The Complete Guide to the Peaks of the Balkans Trail

*This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our disclosure for more info.

Ever wonder what some of the world’s most iconic long-distance hikes were like before they became the popular (and crowded!) destinations they are today? If you’re looking for Europe’s best hidden-gem trek, the Peaks of the Balkans (POB) might just be it. The 192 km trail visits three countries, traversing breathtaking mountain scenery and overnighting in welcoming villages along the way. And even though the trek will take you into some remote and unspoiled areas, you can always end each day with a shower, warm meal, and a soft bed.

Because it is a bit more off the beaten path (pun intended), it’s important to do some advance preparation before embarking a Peaks of the Balkans trek. This guide provides all of the need-to-know information and our top advice to help you plan your best possible trip. Let’s get started!

In this guide…

About the Trail

The Peaks of the Balkans Trail makes a loop through Albania, Kosovo, and Montenegro in the Prokletije, or “Accursed” Mountains. A newcomer to the long-distance hiking scene, the trail was created as a collaboration between local organizations and the German Development Cooperation in an effort to increase tourism and unify the region after a challenging history. The trail climbs high over spectacular mountain passes and finishes most stages in peaceful valleys. The landscape is varied, featuring old-growth forests, high alpine meadows, glacial lakes, and green pastures.

Although the trail can be hiked in either direction, we highly recommend sticking to the classic counterclockwise progression. This will allow you to avoid some very punishing uphill sections and get to know fellow hikers, as you’ll see them multiple times throughout your trek.

How long is the Peaks of the Balkans Trail?

The Peaks of the Balkans Trail is officially 192 kilometers (119 miles) long. Throughout the course of your trek, you’ll almost certainly walk further than the official distance, adding on kilometers as you detour to reach guesthouses or backtrack after a wrong turn.

Most hikers take 10 days to complete the entire circuit, although it’s possible to extend it to 12 or 13 days. Those looking to hike the Peaks of the Balkans in less than 10 days can do it in as little as 7, but should be prepared for a real challenge and consider arranging transport to cut out some sections and make it more manageable.

There are a few options for completing an abbreviated Peaks of the Balkans hike. One option is to hike from Dobërdol to Babino Polje on Stage 4, effectively cutting out the three stages of the trail that mostly pass through Kosovo. Another popular option is to only complete the section from Theth to Valbona. Although this is quite different from hiking the entire Peaks of the Balkans, it does allow those with limited time to experience some of the region’s spectacular scenery.

Hiker with mountains in background Peaks of the Balkans
Sunny skies and wildflowers in late June.

When to Hike

The best time to hike the Peaks of the Balkans is late June through early October. While it may be possible to complete much of the trail in May and early June, many of the major passes and higher sections of the trail will likely be covered in snow and unsafe to navigate without proper equipment and experience. Additionally, some of the guesthouses do not open until later in June. Here’s what to expect in each month of the hiking season:

May: Detours required to avoid snow and some guesthouses not yet open. Mild temperatures, but typically quite rainy.

June: Plenty of snow remaining, especially in the first half of the month. Most guesthouses will be open and more hikers are out on the trail. Incredible wildflowers in bloom. Warm temperatures with less rain, although thunderstorms are common.

July & August: Expect mostly snow-free trails and hot temps. These are the driest months, although unsettled weather is always a possibility in the mountains. This is the busiest time on the trails, so it’s a good idea to book your accommodation in advance. Wild blueberries are at their peak during these months.

September: This is a lovely month to hike, with cooler temperatures and minimal snow on the trail. Expect more moisture than in the summer months.

October: This month brings beautiful fall colors. Expect chilly nights, and an increasing likelihood of rain and snow as the month progresses. Check in advance to ensure that your accommodation will still be open.

How Difficult is the Peaks of the Balkans Trail?

