Visit This Underrated European Country For Epic Hiking Trails

Georgia's Caucasus Mountain range is a gem of Eastern Europe and a dream for hikers of all levels, from daytime trekkers to seasoned backpackers. Throughout the country, visitors can expect to find scenery reminiscent of a "Lord of the Rings" film, from quaint villages and snowy summits to endless valleys and fields of green. Pack your bags and hiking gear before the word gets out about this topographical treasure.

First up is Lagodekhi National Park, the oldest national reserve in the country. Protected since 1912, here you'll find 100 square miles of lush, rugged terrain peppered with waterfalls, jagged cliffs, watering holes like Black Rock Lake, and medieval sites like the Machi Fortress. Visitors can embark on various long-distance hiking trails, from one to three days. To get to Lagodekhi from Tbilisi, Georgia's capital city, head to the Isani Metro station and take the three-hour bus ride to the trailhead for 10 GEL ($4). You can also hire a private car for 160 GEL ($60) or sign up for a day trip with a tour company starting as low as 80-108 GEL ($30-40) per person. The price will vary depending on the operator, how many people are in your group, and how long you want to explore the park.

Mount Kabek and Gergeti Trinity Church

For those who love a blend of nature and history, head North from Tbilisi to the village of Stepantsminda for 15 GEL ($6). Just outside town, follow the marked trail up to Gergeti Trinity Church, a Georgian Orthodox monument dating back to the 14th century. Experienced trekkers can complete the hike in about an hour and a half, allowing ample time to stay hydrated on the trail and stop for photos of the scenery, be it an ancient watchtower or a shepherd tending his flock of sheep.

Bring a picnic lunch and spend an hour or so taking in the church, a simple structure filled with candles and relics left behind by pilgrims and hikers alike. The interior is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and photography is prohibited. You'll also want to pack a change of clothes, as men are required to wear pants and women must wear a long skirt (in a pinch, there are sarongs in a basket outside the entrance).

Should the clouds part, you're in for the view to end all views. The church is framed by Mount Kazek, one the highest peaks in the country at a staggering 16,512 feet. The two together are a sight to behold — an ancient, humble church beneath a towering, natural wonder. The best time to visit is spring and summer for the sprawling green hills and wildflowers, though any time of year will be no less memorable.

Okatse Canyon Hanging Trail

Once you've gotten your mountain fix (if that's possible), head to the Okatse Canyon to explore the lush forests, winding rivers, and deep ravines of Western Georgia. From the visitor center, walk 3 miles through the dense Dadiani forest to the country's Okatse Canyon Hanging Trail. Though beautiful, it's perhaps not for the faint of heart, as the trail consists of a narrow steel walkway with a transparent floor. At times, you'll be walking up and down stairs on a cliffside. At others, you'll cross bridges over deep ravines 500 feet above the ground. The grand finale is a viewing platform that juts out 65 feet over the side of a steep cliff, offering stunning panoramic views of the canyon and forest below. Tickets cost 17.25 GEL ($6.50 USD) for non-Georgian adults.

To get to Okatse Canyon, some bloggers say it's best to take a bus from Tbilisi to Kutaisi, then a van to the village of Gordi, where the trail is located — plan for at least 4 hours of travel time. The national park is open all year round, but the hanging trail is closed on rainy days. If you're planning to bring your family, children must be at least 3 feet, 9 inches, to explore the hanging trail with you. It's a popular tourist destination in Georgia, so purchase your tickets online ahead of time and arrive as early as possible to avoid the crowds.