One of the richest experiences comes from random moments that allow people to witness surreal-like natural treasures such as mountains, lakes, glacial lakes, and glittering sea. Turkey’s rich geographical landscape is laden with those. In particular, the coastlines with breathtaking views are worth seeing from the top of the mountainous regions. For the seekers of true natural treasures rather than the famous vacation destinations populated by tourists, this blog will introduce the 6 most amazing hiking paths in Turkey, which offer a passage through the centuries-old history of Asia Minor or today’s Turkey.
Lycian way or Likya yolu
Stretching from Fethiye to Antalya, the Lycian route is a 540 km hiking road with 24 different stages around the coast of ancient Lycia in the southwestern part of Turkey. On the path, you see breathtaking places, Butterfly Valley, Kaş, Kalkan, and Mount Olympos, canyons, villages, ancient ruins, and beaches. You can stop by the beaches to enjoy swimming. In particular, Ölüdeniz, situated in Fethiye, is one of the most famous spots in Turkey, and swimming here is an unmissable opportunity. Also, the beach Patara, with a 12 km coastline along with Oludeniz, makes this hiking route one of the best and endows it with a stunning view. During the walk, you pass through the ancient historical sites where the Lycians once built their lives, and you realize that everything around you tells a story.
The best time for hiking on the Lycian route is spring and autumn (February-May or September-November). As for accommodation, along the way, you find village houses, pensions or small hotels to spend the night. However, if you prefer camping, there are plenty of camping areas.
Last but not least, since 2010, the Lycian Way Ultramarathon is held on this historical route, taking place on a route of approximately 240 km in 6 days. It starts at Ölüdeniz and finishes in Antalya. If you are seeking a full adventure and a real race experience surrounded by amazing scenery, you might give it a try.
History of Lycia
Lycia’s ancient geographical region was situated on the Teke Peninsula, a very mountainous region on the southwest coast of Turkey. The surrounding districts of Lycia are Caria, Pisidia, and Pamphylia, whereas Xanthos, Patara, Myra, Tlos and Olympos, and Phaselis are the major cities of Lycia. The earlier references related to Lycia are found in Hittite and Egyptian texts, which associate the region with Lukka Hands. Homer’s Illiad also refers to Lycia, which appears as a setting very frequently in Greek mythology.
More, the Lycians believed in polytheism, including gods and goddesses, both from Anatolian and Greek cultures. However, it is important to keep in mind that there is no solid information about them which gives us full knowledge of who they were. But it is said that they are especially admired for their reconciliation of free government in the city-state.
St. Paul Trail
Saint Paul Trail is a 500 km (208 miles) long-distance footpath, starting from Aspendos or Perge (east of Antalya on the south coast) and reaching Yalvaç, north-east of Lake Eğirdir. The trail starts at sea level, reaching up to 2200 m in elevation. The trail overlaps with Roman roads and footpaths. You also see the Taurus Mountains, one of the highlighted views of this route. Most travelers find Lycian and St. Paul trails quite similar. Though, St. Paul is a bit more challenging in comparison. The recommended seasons for hiking on St. Paul are spring and autumn. Summers are overwhelmingly hot in these regions. For accommodation, your options are camping areas, village houses, and small pensions. Generally, people are hospitable and friendly, willing to offer you tea or coffee and share their local culture and food.
The road is named after Saint Paul the Apostle. In other words, the trail follows the footsteps of St. Paul Apostle, which was waymarked following Grand Randonee standards in 2008 by Kate Clow, an English expatriate who lives in Turkey.
Who was St. Paul?
Born in Tarsus, Cicilia, a Roman citizen and a Pharisee, Saint Paul the Apostle, was a Jew who later adopted Christian teachings. He not only affiliated himself with Christianity but also spread it and founded communities in Asia Minor and Europe in the first century. His writings were very influential in the growth of the Catholic Church. He died as a Christian Apostle known as St. Paul. Thus, he is a very important figure in the history of Christianity.
