Known for their lyrical beauty, the Albanian Alps are home to green forests, vast valleys and quaint villages with stone houses. It's a place with old traditions and prowling wolves, where life continues much as it did centuries ago. Perhaps appropriately, locals refer to the Albanian Alps as Prokletije, meaning Accursed Mountains in Serbian. According to legend, the "curse" in these mountains once belonged to a woman trying to escape from them, trapped by the rugged cliffs and thick forests.
Deep in these mountains, you'll find two small villages: Theth and Valbona. The gateways to the Theth and Valbona National Parks respectively, these villages have historically been linked by a mule trail which traverses Valbona Pass, high in the mountains. Hiking this trail takes you through spectacular mountain passes, peaceful meadows and impressive ravines, with rocky peaks rising high around you.
The route itself is challenging and requires a moderate level of fitness, but can be completed in a single day. The trail is point-to-point, so you can start in either Theth or Valbona, whichever works best with your itinerary. I started in Theth, so this article covers the trail from Theth to Valbona.
The route is around 17km (11 miles) and most hikers can complete the trek in 7-8 hours. If you are a beginner hiker or plan to take photos, plan to spend a full day (around 10 hours) hiking to allow for frequent stops. An experienced hiker should be able to finish the hike in 5-6 hours.
It is a strenuous journey, so be sure to pack accordingly. From Theth up to the Valbona Pass, you will experience steep ascension partly exposed to the sun and partly in the forest. There are cafés and beautiful viewpoints to take breaks along the way and fill up your water bottle again for your journey. With a longer hike like this, it's essential to start early in the morning. By mid-morning, the sun will begin to feel strong.
There are some beautiful walks around both Theth and Valbona and you may want to spend a day or two in each village on either side of the hike, to give yourself time to explore the area.
Theth is a remote village deep in the northern part of the Albanian mountains. From Theth, the trailhead points clearly out in the center of the town. Several points of entry exist for this trail.
Most commonly, hikers come to Theth by bus from the village of Shkoder, which is two hours north of the Albanian capital of Tirana. It is possible to drive yourself to Theth if you prefer to rent a car, however public transport is often preferable for a point-to-point trip, unless you were planning to return to your guesthouse.
Many guesthouses or hostels in Shkoder (we recommend InTown Guesthouse) will provide transportation to Theth, but you must arrange your ride the night before to ensure you will get a seat on the bus. The distance from Shkoder to Theth is about two and half hours, contingent on stops. Be sure to buy everything you need (hiking snacks, sunscreen etc) in Shkoder before you leave as there is only one small store in Theth. If you have excess luggage, you can usually store it at your accommodation in Shkoder and collect it on your way back.
It's worth spending a few days in Theth before you start the hike to discover the surrounding national park and the Albanian Alps. There are many lovely guesthouses in the village and they usually offer good breakfasts too (stay at Royal Land if you also want wonderful mountain views). From the village, you can easily access a couple of side hiking trails which you may want to do while you're here.
Veer off the main path onto the Denelle trail to view the mountains that show another side of the valley. Denelle is a breathtaking grassland surrounded by towering mountains. The round-trip from Theth to Denelle and back to Theth is about 9km (5.5 miles) and takes around 5-6 hours. The Denelle trail is moderate to strenuous, dependent on your fitness level, with an elevation of nine hundred meters. The hike to Denelle begins with a steep climb that lasts over two hours. Around halfway, you will reach a viewpoint overlooking the valley. The area provides a perfect place to stop for a snack or rest. Denelle is about an hour from here. After you have spent some time there, return the way you came to the village of Theth.
From Theth, you can also trek to the Grunas Waterfall and Blue Eye Waterfall. It has only a few steep inclines, so it's a relatively easy hike. The hike is about 19km (12 miles) and is relatively easy, with just a few steep inclines. It's about a six-hour round trip from the waterfalls back to Theth. You will experience two gorgeous waterfalls on this trip, so bring your swimsuit. You can head straight to the Blue Eye Waterfall or slightly detour to see the Grunas Waterfall.
The Grunas Waterfall is taller than Blue Eye and is a shorter distance from the village, making this a popular tourist destination. As you walk to Blue Eye, you will notice that the trail is flat with slight elevation, but you will need to keep your eye on the path. The course is not always obvious, so you will want to watch where you are going by following the arrows painted on the riverbed's rocks. Blue Eye Waterfall is a trek that will take about two to three hours, contingent on your stops. As you hike toward the waterfall, the elevation rises.
The trail from Theth to Valbona is straightforward, and there are many trail signs along your way. The trip is also is not a lonely one and you don't need a guide for this trail. Aside from meeting other hikers along this famous route, you will encounter plenty of places to take a break with gorgeous views. Early in the trail, you will also come to two different cafés providing water, coffee, and food.
Valbona Valley bisects a wide banked river and is a stunning sight. The trail begins with a slow but challenging ascent to Valbona Pass, which offers one of the most breathtaking views in the Balkans. The Valbona Pass is the trail's highest point, and it is a steep climb, which takes about three hours.
Upon reaching the Valbona Pass, the trail offers another one to one and a half hours of uphill trekking, mainly in the forest. After you exceed the tree line on the mountain, there will be a 30-minute hike until you reach the highest peak. After you have reached the peak, the trail heads back downhill to a gradual, gentler level. Less than an hour from the Valbona Pass, you will arrive at a café. A more accessible portion of the trail follows a flat riverbed at the end.
A rocky and uneven trail leads down to a forest for the remainder of the hike to Valbona. Be sure to pay close attention and be careful with your footing. You will be walking on the riverbed itself, which is flat but very rocky. This path will take about 2-3 hours before reaching Valbona Village. If you have the time, spend a couple of days after your hike relaxing at the lovely Villas Jezerca with stunning mountain views.
The best time for this hike is May to September as the weather usually is mild. The trail can have snow in spring still, so I recommend waiting until early summertime. Because the days are longer in summer, it's the best time to travel, but the heat can be overwhelming during the day. Hiking early in the morning is essential for a successful journey. It will be rather busy for hikers and tourists.
Check the weather before your trip, as the mountains experience heavy rainfall and thunderstorms. If you are adequately prepared, hiking this trail in the winter months can be an exhilarating experience.
It is vital to strategize what you need and not overpack when hiking. Ensure you wear sturdy hiking boots and an extra set of clothes. Nowadays it’s easy to find hiking shoes that match your feet. I personally use hiking shoes for flat feet as I need more arch support but make sure you bring some which you find comfortable. You will have to carry your items on your person, so you want to pack strategically. I recommend leaving any additional items at your guesthouse or hostel in Shkoder .
I would bring an insulated and windproof rain jacket in case of weather changes, sun protection such as sunglasses, sunscreen, a hat, and at least two reusable water bottles for daypack necessities. You can refill water bottles at the two cafes on the trail.
Ensure you pack plenty of snacks and accessible takeaway lunch items. Hiking snacks and foods are readily available in Shkoder - I would recommend granola bars, nuts, and dried fruits. Along the trail, you will find cafes to stop and rest. You will need to bring cash to make any purchases as no ATMs are available in the area.
I also suggest bringing your mobile phone and an extended battery pack, as there are navigation apps you can use while you hike.
Last Updated 23 September 2022