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Valbone Pass Hike: The Basics
- Distance: The hike from Valbone to Theth is 15 km from trailhead to trailhead. You will still need to walk another mile or so at the end to reach your guesthouse in Theth.
- Hike length: 7-8 hours on average. It can take longer than this so make sure to plan enough daylight hours. We completed the hike in 6 hours, with two longer stops to read and have lunch but we are relatively fast hikers.
- Guide Needed? A guide is definitely not required or necessary to hike from Valbone to Theth. Here is a guided tour if you’d prefer though.
- Costs: The hike itself is free with no necessary permits.
- Difficulty level: medium, it’s a decently long hike with moderate elevation gain and loss. It’s a hard hike, but easily doable for anyone with a moderate fitness level.
- Currency: Both Euros and Albanian Lek (ALL) are accepted in both Theth and Valbona. As of August 2023, $1 USD is equal to 94 Albanian Lek (ALL). For the sake of this article, all conversions into dollars will be based on the exchange rate at that time.
Prepare for your trip to Albania
How many days in the Albanian alps?
Ideally you’ll want to have at least one night in Valbone and one night in Theth. However, I really really recommend adding on and extra day of two. Ideally two nights in each town, Valbone and Theth.
We were able to a hike to Rosni Peak on our first full day in Valbone. It was a great warm up hike before our hike to Theth, but my legs were definitely feeling it when we started our hike to Theth.
Although I don’t recommend it, you could definitely do the hike from Theth to Valbone with just one night overnighting in the mountains in Valbone. In order to do this you’d need to take the early morning bus from Shkoder to Theth (2 hours). Once you arrive you’ll want to start the hike right away, which means that unfortunately you won’t have any time to explore Theth.
Advance bookings aren’t necessary for any of the transfers to and from Theth and Valbone. We booked everything, including our ferry ride, just one night in advance through our hostel in Shkröder.
Which direction to do the Valbone to Theth hike?
This hike can be done in either direction, it’s really about hiking preference and which direction makes the most sense for your itinerary. Everyone you speak to seems to have their own opinion on the matter.
We chose to hike in the direction of Valbone to Theth for two main reasons:
01) Availability of lodging – the places we wanted to stay at and the dates made more sense for us if we hiked in this direction. If you’re hiking in the high season (which we did) then I highly recommend booking in advance. We booked about a month and a half in advance and a lot of stuff was already booked up.
02) Timing – since we had to make it all of the way from the mountains to Shkoder to Tirana to our farm stay at Blerina’s Agritourism Concept in one day, it made more sense for us to start that morning in Theth rather than Valbone. From Theth it is only a two hour drive, rather than the 6-7 hour journey between Valbone and Shkoder.
However, here are a few other reasons that it makes sense to hike in the Valbone to Theth direction, rather than Theth to Valbone.
03) Popularity – It is way more popular to start the hike in Theth. This means that if you start early, you’ll have an emptier trail starting in Valbone. And this is the prettier part of the trail!
04) Less uphill – There is slightly less uphill climb in the direction of Valbone to Theth which I’ll never complain about.
05) Ease of getting back – It’s easier to get back to the city from Theth, which may be nice after many days of hiking.
If you decide to start your hike in Valbone, then you will need to buy a combo ticket for your transfer from Shkroder to Valbone.
Getting to Valbone
Before we dive into how to get to Valbone, its good to understand where exactly this mountain village is located. You’ll find the village of Valbone in the Kukes Valley in Northern Albania in Valbone Valley National Park.
If you are are arriving from outside of Albania then you will most likely be flying into Tirana, Albania’s capital city.
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If you are arriving from a nearby country, such as Montenegro, you will also find buses to Shkoder, the gateway of the Albanian Alps.
You will need to buy a combo ticket for your transfer from Shkroder to Valbone.
This is a minivan + ferry + minivan combo for 2800 lek or $29.72 (as of August 2023). These tickets don’t need to be purchased well in advance. We bought ours the evening before from our hostel.
The journey from Shkroder to Valbone takes approximately 6-7 hours.
