Durmitor National Park: Europe’s largest canyon

Durmitor National Park in Montenegro is one of the most stunning natural areas in the Balkans – with mountains, glacial lakes and Europe’s largest canyon.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. He has been a journalist for more than 20 years and has travelled the world full time since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.

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Formed by glaciers, high in the mountains but close to the sea, Durmitor National Park is one of the most stunning natural reserves in Europe. The soaring peaks give you an eagle’s view of the blue glacial lakes, while the canyons and forests seem to stretch out endlessly.

It’s a playground for the nature-lover here and there are so many things to do in Durmitor National Park. While it may be the coastline and the beaches that catch the attention of most tourists in this part of the Balkans, Durmitor is probably the best place for hiking in Montenegro.

When I visit the park, I take paths through the trees that lead me to lakes like mirrors (Crno Jezero is the most famous), I stare down into an enormous canyon, and I scramble over rocks for even better views of one of Montenegro’s natural treasures.

Durmitor National Park, Montenegro

Durmitor National Park dominates the landscape in the northwest of Montenegro. It covers more than 32,000 hectares and you get different aspects of the striking environment depending on where you are at any moment.

The snow-covered mountains might seem like the dominant features but you actually have to look down to see the real highlight – Tara Canyon.

Tara Canyon is the deepest canyon in Europe and it cradles the wild Tara River, with its alternating clear blue waters and thrashing white rapids for rafting. It stretches for kilometre after kilometre and creates an impenetrable boundary through the park (save for the bridges).

Durmitor National Park, Montenegro

There are three major features to Durmitor National Park – canyons, plateaux and mountains. Within these formations, it has a mix of both Mediterranean and alpine microclimates, which gives it a unique range of flora and fauna for this part of the world.

It’s this mix of climates – and the special ecosystem they create – that is one of the main reasons Durmitor National Park has been named a World Heritage Site. Living in the wilds of the park are animals like brown bears, wolves, wild cats, eagles and owls.

Durmitor National Park, Montenegro

Most people who visit Durmitor National Park base themselves in the town of Zabljak, and I would recommend you probably do the same. Relaxed and rambling, Zabljak the centre of tourist activities in Durmitor.

It’s an alpine centre, designed primarily for skiing in winter time, but you wouldn’t realise that in summer, there are so many things to do here in Durmitor. At this time of year, it’s a popular place for hiking, climbing, rafting and bird watching.

Cool and crisp, in contrast to the Montenegrin coast a couple of hours drive away, Zabljak and Durmitor are a nice escape from the oppression of the Balkan summer heat… even in July or August, which are among the best months to visit. (June is probably the best month to visit because that’s when the wild flowers bloom.)

Durmitor National Park, Montenegro

Montenegro has five national parks and each offers something different. But I think Durmitor is the best national park in Montenegro.

There are 18 glacial lakes, there are more than 50 peaks over 2000 metres, and, aside from Tara Canyon, there are two other breathtaking canyons here.

Nearby Biogradska Gora National Park is lovely and has beautiful virgin forest, for instance, but it doesn’t have the range or the exhilaration of activities in Durmitor National Park. 

There is a fee for entrance to Durmitor National Park.

It costs €3 euros for a day ticket to get into Durmitor National Park.

A three-day ticket is €6 and, if you’re really keen, a seven-day ticket is €12.

If you’re visiting Montenegro and have a bit of time, I highly recommend a visit to Durmitor National Park. It’s absolutely stunning and shows you the variety packed into this small country.

If you like hiking or other outdoor adventures, then I would suggest planning to stay for at least two full days (more, if possible) so you can walk a couple of trails to focus on different aspects of Durmitor.

Durmitor National Park: Things to do

There are lots of things to do in Durmitor National Park and, not surprisingly, most of them involve the outdoors. Here are some suggestions for how to explore the landscapes here.

Hiking

I think this is the best thing to do here. Durmitor National Park’s hiking is some of the best you’ll find in the Balkans. There are more than 200 kilometres of trails with all levels of difficulty.

I’ll go into a lot more detail about the specific hikes in the next section.

Picnic at a lake

While the mountains are great for hiking, the lakes are perfect for something a bit more tranquil. Put together a hamper and head to a lake for a picnic.

Durmitor National Park, Montenegro

The most famous spot is Black Lake (known locally as Crno Jezero) but another lovely and quieter option is Snake Lake (Zmijinje Jezero).

Rafting on the Tara River

For the thrill-seeker, this is one of the best things to do in Durmitor National Park. In fact, a lot of people come just for the day to go rafting on the Tara River.

The rapids are great fun but it’s not too difficult, making it a great family activity. I think one of the highlights is the scenery because you’ll get an amazing view of the Tara Canyon as you make your way down the river.

