The 2022 season is now complete and we are reviewing feedback from this year’s hikers. A huge thank you to the hikers who participated.
Information on our 2023 thru-hiker support program will be posted in December. Join our mailing list to be the first to know about future opportunities!
We’re seeking intrepid, experienced hikers to thru-hike the new Transcaucasian Trail.
For the past 7 years, we’ve been stitching together routes, building trails, and putting new destinations on the map (literally) across the Caucasus.
Our goal has been to create the most culturally rich and geographically diverse long-distance hiking trail possible across Georgia and Armenia as part of the Transcaucasian Trail.
The result? A challenging and stunning 1,540km thru-hike connecting the Greater and Lesser Caucasus Mountains. The route weaves between high alpine passes, red desert canyons, bucolic meadows, volcanic plateaus, and more, while creating opportunities to meet shepherds, farmers, villagers, ecotourism entrepreneurs, and perhaps even a few trail crews along the way.
In 2022, we welcomed the very first cohort of thru-hikers to test out the new routes in Armenia and Georgia, tweaking and improving the route and supporting information based on their feedback.
Now, in 2023, we’re inviting intrepid hikers to try out the latest iteration of the Transcaucasian Trail through Armenia, Georgia, or both.
At its current stage of development, this route is ideal for experienced hikers who are seeking an adventure few have yet had the privilege to experience—and who don’t mind a few thorns along the way.
If that sounds up your alley, we’re excited to share with you the details of our thru-hiker support program designed to help you get out there and make the most of your trail experience. We’re wildly excited about this route—and, should you embrace the challenge of hiking it, we want to help you have the best experience possible.
In the TCT Trailblazers forum, you’ll be the first to get real-time updates about the route and resources we’ve created to help you plan and successfully complete your hike. Our team members (who designed and tested these routes) will be there throughout the year to provide direct support and advice throughout your planning process, as well as during the hiking season itself. And although you’re unlikely to encounter many fellow hikers on the trail, you won’t be alone: you’ll be joining a vibrant existing community of fellow TCT thru-hikers, including some who hiked the route in 2022.
In short, you’ll get all the support we can offer as one of the first-ever hikers on this new long-distance trail—and you’ll have the opportunity to help shape its future along the way.
Sound like the right challenge for you? Read on.
About the route
The North-South route of the Transcaucasian Trail stretches approximately 1,540km (957 miles) from the northeast corner of Georgia on the Black Sea to the southern border of Armenia with Iran. The route connects two major mountain ranges and traverses continuously rugged terrain. Total elevation gain and loss on the route is over 55,000 meters (181,000 feet). With slight variations in timing, it can be hiked in either direction.
In Armenia, the route traverses the mountainous desert scrub of Arevik National Park, the rocky peaks and forested monasteries of Syunik, the red gorges of Vayots Dzor, the high volcanic Gegham mountains, the rolling hills and cliffs of Tavush, the meadows and canyons of Lori, and the grassy steppe of Shirak.
In Georgia, the route traverses the windswept plateaus of Javakheti, the old-growth forests of Borjomi, the dense hills of Imereti, the wild valleys of Racha, the dramatic high peaks of Svaneti, the alpine lakes of Samegrelo, and finally, the subtropical plains leading to the Black Sea Coast.
An introduction to the Armenia section is already on our website, with additional trail notes and a guidebook coming in 2023. Some sections of the Georgia route are still in development– either via active trail building projects or ongoing scouting efforts– and will change over the next few years, so these sections are not yet public. However, we will share the current iteration of the route (and all the advice we can about how to tackle it) with registered hikers.
Some sections of the route, such as those already on our website, are proper trails that are marked, easy to follow, and somewhat regularly maintained. Other parts of the route (many of which are not yet public) are still off-trail and will require independent route-finding.
The thru-hiking route is a new and evolving route that may change for various reasons, including snow levels, weather, high rivers, rockfall/landslides, and other circumstances beyond our control. Hikers will need to be prepared to adjust accordingly.
In general, the terrain and weather conditions in the Caucasus can be harsh. The elevation gain and loss of this hike– and the steepness of the terrain– should not be underestimated.
While we are actively working to improve trail infrastructure across the region, even the most developed trails in the Caucasus often challenge hikers in ways that the well-groomed trails of North America and Europe do not.
Hikers must be prepared to be self-sufficient for extended sections and aware that emergency medical care and search and rescue are often unavailable.
