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Climbing Mount Olympus is a must for any self-respected mountain lover visiting Greece. Being the mythological seat of the Olympian Gods makes it one of the most iconic mountains in the world but that’s not all. With its 2.918 meters, it is the highest mountain in Greece and the second-highest on the Balkans. It become the first Greek national park in 1938 and was declared Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1981. It is one of the very few Greek mountains easily accessible by bus or train, crisscrossed by kilometers of marked trails and sprinkled by cozy mountain huts. But most of all, Mount Olympus is a natural wonderland filled with striking mountain peaks, deep gorges, streams and waterfalls, alpine meadows and forests of all kinds.
There is no one right way to explore Olympus National Park. With 52 peaks and uncountable valleys and plains, you could spend anything from a couple of hours to weeks and months wondering through its beautiful landscape. However, the hike from Litochoro to the summits via Prionia and the Refuge A described below is probably the easiest and fastest way to the top and back through a great variety of terrain. It can be done in just one day if you are extremely fit ultra runner (or my crazy friend Martin). For the normal folk like me, with a questionable physique and wobbly knees, two days with an overnight stay at the refuge are a minimum.
Getting to Litochoro from Athens
Litochoro, at the entrance to the Enipeas Canyon, is the most popular base for hikes on Mount Olympus. It has everything you may need on your way to the mountains including shops, tourist offices, ATM, taverns, and a variety of accommodation. It is easily accessible from Athens by car, bus and train making it an exception among the Greek mountains
By car: Litochoro lies 400 km away from Athens and 100 km from Thessaloniki on a highway connecting the two cities. The drive from Athens takes approximately 5 hours and will cost you around 180 euros (petrol + tolls) for a regular car. This is the most comfortable way to reach Litochoro and the car will come handy if you decide to drive all the way to Prionia omitting the Enipeas Gorge hike.
By KTEL: There are regular KTEL buses connecting Athens with Litochoro via Katerini every day. Tickets can be booked online through the KTEL Pierias website costing you 50 euros for a return ticket. The timetable is not the best, though, with the earliest bus leaving Athens at 9:45. If you want to include the Enipeas Gorge into your hike you’ll need to come one day earlier and spend the night in Litochoro to ensure an early enough start.
By train: Train is the least optimal option and that comes from a passionate train lover. The tickets are expensive at almost 50 euros for a single ticket (depending on the time) and the Athenian train doesn’t stop at Litochoro. You’ll have to go all the way to Katerini and catch a bus for Litochoro from there which makes the journey quite complicated.
However, if you are pressed for time (and a car is not an option) coming by train you’ll be able to fit the whole trip into just one weekend. There is a midnight train leaving from Athens on Friday night (for just under 30 euros) arriving at Katerini at around 6 in the morning from where you’ll catch a bus to Litochoro. You’ll be exhausted after the sleepless night on the train and probably regret your decision halfway through the mountain (I know I was) but it can be done.
Taxi from Litochoro to Prionia: To return from Prionia to Litochoro on the way down from Mount Olympus, you can either walk, hitchhike or take a taxi. We paid 25 euros for the taxi ride but check with the taxi drivers in Litochoro beforehand as the prices may have changed. There is no phone reception at Prionia but the staff at the kiosk will be happy to call a taxi for you.
What to bring (and what not to bring) with you on your Mount Olympus climb
+ Warm/waterproof clothes: When it comes to weather, Mount Olympus is easily underestimated. It’s hard to imagine any kind of bad weather when leaving Athens in the middle of the hot Greek summer but it gets really cold and windy on the top even on a sunny day. And not every summer day on Mount Olympus is full of sunshine, we learned that the hard way during our last visit walking to the summit through thick white clouds and high winds. So make sure to pack a pair of long trousers, a warm jumper, a windbreaker and even a pair of gloves and a hat. Believe me, they will come in handy.
+ Hiking poles: I love my hiking poles since the first time I tried them in Tzoumerka this spring and recommend them everywhere I go. This time, they ware especially helpful during the long descent from the summits to Prionia relieving the pain in my knees considerably.
+ A lot of change instead of bills: Just to make the staff at the refuge happy…
+ Garbage bag: There are no garbage bins above Prionia (not even at the refuge) so you’ll need to carry all your garbages down with you. Picking up a few pieces of rubbish left behind by a less enlightened hiker wouldn’t hurt either.
– Sleeping bag: I like to carry a sleeping bag on every overnight trek just in case, but it really isn’t necessary on this one. The rooms at the refuge are warm enough and you’ll be provided 3 (!) thick blankets per person to keep you toasted. A sleeping bag liner is a good idea though, sheets are not provided for free.
– Food: Bringing your own food may be more economical but it’s not necessary on this hike. Between the host of taverns in Litochoro, a kiosk in Prionia and a restaurant at the refuge you’ll never be too far away from a plate of a warm, tasty meal. I’m not saying to leave all the snacks at home, a couple of protein bars or nuts will come handy along the way but there really is no need to drag a bunch of tuna cans up and down the mountain like I always do.
Day 1: Enipeas Gorge, Prionia, Spilios Agapitos Refuge
The Enipeas Gorge at the entrance of Mount Olympus National Park is a fairy-tale beautiful place and an absolute must-see when visiting this part of the mountain. But don’t be fooled by the innocently looking photos of emerald pools, picturesque wooden bridges, and lush greenery all around. The 6-hour long hike through the valley is exhausting, to say the least!
