The Vikos–Aoos National Park is a national park in the periphery of Epirus in northwestern Greece. The park, founded in 1973, is one of ten national parks in mainland Greece and is located 30 kilometers north of the city of Ioannina in the northern part of the Pindus mountain range. It is named after the two major gorges of the area and encompasses 12,600 hectares (31,135 acres) of mountainous terrain, with numerous rivers, lakes, caves, deep canyons, dense coniferous and deciduous forest. The park is part of the Natura 2000 ecological network and one of UNESCO Geoparks and spans an elevation range from 550 to 2,497 meters (1,800 to 8,192 ft). Over 100,000 people visit the park each year and take part in activities including rafting, canoe-kayaking, hiking and mountain biking.
Coordinates: 39°58′10″N 20°43′41″E
The core of the park, an area of 3,400 hectares, comprises the spectacular Vikos Gorge, carved by the Voidomatis river. The gorge’s main part is 12 km long and attains a depth of 1,000 meters . The Aoös gorge, mount Tymfi (2,497 meters) at Gamila peak), and a number of traditionally preserved settlements form the park’s peripheral zone. The park’s remoteness and relatively small human population, combined with the great variation of biotopes and microclimatic conditions favors the existence of a rich variety of flora (1,800 species) in the area. Vikos–Aoös National Park supports a wide diversity of fauna, with a plethora of large mammals such as the brown bear, for which the park is one of the last European strongholds, and a variety of natural habitats and ecosystems that rank it among the most valuable parks for nature conservation in Greece.
The first evidence of human presence in the area is dated between 17,000 and 10,000 years ago. The area of the park has been sparsely populated throughout historical times, however from the 17th to the 19th century the local communities of Zagori acquired an autonomous status, flourished economically due to increased trade, and became a major center of folk medicine. In recent decades, ecotourism is seen as a remedy to the economic decline of heavily depopulated local settlements, while preserving the natural environment and local architecture.
Vikos Gorge is located on the southern slopes of mount Tymfi. Its main part is located between the villages of Vikos and Monodendri and attains a depth of about 1,000 m (3,281 ft), with a southeast-northwest direction. The landscape of the 20 km (12 mi) long gorge, 12 km (7 mi) which belongs to the park’s core zone, presents a diverse relief and is characterized by abrupt changes in altitude. At one point the gorge measures 900 m (2,953 ft) deep and 1,100 m (3,609 ft) wide from rim to rim, and as a result is listed by the Guinness Book of Records as the deepest canyon in the world in proportion to its width, though some gorge lobbyists contest that claim. Steep slopes and precipitous rocky cliffs dominate in the middle and higher zones respectively. Numerous gullies dissect both sides of the gorge and the weathering action of water down its walls creates extended screes.
The Vikos Gorge has been carved over millions of years by the Voidomatis river, a tributary of the Aoös. The Voidomatis is mostly seasonal, with year-round flow occurring only in the lower part of the gorge. Due to its nature, the area of the gorge is precipitous and impassable most of the year.
In the northern part of the Park, and very close to the town of Konitsa, the Aoös river passes through channels formed by the bulges of the nearby mountains of Trapezitsa 2,022 m (6,634 ft), Tymfi and Raidovouni 1,957 m (6,421 ft), creating another gorge that is 10 km (6 mi) long. The canyon has an east-west direction and features numerous stone single-arched bridges from the 17th to 19th centuries as well as monasteries built in the local architectural style. It is characterized by the great number of secondary gullies and currents, while the southern part of the gorge is steeper than the northern part. Deep and steep ravines within the perpendicular walls bring down to the Aoös large quantities of limestone-weathering material. The compact dolomite rocks that lie on the bottom of the gorge date to the Early Jurassic period and are the oldest rock formations in the Park. Their age has been determined by means of sea fossils found inside them.
The park’s varied geology and topography have resulted in a unique variety of flora and fauna. There are three main habitat zones: Sub-mediterranean woodland which mainly consists of deciduous broadleaf forests and woodlands and extends up to an elevation of about 1,500 m (4,921 ft). Combined areas of agricultural land with tree hedges and various woodlots, in addition to semi-open shrublands and rocky sites of the lower and middle slopes near human settlements. Uplands with subalpine grasslands and rocky cliffs. This habitat is found above 1,500 m (4,921 ft) altitude and hosts important bird species such as the Mediterranean Golden Eagle.
