4 June 2024.

 

The hike to Drakolimni or the Dragon Lake of Tymfi is among the most epic in Zagori and should not be missed. This comprehensive hiking guide covers everything you need to know for the visit. 

Perched in a shallow basin along the dramatic cliffs of the Tymfi massif, Drakolimni or Dragon Lake is undoubtedly one of the best hikes in Zagori.

Guiding you from the charming village of Mikro Papingo, through verdant beech forests, across alpine meadows and sweeping valleys frequented by skittish chamois, past a remote mountain refuge to the clifftop lake beyond, all beneath the imposing Towers of Astraka, this incredible trail should be on every hikers itinerary.

As you emerge on the high alpine plateau, the vivid greens that colour most of Zagori give way to stark rocky cliffs reminiscent of the Italian Dolomites, where the epic peaks of Astraka and Gamila soar overhead.

drakolimni hike. dragon lake of tymfi. zagori greece.

Surprisingly, this isn’t the only Dragon Lake in Greece, or even in the Epirus region, with around half a dozen claiming the same name scattered across the mountain ranges of the country. Many are woven in ancient folklore of dragons clashing between the peaks, and in landscapes like those surrounding the Dragon Lake of Tymfi, the tales are all too fitting.

This Dragon Lake hike isn’t technical or particularly challenging, but it is almost entirely uphill for the 4 hour slog required to reach the lake with more than 1,000m in altitude gain so a good level of fitness is essential.

This comprehensive hiking guide covers all the details you’ll need for the incredible Drakolimni hike.

drakolimni hike. dragon lake of tymfi. zagori greece.
drakolimni hike. dragon lake of tymfi. zagori greece.
Dragon Lake / Drakolimni Details

Distance   |   16.6 km return

Duration   |   6 to 8 hours

Difficulty   |   Moderate

Elevation   |   970 m to 2,050 m altitude

Trailhead   |   Here

How to get to Get To Mikro Papingo

The trail to Dragon Lake begins from the charming village of Mikro Papingo behind the Taxiarchon Church.

If you’re travelling from outside the mountains, the closest city is Ioannina which lies 60 kilometres to the south.

From within Zagori, navigate to the beautiful village of Aristi and follow the signs to Papingo, taking the Kalpakiou-Papigkou Road into the valley, crossing the stunning Voidomatis River and then climbing back up the famous Aristi – Papingo switchbacks that lead into the mountains.

Continue through the winding laneways of Megalo Papingo and you’ll arrive at Mikro Papingo a few minutes later.

The road is narrow but is paved the entire way except for a short cobbled section in Megalo Papingo.

Mikro Papingo has limited parking but you’ll find a small gravel area behind the Taxiarchon Church where you can leave your car (located here) or along the main road at the fork in the centre of town (located here).

taxiarchon church. mikro papingo. drakolimni hike. dragon lake of tymfi. zagori greece.

From the parking area behind the church, follow the cobblestone path that passes next to the information centre and turn left to follow the trail that leads out the back of the village. You’ll see a large green sign at the junction to direct you.

 

FIND YOUR RENTAL CAR  //  There is next to no public transport in the region so you’ll definitely need your own car to reach Papingo, as well as the many small villages, bridge and hikes nearby. Compare the best rates for rental cars here.

mikro papingo. drakolimni hike. dragon lake of tymfi. zagori greece.

Another option if you’re in Megalo Papingo without a car, such as those on a multi-day hike, is to walk between the two villages to reach the trailhead.

This does mean you’ll mostly be walking on the road, but there’s a pretty forest trail along one section that leads the Loli or Lakkou Bridge and you can also stop by the magical Papingo Rock Pools on your way back. Keep in mind though that this will add about 4 kilometres to an already long day of hiking.

Where to Stay For Dragon Lake

Papingo, which has various versions of spelling, is separated into two villages – Megalo and Mikro, large and small – which are located 2 kilometres apart.

Both have a phenomenal setting nestled beneath the Towers of Astaka and are among the most charming in Zagori where you’ll find a tangle of cobbled laneways, stonework draped in fuchsia bougainvillea and grape vines and some of the warmest hospitality you’ll find anywhere in the Greece.

They were easily among my favourite Zagori villages and I’d highly recommend spending at least one night here to enjoy the tranquility of the mountains, the spectacular setting and the many nearby hiking trails which beg to be explored.

Both villages have a parking area as you arrive in town where visitors are often advised to leave their vehicles rather than attempting to navigate the tight cobbled streets and it’s worth considering this when choosing your accommodation.

There’s a large parking area as you arrive to Megalo, while parking in Mikro is much more limited as mentioned above.

I stayed in Megalo Papingo which has a few more options for both accommodation and dining.  Below are a few of my recommendations for nearby accommodation.

Agriogido – Rupicapra Villas  |  Set beside the main parking area in Papingo Megalo, this small, traditional guesthouse offers spacious, well-equipped rooms with beautiful views of the Towers that rise up across the valley. Great location for exploring the area and the lovely host runs the cafe on site. Check rates and availability here.