First you will take a minivan 2.5 hours from Shkroder to Koman. From here you’ll take a ferry that typically takes 2.5-3 hours. Finally, you’ll transfer in a minivan from Fierze to Valbone. This ride is about 1 hour.
The journey from Theth to Shkoder (or vice versa) is both cheaper and faster.
Advance bookings aren’t necessary for any of the transfers to and from Theth and Valbone. We booked everything, including our ferry ride, just one night in advance through our hostel in Shkröder (Mi Casa es Tu Casa).
There are tons of a multi-day tours that explore Valbone and the surrounding Albanian Alps. This is a great option if you’d like to leave planning all of the little details to someone else.
Here are a few of the most popular tours:
- Day trip from Tirana (or Shkoder) to Theth
- 3-day Guided Hike from Theth to Valbone
- 4-day Kayaking and Hiking trip in the Albanian Alps
What to pack
You do not need to bring all of your luggage with you on the hike from Theth to Valbone (or vice versa), and nor should you.
You’ll have at least one long hiking day, possibly a few depending on your itinerary. You don’t want to be carrying all of your luggage.
Instead, I highly recommend you leave the majority of your luggage in Shkroder. We left our stuff at Mi Casa es Tu Casa hostel. They charge 1 euro per day per bag.
You should only need to pack a few items with you for your hike. Since our small backpack doesn’t have hip straps, we decided to do the hike with my big backpack. This was honestly a mistake. Even though we spent 4 nights in the mountains, I practically wore the same thing everyday.
I did the Valbone to Theth hike with my Kelty 60L bag, mostly empty. It worked but was honestly too heavy for the amount of incline you’ll be climbing. But if you’re just looking for a good travel backpack, this is a great option!
If you are traveling with a small suitcase + small backpack combo then I highly recommend my Deuter 30L daypack. It’s small and lightweight, but it still holds a ton. Plus, it has good, proper hip straps.
Here is what I recommend packing for the hike from Valböne to Theth (or vice versa).
- 1 workout top (my favorite workout top from Amazon has a built-in bra)
- 1 pair of hiking shorts or pants
- 1 pair of long pants to hang out in when not hiking
- 1 T-shirt or tank top
- Hiking boots or hiking sneakers
- 1 pair of hiking socks (2 if you’re spending more than 2 nights in the mountains)
- 1 jacket (I recommend the NanoAir from Patagonia)
- 1 rain jacket (if rain is in the forecast)
- 1 pair of pjs
- Swimsuit if you plan to hike to the Blue Eye of Theth
Bring only the essentials when it comes to toiletries. But some sunscreen is a must for the long days in the mountain sun.
You’ll also be able to refill your water bottle with spring water, so packing a reusable water bottle is a great way to be sustainable and save money. I travel with two Vapur water bottles. They roll up when you’re not using them, making them perfect for long hikes.
If you’re hiking during the off season then it might be worth packing a sweatshirt as well if you have the space. Even in august I wore both my sweatshirt and jacket at night, as it dropped into the low 40s each evening.
And then of course you’ll want to pack your camera. You’ll want to avoid carrying too much weight so just pack the basics.
Where to stay in Valbone
One of the best parts about staying in Valbone, or anywhere in the Northern Albanian Alps, is staying at family-run guesthouses. This is a great way to connect with locals, learn more about the culture, and enjoy delicious, traditional meals.
Even though Valbone is not that big of a village, it is quite spread out. It is important to place yourself close to the trailheads of hikes you want to complete. Otherwise, you’ll have to either hike a lot longer or hire a taxi.
If you’re visiting Valbone, then I highly recommend spending a night or two at Bujtina Albjoni. The guesthouse is centrally located, just a 5 minute walk from the Rosni Peak trailhead. It is also possible to walk to the trailhead for the Valbone Theth trek from here in about an hour, or you have the option of taking a taxi to the gravel road. We booked a taxi for 500 lek per person.
The food at Bujtina Albjoni is delicious, and the family running the place is super sweet. You can arrange for a set dinner menu for 9€ per person. I definitely recommend it for a taste of local Albanian cuisine.
