Lefka Ori, the Cretan White Mountains with Peaks, Gorges, and Plateaux

Lefka Ori (or White Mountains) in Crete are a UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserve site. You will find this stunning mountain range in the region of Chania in western Crete. Hikers as well as bird lovers enjoy Lefka Ori both during summer and winter. If you are looking for species of larger birds like vultures and eagles, you have come to the right place.

View towards Lefka Ori from Aptera village in Chania region, Crete Greece
View of Lefka Ori from Aptera village in Chania region

Where is the mountain range Lefka Ori?

Map of Chania region in Crete, Greece
Map of Chania region and Lefka Ori in Crete – Coordinates: 35°17′33″N 24°02′00″E – Click map to enlarge

What did the White Mountains get their name from?

Goat and view towards Lefka Ori from Aptera village in Chania region, Crete Greece
The Lefka Ori seen from Aptera village in Chania region

Lefka Ori (meaning “White Mountains”) or Madarés (from Cretan Greek meaning “without coverage, bald, bare of any vegetation for high mountain areas”) is a mountain range located in Western Crete, in Chania prefecture. The White Mountains or Lefka Ori occupy a good part of the centre of West Crete and are the main feature of the region. They consist mainly of limestone, from light grey to bluish or black color. The “White Mountains” have got their name from the perpetual white or off white color of their peaks as the off white of limestone during the summer and fall interchanges with the snow that covers the peaks until late in spring.

How high are the White Mountains in Crete?

The highest summit is Páchnes with 2,453 m (8,048 ft) and the range has more than 30 summits that are over 2,000 m (6,562 ft). The Lefka Ori have about 50 gorges as well, the most famous being the Samaria Gorge. Another characteristic of the mountain range is that there are a number of plateau that exist at heights of 500–1,100 metres (1,640–3,609 ft), such at those of Askifou, Impros, Kallikratis, Anopolis, and Omalos which are all surrounded by mountains.

How to reach Lefka Ori?

Greek village in Crete with the White Mountains on the backdrop, Greece
Greek village in Crete with the White Mountains on the backdrop, Greece

There are only a few main roads leading into the White Mountains. From the North the roads to Omalos and the entrance of the Samaria Gorge and the road to Chora Sfakion through the plateau of Askifou further to the east. There are other approaches from the west from Sougia and Paleochora leading to Omalos as well as approaches from northeast from Argyroupoli – Asi Ghonia and from Plakias-Frangokastello along the southern coast in the East. There are also a few other minor roads leading to higher altitudes.

Xyloskalo, which is the steep stone pathway bordered with wooden rails where Samaria gorge starts, Chania region Crete

Samaria Gorge


The high desert in the White Mountains

The White Mountains in Chania region, Crete Greece - Photo by Y. Skoulas
The “bald” White Mountains – Photo by Y. Skoulas

The central and southern part of the Lefka Ori lying at an altitude of 1,800 m (5,906 ft) and above resembles a “moon landscape”. This is technically called a high desert. It is unique for the northern hemisphere.

Refuges in the Cretan White Mountains

Sheep flock at the high plateau of Omalos in the White Mountains (Lefka Ori) of Western Crete, Greece
Sheep flock at the high plateau of Omalos in the White Mountains

There are four refuges in Lefka Ori. The Volikas Refuge was built in 1958. It is located above the village Kampi Keramion, at an altitude of 1,450 metres (4,757 ft). It can accommodate up to 30 persons. The Kallergi Refuge was built in 1970. Its altitude is 1,650 m (5,413 ft) and it can accommodate 45 persons. It is located 5 km (3.1 mi) from Omalos. The Tavris Refuge was built in 1992 and it is located near Ammoudari, 7.5 km (4.7 mi) from Askyfou, at 1,200 metres (3,937 ft). It can accommodate up to 45 persons. The Svourichti Refuge was built in 1994. It is located seven hours from Anopolis at 1,980 m (6,496 ft) and it can accommodate 20 persons.

Tourists hiking in gorge, Crete Greece

Samaria the Lazy Way


Caves in Lefka Ori

The Lefka Ori has a rich history as a hide out for rebels during the Cretan uprisings against the Venetian and Ottoman rulers, as well as during the German Occupation (1941–1945).
The Lefka Ori are home to both caves in Greece with depths greater than one kilometer, Gourgouthakas and the Cave of the Lion.