bears

Armenia: Day Hikes From Dilijan National Park

Mark thumbnail sml.jpg
 

After hearing tales of an 'Armenian Switzerland', we were compelled to visit the Dilijan National Park, a fast becoming go-to hiking destination. It would soon join up with the epic trans-Caucasus trekking routes (TCT), linking up with trails in both Georgia and Azerbaijan. The plan, to create a network of hiking trails that boot-clad walkers can use to traverse the beautiful Armenian landscapes of the Caucasus.

 

Clearly, it's an awesome idea and one day it'll be great but the Armenian section of the TCT, as of summer 2018, isn't really finished. There's plenty of literature written on the developed Georgian and Azerbaijani sections but at the time of writing, the Armenian part of the trail has some way to go before it will become a tourist friendly, easily accessible and properly signed trail of the TCT. That said, it's a beautiful place and with a sense of adventure there's fun times to be had in Armenia's best known National Park. 

Hiking down the hill from the Dilijan loop

Hiking down the hill from the Dilijan loop

The TCT

A week before we boarded a marshutka (minivan) to Dilijan, we found a USAID sponsored booklet with 11 Dilijan walking trails in, the book was hidden in our Yerevan hostel! Upon closer inspection it became clear that the guide was a pretty basic resource with unreadable maps and long prose of text to describe the trails. We assumed the resources were one of many medias that hikers’ could use to navigate the national park. Unfortunately not, the booklet is the only resource available to hikers who want to explore the National Park, the one we found under a bed in a hostel.

Before trying to follow any of the trails, we checked in with tourist information in Dilijan and they certified that the booklet that we had accidentally found, was the only guide available to tourists. They didn’t even seem to have any copies of the booklet at the information centre, so it was pure luck we discovered it. What I’m trying to say is that there is very little administration or organisation of the nature reserve right now. We sense that an adventurer's spirit would be necessary to enjoy the hikes, we weren't wrong either.

Armenia 32 dilijan.jpg

Why not take a look at our travel-inspired design shop?

2 Decent Walks

So, we attempted two of the walks from the booklet, which we’ll talk you through below, and found one to be a short warm-up hike from Dilijan centre and the second a long loop from the old town of Dilijan up to the highest mountain peak in the area and back into town. There are many other routes in the booklet but they all include taxi drop-offs and pickups, I personally hate having to drive somewhere to start a hike, it goes against my whole ethos of walking in nature, so we avoided any routes that included driving.

The remaining 9 hikes routes have been photographed and displayed at the bottom of the post.

line break up space.jpg

General tips

  • The main tip given by our Airbnb host was not to walk in the woods at night because packs of wolves have been known to roam, apparently they can be heard in the evenings too! Fun but a little concerning if you're out there wild camping.

  • We read there were many bears in the reserve but local people believe that they live much further in the forest.

  • Take enough water because once you hit the nature reserve you won’t find any shops.

  • As always, pack for wind, rain and shine.

  • Pack lunch for walk 2 because you’ll be out all day.

line break up space.jpg
walk 1 dilijan national park.jpg

Walk 1 - Dilijan Roundabout To A (Very Small) Waterfall 

Difficulty: Medium - Due to slippery rocks that must be ascended to reach the waterfall

Time: 3 hours at slow pace

Equipment: Waterproof walking boots recommended

Here's Ali wondering down Dilijan's disused train line

Here's Ali wondering down Dilijan's disused train line

Description: What makes this an interesting walk is that it leads you along a disused train line, defunct power station and generally tired ex-Soviet warehouses that are ripe for some exploring. The path goes upstream aside a river becoming a standard up and down hike where the path can be hard to follow. It’s worth noting that there are two sections where you’ll need to clamber up wet rocks. This is a bit slippery and there is a risk of putting a foot into the stream (see picture below). We would only recommend this section for physically fit hikers. If you don’t fancy a potentially wet climb then you wouldn’t miss much by heading back to Dilijan at the first slippery rocks. 

Climbing down the slippery rocks

Climbing down the slippery rocks

Route:  

  • The hike will start from the roundabout where you’ll need to head north on the road leading to Ijevan but don’t worry you’ll soon be on a green, albeit industrial, train line with the sound of the road just a faint hum.

