Durmitor National Park
May 3, 2018 8 min read
Montenegro has several national parks worth visiting, each of them with its own distinguishing features. We did three of them on a road trip through the country and the favorite became Durmitor National Park in northwestern Montenegro. The other two, Lake Skadar with the impressing view of Rijeka Crnojevića from the Pavlova Strana viewpoint and Mt Lovcen with the spectacular Njegoš Mausoleum are also great. Try to fit all three into your itinerary.
The park was established in 1952 and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980. According to Wikipedia, Durmitor means sleeping place in an old dialect of the local language. Another source claims the name comes from the Celtic phrase dru mi tore meaning the mountain filled with water. I don’t know any of these old languages but both explanations seem plausible, just choose your favorite! What I do know is that the park is named after the Durmitor massif, which is part of the Dinaric Alps. The massif has 48 peaks above 2000m with the highest, Bobotov Kuk, reaching a height of 2523m.
The park is bordered by canyons in three directions. To the north by Tara River Canyon, to the west by Piva River Canyon and to the south by Komarnica River Canyon. To the east is a high plateau called Jezerska Površ (plateau of lakes).
The small town of Žabljak with a population of around 2000 is the center of Montenegrin mountain tourism and the gateway to the national park. It is a good base for exploring the area, several interesting places are close to the town. Around here you also find accommodation and tour operators for the outdoor activities.
Žabljak is one of two main ski resorts in Montenegro and the high season is winter, not summer. We visited in August so this post deals only with summer activities. The ski season is during December to March.
Durmitor is accessible both by car and by bus. Some distances and driving times to Žabljak:
There is a direct bus from Podgorica to Žabljak which takes 2h30m - 2h45m (€8 one-way 2018). For other cities you might have to make a connection in Podgorica. See BusTicket4.me for bus time tables. People are visiting Durmitor on day trips from the coast and while that is possible, staying 1-2 nights in the park gives you more time to do what you want without stress.
There is a good selection of outdoor activities in and around the park. Rafting in the Tara River Canyon is the most popular but you can also go hiking, canyoning, mountain biking, zip lining or just take it easy with a picnic at one of the glacial lakes.
On this road trip, taking us through Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia in 15 days, we had way too little time in the park. This was partly due to congested traffic in the south that slowed us down but we had also planned too few days in the country. We didn’t know what to expect of Montenegro before the trip and we were positively surprised. The country is small, but it has many great sights and activities so we should have planned more time in Montenegro.
We arrived Žabljak in the evening and had the next day to explore the park before driving to Sarajevo. There was unfortunately no time for activities like rafting and canyoning. We had a great day in Durmitor anyway, seeing Tara Bridge, Black Lake, doing a short hike to Mt Ćurevac and rounding it all up with a delightful picnic.
I think almost everyone coming to Durmitor National Park visit the Black Lake, or Crno Jezero as it is called in Montenegrin. It is the biggest of 18 glacial lakes (mountain eyes) in Durmitor. The lake is actually two smaller lakes connected by a narrow strait that dries up in the summer. The area is idyllic with fields of green grass, the lake shifting in several colors on sunny days and the mountain towering in the background. It is a nice spot for a picnic and just chilling for a while.
An easy 3.5km long walking path circles the lake and there are also trails to some of the other glacial lakes. There is a zip line at the lake and rowing boats for rent. It is easy to get to Black Lake from Žabljak, either by car or a 3km walk. Lake visitors must pay a €3 park fee.
Durdevića Tara Bridge is a popular sight in Montenegro due to its striking architecture and interesting history. The concrete arch bridge over the Tara River was built between 1937 and 1940. At the time of completion it was the largest vehicular bridge of similar construction in Europe. It is 365m long with five arches of which the largest one spans 116m.
During World War II, this part of Montenegro was occupied by Italy and there were both Italian and German troops stationed in Žabljak. Strategic bridges are primary targets during wars and the central arch of Tara Bridge was blown up by Yugoslav Partisans in 1942. One of the bridge engineers, Lazar Jauković, was part of the operation. He was later captured by the Italians and executed on the bridge. The bridge was rebuilt in 1946.
Take a walk on the bridge and look down on the Tara River passing by in the canyon below.
Tara River from the bridge.
The wires crossing the canyon on the south side of the bridge is the RedRock zip line. It is 350m long, and it takes around 40-50s to cross the canyon with a maximum speed of 50 km/h. The flight cost €10 and the opening hours are 10-19 every day during the season from May to October (2018). I would have tried the zip line, but we arrived to the bridge early in the morning and it was closed. Check out some flights on YouTube.
River rafting is popular in Montenegro and there are half-, one- and two-day tours available for the Tara River Canyon. This is the time spent on the river, the complete tours can be one day longer as several operators gather the guests in the afternoon or evening the day before rafting starts. The canyon is 82 kilometers long, and it requires two days of rafting to do the whole distance.
There are four key locations along the river marked on the map.
The first two sections of the canyon; Splavište to Radovan Luka and Radovan Luka to Brstanovica have the most impressing views of the canyon. The last section between Brstanovica and Šćepan Polje has the best rafting with 21 rapids out of a total of 50 in the canyon. You should probably consider this when making your choice of a rafting tour depending on your preferences and the time you have to spend in the park.
As we did not have time to do a rafting tour on this road trip, I cannot judge the quality of the rafting here. Overall, people we met who did a rafting tour were excited and happy about their choice. If I come back to the region, I will do the rafting and a canyoning tour.
The rafting season often starts in mid April and runs until October. Rafting is more adventurous early in the season during April and May when the melting snow causes the water level in the river to rise. The river often has class IV or even class V rapids according to the international scale of river difficulty. The scale goes from I to VI where I is the easiest level. When summer arrives with higher temperatures, the water level drops and so does the difficulty level.
The difficulty level also changes depending on where on the river you are. The upper part of the river is calm and the experience here is about enjoying the beautiful nature surrounding you. From Brstanovica the river changes, the rapids become wilder and the real rafting begins.
The operators welcome everyone, both young and old, so regardless of age, there should be a suitable rafting tour sometime during the season. Check with the operator to see what they recommend before booking.
Hikers have plenty of options in Durmitor, from short easy walks to demanding hikes to one of the peaks. The trails are well-marked and you can do them with or without a guide. The weather is unpredictable and an easy hike can turn into a difficult one if you are surprised by bad weather. Don’t head out alone to Bobotov Kuk, the highest peak in the park, without knowing what you are doing. For information about trails and help with selecting hikes meeting your preferences and experience, check with the visitors centre close to the Black Lake. Several of the hikes also start from the lake.
I read descriptions of the hike to Bobotov Kuk and I must say it looks tempting. The view from the top over Skrka valley with the two Skrcka Lakes (Skrcka jezera, another popular route) is gorgeous. The hike is not for everyone though, the final part of the ascent is exposed (hike description).
We could not do a full-day hike so we settled for a short, but still very nice, little hike to a viewpoint on Mt Ćurevac overlooking the Tara River Canyon. All details of that hike is available in a separate post Hiking Mt Ćurevac.
For the best canyoning in the area you will have to leave the national park and go to Nevidio Canyon near Šavnik around 25 kilometers south of Žabljak. Nevidio means invisible or never seen in Montenegrin. The Komarnica River flows through the 2.7km long canyon which is only a meter wide at its most narrow points. Most parts of the canyon is in constant shadow as the steep walls block the sun from reaching down to the bottom. To do this 3-4h canyoning tour you must be physically fit. Tour operators run tours from Žabljak.