Samaria Gorge is one of Crete's most famous gorges and is one of the must visit hikes in Europe.

Hiking in Samaria Gorge, Crete: Under the Cretan Sun

Samaria Gorge is the reason I wanted to visit Crete. I was entranced by the photos I had seen of tall cliffs rising above you as you hike under the Mediterranean Sun. If you love hiking, it is not to be missed on a visit to Crete. Located in the White Mountains, Samaria Gorge is one of the most beautiful gorges in Crete, and is arguably, its most famous.

As a one-way hike, there are some logistics to figure out but it’s one of the most popular things to do in Crete so everything is very planning-friendly. If you’re visiting the western side of Crete during spring or autumn, this is a must-visit trek to add to your itinerary.

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Planning Your Trip to Samaria Gorge Last Minute?

Planning your trip to the Samaria Gorge? Below are some places to stay, and tour options

Best Tours to the Samaria Gorge
  1. From Chania: Full-Day Samaria Gorge Trek Excursion
  2. From Rethymno: Samaria Gorge Full-Day Trek with Pickup
  3. From Heraklion: Samaria Gorge & Agia Roumeli Hiking Day Trip
Top Hotels for Visiting the Samaria Gorge
  1. Mosaic in Chania (I stayed here, loved the hotel)
  2. Monastery Estate Retreat, Sougia (Perfect if you have a car)

If you are renting a car for Crete, I use DiscoverCars and recommend them

Quick Samaria Gorge Hiking Logistics

Hiking Length: 13 km plus 2 km from the end to the village, or pay for a shuttle bus
Time to Hike: 5-6 hours, ferry leaves at 5:30 pm
Water Spouts: Drinkable water at many points. In summer they may dry out so check before you start hiking
Bathrooms: Paid bathroom at top, 2 squat toilets before Samaria village, main bathroom at Samaria village has water, may be another after Samaria village.
Special Equipment Needed: Firm-soled shoes, sneakers will leave you with sore feet

Map of the Samaria Gorge hiking route with water spouts labeled in blue.
Map of the Samaria Gorge hiking route with water spouts labelled in blue.

Is Samaria Gorge Worth Visiting?

For me, the Samaria Gorge is worth visiting. I had been looking forward to hiking this for years and I loved the scenery. It’s the perfect way to explore the White Mountains (Lefka Ori) in Crete. I’m not sure I would have felt the same way if it had been blisteringly hot but on a sunny day in May the weather was perfect for appreciating the landscapes.

If you are used to walking long distances, then the Samaria Gorge will not be challenging. I saved it for my last full day on my Crete road trip in case it was really hard but it turned out to not be as difficult as I was anticipating. If you don’t walk long distances you may end up with sore legs the day after so plan something relaxing the next day like soaking in the sea at Balos Beach or Elafonisi.

Woman walking in Samaria Gorge
Near the start of the trail

When to Hike Samaria Gorge

The Samaria Gorge is only open from May 1st until October 31st. In extreme weather conditions like rain, high winds, or high heat they close the trail for safety. I visited at the end of May and had perfect weather, although it did get as hot as 28°C (82.4°F). The spring months of May and June are great times to hike the Samaria Gorge as you avoid the hottest weather and wildflowers are blooming.

The Samaria Gorge opens at 7 am with entry for hiking the entire trail allowed until 1 pm. I highly recommend going as early as possible as most of the trail is exposed and it gets very hot. If you only want to hike a short distance and return to the entrance, entry is until 3 pm.

How to Get to Samaria Gorge

You have several options to get to Samaria Gorge, and all of them will involve taking the ferry at the end of the hike. Any of the options you choose you will be limited on return time by the ferry as it only returns once a day at 5:30 pm.

At the end of the gorge, there is also about 2km of walking on the road to get to the final village of Agia Roumeli so you may want to take some change (about 2 euros) to get a shuttle bus to save some energy and time.

Sign showing that there is a bus to take you to the ferry in Samaria Gorge
Advertisement for the shuttle bus at the end of the hike

By Tour

The easiest way to get to Samaria Gorge is to join a tour. Most tours will leave from Chania but some tours do pickups in Rethymno or leave from Heraklion. Pickup for tours from your hotel is very early and you then go by bus to Samaria Gorge. For most tours, you are responsible for buying the ferry ticket and entrance to Samaria Gorge, which you can purchase when you arrive. A tour is a great option if you are not staying in Chania.