Vikos–Aoös National Park preserves one of the richest mountain and forest ecosystems in terms of wildlife diversity in Greece. Numerous species of large mammals such as wolves, foxes, wild horses, and roe deer are found in the area year-round. Otters and wild cats live around the area of Tymfi, with the latter being quite rare. The Pindus range, of which Vikos–Aoös is part, is home to the endangered brown bear and lynx, and is also the southernmost point of their European habitat. One of the park’s special attractions is the existence of the Balkan chamois deer (Rupicapra rupicapra balcanica), a rare species that lives at higher altitudes far from human activity, especially at the rocky cliffs of the gorges, for example in Megas Lakos, a secondary ravine of the Vikos Gorge. A total of 121 bird species have been observed in the park, with twenty-six of them being considered of conservation priority.
Vikos-Aoös also contains a variety of suitable habitats that support dense populations of amphibians and reptiles. Vipera ursinii lives in the subalpine meadows and is considered a threatened taxon. The amphibian Alpine Newts (Triturus Alpestris), living in the alpine lakes of the Tymfi region, mostly in Drakolimni, are associated with local folktales of dragons and dragon battles.
Activities in Vikos – Aoös National Park
Birdwatching: Breathtaking scenery, excellent for birdwatching and botany. Best viewed from the “Balcony” above Monodendri. Here you’ll find Woodpeckers, Sombre tits, Rock Buntings, Short-Toed, Booted, and Golden Eagles, Vultures, Common and Honey Buzzards, Alpine Choughs, Alpine Swifts along with Tawny Pipits, Linnet and Shore Lark and more to the higher slopes.
Hiking in Zagori: One of the many routes you can choose from begins from the village Vikos and leads to Mikro Papigo. It is a route of 2 km which is really popular. You begin from Vikos in 760 meters altitude and go down the fine cobbled road until you reach the springs of River Voidomatis.
If it is summertime you will have to put your legs in the water of the river so as to go across and follow another uphill path, which takes you to Mikro Papigo. Though the route is quite short, only 2 km, nevertheless the duration of the walk is about 2 hours because of the uphill road where the hypsometric difference is 700 meters. (read about other routes…)
Rafting and kayaking: The first descent begins from the most photographed part of Zagori. This is not any other but the bridge of Papigo, 1 kilometer from Aristi on the way to Papigo. You will follow a green route in Voidomatis gorge and the route finishes in the bridge of Klidonia. The descent can also be done by kayak, monoraft or inflatable boat. The length of the route is 5 km and the duration of the adventure is about 1,5 hour. Previous experience is not necessary as the water is not impetuous.
This descent addresses people who love this sport and have excellent knowledge and experience. The route begins from Vovousa and finishes in Vrisohori. It is a route whosemain characteristic is the big degree of difficulty and the big length of the descent, which is about 27 kilometres. The duration of the route is about 7-8 hours and it can be done only by kayak or monoraft. Finally, we should say that excellent fitness, perfect knowledge of all the techniques of descent, as well as previous experience in rivers of 4th and 5th degree difficulty are necessary. (read about more routes…)
Mountainbiking: The variety of the geomorphological terrain and the feast of colours create ideal routes for the lovers of mountain bike. Those of you who will not come appropriately equiped will be able to address one of the companies that offer this kind of activities and they will take on to give you the right equipment as well as guide you. (read about the routes…)
Rockclimbing: 4 different ascensions with different degrees of difficult each, challenge your limits…
Route 1: The first route is in the region Astrakas of Zagori and it is a region that is famous for the quality of the climbing field as it gets together big routes in good-quality rocks, where the hypsometric differences reach up to 450 meters. Some of the routes are: Kopsi Triestinon with height of 450 meters, Kopsi of Lost Companions in 400 meters Altitude and Pilie of Rain. Some of them are snow-ice.(read about the other routes…)
Hanggliding – Parapente: Those who know can tell you that it is magical to fly. Those who have not dared yet can taste some of that that magic as “fellow-passengers” in a tandem flight!
Those who have experienced a parapente flight say that it is magical to fly. The fans of the sport say that you feel complete freedom. The truth is that a trip in the sky is a challenge and thousands of stills with beautiful pictures will be kept in your memory. You’ll find schools of theoretical and practical training of parapente near the city of Ioannina in the area Asprangeloi. If you are novices and you want to taste this unique piece of experience you can be part of a tandem flight as a fellow-passenger.
The slopes of Mitsikeli offer suitable ascendants for an extended flight along the slopes. As far as where you will land, we should inform you that the landing takes place in open fields by the National Road Ioannina-Konitsa.