In short: You must be prepared to navigate off-trail. You must be prepared for overgrown trails, river crossings (including fording fast and cold mountain rivers), bushwhacking, and thorns. Good judgment is essential, and we highly recommend a good sense of humor.
But hikers who come prepared for self-sufficiency, diverse terrain, and off-trail travel will be rewarded with an incredible experience traversing one of the most culturally, linguistically, and geographically diverse parts of the world.
If that sounds like you, here’s how you can join us!
Announcing the TCT Trailblazers: Class of 2023
Welcome to our community of hikers who want to attempt the trail and experience the best scenery the Caucasus have to offer!
Based on feedback from the 2022 cohort who found the Trailblazers program helpful for planning and executing a thru-hiker, we’ve decided to run the TCT Trailblazers for a second year. As the trail continues to grow in length and popularity, we’re eager to support hikers to have the best experience possible.
If you join us, here’s how we’ll help get you ready to tackle the TCT:
- A TCT hikers’ community: You’ll get access to our private Slack channel, where hikers can ask us (and each other) questions, meet potential hiking partners if desired, organize meetups, and share photos and experiences.
- Interactive planning assistance: From January – May, our team will host monthly Zoom meetings, in which we’ll welcome everyone to the Trailblazer team and discuss topics related to trail prep (including logistics, route choices, gear, weather, food, water, people, animals, culture, trail conditions, and more), as well as guest trip reports from past hikers. This will be an opportunity to ask our team questions and to meet fellow hikers.
- GPX tracks and resources: You’ll receive access to the most up-to-date version of the routes and trail notes, including some preliminary draft versions.
- Early access to the Armenia guidebook: In the spring, you’ll get preliminary access to a PDF copy of the new full guidebook for the Armenia section, written by Tom, in advance of its publication. The guidebook includes maps, trail notes, cultural information, guesthouse recommendations, and more.
- Support for individual questions: Although the bulk of conversations will happen in the group Slack channel, for personal or individual questions, we will also be available over Slack DM (keeping in mind that in the summer, responses may be delayed due to fieldwork).
- Updates throughout the summer: We will keep you posted throughout the summer with updates that could affect your hike, such as route updates, trail closures, newly opened trails (based on our trail crews’ progress), and other important information. We’ll also keep you posted on our trail work locations, so you can hopefully meet some members of the team in the field!
- Exclusive TCT thru-hikers’ patch: As a thank you for spending your summer on the TCT and for taking our post-hike survey, we’ll send you a TCT backpack badge. You’ll have earned it!
This route has only become a reality thanks to the community of hikers, donors, partner organizations, and volunteers who have given time and resources to the TCT over the years. If you’re the kind of person who wants to test a brand-new route through the mountains, we’re guessing you’re also the kind of person who also cares about contributing to the trail community. So with that in mind, here’s how we invite you to help shape the TCT’s future:
- Support our work: For all hikers who are able, we ask you to join as a TCTA member. Since we’re a tiny organization, membership contributions and donations are what make it possible for us to dedicate time to provide this level of hiker support, as well as supporting trail building and maintenance to continually improve the trail. We don’t want finances to be a barrier to hiking the trail for anyone, so membership is strongly suggested rather than mandatory. But please do consider honestly whether, if you are taking time off work and coming to a new country to hike, if you can afford to support the work that makes the trail possible.
- Help your fellow hikers: The Slack channel is a great forum to share updates from the trail that can help each other out, such as water sources that may have dried up, good campsites, and other tips. We encourage you to contribute to this community throughout and after your hike.
- Give us feedback: We want to hear your thoughts on the hiking experience! You can help us better prepare future hikers and make changes where needed by letting us know about your experience and what else you think future hikers should know before they attempt the TCT.
- Share your story: We’d love to share your experience of the journey with the TCT audience. Send us your photos, tag us in your social media posts, pitch us your blog post ideas, and let us know what other creative ideas you have and how we can help.
- Spread the word: One of the main goals of the trail is to increase awareness of the Caucasus’ rich natural and cultural heritage—and to encourage more people to come explore it responsibly. We hope you’ll fall in love with the region like we have, and help us get the word out to more hikers around the world.
Ready to join us on the TCT? Here’s how.
First of all: Welcome. We can’t wait to meet you.
