The best hiking destinations in Georgia

If you love hiking, then you MUST visit Georgia.

Ok truth be told if you like wine, cheese and history – Georgia is also a must see. But if you love mountains, valleys and meadows, mixed in with ruins and cows, then Georgia should be your next hiking adventure.

Check out my list of the best hiking destinations in Georgia. I guarantee the photos alone will have you looking at flights to Tbilisi.

CoverMore_Lisa_Owen_Georgia_Snow Water View

When to go?

The best time of year for hikers to go to Georgia is June to September, with July and August being the peak months when snow has melted in the high mountains.

Be aware that while the summer months are the best time to visit, the weather is humid and you may experience thunderstorms mid-afternoon – especially in June. But it does mean all the valleys will be nice and green.

Where to hike?

Mestia

Mestia is the most well-known of Georgia’s hiking hotspots. To get to Mestia, you can take an overnight train from Georgia’s capital Tbilisi to Zugdidi and then a marshrutka to Mestia, or take the marshrutka all the way to Mestia. The train departs at 9.45pm daily and arrives between 6am and 8am in Zugdidi. Marshrutkas meet the train. The direct marshrutka from Tbilisi to Mestia takes about nine hours (including breaks).

On the approach to Mestia, you’ll soon spot the beautiful Caucasus Mountains that attracts locals and tourists alike for hiking and skiing.

The most popular hikes are to the Chalaadi Glacier, Koruldi Lakes and the 4-day trek from Mestia to Ushguli. Chat to the friendly staff at the Tourist Information Centre in Mestia to find out your trekking options and snow conditions.

The trek to the base of the Chalaadi Glacier takes about two hours return. You used to be able to walk to the trailhead from Mestia but due to roadworks, this is not as scenic as it used to be. It’s recommended to bargain for a taxi from the centre of town. If your time is limited in Mestia, I recommend skipping this hike.

CoverMore_Lisa_Owen_Georgia_Platform Mountain View

But you must do the spectacular hike to Koruldi Lakes. You start from the centre of town (follow the signs) – and it’s a steep, steady push up the mountain. You get great views of the surrounding snow-capped mountains along the entire hike, especially at a viewing platform about halfway up.

The hike takes about three hours each way.

CoverMore_Lisa_Owen_Georgia_Mountains HutCoverMore_Lisa_Owen_Georgia_MeadowsCoverMore_Lisa_Owen_Georgia_Mountain Hut View

Mestia to Ushguli

About half of the people coming to Mestia plan to do the four-day hike to Ushguli – one of the highest continuously inhabited locations in the world.

The hike involves some massive climbs in elevation, the potential to hike through snow on the mountain passes, and passing through some truly spectacular scenery. You stay at guesthouses along the way in the towns of Chvabiani or Zhabeshi on the first night, Adishi on the second night and Iprali on the third night.

Due to time constraints, I didn’t end up doing the 4-day trek to Ushguli, but opted instead for a variation which extended over two days and covered a whopping 50km!

The first day of the hike followed the same route as the first day of the trek to Ushguli, and ended in Chvabiani at Maia’s Guesthouse. The first day follows a gravel road and narrow path most of the way.

CoverMore_Lisa_Owen_Georgia_Hiking Trail GroupCoverMore_Lisa_Owen_Georgia_Building RuinsCoverMore_Lisa_Owen_Georgia_Village Ruins LandscapeCoverMore_Lisa_Owen_Georgia_Village on Trail

On the second day, my hiking buddies and I headed towards the village of Tsvirmi. Leaving Chvabiani, you head away from the river and up a switchback bitumen road.

Eventually, you leave the bitumen road and head onto a gravel track towards Tsvirmi. You pass through Tsvirmi, and then head uphill again, staying above the valley as you walk towards the village of Ieli. After heading down into Ieli and passing through the village, you end up on a dirt road and take this back towards Mestia. Eventually, you’ll end up on the bitumen road that links Mestia to Ushguli and you can follow this all the way back to Mestia.

For the time poor, this is a spectacular route. The route isn’t marked, but you hike on the road and well trodden paths for the entire route. All you need is the Maps.me app and a charged up phone to ensure you’re following the track as you can see the trails all across Georgia on this app.

Along the way, you get great views of the mountains, cross creeks, follow part of a river, see daily life in rural villages, and get close to lots of Svaneti fortified towers – and cows. The famous Svaneti towers date back to the 12th century, and were once used by villagers to protect themselves against invaders.

CoverMore_Lisa_Owen_Georgia_Hikers View

Kazbegi

If you’re craving more mountains after Mestia, then head to Kazbegi, located on the east side of Georgia.

Getting to Kazbegi from Tbilisi is easy  and takes about three hours. If you’re travelling solo, you can catch a marshrutka for 10 GEL ($4 USD) or if you’re in a group of three or more, you may be also able to negotiate a more comfortable ride in a taxi also for 10 GEL per person.

