Borjomi, The Perfect Hiking Destination
The lush, forested mountains surrounding Borjomi are part of the Lower Caucasus range, and are perfect to be explored on foot. There are few sign posted shorter day-hiking trails in the area compared to the longer distance multi-day trekking destinations. However those taking the time to wander along the way marked tracks will discover exceptional beauty within the nature park. The area feels almost untouched by mankind, it is unbelievable to fathom that wilderness like this still exists in Europe. The Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park, one of the largest of its kind in Europe, was set up a few years ago to protect animal and plant species from human intervention and to preserve the captivating landscape for the future. With the help of German funds existing routes across the mountains were signposted for hikers and rangers now control access and look after their upkeep.
Getting a Hiking Permit
The opportunity to explore this beautiful mountainscape on foot was the main reason why I chose Borjomi as one of the destinations during our three week trip through Georgia. Those who read my blog will know we like active family holidays and hiking has always been a past time for us. It is a great way to get out as a family and be one with nature, so we usually take time for a walk no matter what country we are travelling to. Our first stop after our arrival in Borjomi had been a walk to the National Park administration office on the fringes of the town to obtain our permit to set out on hikes in the area. No one should venture into the park without a permit from here making it an essential stop on any visit to the area. There we also got hold of a decent map, with the marked hikes and information.
12 Hiking Routes
A large number of the 12 hikes in the Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park are long distance, mostly linear hikes, taking several days, however, there are some circular and out-and-back routes that can be achieved in a day. One of these is a scenic hike from Likani that we took on our first real venture in to the national park area – the “Snowshoe Trail” was recommended by the ranger at the Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park Administration. It would turn out to be one of the most memorable treks during our entire stay in Georgia.
Start of the Snowshoe Trail
The start of the Snowshoe Trail can be found at the end of the dirt track through Likani by the ranger hut, about 6km from the centre of Borjomi. We drove to the start point in our own car, which the easiest way to reach the ranger station and campsite. Alternatively, take a bus or taxi to the turn off for Likani, but this adds about 3km to your hike each way. We had made sure to bring our permit to enter the Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park with us in case we would encounter a ranger (in case you wonder, we never did but better to be prepared).
Passing Into the Protected Area
Passing through the entrance gate to the protected area we followed a mountain stream and water pipe along a single dirt track, underneath the thick canopy of fir trees. The sun’s rays shone onto the moss-covered undergrowth, creating an enchanting atmosphere.
Fresh Mountain Water
A little while later we stumbled onto a tent shaped hut, upon opening the door we found a stone basin with clear, cool mountain water inside. The spring outside is a great spot to fill up any empty water bottles although anyone, like us, just setting out onto the hike, should carry full bottles and a full days food in their backpacks anyway.
The Hiking Paths Divide
About 2km into the hike we reached the point where two hiking paths divide. The snowshoe trail makes a big loop and taking either way is possible although the left path is harder to traverse uphill, it is a proper, narrow hiking path and much nicer than the downhill return section, which is mostly a single dirt track used by the ranger’s 4×4’s.
Following the Red Markers
Walking uphill following the red arrow way markings on the tree trunks, stones and sometime posts, we started to get hot, despite the cool air in the dense pine forest. A couple of German hikers were in front and they kept slowing us down on our ascent. There also was a stray dog that joined us every now and then on our walk, making us wonder if it belonged to other hikers, the rangers, or was just a stray which is a common sight in Georgia.
Bear Paw Prints?
On the earthy path, we noticed strange footprints! In places they looked distinctly like a bears paw, with claws penetrating the damp earth. Bears are still at home in the Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park although very rarely seen. Could it be possible we were on a bear hunt? The German woman upfront seemed to have noticed the paw prints as well and I could feel her unease. She suggested that we should stay together as a group, as bears tend to avoid people in general, however in the unusual case of a bear being around it is surely safer to be with more people. Naturally as we walked we started to chat to each other, about their travels through Georgia and their life back home in Germany.