Kaçkar Mountains are located in northeastern Turkey close to Rize and known to be Turkey’s fourth-highest hiking point and one of the best-hiking sites in Turkey. Unlike others, it has no waymarks. The path that starts at the Black Sea Side is preferable because it is easy to trek. However, the Çoruh side is hazardous and risky. The highest peak of the Kaçkar Mountains, Mount Kaçkar, has an elevation of 3.937 meters. The best and safest time to go on a trek on Kaçkar Trail is from July to September. The journey is tough, but when you reach the peak, you realize that it is totally worth it. Especially if you happen to catch a moment of mist coming down the valley, it is very mesmerizing to watch, seeing everything covered in mist and vanishing in it.
Alpine summer villages offer accommodation for hikers, allowing them to experience the local culture in addition to camping areas. In particular, Ayder Plateau is a very famous stop because it has good facility options and a thermal spring. The route can also be traveled on mountain bikes. Lastly, this mountainous region was declared a national park in 1999.
Kaçkar Mountains National Park
Kaçkar’s National Park is one of the richest regions with its flora, wildlife, glacial lakes, rainy forests, and alpine meadows. It is a perfect spot for nature lovers. Because of its rich forestry, you might spot bears and wolves on the way. Additionally, there are many tourist activities, such as hiking, mountaineering, camping, and heli-skiing.
If you want to witness the historical layers of the Anatolian peninsula unfolding like a palimpsest, the Hittite route will definitely fulfill your expectations. The route, if we include the alternative roads, is 385 km in length. In its center region, Boğazköy and Alacahöyük National Park, rich in texture and founded in 1988, spans over 2634 hectares of land in Boğazkale county. As a very important archaeological site, it contains the ruins of the ancient Hittite city of Hattusa: the city walls, Lion Gate, Yer Kapı, Yazılıkaya, and the Alacahöyük burial mound. The region has 31 temples in total, the most famous of which is Yazılıkaya. The figures of goddesses, animals, and imaginary creatures were carved onto the rocky surface of Yazılıkaya, which is thought to be a scene from Hittite spring ceremonies.
The governorship of Çorum played an active role in the realization of the Hittite route project. Since October 2010, it has been open for travelers. If you prefer to enjoy this route on your mountain bike, six trails stretch over 406 km. On the way, you will witness a breathing history formed in the city-triangle of Hattusa, Alacahöyük, and Şapinuva.
Who were the Hittites?
Worshippers of thousands of gods, the inventor of fighting chariots and the first producers of high-quality iron goods, and the ones who signed the first peace treaty with Egypt. Especially known for their cuneiform tablets, the Hittites were Indo-European people whose empire lasted between 1600-1180 BCE in the ancient capital city of Hattusa ( modern Boğazköy), one of ten Turkish sites included in the UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
Evliya Çelebi Way
Evliya Çelebi Route is 600 km, the longest trail in Turkey used by horse-riders, hikers, and bikers. The starting point is Hersek, situated on the south coast of İzmit Gulf. Then, it continues with Iznik, Yenişehir, Inegöl, Kütahya, Afyonkarahisar, Uşak, Eski Gediz, and Simav. This route embraces Turkey’s rural life. You see shepherds taking their flock to graze, farmers, women cooking local foods, women and men riding mules, houses with hay or wood-burning stoves.
The route was established in 2011 as Turkey’s first long-distance walking and riding route in honor of the 400th anniversary of the birth of Evliya Celebi. The first route for horse-riders, the Evliya Çelebi route, has extra significance for reminding us of Turkey’s cultural bonds with horse culture. As stated by the University of Kent, the Evliya Çelebi Project is an international project of historical re-enactment and cultural re-connection that has established a UNESCO-approved Cultural Route in Western Anatolia.
Who was Evliya Çelebi?
Best known for his travelogue called Seyahatname or Book of Travels, Evliya Çelebi or Derviş Mehmet Zilli was a 17th-century Ottoman explorer, writer, and historian. He traveled on horseback throughout the Ottoman Empire and its adjacent lands, encompassing the Balkans, the Middle East, and Europe. It took him over 40 years to complete his journey. He left us 10 volumes of books where he merged fact with fiction and fantasy. It is also said that it’s very likely that he wrote about the places he didn’t actually visit. Çelebi, meaning “man of God” or “gentleman,” was a name given to him to honor and acknowledge his contributions to Turkey’s cultural legacy.
