Last updated on February 9, 2024 by Stefano Ferro, founder of MEL365, following extensive travelling in Crete

The Samaria Gorge Hike – difficulty, length, map, time and all you need to know

The Samaria Gorge hike is one of my favourite experiences in Crete. In this post, you will learn all about it, from the difficulty grading to the length, from the time needed to the description of the sections, the ticket and the best time to visit with a handy map

Hiking Samaria Gorge is a must-do especially if you stay in Chania, Rethymno and the west side of the island. You can do it with a tour, public bus or a rented car and you will see below how.

I added all my photos of the hike in the last chapter, leaving the first part of this guide to the practical information.

Without further ado, let’s get into it.

Samaria Gorge Hike length

The Samaria Gorge hike length is approx 16km of which 13 km are through the National Park and the last 3 km from the park to the village of Agia Roumeli where you will take the ferry back.

There are 5 distinctive sections with plenty of things to see and experience. In the table below I have summarised all of them with a short description.

Section of the HikeKm DoneBest Things to See and Experience
Xyloskalo (Start) to Agios Nikolaos0-3kmStart your journey at Xyloskalo, the entrance of the Samaria Gorge at an altitude of 1230m. The path here is rocky and steep, but you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of the White Mountains.
Agios Nikolaos to Samaria Village3-7kmThis part of the trail is less steep and you’ll pass through a forest of pines and cypresses. Look out for the old stone houses in the abandoned village of Samaria.
Samaria Village to Christos7-11kmThe trail continues through the forest and along the riverbed. You’ll pass by the Church of Osia Maria, from which the gorge gets its name.
Christos to Iron Gates11-13kmThis is the narrowest and most famous part of the gorge, where the sides of the canyon close to a width of only 3 meters. The towering cliffs on either side make for an impressive sight.
Iron Gates to Agia Roumeli13-16kmThe final stretch of the hike takes you out of the gorge and towards the Libyan Sea. The village of Agia Roumeli, with its inviting beach, is a welcome sight after a long walk.
The Samaria Gorge Hike – The 5 sections

The Samaria Gorge Hike difficulty

It is a medium-difficult hike. It’s mostly downhill and this is going to test your knees. The most challenging part is right at the beginning of the walk, in the first 6km of the trail, with a couple of steep downhills followed by two demanding hikes.

Nothing impossible but take your time and remember that once the 6km are gone it all becomes easy peasy. In fact, once you get to the bottom of the gorge, the path becomes sort of flat and very enjoyable.

The presence of sharp stones makes the walk at some points challenging and in this respect, I suggest always taking a break for photos or water, always look in front of you when you walk.

Do not attempt to do the hiking Samaria Gorge in flip-flops (I have seen a couple doing it once). It’s going to be super challenging, besides painful with those many stones along the route.

What is the elevation of the Samaria Gorge trail?

The Samaria Gorge hike is a remarkable walk that takes you from the heights of the White Mountains to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea.

Starting at the plateau of Omalos, the trail begins at an elevation of approximately 1,230 meters (or about 4,000 feet). As you traverse the 16-kilometre (or 10-mile) trail, you’ll be descending almost the entire way, ending at sea level in the coastal village of Agia Roumeli.

There are however a few hikes, here and there, and the total Samaria Gorge elevation gain (the sum of every gain in elevation in the walk) is around 2,800m (~9,000 feet).

Time needed for hiking Samaria Gorge

The Samaria Gorge hike is a full-day adventure, typically taking between 5 to 7 hours to complete. Having a good fitness level will definitely help with your pace.

The Samaria Gorge hike time depends also on the number of stops you will take, not only to rest but also to have a view and take photos of the beautiful landscape. The park opens at daylight and you’re expected to finish the hike and exit the park before nightfall for safety reasons.

In summer you will have plenty of time. In saying that, if you decide to join an organised tour, you will be left at the start of the trail around 8 am. You should be at the small harbour by 5-5:15 pm, ready to catch the 5:30 pm ferry.

I would probably budget in 5 hours with an average speed and 4-5 stops. You can do it also in less than 4 hours with good hiking training and 1-2 stops. In saying that, it’s not a race, in fact, it’s better to do it slowly taking in the views of the beautiful landscape.

