How to plan an epic hike through Armenia on the Transcaucasian Trail

In Lonely Plan-It, we take you step by step through how we put together some of the most complicated travel adventures. Here, travel writer and outdoors enthusiast Anna Richards explains how she hiked the Armenian section of the under-the-radar Transcaucasian Trail. 

I knew very little about Armenia before deciding to hike the Transcaucasian Trail (TCT), which winds hundreds of miles through this under-explored country. When I told friends of my plans, most knew little more than the scraps I did – a turbulent, tragic recent history; some vague connection to the Kardashians.

But what I found there simply amazed me: millennia-old monasteries, vast volcanic plateaus and rust-colored gorges that crumbled like breadcrumbs as you hiked them. 

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The full TCT spans 932 miles (1500km) across Georgia and Armenia. A separate section is in progress to cross Azerbaijan, which would bring the full trail to almost 1900 miles (3000km). Unfortunately, due to current border conflicts, linking the two sections is a far-off goal. 

The approach to Noravank Monastery, Vayots Dzor. It was every bit as dry and hot as it looked, and by the time I reached the monastery I was so covered in dust that I looked as though I'd emerged from several years.The approach to Noravank Monastery, Vayots Dzor. It was every bit as dry and hot as it looked, and by the time I reached the monastery I was so covered in dust that I looked as though I’d emerged from several years © Anna Richards / Lonely Planet

Totaling 516 miles (832km), the Armenian segment of the TCT opened to the public this year. I was one of the guinea pigs that got to beta-test it in 2022 ⁠– although the distance I covered over four weeks (360 miles / 580km) made me feel more like a hamster on a wheel. 

Some numbers for context: the USA’s Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) issues more than 7000 hiker permits a year. Around 3000 thru-hikers attempt the Appalachian Trail annually. And in 2022, fewer than 100 hikers completed a multiday section of the TCT – making this a track that is truly…off the beaten track.

In order to (safely) get away from the hiking masses, you’re going to have to plan ahead. Here’s how to plan a trip to hike the Transcaucasian Trail. 

Hiker in a meadow with flowers along the Transcaucasian Trail in the Gegham Mountains, ArmeniaSince you’ll spend many days along the Transcaucasian Trail without seeing another human being, you have to take great care when packing for the thru-hike © Meagan Neal / Transcaucasian Trail Association

Step 1: Prepare, prepare, prepare

With maps, GPS and careful planning for water

This trail requires a lot of preparation. It should only be hiked between June and September, as outside of this season snow makes parts of the trail inaccessible. (Even when I hiked in August, some snow lingered in the Gegham Mountains.) Yet while the warm summer months clear the trails for hiking, the season brings challenges: in July and August temperatures along much of the route soar to more than 32°C (90°F). Since water is scarce, you’ll need bottles with a few liters’ capacity, as well as a filter-purifier to refill them. 

It’s essential to download route-planning apps. While there are no physical maps of the TCT, GPX files are available through the TCT website (a suggested donation of $100 gets you access to route guides, plus a Slack channel run by trail planners and recent hikers). I’m not exaggerating when I say the trail would be impossible without these resources. 

Step 2: Pack wisely, and plan for resupply package 

There will be lots of gear involved – so really think this through

While there were times that I wished I was an ultralight packer, I don’t regret taking with me such “luxuries” as my Kindle and deodorant. As you pack, keep in mind that for the TCT you need to be totally self-sufficient. This means carrying up to seven days’ worth of food for certain areas, as well as the means to prepare it (cooking or cold soaking).

Much of the TCT requires wild camping, so good gear is essential. Where there are guesthouses, you’ll need cash; you’ll find ATMs in larger towns, though I still recommend having a couple of hundred dollars’ worth of Armenian drams when you start the trail. Be prepared for all weather conditions, as the altitude along the way will rise and fall by almost 10,000ft (3000m). A sun hat, a waterproof shell and thermal layers are all musts. 

Send yourself resupply packages via the HIKEArmenia office in Yerevan; most towns will have at least a small shop to receive them. For camping gas and other last-minute supplies, in Yerevan is your only option.

An Armenian SIM card (I used UCom) will get you unlimited data for less than $15 per month, and can be renewed at top-up machines in any large town. When you’ve got so much off-road navigation, this is invaluable. Take a copy of your ID to scan.

A hiker with a backpack looks out at a valley view in the mountains, Transcaucasian Trail, ArmeniaPlan your route along the Transcaucasian Trail carefully before you set out © Tom Allen / Transcaucasian Trail Armenia

Step 3: Take the first step

Set out from different starting points for northbound and southbound journeys

Any great journey begins with a single step – though in the case of the TCT, your initial ones will be on airport escalators and rickety buses, before you set out on the trail itself. Fly into Yerevan, Armenia’s capital, then catch a bus from there to either Meghri, at the southern end of the trail (nine hours), or to Gyumri, from where you’ll take a taxi to Lake Arpi to begin the trail southbound. Since buses fill up, call ahead to book using the number listed on bus companies’ Facebook pages (or ask someone to do this for you if you don’t speak Armenian). The day of your journey, the driver will have a list of passengers who have reserved in advance (there are no tickets). 

Before you set out for Armenia, decide which direction you’ll be hiking. South-to-north is a baptism of fire, with Arevik National Park the toughest, remotest part of the trail. I saw no one for three days and had to carry enough water to satiate a camel on a trans-Saharan odyssey. Yet this is also one of the most spectacular sections I experienced.

Step 4: Embrace Armenian hospitality – but stay safe 

Expect near-limitless generosity in the countryside

I took too much food because I hadn’t anticipated the limitless generosity of the nomads, villagers and farmers that I met along the way. Like an army, hungry hikers march on their stomachs, so enjoy it! Hospitality is paramount to Armenians, so when you’re waddling along with a belly as heavy as your backpack, you’ve likely made your hosts very happy. 

As a solo female traveler, I was regularly taken in by families who fed and housed me, and let me shower in their homes (a true luxury). Men may be less likely to be invited to stay, though everyone can expect to be well-fed. While women hiking alone are a common sight in the Armenian countryside, use your best judgment and common sense about accepting hospitality along the way.

Step 5: Consider doing just a small section

You’ll see plenty if you only have a week

Many of us don’t have the luxury of taking months of vacation, and even in four weeks I didn’t complete the full length of the TCT’s Armenian section. If you’ve only got a week, I recommend the Gegham Mountains, a green moonscape of remote lakes in volcanic craters, nomadic, yurt-dwelling shepherd families and frequent violent flash storms. It’s the highest part of the Armenian trail – and its wide-open spaces give you a nice (natural!) high, too.

Cliffs in Dilijan National Park, Armenia A journey along the rugged Transcaucasian Trail turns any hiker into an explorer © Tom Allen / Transcaucasian Trail Armenia

If I could do it again…

I’d do it the same way. On a hike of any length here, the trail is your classroom.

Set aside your preconceptions of what it’s like to do a thru-hike. So you’ve done the GR20? Fantastic: since you’re clearly in great physical shape, much of the TCT won’t be so tough on your body. But instead of a well-marked trail expect lots of bushwhacking, and no cold beer afterwards. Hiked the PCT? Wonderful: you’ve got stamina and are accustomed to being self-sufficient. But expect to multiply the solitude you experienced by a huge factor. On the TCT you can go days without seeing a human face – and when you do, you can expect a large language barrier to contend with. 

Most of all, enjoy it. Hiking Armenia is an education about an ancient, rich civilization, and a place that sees comparatively little footfall. A journey here turns you into an explorer.


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