Hiking in Montenegro: Mrtvica Canyon - A Picture Guide

Since we wanted to do something outdoorsy, and the weather was finally cooperating, we decided to do a hike in central Montenegro. Phil originally found this hike for Mrtvica Canyon from two other blogger's websites: here and here. Their descriptions helped us immensely, but we still went through a bit of confusion along the trail. 

We drove from the coast inland, past Podgorica, and along the beautiful E65, a mountainous highway that followed the Moraça River with some spectacular views of the gorge. Instead of camping in the area, we stayed overnight at a huge pullout a few miles before the turnoff to the canyon. The next day, we turned off the main highway into the small town of Medjurecje, which was more a gathering of houses dispersed amongst fields. Since the Moraça river ran with the E65, we could see exactly where it branched off towards the canyon, becoming the Mrtvica River. Following some painted signs, tight turns and a patch of narrow, unstable dirt road, we turned into a huge empty field. Huge red painted signs were set up around the field, saying that this was private property and you had to pay to stay. One of the blogs we'd found online had mentioned that a man would magically appear to charge you anywhere from 3-5 Euros for parking, so we parked and waited. However, after 15-20 min or so, without sign of anybody approaching, we decided we'd leave 3 Euros on the windowshield for them to pick up should they eventually show up.

Checking on the van before heading out for the day

The blog had mentioned walking off the main path and crossing a bridge, near the beginning of the Mrtvica. From the field where we parked, we found that the road led straight to a metal bridge, which we assumed was what was mentioned in the blog. This bridge crossed the Mrtvica near where it branched off the Moraça River. We saw red bullseye dots painted on the bridge (how they mark trails here), so we happily followed it across and then up a steep slope to a road that seemed to follow the Mrtvica. From up here, we could see our tiny van, parked in the huge field across the river.

A beautiful vantage point from the road across the river

One of the blogs also mentioned following a main road for around 3 km before having to keep an eye out for another red bullseye painted on a rock leading to an overgrown path... so we did just that. While this road led us past a free campsite (with "beach" access, in reality a very tiny beach that requires a bit of a steep scramble down a bank), we couldn't see anything with a red marker indicating a path. We could see that down below (we were quite high up at this point), there was a path on the other side of the river, but no way to get across that we could see. Finally, we found what looked to be an EXTREMELY overgrown and narrow path that seemed to lead down towards the water, but still without a red marker. We decided to check it out anyway.  Parts of the path were more visible, while other parts had small trees and small landslides obscuring it. After some scrambling and more than one branch twanging back into our faces, we emerged at one end of a beautiful stone bridge, the Danilov Most!

A beautiful old stone bridge built in 1858 that brought us to the real hike

The choice between the two paths to the left coming from the bridge, turned out going up along the rocky path between the trees was the way to go

Crossing it, a bright red bullseye greeted us at this T intersection. A wide and well maintained path led to the right (which leads back to Medjurecje), and to the left, two paths seemed to branch out, one staying around the same elevation and the other climbing upwards, but both not looking entirely well trodden. After a few minutes exploring the lower path, it was clear it petered out into the trees, or perhaps was for those wishing to clamber down to the waters edge. We then backtracked and went up the other path, which led upwards and hit a much clearer dirt tracked road. We could see another red bullseye painted on a rock indicating this path back down for the return trip.

Following this road for a while, we came across more bullseyes, or stripes painted either at the rocks beneath our feet, on stones along the way or on the trees themselves.

Red bullseyes pointed the way!

As we continued on the road, we started to see the steep canyon walls come closer and closer.

At this point, we started to pass a few more dwellings. One with a fenced yard full of barking dogs, a chicken coop and another leashed sleeping dog that we gave a wide berth as we passed.

Chickens checking out what all the fuss was

After a few more farms, we finally reached the end of the road, which led straight onto private property, as such, the path veered off into the trees, to bypass the local land. We saw the red and white markings on the trees and followed it onto the path that paralleled the farm boundary.

Looking back at the path turning off of the main road

With the sound of water growing louder, we finally reached the beginnings of the gorge, and the sight of the beautiful turquoise waters greeted us. Not long after, a bullseye with 3 arms pointed out the split in the path. The left path led down towards the water and a creaky old wooden bridge.

A veryyy old wooden bridge spanning the crystal clear turqouise waters

After spending some time at the water's edge, we turned around and headed back up to the fork in the road and continued onwards. Since it was still early spring, we knew that there was a risk of certain parts of the path being flooded or inaccessible, but on the upside, there wasn't anyone else on the trail. The path also went up and down a bit, giving us varying elevations from which to view the gorge and side creeks or waterfalls.

A delicate waterfall draining into the Mrtvica

After about 4.5 km, we finally reached another intersection, one path leading off to the left towards the Gate of Wishes, and the other towards the right and the military path. We'd seen many pictures off the Gate of Wishes, but we were unprepared for the lush green wonderland that surrounds it. Where we had been walking amongst mostly naked trees with just the beginnings of the spring blooms on their branches, we were now engulfed in a forest of thick carpets and hanging tendrils of moss. It really brought to mind a sort of ethereal feel, and maybe more pop culture-y, where the Gotham's Poison Ivy would live.

In the middle of this forest, a wooden sign naming this place the Gate of Wishes (Kapija Zelja) stands next to the two leaning pillars of rock that form the gates themselves.

Enjoying the view

We spent a good amount of time hanging out, dipping our feet in the chilly water and enjoying our lunch on the many flat rocks along the riverside.

Couldn't get enough of this beautiful scenery

We packed up and headed further down the path, walking for another hour or so, looking for the blasted trail in the cliffside. Another hour of hiking led us towards steeper cliffs and narrower paths with short sections of the blasted trails.

While it was pretty fun to walk under the cliffs, it became clear that the springtime weather and the past few days of unrelenting rain was still filtering through the rock, causing a pretty constant flow of water raining down on us as we progressed. Finally, the going got narrower and more slippery with increasing deluges of water coming off the rock, to the point that we decided it was time to turn back anyway.

Pretty spectacular what humans can accomplish

We turned around and headed back the same way we came, walking back on the military blasted trails, through the forests, past waterfalls, bridges and farmers fields, and back to the dirt track road. We kept our eyes open for the bullseye rock, pointing the way back down to the stone bridge, and then, rather than crossing the bridge where we came from, just continued along the path next to the river.

At least this one was easy to spot!

When the path finally started to veer away from the river, we found ourselves walking in the trees next a very familiar giant field.. in fact, the field we had parked in. We popped out back onto the main road just behind our van! If we'd only known from the beginning, we definitely would have saved ourselves some wandering and bushwacking earlier! To finish the hike on a high note, we noticed the 3 Euros was still on our windshield when we got back.. sweet, free parking!

The viewpoint from which we could've seen the path we SHOULD'VE taken...

A little map of our route, with a very approximated red line detailing the way we went vs the yellow line which shows the way we came back (and where we should've gone to start with)

Overall, it was an amazing hike with some good variation of landscapes, scenery and rest stops. While we made it only partway along the trail (probably around 6-7km one way), and knew we could have continued much farther along (other blogs talk about reaching a military road and potential to go even further to another town), we still felt the hike was worth the trip out there. So if you're considering putting this on your Montenegro to-do list, definitely do it!

Check out Phil's cinematic retelling of our hike below:


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