Greater Caucasus Mountains
Key information: Greater Caucasus Mountains
- The Greater Caucasus, Georgia’s highest mountains at the meeting-point of continents, are rich in landscape – and in culture and history.
- Exceptional walking in magnificent surroundings – vast icy spires above flowery meadows above lovely forests.
Walkopedia rating(Top 100)
- Walkopedia rating91
- Natural interest15
- Human interest10
- Negative points0
- Total rating91
- Length: Your choice
- Maximum Altitude: Around 3,500m?
- Level of Difficulty: Variable
The Caucasus Mountains run for some 1,100km, from the Russian Black Sea coast in the north-west, to Azerbaijan in the east and Armenia in the south. The Greater Caucasus to the north form the border between Russia and Georgia for most of their length and are separated from the Lesser Caucasus to the south by the plains of central Georgia. There is a gaping hole in the middle of the Georgian Great Caucasus, which is South Ossetia, a separatist area supported by Russia and which is (as of 2019) de facto Russian territory.
See our Georgia page for more information on the country.
The Caucasus are extraordinarily beautiful, with an entrancing combination of high, grassy, flower-heaven pastures with huge peaks, spires and cliffs, and glaciers and meltingly beautiful lakes. Forests in the middle and lower reaches. On the whole you don’t come here for the wildlife, which is under severe pressure as a result of hunting and deforestation, but boar, deer and two species of ibex (mountain goats) do exist in the Caucasus, as do a reasonable selection of bird life, including black grouse, various raptors, and various migrants.
There are endless great walks here, from short explorations to multi-dayers. Higher and longer walks into the wilderness will require you to camp, but ponies and equipment can be hired in most of the main centres. There are also guesthouses dotted around the main areas, so you have plenty of less arduous options.
(The following walks are listed east to west.)
Lagodekhi Park, in the far east: the country’s oldest reserve teems with wildlife in its ancent forests. Huge views above the treeline. The Black Lake, high among the grassy slopes and rocky ridges, at 2,800m, is the best walk in the region. A wonderful 3 day trek. (Recommended by www.caucasus-trekking.com)
Tusheti (far north-east): still marvellous and remote despite growing visitor numbers. Some of the Caucasus’ very best scenery. There is only one high 4WD road in. Accessible late May to mid October. Main village – Omalo.
Omalo to Shatili (in Khevsureti) via the 3,413m Atsunta pass. One of the Caucasus’ great walks. 4 to 5 days/70km between the ancient centres of two Caucasus regions. A beautiful and fascinating trek (both naturally and in human terms) across this high pass in wild mountains.
Borbalo Pass: another crossing between Tusheti and Khevsureti, south of the Atsunta route. Cross a high ridge, spending at least two days on the high ground. 5 days/77km.
Circuit over the Nakaicho Pass from Omalo: This trek takes you up Tusheti’s northern Pirikiti Alazani valley to Parsma; then south over the tough Nakaicho Pass (2,900m) into the southern Gomtsari (Tushetis) Alazani valley to return to Omalo. 4-5 days.
Day walks: shorter walks include:
Between the valley-villages of Omalo, Shenako and Diklo.
To stunningly sited Oreti Lake in high grassy folds of the mountains south of Omalo.
Gonta Ridge: one of the Caucasus’ finest day walks follows this wonderful ridge between the two Alazani valleys, with huge views over them both and northwards to the highest border mountains. A long day.
Khevsureti (north-east): stunning landscape, ancient tower-littered villages, few people. May to November access only. The main (and classic fortified) village is Shatili; the pristine old village of Mutso has to have one of the most dramatic positions in Georgia. Great walks include:
Fantastic long walks linking Tusheti (see above).
Roshka, in the west, has a gorgeous walk to the extravagantly lovely Abudelauri Lakes. 4 hrs up to the highest lake. Also on the route over the Chaukhi Pass to/from Juta in Khevi (see below), one of the Caucasus’ great walks.
Shatali to Juta (in Khevi) via the Isirtghele Pass. 4 days said, to be very difficult. Up near the high border ridge.
The superb and remote day walk northwards down the Chanchakhi Gorge to Mutso.
Khevi (east of South Ossetia, north of Tbilisi), up the historic Georgian Military Highway, which links Tbilisi and the Georgian heartlands with Russia via a major pass. One of Georgia’s two best known walking areas, and its most accessible one.
