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Panaitoliko is one of the lesser-known Greek mountains tucked away on the border of Aetolia-Acarnania and Evrytania in Western Greece. It is equally beautiful as its more famous northern neighbors, Kaliakouda, Chelidona, or Velouchy, but even more remote and peaceful.
We joined a local mountaineering club for our adventure at Panaitoliko and even though I prefer independent travel wherever possible I can’t imagine completing this hike without them.
The lack of public transport in the area makes it impossible to get to the beginning and end of the trail without an organized tour and the trail was not easy to follow either thanks to its poor signposting and lack of traffic.
Some sections of the trail could be done independently, though, considering you arrive by car and bring a good map or GPS plus some trekking experience.
Ascending to Koka summit from Peristeri village would make for a beautiful day hike while the charming gorge of Kastanoula creek ending in Kato Labiri could be explored in just a couple of hours.
Panaitoliko mountain range is included in the Anavasi Map of Nafpaktos, Panaitoliko, and Karpenisi covering the mountainous area between Nafpaktos and Karpenisi.
Another great source of information for hikes at Panaitoliko is THIS website (Greek only, unfortunately) with detailed descriptions of many beautiful trails in this part of Evritania.
Lake Trichonida and the Refuge of EOS Agriniou at Panaitoliko
Arriving from Athens early, we made a brief stop at Lake Trichonida, the largest natural lake in Greece. To be completely honest, I haven’t heard much about this beautiful lake and as a passionate mountain lover I never really gave the flat agricultural plains of Agrinio much thought.
The more amazed I was when we arrived at Trichonida’s lovely shore, dotted by sleepy villages, small orchards and rows of plane trees ready to put on their colorful autumn coat.
But Trichonida isn’t only an awesome place to enjoy moments of peace and quiet in nature. There is a lot to see around the lake, too. During our short hike along its northeast shores, we stumbled upon charming even if slightly vintage baths at Loutra, a picturesque watermill at Paleomilos, and lovely waterfront kafenio at Parevos.
There are a couple of waterfalls hiding in the ravines above the lake, too, but sadly we didn’t have enough time to visit any of them. Based on the information I found online, they are generally quite tricky to find but well worth the trouble. Check out THIS and THIS post for trail descriptions and pictures.
Once done with exploring the banks of Trichonida Lake we headed up to Peristeri, a small mountain village sitting at an altitude of 740 meters on the southwestern slopes of Panaitoliko.
It offers beautiful panoramic views and, more importantly, serves as a starting point of our trail leading to the mountain refuge of EOS Agriniou where we planned to spend the night.
The approximately one-hour long hike to the refuge followed a dirt road for the most part and would be quite uneventful if it wasn’t for its last section – a shortcut through the forest. Once the trail dived into the forest we got the first glimpse of the adventure yet to come while scrambling through a steep, slippery terrain following a fainted trail with random signposting.
But not before long, we reached the refuge and excitedly settled for the night. The refuge of Panaitolikos (1150 meters) is considered one of the prettiest refuges in Greece thanks to its lodge-like style and spacious yet cozy interior. But for me, the best thing about our overnight stay here were the views!
I could spend hours sitting on the rickety terrace in front of the refuge, watching the stunning mountainous landscape around Trichonida Lake slowly changing colors as the sunset draws near. Unfortunately, the refuge is not open to the public and only opens to groups after prior arrangement (for more info check out their website HERE).
From the shelter to Koka and Katelanos summits
On the second day of our trip to Panaitoliko, we woke up early, hurriedly gulped our coffee, and set off towards the summit of Koka just before sunrise. The hike to Koka (1670 meters) is about 3 kilometers long with 530 meters altitude gain.
It started as a forest trail passing another spring about 10 minutes above the refuge. This was the last spring we met on this side of the mountain and the final opportunity to refill our water bottle.
About halfway up to the first summit of the day, the path emerged from the forest and continued its steady climb across grassy alpine meadows. At this point, the most amazing views opened up!
Imagine a calm morning of a bright, sunny day with clear skies and fluffy white clouds rolling through the lowlands. Imagine rows and rows of mountain ridges as far as one could see and the perfectly still lake glistening at their foot.
It was one of those moments when I felt so incredibly privileged to be able to experience such beauty and perfection. And one of those moments that make all the discomforts of hiking and mountaineering worthwhile.
Completely immersed in our stunning surroundings we reached the Koka summit in no time, paying little attention to our aching feet and sweat starting to flow across our backs.
But after a short break at the top and a quick look around we realized that our ridge walk to the highest summit of Panaitoliko, Katelanos (1.924 meters), is not gonna be as easy as we thought.
Though grassy and round, the ridge has plenty of ups and downs adding significant altitude gain to the mare 250 meters of height difference between the two peaks. The path was not very clear either and sometimes disappeared completely making this section of the hike quite challenging.
It was still nothing comparing to our adventurous descent to Kato Lampiri but we have no idea about that yet! We reached Katalanos about four hours after leaving the refuge and settled at the summit for a lunch.
The clouds obscured our views a bit at this point but we still spent at least half an hour relaxing at the top, feeling accomplished and thinking that this hike wasn’t so hard after all. The whole crossing was supposed to take around seven hours and we were on time so far, so what could go wrong?
Descending to Kato Lampiri
But once we started our descend we realized we are not done yet. The path disappeared altogether and we followed a shallow ravine, staggering through a maze of grass-covered rocks towards a col called Portes.
From here, the “trail” splits into two, it’s left section descending to a village called Lampiri and the right one to Kato Lampiri along the valley of Kastanoula creek. After brief confusion at the crossroad, we found the right path and followed a dry riverbed across the meadows.
It slowly become steeper and steeper until we found ourselves scrambling down through what would be a series of small waterfalls during the wet season. Having fun through the climb and chatting happily about our past adventures we lost the path once again and ended up at the top of a large waterfall with nowhere to go except for backup.
From here, things went downhill, metaphorically and literally speaking. What followed were hours and hours of a chaotic descent through steep grassy slopes, rocky screes, and slippery forest floor covered in a thick layer of needles and loose soil. We kept losing our signposting, old fainted yellow paint on the rocks, and most of us run out of water at this point.
Our debates skipped from topic to topic, from hopeful discussions about diner to wandering if we brought enough flashlights when the sun started to set. But once we saw a forest road descending towards us from the opposite side of the mountain, the only thing we could think of was walking on solid, flat ground once again.
When we finally reached the dirt road and found a spring nearby we couldn’t be happier! The last section of the trail before Kato Lampiri was magnificent, unfortunately, we didn’t have enough energy to properly enjoy it let alone take pictures.
The well-trodden path crossed the Kastanoula creek over a rickety wooden bridge at a spot with a series of lovely rapids and waterfalls. From here, it followed the creek downstream crossing it once again on its way to the village.
We finished this last section of the hike in almost complete darkness but still enjoyed the lovely scenery of the woody valley floor and the happy bubbling of a creek running next to us.
But we were relieved when we finally stepped foot on the asphalt road in Kato Lampiri after almost twelve hours of hiking. Exhausted, we rushed to our bus, followed by perplexed looks of few locals and a large number of sheep unaccustomed to strangers coming down the mountain at this ungodly hour.
As challenging as this hike was it was one of the best adventures I’ve ever done and absolutely unforgettable experience! And with my feet still aching and blisters far from healed, I imidiatelly started plotting our next excursion to this magical corner of Greece.
For more beautiful hikes nearby checkout THIS post from our hiking road trip to Karpenisi and Proussos.