Second: Fill out this form. It asks some questions about your past experience. This is purely intended as a way for you to self-assess whether this trail experience will be a good fit and to give us some background information on our hikers so we can help you make the most of your experience. We’ll let you know if we have any major concerns, but ultimately, the assessment is yours to make.
Third: Once you’ve submitted the form, you’ll get a confirmation email from Meagan. Follow the links to join the Slack channel and become a TCTA member.
Lastly: Once you’re in the Slack channel, go ahead and introduce yourself, and start daydreaming about your hike! You’ll hear from us soon about the 2023 call schedule and resources.
Ready to start planning your next big adventure in the Caucasus? Click here to register as a TCT 2023 trailblazer today.
Can I use my thru-hike to raise money to support the trail’s development?
We love this question! Yes, we love seeing hikers finding ways to give back to the trails that make their journeys possible– and it will make a big difference in what we’re able to accomplish next year. If you’re interested in doing a charity hike or running a crowdfunding campaign, we can help you set up a personalized donation page that’s linked to our main donation page. This is also a great strategy if the membership fee is expensive for you but you still want to contribute to the trail’s development. Ask us for more info.
Can’t I just stitch together my own route?
Of course you can. What we’re creating is a community of TCT hikers who want to be engaged in the trail’s development, who want to be some of the earliest hikers on the official route, and who want to benefit from the resources and expertise our team can offer.
How long will it take to thru-hike this route?
The route is roughly 1,540km. The elevation gain and loss is over 55,000 meters. How fast you cover this ground is up to you. A reasonable window to expect is 2-4 months. You’ll be on the shorter end if you prefer to travel light, hike longer days, and cover lots of ground while staying on the main route. You’ll be on the longer end if you prefer to take your time, visit lots of cultural sites along the way, and accept lots of invitations for coffee/wine/vodka. We heartily endorse both methods of travel.
How many people have thru-hiked this route so far?
For the entire Armenia-Georgia route in its current form: as far as we know, no one has continuously thru-hiked the entire route, even after 2022. Before we launched the route, a few impressive people charted their own routes to hike an earlier version of the TCT, and four people thru-hiked the Armenia section in summer 2021. In 2022, several people successfully thru-hiked Armenia, a few thru-hiked Georgia, and a few more hiked very long stretches in both countries. However, we don’t know of anyone that has actually done this full route as a thru-hike yet!
But of course, people have been crossing the Caucasus for millenia. Would any of them have chosen to take the route we’ll send you on? Well… we’ll let you debate that for yourself.
I only want to hike one country / a shorter section / several shorter sections. Can I still join the group?
Yes, you are more than welcome to. While our content and much of the discussion will be focused around people attempting to hike the national sections of Armenia, Georgia, or both, naturally this information will also apply to sections (and everyone can benefit from learning more about trail conditions). If you’re planning to hike on the TCT in 2023 (or later), you are welcome to join.
Who hikes the trail?
In 2022, Trailblazers hikers came from all over the world and ranged from age 18-76. People hiked with partners, with friends, with family members, and solo.
Since many parts of the trail are still relatively unknown, you’re unlikely to meet many other hikers on most sections of the trail. But through the Slack channel, you’ll meet a diverse group of people who share your interest in hiking in the Caucasus.
What permits do I need?
You don’t need any permits to walk most of the TCT, although you do need to check in with the rangers in certain protected areas, and some national parks require a small usage fee.
In Armenia, the two national parks along the border (Arevik National Park and Lake Arpi National Park) have requested that all trail users register in advance. We will provide you information on how to do this online so you don’t have to spend time making in-person visits to park HQs.
In Georgia, you need to have a border permit to be in the border zone along Georgia’s border with Russia. We will provide further instructions on how to obtain a border permit, depending on the hiker’s direction of travel for the section of the trail that this is required for (between Zeskho and Ghebi, Georgia). There is also one section of trail in Borjomi National Park that is currently closed and under construction. If you decide to do this section, we will provide you information on how to obtain permission from the national park in advance.
In general, it is important to be mindful of your impact on the land and the people around you. The trail crosses lots of villages and multi-use land, including farming, grazing, and logging. Wild camping is widely tolerated, but you should ask permission before pitching up in someone’s field. Please be a respectful visitor and practice Leave No Trace habits so that we can continue our good relationships with people along the trail and so that future hikers can enjoy the experience.
Is it safe?