Arriving at Agia Roumeli by 2-3 pm will allow you to have something to eat and drink, have a swim at the beach and be ready for the boat without being in a rush.

Here’s a table with approximate time frames for each section of the hike:

Section of the HikeApproximate Time
Xyloskalo (Start) to Agios Nikolaos1 hour
Agios Nikolaos to Samaria Village1-2 hours
Samaria Village to Christos1-2 hours
Christos to Iron Gates0.5-1 hour
Iron Gates to Agia Roumeli1-1.5 hours
Samaria Gorge Hike time planning

Of course, the above is approx timing and it all depends on how you do the hiking of Samaria Gorge.

Samaria Gorge starting point

The starting point of the Samaria Gorge hike is at Xyloskalo, located on the Omalos plateau in the White Mountains of Crete, at an altitude of 1,230 metres (or about 4,000 feet).

Xyloskalo has a few facilities, basically for food, drinks and toilettes.

  • One Stop Cafe: besides selling a decent coffee, they also offer tickets for the “unofficial” ferry out of Agia Roumeli. This is a small boat, often packed with people which does not run if the sea gets too rough. I suggest instead taking the official ferry leaving Agia Roumeli and buying the tickets from the harbour.
  • Xyloskalo Restaurant: this is the place to go for lunch. It’s a family-run place offering some of the best food in Crete, based on local products with local wine too. A real winner. This is the place to come if you drive to the trailhead of the Samaria Gorge for the spectacular view and you want to have a break for some food.
  • Parking: there are two areas. The first one is free and it’s about 200-300m from the trailhead and the cafe/restaurant. It’s not a big space so try to get there early. The second area is by the One Stop Cafe and they charge 5 Euros for the day. There is more space but be ready to squeeze in between cars as the park manager will tell you.

Samaria Gorge hike tour

This is the easiest and safest way to do this hike and honestly, you can book your Samaria Gorge hike tour when you are in Chania or Rethymno, however, being a popular attraction, availability is pretty limited.

My personal suggestion is to book in advance, especially if you are travelling to Crete in the summer season, between June and August. There is no extra cost and you can always cancel free of charge up to 24 hours prior to the experience, in case you change your mind.

This Tour of Samaria Gorge from Chania starts early in the morning and it will leave you at the trailhead. You will hike down to Agia Roumeli on your own at your speed (you do not need to walk with the tour group). You re-group at the ferry mid-afternoon, catch the boat and there is a bus waiting for you in Sfakia that will take you back to Chania. A guide will follow the group to make sure everyone is safe. It’s a no-worries experience.

Check the Tour from Chania

If you are staying in Rethymno there is a similar tour leaving from there too. Again, free late cancellations (till 24 hours from the experience) are accepted, which is great. This Samaria Gorge Tour starts from Rethymno very early in the morning, with a very similar route to the one from Chania. Another no-worries experience.

Check the Tour from Rethymno

How to get to Samaria Gorge

I have already mentioned how the tour is the easiest and safest way to hike Samaria Gorge, however, not the only way to do it. You can also take the public bus (KTEL) or a rented car

Samaria Gorge from Chania by bus

On paper, it is not that complicated to take the Chania to Samaria Gorge bus. However, you would need more time and effort on the way back.

In the early morning, you need to take a public bus from Chania to Xyloskalo, the Samaria Gorge starting point. There are only two buses, at 5 am and 7:45 am. The trip takes around one hour or a bit more. Check the KTEL website for the latest timetable

The Samaria Gorge hike trail is the same as with the organised tours but you will not have anyone behind to help in case of problems or issues.

Once you arrive in Agia Roumeli, you need to wait for the ferry at 5:30 pm which will take you to Sougia (one stop only) where you will catch the KTEL bus to Chania (2 hours).

The bus in Sougia leaves at 6:15 pm and it is usually synchronised with the ferry (usually means most of the time but not every time).

The whole experience will take longer than a tour but it can be done. Just remember to verify on the KTEL website for the latest timetable. Things may change from one month to the next.

Samaria Gorge by car

You can also easily do the Samaria Gorge by car, and it’s not that complicated too.