I would recommend this rafting day trip, which does various pick ups like Kotor and Budva. Or there’s this option from Dubrovnik. And there’s also this rafting excursion that just leaves from Zabljak.

If you want an even bigger adventure, there’s also this awesome two-night rafting trip where you’ll sleep near the river on your journey.

Zipline

Aside from rafting, there’s another fun way to experience Tara Canyon and that’s with a zipline stretching across its width!

There are actually two different ziplines, operated by different companies. You’ll find them on either side of the Durdevica Tara Bridge (which is an interesting sight in itself).

The Extreme Zipline Tara is 1.05 kilometres long and you’ll reach speeds of up to 120km/h. It’s €25 for each ride.

And there’s the Red Rock Tara Zipline, which is 350 metres long. There are actually two parallel lines, so you can go alongside someone at the same time. It’s €10 per ride.

Canyoning

Tara Canyon is so big that it’s best left for the ziplines and the rafting. But there are a couple of smaller canyons in Durmitor National Park that are perfect for some canyoning.

Durmitor National Park, Montenegro

Climb along the rocks, splash through the water, challenge yourself at Nevidio Canyon, which is just 2.7 kilometres long. It’s a real blast and something that’s worth a try, if you haven’t done it before.

Unless you’re an expert, you’ll really want to go in a group with one of the experienced guides. I would recommend this Nevidio canyoning trip which meets at the site, or there’s also this similar canyoning tour that leaves from Zabljak.

Mountain biking

Although Durmitor National Park is seen mainly as a hiking destination, there are also some trails that you can take a mountain bike on.

If you have a bike, I would suggest heading to the Visitors Centre in Zabljak and asking there for some more detailed information about the exact routes that would be best suited to you.

If you don’t have a bike, there’s this half-day mountain biking tour where you’ll get all the equipment and a guide to take you on an awesome adventure.

A jeep or ATV safari

So you don’t want to walk, raft, or bike? Don’t worry, there could be an option for you yet! There are also some local tour companies that run jeep and ATV safaris in Durmitor.

Durmitor National Park, Montenegro

So, if you want to explore the landscape this way, check out this ATV tour or perhaps this jeep safari.

Medieval tombstones

When it comes to culture, the most significant thing in Durmitor are the medieval tombstones, known as stecci. They are actually part of a different World Heritage Site than Durmitor National Park, one that’s made up of 28 different locations across four countries.

Most of the World Heritage stecci are in Bosnia and Herzegovina but there are three in Montenegro and two of them are here in Durmitor. So, not far from Zabljak, you will find the sites called Grčko groblje and Bare Žugića.

They look like graveyards, because that’s what they are, and don’t take long to visit. But it’s an easy way to tick off another UNESCO site!

A tour of Durmitor National Park

And I realise that not everybody has a lot of spare time on their trips. Perhaps you are keen to see Durmitor National Park but you aren’t able to organise everything yourself and do every activity.

Durmitor National Park, Montenegro

If so, there are some great tours of Durmitor that will take you there and show you the highlights, with perhaps a little bit of hiking or rafting as well.

Have a look at this list of tours and you’ll see there’s quite a selection, with some overnight ones that will give you more time in the park.

Durmitor National Park: Hiking

If you are a hiker, you’re going to love Durmitor National Park. And, even if you don’t do much trekking, this is somewhere you may still want to strap on the boots and do a bit of exploring.

There’s a huge range of hikes here – up steep mountains, through forests, past lakes. There are short hikes to fill a morning, or longer ones that could take you days.

In total, there are about 200 kilometres of trails here, so you won’t get bored. I reckon Durmitor National Park hiking is some of the best you’ll find in the Balkans!

Durmitor National Park, Montenegro

The way many of the trails work, you can combine them or do part of one and then merge onto a different one. It’s great because it gives you lots of options.

I’m going to recommend a few options for hiking in Durmitor but if you want even more detailed information and up-to-date conditions, I would suggest asking at the Hiker’s Den Hostel (also a great accommodation option if you’ve come specifically for hiking) or at the Visitors Centre in Zabljak.

Black Lake 

The easiest and most popular hike is to Black Lake, known locally as Crno Jezero. It’s just a relatively flat 2.5 kilometre walk from Zabljak through some forest to the lake.

The view here is spectacular with the water and the mountains and the colours are really nice closer to sunset.

Durmitor National Park, Montenegro

You can extend the walk by going around the shore of the lake, including the second (connected) lake on the other side.

Jablan Jerezo – lake loop

Although Black Lake (Crno Jezero) is the most famous, there are some other lovely lakes near Zabljak that can make a good destination for another rather simple hike.

There is the colourful Zmijinje Jezero (Snake Lake) not too far away. And further away, under the sheer cliffs of Crvena Greda, you’ll find Jablan Jerezo.

You could strike out for either of them from Zabljak and then come back the same way, or you could make a decent loop by doing all three of them in the same hike, which would be about 18 kilometres in total.