Hiking in the Caucasus entails many of the same risks that hikers find anywhere in the world. Some parts of the TCT travel through areas that require knowledge and experience of hiking in high-alpine environments. If you don’t have that experience, we recommend hiring a guide.
In addition to the hazards posed by steep terrain and mountain weather, hikers should be prepared for difficult route-finding and challenging trail conditions, the possibility of washed-out bridges and dangerous river crossings in high water, aggressive dogs guarding sheep and cattle, giant hogweed, and frequent summer thunderstorms with extremely intensive periods of lightning. Access to emergency medical care and search and rescue is not always available. Hiking the TCT requires good judgment and the willingness to turn back if necessary.
Like any environment that includes people, there is also the possibility of unpleasant encounters. In general, the hospitality of the Caucasus is legendary, and the vast majority of people you meet will be kind and eager to host you, feed you, and help you on your way. However, it is important to practice logical caution. Solo female hikers in particular have reported occasional unwanted advances, but an unpredictable encounter can happen to anyone. Trust your instincts about strangers and conditions. Pay attention to details of your surroundings and people you encounter, and look for anything that does not fit or sends a red flag. It is easier to avoid getting into a dangerous situation than to get out of one.
We urge all hikers to have a safety plan. Take a wilderness first aid class. Leave behind a copy of your itinerary with a trusted contact, check in regularly, and establish a procedure to follow if you fail to check in or show up when expected. Make a bail-out plan for each section. Carry a personal locator beacon or satellite device so you can call for help if needed, keeping in mind that help may still take a long time to arrive.
What about the border situation and regional conflicts? Is that safe?
You must only cross borders at official crossings. Crossing borders anywhere else will lead to serious complications. Some maps do not show the recognized border crossings. It is also important to note that some borders in the region are not recognized or agreed upon by all parties. It is your responsibility to make sure you are not illegally crossing any borders. If you stay on the TCT route, this will not be a problem.
Despite the region’s disputed borders, flare-ups of conflict with the potential to affect the TCT trail corridor are rare. The trail does not go through any disputed areas, and in general, the security situation is stable. We encourage hikers to come discover the Caucasus beyond the often overly dire headlines.
In the 7 years of working on the TCT, we have issued an evacuation warning for hikers only once. That response turned out to be overly cautious, but we will continue to stay carefully attuned to the situation and to share future warnings if necessary, just as we would do for any other trail condition hazards or natural disasters. However, it is important to keep in mind that these situations can change quickly, and it is always advisable to check any government travel warnings prior to travel. Ultimately, you are responsible for your own safety.
Can I share the route and/or resources with others?
The Armenia section is public, but due to the preliminary state of the Georgia section, we will ask you to refrain from sharing your GPX tracks (outside of a safety contact). Please don’t share the file or upload the route onto apps, OpenStreetMap, etc—this will create a lot of hassle for us when we need to make changes to the evolving route. Please also refrain from sharing other resources specifically available for thru-hikers, such as the PDF version of the Armenia guidebook, outside the forum.
Is there a similar level of support available for the East-West route through Georgia and Azerbaijan?
Not yet, as this route is in a much earlier stage of development. However, we welcome people to join who want to hike in Azerbaijan or eastern Georgia, and we will offer the advice that we can.
Can I come join a trail crew camp along the way?
You’re welcome to come camp with our crews and meet the people building the trail. We’ll keep you posted on trail work plans, and in return ask that you give us a heads up (so that we can give the crew leaders a heads up). You should still expect to be self-sufficient in terms of food and camping equipment.
Can I volunteer on the trail along the way?
You’re very welcome to sign up to participate in a volunteer crew before, during, or after your hike– we would love to have you join! Volunteering is a wonderful way to enrich your hiking experience (once you develop trail eyes, you’ll never look at a trail the same way again) and to give back to the region. However, due to the logistics of transportation, costs of hosting volunteers, and safety considerations like insurance and the orientation training, we can’t currently accommodate drop-in volunteers.
Are these resources available in other languages?
Right now, these are only available in English. One of our goals is to get our website and resources translated into other languages (prioritizing local languages), but this takes time and money that we don’t currently have. As a hiker supporting the TCT, you are helping further this mission! If you are interested in helping with translation, please get in touch.
Do you have suggested alternative routes for extended season hikes?
We do! We will happily share ideas with hikers on our Zoom calls or over Slack.