Papaevangelou Hotel  |  Tucked in a small cobbled laneway in Papingo Megalo, this top-rated hotel offers charming rooms with natural wood detailing throughout and one of the best views you’ll find in town. Check rates and availability here.

Pinocchio Mikro Papigo  |  This traditional guesthouse offers cosy rooms with some lovely touches spaced around a central courtyard that houses a cafe. The terrace views are wonderful, but there may be some noise when the cafe gets busy. Check rates and availability here.

Mikro Papigo 1700  |  For those after a touch more comfort in the mountains, this boutique hotel offers luxe rooms and access to their full-service spa and in house restaurant which overlooks the sweeping valley. Check rates and availability here.

Hiking To Drakolimni

Peeling out of Mikro Papingo, the cobbled road turns to gravel and begins its climb almost immediately. Over the tree tops, the valley unfolds into distant mountains and the Towers of Astraka loom dramatically overhead, still clinging to the thick tendrils of mist that hang heavy in the cool morning air.

I had been told that there were a number of natural springs along the way and it’s only a few minutes before the Avragonia fountain comes into view, sheltered beneath a stone sanctuary and beside an enormous old oak tree.

drakolimni hike. dragon lake of tymfi. zagori greece.

Onward, it’s not long until the trail retreats into the cool shade of the beech trees that paint these mountains in vivid green where you’ll remain, sheltered by the forest, for the next hour or so of the hike.

Wide, rocky switchbacks guide you forward, tracking back and forth as you make your way up the mountain, and the relentless uphill climb doesn’t let up until you reach the Astraka Refuge on the saddle at 1,950 m altitude.

The path is incredibly well marked for the entire route, often with trail signs or red paint markers at every bend.

drakolimni hike. dragon lake of tymfi. zagori greece.
drakolimni hike. dragon lake of tymfi. zagori greece.

After 1.8 km, you’ll reach the second water fountain of Antalki and a few switchbacks later the trees begin to thin out and you’ll finally emerge above the forest. Gazing over the treetops, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular panoramas over the surrounding landscapes.

The wide valley rolls into distant mountain peaks and the villages of Papingo, Aristi and Vikos stand proudly below on their hilltop perches – a reminder of just how far you’ve climbed.

Just 1.6 km further along, you’ll reach the Trafos fountain and a small shelter which makes a decent spot for a short water break. Thankfully, there are a number of these wooden shelters established along the trail to offer shade and shelter as you make your way higher up the hillside.

drakolimni hike. dragon lake of tymfi. zagori greece.

A short way beyond the fountain, you’ll pass the intersection that leads to Astraka Peak and Provatina Cave – turn left here to continue on to Dragon Lake.

Pushing onwards up the relentless climb, the views only get better and I found myself having to stop constantly for yet another photo and to admire the stunning outlook.

Around 2 hours into the hike, you’ll pass the Krouna fountain and emerge over the first ridgeline where the Astraka Refuge will finally spring into view on the upper saddle.

Up here, the trail thins and meanders across the lush grass of the high alpine hillside before transforming into the grey rock which characterises much of the Tymfi mountain range.

drakolimni hike. dragon lake of tymfi. zagori greece.

Arriving at the refuge, the panoramic views are phenomenal looking back across the Towers of Astraka, the rugged peaks of the Tymfi plateau and the vibrant meadows that carpet the alpine valley ahead.

Small farm huts gleam between the boulders and a black horses graze the verdant pastures. Take a well earned break here before the final push to Dragon Lake which lies just over an hour away.

On the morning of my hike, a severe storm warning had been issued for this area and I had no desire to be caught up here on the exposed plateau during a thunder storm.

By the time I reached the refuge, thick mist was building around the towers but the skies to the west remained reasonably clear allowing me, I hoped, enough time to reach the lake.

drakolimni hike. dragon lake of tymfi. zagori greece.

To the right of the refuge, the path veers downhill sharply and zigzags across a rough, rocky section before flattening out to cross the scree field that cuts across the face of the slope. Longtime readers will know that scree is not my friend, but thankfully the path here is reasonably wide and the rocks relatively stable with very little movement underfoot.

At the base of the valley, the small lake of Xeroloutsa Tsoumani lies before the mighty peak of Astraka, streaked in snow, which soars dramatically overhead and makes for one of the most impressive views of the hike.

At the time of my visit, the lake was a grey milky colour with barely any water to speak of but at certain times of year, if winter has brought a decent amount of snow, the lake sprawls across much of the valley.

As you cross the final section of rocks beside the lake, you’ll notice a small podium on the left and it’s worth scrambling over the rocks here for a beautiful view over the western flank of the mountain.

drakolimni hike. dragon lake of tymfi. zagori greece.

After a brief reprieve of downhill walking, you’ll cross over a small stream where yellow and violet wildflowers speckle the meadows on either side of the path, and then it’s straight back up again along the tiny mountain trail on the other side of the valley.

Pushing upwards, the dirt trail here is muddy and slippery in parts with many smaller trails and erosion lines carving their own path across the mountain.

