What: thru-hike of the Saint Paul Trail.
Where: southwest Turkey.
When: April 26 – May 8, 2011 (13 days).
Distance: about 208 miles.
Highlights: rural area away from any tourists; habitat and landscape diversity; numerous archaeological sites; friendly people; good scenery.
Kate Clow’s 2013 edition of The St Paul Trail: Turkey’s Second Long Distance Walk is the only guidebook we know of. We used an earlier version of the book. Instructions for downloading gpx data are available inside the book.
The website CultureRoutesInTurkey has extensive information, including route updates, information about an iPhone app for the route, and a list of accommodations.
As for all our trips, we used our two favorite mapping tools: CalTopo.com to prepare gpx data and printed maps, and Gaia GPS while hiking. We used WeatherSpark.com‘s excellent climate summaries to choose the best months to visit the region.
Why we went
Our initial motivation to travel to Turkey was to hike the Lycian Way. We added this trail to our itinerary in order to see more of the country. Logistics were quite easy as the Lycian Way ended quite close to where the Saint Paul trail began.
I thoroughly enjoyed everything about the SPT. Turkish hospitality as described in the Lycian Way trip report was a major factor in my positive experience.
Unlike the Lycian Way, which passes through numerous areas frequented by tourists, this route travels entirely through Turkish countryside. During our hike we saw only two pairs of tourists, both hiking on the Saint Paul Trail. We met only one Turk who spoke any English, a computer science teacher who had invited us to join the post-prayer potluck at the mosque. We were able to communicate with a few people in rudimentary French.
When we started on the SPT we had already spent 18 days thru-hiking the Lycian Way, and I felt completely at ease with hiking in Turkey. For other hikers considering combining the Lycian Way with the Saint Paul Trail for a month long hike in Turkey, I would recommend doing them in the order we did, leaving the more remote Saint Paul Trail for the end of the trip.
My overall assessment is mostly the same as for the Lycian Way. The Saint Paul Trail was a fine walk through interesting terrain and habitats. I thought it much wilder than the Lycian Way and for that reason, even though it lacked walking on a coast, it was equally satisfying. I would be hard pressed to decide which route I enjoyed more. For those of us who enjoy hiking without a lot of other people around, the Saint Paul trail is the better option.
Be aware that since much of this walk is much more isolated than the Lycian Way, you should not depend on other people providing timely assistance in the event of problems. However, for those with the right skills and experience, the STP is well worth doing. Other than having to deal with a few overly aggressive dogs, the entire walk was a pleasure.
Notes for Potential Hikers
Our Lycian Way trip report includes some general information about hiking in Turkey. Since the Lycian Way and the Saint Paul Trail (SPT) have a number of commonalities, that report also includes information about guidebooks, maps and gpx files, waymarks, and when to go that are applicable to this walk as well.
The SPT starts east of Antalya in Aksu and runs north to Yalvaç. Along the way, it passes through the western reaches of the Taurus (Toros) Mountains and alongside Lake Eğirdir, the fourth largest lake in Turkey. Very close to the end of the route are the notable ruins of Antioch of Pisidia.
The SPT was designed and developed by Kate Clow, a British ex-pat living in Turkey. She had previously created the Lycian Way. The SPT was completed by 2004.
The SPT is a quite interesting route traveling through mostly rural and semi-wild country. Since humans have lived in and modified the region thousands of years, there are no true wilderness areas on the route, but on long stretches we encountered few to no other people. The route passes a significant number of ancient ruins, utilizes old Roman roads, and travels through some small villages and a couple of mid-sized towns. The majority of the SPT is high-quality walking with lots of visual interest and includes a wide variety of habitats and geological features.
The SPT leads through agricultural areas, with both grazing and cultivation taking place. There are some nice coniferous forests, open meadows and even a few wetlands. The trail crosses high rocky ridges and descends into river gorges. It also follows the shingle beach along the shoreline of Lake Eğirdir. A good bit of the first 15 miles, from Aksu to a small dam called the regulator, is not particularly rewarding: much of it is on paved roads through flat agricultural areas infested with aggressive dogs. Persevere however, because the rest of the route is quite fine.
Unlike the Lycian Way, the SPT does not pass through any tourist towns except Eğirdir, and we met very few non-Turks on this walk. Some of the towns had shops and cafes and we had no problems finding supplies. Yalvaç, the endpoint, has lots of services and facilities useful to hikers, including transportation options to other parts of the country.
For some reason, the trail has two southern legs, one starting at Aksu and the other further east near Aspendos. The legs are routed northward roughly parallel to each other and join near the ruins at Adada. From Adada, a single course continues on to Yalvaç. There are several other variants described in the guidebook and the updates published on the website include additional route changes.
We walked the western and northern branches: Aksu to Adada to Yalvaç. We chose this routing since Aksu was just a short bus ride from Antalya, where we had stayed overnight after completing the Lycian Way. It is not practical to walk all three legs in an uninterrupted thru-hike since they all radiate out from Adada: one leg goes north, one goes SSW and one goes SSE. A walker could hike all three legs by taking a bus or walking back to Adada and starting the third leg from there.
There were no significant technical difficulties on the SPT. The route is isolated with long stretches between populated areas. In many places, there was rough walking over loose and rocky surfaces and very occasionally, there was a bit of easy scrambling. The route includes over 12,400 meters of altitude gain. Overall, we found the walking to be a bit more challenging than on the Lycian Way. The trails had seen much less use and in general were not as well maintained and in many places were quite indistinct.
In a number of places, the route required fording streams or small rivers. None of these crossings were difficult, but we did get wet feet. Water levels will vary depending on rainfall and the time of year.
There is one section on the SPT a few miles south of Sipahiler where the route followed the bottom of a rocky stream canyon with numerous obstacles. The difficulty of this stretch depends on the water level; if the water level is too high, it will not be passable. This section can be avoided by following an alternate route described in the guidebook.
In our opinion, a reasonably fit walker with basic cross-country navigation and route-finding skills who is prepared to be completely self-sufficient for a couple of days at a time should be able to complete the SPT. Note that due to the isolated nature of parts of the STP, if problems occur, assistance from other people may not be immediately available. There may not be cell phone coverage on portions of the trail as well.
Crossing Lake Eğirdir
The SPT is routed to cross Lake Eğirdir via fishing boat. We found only one person willing to do this, a gentleman named Mustafa. He was not home when we arrived at his house, so we had to wait five or six hours for him to return. We negotiated a fee for passage, which ended up significantly higher than what was described in the guidebook. Including a hot lunch for the two of us, we paid 90 Turkish Lira (about $60.00 at the exchange rate in 2011) for the boat crossing. You may be able to do better at bargaining. The only other option we are aware of is to leave the route and either walk or hitchhike around the north side of the lake and rejoin the SPT where you can.
We met only two other hiking parties on the SPT, and neither group was thru-hiking the entire route. We encountered no recreational day-hikers. We saw a few Turks out in the hills tending animals or crops, although it was not unusual to hike for several hours or most a day without seeing anybody.
We birdwatch on our walks. We identified a total of 196 species of birds while in Turkey. While on the SPT, we observed 139 species including 13 new life birds. Among the new birds were the beautiful Eurasian Golden Oriole and the wonderful White-throated Robin. On one day towards the end of the walk we saw four new raptors.