  • Follow the road from the roundabout for about 0.8 km until you see the sign for the Dilijan tourist information centre where you can pop in for a chat. When you’re finished head the opposite way up a small track (walking away from town) where you’ll see the train line running alongside the base of the nature reserve on your left.

  • Follow the track for 1.5 km, remember to enjoy the disused soviet train buildings and power station, until you spot a petrol station on the road below. Look left, you will see a path and some nondescript signage running along a stream, follow that stream.

  • When we walked the route in April 2018 it wasn’t clearly signed, just some labels on the trees. As more people walk the route I’m sure it will be better trodden. You may need to create your own path at times by walking through medium length grasses, always following the river upwards.

  • Early on the river will split, take the left-hand stream.

  • Remember to carefully ascend the two sets of slippery rocks that the river runs down, you’ll need to carefully climb up the rocks, this is where your waterproof boots are necessary! You might be able to climb over the sides but these look steep and just as treacherous.

  • After 1.5 km you’ll approach a sign that symbols the end of the walk and you’ll set eyes on the smallest waterfall ever! Enjoy the serene overflowing flora and head back to town for some fresh matnakash (bread) and butter with a glass of the local red.

line break up space.jpg
walk 3 dilijan loop.jpg


Hand-crafted pieces, delivered to your door…

Walk 2 - Dilijan Loop

Difficulty: Hard -  Due to long climbs to the peak

Time: 6-8 hours at a medium pace

Equipment: Walking boots recommended, download ‘Maps.Me’ for reliable offline routes

Supplies: Bring food and water for whole day trek, this can be bought from Old Dilijan as you pass through in the morning.

Armenia 39 dilijan.jpg

Description: The official guide supplies the most awful description on how to get there, I can only assume it was intended for driving because it was the longest possible way to get to the start of the walk. Use our simplified route below or Maps.Me to navigate the many upward roads out of Old Dilijan (or Upper Dilijan) to start off the hike. This walk is great, passing through farmland, streams, forest, open plains and mountains. It’s a long, and at times tiring, hike that leads you through some beautiful landscapes right to the highest mountain in the area. We didn’t see a single soul the entire walk, which was pretty cool considering that walks in most countries are very busy. The majority of paths are very clear and some even have TCT labelling, making the trail easy to follow.

walk 2 dilijan getting to the start of the hike.jpg

Route:

  • If you intend to walk the whole route then you should start your hike from the roundabout where you’ll need to head south east on the road that leads up to Old Dilijan, sometimes called Upper Dilijan. This route will zig zag up the hill eventually going north east, passing shops, schools, restaurants and the interesting hubbub of everyday Armenian life. Pick up affordable bread, cheese, fruit and vegetables, plus any sugary treats :-)

  • Look out for Kamarin Street on the right and then take the first left up Ordzhonikidze street. This road will take you close to the start of the trek. Be aware that it’s uphill and will take around 20 - 30 minutes.

  • When the road ends, turn right and you’ll spot yellow gas pipes snaking around the road like a frame. Keep walking upwards until the road becomes a dirt track, you’ll spot a tired looking sign that marks the start of the walk, with the hike starting on the left.

  • Begin by walking up a rough stone path for 100 metres until it forks, take the right path. Soon after, the path splits again into three, take the centre route (the right path is where you’ll return via at the end of the trek)

  • Walk for a few km passing picnic benches and farmland, the trail is actually a road used by agricultural vehicles and jeeps so it’s easy to follow.

  • That said, you must leave the road when you see a very small pond on the left, next to one of the farmers dwellings. We were lucky the lady in the farm pointed us the way, it was easy to miss so keep your eyes peeled. The trail heads right as you arrive at the farm with the pond and it passes upwards following a dry ravine. Keep walking up until you see a well trodden trail develop on the left, it may also be found on Maps.Me (but I don’t remember checking).

  • Once you’ve found the trail you will follow a well established path, follow it for about an hour or so; you’ll see TCT signs stapled to the trees the whole way, it’s very clear. When you reach a rocky stream you should follow it along o the left and take the established path up on the right. You’ll see that some people have clambered up the steep ledge, which we didn’t fancy!

  • The trail will pass through sparse forests and zig zag upwards, opening up at a large open plain with an awesome view of the mountain ahead that you’re about to climb.

  • Continue along the jeep tracks ahead of you, until you get to the base of the mountain.

