Kurdistan’s Majestic Mountains and Nature – Hiking Adventure (Iraq)

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Welcome to the mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan, hiker’s paradise!

When I visited Kurdistan in North Iraq for the first time, I never expected there to be this much nature, mountains, and beautiful scenery.

Hiking in the mountains of Kurdistan is like walking in a Lord of the Rings movie. There are sky-high mountains, 2-meter-wide vultures, waterfalls, canyons, and much more.

There are many things to do in the capital of Kurdistan but hiking is one of the most popular activities among locals with new hiking trails being made every year.

Strap on your hiking boots and follow me on this journey in the mountains in Kurdistan in the northern part of Iraq!

Table of Contents

The Mountains of Kurdistan

Kurdistan is a region that spans across Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria. In Iraq, the area is located in the north and offers a unique experience for travelers in Kurdistan looking for adventure and culture.

The mountains of Kurdistan are similar to Lord of the Rings-like landscapes, with rich history, and a welcoming and warm Kurdish culture. It’s no surprise that more and more people are choosing to hike through this hidden treasure.

In this article, I will talk about what it’s like to hike in Kurdistan, the beautiful mountains, and what you need to get the best hiking experience.

Hiking in the mountains of Kurdistan, Yallah!

We started hiking on the trail near Barzan Village. This trail takes you through the heart of the Mountains of Barzan, with stunning views of the peaks and valleys. It’s a challenging hike, but the scenery is worth it. At some point, there wasn’t a clear trail anymore, so we were just freestyling and making our own path.

I’m not sure how high these cliffs were, but I couldn’t even see all the way down. It reminded me of the Rocky Mountains in Canada. Right here in the middle east!

Wildlife in the mountains

So, one of the things that you absolutely shouldn’t do when you go hiking is to forget your zoom lens. Which is precisely what I did… I missed out on some great opportunities to shoot some amazing wildlife photos. Better luck next time!

Check out what kind of photography gear I usually bring on a hike.

A few wild deers enjoying the outdoors

At the end of the trail, right near the cliff, we witnessed a flying 2-meter-wide vulture. It was a beautiful sight to observe. (Writing down; don’t forget zoom lens…)

The area is getting more and more popular, and even the local cows are hiking.

A small amount of fog made the Kurdish mountains a fairy tail-like landscape.

I made all photos with my Sony a7C camera. The perfect camera for hiking. Check out my full review.

Sidik and the panther

On our expedition through the mountains, we had the honor of being accompanied by Sidik. Sidik has made several documentaries on the mountains of Kurdistan and its wildlife.

A beautiful, award winning, movie is ‘Sidik and the Panther’ where the story is told about his 25-year-long quest to find a Persian leopard.

His ultimate goal is to establish a national park in the area and bring about lasting peace. He firmly believes that if he can showcase the beauty of the wildlife and its habitat through his lens, the government will take notice and preserve the region for future generations.

Director Reber Dosky accompanies Sidik on his mission, leading us on a breathtaking journey through the Kurdish mountains. The film highlights the courage and determination of a man who refuses to give up on his dreams.

Barzani Family

Right beside one of the highest cliffs in the mountains, you can see a few huge houses. It’s the famous Barzani family that lives there. Barzani is the president of Kurdistan. I can see why they wanted to build their house here!

Final thoughts on hiking in Kurdistan

Hiking in the mountains of Kurdistan (and BBQ’ing) are tremendously popular activities for locals. It’s clear to see why that is. The landscapes in Kurdistan are so diverse. If I had to describe it, I would say it’s a mix of Canadian, Scottish, and with a little bit of Austrian scenery. I never knew these kinds of landscapes were to be found in the middle east.

For hiking, it’s just the right amount of difficulty. There are trails you can follow, some are a bit steeper than others, and there are paths that you can discover yourself. Even wild camping is possible. Many local Kurds do so and make campfires and BBQs.

Hiking in the mountains of Kurdistan is one of the great perks of living in Erbil.

Preparations for hiking in Kurdistan

Hiking takes some preparation. Hiking with a friend or a group is not only more fun, but also safer. Having a companion can help you in case of an emergency, and it’s always good to have someone to share the experience with. If you’re hiking alone, make sure you let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be back.

How to get to the mountains of Kurdistan?

When you arrive in Erbil, the best way is to go by car. There are several routes you can take. The trip will be around 3 hours from Erbil to the Barzan mountain area. We departed early from Erbil, around 8 am, and started to drive back at 4pm. It’s smart to go back around that time because there is little street lighting the entire trip.

What's the best time to hike in Kurdistan?

It depends on your preferences. There can be snow in the mountains during wintertime from December to February. It’s cold, but the scenery will be amazing, of course.

Snowy mountain tops near Shaqlawa. The area is called Safeen, a great place for a winter BBQ.

Starting around March 1, spring will begin, and the temperature will be perfect for hiking, not too warm or cold.

During summer, Kurdistan can get really hot, up to 55 degrees, but the temperature is much more pleasant in the mountains. Only in June, hiking in the mountains of Kurdistan is still lovely and not too hot.

A nice overview of different hiking trails in Kurdistan and Iraq can be found here.

F.A.Q. Hiking in Kurdistan

The region has been affected by political instability and conflict in recent years, so it’s important to check the latest travel advisories before your trip. However, many areas are considered safe for hiking, and the Kurdish people are known for their hospitality and warmth toward visitors. Local crime is almost nonexistent.

It’s always safer to go hiking with someone that knows the area. I would advise you to find someone that is able to come with you on the trip.

The areas close to the borders of Turkey and Iran are less safe. Always go with a person that’s knows the area well.

Not really; when you arrive at Erbil International airport, you must buy a ‘visa on arrival’, which costs around 80 dollars. There is no need to arrange a visa in advance. 

If you’re arriving at the international airport in Erbil, then you don’t need any other documents.

A man standing on top of a sand dune with his arms outstretched.

About the author

Chris Oberman is the founder and author of Moving Jack and has been traveling the world for over 20 years to 40+ countries.

He lives in a different country every two years which allows him to gain unique in-depth insights and experiences in new places abroad.

Quoted on Gritdaily.com, NRC Newspaper, Vice,and Feedspot.

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