Known by everyone and roamed by few, the legendary Mt. Olympus may not be a popular destination, but it is one of the few big mountains in Europe where, at least on weekdays, one can still hike in peace and quiet, away from the big crowds. The mythical mountain and alleged home of the Greek gods has several spectacular trails carved on its steep sides; some run along river banks surrounded by lush forest, and others glide through the clouds, scribed on ethereal ridges that connect mythical peaks.
The crescent-shaped massif lies in the central part of the Greek mainland, no more than five kilometers from the coast of the Aegean Sea, and its dominant figure stands out against the Greek blue sky from a great distance.
This guide is more about the popular north side and the plateau of the Muses — a grass-covered tableland, surrounded by Greece’s highest peaks, which is surprisingly big for such a jagged terrain. The Thessalian plain on the southwest and the ruby coast of the Aegean sea on the east adorn its backgrounds, creating a glorious landscape of rare beauty and the most awe-inspiring sunrise in Greece if you ask me.
The Trails of Olympus
Enipeas Trail (Litochoro – Prionia)
The lowest trail of Mt. Olympus starts outside the small town of Litochoro and follows the valley of Enipeas river. In its ten kilometers, it crosses the Enipeas seven times over wooden bridges before reaching Prionia — the mountain’s most popular trailhead and gateway to the hike peaks. Thankfully, even though Greek summers can be brutal, the dense foliage and the river’s gargling water will keep you cool. The altitude difference between the two places is 800 meters but the elevation gain of the route is around 1200m which gives you an idea of how hard this roller coaster-like trail is. Beware that once you’re in the valley there won’t be any phone reception.
If hiking from the foot of the mountain is a bit too much, you can always go by road to Prionia. There, you’ll find a parking lot with public toilets (not always open in the morning), a nice restaurant to eat at, and two trails leading to the high peaks.
Gomarostalos (Prionia – Plateau of the Muses)
The most direct route to the plateau of the Muses is seven and a half kilometers long and ascends almost 1700 meters in altitude. Gomarostalos is an old trail that lumberjacks used to tread years ago when the industry thrived. The fact that it is constantly uphill, and has no more than two or three level sections, makes it very endurance-demanding, but also rewarding. Narrow at places, it crosses three alpine meadows, offering mesmerizing views to Mavrologos ravine bellow, before ending up at the foot of the long shoulder that leads to Kalagia peaks and the plateau of the Muses.
The last section is a moderately difficult via ferrata. Whether or not to wear a harness and attach yourself to the cable depends on experience and how tired you are after such an arduous hike. Gomarostalos commands respect and will have your heart pumping, but once you step on the plateau of the Muses and admire its allure, all your tiredness will fade away.
Spilios Agapitos Refuge (Prionia – Refuge A – Plateau of the Muses)
This is part of the international E4 trail and it’s a longer and relatively easier route than Gomarostalos, though still hard and demanding. The first 3-hour section snakes up the ravine of Mavrologos, leading to the refuge of Spilios Agapitos (2100m) aka Refuge A, where you can eat a tasty lunch and have a break. There, you have two options:
The first is to ascend the E4 towards the peak of Skolio and, after about an hour, turn right at the junction towards the Zonaria trail, which traverses the south face of the high peaks (Skala, Mytikas, Stephani) all the way to the plateau of the Muses. Two and a half hours in total.
The other option is to use the more direct Kofto trail, which starts a few meters above the refuge and traverses the same face as Zonaria at a lower altitude, ending at the bottom of the plateau’s cirque near Kakalos refuge. This is shorter by an hour but a bit more exposed. Also, depending on how deep in the summer you are hiking, there is a stream bed in the middle of the route where you may encounter a big frozen snow patch. Thankfully, there is a marked bypass; be careful not to miss the arrow that sends you left back to the trail after crossing it. Just before the plateau, there is a small section that needs to be scrambled, but it’s easy and not too exposed.