  • The next bit is pretty obvious, climb the beast ahead of you. There’s no one way to climb up, we walked up the centre path and then up to the left and followed the ridge to the top. There’s a trail of sorts but you can easily freestyle.

  • It was chilly at the top so we had a quick lunch break and then carefully walked down the long grasses to find the well trodden path leading back to Dilijan, it was a clearly marked trail that the farmers still use.

  • You’ll walk for around an hour or so downwards, remember to check Maps.Me to make sure you’re walking towards the Old Dilijan start point, you can see the entire loop on the app.

  • With Dilijan in view the whole way it’s easy to navigate a route back to the town and you’ll get a nice vista too.

  • Success! You’ve arrived back in town, why not celebrate with some food in the lovely cafe no.2 near the roundabout?

Cafe number 2, Dilijan

Cafe number 2, Dilijan

Unique designs, that you can’t find on the highstreet….

9 other walking routes in the Dilijan National Park

Did you find our hiking advice useful? Or perhaps you discovered your own trekking route in Dilijan? Have some top tips that you think we missed?

Let us know in the comments box at the bottom of the post...

Friends...

All of the articles on our website are free but if you can support us by viewing, sharing or even purchasing from our travel-inspired shop, you'd make our day! Every share, like or sale gets us closer to our dream.....you guys rock.

Pin It?

 
Armenia - Day Hikes From Dilijan National Park, by Studio Mali.jpg
 

You might also enjoy reading…

7 Things We Learnt About Russia

Before we set foot on the largest land mass in the world some apprehension stirred. Having travelled through Berlin, Slovenia and Slovakia we’d already felt the presence of this huge mysterious superpower across Europe. Upon entering the bear-pit what might we learn about modern Russia? 

St Basils Cathedral 

St Basils Cathedral 

1. Apps, Wolves And Communism

The presence of communist rule can be seen in Moscow but certainly not felt. Capitalism has well and truly taken off in the capital and everyone seems to be taking a slice of the action. All the modern trends of Airbnb, Uber and electronic payments are here so visitors can splash their cash easily in the capitals bars, clubs and venues. Don’t be surprised if you get charged London prices for food and drink as a place for everyday workers this is not! Like London, Moscow feels likes a playground for the rich. Whereas, out in the barren countryside people still work the land and resent the progress cities have made compared to their simple lives that are still locked in the socialist era. The country folk can still be seen riding horses and brandishing sickles watching over their land. The scariest fact were told over a campfire was that the people of Siberia share their homes with 13,000 bears and 30,000 wolves! Not what you want to hear when your wild camping in Siberia!

Art Deco underground in Moscow

Art Deco underground in Moscow

2. Russia Is More Beautiful Than You Might Think

What a surprise Moscow was. We were truly blown away by how foreign and exciting it was compared to other capitals. The main landmarks are some of the most stunning sites we have ever seen, walking past the Red Square and the Kremlin felt like we were extras in a movie. Particular highlights were St Basils Cathedral which was ornate and architecturally unique. The metro underground features some of the most stunning Art Deco architecture and interiors we have ever seen. These were not built in the soviet era but a throwback to bourgeois decadence of the pre revolution era of the monarchy and Muscovite elite. As visual people, we loved breathing in Moscow’s culture, the galleries, the grey geometric soviet architecture and powerful sculptures of communist collaboration that can be found all across the city. 

Hitting the countryside via the Trans Siberian train takes you through huge pine forests, lakes and interesting badlands. In the east, Siberia feels like a combination of Patagonia and Mongolia; completely foreign to Europe.

The varied landscapes of Siberia

The varied landscapes of Siberia

3. Don’t Believe Everything You Hear

For all the capitalist progress of Moscow there is still a socialist doppelgänger hanging over the rest of the country. As you leave the capital inequality is rife. On the Trans Siberian we passed huge stretches of wild nature, littered with wooden shanty towns where farmers tend to their animals throughout harsh winters. It looked like the rural folk were still living in a communist country, when the gentrifying cities are definitely not! Russia is governed in an autocratic way that the everyday people dare not question and rarely have much faith in. A guy told us that cosmopolitan Russians rarely believe much of the news they are fed as the media is so obviously state biased. I asked whether he thought Russia was involved in the hacking scandals in the US election or Brexit, “very likely” was his answer. The guy was a computer programmer who had just finished a big project, we hope it wasn’t him! 