According to research by the University of Kent, the Evliya Çelebi route project has two goals. The first one is to celebrate the life and works of Evliya Çelebi, which in turn helps us to understand how he managed to engage actively with local communities. Secondly, the project aims to reconnect Turkey with its illustrious history of Equestrian Traditions and Ottoman cavalry. Horse breeding and equestrian sports are part of Turkey’s cultural legacy. By furthering understanding of this equestrian knowledge and practices, this project celebrates an important but little-known legacy of Turkish history as stated by the University of Kent.
Phrygian way or Frig yolu
As the third-longest hiking route, the Phrygian trail offers you natural beauties embraced by the historical texture left by the Phrygians. It is 506 km in length and spreads throughout Ankara, Afyonkarahisar, Kütahya and Eskişehir. The route has 3 starting points: Gordion (Ankara), Seydiler ( Afyonkarahisar) and Yenice Çiftliği ( Kütahya). Volcanic tuffs, rocky formations, thermal water, and fairy chimneys are very prevalent in the region. To highlight the well-known features of cities, Afyonkarahisar, for instance, is popular as a center of health and thermal tourism. However, the best part is the Phrygian Valley, where you see the best examples of the rock formations carved by wind and water.
Like others, the Phrygian route is waymarked with 73 signs following Grand Randonne standards to assure safe walks for travelers. The preferable hiking times are spring and autumn. Hotels, guest houses, camp areas are potential accommodation options. On your way, you can visit the historic towns for shopping to get some souvenirs. The Union for the Protection and Development of Phrygian Cultural Heritage ( FRİGÜM) and the governorships of Afyonkarahisar, Kütahya, and Eskişehir sponsored the project of the Phrygian route.
The Gordion Knot: An anecdote from the Phrygians
In the early Iron Age, the Phrygians dominated central Asia Minor, forming their own civilization. They made Gordion (near Ankara) the capital, where the legend of the Gordion knot came alive. In the 4th BC, Alexander the Great comes to Gordion and finds an ox-cart tied to a yoke with a mass of knots almost impossible to untangle.
According to legend, whoever undid the lock would be the ruler of Asia, which of course excited Alexander the Great tremendously. After a couple of trials and failing to loosen the lock with his hands, he just cut the knot with his sword in an unconventional way. For that reason, today, the term Gordion Knot is used as a metaphor for “thinking outside of the box” and refers to a shortcut to a complex problem.
How to prepare for hiking
To start with, it is essential to make sure to do your research before starting your journey and familiarize yourself with what kind of challenges you might face on the road. Secondly, choosing the right backpack, comfortable clothes, and the right shoes define the quality of your journey to a great extent. I want to highlight the importance of shoes. Since completing the trails requires almost a month on the road and no one wants to deal with a shoe crisis in the middle of a mountainous region, investing in a good one is necessary. Thirdly, to maintain your energy during hiking, it is important to eat in small portions frequently. Needless to say, water is essential, so make sure to keep enough water with you. Hiking poles are highly recommendable, which reduce the pressure and strain on the legs.
Additionally, based on the suggestions from travelers, guidebooks seem to be very helpful. Even if they aren’t adequate in practice, hikers might consider checking them out beforehand for general information. Below I share some guidebooks for the hiking roads mentioned in this blog:
St Paul’s Trail: Turkey’s Second Long Distance Walking Route by Kate Clow (with Terry Richardson)
Lycian Way: Turkey’s First Long Distance Walking Route by Kate Clow
The Evliya Çelebi Way: Turkey’s First Long‑distance Walking and Riding Route by Caroline Finkel, Donna Landry, and Kate Clow
THE KAÇKAR: Trekking in Turkey’s Black Sea Mountains by Kate Clow
Hiking makes you free
“We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.” Henry David Thoreau
Hiking is about being on a journey concerning not only the country’s geographic landscape but also its historical and cultural terrain. With regard to that, for hikers, Turkey is a great option. First of all, it gives you a full experience of four seasons and has landscapes dressed in different colors following the seasonal changes. Thanks to its various topographies and cultural treasures, Turkey’s rural areas have a lot to say to travelers. You can also meet with the local people and hear their stories. Lastly, being on the road demands a lot, both physically and mentally. Yet, despite all the challenges, doing something only for nature’s sake brings you memorable moments. Above all, it sets you free.