Tara river canyon Durmitor National Park

National Park Durmitor the Mother Nature’s showpiece

National park Durmitor is the largest of 5 national parks in Montenegro. Durmitor is located in the northern part of the country, partly with the park border running along the border between Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The impossibly rugged and dramatic Durmitor (Дурмитор) is one of Montenegro’s and Mother Nature’s showpieces.

Carved out by glaciers and underground streams, Durmitor stuns with dizzying canyons, glittering glacial lakes and nearly 50 limestone peaks soaring to over 2000m, the highest, Bobotov Kuk, hits 2523m. Durmitor mountain is the centre of Montenegrin mountain tourism. The tourist facilities are concentrated around the town of Žabljak. From December to March, Durmitor is a major ski resort, while in summer it’s popular for hiking, rafting and other active pursuits.

The Durmitor National Park, created in 1952, includes the massif of Durmitor, the canyons of Tara, Sušica and Draga rivers and the higher part of the canyon plateau Komarnica, covering an area of 390 km². It is the largest protected area in Montenegro, and it was inscribed on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1980.

80 kilometers long and 1,300 meters deep, the Tara River Canyon in the Durmitor National Park is the deepest gorge in Europe, and is the second largest in the world, after the Grand Canyon.

Breathtaking National Park

The name Durmitor is probably derived from Balkan Romance (some Romanian/Vlach dialect), and it means “sleeping” (cognate with English dormitory). There are similarly named mountains such as Visitor (visator, “dreaming”) and Cipitor ( atipitor, “sleeping”) across ex-Yugoslavia. Another etymology could be from Celtic meaning “mountain with water”.

There are beautiful landscapes and unique nature. The Durmitor massif offers : 18 lakes, 5 canyons, 27 peaks above 2200 meters, 50 peaks above 2000 meters, 748 sources of potable waters, forests over 500 years old, 2000 km of marked foot paths and climbing paths.

Durmitor National Park includes the enormous Durmitor Massif and three breathtaking canyons, including that of the wild Tara River, which is home to Europe’s deepest gorge at 4,265 feet (1,300 meters). Rivers flow under the park as well. Waters from Black Lake, the park’s largest, travel below the Durmitor Massif to the upper canyon valley of the River Komarnica. The park is also dotted with more than a dozen sparkling lakes.

The park is thickly forested with both deciduous and pine forests—including one of Europe’s last virgin stands of black pine near Crna Poda. These trees are more than 400 years old and tower some 160 feet (50 meters) high.

Grazing Lands In summer many of the park’s high pastures are home to grazing sheep and cattle owned by the 1,500-some people living within the park and by others in the nearby village of Žabljak. The high plateau can be reached by numerous trails and has three shelters for those who’d like to overnight: a hut, a refuge, and a bivouac.

The park sits in the Dinaric Alps, at a wide range of altitudes from 1,475 feet (450 meters) up to over 8,200 feet (2,500 meters). The Mount Durmitor Massif boasts 50 peaks above 6,560 feet (2,000 meters). Because of these dramatic differences in altitude and the park’s geographic location, Durmitor has both Mediterranean (in the valleys) and alpine microclimates.

Dozens of endemic plant species thrive in Durmitor, many mountainous holdovers from a colder era. On the massif’s lower slopes are blueberries and wild strawberries from June to October. Like many other places in Montenegro, Durmitor park is known for his rich flora. In Durmitor’s territory including the Tara and Piva canyons there are 1,325 species identified and classified in 484 genera and 129 families. In these 1,325 species there are 122 endemic species.

And some of these can be only be found in the Durmitor park. The lower part of Durmitor mass is covered with conifer wood (juniper bush, fir tree and white pine tree) and deciduous trees. The valleys are covered with rich pastures.

The park is home to 163 different bird species and almost all species are protected and a wide range of newts, frogs, and lizards. Larger fauna include wolves, wild boars, brown bears, chamois, and eagles. The fauna of durmitor exist out of typically northern dinaric characteristics. The bigger animals are deers, wolfs, lynx and bears. The smaller ones are weasels, squirls, otters and hermelins. Because the presence of the rivers Tara and Piva there can be also be found a number of fishes, mostly from the Salmonidae family.

Because of the karst formation there can be found over 200 caves. The most notable of all is the Ledina Pećina, at 2.100 Meters at Globa Glava. Famous for his frozen stalagmites that can grow up to 3 meters. The deepest caves of Montenegro can be found here too.

The Tara Canyon

The Tara river canyon (Montenegrin: Kanjon Tare), also known as the Tara river gorge, is the longest canyon in Montenegro and Europe and the second-longest in the world. It is 82 kilometers long and is 1,300 meters at its deepest. The canyon is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is a part of Durmitor national park.