By Public Bus

To go by bus to Samaria Gorge, head to the Chania bus station the day before to purchase your bus and ferry ticket. They only make the bus tickets available the day before your intended travel date in case the gorge is closed to hiking. Do not plan on eating your breakfast on the bus, you are not allowed and bus drivers will give you trouble for even carrying on snacks.

The bus to Samaria Gorge (Xyloskalo) is around 7 euros and there are several departures in the early morning. The return trip from Sougia to Chania another 7 euros and departs when the ferry arrives from Agia Roumeli. The ferry between the village at the end of the hike, Agia Roumeli to Sougia is 15 euros and departs at 5:30 pm. Alternatively, for the way back you can take the ferry to Chora Sfakion and return by bus from there to Chania but it does take longer.

One advantage of taking the bus over a tour is that you just head to the bus station for your intended departure time so you don’t have to sit on the bus as other passengers are picked up. A disadvantage of the bus is that you do have to make a detour at the end of the day to stop at Samaria Gorge again to drop off passengers to their cars.

By Car

If you have a rental car you can drive yourself to the start of the Samaria Gorge in Xyloskalo, which takes about 1 hour. In Crete, I used DiscoverCars to find the best deals and would recommend them. From the Samaria entrance, buy your ferry ticket to Sougia and a bus ticket between Sougia and Xyloskalo. At the end of your hike, the ferry and bus will get you back to the parking lot. Even though I was traveling by car I decided against this option as it didn’t save me any time or money and I knew after a long hike I wouldn’t feel like driving back to Chania. I would only go to Samaria Gorge by car if I wasn’t staying in Chania.

The cliffs get as close as 4m apart in Samaria Gorge, Crete
Samaria Gorge, where the cliffs get as close as 3m apart

Packing List for Hiking Samaria Gorge

  • Hard-soled shoes or hiking boots- there are a lot of sharp rocks
  • Hiking poles (optional)- especially if you have bad knees, lots of walking downhill
  • Refillable water bottle- I recommend carrying at least 2L, there are springs to refill at but these can dry up at the end of summer
  • Snacks and lunch- food is only available at the beginning and end of the trail
  • Toilet paper/tissues- there are toilets but often no toilet paper
  • Swimwear + towel- at the end of the hike you are on the Libyan Sea and a beautiful beach
  • Flipflops (optional)- the beach at the end is a stone beach
  • Cash/credit card- Need to purchase entry and small change for the shuttle bus at the end of the hike and the bathroom at the entrance
  • Sunscreen, sunglasses, and hat- For most of the hike you are exposed to the sun
  • Moleskin, medical tape, or bandages- in case of blisters
A natural spring water fountain with water flowing in Samaria Gorge
One of the natural spring water fountains on the trail

Hiking Samaria Gorge

Upon arriving at the entrance to the hike, there is a small cafe. You can buy coffee here as well as breakfast or lunch if you didn’t pack one.

At the entrance, you can buy your ticket for the Samaria Gorge by cash or credit card. Make sure you hold on to your ticket as you will need to show it to exit the park.

Starting the Hike

At the beginning of the Samaria Gorge hike, you will start a pretty steep downhill section and are likely clumped up with other hikers. Don’t worry, everyone starts to spread out after a bit after they find their own pace.

The trail at the beginning of Samaria Gorge with some steps and lots of rocks
Trail conditions at the start of the hike

I found this section to be the most uneven section with lots of sharp rocks and stairs. If you have bad knees this is where you will feel it the most as it is the steepest section.

There are fantastic views of Gigilos Summit and Volakias Summit to your right as well as sweeping views of the gorge you are going to hike through today.

Looking out over the White Mountains of Crete from the top of the Samaria Gorge hiking trail near Omalos
Viewpoint over the White Mountains from the top of the trail

Hiking through Forest

I was surprised about how much of the hike takes you through Calabrian pine and cypress forested slopes. I was happy to get the shade and even though it isn’t through the gorge, it’s beautiful scenery. There are several older churches here with interpretive signs. One of the first you will come across is Agios Nikolaos. It’s part of an ancient shrine that dates to the 6th century. Offerings were found here to either Apollo or Diana.

