Theth To Valbona Hike In The Albanian Alps
The Theth to Valbona Hike in the Albanian Alps is a day hike worthy of a spot on any hiker’s bucket list. Connecting two spectacular national parks in Albania—Theth and Valbona Valley National Parks—it winds its way over mountain passes, across beautiful alpine meadows, and underneath towering peaks.
As far as hiking in Albania and the Balkans goes, this village-to-village trail is the cream of the crop. In addition to exploring the country’s unique towns, such as Shkoder, Tirana, and Saranda in the south, an adventure in the ominous-sounding Accursed Mountains rounds off the ultimate Albania travel experience. Afterward, you can relax and rest up at one of Albania’s glorious beaches.
In this post, you’ll find everything you need to know about hiking the Theth to Valbona trail, including how to get there, where to stay, a recommended itinerary, and other tips for hiking in the Albanian Alps.
Hiking The Theth-Valbona Trail: An Overview
Historically a mule trail through the Albanian mountains, a wild landscape of jagged summits, deep valleys, and forested slopes, the route links two villages—Theth and Valbona—which are the gateways to their respective national parks.
You can hike this one-way trail in either direction, from Theth to Valbona or from Valbona to Theth. In this post, we’ll outline the journey from Theth to Valbona. (To hike in the other direction, reverse the route.)
This is one of the most spectacular day hikes in the Balkans, a popular trek that requires a bit of planning and preparation. Even though it’s “just” a day hike, that doesn’t mean the whole journey is a day trip, too. The Theth-Valbona hike is actually a part—and the highlight—of a multi-day trip around the Albanian Alps.
Theth is a relatively remote mountain village, located deep in northern Albania’s mountains, so you’ll have to take a bus there. The most common Theth to Valbona hike itinerary (see below) is a loop that involves buses, the hike itself, and a boat ride.
Since it’s a one-way journey, we don’t recommend using a rental car to do this—in this rare case, public transportation offers much more freedom and less hassle.
When you get to Theth, there are a couple of other day hikes in the area you can (and should!) do. This is why we recommend spending at least two days in the village before starting your Theth to Valbona hike.
In Theth, definitely make an effort to hike up to Denelle and back and do the day hike to the famous Blue Eye. Both are amazing hikes in Albania, too, and some you won’t want to miss when you’re in the area. Another point of interest is the Grunas Waterfall.
Theth To Valbona Hike
When you’re done exploring the greater Theth area, it’s time to hit the Theth to Valbona trail. The trailhead is pointed out clearly in the center of Theth, and you shouldn’t have any trouble locating it.
The first section of the trail is a gradual and strenuous climb toward Valbona Pass, the trail’s highest point. This part will take about three hours, but there are plenty of places to take a break, including viewpoints and even two cafés with water, coffee, and food.
Once you reach Valbona Pass, don’t forget to look back to the way you came. The views from the pass are sensational, but you can also follow a short gravel path to the right, which leads to the true summit and offers even better views. Spend some time enjoying the panorama—this is one of the most incredible mountain views in the Balkans!
The trail leads back downhill from the pass, again at a gradual—and gentler—level. After less than an hour, you’ll come across a third café, another excellent stopping point where you can fill up your water bottle.
The last part is relatively easy and along a flat trail and riverbed. You’ve finished the Theth to Valbona hike when you arrive at a paved road in the town of Valbona.
From the point where the trail hits the road, you might have to walk a couple more kilometers along that road to reach your accommodation. This is another reason why you should put some thought into your Theth-Valbona hike beforehand.
Choosing your accommodation carefully could prevent you from having to walk more after finishing the actual hike. See below for recommended Valbona accommodation options.
The Valbona Valley is a fantastic place to wind down after your long trek through the Albanian Alps. Bisected by a wide-banked river, this is an oasis of peace, quiet and stunning scenery. Spend the night in town before making your way back south.
Our Recommended 4-Day Theth To Valbona Hike Itinerary
Like we said above, while the Theth to Valbona hike is “only” a day hike, the entire trip takes much longer. We recommend allocating four days to this Albanian Alps excursion to make the most of the journey and not skip major highlights.