Before long, you’ll emerge atop the ridge line and arrive at the shores of Dragon Lake on its clifftop perch. Surrounded by greenery and backed by the sheer rock faces of Gamila and Poskos Peaks, it’s hard to imagine a more beautiful spot to end the hike.

drakolimni hike. dragon lake of tymfi. zagori greece.

By this point in my hike, the mist that had followed me for most of the morning was now racing across the peaks and giving way to dark clouds which were rapidly closing in on all sides, obscuring the distant refuge from view. With a low grumble of thunder threatening in the distance, it was time to race back in an attempt to reach the refuge or get back below the tree line before the storm hit.

Unfortunately this meant I didn’t have much time to linger at the glacial lake and was forced to quickly turn back, but if you’re visiting on a clear day, the grassy area surrounding the lake would make a wonderful spot for a picnic lunch and a well deserved break.

I was also recommended to walk to the far side of the lake where you can look out over the edge of the escarpment towards the spectacular Aoos Gorge and along the dramatic peaks of the Tymfi massif.

You may also be lucky enough to catch a chamois darting across the hillside as they often frequent this area of the mountains.

drakolimni hike. dragon lake of tymfi. zagori greece.

Once you’ve had your fill of the views, begin the journey back towards Papingo or the Astraka Refuge if you’re intending to stay overnight to explore the plateau further. After a morning of walking almost entirely uphill, you’ll also be glad to know that, aside from the short ascent to the refuge, it’s virtually downhill for the rest of the way back to the village.

It took me 3.5 hours to reach Dragon Lake with a number of photo stops and water breaks along the way, and 2.5 hours to get back with a short break at one of the shelters to have lunch and escape the worst of the storm.

The recommended hiking time is 8 hours but at a good pace it’s certainly manageable in 6 hours, though I’d suggest allowing additional time to spend beside the lake.

drakolimni hike. dragon lake of tymfi. zagori greece.
Things To Know Before Hiking To Dragon Lake

There are four natural springs along the trail

 

I was told by many locals about the abundance of natural springs along the Drakolimni hike. In fact, many suggested I only take a small amount of water and just fill up along the way to lighten my backpack.

You’ll pass four natural springs that have been fashioned into fountains – Avragonia (0.68 km), Antalki (1.78 km), Trafos (3.66 km) and Kouna (5.02 km). However, not all the springs have the same volume of water supply. Trafos for example was barely dripping during my visit.

While it’s definitely a good idea to fill up along the way, make sure you have enough water after leaving Antalki to last you until Dragon Lake and for the return journey in case the higher springs are not flowing.

avragonia fountain. drakolimni hike. dragon lake of tymfi. zagori greece.

Always take a hiking map with you

 

The trail and the water fountains are clearly marked on Google Maps and Maps.Me as far as the Astraka Refuge and onwards to Dragon Lake.

Maps.Me, which I use on all hikes, also shows the many other trails that gross the Tymfi massif so I’d highly recommend downloading this region for use offline.

drakolimni hike. dragon lake of tymfi. zagori greece.
drakolimni hike. dragon lake of tymfi. zagori greece.

Dragon Lake is linked to many areas of Zagori

 

Dragon Lake is one of the more popular hikes in the area, but something I didn’t realise is that it can be reached on foot from almost all sides of the Tymfi plateau.

While the ascent from Papingo is the shortest and easiest route, as you explore Zagori more widely, you may also notice hiking signs for Drakolimni from Vradeto, Vikos and Stomio Monastery to name a few.

For anyone planning to do a multi-day hiking circuit across the wider Zagori region, Dragon Lake can definitely be added to the route and combined with many other spectacular trails that link the high alpine plateau and the villages of Zagori located at lower altitudes.

During summer when the Astraka Refuge is open (more on this below), access to many of the high alpine hiking trails is far easier, however you can also bring your own camping equipment in order to spend the night elsewhere amongst the mountains.

drakolimni hike. dragon lake of tymfi. zagori greece.

Be prepared for all weather

 

I was warned to be particularly careful with the weather on the Tymfi plateau as it can race in quickly and often unexpectedly because you can’t see it brewing behind the surrounding peaks until it hits.

Particularly in the valley between the Astraka Refuge and Dragon Lake, you’re surrounded by mountains on three sides and have very little visibility and wouldn’t want to get caught out here where there is next to no shelter.

Be sure to check the weather before setting out and bring appropriate protective clothing with you just in case. Even if the rain holds off, the wind racing up the valley can also be brutal so warm and waterproof clothing is essential.

drakolimni hike. dragon lake of tymfi. zagori greece.

Extend Your Stay With A Night At Astraka Refuge

 

The Astraka Refuge sits at 1,950m and holds an incredible position along the saddle between Astraka and Lapatos Peaks.

Once you’ve made it to the Tymfi plateau, there are plenty of high alpine trails to explore and spending a night or two at the Astraka Refuge makes these trails easily accessible without the need to carry all your camping equipment with you.

The refuge is operated by the Hellenic Federation of Mountaineering and Climbing and is usually open from late May to early October. You’ll find affordable dormitory-style accommodation with an onsite restaurant for meals. A sleeping sheet or sleeping bag is essential for all guests.

drakolimni hike. dragon lake of tymfi. zagori greece.

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