North Macedonia is a mountainous country. 85% of its territory is covered in mountains, so you’ll have an abundant choice of hiking trails here. It has more than 30 peaks that rise above 2000 metres, so it offers challenges and pretty panoramic views, but it also has shorter, scenic trails. Its three national parks are all located in mountains: Pelister, Mavrovo and Galičica National Parks.
In this post we show you our favorite hikes in the country, with all the details. Most of them are short, and all of them can fit in one day. We found little information in English about these parks and trails, so we did our best to give you precise information about them: length, route, difficulty, and how to access the trailheads. However, please note that difficulty is relative, and you need to choose the suitable hikes for yourself based on your fitness level. (We consider ourselves average hikers. We don’t do super challenging, long trails, but we do hike quite often.)
What do you need to know about hiking in North Macedonia in general?
North Macedonia has a wide variety of marked trails. Some are well-maintained and easy to find, others are not so much. A lot of areas can only be accessed by multi-day hikes, or with a jeep. But some trails are short and family-friendly. There are lots of day hikes. And often it’s not that easy to figure which hike is in which of these categories.
Bears, wild boars, wolves, foxes, squirrels, chamois and deer live in the mountains of North Macedonia. The rule is the same as everywhere else: keep your distance from wildlife. We haven’t seen any during our trip, but we didn’t venture out in the wilderness for multi-day hikes either. That could surely give better chances for spotting some of these animals.
Hikers can often see herds of sheep though, especially on the lush green meadows of Mavrovo National Park. They’re guarded by shepherd dogs, and you better keep your distance from the sheep as the dogs are not friendly and trained to protect the sheep from strangers.
North Macedonia, except for Skopje and Lake Ohrid, is still not well-known among tourists. Go and explore these astonishing landscapes now!
So let’s see those trails:
Magaro peak, Galičica National Park
2240 meters high Magaro peak offers a panorama with the two largest lakes of North Macedonia, Lake Ohrid and Lake Prespa, and all the mountains of Galičica National Park. It’s among the most famous trails in the country, and it’s very well-marked, easy to follow and scenic all the way.
It starts from a large dirt pullout by road P504 that’s a zigzagging road from Lake Ohrid to Lake Prespa through Galičica National Park. It’s a toll road, the road quality is varying from good to still acceptable, but the views are great! We also found trail maps posted at several pullouts, because lots of trails start along the road.
Our hike started on a colorful meadow full of flowers, then we continued in the forest. The trail ascended evenly at the beginning, but when we left the trees behind, it got quite steep. In exchange, we could enjoy amazing views of Lake Ohrid and the surrounding peaks – some of which were still covered by snow.
Magaro peak was the icing on the cake, with a 360 degrees panorama. Even though we decided not to conquer peaks with Tomi, this was different. Magaro peak is not like the dangerous, rocky peaks of the Alps where you only have very little safe space to occupy, it rather looks like a hilltop with a large, grassy flat area. So yes, sometimes we make exceptions, and this hike was safe and enjoyable with a toddler, too.
It was steep at places (Csaba carried Tomi during those sections in the carrier backpack), but it was only 7 kilometres long, and there were sections where almost-2-years-old Tomi could walk on his own while holding our hand, and we had a nice picnic at the top.
The eastern part of the loop – that we hiked downhill – runs through meadows at first, where we found patches of snow and blooming crocuses. Then it continues in a narrow canyon. It’s not too steep under normal conditions, but there was still a lot of snow left (in the beginning of June), and that made it slippery, so it was the most challenging part of the loop for us.
Once we finished the loop, the last section of the hike was the same where we started.
Pelister’s Eyes, Pelister National Park
Pelister was another easily navigable national park with well-marked trails. Its most famous hike is to Pelister’s Eyes, two beautiful alpine lakes. There are different routes, but we chose the one that starts from the village of Nizhepole, as it’s a long, evenly ascending path that’s completely safe even when carrying a kid. (How did we know it? From locals. Online research usually didn’t help us much with our North Macedonian hikes. Hence we’ve published this article to make it easier for you. 🙂 )
The road to Nizhepole is paved all the way (not an obvious thing when it comes to mountain villages here), and we parked our car in an empty paved parking lot towards the end of the village. Look for signs that indicate the ski slopes and parking.
From there we hiked out of the village and found ourselves on a gentle slope among trees and bushes. They slowly disappeared as we got higher, so we had amazing views of the landscape below us. Soon we noticed patches of snow, and rushing streams that were fed by snowmelt.
The trail remained evenly ascending all the way to the mountain shelter at Big Lake (Golemo Ezero). We planned a long rest and a tasty picnic on the lakeshore, but those unpredictable mountains had other plans. I’ve barely taken the first pictures when I felt cold drops. Actually, they were not drops. They were solid. It started snowing in mid-June.
The previous days were not as harsh, so we had only one warm layer and the usual rain jackets. We felt tired and cold. The mountain shelter was closed. And the trail further towards Small Lake (Malo Ezero) was still partly covered by snow. We didn’t feel comfortable continuing, so we turned back.
While we were disappointed that we couldn’t get to the second lake, it was the right decision. If the weather had been better, we would have continued further after a longer rest. You might even get to 2601 meters high Pelister Peak after Small Lake. You can do it as a day hike there and back if you have the stamina (and plenty of daylight hours on a long summer day).
A side note: if you check the homepage of the national park, you’ll notice that the Big Lake – Small Lake – Peak Pelister hike is classified as easy. At first glance, it looked like a short, scenic trail to me – until I realized you can’t access any of those points by car, and it takes almost 10 kilometres to get to Big Lake in the first place. It’s a scenic trail though, and it’s worth doing, just plan accordingly: you’ll need a full day.