The Peaks of the Balkans is a challenging trek, but it should be manageable for most reasonably fit hikers. With the exception of navigating early-season snow patches, the hike does not require any technical skills or equipment. Additionally, no stage is longer than 28 km, and most tend to be closer to 20 km or less. That being said, it shouldn’t be underestimated. Here are some of the most challenging aspects of the Peaks of the Balkans and our best advice on how to deal with them:

Terrain

While it’s true that the POB isn’t too technical, the trail can be quite rugged in many places. There are some sections that are extremely steep, which can be hard on both the uphills and the downhills. Additionally, be prepared to encounter plenty of rocks and mud, as well as some exposed areas. Sturdy, well-fitted footwear and trekking poles will help enormously with all of the terrain that the Peaks of the Balkans throws at you.

Route-Finding

By our estimation, about 80% of the Peaks of the Balkans Trail is well-marked and easy to follow. However, the other 20% is not at all straightforward. There are sections with no markings at all, as well as some that have markings leading the wrong direction. We found that the trail was most difficult to follow on the stages that went through Kosovo, and that the Montenegro and Albania portions were much better. We highly recommend using a GPS app on your phone and bringing along a guidebook. Unfortunately most of the paper maps tend to be outdated and/or incorrect, so make sure you choose wisely before purchasing one.

Weather

Just like any good romp in the mountains, weather is an important variable on the Peaks of the Balkans. Regardless of when you hike, be prepared for thunderstorms, especially when heading to higher, more exposed elevations. For those hiking in June, July, and August, it can get quite hot on the trail. Long days in the heat and the sun can be very tiring, so it is important to stay hydrated and take frequent breaks. It’s a good idea to adjust your time estimates, knowing that the heat might slow you down.

Yellow trail signs on the Peaks of the Balkans
Even with signage, route-finding can be tricky at points.

Do I Need to Hike With a Guide?

Many people choose to hire a guide or join a guided group to hike the Peaks of the Balkans. While there are some benefits to this, it is definitely not essential. When deciding whether or not to hike with a guide, it is helpful to think about the type of experience you’re hoping to have on the POB.

If you don’t mind being more self-sufficient and doing a bit of route-finding in places, you’ll probably enjoy hiking on your own. This allows you more solitude and flexibility throughout your trip. You can still purchase meals and meet other hikers at the guesthouses along the trail. We hiked on our own and we were happy with our decision.

On the other hand, if you don’t want to worry about navigating or other logistics and you enjoy the social aspect of hiking with a group, going with a guide might be a good choice. Additionally, most guided tours provide baggage transfers, a helpful service for many hikers.

Accommodation, Food, and Water

Accommodation

Nearly all of the accommodation along the Peaks of the Balkans route is provided at family-run guesthouses, which are an undeniable highlight of the trek. These vary quite a bit from place to place, from private en suite rooms to basic dormitories. All of the guesthouses provide hot showers, delicious home-cooked meals, and welcoming hospitality. Most offer wifi and electronics charging. Bed linens are typically provided, but it’s a good idea to bring your own towel and a backup sleep sheet. Staying at guesthouses is one of the best ways to support the local economy, experience the culture, and make the most of your trip.

Be sure to check out our Peaks of the Balkans Accommodation Guide for more information and guesthouse recommendations!

Food and Water

As mentioned above, guesthouses are the main source of food along the Peaks of the Balkans. Dinner, breakfast, and a packed lunch are all typically provided as part of your stay. Soda, beer, wine, coffee, and tea are also available for purchase. The food is delicious and the portions are generous. The guesthouse hosts tend to be very accommodating of vegetarians, although vegans and those following a gluten-free diet might have a harder time finding enough to eat.

Plav and Theth are the only places along the trail with shops for resupply. Even if you plan on eating at the guesthouses, it’s a good idea to pack plenty of snacks, as you won’t find much elsewhere along the route. If you prefer to cook your own meals, be advised that you’ll only find puncture-top stove fuel along the route, as well as in most shops in Tirana and Podgorica. Our best advice is to purchase an adapter that allows you to use your screw top stove with a puncture-top fuel canister.

