Omalos Plateau is 43km south-southwest of Chania on the Chania - Fournes - Omalos road. Omalos is a plateau with an altitude of 1080 meters, famous for its liberation struggles of the island. Samaria Gorge, which has the shape of an irregular circle, is surrounded by steep and awe-inspiring mountains. The plateau due to its natural fortification has always been a refuge during all the important revolutions of Crete.
At the entrance of the plateau there are small stone houses occupied only during the summer months. On the south part of the plateau there is Xiloskalo, the starting point for the crossing of the Samaria Gorge.
One way to avoid an early start from the north coast would be to stay at Omalos, in the middle of the mountain plain from which the gorge descends. There are plenty of taverns and some rooms for rent - the friendly no-frills Samaria pension is the cheapest - plus a clutch of surprisingly fancy hotels; the Hotel Gingilos is good value and its proprietor will drive you the 5km to the top of the gorge next morning if you stay overnight.
However, if you're on foot, since the village is some way from the start of the path, and the first buses arrive as the sun rises, it's almost impossible to get a head start on the crowds. Some people sleep out at the top (where there's a bar-restaurant in the Tourist Lodge and kiosks serving drinks and sandwiches), but a night under the stars here can be a bitterly cold experience. The one significant advantage to staying up here would be if you wanted to undertake some other climbs in the White Mountains, in which case there's a mountain hut about ninety-minute' hike (signed) from Omalós or from the top of the gorge.