The trail starts at the top of Litochoro close to a tavern called Mili. It roughly follows the river upstream but instead of passing through the bottom of the valley it climbs up and down on its slopes crossing the stream multiple times. The beginning of the trail just outside of Litochoro is the most tiring with hundreds of wooden “steps” to cover and a lot of elevation.
The path is clear and marked well so getting lost would be impossible even without a map. There will be plenty of people on the trail as well, heading in both directions. I wish we had a map with us anyway. Without it was hard to determine how far we have come and how much time we can spare at the pools and waterfalls while still making it to the refuge on time.
The first hour or so of the hike was quite uneventful but once the trail descended down to the stream for the first time we were amazed by its crystal clear water rushing through uncountable rapids and pools and lush greenery all around. About halfway through the valley, you’ll pass a charming little church built into a large cave (Agio Spilaio) and a few minutes later the Old Dionysus Monastery on the opposite banks of the Enipeas river.
The monastery was established at the beginning of the 16th century by Saint Dionysios who lived a hermit life in the nearby Agio Spileo cave. The monastery served as an important religious center of the region but also as a shelter to the freedom fighters during the Greek War of Independence, The Battle of Olympus in 1878 and the Second World War leading to a variety of devastating attacks.
The latest Nazi attack in 1943 finally brought the charming monastery to its knees and causing its retreat to the New Agios Dionysus Monastery right above Litochoro. Today, some of its buildings were restored while others remain in ruins which in combination with its stunning surroundings creates a truly picturesque sight.
The last section of the trail between the Dionysios monastery and Prionia is much easier than the rest. The terrain flattens and the path keeps closer to the streams passing a couple more enchanting pools and waterfalls.
Tip: If you don’t have enough time or stamina to complete the whole Enipeas Gorge hike but still want to get a taste of the valley then drive down to the Dionysus monastery and hike to the Agio Spileo church. The trail crosses the Enipeas river right underneath the monastery and follows its forested banks back towards Litochoro.
You’ll reach the chapel after about 15 – 20 minutes. Once at the church, have a look around the small cave behind the church. The stream running from the depths of the cave supposedly terms with healing powers taking from the saint itself!
Prionia to Spilios Agapitos Refuge
The trail from Prionia to Spilios Agapitos Refuge is probably the most frequented one on Mount Olympus. It serves both the mountaineers heading to the summits and the day-trippers looking to get lost in the beautiful nature of Greece’s oldest national park for a couple of hours. The trail is well maintained and marked with a couple of wooden benches along the way and a spring about an hour away from Prionia.
The difficulty really depends on where you started your hike. After just completing the Enipeas hike overcoming the additional 1000 meters of elevation between Prionia and the refuge was pure torture. However, starting fresh from Prionia I loved every second of this 3 hours long hike. It was amazing to watch the scenery change around us with every step from thick lush beech forest at the lower sections of the trail to pine and fir woods later up. Finally, just before the refuge, the trees give way to bushes and shrubs opening up beautiful views across the Enipeas gorge and towards the sea.
The Spilios Agapitos refuge also called Refuge A or Zolota is a popular mountain hut sitting at an altitude of 2100 meters. It is one of the most visited mountain huts on Olympus, offering dorm rooms accommodation to up to 110 visitors, cozy restaurant, freezing cold showers and all kinds of mountaineering knowledge and information.
The refuge stays open from May till October and gets quite busy throughout the entire season so make a reservation well beforehand. The accommodation cost is 13 euros for a bed or 4,30 if staying in a tent outside (you’ll have to bring your own camping equipment for this one). When checking in at the reception, ask if a smaller 6 person dorm is available. Not only fewer people mean a smaller chance for snoring roommates, but these dorms are also placed in a newly built wing of the refuge and are much more comfortable than the old ones.
There is a self-service restaurant at the refuge serving breakfast and dinner plus you can choose from a large variety of snacks and beverages. Before complaining about the slightly higher prices remember that all this stuff is carried up daily from Prionia on the back of some exhausted-looking mules.
Day 2: Climbing to the summits – Skala, Skolio, and Mytikas
The last section of our Mount Olympus climb takes around 3 hours to complete and is by far the most scenic. To make the most of it start the climb early to ensure clear skies and leave all your unnecessary belongings at the refuge. You won’t need much else except for a bottle of water and a windbreaker on the way to the top.
The well-marked trail to the summits starts right behind the refuge and is pretty easy to follow. There are few other paths branching left and right along the way and one slightly confusing crossroad (especially in bad weather) about halfway up but just follow the crowd and you’ll be fine. The trail itself is quite steep and tiring especially in its final section before Skala where it turns into a very slippery gravel path.
At Skala, while taking in the views of Olympus’s striking main ridge, you’ll have a decision to make. Depending on your skills, you can either scramble to the highest peak of Mount Olympus, Mytikas or hike to the slightly lower but much easier Skolio. I’ve been to Mount Olympus twice so far and both times chickened out of the climb to Mytikas at the last minute. The first time, we blamed it on being exhausted from the previous climb, the second time bad weather gave us good enough excuse not to go. Truth is, it was just too scary for me and without the company of more experienced mountaineers it seemed like too much of a risk.
However, if you have a good head for heights, some mountaineering experience, and a helmet, you can scramble to the top in about half an hour through the ascent route called Kaki Skala (Bad Steps). The “path” is marked by red markings pained on the rock but you shouldn’t get lost even without them, this is a busy trail especially during the summer.
If you are more of a hiker then a mountain goat, Olympus’ second peak, Skolio, will be a better choice. It is only about 15 -20 minutes’ walk from Skala without much elevation or challenges but with stunning views along the way. Don’t forget to sign the summit book at Skolio to commemorate your achievements!