The Best Hiking Trails in Cappadocia, Turkey
Hot air balloon trips make a romantic and popular way to experience Cappadocia's breathtaking landscape | © Zoonar/Alexander Ozerov / Zoonar GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo
The fantastically unique landscape of fairy chimneys, troglodyte villages and surreal volcanic rock formations begs to be explored on foot. From the Red and Rose Valley to Meskendir near Göreme, explore Cappadocia via these top hiking routes.
Cappadocia is a hiker’s paradise. Winding trails make their way through ethereal stone towers and rugged canyons. With various towns and villages conveniently located near all the main hiking trails, it’s easy to explore this whimsical landscape. The hikes are generally quite short, sometimes with the option to extend, whilst there are plenty of makeshift stalls to keep you fed and hydrated along the way. The bizarre beauty of the dramatic scenery here has to be seen to be believed, so we’ve chosen eight of the best trails to get you started.
Red & Rose Valley
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If you’ve only got time for one hike in the area, make it this one. The Rose Valley trail loops around, connecting to the Red Valley on this short 5km (3mi) walk. The views across the valley are truly remarkable at any time of day, with the curious pink-hued rock formations changing colour as the sun journeys across the sky. Most visitors arrive in time for sunset when you can enjoy the last golden rays of the sun imbuing the extraordinary lunar landscape with a soft reddish glow.
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If you’re not up for a long hike then the Meskendir Valley, near Göreme, is ideal. It’s a short 4km (2.5mi) walk through surreal rock formations, typical of the region, with hermit’s caves and hand-carved pigeon houses adding to its attraction. The soft multi-coloured sandstone has been carved into tunnels in parts and offers cool respite from the scorching sun. For a longer walk, you can extend by joining the Red and Rose Valley at its conclusion.
Love Valley to Uchisar Castle
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You can’t help but smirk when you see how Love Valley gained its moniker. Large, phallus-shaped rock formations bulge indecently all along the valley, making it a popular tourist attraction (and marriage proposal spot). The walk to Uchisar Castle is not a long one, but don’t look for turrets and battlements; the “castle” is hewn from rock at the highest point in Cappadocia, with a maze of rooms interconnecting throughout this other-worldly citadel.
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Pigeons have been used in the Cappadocia region since ancient times, both for food and to fertilise the soil. Owners carved homes for their feathered friends in the soft volcanic rock and they’re particularly abundant in this valley. Although you won’t see as many pigeons now as once flocked here, their homes remain, pockmarking the rocky pillars. The hike is an easy one, with Christian churches and abandoned cave dwellings to explore on the way.
© Isa Özdere / agefotostock / Alamy Stock Photo
For a break from the dusty hot rocks of the Cappadocian landscape, come to the Ihlara Valley, where the Melendiz River cuts through this 16km (10mi) gorge. Lush and green, you can relax under the leafy canopies by the river and enjoy a tranquil moment, disturbed only by the croaking of frogs and buzzing of dragonflies, before continuing a gentle hike in this gloriously verdant place.
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Begin your day with breakfast at the shady Zemi Cafe, situated at the start of the trail, before walking the wide sandy path into the rocks. Expect high arches, cave dwellings complete with the requisite rock art and a small stream inhabited by a few ducks and geese. Much of the trail is shaded by overhanging trees, providing welcome relief from the fierce rays of the Turkish sun.
© Alexander Ozerov / Alamy Stock Photo
The Zelve Open Air Museum encompasses three valleys, the first of which was once an incredible cave city, home to one of the largest communities in the region. The rocks are a honeycombed maze of religious and secular caves, where Christians and Muslims used to live side by side in harmony. The last residents left as recently as the 1950s due to erosion, but much of the city is still intact. It takes around two hours to walk the entirety of the three valleys, but don’t rush; this is an astonishing place.
© Danièle Schneider / Photononstop / Alamy Stock Photo
You won’t find cave churches, castles, troglodyte villages or Roman tombs in what’s known as Imaginary Valley. Instead, the attraction here lies in the small fairy chimneys that pepper the landscape and which have seemingly morphed into a sculptural safari park. Camels, snakes, seals and dolphins are easy to spot among the rocky formations. Allow your imagination to run wild and see what you can spy at this rocky zoo.
These recommendations were updated on July 14, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.