Hiking in the Crimean Terrains – an Experience Out of the Ordinary. a Must for the Nature Lovers

There are few places on Earth that have so many diverse hiking and biking opportunities in such a small area as in Crimea. A multitude of micro-climates and micro-ecosystems and an abundance of roads, trails, and historical objects make Crimea a very interesting place to explore. However, the vast majority of hikers and cyclists visit the mountain part of Crimea which is south of Simferopol. The rest of the peninsula is flat and quite monotonous.As elsewhere in Ukraine, there are rules for visiting Crimea’s wilderness areas and these rules can sometimes be unduly harsh, but they are poorly enforced. Mainly this applies to the Crimean Nature Reservation Area.

The Crimean Nature Reservation area is located to the northeast of Yalta and includes the highest point on the peninsula, Roman Kosh (1545 meters), and a beautiful 77 km long automobile road through forests and mountain pastures. This area is completely off-limits to the public except for special visits, accompanied by forest rangers, which must be approved by the reserve’s headquarters in Alushta. They do not give permission to hikers. Nonetheless, stalwart backpackers continue to visit this area and forest rangers only patrol a certain section of the road and are relaxed enforcing the rules. Backpackers trade know-how on visiting this area and avoiding rangers at the Crimea Mountain rescue service forum.

Camping is formally allowed only in certain places which are called “turstoyanki” or ??????????. In most cases they are marked on topographical maps as a “?/?”. Camping in unauthorized locations is also common, though formally forbidden. Open fires are only allowed at turstoyanki areas.

The main starting points for hikers are mostly the cities Simferopol and Bakhchisaray, both cities are connected by train to the major cities of Ukraine such as Lviv, Kiev, Kharkov, and Donetsk. Other towns with train access are Sevastopol and Feodosiya which are somewhat less popular with hikers because the mountains are further away. The South Shore is not accessible by train, so backpackers usually begin on the north side of the mountains and work their way to the south, then take a bus back to the train station and head home.

If you’re not sure where you plan to end your trip and get on the train, and you’re going to be hiking in southwest Crimea, buy a return ticket from Sevastopol. That way you can get on at any stop between Sevastopol and Simferopol. Train tickets are best bought a week or two in advance during summer months.

The South Shore of Crimea from Balaklava to Sudak, has a near-Mediterranean climate, with nice dry air most of the time, sunny summers, and temperatures moderated by breezes from the Black Sea. The rest of the peninsula has a moderate continental climate with more extreme temperatures. The mountain plateaus above 800 meters which are called yayla, have a climate of their own that is extremely unpredictable. The weather may change many times during the day, and hail is common in the summer, blizzards in the winter, and strong gusts of wind at all times of year.

Generally speaking, the western half of the Crimean Mountains from Foros to a bit beyond Alushta are well-watered, while those to the east of Alushta are drier, and those east of Sudak even more dry. The flat areas of Crimea to the north of Simferopol are all semi-arid. The greenest areas of Crimea are the mountain slopes around Yalta and the mountains directly south of Simferopol and Bakhchisaray. The mountain plateaus actually receive the most precipitation (up to 1000 mm a year), but have much less forest cover and so can seem hotter and drier, especially when the sun is out.

The high tourist season in Crimea is July and August. If you are hiking around Crimea’s South Shore, these months are best avoided because of the crowds and the heat. The months April to June and September to early November are ideal times for hiking. Crimea is also flooded with backpackers and vacationers during the May holidays , which are the first ten days of May.

Snow is possible in Crimea from November to April, but usually only the mountains have stable snow cover in the periods January-February or December-March above 600m. The high plateaus have patches of snow into early May. Crimea in the wintertime can be quite cold, down to -10 C.

I have will go through some popular hiking destinations which you can explore, and also give you some tips for these destinations.

Experience the Grand Canyon (400-800 m), by starting from Sokolinoe , take a bus from Bakhchisaray or Simferopol. There is a small entrance fee, but you will have to wait for the ranger finding you.