Hiking in Groups
Jerome joined the discussions every now and then, but most of the time he was just in his own world, enjoying immersing himself in nature as he calls it! Chatting to the couple certainly made the ascend pass faster, but it did slow us down somewhat. This is one reason why we generally do not like to go hiking in groups, unless my parents or wider family join us for our hiking expeditions. The bear paws kept following us uphill, and the dog kept appearing at times, too sniffing after our tracks.
Steep Uphill Climb for 800m
After hiking steep uphill on a winding track through forest climbing over 800m vertically, we reached an opening in the pine forest and a little further on was the dividing where the Wildlife Traces Trail (yellow markers) led off to the left. The ascent is long and steep and can be accomplished by children who are experienced in walking and hiking. To our surprise here the dog head off this way leaving us almost like it was his daily exercise round.
Beautiful Flower Meadows
This glade was a beautiful spot to take a break, the warm sunlight streaming down onto the striking, flower meadow bursting with a variety of multi coloured flowers. Colourful butterflies surrounded us on the abundance of blossoms. In fact we had never seen such an alluring field, reminding me of the fantastical world in the manga film, “Howl’s Moving Castle”.
Surrounded by Incredible Wildlife
From there on we left the gloomy pine forest behind and the flower meadows made the perfect setting for incredible, panoramic views of the mountains around us. Before departing onto our “bear hunt” we would have never expected to discover such mesmerising and pristine nature accompanied with sweeping views. The wildlife here was amazing, and I will let my photos picture for you this wonderful setting. Our progress was much slower than normal, as we just had to keep stopping to behold the butterflies and flowers around us. I imagine that the fields and pastures in the Alps once were once as virgin and unharmed until mass tourism and farming took over, I hope that Georgia will be able to preserve this unique landscape despite rising numbers of travellers and hikers.
Wanders Along the Ridge
The Snowshoe trail ran though the meadows slowly up along a ridge with views to both sides. At times the path was barely visible in the patches of tall grasses and flowers. Butterflies flitted away as we pushed through the clumps. At other times the grass was shorter and the way ahead therefore easy to follow. Near the top the long distance hiking route heads on deep into the park and the Snowshoe route bears right climbing to the top of a small rounded peak just below 2000m, covered in a clump of tall trees, before joining the jeep ranger track down.
Rest of the Snowshoe Trail
After a short picnic break from our backpack among the flower meadow near the peak we set out to hike the rest of the circular snowshoe trail. This part of the trek was less impressive as it wanders along the single track ranger jeep trail and descends in deep forest. Somehow it felt much longer than the ascent – at times we wondered if maybe we should have chosen to take the same trail back?!
Cooling Off in the Mountain Stream
Once we all returned to the valley, our feet were sore, despite wearing proper hiking boots. The mountain stream in the valley looked too inviting and we found a spot where we could sit down to take off our shoes, we dipped our aching feet into the freezing water. Jerome was happy enough to wade through the stream for longer while my feet immediately felt cold.
Most Spectacular Hike in Georgia
The day hike although quite strenuous even for experienced hikers at around 16km to 18km, is definitely one of the most spectacular hikes we experienced during our many wanders in Georgia. If you plan to try the route it is important that you are physically fit and well prepared for this trek. Get your map and permit from the ranger centre. Take plenty of water and food with you, wear appropriate footwear, and carry rain protection of course. It is possible to hike this trail with kids but be aware, the ascent is long and requires stamina. Alternatively you might want to choose the black trail, no 12, which is shorter in terms of distance, shares the first part of the route, but a climb to 1500m is still required even for this reduced route. Back at the car we promised ourselves a rest from walking the next day, preferring to let our 4×4 take the strain on an adventurous off road route.
No Bears Around…
In the end we did not encounter any bears on our “bear hunt”, the tracks in the mud on the jeep track down lead us to believe the paw prints we had seen earlier were perhaps more likely just boring horse shoe prints with the “claws” just slip marks in the mud. The snowshoe circular trail near Likani is also frequently used as a bridal route by both locals and tourists on horseback, so it is perhaps the boring explanation – but we would still like to think we followed the bear’s route to the top!
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