Generally speaking, it is safe to drink the water at all of the guesthouses along the POB. Be sure to ask where the drinking water source is when you arrive, as different taps might come from different sources. There are springs along the trail on many stages of the hike, but certainly not all of them, so make sure to check your map/guidebook and pack enough water before setting out for the day. While some sources along the route might be safe, many others are downstream of livestock or other contaminants. It’s a good idea to carry a lightweight filter and use it when filling up in the backcountry.

A table set with food and beer in a gazebo on the Peaks of the Balkans.
Dinner with a view.

Camping on the Peaks of the Balkans

We’re huge fans of camping for the flexibility, privacy, cost savings, and close-to-nature experience it provides on long-distance treks, and this was definitely the case on the Peaks of the Balkans. Camping is quite easy throughout the hike, as there are tons of great options. Nearly every guesthouse will allow you to pitch your tent outside for a small fee, which includes access to the shower, wifi, and other facilities. Campers can choose to purchase meals at the guesthouse or cook their own. In addition to guesthouses, there are also a few campgrounds in Plav, Theth, and Valbona.

For those looking to get a bit more off the grid, it is also possible to wild camp along the Peaks of the Balkans trail. It will be helpful to have a good map and some flexibility in order to find a suitable campsite each night. Additionally, you’ll need to carry a lot of food and water with you, given that you won’t find much of either in most places along the trail. Finally, keep in mind that (technically, at least) camping is not permitted in any national park or nature reserve.

Green tent in a field on the Peaks of the Balkans
Camping in Dobërdol.

Getting To and From the Peaks of the Balkans

Given that it’s a loop trail, it’s possible to start/finish at a few different points along the Peaks of the Balkans. All of these are good options, and it’s best to choose the one that gives you the easiest travel to and from the region. As most travelers will be traveling through one of the major cities in the area, we’ve organized the options accordingly.

Tirana, Albania>Theth, Albania

If you’re traveling through Tirana, the best place to start your trek is in Theth. To get there, you’ll need to take a minibus first to Shkodër (2 hours) and then get on another minibus from there to Theth (2.5 hours). While it may be possible to navigate the bus system independently, if you are short on time and don’t speak Albanian we recommend arranging your transportation through a tour company like Choose Balkans or Zbulo. Expect to pay about €60 per person for a return trip.

Podgorica, Montenegro> Plav, Montenegro

Traveling through Podgorica is arguably the easiest way to get to and from the Peaks of the Balkans. There are several daily buses that leave for Plav from the main bus station in Podgorica. The journey takes about 4 hours. It is also possible to arrange a taxi or transfer between the two.

Pristina, Kosovo>Pejë>Rugova Valley

It is a bit less straightforward to get from Pristina to the trail, but still a decent option for those coming from that direction. First, you’ll need to take a bus from the main bus station in Pristina to Pejë (2 hours). Buses run about every 20 minutes and tickets cost €5 per person one way. From Pejë, it’s possible to take a bus to the end of the road in the Rugova Valley, where you can walk about 5km to join the trail in Rekë e Allagës.

Detours and Shortcuts

Whether you’re short on time or faced with an unexpected challenge along the way, it’s good to know your options for modifying the trek. As mentioned earlier, there are a couple of ways to shorten your hike. One option is to hike from Dobërdol to Babino Polje on Stage 4, effectively cutting out three stages of the trail that mostly pass through Kosovo. This allows most hikers to complete the trek in about 7 days instead of 10.

In addition to modifying the route, there a few sections where you can take a transfer to skip some of the walking:

Valbona to Çeremi: It is possible to arrange a transfer to effectively cut out this entire stage.

Milishevc to Rekë e Allagës: It is possible to arrange a transfer to cut out 6km of road walking on this stage.

Drelaj to Restuarant Te Liqeni: It is possible to arrange a transfer through a tour company or at Shquiponja Guesthouse in Drelaj to cut out about 13km of road walking.

Babino Polje to Plav: It is possible to take a taxi from Babino Polje to Plav, cutting out this entire stage. Any of the guesthouses in Babino Polje will help you call a taxi.

