The Peaks of the Balkans Trail quite literally changed my life. After hiking it for the first time, I made the decision that I will move back to Montenegro from America and spend my life in the grace these mountains.
After three years of guiding groups on the Peaks of the Balkans, I have created this guide to share my local knowledge and experience with you in hopes that it will help you on your great adventure. Be sure to read the entire guide because there is some important information that can make or break your trip!
The Peaks of the Balkan Trail is a relatively new transitional trekking trail passing through Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro. It’s 190km of trail passes through the unspoiled Accursed Mountain Range. This gem lying in the Western Balkans is waiting to have it’s monumental impact on you. Its pure rawness in nature, breathtaking views and traditional locals will take you to a state of being that you have never experienced before.
WHAT MAKES THE PEAKS OF THE BALKANS SPECIAL?
Throughout my travels on the Peaks of the Balkans I have met many veteran hikers who have traveled around the globe searching for the worlds greatest hikes. After completing the most famous hikes, they find their way to the Balkans. One thing is common among these hikers, they are absolutely blown away by the natural beauty on the Peaks of the Balkans. They can’t imagine how it took them so long to discover this gem.
The Peaks of the Balkans is simply that, an uncut gem. It’s hard to imagine that one of the worlds greatest hikes, as said by UNESCO, is lying hidden in this “lesser,” part of Europe. That’s what makes this trek so special. It is raw and genuine. The natural beauty is astounding and untouched. The local people still hold on to their traditions. Hiking here is a life experience, not just a hike.
PEAKS OF THE BALKANS HIKE DETAILS
DISTANCE: 192 Kilometers
ELEVATION GAIN: 10,000m
ELEVATION MAX: 2290m
ELEVATION LOSS: 10,000m
TIME: Traditional Route 10-12 days, My Specialized Route 8 days
WHAT TO EXPECT ON THE PEAKS OF THE BALKANS
This trail is not easy. Everyday you will be hiking about 20 kilometers, ascending about 1000m and descending 1000m. Though it is not easy, this trail is worth the struggle. Every single day is a hike to remember filled with stunning views and nature. Due to war, the Accursed Mountain Range was completely off limits until 20 years ago. The landscape is still wild and rugged. On this hike you will feel completely disconnected from civilization and one with the mountains.
TIPS FOR THE PEAKS OF THE BALKANS
- Bring cash – Cash is king on the trail. The only ATM is in on the trail is in Plav. Don’t be the guy expecting to pay for a guest house with Apple Pay. Euros are best because they are accepted in all three countries.
- Get border permits ahead of time – Contact me at BLKNMTN or just email me at email@example.com and I will arrange border permits for you.
- Take my adjusted route – If you are like most people, you only have so much time to hike the trail. For the best experience filled with all the highlights of the trail, take my specialized route described below.
- Get in shape – The trail is hard. In order to maximize the fun and minimize the risk of injury, do some training before your trip. Climb some stairs!
- Get good boots – The quality of your boots will make or break your trip. Days are long so you need good support and grip. Make sure to break the boots in before the hike. The last thing you want is to have to quit early because of blisters and shin splints.
- Support the locals – Along the trail there will be many small huts along the way, especially from Cerem to Doberdol. All of which will sell either fresh juice, coffee, or drinks. Don’t stop because you are thirsty, stop to support the locals and get to know them. The most beautiful experiences come from these stops and really give you a taste of the local traditions and culture.
- Look out for shepherd dogs – In the summer the mountains are filled with shepherds and their sheep. Shepherd dogs will defend the sheep and act aggressive towards you. There isn’t really any danger just a good scare. When this happens adjust your route around the sheep and if the shepherd is in sight, wave hello and start communicating with him. The dogs will see this and soon turn friendly.
- Come stay at Hostel Bear Hug in Plav – I created this hostel with you in mind. When passing through Plav, come stay at Hostel Bear Hug and get first hand advise/tips from me and enjoy the best view in Plav :).
HOW TO GET TO THE PEAKS OF THE BALKANS TRAIL
Being that the trail is a loop, you can start wherever you would like. This means you have three options of getting to the trail. One in each country. If starting in Montenegro, fly into Podgorica and take the bus to Plav. If starting in Albania, fly into Tirana and take the bus to Theth or ferry to Valbona. Finally, if you start in Kosovo, which I don’t recommend, more on that later, fly into Pristina and take the bus to Peja, then find transport to Reka e Alleges. Of course, if you are already in Europe you can always take the more eco-friendly route and go by bus.
GUIDED OR UNGUIDED?
As with any hike you can either hike with or without a guide. From my experience helping countless hikers lost on the Peaks of the Balkans, I recommend getting a guide. There are a number of reasons why I feel this way. First, the trail is not easy to navigate and the last thing you want is to be lost after dark with no one to help. Second, having a local guide is priceless. The experience of having a local show you their home is like no other and add so much value to the trek. Third, there are not many English speakers in the area and a guide handles all transportation and lodging logistics. Emily, one of my guests for the 2023 season highlights these points in her review below.
