Mount Olympus
Mytikas peak at sunset, Mount Olympus, Greece (Credit: Teogera, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Mount Olympus the top Greek hiking destination

Hike up the legendary home of the 12 Gods and conquer the tallest peak in Greece

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Greece offers a landscape full of mountains (over 40 mountain ranges to choose from) making the country an ideal destination for hiking enthusiasts. One of the most popular hiking areas include Mount Olympus (2918m), the highest mountain in Greece, situated in Pieria, in the region of Central Macedonia. The history and mythology surrounding Mount Olympus, home of the 12 ancient Greek gods, is as much of a reason to climb the imposing mountain as the incredible scenery.

Olympus National Park (Credit: kallerna, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The area, established as the first National Park in Greece in 1938, consists of 55 peaks between 2000 to 2918.9 m, deep gorges and has been incorporated into the E4 hiking path. Thick forests of pine, beech and fir trees and steep rocky and cloud-covered peaks, host more than 1700 plant and animal species.

Of them 187 are characterized as significant, 56 are Greek endemic and of them 23 are local endemic, and 16 are rare in Greece or/and have there the limits of their spread within Northern Greece. Have your camera ready to capture some of the remarkable flora, including the purple-flowering jancaea heldreichii, the lilium calchedonicum and the orchis pauciflora.

Jankaea heldreichii, Mt Olympus (Credit: Arne Strid, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia)

Also a World Biosphere Reserve, Mount Olympus, has an extensive network of trails (including gentle family-friendly trails and more challenging ones) its total length exceeding 160 km.

Stefani, Mount Olympus (Credit: Spilios Agapitos Refuge)

Typically it takes two days to climb, so you will need to spend a night in one of the organized mountain refuges along the way. They provide basic accommodation and amenities, welcoming visitors that stream from all over the world to hike through this monumental natural landscape. Be sure to make a reservation beforehand.

Hiking on Mount Olympus (Credit: Trekking Hellas)

Most of the routes for Mount Olympus start in Litochoro, a picturesque small town built at the foothills of the mountain, about a one-hour drive south of the city of Thessaloniki. The two most popular trails that offer you access to the mountain refuges are the Prionia Trail and the Goritsa Trail.

Wild goat on Mount Olympus (Credit: Spilios Agapitos Refuge)

On the way to Prionia you will cross the Enipeas canyon, standing out for its numerous waterfalls, many plants, and trees. From the Prionia trail head (located at an altitude of 1100m and the highest point of Mount Olympus accessible by car) hikers head to the Spilios Agapitos Refuge. It is built at an altitude of 2060m and is situated in the Balkoni area.

Founded in 1930, the refuge belongs to, and is governed by, the Greek Mountaineering and Climbing Federation (E.O.O.A.). It was named “Spilios Agapitos” in honour of the first president of EOS (today E.O.O.A.), architect and engineer Spilios Agapitos who designed the first building of the shelter. The shelter is also know locally as “Zolotas” named after the official Olympus mountain guide Kostas Zolotas who was shelter manager from 1954 (officially since 1960) until 2001.

If you are looking for a less crowded but longer hike, then Goritsa Trail is for you. About two-thirds of this trail is dense forest.

Spilios Agapitos Refuge (Credit: Spilios Agapitos Refuge)

The majority of Olympus isn’t a technical mountain to hike, but it is not child’s play and the final section of the climb, is tricky and more physically challenging. Mytikas (meaning “nose”), the highest peak in Greece at an altitude of 2918 meters, is a Class III rock scramble (a hike that would require you to use your hands to scramble extreme terrain-not to be attempted by those who have no climbing experience or a fear of dizzying heights). From Mytikas you can enjoy a stunning view and marvel the most famous peaks like Stefani (the legendary Throne of Zeus) and the Musses Plateau where muses and other minor gods would be. According to Homer’s Odyssey, the peak never has storms and it basks in cloudless aithēr (Greek: “pure upper air”; thus “ether”).

Emergency Shelter (Credit: Visit Olympus Travel)

It was only in 1913 when a local hunter from Litochoro Christos Kakalos was the first man to reach Mytikas while he was guiding Swiss climbers Frédéric Boissonnas and Daniel Baud-Bovy. Today approximately 10,000 nature enthusiasts a year visit to climb or hike the mountain, though very few attempt its highest peaks. Exploring it is an opportunity to connect with the natural wonders of Greece, relish in the ancient Greek history, witness spectacular views and gaze at the immensity stretching out before you.

Prionia to the Spilios Agapitos Refuge (Credit: Nikos Laskaridis, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Hiking Mount Olympus is theoretically doable anytime during the year. The mountain has Mediterranean climate, meaning it’s hot and dry in the summer and humid and cold in the winter. Over the 2000m mark, it is usually snow-capped between September and May. During the night, temperatures even in the summer, drop so low that winter jackets and isothermic clothes are needed. June through to September is ideal from a weather perspective. May and October offer good weather and fewer visitors. December through April you’ll meet experienced hikers. Hiking Mount Olympus (Greece’s first National Park (1938) and a Natura 2000-protected biotope) is a great reminder that Greece offers much more than amazing islands with sun-kissed beaches.

Mount Olympus in the background (Credit: Cristo Vlahos, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Precautions to take

It’s crucial to prioritize safety by adhering to guidelines and being prepared for the terrain. A good physical condition to do the ascent is mandatory. Wear sturdy hiking boots. Stay hydrated, wear sunscreen and keep emergency contact details on hand for peace of mind. If you don’t feel comfortable doing the hike alone, opt for a guided tour. Hikers will find help from professional rangers at the Olympus National Park Information Center, located at Litochoro. Opened in 2016, it informs visitors about geology, archaeological sites, mythology, monasteries, plants, animals and other subjects affecting Mount Olympus.

Mt. Olympus, Prionia infotable (Credit: Mboesch, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)