Kazbegi: a region as well as a town in the high range just south of the border mountains. Centred on the Tergi river valley and dominated by the icy heights of 5,033m Mt Kazbek, a vast extinct volcano. Great walks include:
To the Gergeti Glacier: A fascinating and thrilling walk up a superb ridge above a dramatic gorge, towards the high glacier below mighty 5,033m Mt Kazbek. 22km, 8hrs or so. One of the Caucasus’ finest day walks.
The Truso Valley runs westwards off the upper Tergi valley, hard up against the South Ossetia border and leading right up to the high Russian border ridge. You can simply walk up the valley, which is fascinating and beautiful in its own right. As long or short as you want, as long as you have transport.
Keli Plateau: a bare if exceptionally beautiful once-volcanic plateau including features such as old lava flows and ex-volcanoes. Trek over two high (3,400m) but stunning passes to reach the region and beautiful Kelitsadi Lake. Access from the Truso Valley. A demanding 3 day/37km tour.
See our Khevi page for more.
Around Juta, up a long and rough road east of the Georgian Military Highway.
Juta to Roshka in Khevsureti via the Chaukhi (Abudelauri) Pass: a superb trek up a perfect grassy valley, via a lake, then across this high pass in wild, beautiful landscape: fascinating both naturally and in human terms. 3 days, up to 3,430m.
Or walk up the flower strewn-valley to the lake and on to the foot of Mt Chaukhi near Juta for a superb day walk.
Tetu Peak (3,210m) – a superb day walk.
See our Khevi page for more.
Off the Georgian Military Highway–around Gudaur: several walks here, including:
Khada Valley (often called Khada Gorge). Wonderful expanse of steep green slopes bristling with towers, all below high, craggy ridges. And a fascinating and thrilling walk up to the ancient Fire Cross Beacon Tower on a high ridge.
Lomisa Chapel: A steep climb to this C9 chapel perched high on the ridge which forms the border with break-away South Ossetia.
See our Khevi page for more.
Racha Area (west of South Ossetia): the Racha range sits just west of (and runs into) South Ossetia, and east of Svaneti. The region of Racha includes the major Rioni valley to the north, and the mountains north of that. Racha is little visited, and south of the highest Caucasus mountains, but it has some marvellous walking nonetheless. Great walks include:
Buba Glacier: climb through forest to emerge into high pasture with exceptional views of the high, icy peaks above and around. The Buba glacier is concealed beneath a thick carpet of rock in its lower reaches, morphing into high icy glamour between its surrounding peaks. A demanding 1,100m or so climb to a viewpoint at 2,534m. 17km/8hrs return. (Recommended by the excellent www.caucasus-trekking.com)
Udziro Glacier. Delightful 2 day hike to a lovely high lakelet in gorgeous mountain scenery. 1,800m(ish) of ascent/descent and the lake is at 2,800m (you cross a 3,000m+ pass), so a demanding walk. Good camping by the lake.
Walking between Racha and Svaneti.
Svaneti region (north-west): said to be Georgia’s wildest and remotest area (although its core sites get coach-loads), boasting staggeringly beautiful landscapes and riddled with ancient villages and towers. Upper (Zemo) Svaneti, with Mestia at its heart, is one of Georgia’s two best-known walking areas, with a host of great walks of all shapes and sizes. Lower (Kvemo) Svaneti is still superb, although south of the highest Caucasus mountains.
Day walks or less: there are numerous superb shorter walks, including:
Upper Mestia river valley to the base of the Chalaati glacier, 1.5 hrs or so. A stunner of a shorter walk, grandest scenery.
Above Ushguli: a gentle climb up a long, gorgeous valley to a glacier falling off Shkhara, Georgia’s highest mountain at 5,201m (stated heights vary!), in its ridge of rock and ice. Explore remarkable Ushguli to the east of Mestia, with its bristling towers that make this landscape so unique on the way. One of the Caucasus’ finest walks.
Becho valley: the upper Dolra valley, west of Mestia, leads up to one of the most dramatic valley-heads in the whole Caucasus range.
Guli Pass walk from Mazeri in the western Becho valley to Mestia across the glorious but high (2,961m) Guli Pass, with its amazing views of the sharp spike of famous Mt Ushba. Also approachable from Mestia.