The Tara river cuts through the canyon. There are rocky and pebbly terraces, sandy beaches, high cliffs, and more than 80 large caves along the canyon. The canyon is part of the Tara River rafting route. The one day rafting route, from Brstnovica to Šćepan Polje is 18km long and it takes 2 to 3 hours. This part of the canyon is the most exciting because the river has the biggest drop in elevation in the shortest length. There are 21 out of 50 rapids in this part of the Tara. The rapids are Brstanovici, Pećine, the very dangerous Celije rapids and Vjernovicki rapids. These characteristics gave the Tara river the nickname “Tear of Europe”.

Black Lake – Crno Jezero Lake

Crno Jezero – Black Lake (1416 m) is the second largest glacial lake in Montenegro and the largest one on Durmitor Mountain. Safely dipped into deep conifer forest with perfect background provided by Savin Kuk and Medjed peaks, Crno Jezero – Black Lake – deserves every superlative it gets. Crno Jezero – Black Lake got its name after the lush conifer forests that surround it. Crno Jezero is placed on the northeastern side of the rounded central part of the Durmitor mountain, at the edge of Jezerska Povrs plateau, 3 km away from center of Žabljak town. The Black Lake – Crno Jezero is divided in two parts by two peninsulas : smaller and larger lake. The narrow and shallow passage Struga connects peninsulas. Lake is 1155m long and 810 m wide.

Larger lake is 855 m long and 615 m wide, while smaller lake is 605 m long and 400 m wide. Length of the Black Lake – Crno Jezero coast line at maximum water level is 4395 meters. Depth of the smaller lake is 49 m and 24.5 m of the larger lake. Walking path goes around the Black Lake that provides premium experience to visitors from all over the world while staying in the marvelous mountain. Last 800 meters of the walking trail are closed for traffic, there is parking there. In mid summer water temperature in upper layers along the Black Lake shore can reach 20°C or more, so is suitable for swimming.

Black Lake – Crno Jezero in Durmitor National Park is filled by few creeks and springs of which most powerful is Celina spring. In time of rapid snow melting appearance of the water of Black Lake is accompanied by powerful blast, like a mine explosion. At such times when water tributaries are abundant, the Crno Jezero – Black Lake looses water via Otoka creek at north-eastern corner and flows towards Žabljak but goes underground few kilometers behind the lake, on the meadows below Pitomine hills.

Đurđevića Tara Bridge

Đurđevića Tara Bridge is a concrete arch bridge over the Tara River in northern Montenegro. It is located at the crossroads between Mojkovac, Žabljak and Pljevlja, between the villages of Budečevica and Trešnjica. Built between 1937 and 1940, Djurđevica Tara Bridge (or simple: Tara Bridge), represent one of the most visited attraction in Montenegro. Hundreds of buses with thousands of tourists every year come to visit this marvellous combination of nature and construction.

The 365-metre-long (1,198 ft) bridge has five arches; the largest span is 116 metres (381 ft). The roadway stands 172 metres (564 ft) above the Tara River. At the time of its completion, it was the biggest vehicular concrete arch bridge in Europe.

Much of Montenegro, including the Tara Canyon, came under Italian occupation following the German-led invasion of Yugoslavia in April 1941. As the mountainous terrain made it suitable for guerrilla warfare, a partisan uprising occurred in the area. Italian forces took control of the Tara Bridge during an Italian offensive in 1942.

A Yugoslav Partisan raiding party blew up the central arch with the aid of one of the bridge engineers, Lazar Jauković. The attack cut the only feasible crossing over the Tara Canyon halting the Italian advance. When Jauković was eventually captured, however, the Italians executed the engineer.

These events were depicted in the 1969 Yugoslav film “Most”.

The bridge was rebuilt in 1946. It was used in the 1978 British action film Force 10 from Navarone set during World War II. Bungee jumping is organised on the longest arch directly above Tara river.

The bridge also plays a large part in the Dutch novel ‘Het land achter Gods rug’ by A. den Doolaard, which was published in 1956. This novel is partly based on the true story of the bridge including its destruction by partisans during the World War II.

Hiking in Durmitor         

The varied relief of Durmitor means there is a wide range of hikes suitable for various weather conditions and levels of ability. You may doubt this when you first arrive in Žabljak. At first sight Durmitor looks like a forbidding wall of rock punctuated at intervals by even more intimidating needles, accessible only to serious mountaineers. While it’s true that peaks such as Bobotov Kuk (2523m) should not be tackled lightly, there are plenty of opportunties for less challenging walking. Because of the relatively small size of the range, and the high starting altitude at Žabljak, it is possible to reach many of the peaks and return in a single day. Compared to the Julian Alps, for example, Durmitor has relatively few hikers’ hostels in the mountains themselves.

Most trails in Durmitor begin at Crno Jezero, which is itself a 40-minute walk from Žabljak. Jablan Jezero, another of the glacial lakes, is about 1.5 hours’ walk from Crno Jezero and makes a good target for a fairly easy half-day hike. The trail passes through some lovely meadows before descending to the green waters of the lake, perfectly framed and sheltered by the sheer cliffs of Crvena Greda. It’s a tranquil place in which to relax, but if you are feeling energetic you could turn this into a full day hike by following the trail that leads up to the top of Crvena Greda (2175m). It’s not nearly as difficult as it might appear from below, and there are great views down to the lake on the way up, and into the heart of the mountains from the top.