Drive in the early morning to Xyloskalo. Try to be there by 8-8:30 am at the latest. You can leave your car next to the cafe (5 Euro) or just 200-300 metres before the cafe for free, which I highly suggest.

The only drawback is that the free area gets full quite early in the morning.

The hike is exactly the same and once you arrive in Agia Roumeli you will have to wait once again for the 5:30 pm ferry to Sougia (one stop only).

From Sougia you will find a KTEL bus that leaves at 6:15 pm and will take you back to Xyloskalo in around 1.5 hours.

By the way, in Sougia you will find plenty of buses, usually waiting for the tours. The KTEL bus in Crete is most of the time green or white with a blue line. It is usually synchronised with the ferry unless there is a huge delay.

I once again stress to check the KTEL website for the latest timetable. The bus ticket price is around 5 Euros.

I usually rent my cars through DiscoverCars. This is a website that compares the prices of local and global operators providing the best deals on the net. I love it because it also gives a review of the rental company (based on the actual renter’s feedback), a sort of AirBnb for cars.

Samaria Gorge ticket

First, I want to mention that the ticket is not just a pass to explore the breathtaking landscapes of the Gorge, but also a contribution to the preservation and management of one of the most beautiful Greece’s protected areas.

The Samaria Gorge ticket can be conveniently purchased online through the official website of the Natural Environment & Climate Change Agency (NECCA) or directly on site in Xyloskalo or Agia Roumeli (based on where you start the hike).

The ticket price is €5.00. European children up to 18 years old do not need to buy the Samaria Gorge ticket. It’s also free for smaller non-European kids, up to 5 years old. Remember to take the ID card with you to prove your age.

Once again, the ticket revenue is a vital resource for NECCA and the adjacent municipalities. It supports essential works in the Samaria Gorge, such as the cleaning and maintenance of the main path, the upkeep and improvement of infrastructure, and the supervision of the area along the main path.

Samaria Gorge opening

The Samaria Gorge is open from the 1st of May until 31st of October.

The gorge is actually quite cool in the morning, but not cold. With an early start, you can even do it in the warm months of July and August and then you can spend the afternoon at the Agia Roumeli beach.

It can be actually quite cold in early May and late October. But nothing like the Alps or any high mountain you may be used to.

The best time is probably in June and September when the temperature is coolish and tourists are not as many in the gorge.

Having an early start is the best, otherwise, it may become too hot as you approach the Iron Gate.

The organised tours start all very early. Considering the drive to the Samaria Gorge entrance, you should plan to leave Chania/Rethymno between 5 and 6am.

Samaria Gorge Short hike

The most interesting and spectacular spots of the hike are in the second part of the walk, much closer to Agia Roumeli than to the starting point.

If you are in just for the Samaria Gorge lazy way, then you should start the hike from Agia Roumeli and walk back into the gorge to The Gates, the Saint George Church, the Samaria Village and along the river.

Once tired you can go back to the beach. It’s an almost flat walk. You would have however to spend the night previous to the walk in Agia Roumeli, which is actually a nice characteristic easy-going village.

You can reach Agia Roumeli for the Samaria Gorge short hike only by ferry boat either from the coast towns of Palaiochora or Hora Sfakion.

Best accommodations options in Agia Roumeli

Can you get lost in the Samaria Gorge?

Only if you really want to. Just follow the path and you will arrive in Agia Roumeli.

There is a guide with the organised trip that follows the group and makes sure that everyone gets safely to Agia Roumeli. If you feel unsure, sit and wait.

Another suggestion I can give is to download the app MAPS.ME. It’s similar to Google Maps, however, more detailed, especially when it comes to walks and hikes. It works offline once you download the area map

How to get dressed when hiking Samaria Gorge

Hiking shoes are highly recommended. You can also use training and gym shoes, but they are not the best.

The important thing is to have a strong sole. I would definitely not suggest flip-flops or sneakers shoes, it can be really painful with those sharp stones.

In July and August, shorts and a T-shirt will be enough. It can be coolish in the early morning but it will become very comfortable once you start your descent.