Latpari Pass: this is a long day walk from famous Ushguli east of Mestia, southwards across the 2,963m Latpari Pass to Chvelpi in Lower Svaneti. Superb high landscape and breathtaking views north to the high Caucasus ridge.
Mhkeri Church: this ancient church sits on a hill near the mass of 4,000m Layla. Huge and astounding views of the surrounding mountains.
Mestia to Tsvirmi: a 6hr walk eastward across the high Zuruldi Massif, with outstanding views around some of the Caucasus’ greatest peaks.
Koruldi Lakes: walk to gorgeous tarns on the high slopes due north of Mestia. Vast views up the Mestia valley to the wild spires and glaciers of the border ridge.
For more details on these walks see our Svaneti page.
Mestia to Ushguli: a fabulous 4 day, 58km hike through glorious scenery, village-to-village so tents are not required, but book ahead in high season. Strenuous in places. These are amazing villages so you will get deep into Georgia’s history and culture. Said to be Georgia’s most popular longer hike.
Svaneti eastward to Racha: between Zeskho and Ghebi. 3 or 4 days, 39km. Crosses two high passes, in really remote country, so is a demanding hike. An outstanding route even by Caucasus standards.
To Tobavarchkhili Lake, in the superb Egrisi range in the south-west of Svaneti. A long and demanding trek in wild, remote landscape way off regular trekking routes at its upper end. Return the way you came or head on northwards over another high pass and through magical landscape to reach Khaishi on the Mestia road.
For more details on these walks, see our Svaneti page.
Great linking walks
You can make endless connecting walks from region to region. The king of these is the Trans Caucasian Trail. Many people walk the great routes between Tusheti and Khevsureti, or between Khevi (often from Juta) and Roshka in Khevsureti, then on eastward over the Barbalo and Tsubrovana passes to Ardoti – or, indeed, one more day on across the Khadotani Pass to Mutso.
This can be demanding walking in remote mountains with uncertain weather, where altitude can be an issue. Come fully prepared.
Special thanks to Jozef Antala (a new hero to the walking world!), who created the superb www.caucasus-trekking.com, which has an excellent selection of treks, as well as a mass of valuable information. See their excellent overview trekking map at http://www.caucasus-trekking.com/maps.
We want to give you more! Please help us by recommending your best walks, making suggestions and sending photos! Thank you!
WILLIAM MACKESY'S ACCOUNT
of this walk
Walk 1 - Hillsides of Towers, Fire Cross Tower, Khada Valley
We're off! After a day and a half of city and driving, boots are on, packs shouldered and we're marching up a dirt road up a very pretty valley east of the Georgian Military Highway, that exotically named route.
This valley is a green-skinned hedgehog bristling with slender little towers, each hillside bearing at least one of them, sitting incongruously alone in its meadow: you wonder at the point of them, and their cost-to-resources ratio. There must have been one per extended family,.....READ MORE
Other accounts: share your experiences
Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.
Books and Maps
Books on this walk (support us: find books using our Amazon links)
Walking in the Caucasus – Peter Naysmith. A well-written and wide-ranging book, the first comprehensive walker’s guide to Europe’s most diverse landscape, including birds, flora and fauna.
Find relevant books on Amazon.
Other books (support us: find books using our Amazon links)
Hero of Our Times – Mikhail Lermontov. Consensus has it as the first great Russian novel. Set around 1800 in the Caucasus. It is a cynical, peculiar, fascinating insight into a long-lost world, but with very current eulogies of the beauties of the high mountains.
Bread and ashes, Tony Anderson a fascinating and often funny account of a long walk in the Greater Caucasus in the late 1990’s.
Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, Lonely Planet: quite brief, but not bad considering this.
Detailed maps can be got in, but it isn’t wholly easy. Geoland in Tbilisi is one source. And there are apps with maps. We can’t vouch for the quality of maps though.
See Caucasus-Trekking’s excellent interactive map: https://www.caucasus-trekking.com/maps.
Best times to walk/weather
Best times to walk
Broadly, the best time to go is from the second half of June till late September. July to mid Sept has the best weather in the mountains.
