Crete is a unique destination in Greece. The largest of all the islands, it also has a spectacular topography. Mount Ida soars to a spectacular 2,456 meters – part of the Psiloritis range in the middle of the island. In the west are the famous “Lefka Ori” – White Mountains. And in the east, in the Lasithi region, are the Dikti Mountains. This combination of mountains, wild sea coast, and rivers make for some of Greece’s finest hiking. The famous gorges of Crete come in a tremendous variety, from the most challenging, to the most accessible, and everything in between.
Reaching the gorges, of course, makes for some of Crete’s most exhilarating drives, with dramatic scenery of the dense forests and the drama of the coastline, sometimes far below. Driving through Crete really introduces you to what a spectacular island this is.
Crete by Car
Crete is very easy to reach. Whether you arrive at the Nikos Kazantzakis International airport in Heraklion, or the Ioannis Daskalogiannis International Airport at Chania, you will find your car rental directly at airport. Both airports have very easy access to the main roads and you can be on your way in no time. If you are arriving by ship, a rental car can be waiting for you at either the Port of Heraklion or Chania’s port – Souda.
Where to hike in Crete
The following gorges all offer something truly special. Some are world-famous, and some are known primarily by hiking enthusiasts.
The Samaria Gorge
We’ll start out with an epic hike. The Samaria Gorge, in the Chania region, is one of the most famous in Greece. The hype is completely justified. This gorge of nearly 17 kilometers is all downhill, but that doesn’t mean it’s not plenty challenging, from the length alone. It begins in the famous white mountains, and descends an amazing 1230 meters.
The very beginning of the gorge is the steepest. It passes through a deeply wooded area, fragrant with the sweetness of pine. A cool brook runs alongside much of the path. The scenery changes dramatically. As hikers approach the end of the gorge – at the Libyan Sea – the walls narrow and rise dramatically – just 4 meters wide in some places, with walls reaching as high as 300 meters.
Hiking Samaria gorge is an all day affair and getting there and back is an adventure in itself. Buses leave Chania in the earliest hours of the day to reach the entrance of the Gorge at Xyloskalo in the early morning. At the end of the gorge is the seaside tiny port town of Agia Roumeli. Here, boats will take you back to Sfakia – via the enchanting port of Loutro. From Sfakia, buses return you to Chania. It is quite an adventure.
The Imbros Gorge is also in the Chania region. It is an excellent choice for people who want plenty of dramatic scenery and a bit of a challenge, but it is much shorter than the Samaria Gorge in length and also in the descent.
Imbros gorge is not too difficult – over its length of 8 kilometers, it descends 600 meters. Hikers will get maximum impact for their efforts, with its narrow passages and steep sides. This is also a place of historic meaning. Many of the allied armies fought in Crete during WWI, and troops from New Zealand and Australia hiked through here on their way to leave the island for boats to Egypt.
Agia Irini Gorge
The village of Agia Irini near the south coast is at the head of Agia Irini gorge that leads to spectacular Sougia beach on the Libyan Sea.
It begins at an elevation of 560 meters and has a length of 7.5 kilometers. It is much less well known than the Samaria gorge which is also a great advantage, as you will share it with fewer hikers.
Like the Imbros gorge, it offers a lot of experience but is not too strenuous of a hike. It is also a lesser-known trail than the neighboring Samaria gorge, so you will share the experience with fewer hikers.
A river of the same name runs through the gorge, and at times it can be quite deep as one wades through it – quite refreshing in the summer. It is from the river that the gorge takes its musical name, the sound as it rushes through the gorge, as well as from the whistling of the wind as it resonates in the caves in the walls of the cliff. The name means “castanets” for the sounds. Kourtaliotiko Gorge is magnificently deep – the sides of the canyon can reach up to 500 meters.
Towards the end of the gorge, you’ll be surrounded by some very exotic scenery – the second largest palm forest of the island. The gorge ends at the famous beach of Preveli.
Agios Antonios Gorge – Patsos Gorge
This gorge, known by both names, is also in the Rethymnon region. We are adding it here because, at just 2 kilometers long and a change in elevation of 240 meters, it is among the most accessible hikes and also good if you don’t have a full day for a hike
Also, the gorge is near one of the most famous sights of this area, the Arkadi Monastery, which, besides being an excellent example of the rich architecture of the Cretan Renaissance. The gorge takes its name Agios Antonios from a cavernous church of the saint – it is built right into the walls of the gorge.
The path runs by a river and is shady and lush – a wonderful choice for a refreshing short hike on a warm day. There are also places to rest, and even a birdwatching post.
Zakros Gorge – The Gorge of the Dead
The Zakros Gorge is in the farthest eastern edge of Crete, in the Lasithi region. Don’t be put off by the other name of this magical gorge. It is actually filled with an enormously positive energy. The name of the gorge comes from a fascinating story. One of the palaces of the Minoans – the advanced Bronze Age civilization of Crete has been excavated here; at the easter shore, this was clearly, from the findings, a prosperous center of trade in the Minoan Age. The name Valley of the Dead comes from a practice of the Minoans, who buried their dead in the place of greatest honor – in caves high on the walls of the gorge.
Zakros Gorge is part of the E4 walking Path, and also belongs to the wonderful Sitia Geopark, a protected region of rare biotopes and wonderful flora and fauna. The entrance to the gorge is below the village of Ano (“Upper”) Zakros, and the length of the gorge is just over 3 kilometers, descending approximately 100 meters, for a beautiful hike of approximately three quarters of an hour. Alternatively, one can enter at Ano Zakros, for a two-hour hike that is a little more challenging.
Also in the Lasithi region is the Richtis gorge. This hike, in the northern part of Lasithi, a little outside of Sitia, is just three kilometers long and descends about 30 meters. A stream runs through the gorge, and on its banks are the ruins of several old water mills and cottages. The shady cool gorge is very green, and there is a wonderful treat in the middle – a magnificent waterfall of 20 meters in height splashes into a pool for a refreshing mid-hike dip.
Hiking in Crete
Crete is so famous for its spectacular beaches and beautiful power cities. But by taking one of these excellent hikes you can experience some of the best scenery that Greece has to offer, and really get to know and love the island as the locals do.