In May and October, I highly suggest taking a jacket or a jumper with you. You should also check the weather forecast to make sure it is not going to rain.

In June and September, I usually wear clothes based on the Gorge weather forecast.

Samaria Gorge with kids

It’s all down to how fit are the kids, remember that it’s a long walk.

Based on my experience, a 7-8 years old could do it with a few breaks between to make it an enjoyable day. It could take around 6-7 hours in this case.

There is no way you can take a pram on this hike, too steep and dangerous.

Samaria Gorge hike tips

  • Take water with you. I would recommend one full bottle and buying it the night before as shops may be closed when you leave your accommodation. There are no shops in the gorge (refilling stations are available).
  • Bring some food or snacks, there are no bars or restaurants in the gorge.
  • Download MAPS.ME as I previously said.
  • Take your bathing suit for a swim at the beach, you will love it.
  • Hut, sun cream and sunglasses.
  • There is no signal in the gorge, however, the guides have walkie-talkies to communicate with each other.  

Samaria gorge trail map 

Samaria Gorge Hike Map
Samaria Gorge Hike Map

Photos of the Samaria Gorge Hike

The entrance to Samaria Gorge
The entrance to Samaria Gorge – The view is incredible and when you arrive the sun is just above the nearby mountains inundating the gorge with a beautifully soft light. Something you would not expect from a Greek island but Crete offers so many surprises
Start of Samaria Gorge Hike with a steep descend
Start of Samaria Gorge Hike with a steep descent – Indeed all those steps are not ideal for the knees but it does not last that long. You can decide to leave everyone else going for the hike and you will have the gorge by yourself. You will catch up along the path
Early start in the gorge
Early start in the gorge – it is essential to leave early in the morning, between 5 and 6 am from Chania/Rethymno. You want to start the day with coolish temperatures and this lovely view
Stone towers along the hike
Stone towers along the hike – Stop and build your own or take a few photos of them. You will find them in the first 3-4 km on the right side of the trail
Most interesting part of the Samaria Gorge Hike
The most interesting part of the Samaria Gorge Hike – It starts just after the old Samaria Village, halfway through the 13km trek through the National Park. Suddenly the gorge gets narrower and narrower and the two sides almost touch
Refreshing river in the gorge
Refreshing river in the gorge – It’s perfect for a break and a splish splash in the water. I was said you can also drink this water but I had my water bottle with me. There are however fountains along the root where you can refill your bottle.
Crossing the river
Crossing the river – There are a few man-made (temporary) bridges along the trek which are quite fascinating and reminded me somehow of Tibet old bridges. As you see in the above photo, part of the hike is in the shadow, however, part of it is in the hot sun.
Getting close to The Gate
Getting close to The Gate – This is the part where the east and west sides of the gorge almost touch and they form a gate. Pass that and in a few km you will be in Agia Roumeli
The Gate
The Gate – You need to walk on an elevated rudimental platform to pass the Gate. The vegetation on the other side is much greener, you can feel, and smell, you are getting closer and closer to the sea.
A local in Agia Roumeli
A local in Agia Roumeli – This town is still a bit stuck in the past. One of the main reasons is that it is connected to the remaining part of Crete only by ferry, and they are not as frequent. It is actually quite busy in the afternoon with all the travellers completing the hike, but once the ferry leaves only a few tourists actually sleep in Agia Roumeli, which makes the whole place very romantic

 

Stefano Ferro - MEL365.com Founder and Editor

About the Author

Stefano is a seasoned travel expert and the visionary founder of MEL365.com, a leading travel website with traffic across 6 continents. With a rich background in the travel industry, Stefano spent four pivotal years at Amadeus Travel Distribution System, gaining invaluable insights into travel technologies and distribution.

21 thoughts on “Samaria Gorge hike [difficulty, length, map, time and all you need to know]”

  1. We will be visiting Crete in Nov. ‘22. I see that the gorge will be closed to tourist. Is there any way to view/hike some portion of the gorge even when it is closed for tours?
    Also, for anyone who is an avid hiker like myself, I highly recommend The Narrows in Zion National Park in Utah, USA. The pictures of Samaria Gorge are similar in a lot of ways. Very, very beautiful!

    Reply

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