Plav to Vusanje: It is possible to arrange a jeep transfer to cut out the first 10km section of uphill road walking.

Many of the tour companies that offer guided POB treks will also be able to help you arrange transportation along the route. If you’re interested in setting it up in advance, we recommend contacting a few different tour companies to see what’s possible and compare prices. If you need transportation while on your trek, start by asking the guesthouse hosts if they can help you arrange it.

A guesthouse in Theth on the Peaks of the Balkans
Your guesthouse might be able to help you arrange transportation along the trail.

Maps and Guidebooks

If you would like to carry a paper map with you, this option from Huber Kartographie is likely your best bet. However, this map is outdated and contains some pretty significant inaccuracies at some points in the route. It’s a good idea to bring another navigation tool, such as a GPS app and/or guidebook, as a backup.

We highly recommend using the Gaia GPS app to navigate on the Peaks of the Balkans Trail. Gaia allows you to download maps for offline use and has a variety of layers that provide helpful information. Use this link to get 20% off your subscription.

In terms of guidebooks, we recommend Cicerone’s Trekking the Peaks of the Balkans Trail. Although a few things have changed since it was published in 2018, it is still an immensely helpful and informative resource.

Budgeting and Money

Make sure you read this section carefully, as there are a few tricky aspects when it comes to money on the Peaks of the Balkans. If you put a little thought into it ahead of time, you can spare yourself the unpleasant headache of running out of cash on the trail.

Which currency do I need to carry?

As you’ll be traveling to three different countries on your trek, you might be wondering about which currency to bring. Albania uses the Lek, while Montenegro and Kosovo use the Euro. However, you can often use Euros in Albania, particularly for larger purchases. Most of the guesthouses on the Albanian section of the trail will quote prices in Euros. Therefore, we recommend that you bring mostly Euros to pay for all of your meals and accommodation, as well as a small amount of Lek for less expensive transactions (i.e.; buying a drink at a café).

Keep in mind that the only stop along the route with an ATM is in Plav. Additionally, most guesthouses do not accept credit cards. That means that you’ll need to estimate how much money you’ll need for each day of your trek and make sure you bring enough cash to get you through.

Here’s what you can expect to pay for common purchases along the trail, keeping in mind that prices vary from place to place:

  • Night at a guesthouse: €15-30 per person
  • Camping: €3-5 per tent
  • Meal at a guesthouse: €5 per person
  • Coffee/tea/beer/soda: €1.50
  • Transfer along the trail: €15-60 per vehicle
  • Transportation to/from the trail: €20-60
A rustic cafe along the Peaks of the Balkans Trail
It’s good to bring a bit of extra cash so you can stop at one of the few cafes along the trail.

What to Pack for the Peaks of the Balkans

Packing for the Peaks of the Balkans is a balancing act between ensuring you have everything you need while also not carrying more than you need. For those staying in guesthouses, you can avoid the extra weight of a sleeping bag, tent, and other camping gear.

Below are a few essential items for the POB:

For a complete list, check out our Peaks of the Balkans Packing List post.

*Because the Peaks of the Balkans Trail crosses the borders of three different countries, hikers are required to carry a permit with them throughout their trek. There are no official checkpoints at the borders, but there is a chance that you could be stopped and asked for your permit, so it’s a good idea to have it with you. You must apply for your permit at least two weeks before you begin your trek. By far the easiest way to get a permit is through the tour company, Zbulo. Complete a quick online form and they’ll email your permit in a few days.

Concrete border marker on a mountain pass.
A marker at the border between Albania and Montenegro.

Suggested Peaks of the Balkans Itinerary

The classic itinerary described below takes 10 days to complete and is well-suited to most hiking paces and abilities. Although we describe it starting in Theth, you could Be sure to check out our interactive map and elevation profile for the route to get a comprehensive understanding of all of your options!

