The White Mountains, or Lefka Ori, is the largest massif on the island and its highest summit is Pahnes (2.453 m). The heart of this imposing range includes the Mountain Desert, where more than fifty peaks named Sori (piles), reminding of cones, exceed the altitude of 2.000 m. Dolines, reminding of upturned cones are formed at the foot of Sori peaks. This creepy and haunting landscape is a unique geological formation in the entire northern hemisphere.
Hiking in the White Mountains requires fitness, experience and a good sense of orientation. There are several mountain shelters where mountaineers can spend their night.
The highest mountain areas are covered by snow till late June. There are numerous caves, precipices, sinkholes and canyons. The most famous gorge is Samaria in the White Mountains National Reserve, but there are many more: to the south, the gorges of Aradena, Tripiti, Klados, Agia Irini, Imbros and Kallikratis, and to the north, the gorge of Vrissi, Therisso, Cyclamen, Boriano, Dittany, Kidoni and more.
The White Mountains are home to the deepest caves in Greece. These include the dark sinkholes of Gourgouthakas and Leon. The most well-known plateaus include Omalos, Anopolis, Askyfou, Tavri and Niato.
The White Mountains host a great variety of flora and fauna species, which are exclusively endemic (stenoendemic), not to be found anywhere else –not even in other parts of Crete. The areas on the southern side of the mountain range are covered with cypress, oak and pine trees, whereas humid areas favour the development of chestnuts, planes and other aquatic plants.
The Samaria Gorge is the longest trekking gorge in Europe and also the most famous of all. Thousands of tourists flock here daily in the summer season to walk from the top to the bottom. For many visitors, it is the sole purpose of their visit to Crete. The length of the gorge reaches 18km and takes almost 4-7 hours to hike from Omalos to Agia Roumeli, depending on trekking speed.
Imbros Gorge is located in the province of Sfakia and is the third most visited gorge in Crete, following Samaria Gorge and Agia Irini by Sougia. The scenery is beautiful and the low difficulty makes the descent of Imbros ideal for families with children. The length of the gorge is 11 km and the course lasts 2-3 hours.
The deepest gorge in Chania is the gorge of Aradena. The 138-meter-deep gorge is ideal not only for sightseeing or hiking but for bungee jumping as well. Trekking inside the canyon till the exit on the majestic Marmara beach is an unforgettable experience for those who attempt the descent of the canyon.
The Gorge of Therisso (named also Eleftherios Venizelos) is located near the city of Chania. You can go there by car. The main gorge is six kilometers long. The vertical cliffs are impressive and the lush vegetation has nothing to envy of the other Chania Gorges. The place deserves a visit, even with a vehicle, cobined with a visit in the historical beautiful village of Therisso.
Omalos is located 38km south of Chania at an altitude ranging from 1,040 to 1,250 meters, surrounded by the high peaks of the White Mountains. The plateau is particularly beautiful in the winter, when it is frequently covered by snow. At older times, the plateau of Omalos was the shelter of the locals and the base of rebels during the two and a half centuries of the Turkish occupation, but also during all other wars against invaders.
One of the nicest gorges of Crete is that of Vrissi on the north side of the White Mountains, crossed by the river Vrissiotis which gathers water from Melidaou area and waters Zourva and Lakki. In the gorge there is the cave - underground river with water springs, while many waterfalls of exquisite beauty are met in several places. The trail to the spring of the cave starts from Lakki and ascends along the walls of the gorge. From the spring starts another downhill trail to Zourva.
Tzanis Cave or Katavothra or Chonos, is located in Omalos Plateau in Chania. It reaches a length of 2500m and a depth of 280m. The cave has raised the interest of foreign tourists since 1865. Since 1961 caver groups of different nationalities explore the cave. Tzanis is accessible, but is not organized for tourists.
Mountain Desert is probably the most beautiful and the most mysterious landscape that one can encounter in Greece, a unique phenomenon in the Northern Hemisphere. The Mountain Desert is the area above 2000m altitude in the heart of the White Mountains, where dozens of cone-like peaks called Soros (Piles) are found. The highest peak is Pachnes (2453m).