Uludağ (pronounced oo loo daa) is a mountain of 2543 m (8343 ft) elevation which gives its name to a national park and ski resort. It rises just south of Bursa in the Southern Marmara Region of Turkey. The summit ridge is 150 km south of Istanbul, and can be seen from there on very crisp, clear days, but is usually hidden by mist and haze.
Uludağ especially to the east is a natural expanse of forests, hills, and bluffs where eagles soar; while to the west it's a busy resort with skiing in winter, and day-trippers from Bursa any fine day. So there's a dilemma in land management, one faced by many mountain districts. The Uludağ park is big enough for both, and has kept at bay the rash of weekend cottages that disfigure too many Alpine uplands.
In Greek mythology, the gods dwelt on Mount Olympus, which on mainland Greece meant the 2917 m peak south of Thessaloniki. But Hellenistic people settled far and wide across the East Mediterranean, and each community awarded the same name and legends to the tallest peak around, so there were about two dozen such places. The 2543 m peak above Bursa was distinguished as Mysian or Bithynian Olympos, but after Turkish independence "foreign" place names were systematically replaced, so it became Uludağ meaning "great mountain". Its cartographers were not yet aware of Olympus Mons, rising 21,900 m above map datum level on Mars, and presumably where the gods (especially Ares) had been living all those years.
A 225 km "slip-strike" fault line runs east-west from Eskişehir through Bursa, with 100 km lateral displacement. Some 35-40 million years ago, the stresses along this fault forced up a massif of gneiss and granite, which was hard-wearing against erosion and stands today as Uludağ. Also forced up were ores of tin and copper, valuable to early metal-workers, and modern miners extracted tungsten. The fault heats the scalding, sulphurous waters of Çekirge and still causes earthquakes. The mountain was too steep for agrarian farming but had summer grazing, its forests supplied timber and charcoal, and ice was harvested from its upper slopes to send to the imperial kitchens of Istanbul. It was also dotted with Christian hermitages and monasteries, later joined in by Muslim dervish retreats.
Mountain and winter sports grew in Europe in the 19th century but were slow to take off in Turkey. Transport and amenities were poor, and there wasn't a large prosperous middle class seeking travel and leisure. Uludağ was the country's first winter sports resort, with guesthouses opening from the 1930s. It was declared a national park in 1961, but tourism development continued, and the game-changer in 1963 was the opening of the cable car from Bursa to Sarıalan, plus associated ski-lifts. In 2014 this was upgraded and extended to Kurbağa Kaya.
Landscape and wildlife
|Climate chart (explanation)|
The north and west slopes rise through a series of plateaux. Those you pass by road are Karabelen at the park gate, and Kirazlıyayla above it. By cable car you pass Kadıyayla then Sarıalan. The routes meet at Kurbağa Kaya on the main plateau and accommodation area. South is the ridge with the main ski slopes. Beyond the ridge, the land falls away very sharply: this area is seldom accessed.
This change of elevation is reflected in distinct climate zones:
- from the outskirts of Bursa to 350 m is Mediterranean maquis scrub with laurel, juniper and olive.
- 350 m to 700 m are decidious forests dominated by chestnut trees, and from 700 m to 1500 m by beech.
- 1500 m to the tree line at 2100 m are conifers, chiefly Abies nordmanniana bornmuelleriana, a fir species endemic to Uludağ and nearby mountains.
- Above 2100 m are treeless alpine meadows.
Deer and raptor birds abound; bears lurk in the woods, see "Stay safe". You will be very, very lucky if you spot a wolf, Canis lupus pallipes. They prefer to keep well away from humans, but attack livestock and range over great distances. The park itself is barely big enough to support even a single wolf-pack, and they need to encounter other packs for healthy competition and out-breeding. Wolves are legally protected throughout Turkey, but try telling that to a farmer whose herd of goats has just been shredded.
The higher you go, the colder, windier and wetter it gets. The city of Bursa has a Mediterranean / Black Sea transitional climate, with more rainfall than the Med coast. The mountain draws clouds and rain because it pushes the air stream to higher altitudes, so it can have a standing pall of cloud while the lowlands around are sunny. Its summers are short and cool, with chilly nights, and the summits can have sleet even in mid-summer. Spring and autumn are brief, as the season flips sharply. By September it's frosty and the trees change colour. The snows come in October, and by December these are heavy, building up a base for skiing. A thaw begins in April.
See Bursa for inter-city approaches by road, sea and air.