St. Salvation & Vrtuska peak, Pelister National Park
Unexpectedly, this became our favorite hike in Pelister National Park. The trail to Pelister’s Eyes has some nice views, but the real highlight there are the alpine lakes. However, the trail to St. Salvation (Sveti Spas) and then further to Vrtuska peak offered breathtaking panoramic views of the whole national park, and it led us through amazing wildflower meadows. And we even got pretty lake views: a panorama with Lake Prespa from above. It was also a perfectly sunny, pleasant day which undoubtedly adds to the enjoyment of a hike.
This one can be done in half a day, and it starts from the village of Malovishte. Good news, you can drive there on paved roads. Bad news, you can’t rely on online trail maps (as it often happened to us in North Macedonia), but this trail is well-marked and obvious all the way. The trailhead is a bit tricky to find though.
You need to park your car towards the beginning of the village, there are some grassy areas. Later you won’t have enough space to park. Then walk to the upper exit of the village, and look for a signpost that says “Sveti Spas” in Cyrillic. I’m helping you, here’s a picture of it (follow the lowest signpost that also indicates that it takes 3 km to get to Sveti Spas):
From then we ascended all the way to St. Salvation, and then Vrtuska peak (2010 m). Some sections and the last one between St. Salvation and Vrtuska peak were a bit steep, otherwise it was a pleasant ascent. With incredibly beautiful views from the very beginning.
Both St. Salvation and Vrtuska offer panoramas that are worth the effort. Vrtuska peak has the best views of Lake Prespa. St. Salvation has a picnic bench.
We hiked back to Malovishte on the same path.
Duf waterfall, Mavrovo National Park
Mavrovo National Park is the meeting point of three mountain ranges: Šar, Korab and Bistra mountains. Between them you find the deep canyon of the river Radika, stretching for more than 25 kilometres. It’s as impressive as it sounds, moreover, the main road from Trnica towards Debar takes you through this canyon. Right, a scenic drive – and a drive you should do to get to the trailhead of Duf waterfall.
First, we tried the way Google Maps planned it from Bitola through the traditional village of Lazaropole to Rostushe. Don’t do that. Don’t drive that road with a normal car, and don’t trust in Google when it comes to route planning in North Macedonia. We should have known.
Anyway, we turned back, drove to Mavrovi Ani, and from there we continued on the main road in the Radika canyon. Four hours drive instead of our originally planned two. But the trail that took us through the gorge to Duf waterfall quickly made us forget about any inconveniences.
It’s a short, easy and very picturesque walk along a stream with small cascades and wooden bridges. The canyon walls look spectacular, and Duf waterfall among the majestic rocks is the true highlight of the trail. The last section of the path to the bottom of the waterfall is slippery – and often wet, too, due to the mist -, so wear proper hiking shoes.
Matka Canyon Trail, Jasen Nature Reserve
Matka Canyon is one of those few places that’s not off the beaten path in North Macedonia. Located only 30 minutes drive from Skopje, the capital, it’s jam-packed with visitors each weekend, so our first advice is: visit it on a weekday.
The second: don’t only do the boat ride. There are different boat rides (and kayak rental, too) available at the entrance of the canyon, and seeing Matka Canyon from a boat is an experience we enjoyed very much. It’s also the only way to access Vrelo Cave.
But the Matka Canyon Trail that runs along the gorge is spectacular! It offers views from a different angle – and if you’re a photographer, that’s where you can take the prettiest shots. The trail starts from the Canyon Matka Hotel & Restaurant, and the first half of it is an easy, well-worn path. The last 1.5 kilometres wouldn’t be much harder, but it’s less maintained, it’s narrow and slippery at places, and we struggled a bit with the bushes (not comfortable to walk with a carrier backpack).
We noticed that most people only walk the first 1-1.5 kilometres. However, the views were great all the way, so we didn’t mind making the effort to complete the trail. It ends opposite of Vrelo Cave, but it’s on the other side of the canyon, so the cave can’t be accessed from the trail.
We returned the same way we came. It’s the only way, but it’s not wide enough for two-way traffic. It’s quite uncomfortable – and also dangerous at places – if you meet with other hikers on the gorge trail, so it’s best to avoid crowded weekends.
A side note: even though you can see the guardrail in the pictures, there are sections where there’s none, mostly when the trail runs in the forest. However, the terrain is slippery and steep at places, so watch your steps. (No, these sections are not toddler-friendly either, we put Tomi into the carrier to keep him safe.)
Kozjak Lake Observation Point Trail, Jasen Nature Reserve
Kozjak Lake Observation Point is a viewpoint that can be accessed by car. We drove there from Skopje on a paved road, and it took us about 45 minutes. Then there we were: we could just get out of the car and enjoy the view of Lake Kozjak below us.
However, once you drive there, you might actually want to do some hiking (we sure did!), and in that case we have a great suggestion: there’s a short, easy, scenic trail that runs on the mountain ridge. We’re not sure whether it has a name, but we named it Kozjak Lake Observation Point Trail, and it’s a fitting name as it starts from the Kozjak Lake Observation Point, and it takes you to several other similarly pretty viewpoints.
After about 2 kilometres, the almost flat path ends at a final viewpoint. There you turn back and use the same path to return to the parking lot. It’s a pleasant and pretty hike, there’s just no reason not to do it if you’re already there. 🙂
Have you hiked in the Balkans? Tell us about some of your favorite trails!
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