- Day 1: Travel from Shkodra to Theth + hike to Denelle / overnight in Theth
- Day 2: Hike to the Blue Eye of Theth (possibly including the Grunas Waterfall) / overnight in Theth
- Day 3: Theth to Valbona hike/overnight in Valbona
- Day 4: Travel from Valbona to Shkodra
Theth To Valbona Hike FAQ
What Is The Best Time To Hike From Theth To Valbona?
In winter, the Accursed Mountains are covered with a thick blanket of snow, making virtually all mountain travel either a challenge or impossible. The optimal period to do the Theth to Valbona hike is from May through September.
The trail is completely open from late spring to early fall, while the weather is at its kindest toward hikers. Note, however, that even in summer, these rugged mountains see occasional heavy rainfall and even thunderstorms. It’s smart to check the weather forecast before you start this trip.
How Long Is The Theth-Valbona Hike?
The Theth to Valbona trail is about 17 kilometers long. Most people complete the hike from Theth to Valbona in 7-8 hours, including stops at the cafés and regular breaks to enjoy the breathtaking landscapes. It’s the perfect day hike in the Albanian Alps.
What To Pack For a Theth To Valbona Hiking Trip?
Because your Theth to Valbona hiking trip will take at least four days, you should think about what you need and don’t need. Leave everything that’s not 100% necessary at your accommodation in Shkoder; take only what’s essential for hiking in the Albanian Alps.
Some absolute necessities include the following:
- Sturdy hiking boots
- Insulating rain jacket
- Sunglasses, sunscreen, and a hat
- Reusable water bottle
- Only essential toiletries (guesthouses will have shampoo and soap)
- Cash (see below)
- Extra underwear and socks
- Snacks and lunch materials (see below)
How Can I Travel To/From Theth?
Although Theth is a remote mountain village, getting there from Shkoder is surprisingly convenient. If you’re wondering how to get from Shkoder to Theth, the answer almost couldn’t be simpler.
Almost all guesthouses and hostels in Shkoder provide transportation from Shkoder to Theth in Albania. If you’d like them to arrange your transfer, see them at the reception the night before, and you’ll have your seat in no time.
You’ll typically get picked up between 7.15, and 7.30 am. The Shkoder-Theth bus or van trip on the adventurous Theth Albania road, the only road to Theth, takes about 3 hours. We do recommend double-checking the Shkoder to Theth bus timetable at your accommodation the night before your departure.
How Can I Travel To/From Valbona?
After hiking the Theth-Valbona trail, the trip back from Valbona to Shkoder is via beautiful Komani Lake. From your accommodation in Valbona, it’s a 1.5-hour drive to Komani Lake, which can, again, be arranged by your accommodation.
The bus will drop you off right at the ferry port in Fierze. The ferry ride across the lake is gorgeous, so make sure to get outside and enjoy the scenery. This part takes approximately 2 hours.
At the port of Koman, several buses will take you straight back to Shkoder. This 2-hour drive will put you back at your Shkoder accommodation in the late afternoon.
Again, you can—and should—book your transportation from Valbona to Shkoder the night before. You can also book your bus and ferry tickets yourself weeks in advance for more peace of mind.
Accommodation In Theth
Theth is home to various guesthouses, comfortable places to get a great night’s sleep and enjoy tasty belly-filling dinners after a long day of hiking in Albania. Here are some top-rated options:
- Guesthouse Gjin Thana
- Gurra Family Guesthouse
- Bujtina Berishta Theth
Accommodation In Valbona
Valbona, too, has its fair share of guesthouse and hotel options. It’s crucial here, however, to find accommodation close to the end of the trail to avoid having to walk all the way across town after your hike. These are our suggestions:
- Hotel Margjeka
- Guesthouse Jezerca
- Guesthouse Lazer Cardaku
Some More Theth-Valbona Hiking Tips And Info
You’ll find plenty of water in the towns of Theth and Valbona, as well as several cafés on the Theth-Valbona trail. Take a water bottle, fill it up at those locations, and you’ll be just fine.
There are no ATMs in either Theth or Valbona, so it’s essential to withdraw enough cash before leaving Shkodra to cover expenses like accommodation, food, drinks, transportation…
While you can do the there-and-back day hikes from Theth with just a daypack (and leave the bulk of your stuff at your accommodation), the actual Theth to Valbona hike is a one-way journey.