Hiking Towards the Old Village of Samaria

Further down the mountain, you continue to wind through the forest, crossing by small streams and even crossing them at some points. The forest itself is quite beautiful and there are some great views of the mountains around you as well. I enjoyed how serene the area felt. It was also interesting to see ancient worshipping sites and how this area has been spiritually significant to humans for centuries. In this way, it kind of reminded me of the significance of visiting Delphi on mainland Greece.

Closer to the old village of Samaria the hike starts to level out. From the entrance of Samaria Gorge to the old village of Samaria, it took me just over 3 hours of hiking.

Old Village of Samaria

The old village of Samaria is the big rest stop on this hike. There are picnic tables, bathrooms, and fountains. It’s also next to the ruins of Samaria. People inhabited this village until 1962, when Samaria Gorge was designated as a National Park. Samaria Gorge is the only gorge in Crete to have been continually inhabited by people. It has also played an important part in wars, being a refuge from Turks in the 1800s and hiding partisans during WWII.

Stone ruins that show the outline of buildings in the old village of Samaria in Crete. The white mountains are the backdrop that are dotted in trees.
Ruins of the old village of Samaria

Hiking Towards the Gates of Samaria

After the village of Samaria, the next two hours of hiking will take you through the most famous parts of the Samaria Gorge. It’s almost entirely exposed to the sun so be prepared with sunscreen here.

Black and orange streaked cliffs near the Gates in Samaria Gorge

This part of the hike takes you next to soaring cliffs dotted with trees growing on their sides. It’s the most scenic part of the hike and it is truly stunning. It’s worth all the downhill hiking to see this.

You wind along the white stone riverbed that is probably almost entirely dried up but it’s easy to imagine how impressive this would be in the height of the wet season.

Tall cliffs and white stones in Samaria Gorge, Crete
Walking along a dried up river bed in Samaria Gorge

The Gates

There are several creek crossings on small wooden bridges before you reach what is known as the Gates. The Gates of Samaria is a point where the 100 m (328 ft) tall cliffs are only 3 m (10 ft) apart.

The gates at Samaria Gorge where the cliffs are only 3 m apart
The Gates at Samaria Gorge

After the Gates, it’s a short walk to the exit of the park. You do have to show your ticket here to exit. Once you exit, you can either walk the 2 km along a dusty road to the village of Agia Roumeli or pay for a shuttle bus. When I visited, the shuttle bus was 2 euros and I paid for it so I could have more time in the village.

Visiting Agia Roumeli

Agia Roumeli is a charming village on the shores of the Libyan Sea and it’s the perfect place to spend some time after a long hike.

You can either go for a swim in the clear waters here or grab a meal at one of the restaurants. Or if you’re a fast walker you may have time for both. I do recommend getting something to eat however as you won’t make it back to Chania until between 8-9 pm.

I opted to go for a meal and I had a wonderful early dinner at Calypso Restaurant with views of the beach. Everything I had there was fantastic but if you haven’t had Greek yogurt with honey yet, it’s a great place to try it.

Rock beach with clear teal water of the Libyan Sea and a mountain next to it on the island of Crete in Agia Roumeli
The beach at Agia Roumeli

Ferry to Sougia

Getting the ferry to Sougia is very straightforward as there are only two options. For the best views of the shoreline, sit on the left side of the ferry. The ride back is quite enjoyable as there are fantastic views of the unbelievably blue water and the cliffs and caves that are on the shoreline.

Blue Libyan Sea with cliffs rising out of it and a large cave is present when viewed from the ferry between Agia Roumeli and Sougia on the coast of Crete
Views of the sea and the cliffs and caves of the Cretan coast from the ferry to Sougia

Bus Back to Chania

When you dock at Sougia, all of the tour buses and buses will be lined up waiting for passengers. It’s a bit confusing so just remember what tour company or bus you arrived with and start asking destinations. For the best views from the bus, sit on the right. The bus ride home takes you on winding roads that give you beautiful views of the sunset and sea.

Sunset over the White Mountains in Crete on the drive between Sougia and Chania
Sunset from the bus window back to Chania

Visiting Samaria Gorge

Overall it is well worth a visit to Samaria Gorge. It’s a long day but you are rewarded with great views of the mountains, a beautiful gorge, the gorgeous sea, and excellent Cretan food at the end of the hike. If you are looking for other great hiking options in Crete, hiking Katholiko Bay was my favourite hike and is an easy day trip from Chania as it is in the Akrotiri Peninsula.

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