The Caucasus get a lot of snowfall (especially its western parts) and winter conditions remain for the most of the spring. Non-high trekkers should wait until the second half of May, when the valleys will be green and flowery, although walking will still be limited to the lower ground. One can do many nice day hikes, but tackling mountain passes could be risky.
The cultural areas in the plains are stifling in summer, so it is hard for walkers who want to go high to find good weather for both. Late June and early September are the best compromises.
Generally fine in high season, but come prepared for unpredictable mountain weather and cold nights.at any time.
Most people fly in to Tbilisi and then drive on. Kutaisi to the west has a relatively recent airport, worth checking for flights. Nearer Svaneti.
There are plentiful buses/minibuses (called marshratkas) in Georgia, and it is viable to get to most places this way, but they can be crowded. Taxis (incl 4WDs) and minibuses can be hired fairly easily in many centres.
Car hire can be done, but driving isn’t straightforward.
You can arrange a guide and pack animals for longer treks.
Permits aren’t generally required for walking here, except in some border areas. Check if going near the Russian border, and carry your passport in case.
Possible problems, health, other warnings
Altitude: If going high, acclimatize appropriately, come prepared to cope. Otherwise, likely to affect you a bit.
Mountain weather: snow, rain, severe cold and wind are possible at any time of year and the weather can change rapidly. Come prepared.
Heat and strong sun. Carry enough water and protect yourself.
Heights: can be dangerous; not for those who have difficulties with heights.
Dangerous animals of all shapes and sizes, including snakes, stinging/biting insects and plants. Bears are a potential problem: come prepared to deal with an encounter in bear country. Take all appropriate precautions and walk noisily if you think you are in a bear area.
This can be remote country: food and other supplies/food and other supplies may not be readily available and help may be hard to get if things go wrong.
Health risks: Come prepared, including getting all appropriate inoculations/medications.
Beware of dogs: avoid flocks. Brandish sticks and throw stones if they threaten, keep well clear if possibly rabid.
See also the websites in our useful links page for more detailed, and up-to-date, information.
Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and problems can arise on any walk. Many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks and possible problems. This website cannot, and does not purport to, identify all actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to a walk or a country. Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
Make sure you have appropriate insurance.
Guided or independent?
You can do these walks independently, but you will need to be self-sufficient, so come fully prepared.
Most people form or join organised/supported expeditions when doing multi-day walks. Given the remoteness of the country, many will prefer to do it this way, and travelling here with a knowledgeable guide has real advantages.
You can arrange a guide and pack animals for longer treks.
Choosing a suitable guide or company is of course vital, and the guidebooks contain good advice in this regard. If hiring a guide locally, meet him/her and get comfortable before committing. Make sure all requirements are understood and agreed – including how you will eat and the importance of avoiding illness, as well as overnighting and, of course, remuneration!
We used the young, tough climber-walker Giorgi Nadareishvili as a guide, who looked after us well. firstname.lastname@example.org
Expedition organisers include:
Kudu Travel – our friends. Do a 12-day expedition featuring day walks rather than overnight treks. Based on Gudauri, Juta, Kazbegi, Mestia and Ushguli. They also do a walking tour, which takes in several of the same walks, but also spends more time on cultural exploration.
Wild Frontiers do a 11 day Svaneti Mountains expedition.
The admirable Caucasus Trekking have some recommendations: https://www.caucasus-trekking.com/hiking-tours
PLEASE HELP Walkopedia by recommending any reputable tour organizers that you know of – local or otherwise.
There is lots of accommodation of varying types, including homestays around the main mountain centres. The guidebooks have a selection of possible accommodation. There are accommodation websites.
You can walk village-to-village in the lower reaches. Camping is the only realistic option once on higher trails.
Other information and tips
Tipping is expected (especially for guides/drivers), so come mentally prepared and with enough cash. Check guidebooks for current rates. Do err on the side of generosity if unsure – it will make a big difference to them.
Useful websites and information
There are many websites with relevant information. Here are some that we think are useful or have been recommended to us.
www.caucasus-trekking.com has an excellent selection of treks. Created by Jozef Antala (a new hero to the walking world!). See all possible routes identified by them: https://www.caucasus-trekking.com/maps.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caucasus_Mountains As usual, a good starting place.
Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk.
Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
share your experiences
Add your experiences, suggestions and photos. We would be delighted to receive your writing and ideas (which will be attributed appropriately where published).
Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.
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