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 Hike||Km Done||Best Things to See and Experience|
|Xyloskalo (Start) to Agios Nikolaos||0-3km||Start 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 Village||3-7km||This 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 Christos||7-11km||The 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 Gates||11-13km||This 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 Roumeli||13-16km||The 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 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 Hike||Approximate Time|
|Xyloskalo (Start) to Agios Nikolaos||1 hour|
|Agios Nikolaos to Samaria Village||1-2 hours|
|Samaria Village to Christos||1-2 hours|
|Christos to Iron Gates||0.5-1 hour|
|Iron Gates to Agia Roumeli||1-1.5 hours|
Of course, the above is approx timing and it all depends on how you do the hiking of Samaria Gorge.
More information about Crete
- Top-rated places to visit in Crete [including some hidden gems]
- Where to stay in Crete (best areas and worst areas)
- Best itineraries of Crete, from 3 days to a 2 weeks stay (with maps and daily plans)
- Balos Beach – The Practical Guide
- Elafonisi Beach – All you need to know to organise your trip
- Chrissi Island and Golden Beach, one of the best in Europe
- Spinalonga Tour – the island, the beach, the boat trip, a map and all you need to know for this trip
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.
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.
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.
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
Photos of the Samaria Gorge Hike