An alternative route to the high peaks of Olympus from the east side begins at the picnic site of Gortsia next to the Litochoro – Prionia road, four and a half kilometers before reaching Prionia to the right. Starting in a dense beech forest, the first part is a strenuous four-hour ascent to Petrostrouga refuge where you can catch some rest and a nice meal. From there, the uphill continues out of the tree line to the top of Skourta (2476m), a majestic peak and a great viewpoint. The next section is balancing on Lemos — the sublime ridge that connects Skourta with the northeast side of the plateau of the Muses and is frequently surrounded by low-altitude clouds. Though it may look narrow from a distance, it’s wide enough and entirely safe as long as you don’t forget yourself while admiring the magnificent views to both sides of the ridge.
The High Peaks
There are many peaks above two thousand meters in Olympus. Most of them can be hiked easily, but a couple of them need to be scrambled and can be quite treacherous.
Mytikas, the summit of Olympus, is a rugged limestone peak soaring 2917 meters above sea level. There are two ways to get there without technical climbing, and both can be dangerous. The first is via the mountain’s second-highest peak — Skolio(2912m), which can be approached easily from Agapitos refuge (2100m). From there, you walk to a small peak called Skala and follow a marked route known as Kakoskala. First, you descend in a narrow gully at the bottom of which you start traversing towards the summit before ascending once more to a false summit called Paramutikas and then to Mytikas itself. All in all, it takes around forty-five minutes from Skolio, it is exposed at places, and you have to scramble a bit here and there, but it’s the safest way to the top.
The same cannot be said for Louki, the notorious gully that has claimed more lives than any other place on Mt. Olympus. Its entrance is next to the Zonaria trail, less than twenty minutes from the plateau of the Muses. It is very steep, covered in scree, and susceptible to rock falls. Its edges are threaded with pinnacles making it look sinister and even more dangerous. This route is more suitable for serious scramblers, and first-timers should consider using a mountain guide to secure them with a rope. Climbing behind other parties should be better avoided due to loose rocks.
Stefani (2909m) is the third-highest peak and definitely the most impressive. Long and narrow like a fin, Stefani dominates the plateau of the Muses with its imposing east face. The only way to its long ridge is from a gully next to Louki which is similarly difficult to climb but never crowded. Unlike Mytikas though, the gully doesn’t lead straight to the peak, and you still have to cross a good part of the ridge, including a couple of very exposed sections in order to get there. Definitely, not for the faint-hearted.
Other High Peaks
If scrambling steep routes and stepping on abysmal cliffs is not your thing, there are still many peaks around the plateau of the Muses that you can walk to. Two of the most interesting are Megali Toumpa (2801m) and Profitis Ilias (2803m) which sit on either side of the saddle upon which the refuge of Giosos Apostolidis rests. Both are ten minutes from the refuge, have great views, and are two of the best spots to watch the plateau’s majestic sunrise. Also, the latter accommodates a stone-built 16th-century chapel which is said to be the highest in the Balkans. On the south side of the high peaks, besides Skolio and Skala, Ag. Antonios (2815m) is another peak you can walk to, and there, is also a meteorological station that serves as an emergency shelter.
Weather and the best time to climb Mt. Olympus
Mt. Olympus is covered in deep snow for a big part of the year and even though winter ascents are not unusual (the Gortsia route is usually preferred) they should be better left for the most experienced of climbers and alpinists. Depending on the year’s snowfall, the season starts around mid-May and usually ends by November.
During summer, the weather can be quirky with wide temperature variations. While temps on the valley floor of Enipeas may range between 35°C and 40°C, at the same time at the plateau of the Muses it can be near 20, or even close to zero, with snowfalls and hail storms not being unheard of in the middle of the summer. As with many mountains, the weather can unexpectedly close in, and abrupt storms frequently hit the mountain out of nowhere. An early morning start definitely improves one’s chances to reach the refuge dry and safe.
To sum up, Mt. Olympus is one of Greece’s most beautiful and adventurous corners. Its nature is pristine, the landscapes wild and impeccably beautiful, and the refuges excellent. But one word of caution: Mountain rescue in Greece is a sad story. Unlike most of Europe, there is no dedicated air rescue team with helicopters and trained staff able to evacuate victims from steep and difficult terrain. The weight of rescue falls on the shoulders of the fire department and local volunteers, but despite their best efforts, evacuations on Mt. Olympus have taken anything from hours to days in the past. Keep that in mind when you’re out there, and leave a good margin for error.