I understand that not everyone wants or needs a guide, if this sounds like you, you can also consider booking a self-guided tour. Self-guided tours include all the organization advantages of a guided tour, but without the guide. If you don’t want to handle all the headaches of organizing accommodation, permits, meals and transportation, consider booking a self-guided tour.
If a guided trek sounds like the path for you. I provide a specialized Peaks of the Balkans Tour with my adventure company BLKNMTN. We provide accommodation, a guide, food, border permits and all transportation. As I said in the introduction, I have dedicated my life to sharing the wonders of my home with the people of the world. Nothing would make me happier than to guide your Peaks of the Balkans experience.
ADVENTURE IS WHAT WE DO
I understand that for some hikers having a guide is simply not their preference. No worries, this guide is meant for you too. Be sure to read the trail description where I map out each of the 10 sections of the trail. Click on each day to get the full guide with navigation and pictures included.
CAMPING OR GUEST HOUSE?
There are two ways to hike the Peaks of the Balkans Trail (POB). One is to bring all your camping gear and camp out each night on the trail. The other is to travel light and stay at local guest houses. Each have their pros and cons. Of course, this decision comes down to preference and experience level, but let’s list out the pros and cons for each to help you decide.
- Travel light – struggle less, enjoy more
- Sleep better
- Cultural experience in guest houses
- Food is provided
- Meet fellow travelers
- Could be expensive depending on budget
- No trail customization available
- Some guest houses are better than others
- Tough to book
- Unique camping experience
- Freedom to stop wherever you want and customize trail
- Days are much longer and difficult due to pack weight
- More injury prone due to pack weight
Luckily, I have the luxury of living on the trail so I have both camped and stayed in guest houses. If I were in your shoes, I would stay in guest houses 100%. The trail is hard even if you have zero weight on your back. The added weight of camping makes every day a struggle. I found myself racing to finish each day just so I can set up camp and make dinner before dark.
The mountains are much more enjoyable when you are not in a rush. Also, there is something nice about finishing your hike knowing there is phenomenal food, a hot shower and a soft bed waiting for you. Not only that, but the locals on the trail are some of the most amazing and welcoming people I have ever met in my life. They feed you and pour drink like you are a part of the family.
Here’s the kicker, you can do both. Most guest houses allow you to camp to on their property so you can have the best of both worlds. You pay for everything the guest house provides, breakfast, packed lunch and dinner, but you sleep outside.
PEAKS OF THE BALKANS STAGES
The trail consists of ten stages. Where you choose to begin is totally up to you, but there are two stages of the trail that I do not recommend hiking. Unfortunately, Kosovo has recently laid down asphalt in Rrugova Valley and this has lead to the area becoming very busy. Also, almost half the day is spent hiking these roads. I simply don’t believe these days are worth the effort. That is why I highly recommend going from Milishevc straight to Babino Polje and cutting out Reka e Alleges and Kucishte.
Below you will find a brief description of each stage. Be sure to click on the “COMPLETE GUIDE,” on each stage for an in-depth breakdown including navigation, helpful information and pictures.
PLAV – VUSANJE (COMPLETE GUIDE)
This stage of the hike takes you from the small town of Plav to the village of Vusanje. This is the definitely the hardest day on the trail because it is the longest and has a huge descent, but it is one of my favorites. Hiking from Plav to Vusanje is filled with stunning views of both Lake Plav in your rear and the Accursed Mountain Range in front of you. The highlight of this hike is traversing Bor Peak. Here you will be emersed in a panoramic view of the surrounding area.
VUSANJE – THETH (COMPLETE GUIDE)
This stage of the hike takes you from the village of Vusanje in Montenegro through Ropojana Valley and across the border to the village of Theth in Albania. This is my favorite stage of the Peaks of the Balkans. The hike is jam packed with highlights like Grlja Waterfall, Eye of the Grasshopper, Ropojana Valley and Runica meadow. If you are camping and have time, The Great Valley of Lakes is a must see detour on the trail. Don’t worry if you can’t make it because the traditional hike is literally a traverse from one great valley into another.
THETH – VALBONA (COMPLETE GUIDE)
This stage of the Peaks of the Balkans takes you from the village of Theth over the Valbona pass to the village of Valbona. This is the most popular hike on the trail for good reason. It is a relatively easy day hike and the Valbona pass gives you an unmatched view of the surrounding area. This hike passes through beautiful old growth forests and has a welcoming café to rest at about halfway through. You are sure to enjoy this spectacular stage of the trail.
VALBONA – CEREM (COMPLETE GUIDE)
The “official” Peaks of the Balkans stage from Valbona to Cerem is a rather uneventful one. The first third of the hike is on a busy asphalt road. Next you do a small scramble up through a forest. Once out of the forest, you continue on a dirt road until you reach Cerem. Luckily, there are two other options available. One, you can get a ride. This will cost you about 20 euros per person. Two, there is an alternate route that is much more interesting and fitting to the rest of the trail.