The Black Lake border offers a 4 km long walkway equipped with a holiday motel. There are three marked hiking trails leading to Barna, Zminjeg and Vražje Lake. Durmitor is one of the best marked mountains in Europe and offers visitors the possibility of hiking with or without a guide. In Park there is a system of marked hiking trails with a total length of 100 km leading to the highest points of the Durmitor massif.

The most famous hiking tours are:

  • Black Lake – Lake Zminje (passing time: 1: 00h)
  • Black Lake – Jablan Lake (passing time: 2: 00h)
  • Black Lake – Ice cave (time of passage: 3:00h)
  • Black Lake – Bobotov kuk (time of passage: 5:30h)

Rafting through the Tara River

Rafting through the Tara River is incredible experience for adventurers and nature lovers. The Tara canyon, protected as UNESCO World Heritage Site is the deepest and longest in Europe. There are rocky and pebbly terraces, sandy beaches, high cliffs, and more than 80 large caves along the canyon. The Tara River is the biggest European supply of drinking water. Rafting season on Tara starts on 15th April and runs till October.

April, May and early June are defined by higher water flows and attract the more adventuresome groups. While still offering a variety of whitewater options that promise a perfect trip for all levels of interest and experience, these months offer a bit more adventure due to its higher water levels.

In July, August and September water levels typically drop and conditions become perfect for younger families and multi-generational groups.  The Tara River is constantly changing in character as the season progresses, yet it always delivers on the promise of providing an incredible adventure.  In late summer some of the rapids are disappearing, but new and ones are arising that were not visible before and that makes Tara River always amazingly interesting.

Air temperature reaches 30C during summer days while at night is always cozily fresh and it goes down below 15C. Water temperature ranges from 7- 8C to maximum 11-12C in summer time but with good quality neoprene suites and boots many people enjoy swimming.

Tara River, the longest river of Montenegro (144 km) is navigable for rafts for almost 100 kilometers. The Tara Canyon could be divided into two parts and there are two starting points of rafting:

Upper part – starting point is Šlivansko (Splaviste), nearby Žabljak. As part of this area belongs to the National Park Durmitor, special rafting fee increases significantly price of rafting programs comparing to the ones in lower part of the Canyon.

In the lower part of the Tara River – starting point is Brstanovica, close to small village Ščepan Polje. This is the most attractive part for rafting, often called “adrenaline” where the World Rafting Championship was held in 2009. Tara River hides majority rapids in this 18km long part with 21 bigger rapids and the nicest waterfall. The rafting fee is significantly lower than in the upper part which reflects on lower price for rafting programs making it the most affordable and popular area for activities.

Practical information

A ticket for the national park as well as fishing and other licences can be purchased at the national park office in Žabljak. The prices are available here.

Bring good walking shoes because a hike in the park can easily add up to several km. Also bring warmer clothes since the temperatures in the altitude can be quite a bit lower than on the coast.

In Žabljak you have several hotels and private accommodation; another option for sleeping in the area is the campsite and mountaineers huts (reservation might be necessary in the main season) inside the national park.

There are more then 50 mountaintops higher than 2000 metres; the highest peak is Bobotov kuk (2522 m). One of the most prominent attraction of Durmitor mountain are 18 glacial lakes, best known being Crno Jezero.

Žabljak is a ski resort during the winter season and there are usually about 120 days with snow. The Tara river is one of the best places for rafting and canoeing in this part of Europe.

In the area of the Eco village Podgora (7 km from Žabljak) you can find some of the most amazing viewing points overlooking the Tara canyon. You can also stay overnight in the eco-village.

The entrance fee for the park is 3,00 euro. Camping fee for a small tent 3,00 euro per night and for a big one 5,00 euro. A daily sports fishing permit costs 20,00 euro.

Getting to National park Durmitor

If you are not part of some kind of an organized tour to the national park, the place you will be going to is Žabljak which is located in the centre of the park, 1450 meters above the sea level (the highest located urban settlement in Balkan region). Here is how you can get to Žabljak using various means of transportation.

By car: driving to Žabljak by car is probably the easiest way of getting to National park Durmitor. The country road P5 which runs from close to Nikšić to the impressive Tara bridge passes through Žabljak. From Podgorica to Žabljak there is a driving distance of 125 km (2 -2.5 hours), from the Adriatic coast, e.g. Budva, there is a distance of 185 km (3 – 3.5 hours).  From Dubrovnik in Croatia there is about 170 km to Žabljak which is about 3.5 hours of driving.

By Train: obviously due to the location of Žabljak in the mountains, train is not really an option. The closest train station is in Nikšić which is 75 km away.

By Bus: despite its small size and remote location, Žabljak is actually fairly easy to reach by bus, there is a daily bus from the following cities: Podgorica, Nikšic, Pljevlja and Mojkovac.

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