Remember that you’ll need to take your full backpack on this hike, so it’s recommended not to bring too much. A great option is leaving the things you don’t need at your accommodation in Shkoder for the days you’re gone.
In summer, hiking in Albania probably involves hiking in bright sunshine (although some rain showers are always possible, too). Don’t forget to slop on a sunscreen layer and wear a hat on sunny days to avoid getting a nasty sunburn. Clear skies combined with the high elevation can cause you to get sunburned faster. Protect yourself!
There aren’t many places you can stock up on food in Theth, so you’re encouraged to buy most of what you’ll need in Shkoder. This includes hiking snacks like granola bars, nuts, and fruits and some easy lunch materials such as bread, peanut butter, jams, and the like.
This is a good idea because you don’t want to spend your time in Theth walking around to find a store—remember you won’t have any transportation but your own feet there.
On the Theth-Valbona trail, you can also grab some food at the cafés on the way, which are super-convenient stopping points. They also have a selection of beverages. However, bring enough food to sustain you throughout the entire Theth to Valbona hike since there’s no guarantee the cafés will actually be open when you’re there.
As far as dinner goes, the best guesthouses in Theth and Valbona serve hearty and sizable meals to refuel after those days hiking in the Albanian Mountains.
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Beware that Theth and Valbona have become the most frequented mountain tourism destinations in the region. With 70.000 and 120.000 visitors per year overtourism is on the verge of doing more harm than good. While this may not apply to a Corona year, the dark sides of tourism became more visible than ever in 2019. Reverse back to 2005 and Theth received the first 300 visitors, four guesthouses offered a room or two with beds, an outhouse and improvised shower to curious guests. Today almost every house of the village has a guesthouse sign and many have capacity for over 50 people. Power and water consumption as well as the production of greywater and trash have risen exponentially. The honor of hosting a guest has become a daily routine, Albanian hospitality is slowly turning into a regular commercial transaction as the few visitors that made it there have grown into regular weekend invasions. It’s time to look beyond promoting two villages in a country that is full of hiking opportunities.
Besides Theth and Valbona the Albanian Alps feature the Kelmend Region (Vermosh, Lepushe, Nikc, Selce…), Nikaj Mertur (Curraj i Eperm, Vrane…) and Gjakova Highlands (Cerem, Doberdol, Sylbice…). Consider the Peaks of the Balkans Trail or leave the beaten path beyond to explore the High Scardus Trail (mainly area near Peshkopi) on the Eastern border with Northern Macedonia. In spring and autumn the Southern Highlands offer multi-day treks around Permet and Zagoria Valley, the coastal backcountry’s “Mysterious South”, namely the Kurvelesh Region with Shushica Valley (Terbac, Vranisht, Kallarat, Kuc…) and Nivice and Progonat Canyons but also the Ceraunian Coastal Mountains encompassing the Llogara National Park and a network of paths all along the Albanian Riviera.
I’m one of the co-founders of Zbulo! Discover Albania, we’re offering active adventures across the country and beyond. Our team helped create the Peaks of the Balkans and High Scardus Trail linking the most attractive regions of Albania, Kosovo, Northern Macedonia and Montenegro but also including previously unknown locations to spread visitors more equally across the region. We have marked many a trail and worked with publishers like English Cicerone and German Rother to produce hiking guides that make it easier for individuals to travel the country. Please consider the many other beautiful and amazing destinations that are welcoming visitors with true Albanian hospitality.
Hi, thanks for such a detailed explanation. My husband and I are planning to do this hike at the end of September with our dog (golden retriever), so I would like to ask you whether the transport (4×4, ferry, minibus) is pet-friendly?
Yes they are!
Beware of the stray dogs in Albania.
Hi! Can we drive from Shroder to Theth? Read that the roads may not be suitable for a normal car but just wondering if the conditions may be better now for a mini.
They made proper road last year (2021) and you can travel there by all cars.
Hi! Can the Theth To Valbona Hike In The Albanian Alps be made in late November? Or too snowy and cold. Want to see the sites but not be miserably wind blown and cold.