The alternate route, which I highly recommend, begins in Valbona Valley and takes you back to Montenegro through the Zla Kolata pass then you will take a right and drop down into Cerem. It is a big day, so if you are looking for some rest, take the official route on the road.
CEREM – DOBERDOL (COMPLETE GUIDE)
This stage of the Peaks of the Balkans takes you from the village of Cerem to the high altitude remote village of Doberdol. This is the easiest day on the trail because once you gain elevation, you keep it. A majority of the day is spent hiking through amazing old growth forests. Throughout the day you will come out the forest and be welcomed by amazing views.
There are a couple small huts along the way where you can grab coffee and a snack. Another interesting thing about this hike, other than the views, is that you will cross into Montenegro for a short distance then cross back into Albania. At the end of the hike you will lose some elevation then climb back up into the village of Doberdol.
DOBERDOL – MILISHEVC (COMPLETE GUIDE)
This stage of the Peaks of the Balkans takes you from the remote village of Doberdol in Albania across the border to the village of Milishevc in Kosovo. The hike begins with a big climb up Tromeda Mountain. This peak is amazing because while standing on the top you can stand in Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo at the same time. After bagging this peak you will continue the hike following the border between Kosovo and Montenegro. This hike includes beautiful views of endless meadows and Bogicevica National Park. Once crossing the border into Kosovo you will continue on the trail winding through the mountains. Next, you will take a right turn and descend into the village of Roshkodol. After Roshkodol you will do a short and final climb to Milishevcs.
These next two stage of the Peaks of the Balkans I do not recommend hiking because I believe they have been a bit forced into the trail in an effort squeeze Kosovo in. Unfortunately, these two hikes in Kosovo don’t match the caliber of the rest of the trail for two reasons. First, asphalt roads have been paved in Rrugova valley making it very busy. Second, almost half of the trail these days is walking along these roads. Of course, you can just get a taxi, but I think you are much better off cutting out Milishevc – Reke e Alleges and Reka e Alleges – Kucishte. Instead, hike from Milishevcs straight to Babino Polje in Montenegro.
MILISHEVC – REKE E ALLEGES (COMPLETE GUIDE)
This stage of the Peaks of the Balkans takes you from the village of Milishevc to the village of Reka e Alleges. Though I don’t recommend hiking this stage, it is still a beautiful hike if you’re up for it. The first half of the hike is beautiful. It takes you up to Bjeshka e Lumbardhit ridge. After the climb you will reach a beautiful meadow with breathtaking views towards Gjeravica Mountain (the highest in Kosovo), Marjashi peak (southwest from our position), and Milishevc. Then, you will make a steep decent down to the dreaded asphalt road for the second half of the hike.
REKA E ALLEGES – KUCISHTE (COMPLETE GUIDE)
This stage of the Peaks of the Balkans takes you from Reka e Alleges to Kucishte. Though I don’t recommend hiking this stage, it is still a beautiful hike if you’re up for it. This hike takes you past the famous Hajla Peak and through some awesome pine forests. Again, there are some asphalt sections that you can either catch a taxi or hitch a ride. If you have set your goal of completing the entire trail, you will still find adventure and great fun on the sections I don’t recommend.
KUCHISTE – BABINO POLJE (COMPLETE GUIDE)
This stage of the Peaks of the Balkans takes you from the village of Kucishte in Kosovo across the border to the mountain hamlet of Babino Polje in Montenegro. This is a beautiful hike. It features two amazing glacial lakes at the start of the hike and the Shkodra Pass providing awesome views. Yes, I know I don’t recommend doing this hike because the two stages leading up to it aren’t up to par, but on the bright side of things, when you hike my recommended route from Milishevc to Babino Polje, it is the same route as the second half of this hike. So, you don’t miss out on much.
BABINO POLJE – PLAV (COMPLETE GUIDE)
This hike takes you from the mountain hamlet of Babino Polje to Montenegro’s most beautiful lake, Lake Hrid and back to my hometown of Plav. This hike is an absolute dream. You start the day off walking through old growth pine forests leading up to the lake. Once you arrive you are in for a treat. Lake Hrid is an amazing place to spend the day. Take a swim in it’s enchanted waters and enjoy the view of Hrid Rock towering over you. When you have had your fill, take the meandering trail back to Plav.
PEAKS OF THE BALKANS DETOURS
There are a few must see detours on the trail to visit if you have the time. This is the main reason why I recommend my adjusted version of the trail, because it frees up time to experience these awesome detours. The main attractions that are not featured on the official Peaks of the Balkans Trail, but are easily accessible are The Great Valley of Lakes, Grebaje Valley and Kosovo’s tallest mountain, Gjeravica.
CURRENT COVID-19 RESTRICTIONS
As of today, Montenegro, Albania and Kosovo’s borders are open.
The Peaks of the Balkans Trail is a hidden gem waiting for you to discover it. This trek is guaranteed to exceed your every expectation. If you are thinking about visiting, stop thinking and book your ticket. That right there is the best advice in this entire guide. Adventure is waiting!