Curevac Peak

If you’re looking for an incredible view but don’t want to do a full day hike, then Curevac Peak could be your best option.

Durmitor National Park, Montenegro

You can use a car or taxi to get to the trailhead which begins on the main road to Tepca, just south of the mountain. From there, it’s only about one kilometre to the summit.

You could use some trails and roads to walk from Zabljak (it’s only about seven kilometres away) but it’s not a particularly interesting walk.

Planinica

For a full day hike with superb views that you can do from Zabljak, I would recommend taking the trail to Planinica.

The path starts from Black Lake (Crno Jezero), as do many of the trails, and it is quite well-marked. It will take you about four hours each way so make sure you are prepared.

It’s one of the best hikes in Durmitor National Park and you’ll get great views plus a good variety of lakes, forest, meadows, and mountains along the way.

Bobotov Kuv

And for the ultimate challenge for Durmitor National Park hiking, you can tackle the park’s highest mountain, Bobotov Kuv.

At a height of 2523 metres, it’s about 200 metres higher than Planinica and you’ll notice the difference. But it doesn’t have to be a strenuous hike.

There are several trails you can take from different areas. The easiest is from the Sedlo Pass viewpoint on the main road south of the mountain. From there, it’s about a three hour walk up, and then you can come back down.

Alternatively, you can start at Zabljak and take the path that leaves from (you guessed it) Black Lake. It’s much longer and more difficult but you’ll get some incredible vistas. It’ll take about 10 hours return.

You can also combine the two trails, going from Sedlo Pass to Zabljak (or vice versa, though that way is harder) so you never have to backtrack.

THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN ZABLJAK

The best place to stay in Durmitor National Park is at Zabljak. Here are my tips for some great Durmitor accommodation.

BACKPACKER

The best hostel in town – with lots of great trail advice – is the Hiker’s Den.

BUDGET

There are lots of small affordable cottages. One I would recommend is Rooms and Bungalows Sreten Žugić.

CHALET

If you’re in a group, you might like to consider an entire chalet at Laušević Chalets.

LUXURY

And the nicest hotel in Zabljak is certainly the Ski Hotel.

How to get to Durmitor National Park

Because of its relatively remote location up in the mountains, it’s not super easy to get to Durmitor National Park, but there are a few options.

The easiest way to get to Durmitor National Park is with a car and I would suggest you think about whether it’s worth renting a car for a few days to explore this part of Montenegro.

If you drive, it will take about 2.5 hours from Podgorica to Durmitor National Park, and about 3.5 hours from Budva or Kotor.

Using public transport, there are regular buses to Zabljak if you are coming from a major city like Podgorica or Niksic. If you’re coming from somewhere else, you will probably need to get a bus to one of those hubs first.

For the latest timetables on buses to Zabljak, I would recommend checking either GetByBus or BusTicket4Me. They’ve normally got pretty reliable information for Montenegro.

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This site is on the UNESCO World Heritage List!
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19 thoughts on “Durmitor National Park: Europe’s largest canyon”

    • There were spectacular views everywhere you looked – I was just a bit lucky with the canoe shot, though. The nature is also really diverse in just one small(ish) park and that makes it extra special!

      Reply
    • I loved the colour of the water! Montenegro’s environment is relatively pristine and so their national parks have so much vibrancy. For such a small country, they’ve placed a lot of emphasis on protecting the wilderness.

      Reply
  1. It’s sort of a microcosm of Eastern Europe in general, in that it looks just as gorgeous as plenty of other places but no one’s there to see it. It’s interesting what gets famous and what doesn’t, but that just means it’s even nice to be able to explore relatively untouched places. I felt the same in the national parks in Lithuania, where it felt like a tiny summer camp.

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    • You get the feeling with somewhere like Durmitor that it’s pretty well-known and popular with people in the surrounding countries – but nobody outside of the Balkans has heard of it. You’re right that it seems to happen a lot in Eastern Europe. That’s why it’s such a great part of the world to explore 🙂

      Reply
  2. That thing is immense! I really need to get out and see more of my own continent. Having said that, I have a habit of walking down into canyons and failing to realise how much time and effort it will take to get back out…

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    • I didn’t dare walk down into the canyon – it’s massive! it would take you all day to get down and back again, I think. Especially because there aren’t really many easy paths to use. But going rafting along the river – now that’s something I wish I had had a bit more time to do!

      Reply
  3. All the guides I read said it would take 1.5 hrs to walk around the lake. 3 hours later after much scrambling up cliffs and down ropes, we made it back to the start. Admittedly, we had literally walked around the edge of both lakes instead of staying on the paths, as well as taking photos and foraging for mushrooms. It didn’t matter how long it took as it was simply stunning scenery and fabulous to be out in nature.

    Reply

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