – the Kom-Emine Trail, part of the European E3 Route.


The Rila-Rhodope Massif

Or the Macedonia-Trace Massif is part of the oldest landmass on the Balkan Peninsula. The name Rila-Rhodope originates from two of the oldest mountains on the Balkans – Rhodope Mountains (located in Southern Bulgaria and Nothern Greece) and the Rila mountain range, the highest mountain of the Balkans. The Massif stretches all over southern Bulgaria, with some bits in Greece, Kosovo, Serbia and North Macedonia. It borders the Balkan and Carpathian mountains to the north, the Sharr-Pindus Range and the Dinarides to the west and Maritsa River to the east.

The main mountain ranges within the Rila-Rhodope Massif are the Rila Mountains, Pirin Mountains and the Rhodopes, but it also includes a number of lower mountains within Bulgaria, Serbia, North Macedonia and Greece, some of them forming as natural borders between the countries.

Due to its geological importance and the altitude of its rugged peaks we could call this mountain area The Crown of the Balkans – the top of the Balkan Peninsula. Still we believe the real and invaluable “crown” consists of the peaks and the mountains of all over the Balkans. Each of them adds to the unique image of the mountain world of the region. If you ask us is there a area that deserves to be seen better than the rest we would definitely say no. It is like a puzzle and each piece of it has its importance and contributes to the beauty of the Balkans.


Why Georgia as well, isn`t it complicated enough with all these Balkan countries and mountains?

Along the Balkans mountains, Caucasus Mountains is our love on the other side of the Black Sea, on the border of Asia and Europe. It was inspired by traveling and walking mainly across the country of Georgia. Although the scale and the heights of the mountain ranges are not comparable, we feel it very close and like at home there. Following the Transcaucasian Trail – another great thru hike project under development – is a great way to discover the Georgian (and not only the Georgian parts of) Caucasus. Still, we would organize separate sections of it and choose the best hikes in a limited time frame.


The countries of the Balkan Peninsula


Hiking the mountains of the Balkans in Spring

Bogtrotters use to organize their holidays during the week before the Bank Holiday at the end of May – beginning of June, which was a bit challenging task it terms of route planning. Why?

The Balkan Peninsula is a very mountainous area with continental and subcontinental climate, with mountain peaks rising from 1000 up to 2925 meters above the sea level. During the Spring period snow conditions could be expected at higher elevations, as well as beautiful palette of green colors of the forests and meadows full of flowers at lower elevations. The melting snow also causes full waters of the rivers and springs in various locations and more challenging terrain conditions. In terms of weather conditions you could expect everything – from snowfalls higher up to mild and sunny weather with some afternoon rain falls here and there. Still, Spring is the time of the nature awakening after the severe winter and the moment to see the mountains of the Balkans in their full beauty and diversity of flora and fauna.

This said some routes are not accessible and/or safe to walk during this time of the year, so careful planning as well as flexibility are required in order to get the maximum of each tour around the Balkans mountain ranges and to enjoy walking the mountains of the Balkan Peninsula during Spring. A major benefit of the early season visits is the absence of crowds of hikers even on the most popular routes and the extra attention and hospitality of the locals we always feel outside of the busy main season.

Read more about Spring walking in the mountains of Bulgaria.


Hiking the mountains of the Balkans in Autumn

Autumn is a beautiful period to visit the mountain ranges of the Balkans – while September is still considered as a “summer” month, in October we could have sudden changes of the weather at altitudes, including freezing temperatures and occasional snowfalls. Good equipment is essential, as well as a close look to the forecasts. November is already winter time above 2000, but still the Indian Summer periods may reward the visitors with some amazing experiences. Both Spring and Autumn periods could be the best choice to visit some of the lower ranges of the Balkans as well as the mountains exposed to the warmth from the Mediterranean. More about hiking the Bulgarian mountains in Autumn.

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