Soviet era sculpture

Soviet era sculpture

4. Lenin And His Red Army

The people and Red Army revolted 100 years ago last year and as outsiders we could easily see the same inequality happening now that prompted the 1917 revolution! Which is probably why the Russian government has barely acknowledged the 100 year milestone for fear that its citizens might take inspiration and rise up again. It’s very difficult to think of a country with worse equality especially after all the changes the Russian people have lived through in the last 100 years. For those who have a soft spot for the Russian Bolsheviks you can still see their cherished leader Lenin in a mausoleum! Yes that’s right, they have embalmed and dressed him in a new suit every day since 1924, the Russian embalming team are the best in world! If you’re visiting for the World Cup this year it’s a must visit.

Sculpture showing the worlds worse vices

Sculpture showing the worlds worse vices

5. Passports And Pretending To Be An Alcoholic 

For those who intend to visit to Russia its important that you keep your passport, photocopies of your Insurance and your countries embassy details on your person at all times, a trip to Majorca this not. The police are scary and plentiful here so don’t give them a reason to fine, imprison or send you to a gulag by doing anything illegal. 

There is a long history of bootlegged vodka in Russia and if you look closely there are drunk people everywhere. If you board trains with Russians then drinking fake spirits is widespread. Fake vodka is so cheap it’s their go to drink. But before you take a shot beware, it has been known to cause liver failure and blindness. Turning down a drink is seen as rude so we were told the best way to avoid drinking bad vodka is to pretend to be a recovering alcoholic. It seems Russians respect a strong willed ex-drinkers decision to quit and you wouldn’t have offended anyone! If you want to try a good organic vodka then check out the Lake Baikal brand as it’s one of the best in the country. Also try to avoid beers made in Russia as they use synthetic yeast that makes your throat as dry as the Gobi. The Russian Barcode starts with 460, so avoid it.

Organic lake Baikal vodka 

Organic lake Baikal vodka 

6. Respect The Po Po 

It’s safe to say Russia is a strict country. From x-ray scanning machines on shops, tubes and train entrances to a huge military and police presence across the cities. Rules are firmly in place and a huge workforce is employed to implement them. It’s crazy, they pay computer game style guards to just stand still outside important buildings all day! But the more we read about its past, the more we understood why. For Moscow, the 1990s were known as the ‘Wild West’. The Berlin Wall had fallen and an influx of big brands, organised crime and political hotshots all tying for control. It took years for Putin and his government to take it back and those systems are still in play today. From it’s wild times a culture of corruption stemmed, laws were moulded by the rich and any predicament was fixed with a bribe. Or so it used to be! There are now incentives for the police to charge those who aim to bribe them to try and wane officers off this practice. We never felt the police were an issue for us but they are a scary presence and ID their residents regularly. I’m sure the locals resent such intense surveillance!

 
Don't get caught in the bearpit

Don't get caught in the bearpit

 

7. A Glimpse Of A Smile

The Russian people are hard faced, especially in Moscow. Most people here barely acknowledged us when we were paying in shops. Some gave the odd smile but little more. Although this long characterised trait is changing as the younger folk were much more willing to chat, especially in bars. But as we travelled east to the Russian towns of Irkurkst and Arshan we found the people to be really friendly. Eastern folk in those towns are known as Bugat people and are of Asian/ Mongolian decent. Mongolians here were very quick to tell us that the Soviet Empire took a large part of Northern Mongolia in the 1930s. Not only did they take the worlds deepest in-land lake in Lake Baikal but they also purged many of Mongolia’s beautiful monasteries. The Soviets hoped to destroy Buddhism in Mongolia, forcing monks to leave their posts, run and hide or die! This is still a sore point in Mongolia because so many peoples family’s were affected by the purges as it was the norm to have at least one Monk in each family. In recent years the Mongolian government has paid reparations to families for pain caused by their willingness to cooperate with Soviet empires purges.

A Mongolian monastery that survived the purges

A Mongolian monastery that survived the purges

In a country with such rich history, it's impossible not to leave Russia without learning about it's people, it's politics and it's growing place in the world.  Yes it has a scary government but it also has a wealth of surprises for the backpacker that wants to get off the beaten path, and enough for us to return one day.

Why Not Pin It?

(So you can find it later)

 
7 Things We Learnt About Russia, By Studio Mali
 

You might also like....