10-Day Peaks of the Balkans Itinerary

Day 1: Theth to Valbona
Day 2: Valbona to Çeremi
Day 3: Çeremi to Dobërdol
Day 4: Dobërdol to Milishevc
Day 5: Milishevc to  Rekë e Allagës
Day 6: Rekë e Allagës to Drelaj
Day 7: Drelaj/Restuarant Te Liqeni to Babino Polje
Day 8: Babino Polje to Plav
Day 9: Plav to Vusanje
Day 10: Vusanje to Theth

Peaks of the Balkans Map
Map of the entire route.
Peaks of the Balkans Elevation Profile

Day 1: Theth to Valbona

Distance & Elevation: 16.7 km // +1100 m, -900 m
Recommended Accommodation: Guesthouse Jezerca
Description: This stage begins with a solid ascent to Valbona Pass, with increasingly beautiful views of both valleys and the surrounding peaks as you climb. The descent is very steep at first, but then mellows out and continues for a long walk to Valbona. Keep in mind that your distance will vary based on where you choose to stay in the Valbona Valley. Guesthouse Jezerca offers dormitories, private cabins, and camping in all with fantastic views, delicious food, and excellent service. It is located at the far end of the valley, setting you up for a quick start the next morning.

Map of the route from Theth to Valbona

Day 2: Valbona to  Çeremi

Distance & Elevation: 12.6 km // +1200 m, -950 m (high route)
Recommended Accommodation: Kujtim Gocaj Guesthouse
Description: There are two possible routes to Çeremi, a high route over Prosllopit Pass and a lower route that mostly follows roads. The high route is challenging, but definitely worth the effort if the weather is good. It features spectacular high mountain scenery and lots of wildflowers. Kujtim Gocaj Guesthouse is a wonderful place to spend the night either in one of the dormitories or camped in the small tent area. The hosts are very welcoming and the food is plentiful.

Valbona to Ceremi map
Dirt trail winds its way through a grassy slope with mountains on either side.
Hiking from Valbona to Çeremi on Day 2.

Day 3: Çeremi to Dobërdol

Distance & Elevation: 17 km // +1100 m, -500 m
Recommended Accommodation: Bujtina Leonard
Description: Stage 3 brings a mellower but no less beautiful day on the trails. The undulating trail takes you through shady woodlands, occasionally opening up to allow for great views in all directions. The lovely settlement of Dobërdol sits in a steep-sided valley, with the Tromedja (three border peak) towering above. Bujtina Leonard is the first guesthouse you’ll see when you arrive in Dobërdol. We recommend it for the great facilities, friendly hosts, and atmospheric setting. There’s plenty of room for tents.

Ceremi to Doberdol

Day 4: Dobërdol to Milishevc

Distance & Elevation: 18 km // +1000 m, -1050 m
Recommended Accommodation: Chalet Rrusta
Description: This stage is extra special because you’ll get to walk through three different countries all in one day. A steep climb at the start of the day is rewarded by some spectacular walking along a high ridgeline. From there, the route becomes quite tricky to follow, so be prepared to pay close attention to your GPS. You’ll need to ascend again at the end of the day, either stopping at the lovely Guesthouse Lojza, or continuing on to Milishevc. Chalet Rrusta is a great option in Milishevc, as the facilities are clean and modern and the accommodations are quite comfortable.

Doberdol to Milishevc

Day 5: Milishevc to  Rekë e Allagës

Distance & Elevation: 16 km // +900 m, -1300 m
Recommended Accommodation: Bujtina Ariu
Description: This is another day where you can expect to put your route-finding skills to the test. The day begins with a steep and poorly marked hike up to a pass, after which you’ll need to continue to pay attention to make sure you’re on track. The trail passes through a pretty alpine meadow before beginning a long and steep descent and one final uphill road walk to reach Rekë e Allagës. Bujtina Ariu is a friendly accommodation that serves up delicious meals in a homey environment. If you plan on camping, be advised that there’s only room for a couple of tents.