Cable cars (Teleferik) ascend from Bursa's upper district of Teferrüç, served by dolmuş and Bus 94 from downtown. The creaky old telecabins were replaced in 2014 by 8-person gondolas, with a car every 20 secs on an 8.8 km continuous single loop. The 1 base station is at 395 m and there's a midway station (with no facilities) at 2 Kadıyayla. The ride continues to 3 Sarıalan ("yellow field") at 1634 m elevation. You can hike from there, but for the hotel strip and ski areas stay aboard to 4 Kurbağa Kaya ("frog rock") at 1870 m. The cars run daily 10:00-18:00 and the ride takes 30 min. In 2022 the fare is 65 TL one way, 75 TL return.
The new system has an uplift capacity of 1400 people an hour, ten times the old, yet it didn't occur to them to fit ski-racks to the gondolas. So just as before, you can't take ski equipment or hotel luggage aboard, you can hire on the mountain but most visitors still need to drive up. This does not inhibit the flow of eco-guff on the lift company website.
By road follow D575 south from Çekirge in Bursa, which winds up for 22 km to the national park gate at Karabelen. It continues as a good tarmac road for 8 km to the turn-off to Sarıalan, then another 4 km brings you to the fork for the old or new hotel zones. In winter, snow chains may be required to proceed beyond the park gate. Roadside stalls will be delighted to sell you these for ten times the garage price, and they'll probably be made of liquorice. Even if the road is clear of snow, it may be icy in the shadow of the trees, so winter driving rules apply.
Dolmuşes run from Imperial Gate in Bursa and take 50 min to the hotel zone in Uludağ. They run whenever they're full, and a one-way fare is 13.5 TL. A taxi for four might cost 150 TL.
The road past the park gate continues south and eventually joins D230 Kütahya - Balıkesir highway, so you might drive up from that side and avoid Bursa.
Fees and permits
The park fee in 2022 is 14 TL for a motorbike, 21 TL for a car or truck (regardless of number of occupants), 60-190 TL for a minibus or bus, 20 TL for a tent and 30 TL for a caravan.
There are 2 gondola lifts, 9 chairlifts and 13 T-bar tows. The most extensive ski area is south of the new hotel area and Volfram, on the north-facing slope of the main ridge. You can connect from there to the Fatin Tepe area above the old hotel district. Across the valley from there lies a smaller area.
- On the road from Bursa pause to admire the ancient tree at Inkaya and the tomb of Dolubaba at Tuzaklı. Until the 19th century a monastery stood near Inkaya but it's completely disappeared, as have the two dozen others ranged around the mountain valleys.
- 1 Çobankaya ("shepherd's rock") is a giant granite boulder along a lane 1 km north of the cable car top station and new hotel area. There's camping and picnic areas here and forest trails.
- 2 Bakacak is a forested plateau reached by continuing north from Çobankaya. It has a great outlook north over Bursa and the Marmara Sea, and the lakes to the west. Softaboğan waterfall roars off the edge of the plateau.
- 3 Volfram, meaning wolfram or tungsten, is an old mining area 1 km south up a road from the new hotel area. Ski lifts ascend from here and it's a good starting point for the ascent of Uludağ. The mine was active 1974-1989 and its abandoned buildings still stand. Tungsten is a valuable metal for its high tensile strength and high melting point. It was brought from the depths by the fault movements, in the form of skarn or scheelite (calcium tungstate CaWO4). This fluoresces under UV, so you know when you've found pay-dirt.
- 4 Saklı Lake is a picturesque glacial tarn, one of several scraped out along the route to Uludağ summit.
- 5 Uludağ summit is called Kartaltepe - "Eagle Hill". It dominates the local scenery but can be elusive from afar: mists arise once the morning sun lights upon the frost and dew, while the city below generates its own haze. The peak is 7 km east of the hotel area and in summer is a simple hike along the ridge, but be prepared for mist. You might want a Go-Pro, as there's a line of peaks all at around 2400 m, and on a dull day it might not be obvious which summit you've reached.
This ski area is for beginners and nervous intermediates, with broad easy pistes between the forests, and snow cover from mid-Dec through March. Skiing is between 2322 m and 1767 m altitude, so that's at most 555 m descent, with 2 km the longest piste. However families don't have to worry about young children straying to be eaten by bears. Each hotel has its own little slope and teleski tows or chairlifts, and until 2017 each sold their own non-transferable pass, but then heads were banged together and you now buy an area pass. In 2022 a day pass is 195 TL adult, 100 TL child, and longer or hourly passes are available.
Ski equipment can be rented at a dozen locations on the mountain for 150-250 TL a day. Useful to know: "Kayak" is Turkish for skiing.
Trails are not waymarked, but self-evident in the popular western parts. Examples are:
- from Sarıalan lower cable car station to Çobankaya and Kurbağa Kaya top station.
- from the old hotel area to Volfram, above the tree line.
- from Volfram to Uludağ summit.
- from Volfram to the four glacial lakes - combining these with the summit is a bit too much for a single day.