Going to Ay-Petri Plateau and Ay-Petri Mt. (1234 m), by initiate your trip from Yalta by minibus from the bus station, or by aerial tram from Miskhor to the south, take bus there from Yalta or Sevastopol, or alternatively from Sokolinoe or Grand Canyon area to the north. There are no buses, but cars drive up to the pass. You have to be aware of long waiting time at aerial tram in summer which could be up to 2-3 hours.

To see the Babugan Plateau and Roman Kosh Mt. (1545 m), you first have to be aware of that his site is officially closed to public. You start on foot from Gurzuf , which you get to by taking bus from Yalta or Alushta. It is a 1200 m elevation difference from Gurzuf to the top. Some routes may involve avoiding forest rangers, since area is off limits.

To get to Chatyr-Dag Plateau and Eklizi-Burun Mt. (1527 m) you start from either Angarskyy pass by the road from Simferopol to Alushta and Yalta, by trolleybus or minibus. Or you start from Perevalnoe village (same road, but nearer to Simferopol), this is a 800 m elevation trip.

To experience the Demerdzhi Plateau, North Demerdzhi Mt. (1356 m) and South Demerdzhi Mt. (1239 m), Valley of the Ghosts, you can start from either Angarskyy pass which is on the road from Simferopol to Alushta and Yalta, or Perevalnoe village, 3. Luchistoe village which you get to by bus from Alushta.

Karabi Plateau, Kara-Tau Mt. (1220 m), Tay-Koba Mt. (1259 m) sites can be accessed easiest either from Golovankovka or Krasnoselovka villages by bus from Simferopol to Belogorsk, then by minibus, alternatively from Generalskoe village with bus from Alushta. This is the most remote mountains of Crimea.

Summer temperatures sometimes get as high as 35-40 C, and the heat can be intolerable in exposed places if there is no wind. Often, however, summer temperatures are somewhat lower than in steppe areas of Ukraine because of the moderating influence of the nearby Black Sea. In the warm months, when the sun is out and there is no wind, it can be unbearably hot along the South Shore.

Beware of ticks in the woods of Crimea. They are quite common and theoretically can carry tick-borne encephalitis (or so say the warning signs). It is recommended to wear a hat and have as little exposed skin as possible and to check yourself for ticks every two hours. Don’t freak out about encephalitis, though; a small percentage of ticks carry it, and it is medically treatable.

There is a tax for visiting mountain forest areas which is 2 hryvnias per person per day. However, it is up to the forest ranger that find you and make you pay it. Or you can pay the fee when you register with the Mountain Rescue Service and they will stamp your itinerary sheet so that you don’t have to pay the fee a second time.

Hikers are supposed to register trip itineraries. This procedure is easy since the Rescue Service is only loosely tied to the government and is quite innovative sometimes, and simply involves filling out a paper stating how many people are in your group and where you plan to be each day, and the name and home address of hike participants. No passport information, visa numbers, etc. You turn this paper in at any of the Mountain Rescue Service posts and get an “approved” stamp. These posts are in locations that most hikers pass through anyways, so you can drop by the post right after you get off the train in Simferopol, Bakhchisaray, or other locations. Unfortunately, some trains get in early in the morning before the offices open. If you run into forest rangers and other official nature supervisors, they are authorized to ask for an authorized itinerary. A small fee of 1 or 2 hryvnias per person, depending on where you register is charged for registration. You are supposed to report in at the end of the trip to confirm your completion of the itinerary.

The itinerary form can also be downloaded and sent be e-mail. In this case you would need to bring the completed form in person, tell them the registration number you received by e-mail, pay the fee, and get a stamp. There is a special post 200 meters from the Simferopol train station especially for itinerary registration that operates from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. all days of the week. Supposedly the procedure is quick.

We hope you will take the opportunity to explore the Cirmean region by foot or biking. It is really a new experience, and you are bound to find something you never have seen before in your life.