Camping in Valbone and the Albanian Alps
The good news, if you’re traveling to Valbone on a budget, or just looking for a bit more adventure, there are no laws against wild camping in Albania. This means that you are free to camp wherever you’d like. And there are some amazing spots. Just make sure you place your tent or campervan in a spot that is respectful to both locals and hikers.
When to hike the Valbone to Theth Hike
The pass between Theth and Valbone is only open between late May and October. The exact dates change depending on the conditions so be sure to chat with your guesthouse before attempting the pass. Outside of these months the pass is often covered in ice and snow, so it is not possible to hike it.
The most popular months to hike in the Albanian Alps are July and August. These are, of course, also the busiest months. The weather was perfect, but if you’re looking for less crowds than early Fall would be a great option.
How difficult is the Theth to Valbone hike?
The hike is hard, but it’s also not. Does not make any sense?
What I mean is that the hike is long (around 9 miles) and will take you a long time to hike it (6-8 hours), and you’ll do a lot of climbing (3,000+ ft), and even more walking downhill. But that said, it’s not a super technical hike so if you have a moderate fitness level, then you should have no problem completing the hike!
We saw people of all ages along the trail. Just take your time and pack lots of water.
What to expect on the hike
I’ve gone ahead and broken down the hike into four parts, so you have a better idea of what to expect on the Valbone Theth hike. I’ve also included screenshots from Gaia, which I used to track my own hike along the pass.
The hike length is 7-8 hours on average. It can take longer than this so make sure to plan enough daylight hours. We completed the hike in 6 hours, with two longer stops to read and have lunch but we are relatively fast hikers.
There is an elevation gain of 2,660 ft (811 meters), and then a descent of 3,462 ft (1,055 meters).
Part 1 – Gravel road: The first part of the hike starts on a long, flat gravel road (pictured below). There is no coverage from the sun, but the entire path is flat. Technically you can hike a taxi to drive you these 2 miles, but it is easy enough to hike.
Part 2 – Ascent through the forest: You’ll pass a few guesthouses and a small cafe, and then you start the climb up. There is a good amount of incline during this section, but luckily you’ll get some shade because a lot of it is in the forest. There are some flatter sections so you can have a bit of a break. You’ll be able to see some mountains peeking through the trees.
You’ll come to a larger (vertical) field, which is a great place to take a little break before the exposed switchbacks.
Part 3 – Switchbacks and ascent to the Valbona pass: This section kicks it off with everyone’s favorite – switchbacks. There is no coverage on this part of the hike, and it is pretty tiring, so I would try to get to it before the day is too hot if you’re hiking in the summer. Eventually the path flattens out and you have one final push of ascent before you start heading down to Theth.
Part 4 – The descent: It’s a long way down to Theth from here. Plan on hiking straight downhill for 2-3 hours to reach the village of Theth. I personally find the descent harder, as it really hurts my knees. I highly recommend trekking with poles, or finding a good stick (that’s what we did)!
Where to stay in Theth
If you’re planning to do the Valbone to Theth hike, then you’re going to need somewhere to stay in Theth.
Bujtina Pllumi Theth
I think Bujtina Pllumi Theth has to take the prize for our favorite guesthouse we stayed at in the Albanian Alps. Located right by the famous church in Theth, the location was perfect. Not too far from the trailhead for the Theth to Valbonë trek, but also not too far from the trail to the Blue Eye.
The rooms are super affordable and Franco and Leka are the nicest hosts. Franco speaks perfect English (and French) and is super helpful with anything you need. Plus, the 12 euro set dinner they served was some of the best we had in Albania.
Guesthouse “Gjin Thana”
While this guesthouse is a bit pricier than other options, its location at the top of a hill offers some of the best views of Theth. We booked a room with an incredible mountain view and it was worth every penny.
One thing that is nice about Gjin Thana is that they have a full menu to choose from, rather than a set dinner. The food was the best we had in the mountains, and only cost us $14.50 for 2 people for dinner
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