Paths elsewhere are sparsely trodden. You can even hike up from the lowlands, for instance from Zeyniler to Sarıalan, or from Saitabat to Kilimli lake (15 km). Either will take most of a day, sweating and swatting at flies, while thinking of the cable car fare you've saved.
- Migros in 1. Oteller is open daily 08:00-22:00, and in 2. Oteller is same hours except W and Su 10:00-22:00.
- Kiosks and grocery stores on the mountain charge about three times what you'd pay elsewhere.
- Sarıalan has a cluster near the cable car station, including Orman Köşkleri, Palabıyık, Jebel, Abu Shanab, Taş Konağı Tesisleri and Gencosman. The sign Kendin Pişir Kendin Ye means cook it yourself, you buy your meat by the kilo and rent a grill and charcoal and set to. "Et mangal" means meat grill, and cafe signs in Arabic are pitching to the many Saudi visitors.
- Hotels are full-board, which doesn't leave custom for free-standing restaurants, but several will serve walk-in non-residents.
- Volfram cafe / restaurant is open 24 hours.
- Water: Uludağ is a popular brand of bottled mineral water. Erikli (a village east above Zeyniler) is the source of another, now owned by Nestlé.
- The cafés and bars are within the hotels and are expensive. Those that welcome non-residents include Zilly next to Grand Yazıcı in the old hotel strip, and Ruby 2543 above the new.
- Campsites are at Sarıalan and Çobankaya, and are cramped and crowded. You might pay 15 TL per pitch.
- Wild camping is permitted away from the tourist zones. This is a good option for exploring the eastern lakes, but the alpine meadows are fragile so practice Leave-no-trace camping.
All hotels in Uludağ are in Oteller (literally "hotels") area, and ordered here roughly as you come to them by road. They're aimed at winter sports and many are closed in summer.
1 1. Gelişim Bölgesi is the original hotel area and village, on a side-loop of D575.
- Otel Beceren, Oteller, ☏ , email@example.com. Smart comfy hotel open year-round. Clean rooms with satellite TV. They have ski hire, conference rooms, and day-care for children. B&B double 1800 TL.
- Otel Fahri, Oteller, ☏ . Traditional hotel with its own teleski and skiing track, but tatty, overpriced and in need of restoration. B&B double 1800 TL.
- Kervansaray Ski Centre earned rotten reviews in 2021 / 22.
- Hotel Grand Yazıcı, Oteller, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. 4 star going on 3. Rooms with en-suite bathrooms, satellite TV, central heating, and safeboxes. The hotel offers skiing training and equipment rental, and its own teleski. B&B double 3000 TL.
- Others are on a side road up the mountain, and include Atasu, Genç Yazıcı, Ergun, Karkay, Oksijen Zone and Ulukardeşler.
2 2. Gelişim Bölgesi is the newer resort area 2 km further east up D575, by Kurbağa Kaya the top cable-car station.
- Ağaoğlu My Resort, Oteller, ☏ , email@example.com. Large resort hotel, comfy rooms but indifferent food. The hotel has its own skiing track and teleskis, and indoor swimming pool. B&B double 5000 TL.
- Bof Hotel, Oteller, ☏ . Adequate but over-priced hotel by cable-car station, some rooms in poor repair. There's an indoor swimming pool, sauna, movie theater, ski hire, lessons, and five teleski lines and two gondola lines. B&B double 5000 TL.
- Monte Baia Uludağ, Oteller, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. This is the furthest out but has decent rooms en suite. There are five teleski and two gondola lift lines nearby. Ski instruction, baby sitting service, indoor swimming pool, and spa & wellness centre. B&B double 3000 TL.
- Fog or mist can descend suddenly out of a clear blue sky, and make it hard to stay on the trail. Take a compass bearing on your route before you lose sight of landmarks. You did bring one, right, and know how to use it?
- Bears in these woods are Eurasian brown bears, Ursus arctos arctos, with a round head and yellow-brown fur. They show no mercy to unguarded sheep but are very unlikely to attack humans unless cornered or threatened. The crucial thing is not to surprise them, and when camping not to have open food that might attract them. Also beware bear traps, especially near villages whose residents value their livestock. They're wire nooses, totally illegal but easily bought or fashioned - report any you find. If a bear is caught, you'll hear it shrieking from afar, call the Jandarma on 112 and they'll release it safely.
There is a patchy mobile signal from all Turkish carriers along the roads into the resort, and you might even get 4G. As of Feb 2022, 5G has not rolled out in Turkey.
By road or cable car you have to backtrack to Bursa. Hiking routes and poorly maintained dirt tracks lead to remote villages in the eastern and southern foothills.
|Routes through Uludağ|
|Ends at ← Bursa ←||N S||→ END|
|Teferrüç (Bursa) ← Kadıyayla ←||N S||→ END (Sarıalan → Kurbağa Kaya)|