During your stay in Kazbegi (also known as Stepantsminda), you can enjoy views of 5,047m Mt Kazbek, the Gergeti Trinity Church and head up to the base of the Gergeti Glacier.

You can start the hike to the Gergeti Glacier from the centre of Kazbegi and it takes about nine hours return.

It’s a steady uphill slog to the base of the glacier via the 14th century Gergeti Trinity Church. Once again, it’s good to have the Maps.me app to guide you along this route.

To get to the church, follow the signs to Gergeti – walking along the car road. After about 20 minutes, you can take a rough footpad up that brings you up on the left side of the church.

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Take a break at the church and have a look inside. Women need to wear a skirt to go inside but you can borrow one at the entrance. Entrance is free.

From the church, head straight ahead and follow the footpad along, steadily gaining altitude. Don’t forget to check out the view of the church with its jawdropping backdrop of mountains as you climb.

CoverMore_Lisa_Owen_Georgia_Mountain Snow Fog View

Be prepared for trekking across snow, experiencing very cold and windy temperatures, and getting caught in hailstorms and white outs from low clouds and fog during this hike. Essentially, be prepared for every type of weather – so that means bring warm and wet weather gear.

Sadly I didn’t quite make it to the glacier due to an intense white out – but I did get this view of Mt Kazbek.

CoverMore_Lisa_Owen_Georgia_Mt Kazbek

Another hike near Kazbegi is to the Gveleti Waterfall. You can take a taxi from the town centre or hitchhike to the trailhead. The road that leads to the waterfall is marked, or you can also see it on the Maps.me app. From where the taxis drop you off, it’s only a one hour round trip to the big Gveleti Waterfall (there’s also a small one, but better off just going to the main event.)

CoverMore_Lisa_Owen_Georgia_Waterfall Landscape

Truso & Juta valleys

It’s also worth seeing the Truso and Juta valleys, which are located near Kazbegi.

To get to these areas from Kazbegi, you can take a tour, hail a taxi or hitchhike.

If you’re travelling solo, your best option is to head out on a tour for 30 GEL ($12 USD) return. There’s a couple of agencies in Kazbegi that offer up tours to these valleys.

If you’re in a group of three or four, it’s cheaper to get a taxi. It will cost you anywhere between 60-100 GEL ($24-40 USD) return per car depending on your bargaining skills. Make sure you agree on the return price and duration of your hike (at least six hours).

IMG_20180709_180610_829Photo by Andrew Moffatt @regulartravel 

Truso Valley is located south of Kazbegi and access is from the village of Kvemro Okrokana. The hike takes you through the Truso Valley and you end at the ruins of an old fort on the border of the disputed region of South Ossetia.

From Kvemro Okrokana (the taxi/tour drop off point), you start hiking through the Truso Valley. The route is extremely easy to follow. Cross a small bridge over the Terek River near the village, turn left, and follow the dirt road for three hours, occasionally moving to the side for any tour buses driving through.

This is not a strenuous hike, but there’s no shade, so bring water, a hat and a packed lunch.

Make sure at least one person in your group also brings their passport or the border patrol at the fort may not let you visit to take photos. You’re not allowed to take photos in the direction of South Ossetia.

20180709_114416Photo by Andrew Moffatt @regulartravel 

To get to the Juta Valley, you’ll drive through the Sno Valley, which offers up superb views and waterfalls.

The six-hour return hike into the Juta Valley is well marked and easy to follow. Continue walking past the main spa resort you get dropped off at, and climb straight up the steep hill next to you. About 20 sweaty minutes later you will reach a peak leading into the Juta Valley.

At the top of this hill, you’ll find five lodges and you can stop at any one of them for a drink, a seat, or even a swing in a hammock.

This hike is set out in a large L shape, hooking to the left towards the end of the first valley. It takes about an hour of constant climbing, and one or two river crossings to come to a turn, then another two hours and countless false peaks later you will arrive at the highlight of the hike – the three lakes.

This hike follows a glacier-fed river with drinkable water, however like the Truso Valley, there’s no shade on this route.

20180710_110939Photo by Andrew Moffatt @regulartravel 

Things you should know

  • Many of the hiking trails in Georgia lead from the centre of the main mountain towns.
  • You can get around Georgia with a combination of marshrutkas, trains, taxis and hitchhiking.
  • The weather can change quickly in the mountains. Make sure you always take a rainjacket, dry bag or backpack rain cover, and warm clothing on your hike in addition to snacks, water, a hat and sunscreen.
  • If you’re doing a multi-day hike in Georgia, it’s not always essential to bring a tent as most routes are serviced by guesthouses.
  • Ask the Tourist Information Centres in Kazbegi and Mestia for up to date information on trail conditions.

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