Milishevc to Reke e Allages to Drelaj to Te Liqeni

Day 6: Rekë e Allagës to Drelaj

Distance & Elevation: 10.4 km // +550 m, -750 m (to Drelaj), 23.5 km // +1400 m, -1200 m (to Restaurant Te Liqeni)
Recommended Accommodation: Shqiponja Guesthouse
Description: This is a pretty straightforward day of walking, much of it on roads. There are a few options for where you can end your hike on this day: Drelaj, Restuarant Te Liqeni, or somewhere in between. Although stopping at Drelaj makes for a pretty short day, we recommend this option for a few reasons. First, it eliminates several kilometers of road walking (get a ride to Restuarant Te Liqeni from the guesthouse owners in the morning) and allows you to get a bit of a break in between several long days of walking. Shqiponja Guesthouse is also wonderful- welcoming, beautiful, clean, modern- and a nice place to spend a night. It is also possible to continue all the way to Restuarant Te Liqeni or stop at one of the guesthouses along the way.

Green meadow with mountains in the background near Drelaj.
Big views on the way into Drelaj.

Day 7: Drelaj/Restuarant Te Liqeni to Babino Polje

Distance & Elevation: 15 km // +1050 m, -1020 m
Recommended Accommodation: Triangle Woodhouse
Description: This stage will take you up to the highest point along the trail, followed by a spectacular ridge walk with views of rugged mountains all around. The descent to Babino Polje can be a bit unclear in places, but it is otherwise pretty well-marked. Triangle Woodhouse is a lovely accommodation, with nice facilities and friendly hosts. Some campers choose to continue on to wild camp at Lake Hrid, but if you’re considering that option make sure you have good bug spray!

Te Liqeni to Babino Polje

Day 8: Babino Polje to Plav

Distance & Elevation: 20 km // +680 m, -1250 m
Recommended Accommodation: Ema Guesthouse
Description: This day begins with a nice wooded hike up to Hridsko jezero (Lake Hrid), although the mosquitos can be quite bad on this stretch of the trail. From the lake, it’s a relatively mellow hike towards Plav, much of it on roads. As you get closer to Plav, the views of the town and the lake are wonderful. Plav is the largest town that you’ll pass through on the POB and a great opportunity to resupply. If you have the time, it’s a good place to take a rest day. Ema Guesthouse is one of the best accommodations in Plav, offering a variety of comfortable rooms and apartments, some with lake views.

Babino Polje to Plav

Day 9: Plav to Vusanje

Distance & Elevation: 22 km // +1250 m, -1220 m
Recommended Accommodation: Guesthouse Vucetaj
Description: This is a long and challenging day, but the beautiful and rugged views are well worth your effort. The hike starts with an increasingly steep climb (bring your bug spray), then summits Bajrak Peak and follows a ridge before a long descent towards Vusanje. There are several nice guesthouses in Vusanje, but we recommend Vucetaj for its excellent facilities and amazing views down the length of the Ropojana Valley. The guesthouse has plenty of flat spaces to pitch a tent, if needed.

Plav to Vusanje

Day 10: Vusanje to Theth

Distance & Elevation: 20 km, +950 m, -1180 m
Recommended Accommodation: Bujtina Tinari
Description: The final day of the Peaks of the Balkans trek is certainly a memorable one. The day begins with good walking up to Fusha e Ruinicës, a beautiful and expansive high alpine meadow, before climbing higher to Pejë Pass. Enjoy the views of the incredibly jagged peaks from here before beginning a long and steep descent towards Theth. Upon arriving in Theth, be sure to grab a treat or a cold beverage to celebrate the remarkable accomplishment of completing your POB trek!

A rocky slope in the foreground with jagged peaks in the background.
High alpine scenery on the hike from Vusanje to Theth

Conclusion

When it comes long distance hiking in Europe, the Peaks of The Balkans Trail is one of the best kept secrets . If you’re looking for a true mountain adventure while still enjoying the local culture and a few creature comforts, you will love this hike. We hope this guide has left you excited and prepared for your Peaks of the Balkans trek. As always, leave us a comment if you have questions or to tell us about your trip!

What’s Next?

Leave a Comment